ODOT urged to consider road diet on Barbur Blvd

ODOT map.

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) plans to spend $5 million to rehabilitate and repave the Vermont and Newbury bridges on SW Barbur Blvd just south of downtown Portland. Southwest neighborhood activists, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, the Portland Bureau of Transportation and others see the project as a golden opportunity to improve bike access on the bridges; but so far, ODOT has no such improvements in their plans.

At issue is that the existing bike lanes on SW Barbur Blvd suddenly disappear over each of the viaducts. This lack of a bike lane on the bridges means people on bicycles must squeeze dangerously close to motor vehicle traffic that travels at 55 mph. These conditions are hair-raising for people that use them today and they’re exactly the type of thing that prevents people from biking in the first place.

Over the bridges, Barbur has four standard travel lanes (two are 10-1/2 feet, two are 12-1/2 feet) over the bridges and a three foot sidewalk on each side.

Here’s a graphic (from ODOT) of the cross-section as it stands today:

And here’s a Google Streetview image of the northbound approach to the Newbury St. Bridge (note how the bike lanes drop):

Neighborhood activists, led by veteran bike advocates Keith Liden and Roger Averbeck (both of whom are on the PBOT Bicycle Advisory Committee) want ODOT to consider a road diet or other options to make room for bike lanes. Over a year ago, Liden asked ODOT to investigate this (and other) possibilities for Barbur and, “he essentially got brushed off” he says.

Frustrated with the agency, Liden stopped pursuing the idea. But now, with the bridge repair project on the table, he’s giving it one last try. “I’m pushing this because I feel the stakes are high,” Liden says. He feels the existing bike access is “horrible” and the Vermont/Newbury Bridge project is a chance to get relatively low-cost improvements in a short timeframe.

Liden also has the support of the Barbur Concept Plan which was recently completed by the City of Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. The plan, which is set for City Council adoption any week now, states:

“Despite the modest grades and presence of bike lanes in much of the segment, the motor vehicle speeds, missing bike lanes on the two viaducts and turning conflicts for southbound motorists heading to Capitol Hwy make conditions unattractive for those who might consider bicycling. People on bicycles would benefit from greater buffering or separation from the travel lanes, as evidenced by several stretches where bike lane striping has been worn away by errant vehicle tires. In addition to accommodations on the Vermont and Newberry viaducts, pedestrians need either a completed sidewalk network or a parallel accessible pathway.”

The Portland Bike Plan for 2030 also calls for Barbur to be a major city bikeway.

For their part, ODOT says they need the auto capacity on SW Barbur. To reduce lane widths and/or remove standard lanes entirely would cause congestion during peak traffic hours, according to an ODOT traffic modeling analysis. ODOT Community Affairs rep Jilayne Jordan addressed this in a recent article in The Oregonian:

“Barbur is the alternate route to Interstate-5, and “We don’t like to reduce capacity on those routes,” said ODOT’s Jordan.”

In addition to saying they do not want to reduce motor vehicle capacity in any way, ODOT says there’s “no funding available” to replace or widen the bridges, or to build separate bicycle-only bridges. ODOT says the $5 million already dedicated to the project comes from bridge rehab-specific funding sources.

At an open house for this project last month, ODOT acknowledged the bike access issue on the poster below:

One option ODOT has said they’ll consider is improving the ramps up to the existing sidewalk and widening it to five feet. Beyond that, sources say ODOT wants to consider the road diet idea separate from the bridge rehab project and they’re encouraging bike advocates to take their concerns to the SW Corridor planning process.

ODOT is slated to present this project at tonight’s PBOT Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting. Stay tuned for more coverage.

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