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What would it take to make 122nd Avenue great?

Posted by on June 9th, 2014 at 5:23 pm

122nd Avenue between Stark and Market.
(Photo M.Andersen/BikePortland)

122nd Avenue is part of Portland. But it doesn’t look like “Portland.”

Instead, it looks like America. And that means it’s a pretty big opportunity.

With two travel lanes in each direction, a center turn lane, a pair of door-zone bike lanes that sometimes squeeze narrower than four feet and a little-used parking lane along the curb, east Portland’s most important artery would look right at home in Albuquerque, Kansas City, Columbus, Rochester or Greensboro.

122nd ave near powell streetmix

A cross-section of 122nd Avenue today, just north of Powell. Widths are approximate.
(Image: Streetmix.net)

But what if 122nd Avenue were different? What if, here outside Portland’s historic street grid, where almost every trip has to use a massive artery like this one because the side streets don’t connect, we could find a way to serve not only the 85 percent of east Portland households that own cars, but the 15 percent that don’t?

122nd map

What if you could use 122nd Avenue’s great problem — its huge, empty expanses of pavement — to turn it into a place where getting around without a car feels like something other than a hassle, a burden or a shame?

If you could do that, you’d have more than just a great place for Portlanders to live, work and do business. You’d have a template.

loading bike

A man loading his bike on 122nd Avenue’s #71 bus. Some bus stops on the north-south stretches of line 71 attract more riders than the east-west #25 bus does in 87 blocks put together. But the 71 has not been upgraded to frequent service.

Some people say Portland doesn’t need the physically separated bike lanes that San Francisco, Boston and Indianapolis have been building rapidly: that our neighborhood greenway network and our narrow, stoplight-calmed downtown streets are good enough for everyone who might ride a bicycle. But even if that’s the case in the central city, east Portland is an entirely different story.

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These were the ideas that about 25 Portlanders, two North Carolinians, one Oregon City visitor and I tackled early Sunday evening on Bizarro 122nd Avenue, a PedalPalooza ride down 122nd that invited people to think about an alternate-universe version of the street. Here’s what we asked:

What if the city connected more of the private parking lots that line this street, removing some of the many driveway entrances and reducing the constant danger of turning cars?

What if the city eliminated the almost completely unused on-street parking lane and used the space for a six-foot-wide bike lane separated from traffic by bollards or curbs?

What if, like the soon-to-be redesigned Figueroa Street in South Los Angeles, the city moved stops for a newly frequent bus line onto platforms to the left of the bike lane, so buses could stop and start quickly, comfortably and without constantly zigzagging across the bike lane?

figueroa rendering

A conceptual plan to redesign the eight-lane Figueroa Street in South Los Angeles.

What if, at major intersections like Division and Powell, the city removed its scary sharrow-marked turn lanes and instead added eyelet-shaped curbs that created protected intersections where two sets of protected bike lanes could safely and intuitively intersect without preventing right-turning car traffic?

Southeast 122nd and Powell as it is today…

…and with a protected intersection.
(Rendering by Nick Falbo)

Along the way, we looked at some of the things that are making the 122nd Avenue area better: the new flashing crosswalk beacon outside Midland Library, the busy but calmingly narrow Burnside Street, the eight-foot buffered bike lanes on Southeast Holgate. Many of the participants, a mix of curious bike-lovers, dedicated transportation wonks and interested locals, joined in with questions or additions. And afterward we headed west on the Springwater Corridor for beers and dinner at Cartlandia, the thriving multicultural food cart pod outside Lents.

On Friday, a few days before Sunday’s ride, I’d called Portland Bicycle Planning Coordinator Roger Geller to ask what possibilities he saw for 122nd. North of Powell, he said, converting the unused parking lanes to high-quality bike lanes was the most viable option for the street; south of Powell, traffic is low enough that the road could probably be narrowed to two travel lanes, a turn lane, bike lanes and parking lanes without much congestion.

“But we haven’t really looked at it that much,” he noted.

122nd remixed

Another possible way to use the space on 122nd Avenue (with offset bus stops.)

Projects of this scale would cost millions of dollars. Geller’s bureau currently has $1 million a year to spend on all street safety projects citywide.

But according to Geller’s calculations, east Portland has great potential for biking, in part because so many people who live here can’t afford to own cars. If biking could be made safer, more comfortable and less stigmatized, bikes could be a very popular way to get around.

Today, about 1 percent of commute trips east of 82nd Avenue happen on a bicycle. Geller said travel behavior data from cities with low-stress bike networks shows that this could increase to about 15 percent of work trips with a complete network of protected bike lanes and neighborhood greenways.

If hubs like Gateway, Midway or Lents became job centers, Geller said, that figure would be even higher.

What about the notion that east Portlanders don’t want to dedicate road space to high-quality bike lanes? Geller said he likes to look at a the steady flow of people here who ride their bicycles on the sidewalk — using the only available separation between bikes and cars.

“To my mind that just says, ‘These are people who want a cycle track,'” Geller said.

vote for protected bike lane

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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John R
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John R

Great potential, ideas, and story- thanks! Now just to get the momentum and will to build it out. As for this, they are wrong: “Some people say Portland doesn’t need the physically separated bike lanes that San Francisco, Boston and Indianapolis have been building rapidly.”

EngineerScotty
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EngineerScotty

BRT on 122nd would be an obvious nice-to-have. Come to think of it, FREQUENT SERVICE on 122nd would be a nice to have.

BorisK
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BorisK

Why not do a potential fix as a pop-up project for a weekend for 5-10 blocks?

fasterthanme
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fasterthanme

122nd is a nightmare to cross, I only use designated crosswalks or lights because the road is so freaken wide and cars go really fast. I’d rather take the neighborhood streets if i have to go north south.

“But we haven’t really looked at it that much,” Yup too busy micro managing 28th Ave.

Much more can be done for cycling in Portland if they actually tried to bring the level of infrastructure to the outer east side as there in the rest of the city.

Glenn
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Glenn

How hard would it be to punch through some of the parallel streets to make them continuous? I assume there are buildings in the way in some cases; in others, Eminent Domain might be all it takes.

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

the designs above are starkly motorist-centric. a narrow meandering bike sidewalk does not compete with FIVE 12 foot-wide motor vehicle lanes. if we want to encourage active transport in east portland we need road diets, traffic calming, signalling and aggressive speed reduction. narrow, cheap, unsignalled bike sidewalks are simply not competitive with the current auto-centric concrete jungle. imo, we need to discourage casual motoring, support public transport, and allocate real space on the road for cycling and pedestrians.

“To my mind that just says, ‘These are people who want a cycle track,’” Geller said.

and why would they not continue to use the mostly empty sidewalk? at least it’s protected by a curb and has signals at intersections.

TOM
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TOM

I do like that idea of eliminating parking along 122nd … it’s rarely used anyway.
there needs to be a protected crossing on 122nd between Powell & Division
The ADA wheelchair access ramp right in front of mcdonalds at 122 & Glisan sticks out so far into Glisan that a bike is forced into the traffic stream for about 10 feet when rolling east to west on Glisan
The auto dealer’s car carriers park into the bike lane at all the Tonkin dealerships. They need a better solution.

Did you notice the 2 headed bike rider pictogram on the southbound lane just South of 122nd & Halsey (in front of gas station) ?

I have NEVER seen a single bike on Holgate from 122 to 92

The MAX tracks crossings suck.

Thanx for coming out our way , not all BP.O readers cycle downtown.

eli bishop
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eli bishop

“The auto dealer’s car carriers park into the bike lane at all the Tonkin dealerships. They need a better solution.”

Yep.

“I have NEVER seen a single bike on Holgate from 122 to 92”

What? I see bikes there not infrequently.

BIKELEPTIC
Guest

My huge concern is getting across the street safely. 122nd is a very wide street and people tend to drive faster here. It’s sketchy as hell to cross the road without the fear of dying.

What also happens is that because the people living out there tend to be either low-income, disabled or minority, the city JUST.DOESN’T.CARE to make necessary improvements to not only the roads, but Trimet offering safe, well-lit shelters, frequent, extended services, benches, etc. I work as a subsidized housing advocate and my organization is moving a lot of clients out to east county and surrounding areas of town because that’s where it is affordable. Unfortunately there are not the resources available. Lack of grocery stores, clinics, libraries, employment resources, etc. Everything is concentrated to the center of town and that’s just not convenient to people that may have mobility limitations.

TOM
Guest
TOM

As far as I know, the Midland Library is the biggest bike destination on all 122nd. The racks are usually filled up.
Was happy to get the strobed crossing there , but it isn’t perfect. For some reason, it’s not a straight through passage. You have to do a hard right, then dead ahead a bit, then a hard left to cross the island.
Never figured out why they made it that way.
Some of the car carriers park in the center divider and block view of the strobes.
On Powell from 122 to 136 is a high density area, but there is NO secure crossing in that half (?) mile stretch. Jaywalking is the only method. In fact, jaywalking is common as crossings are so sparse on the busy E. Portland streets. BUT they did put in a little used crossing at 141 & Powell.(why ?)
Who picks the crossing locations ? Do they throw darts at a map ? Most, with the exception of the 2 library crossings, seem arbitrary.
I’d bet that the one at Midland is the most used one in the whole Metro area. It sure doesn’t inspire confidence when the voice announces “cross with caution, cars may not stop”

The red light crossing , just South a bit from the Safeway at Powell confuses many drivers. You GO on a flashing RED.

davemess
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davemess

Cartlandia! In Brentwood-Darlington. YES, it’s part of Portland.

feralcow
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feralcow

i think 122nd is part of the streetcar master plan. not that it will ever happen, but there has been some planning around it.

GlowBoy
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GlowBoy

We concentrated a lot of our bikeway improvements in inner Portland because that was the low-hanging fruit, the biggest bang for the buck where you had higher density (not only of population, but destinations closer together) and a population eager for the change. That did make a lot of sense. As a first step.

Maybe one of the big reasons we’re “stuck at 6%” overall, even with many parts of central Portland having two or even three times that mode share, is that we’ve failed to extend a reasonably usable and safe bikeway network across the entire city.

Seems like all we did out there was to stripe 5′ lanes, well away from the security of the curb, along scary-ass roads like Division, Glisan and 122nd. That’s ridiculously inadequate.

We need to:
1. Improve connections for bikes and pedestrians on quiet non-arterial streets, so more people can get around by foot and pedal without having to spend so much time on the big streets. That means punching through connections where they don’t exist in the middle of the mega-blocks, and improving the inevitable crossings between these routes and the mega-arterials. Probably we need more full-on Red/Yellow/Green stop lights and not just amber flashers to really make this work. Focus needs to be on coherent longer east-west and north-south through routes with no more meandering than necessary, with solid and easy connections to schools, parks, grocery stores and employment centers.

2. Improve the safety of the major arterials for both pedestrians and cyclists. There are a lot of great ideas above for improving 122nd, and I like the idea of turning it into a pilot project for What Can Be Done. As Kunstler pointed out, “here, broad commercial boulevards … roll out remorselessly into the suburban mists.” The reason central Portland was easy to bike-ify, and East Portland is more difficult, is that the latter looks like most of America. But if we put our heads together and really figure out how to make it better, we can provide perhaps a better example for the rest of the country than what we’ve done so far.

Lenny Anderson
Guest
Lenny Anderson

The good news is that there is plenty of ROW on 122nd, unlike NE/SE 28th!
But look at the struggles to get private investment in Gateway and Lents, despite substantial public investments there. Without that not much really changes; with it, sometimes, too much changes. The challenge is how to find the balance between too little and too much re-development.
And how do you create “place” on such a wide street in which pedestrians and bicyclists feel like aliens as cars whiz by. 4-6 story apartments on Division are transforming the stretch west of Chavez into a “place,” but the proportions are such that for that to work on 122nd, buildings would have to twice as high or more…like in the picture from LA.

TOM
Guest
TOM

paikiala
Flashing red has alwasy meant stop, then go if it is clear. We really need to require everyone to retake the written test every four years. It’s an essential component of the Safe System street design that users know the law.
Recommended 2

I can tell you’ve never been there. They are already stopped when the reds start flashing.

The lights (doubles) go from green to yellow to solid red then to flashing red and back to green.

Most vehicles sit through the 2 different reds and wait for the green, since they’ve not seen this sequence before and nothing was ever explained.

Jake
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Jake

We don’t need bike lanes on 122nd. We don’t need sharrows. We don’t need buffers.

We need jobs. When we have employment opportunities that don’t require people to drive long distances to the central city or Washington County, more people will ride bikes.

But right now, most parents leave the house early in the morning for the long commute, children pile on the school buses for the long ride, and everyone gets home well into the evening.

This ain’t Central Portland. The challenges go way, way deeper.

Lenny Anderson
Guest
Lenny Anderson

From Clackamas Town Center to the Western Star truck plant on Swan Island in N. Portland is 50 minutes via MAX Green Line and the 85 bus; about the same or better from Rockwood via Blue Line; or Parkrose via the Red Line. Lloyd Center and Central Eastside jobs are even closer, and downtown not much more. PCC has an expanded campus at 82nd & Division where job skills training is a high priority.
More Good jobs in E. Multnomah county is a long shot, but the connections are there for where the jobs are. Where are the jobs now east of I-205?…Adventist Medical Center, the chip plant in Gresham, some medical clinics at Gateway. What else? The car dealerships on 122nd!

GlowBoy
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GlowBoy

I spent a few hours riding around East Portland today, inspired by Jonathan’s series earlier this month, to get a feel for the area by bike. I rode significant sections of Foster, Holgate, Division, Burnside, Glisan, Halsey, 122nd, 148th and 162nd, as well as some of the more minor neighborhood greenway-type streets like Mill and parts of the 130s bikeway.

My biggest a-ha moment was the realization of why East Portland’s mega-arterials seem so scary for cycling, even with bike lanes. I mean, I bike on the westside daily, braving streets like Hall or Murray that also have 5-6′ bike lanes and two lanes of car traffic each direction, but somehow I find the Beaverton arterials much less intimidating. It dawned on me that the parking lane to the right side of the bike lane is the biggest problem.

The westside arterials that I frequent generally do not have parking on them, and that makes them appear narrower. And while it might not be entirely rational, there is something about riding next to the curb that somehow feels a lot safer than riding 10-12′ away from it while 45mph traffic whizzes by (in lanes that themselves aren’t actually very wide).

I think a bike lane next to parking can work on a narrower street with 1 general lane in each direction, as long as the bike lane is positioned to avoid door-zone conflicts. But especially on East Portland’s 5-lane arterials, where the vast majority of that parking sits empty, it makes the road appear 75′ wide when barely more than 50′ is actually available for use by car traffic. Combine that with the excessive distance between traffic signals, and you’ve got way too much high-speed racing from stoplight to stoplight.

Most of the roads I mentioned above could use a diet, and it might not necessarily even involve removing travel lanes. Get rid of the barely-used street parking, protect the bike lane, and delineate the car-travel zone in a way that makes the road appear as narrow as it actually is. And put in way more signalized pedestrian crossings, all over Deep East: there’s no reason for ANY street in a populated area to go more than 6-10 blocks at a stretch (that’s 1/3 to 1/2 mile) without a stoplight.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

And contrary to my above post earlier this month, where I put quiet neighborhood greenways as roughly equal importance with arterial calming: after researching and doing today’s ride, I think taking on the arterials will ultimately make a bigger difference in safety.

The reason is not that the neighborhood greenways aren’t important, but that they’re better than I realized. Once I started mapping out my route for today, I discovered that there are more and better cross-neighborhood connections on quiet streets than I was aware of. People aren’t forced out onto the arterials to make short neighborhood connections as much as I thought. I could only wish for such good side-street connectivity where I work on the westside, and in SW Portland between home and work.

As is about to happen with the 130s Greenway the quiet routes need to be better marked, which will help divert cyclists taking longer trips away from the scary arterials. But more critically, they need better crossings of the mega-arterials, which again highlights that those major arterials are the big problem. Fix the big streets, and you fix East Portland for cyclists.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

One more thing: I rode a pretty good chunk of Glisan, westbound along the edge of Glendoveer Golf Course. Glisan is one of the worst streets in East Portland for having long stretches with no safe pedestrian crossing. But not only that, the section along Glendoveer doesn’t even have a freaking sidewalk! Where there are parked cars, if you don’t want to take the lane you have to ride on a narrow stretch of gravel singletrack. How in the world is Metro – which owns Glendoveer – exempted from having to put in a sidewalk along their property??

And BTW Glisan does appear wide enough for a bike lane if the curbside parking were removed – except that a few new bioswales have been put in (including one that’s at the top of the rise, so I don’t know how much stormwater it could possibly divert from the sewer system, but that’s an aside). And brainstorming just a moment ago, I just thought of a possible solution to the problem of all these new bioswales reducing the amount of room for bike lanes: how about continuing the bike lane THROUGH (i.e., OVER) the bioswale as a 3-4′ wide path? It would need to be a permeable surface, such as the metal grating material used on parts of the Eastbank Esplanade, but I’d think we could come up with something that would allow cyclists to ride right over the bioswales while allowing runoff to fall into the swale.