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City reveals plans for $6 million downtown ‘multimodal safety improvements’

Posted by on February 28th, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Green bike lanes Stark and Oak-9

A grant will bring major new bike access
improvements to downtown Portland.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

As I’ve hinted at twice since January, the Bureau of Transportation has been working on a grant application that, when funded, will significantly improve downtown bicycle access. Today, they’ve finally shared more information about how the effort is shaping up.

PBOT released a memo today (PDF) with their nominations of eight projects to be funded through two different sources of Metro-administered funds. One of the projects, dubbed Central City Multimodal Safety Improvements, would pump $6 million into planning and implementation of better bikeways. The reason it’s being called “multimodal” illustrates an evolution in Portland bike planning. According to PBOT’s Active Transportation Division Manager Dan Bower, along with developing high-quality bikeways, the project will take a holistic look at the system to see how the bike access improvements might happen alongside improved freight and transit access.

Bower makes it clear that the core of the $6 million project is improved bike access; but they are coming into the project with “eyes wide open” and looking at things “with a multimodal perspective.” This means that the project will likely include improvements for freight and parking access, as well as transit improvements. Bower and PBOT staff have had meetings and/or discussions about this project with the Portland Business Alliance, Mayor Charlie Hales, and the Portland Freight Committee and others.

Bower says he’s using this project to start a larger conversation that he said, “Needs to occur about the bike network downtown, especially at bridgeheads and other portals. We need to make sure we have a connected network.” Bower reports positive meetings and says that the PBA and Mayor Hales support this project.

For the PBA, this is likely a step that shows they can no longer ignore the need to accomodate the major increase in bicycling trips downtown. Their own survey shows that 11% of people who work at their member businesses downtown get to work by bike. PBOT says their numbers show about 30,000 bike trips in and out of downtown each day. With that amount of people riding, it becomes economically smart to make sure they have safe and efficient access to workplaces and businesses.

“We’re not going into this with lines on a map. We’re saying, ‘We need a north/south connection through downtown. Let’s look at which streets make sense.'”
— Dan Bower, PBOT Active Transportation division manager

Bower says PBOT has learned lessons from the past and they are not coming into this project with specific streets in mind. Instead, they will “frontload” money from this grant to kick off an “intensive” planning effort. That planning effort will develop a downtown bikeway network implementation plan. “The Bike Plan for 2030,” said Bower “Has so many priorities that it’s not helpful in identifying tradeoffs.”

In other words, the Bike Plan shows almost every downtown streets as a “bike street”. That’s done more out of fear (that bikes won’t get access at all) than for real planning purposes and it isn’t feasible from the PBA’s perspective or to freight interests. Bower says the new thinking is to approach the bike network similar to how we plan our transit lines (think of the Transit Mall on 5th and 6th). Here’s more from Bower:

“What the PBA and others are interested in is taking a multimodal look at portals and looking at the network overall and saying, ‘This street is a bike street, so this other street might be best for transit or freight.’ [With part of these grant dollars] we’re trying to fund that conversation and come out with some real projects. We’re not going into this with lines on a map. We’re saying, ‘We need a north/south connection through downtown. Let’s look at which streets make sense.'”

Approaching “bike projects” from a more multimodal perspective instead of pushing them through as bike-only, has become an established trend for PBOT. Consider who they successfully massaged freight and business concerns on the NE 12th Avenue overcrossing project. Also look to the N. Williams project, which started as bike-focused, but morphed into a host of safety improvements for people walking, driving, and so on.

Even though this approach means there will be trade-offs (not every street will be excellent for biking on), Bower sees this as a positive step for bicycling overall. “We need to treat bikes with the same seriousness we treat transit and light rail. It’s time for interested parties to take a serious look at how we’re accommodating bikes downtown; and by virtue of that, there will be tradeoffs.”

Also in the grant application is $500,000 that would go to Portland Parks & Recreation for planning and project development of the South Waterfront Greenway, a major project already in process. These funds would go toward ensuring the best outcome for the trail component of that project.

With $1 million of the grant going to planning and project development, that would leave $5 million for actual implementation.

This grant application is part of $22.2 million in available funds through Metro’s 2016-2018 Regional Flexible Funds Allocation, which is part of their Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program (MTIP). Bower says he expects to receive about $10.2 million in funding for “Active Transportation” projects and $3.7 million for “Green Economy/Freight” projects as per Metro policy. Another $8.26 million is available through what Metro calls the “Regional Economic Opportunity Fund.”

Stay tuned for March 15th, when summaries of all the projects on PBOT’s list will be available.

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32 thoughts on “City reveals plans for $6 million downtown ‘multimodal safety improvements’”

  1. Avatar Andrew K says:

    well, this does take a little bit of the sting (a very tiny amount mind you…) away from all the CRC news lately. Thanks for the report!

  2. Avatar Tim Davis says:

    Agreed! Speaking of the CRC, Jonathan, do you know which legislators would be best to contact regarding the CRC? We tend to have two bad habits: a) preaching exclusively to the choir and b) trying to convince those who are so diametrically opposed to everything for which we stand that it’s hopeless to have ANY meaningful dialogue with them.

    So, if you know of any legislators who are only *mildly* supporting the CRC, I’d love to write a long letter to them to hopefully convince them exactly why the CRC is the worst transportation project on which we could possibly embark.

    Back to your original topic: this $6 million grant sounds like great news!! Let’s have at least one N-S and at least one E-W street that features 100% physically separated bicycle facilities, so that anyone from 8-80 will feel safe biking on those streets downtown!

    1. Avatar DavidG says:

      call three senators. Heck, as everyone you know to call. All it takes is to, 1) state your name, 2) state your opposition to the CRC, and 3) ask the senator to vote “no” on HB 2800. Calls should go to: Sen. Chip Shields (503-986-1722), Sen. Jackie Dingfelder (503-986-1723), and Sen. Diane Rosenbaum (503-986-1700). Senators are flooded with emails about gun control this week. Calls are best. The next few days are critical. Multiply your voice!

  3. Avatar 9watts says:

    “Bower says the new thinking is to approach the bike network similar to how we plan our transit lines”

    Except that bikes are not at all like transit. The beauty of a bike–just like a car–is that it is not tied to fixed routes. Yikes.

    “‘This street is a bike street, so this other street might be best for transit or freight.”

    So when I’m hauling freight with my bike I guess I’ll just go where I please?

    Finally, if the PBA, freight interests, and Mayor Hales all like it, what is not to like?

    “…the Bike Plan shows almost every downtown streets as a ‘bike street.’ That’s done more out of fear (that bikes won’t get access at all) than for real planning purposes and it isn’t feasible from the PBA’s perspective or to freight interests.”

    1. Right. I don’t plan on going blocks out of my way just to be on the official “bike route” if that’s how this plays out.

  4. Avatar Nobody says:

    Downtown streetlights are timed at 12mph. Sure, I can see why you’d want a bike lane or something for the uphill streets (southbound), but on downhill (northbound) and flat (east/west) streets you can park yourself in the middle of the lane and be perfectly safe because you keep up with the flow of traffic. I can’t imagine what they’re going to do with 5 million dollars, but I bet it’ll piss people off without making it any easier to ride your bike downtown.

    1. Avatar spare_wheel says:

      if you have biked through heavy traffic during rush hour i think you should be able to see the advantage of road space dedicated to bikes. think of it as an optional bike HOV lane for those unwilling to split lanes.

      1. Avatar RJ says:

        Exactly. Motor vehicle queuing can be pretty bad at peak hours, and a good separated bike facility ends up functioning as a sort of “queue bypass” that preferences bikes and allows them to get through a signal immediately, without having to wait multiple cycles. Imagine if instead of a bike lane, they just slapped sharrows down on Madison eastbound and told you to act like a motor vehicle. It would take you 20 minutes to get from the Park Blocks to the Hawthorne bridge at PM peak.

        1. Avatar spare_wheel says:

          i don’t think its an either or. i think we should have sharrows AND lanes/paths.

  5. Avatar jeff says:

    How about the city actually think about putting in sidewalks in SE neighborhoods east of 55th Avenue? We have plenty of painted bike ways, but many can’t walk in our own neighborhoods on a sidewalk….

    1. Avatar Chris I says:

      Sidewalks are the responsibility of the developer. Your neighborhood was built without sidewalks and then annexed by the city, which you knew when you moved in. Your best bet would be to form a local improvement district and see if you can get the city to chip in some of the funds.

      1. Avatar JRB says:

        Tell that to the family of the little girl who was struck and killed in outer SE neighborhood without sidewalks last night. Most folks live where they can afford to live and don’t necessarily have a choice. Also your argument can be turned right back on you. You chose to live here with the existing bike infrastructure, why should anyone pay to provide more. Let’s have the developers do it.

        * Disclaimer: I am not against more bike infrastructure.

        1. Avatar wsbob says:

          It’s in poor taste to use this most recent tragedy of a little girl killed last night while crossing the street with her brother, to make a pitch for sidewalks. According to yesterday’s Oregonian story, unavailability of sidewalks was not the reason last night’s collision occurred.

          Sidewalks are essential on some, but not all streets. There are streets where not having sidewalks, and instead, clearly designating the street itself for multi-modal transportation use…slowing motor vehicle traffic way down to 10-15 mph, to support walking and biking on the main roadway, may be better.

          1. Avatar JRB says:

            A co-worker of mine lives just a few houses away from where this tragedy occurred. He has small children and he and his wife do not allow them to walk anywhere, not even to their nearby school because there is no infrastructure for pedestrians. With improvements like sidewalks come other safety enhancements like marked cross walks, which may have prevented this tragedy.

            What I find in poor taste is somebody suggesting that folks have no right to basic safety infrastructure, because they “chose” to live in a neighborhood without it, yet expect more safety infrastructure for where they “choose” to live and work.

            1. Avatar Chris I says:

              They do have a right to safe infrastructure, but taxing the entire city to pay for the massively expensive task of installing sidewalks and paving streets. The residents have been paying taxes, though, so they are entitled to something. I think a 50% LID, 50% PBOT funding scheme with PBOT covering project management would be fair.

              1. Avatar spare_wheel says:

                hmmm…sidewalks or another pdc-funded locavore small plate restaurant/doggy day care. its a tough decision but i for one have absolutely no problem with taxing the entire city to provide basic infrastructure.

    2. Avatar Unit says:

      “How about the city actually think about putting in sidewalks in SE neighborhoods east of 55th Avenue?”

      Suggest you read the list that is linked to. The largest project requested by the city (E Portland In Motion) is essentially this.

  6. Avatar 9watts says:

    “We need to treat bikes with the same seriousness we treat transit and light rail.”
    If that is so, why is this not a direct implementation of the bike master plan? Why the pandering to other interests? When the bus mall was put in and then revamped did they consult the bikey folks, defer to their priorities? No.

    “PBOT says their numbers show about 30,000 bike trips in and out of downtown each day.”

    I’m curious how many people enter downtown via transit every day? Is that number increasing as fast as the number that enter by bike is?
    How much infrastructure/space/lanes/money downtown has been given to transit and how much to biking? Are these figures informing the process here? Reading between the lines it sounds like PBA is grudgingly conceding some ground but hardly celebrating the rise of bicycling into downtown as a win for everyone.

    “we’re trying to fund that conversation”

    there’s that term conversation again!

  7. Avatar Allan says:

    finally something downtown – in a few years

    1. Avatar Hugh Johnson says:

      Honestly you are going to gripe about improvements DOWNTOWN? Come out east of 82nd and go back 40 years in time.

  8. Avatar CPAC says:

    Improvements downtown, particularly as the grid intersects with the bridges and crosses W Burnside, are critical to making the bike share program successful and expanding the appeal of making short downtown trips by bike.

    Is $6 million enough to close the park blocks to motorized traffic, and get some sort of decent park-block crossing across Burnside?

  9. Avatar Tim Davis says:

    Regarding John L and Nobody’s comments: I totally agree, and, like you, I’m in the 2% who feels comfortable to bike ANYWHERE that it’s legal. However, like I said before, we ARE the choir. We need to reach out to the 60% of Portlanders and fully 98% of suburbanites who wouldn’t DREAM of cycling regularly to work/school/etc. So, for this overwhelming majority, we NEED to provide some fully separated, super safe routes downtown and all throughout the metro area. That does NOT mean that other downtown streets can’t be used by cyclists (after all, it’s incredibly easy at a 12-mph traffic flow, even uphill). But it DOES mean that we can, finally, finally, get the percentage of metro-area people who commute regularly by bicycle to go above 2%. And again, this is NOT about just Portland (we can’t continue to be so myopic about this); Portland is only a fourth of the population of the metro area. We need to make cycling attractive to the “interested but concerned crowd” (which is virtually none of Jonathan’s awesome followers). it is the only way we will make significant progress.

      1. Avatar Tim Davis says:

        Thanks, John L! I highly value the insightful comments that you, 9watts and so many others make on Jonathan’s incredible site. And to 9watts: you’re right that we will never really know what works best for the crucial interested but concerned crowd. However, we have seen many of the shortcomings that mere painted stripes, no matter how wide or what color, have, especially when placed downtown. Plus, truly separated bicycle infrastructure looks incredibly impressive and attractive to any resident or visitor. Look at the incredible difference along Hornsby in Vancouver. Even I did not feel safe being in the Hornsby bike lane before. Now, I’d bike 8 blocks out of my way each way just to enjoy it!! Indianapolis has a wonderful downtown cycle track, as well, if I recall.

        I always recall my undergraduate days at Madison, where they have a concrete-separated bicycle track on University Avenue. You cannot even believe how popular that lane has been for 40 years! I so badly wish we could have just 1 mile of bicycle infrastructure like that anywhere in Portland–particularly downtown or on the Vancouver/Williams corridor.

        1. Avatar wsbob says:

          “…we will never really know what works best for the crucial interested but concerned crowd. …” Tim Davis

          Thinking about what they need would be a start towards know works best for them. Asking them and getting first hand critiques of existing and improved bike routes would also help.

          I’d venture that there may be many potential riders from whom, expecting 12 mph downtown, especially on the hills, would be excessive. Figure infrastructure that will support twice walking speed…7 mph, to 10 mph. Aslo, easy to transition intersections. Do that and there may be many people that would break out the dusty bikes sitting in the spare rooms and garages.

    1. Avatar 9watts says:

      Do we know enough about timid folks’ approach to biking in traffic to say that this approach will have the effects you suggest? What happens when they have to leave the corridors, so designated, to get to their destination? I am not sure that making all streets bike boulevards (yet) is the best policy, but too much of this sounds fishy; sounds like smoke and mirrors rather than ‘we are going to do everything we can, spend every dollar we have, to make bicycling a safe and enjoyable option into and out of downtown, even for those who may not currently think this is for them.’

      1. Avatar CPAC says:

        Good question. But my thought is that if timid a person currently drives to her job downtown, has a lunchtime errand to run up in the pearl, and has to decide between driving and dealing with parking or grabbing one of those handy bike-share bikes, the choice will be greatly influenced by whether there’s a nice separated bike path. Once she does a few errands that way, maybe she gets a bit more confident and remembers how fun it is to ride, she considers leaving the car at home, or at least starts asking her elected officials why there isn’t a nice protected bike lane that reaches her neighborhood…

  10. Avatar Mabsf says:

    Can I asked a stupid question: any chances that this happens even when the CRC goes through?

  11. Avatar Alexis says:

    Good god, MORE money for planning? Maybe we should have written a better bike plan in the first place.
    Also, I agree with others who have pointed out that you can’t do with bikes what you do with transit. It’s fine to have only one pair of major transit streets through downtown. Transit is inherently multimodal and doesn’t perfectly match every journey end to end — it’s MASS transit, not personal transportation. Bikes are personal transportation and are meant to be used end to end of a journey. Limiting quality access moves people too much out of their way. Good bike access needs to be fine-grained so all destinations are accessible.

  12. Avatar jd says:

    Focusing on making the connections post-bridge comfier for more cyclists seems great. I’ve biked over the Hawthorne bridge hundreds of times and I still hate the squeeze at the deer statue. Sadly, the route eastbound was shown to have flaws last year as well.

    I can’t imagine driving a vehicle larger than a hybrid downtown, so I can see that transit and freight might need improvements as well. But I agree with other commenters. Because it takes more for us to go five blocks out of our way than tapping the gas pedal, every street should be safe for bikes.

  13. Avatar jim says:

    How much of this money are they going to spend on 136th ave?

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