Changes are finally coming to North Williams Avenue.
After a long and arduous public process that began in January 2011, we can finally look forward to a host of much-needed traffic safety improvements on this busy bikeway corridor.
Yesterday in Salem the Oregon Transportation Commission approved a list of eleven projects that will improve biking and walking conditions across the state and among them is $1.47 million for the North Williams Avenue Traffic Operations and Safety project.
“This is great news,” said PBOT spokesman Dan Anderson this morning. “The Transportation Bureau began working to modernize North Williams with a dedicated advisory committee two years ago. Their insight and commitment made it a better project than the one envisioned at the beginning. With ODOT’s generous grant, the city can begin designing Williams this summer and start construction in spring or summer 2014.”
The grant for this project came from funds doled out by ODOT via a highly competitive process. There was just $8.6 million up for grabs in their new Transportation Alternatives program (formerly known as Transportation Enhancements). ODOT received 155 applications and narrowed those down through an internal review process and based on public comment.
The Williams project started from humble beginnings, with just a meager budget and expectations focused solely around creating a high-quality bikeway. Bike traffic on Williams has skyrocketed in recent years and the standard-width, door-zone bike lane that exists today has not kept up with demand.
Making bike-specific changes to a major street with a lot of traffic has its own challenges; but when this project became embroiled in a debate about the issues of racism and gentrification — and how bicycling contributes to them — the City faced an almost impossible task of balancing their transportation goals with a history marked by institutional racism in a neighborhood that has seen dramatic demographic shifts in recent years. Just five months into the public process PBOT decided to pause and hit the restart button after some members of the community expressed dismay about how the process was moving forward.
It took longer than anyone expected and everyone involved in this project was forced to come face-to-face with the deep social scars that began decades ago yet still exist in the Vancouver-Williams corridor. To PBOT’s credit, they embraced the concerns and played host to an open and inclusive committee process that ultimately led to agreement on a wide-ranging list of traffic safety improvements.
The project will significantly alter Williams Avenue from Weidler to Killingsworth. The main elements of the plan include: a 10-foot wide buffered bike lane that will run on the left side of the street; 11 curb extensions at eight different intersections; a new signal at N. Cook St; and a public art installation that will, “honor N Williams Avenue’s importance in local African-American history.” The project will also include funding to install speed bumps and other safety measures on NE Rodney (a parallel, neighborhood street preferred by many people who don’t like the crowds on Williams).
Funding for the Williams project will be available July 1st of this year. PBOT expects to complete all the design and engineering in early 2014 and they’ll break ground by this time next year. Stay tuned.
We have covered every twist and turn in this project. For more background, browse the 40+ stories in the archives.
CORRECTION: The initial version of this story stated that these funds originated from a federal grant. That is not correct. The funds are coming from the state’s “bicycle bill” set-aside funding. This is important because state money intended for local bike projects is more flexible than federal funding. However, state money also comes with its own constraints. Stay tuned for more reporting on this project.