Friends of Barbur asks for signatures to support fixing narrow bridges

When are two auto lanes not two auto lanes?
(Image by Friends of Barbur)

If you want to understand how two key bridge crossings on Southwest Barbur Boulevard are working today, take a look at the screen capture to the right.

Or even better, see the stretch in action at 0:55 of the short video below. The shots show why Barbur Boulevard is arguably the most nerve-wracking of Portland’s major bike routes.

Due to the importance of this busy state highway as a bicycle connection — it’s a flat route linking the southwest neighborhoods to the rest of the city, mostly striped with bike lanes and designated as a major bike corridor in the city’s bike master plan — many bikes use Barbur. Cars and trucks are veering into the other lanes to avoid them. And it’s all happening at 45 mph or faster.

However, the effort to come up with a more reasonable system to get people across these two bridges isn’t moving very fast at all.

The video above is by Southwest Portland resident and bike advocate Kiel Johnson of Friends of Barbur. He said he captured it close to the morning traffic peak.

“There’s a pretty constant flow of people on bikes, and the cars were all having to move over one lane,” Johnson said in an interview. “It was pretty much functioning as a one-lane street.”

Johnson thinks that, instead of just installing flashing signs that say “bikes on bridge roadway,” the Oregon Department of Transportation (which owns Barbur) should collaborate with Metro and the City of Portland to consider removing a northbound lane across the narrow Vermont and Newbury bridges so they can be restriped to include a bike lane.

He’s gathering signatures for a new letter that makes this argument.

“The cars are all moving over already.”
— Kiel Johnson, Friends of Barbur

“The video is to sort of show that that’s already happening, that the cars are all moving over already,” Johnson explained. “They’re going to redo those two bridges and repave them. The goal is to have them sort of study this idea and determine whether or not it’s possible so they could maybe work that in when they repave.”

For its part, ODOT has said it wants to hold off any lane change decisions until they can be made as part of the Southwest Corridor Project in which eight cities are negotiating over possible bus or rail transit investments along Barbur. That process isn’t expected to wrap up until the mid-2020s at the soonest.

Portland’s Bicycle Transportation Alliance is among those calling for quicker action.

“Every day is dangerous out there and now is the time to fix it, not several years from now,” BTA Advocacy Director Gerik Kransky said Tuesday. “Also, legally, ODOT should be restriping the bridges to make bicycling safe as soon as they reconstruct the bridge decks. The bike bill is not ambiguous on this subject, it says bike paths shall be provided when state funds are used on a project of this type. If they are going to grind down the pavement to the support structure and rebuild the road bed and road surface, I call that a reconstruction, which triggers a state mandate for a bike path.”

The BTA made a Barbur fix one of the poster children of its recent Blueprint for World-class Bicycling priority list.

Johnson said he was glad to have the video shoot behind him.

“Just in filming the video, I probably rode over the bridge like six times,” Johnson said. “I was pretty stressed out. I had to go home and have a beer.”

Friends of Barbur is collecting signatures of people who want immediate attention to a possible restriping of Barbur. You can add your voice to their letter here.

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