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Can we fix SE Foster while saving room for auto parking?

The wide sidewalks at SE 78th and Foster seem well-suited to a walkable commercial district, but the four-lane street does not. (Photos © M. Andersen/BikePortland)

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance announced Tuesday that Southeast Foster Road is among its top priorities to become one of the city’s best bikeways. But at an open house Tuesday night about rethinking the street, there was only one type of bike infrastructure on the menu.

White paint.

What happened to the ideas for a cycle track separated by plastic bollards and an auto parking lane? Or a shared bike-pedestrian sidewalk like on the Hawthorne Bridge? The city project manager says there’s just no room to do them right unless you also remove either a lane of auto parking or a center turn lane.

Here’s the most bike-friendly example presented Wednesday night for what would be the most bike-friendly stretch of Foster, between 72nd and 80th Avenues:

A six-foot bike lane with a three-foot buffer would be one of the most comfortable bike lanes in the city. But note that this is only possible here without auto parking on either side of the street — something commercial landowners are likely to resist.

Closer to downtown, where the street is a bit wider, none of the concepts floated Tuesday night included room for a buffered bike lane. Here’s what the four-lane Foster looks like right now:

Foster Road today, between 52nd and 72nd avenues.

And here’s one way that wider stretch of Foster might look with three lanes:

A possible three-lane Foster Road, between 52nd and 72nd avenues.

Note that the main auto travel lane here is 11 feet wide. Project manager Mauricio Leclerc said that’s the width needed to comfortably run the No. 14 TriMet bus on Foster — and also the minimum width required to someday run a streetcar down Foster, as the city is theoretically planning to.

But even if the city narrowed Foster’s auto travel lanes to 10 feet, the street wouldn’t have the eight feet required for a separated bike lane.

As for a Hawthorne-style bike-pedestrian sidewalk, Leclerc said that’d require narrowing the pedestrian space to just five feet and winding the bikeway so frequently that even bike advocates who saw the plan didn’t like it.

City traffic studies show that Foster has great potential as a bike corridor, in part because it cuts such an efficient diagonal between the city center and the relatively lower-cost neighborhoods of Lents and Foster-Powell. Simply striping a bike lane onto the street would cause bike traffic on the corridor to jump 58 percent to 1,900 riders per day, city engineers calculate. (That compares to about 22,000 autos per day, a number that isn’t expected to change dramaticallly whatever the city does.)

Many people who showed up at Tuesday’s open house were enthusiastic about buffered bike lanes, and frustrated with the current four-lane alignment. Here’s a detail shot with a representative sampling of comments:

Many comments endorsed good bike facilities on Foster.

“As a very confident cyclist, I don’t need bike lanes for me, ever,” Vivian Satterfield, an East Portland transportation advocate whose day job is with OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, said Tuesday night. “That’s not to say I don’t see a benefit for the most vulnerable users.”

People who say that East Portland doesn’t need bike lanes because few East Portlanders ride bikes, she said, “aren’t riding bikes in East Portland.”

Also at issue is the lack of pedestrian space east of 82nd Avenue, where the Foster Road sidewalks are only five feet wide.

“The sidewalks in East Portland suck ass, and we’re not doing anything about that,” said local resident Nick Falbo. “We have the opportunity to change that.”

Cora Potter, another local who serves on the Lents Urban Renewal Advisory Committee, pointed out that the city’s data clearly show that the most Foster road crashes happen near 82nd Avenue — but the plans presented Tuesday would spend most of the money west of 80th.

Bike and pedestrian crashes are most common near 82nd Avenue.

“I think the perception is that Lents wants speeding cars and lots of auto lanes, and that’s not really the case,” Potter said. “The process is being driven by folks who live west of 82nd, and they’re leaving us with what we have.”

It’s a lack of money, according to Falbo, that is forcing the city to choose between on-street auto parking and separated bikeways. Moving street curbs is very expensive.

“It would be awesome to get a cycletrack, but it all comes down to whether we’re willing to move that curb,” said Falbo. “Foster has a lot of space. If we can do this anywhere, it should be Foster, right?”

The Foster streetscape planning continues, and the options presented Tuesday weren’t a final list: there’s room for more changes. For more information on the plan, including the full set of posters on display Tuesday, see the project website. To express support for one part of the plan or another or other suggestions, write project manager Mauricio Leclerc:

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