Citizen activists work to fix narrow bike lanes on Interstate Ave

Bike lane Interstate Ave-1-1
This substandard, narrow bike lane on Interstate Avenue at Larrabee is on a major bike route. In Portland. Thankfully there’s an effort afoot to make it better.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Nearly everyone has a scary story about the narrow bike lane on North Interstate Avenue where it goes under the Larrabee Street overpass (map). Riding a bike on Interstate Avenue is stressful enough in the “good” spots, but at Larrabee, the bike lane suddenly shrinks to a harrowing width of about two-and-a-half feet. That’s not much room to operate when a huge semi-truck barrels by a few inches from your shoulders as a storm drain grate gives you and your bike a jolt.

Here’s another angle…

And the Streetview…

Now a few citizen activists are working to improve the bikeways in this area and apply pressure to the City of Portland do something about it.

Portlander Blake Goud is very concerned about this location and has spent several months raising awareness and support for some fixes. In a comment to our story in October of last year about how to take action on transportation safety issues, Goud wrote:

What about safety issues that aren’t in a “neighborhood” like Interstate between N Tillamook and N Larabee where there is a narrowed bike lane under the bridge with a grate at a point where double-long cement truck roll through with regularity?

That post led to a thread that ultimately connected him to transportation activism guru (and the inspiration of that story) Ted Buehler. In the following months, Goud got to work by taking a BTA advocacy training course and then sharing his concerns with several nearby neighborhood groups. Meanwhile, in late December, Buehler organized a work party through the Active Right of Way (AROW) email list to measure and document the bike lane conditions on Interstate near Larrabee.

In an email to the AROW list after the “measuring party”, Buehler reported that, “We found the skinniest spot to be southbound under the Larrabee overpass, where the driving lane is 10′ 4″ and the bike lane is 2′ 7″.”

Buehler, explaining the finer points of streetcar
track widths, during a DIY activism bike ride in 2010.

Buehler, who has memorized many state and city bikeway design guidelines and carries around an engineer’s toolset in his pannier, pointed out that the minimum width for a bike lane is four or five feet (depending on context). “So, not surprisingly,” he wrote in his email, “that’s not a legal bike lane under the bridge.”

It’s worth noting that we’ve pointed out this terrible bike lane in the past. In December 2012 we shared the outrage that ensued when Portland Parks & Recreation proposed an alignment for the North Portland Greenway that would put people on this section of Interstate. Then, in August 2013 we used this bike lane as an example in a comparison of how bikeways are at overpasses are typically handled in the U.S. versus the Netherlands.

With the problem clearly documented and the collective wisdom of the community at the ready, Buehler and Goud have come up with a proposed course of action that includes requests for short and long-term improvements for the bike lane where it passes under both the Larrabee and Broadway bridges. And according to Buehler, they’ve already made some progress.

For now, they’re just asking for paint and signs which are low-cost and don’t require any design or engineering. In the northbound direction (which is also narrow, but isn’t as sketchy as the southbound direction) under the Broadway Bridge, Buehler says he’s already working with PBOT to add new striping that would widen the bike lane to four or five feet.

In the southbound direction, Buehler and Goud are proposing signage that states “Road Narrows” and “Bikes May Use Full Lane”. Since there are jarring bumps and storm drain grates in the already narrow southbound bike lanes, many people simply swerve into the adjacent lane.

View looking south where Interstate goes under Larrabee.

Other ideas for the future include installing concrete barriers and reorganizing the lanes south of Tillamook to improve the safety of a bike/car mixing zone, changing the width of lanes on the Larrabee exit and on Interstate in order to add some buffers to the bike lanes and narrow the standard lanes. In the long-term, Buehler would love to see a new multi-use path to replace the sidewalk and bike lane in the northbound direction and in the southbound direction, create a new “bike lane bypass” that would take riders to the right of the bridge pillars to completely avoid the dangerous pinch-point that exists today.

Goud has also drafted a letter he plans to send to Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick and PBOT Director Leah Treat that outlines his concerns and offers solutions.

“This has been a part of my commute for probably five out of the seven years I have been riding year-round,” Goud shared with us via email a few days ago, “and it has been a constant point of frustration.” Goud added that he’s will to take the long view and be patient with the City, but he plans on being persistent until the issues are addressed.

This effort has just started; but we hope to have more progress to share with you in the weeks and months to come.

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