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As promised, PBOT will beef up diversion on Michigan Ave neighborhood greenway

Posted by on June 21st, 2013 at 11:24 am

Michigan neighborhood greenway-2

PBOT project manager Ross Swanson (red shirt)
and Piedmont residents Justin Thompson (middle)
and Noah Brimhall discuss ideas to make Michigan Ave
work better.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Nearly two years ago, the Bureau of Transportation made a promise to residents of the Piedmont neighborhood: If a partial median at N. Rosa Parks Way and Michigan Avenue (map) doesn’t reduce cut-through traffic on the Michigan neighborhood greenway, they’ll beef it up. Yesterday, project manager Ross Swanson said he’d do just that.

Michigan is a unique case for PBOT. It’s the only major neighborhood greenway route in the city directly adjacent to an interstate highway. During the evening rush hour, “regional drivers” (which is, I think, PBOT’s politically correct way of saying Washington drivers) race up Michigan in an effort to bypass the daily gridlock on northbound I-5. The traffic and inconsiderate driving irks people who live on Michigan and the presence of so many cars flies in the face of the core mission of neighborhood greenways — to create conditions for low-stress bicycling.

When this project came up in the neighborhood back in July 2011, PBOT and some neighbors wanted to build a median that would prohibit people from turning left (west) off Michigan to access the I-5 on-ramp on Rosa Parks Way (see photo below). However, some residents felt that amount of diversion would be too much of an inconvenience to their driving habits. In the end, PBOT caved to those concerns; but promised to revisit the decision if the partial solution failed to solve the problem.

Michigan neighborhood greenway-6

Looking north on Michigan Ave at Rosa Parks Way. The I-5 on-ramp is just to the left. PBOT and some neighbors (including myself) wanted a full median here to discourage freeway cut-through traffic. That plan was scuttled out of fears that it would be an inconvenience to local drivers. Now the idea is back on the table.

Yesterday, Swanson showed PBOT traffic data that proves — despite the speed bumps, 20 mph signage, and the presence of sharrows — that many people are still cutting through Michigan and other neighborhood streets to avoid I-5 (according to a PBOT license plate study that shows an increase in Washington plates at many locations). This means PBOT has failed to adequately discourage “regional drivers” from hopping off the freeway to save a few minutes on their commute.

Michigan neighborhood greenway-4

Noah Brimhall.

Swanson acknowledged the problem yesterday during an on-site meeting organized by Piedmont resident Noah Brimhall. “Right now we’re not solving the cut-through problem,” Swanson said, “We want to make this neighborhood confusing to the regional driver.” He also shared that he gets frequent complaints of speeding from Michigan Avenue residents. “I’m ready to implement Phase 2. I feel like we have to live up to the commitment we made on Rosa Parks.”

While that’s good news for the neighborhood greenway, there’s still some work to be done. Brimhall, a nearby resident who has taken up the cause of making the Michigan greenway nicer for cycling, created a presentation for PBOT that outlines several proposals for how to divert traffic. Brimhall and other Piedmont neighbors concerned about the auto traffic on Michigan have continued to pressure PBOT to make further changes.

Yesterday, Swanson said he was prepared to make some immediate changes to the Rosa Parks/Michigan intersection. His plan was to immediately extend the existing median using plastic, “candlestick” bollards and paint as a temporary, low-cost measure. However, after analyzing the traffic data and hearing Brimhall’s ideas, Swanson says he’ll also consider other measures.

Slide from Brimhall’s presentation showing proposed diverter treatments on Ainsworth.

A street-level view of Brimhall’s proposal for northbound Michigan at Ainsworth.

Brimhall says the goal is to make people in cars feel like guests when traveling on Michigan. He thinks (and Swanson agrees) the diversion should happen further south at Killingsworth, before people ever get to Rosa Parks Way. Brimhall’s proposal includes diverters at Killingsworth, Missouri, and Ainsworth. The idea is to push I-5 bound drivers east to N Albina, which is a larger, “neighborhood collector” street.

Swanson was very open to Brimhall’s ideas and plans to run them by PBOT staff and return to the neighborhood soon to begin implementing further changes. “I think there’s something here. The issue is, how do we not impact the adjacent neighbors.”

Stay tuned.

If you have feedback on this project, email Ross Swanson at

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    Andy June 21, 2013 at 11:56 am

    Personally, I feel that they need to add a diverter at Alberta as well. I’ve had a handful of unpleasant interactions on Michigan with some north-bound drivers who have been racing to turn left onto Alberta to get on the I-5 ramp at that location.

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      Josh Berezin June 21, 2013 at 1:57 pm

      The other thing I’ve observed is that Alberta is sometimes pretty congested east-bound, between the freeway and Albina, so people who want to get to Albina or the Mississippi commercial district will turn right onto Michigan, and then immediately left onto Humboldt. Then they can avoid the traffic on Alberta and get onto Albina.

      That route has no stop signs along it, so it must feel like a quick and convenient cut-through for cars.

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    pdxpaul June 21, 2013 at 11:59 am

    And how about making the crossing at Killingsworth a little easier?

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    ed June 21, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    Bollards, lot of bollards. And I agree whole heartedly with the need for improvements at Albert and Killingsworth.

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    Ian June 21, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    As a resident on Michigan between Ainsworth and Rosa Parks, i have seen very little traffic abatement on this stretch. More action (like what Noah Brimhall suggested) is needed to keep the I-5 traffic off of Missouri, Michigan, and Mississippi. I’m willing to join the fight to put pressure on PBOT.

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    Craig Harlow June 21, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    “I think there’s something here. The issue is, how do we not impact the adjacent neighbors.”


    I think you simply do plan to impact all the adjacent neighbors… but since it’s their neighborhood, wouldn’t they welcome thirty seconds of extra maneuvering for them to get to and from their homes (and they wouldn’t be driving hurriedly in their own neighborhood anyway), in order to displace all of the hurried, non-local traffic? I think that convenience is not always a virtue in traffic management strategy.

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      Josh Berezin June 21, 2013 at 1:59 pm

      He might have meant that he’s concerned about once Michigan has more diverters for cars, that cut-through traffic will use Mississippi Street instead. That was a concern that was raised at the community meetings way back when.

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    sean June 21, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    I really wish they would do this at several other intersections in the city. It seems like speed bumps, sharrows, and even reduction in mph, pales in comparison to diverters. Please put one on NW Johnson. Great article.

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    Noah Brimhall June 21, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    Thanks to Jonathan for covering our neighborhood’s efforts to make our greenway even better. One quick correction, I’m not actually a graphic designer any longer, but it is still a bit of a hobby for me.
    PDXPaul – I agree, Killingsworth could use some help and the Piedmont Neighborhood is thinking of working with the Humboldt Neighborhood to ask the city for this.
    Craig – I also agree with you and that is what we are working toward. I’m even thinking that canvassing some of the neighbors t most directly affected by the diversion o make sure they understand the benefits might be helpful.

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    Chris I June 21, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    If the CRC happens, we are going to have to do projects like this all over north Portland. It’s going to cost the city millions of dollars, and the end result will still be more dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians.

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    Terry D June 22, 2013 at 8:07 am

    In discussing the new 50’s project at the North Tabor neighborhood association meeting the PBOT project administrator talked about how shy PBOT is about auto diversion unless the neighborhood really wants it. PBOT built some diversion projects in the 1990’s that the neighborhoods hated and PBOT has not quite got over it yet. He even stated that placing a diverter at “both ends” creates problems for the neighborhood. In this case, we STRONGLY disagree. Full diversion to <500 cars per day should be the whole point.

    We have found in our outreach at "C.O.P.I.N.G. with Bikes" that cyclists prefer diverters over speed bumps if there is a choice because of budget constraints. Lower traffic volume is MORE important to a successful greenway than individual traffic speed.

    When it comes to Michigan, this is an informative article. When Michigan opened my first thought was "Nice Greenway…where are the diverters? This route will NOT work without them…."

    Being sandwiched between I 5 AND Albina, Michigan needs and can handle full auto diversion–if you are really serious about keeping cars OFF of Michigan, but leaving local access for residents, full or partial diversion should be added at:
    –Fremont (no northbound access)
    —Alberta (right turn only)
    –Rosa Parks

    Just like Clinton should have diversion after the Division Streetscape is done at: 23rd, 28th, 31st, 36th, 45th, 50th.

    How about Getting all those looking for parking driving to the "Alberta Arts District" off of Going through some diversion?

    The argument that it will divert local traffic to other streets and effect their livability is not viable as long as MOST of the traffic is diverted to arterials. There will always be some local diversion giving parallel streets some more local resident traffic. The trick is to force all the commuters off the greenway. Diversion can work easily and well in the older established neighborhoods with an extensive grid-pattern of streets. It become more difficult when the gravel roads appear in the outer areas of the city.

    Hopefully PBOT will learn from Michigan and put more emphasis on auto diversion future projects.

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      Adam June 24, 2013 at 4:24 pm

      Terry, I couldn’t agree more. I have been in email discussions with Rich Newlands, the project manager for the 50s Bikeway project, about the worrying lack of diverters going in for that project.

      His response seems to be, “cars use the street too, and we can’t compromise that”. I don’t know how to even respond to that – either it’s a street prioritized for cars, and you do nothing, OR it’s a bike boulevard, and you get the traffic off stat.

      There’s no way you’re going to get the 6-60 age demographic PBOT wants on their bike streets, without frequent diversion. New riders are simply not going to ride with car traffic.

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    MaxD June 24, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    I had a couple of thoughts.
    1. When adding stop signs to stop cross-traffic, please include a painted stop bar. People are not expecting a new stop sign, and they are often obscured by trees or large, parked vehicles. I have enjoyed riding on Michigan, but the few times I have ridden it, I have witnessed cars crossing Michigan blowing through the stop signs- the visibility needs improvement!
    2. This is marginally related (but I hope PBOT is reading!): The traffic diversion from I-5 is very real, very scary and not limited to Michigan. Interstate Ave from Killingsworth south to Oregon is a major collector of bicyclists from all over North Portland, and it is infested with speeding cars trying to find a shortcut. The bike lanes there are terribly small, despite extra street width. The police have not responded to my requests for increased patrols. PBOT has built a street with an effective 45 mph speed limit with 5′ bike lanes. I suggest to take the skinniest portion of the vehicle lane, which is southbound under the Larrabee Overpass, and measures at a bit less than 10.5′. Paint a 10.5 wide vehicle lane from NE Oregon to Killingsworth in both directions. This would help keep cars in their lane, provide a painted buffer to the bike lane where possible, and reveal to both cars and bikes where that buffer disappears. This simple line could add a lot of safety to this increasingly popular bike route.

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    Patrick June 24, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    I’ve been trying to argue for diverters of ANY kind on SE Harold St. I have been told repeatedly it won’t happen. In fact the senior engineer who originally planned and designed the street and division said diverters were considered bad design in retrospect. In my opinion diverters do more than just speed bumps because they provide a visual reminder to drivers as much as anything. They cue the driver to drive more slowly. I see streets north of Powell with diverters and sigh with envy. It’s times like this I see Portland as a small city as anything out of the “core” portion is considered the boonies and is summarily ignored.

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    Adam June 24, 2013 at 4:18 pm


    This is great news, and I hope it is the beginning of a new precedent at PBOT. One diverter alone is worth 100 speed bumps, imho.

    I used to live a few blocks from N Michigan, and used it to bike to the Fred Meyer nearby. I noticed how much traffic was using Michigan – it was ludicrous. So glad to see this happening.

    I would like to request a diverter at SE 12th & Ankeny next. The amount of cut-through car traffic on this street has skyrocketed since the couplet project went in. Car drivers don’t want to wait at red lights on the new configuration at 12th/Burnside/Sandy, so they speed down Ankeny instead. We need a diverter there NOW.

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