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Five years later, buffered bike lanes are a fact of life on outer Holgate

Posted by on June 13th, 2014 at 11:59 am

lentz automotive with biker

A person bikes past Lentz Automotive, an auto shop whose owner objected to bike lanes added to outer SE Holgate in 2009.(Photos M.Andersen/BikePortland)

This post is part of our special, week-long focus on east Portland.

It was one of the boulders that broke Portland’s bike wave: a redesign of SE Holgate Street that converted one mixed traffic lane in each direction to a huge buffered bike lane between I-205 and 122nd Avenue.

“Get rid of ‘em. We need the traffic… it sure makes it a pain in the butt to get in and out of businesses.”
— Doug Lentz, Lentz Automotive

KATU-TV branded it a “bike lane to nowhere,” quoting the area’s postal delivery worker. “I bought my property on a four-lane highway,” David Lentz of Lentz Automotive told the station. “I rely on traffic flow.” Down the street at Pro Hair and Nails, owner Kim Lynn told KATU that she’d lost a third of her business after the road diet.

Almost 200 people, most angry at the city for not consulting locals before doing the project, packed Holgate Baptist Church for a meeting with city staff.

The lanes survived. But in the office of Mayor Sam Adams, “Holgate” became, for years, a one-word shorthand for what happens when you push bike amenities down the throat of a neighborhood that “isn’t ready” for them.

Meanwhile, Holgate was also becoming a dramatically safer street, mostly because going down to a single auto lane in each direction had dramatically reduced the number of people driving more than 10 mph over the 35 mph speed limit. Extreme speeding fell by 79 percent eastbound and 30 percent westbound. Moderate and severe crashes plummeted 86 percent more or less immediately.

PBOT data on SE Holgate Blvd. The street was re-striped for buffered bike lanes in 2009.

From November 2008 to November 2010, meanwhile, city traffic counts show that auto traffic on Holgate fell 11 percent in one direction, 16 percent in the other. (It’s not clear how much this was related to the recession; U.S. job losses peaked in January 2009.) Typical traffic speeds didn’t change; TriMet buses reported 15 seconds of delay and the usual 85th percentile speed on the street stayed at 40 mph.

Bike traffic has probably risen slightly. In about half an hour walking around Holgate and 104th between 4:30 and 6 pm, I noticed about 10 bikes using the lanes.

auto traffic on holgate

Typical eastbound auto traffic on Holgate at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

On our 122nd Avenue ride last Sunday, Planning Commissioner (and bike infrastructure fan) Chris Smith said that in his view, the bigger problem had been that the Holgate project was so cheap — just $30,000 — that the city hadn’t bothered to give it a significant budget for community outreach, the series of meetings that can address concerns, defuse anger and build consensus.

Five years later, we wanted to know what Holgate Street’s users think, too. Here’s what they told us.

doug lentz

Doug Lentz said his family’s shop is “pretty busy” five years after the road diet, but that a newer auto shop might have struggled.

Doug Lentz still hates the bike lanes.

“Get rid of ’em,” he said. “We need the traffic.”

Lentz, the brother of Lentz Automotive owner David Lentz and an employee at the auto body shop, said the traffic had been cut in half and that there had been “several more accidents out here since the bike lanes came in.”

I asked if he was sure traffic on the street had really halved.

“It might not be half, but it sure makes it a pain in the butt to get in and out of businesses,” he said.

During rush hour, I noticed, traffic is indeed thick enough that it’d take a while to turn left onto Holgate from a side street or driveway.

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Lentz is also troubled by the number of people he sees biking in the wrong direction in the new lanes. In my short time there, I saw four people doing this — one of them only briefly because he’d taken advantage of a gap in traffic to turn left, the others simply not bothering to cross the street.

Lentz feels people are “not held accountable for anything” when they’re riding bicycles.

“They could total the side of a car out here and go right away,” he said, referring to the cars parked in front of the auto body shop.

I asked if he was aware of a time when this had happened.

“They ride on the sidewalk, getting too close to really nice cars out here,” he said. “I’m sure they have damaged them.”

Finally, I asked Lentz about the shop’s business.

“We’re pretty busy,” he said. “We’ve always been busy. Lentz has been here 20 years. Longtime customers and word of mouth counts for something. If we relied on solely off-street business, we probably wouldn’t have made it. I don’t know that a new business would have survived if they’d started five years ago here.”

bike lane fans

Jasz Morgan and Steve Williams, who live nearby, said the lanes have improved riding on Holgate but that many drivers, especially young ones, don’t respect bikes on the road.

I walked down the street from Lentz to Pro Hair and Nails, still open but with no customers at the moment I walked in, midafternoon Thursday. A woman there politely said she didn’t want to talk to reporters.

“They’re like, ‘Stop spending your money on bike paths. Well, I’m like, ‘Stop polluting your frickin’ city.’”
— Steve Williams, local resident

Next door to the hair salon was Time Out Deli and Pub, which seems to be the only business on Holgate with a bike parking rack: one staple installed right against the wall. When I arrived Tuesday at 5 pm, two bikes were locked to it. Inside, I heard a very different story about Holgate’s buffered bike lane.

“I use it all the time,” said Jasz Morgen, drinking beer at the bar.

Morgen, who lives in the Lents neighborhood, said he owns a car but gets around mostly by bike because, as he said, “I drink.” He said he likes riding the Springwater Corridor and would prefer to see money on crossing improvements there, but that Holgate is at least a better place to ride than 122nd.

Sitting beside Morgen, Steve Williams of Powellhurst also said the bike lane was a major improvement to Holgate.

“They’re doing their best to make improvements, you know,” said Williams, 52, who used to commute by bike and still rides. “It’s getting better out here.”

Williams said he’d happily vote for a $12-a-month street fee to improve transportation maintenance and safety — “that’s three drinks,” he said, gesturing to his beer — and doesn’t agree with critics of bike projects. “They’re like, ‘Stop spending your money on bike paths,'” he said. “Well, I’m like, ‘Stop polluting your frickin’ city.'”

holgate bar

Matthew, left, said bike lanes like the one on Holgate were  “the only thing Sam Adams did that makes sense down the line” but that Holgate’s was irrelevant because it doesn’t connect to enough destinations.

When I stopped by Time Out again on Thursday afternoon, two different people at the bar had similar things to say.

“The concept is excellent,” said a man named Matthew who wouldn’t give his last name. “Five stars. It’s the only thing Sam Adams did that makes sense down the line.”

“Five stars. It’s the only thing Sam Adams did that makes sense down the line.”

But Matthew, who said he’d bike commuted through north Portland for seven years in the 1980s, said the Holgate bike lane isn’t very well-ridden because it’s not connected to a network or to destinations.

“The bike lane doesn’t really matter here,” he said. “There’s no commerce here. All you have is people who live in the area. That’s it. … The best way would have been Powell.”

Carman Bosin, also at the bar, said the Holgate bike lanes had mostly made it harder to turn onto the street.

“Even just taking a right, it takes forever,” said Bosin, who lives near 111th and Holgate.

Barbara Hazar, who was tending the bar, said she wasn’t aware that Holgate has bike lanes.

“I don’t even pay attention,” she said. “I just wonder who’s going to be paying for it. They should make the bicyclists pay.”

But Robert Taylor, sitting at the bar, broke in to disagree.

“Oh, you need bicyclists,” he said. “Bicycling should be free, because people with cars are destroying the world.”

Then, after arguing briefly but politely with Hazar, Taylor paid his tab and headed to his car.

— For all these interviews, I introduced myself as a “reporter,” but didn’t mention where from in order to avoid biasing people’s responses. Read more stories from our East Portland Week.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. 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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Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
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kiel johnson

I think the city should just pay Michael and Jonathan to go around to bars and talk to people about bicycling projects, would probably reach a more diverse and larger crowd! Nicely done!

Cora Potter
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Cora Potter

I hang out with dudes (and dudettes) like this a lot. I often think we should just have mobile public meetings in bars and cafes – and I’ve even recommended to PBOT that they do things like set up a table outside of WalMart or in the plaza by Starbucks at Eastport Plaza. The best public outreach we’ve (Lents) done as a neighborhood was having a 3-week long open house at Lents Commons (now Fruit Face). Normal folks could wander in, peruse 3-4 posters about the project (Lents Park Master Plan), complete a survey at their leisure and put it in a lock-box.

Terry D
Guest
Terry D

Good idea. We are reviewing our NA outreach plan on Tuesday and will make it a point to bring this up.

Steph Routh
Guest
Steph Routh

Amen, Kiel. This is such an awesome article! The Holgate bike lane is now 5 blocks from my house, and I enjoy riding it every chance I can get.

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

i go out of my way to use the holgate bike lanes but they need a paint refresh in some areas. they need to continue down holgate and connect with foster and gladstone.

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

a paint refresh AND real stripes in the buffered zone…

it’s so hard to tell it’s a bike lane because it’s not striped like any other bike lane in the city…

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

i never understood what pbot was trying to do with those faded green splotches and bizarre lackadaisical hatch marks. even so i have never had a problem with encroachment. the only problem is that it abruptly disappears after 205.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

The 130’s project will connect with Holgate and I think Holgate east of 122nd has funding for bike lanes and sidewalk improvements.
The 100/101 greenway crosses Holgate at the refuge islands. It connects south to the Springwater and north to the Bush greenway that parallels Powell east to 148th. 100th also crosses Steele that goes west over the I-205 to the SE 80’s greenway.

Terry D
Guest
Terry D

Every neighborhood needs a greenway that connects schools, parks and commercial centers. Every region also needs acess to a good commuter route as well. Different types of routes, different purposes. i have noticed that PBOT is starting to pay better attention to possible restriping options after grind down projects: NE Glisan/SE Stark/ NE Halsey. Hopefully this becomes standard practice.

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

connections to outer portland are fine but it desperately needs better connectivity with the inner pdx bike network. the 205 bike path is not the answer. in fact, i loathe 205 with a fiery passion and it really irritates me how hard it is to bike towards clackamas without using that lung-blackening evil mup.

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

it’s good to hear that drivers in east portland like the bike infrastructure… sometimes the haters have such a loud voice that it’s hard to hear the meek standing up for things…

was carless
Guest
was carless

Jonathan, I think its great that you did this. Must be tough finding people out there with opinions on bike infrastructure, but I’m glad to see that you did this.

Also, those guys made some good observations, in particular “…the Holgate bike lane isn’t very well-ridden because it’s not connected to a network or to destinations.”

Spot-on. We need more infrastructure, not less.

davemess
Guest
davemess

Uh, it connects to the 205 path which is pretty heavily used. Also goes out to Powell Butte (where Holgate ends). Yes, it would be nice to improve 122nd and 92nd, then it would have better connections.

I would also like to say this was a fine article!

eli bishop
Guest
eli bishop

hopefully someday it will connect to powell butte, but for now the bike lane ends at 122nd.

Alan Love
Guest
Alan Love

Traffic “cut in half” and “several more accidents” appears to be the same as “11% reduction” and dramatically fewer collisions when it comes to perception. This is why data collection matters. When people on foot rage against people on bikes because they are so dangerous because of all that stop sign running, I like to point out that the annualized death rate this century of car vs. peds is over 4,000 vs. around 0.25 for pedestrians killed by people on bikes (one death in each of the last two years around the country, and I think one more way back in 2008ish). A roughly 16,000 to 1 ratio, but people on bikes are the target of outcry. Amazing how perception doesn’t match reality.

davemess
Guest
davemess

“Lentz, the brother of Lentz Automotive owner David Lentz and an employee at the auto body shop, said the traffic had been cut in half and that there had been “several more accidents out here since the bike lanes came in.”

This is just so sad: “My opinion is completely contradictory to what the data says, but I’m sticking with it!” is essentially what he is saying.

Anecdotally I drive down this section of Holgate during “peak” evening hours about once a week (sorry, but it’s something I have to have a car for). The traffic flow is EXCELLENT (much better than Powell, which is why I take it), and the traffic is fairly light in general.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Seriously. He couldn’t be more wrong. Given the reduction in incidences of serious crashes, Mr. Lentz is basically advocating for the serious injury of an addition 6-8 people on Holgate each year. It’s good for business!

Joe
Guest
Joe

Thanks for reminding me to never patronize Lentz Auto. “I’m sure they have damaged them” without facts not only shows that you can’t have a reasonable conversation with him, but, he’ll make broad assumptions/stereotypes based on purely backwards thinking.

Granpa
Guest
Granpa

I am sure Doug Lentz knew he was cornered and that the validity of his opinion was being undermined. He took an out to save face and maintain his (unvalidated) point of view. Any BS meter could pick that up. Meanwhile, I want to party with Jazz!

jocko
Guest
jocko

I think you also have to consider the “cyclists” he often notices, especially given his comment on wrong way riders. I live about 20 blocks from the auto shop and while we have an increasing amount of commuters and recreational riders we also have a lot of drug casualties riding stolen kids bikes (gonna get flamed for this i know) in our neighborhood.

He might also see bikes as a “fancy Portland” thing and I am guessing Doug is NOT a fancy lad.

Matheas Michaels
Guest
Matheas Michaels

Fantastic article, loved it.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

“Bicycling should be free, because people with cars are destroying the world.”

Quote of the week.

Matti
Guest
Matti

Buy that man a beer!

Reza
Guest
Reza

More money for public outreach on Holgate may have helped the City and locals reach consensus, but somehow I doubt that many of the naysayers could be reasoned with. I went to one of the City’s public meetings and staff repeatedly made the case that a road diet would increase safety and improve traffic flow. But all these people could comprehend was that they were losing a travel lane.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

Even during the Bush greenway outreach, a greenway with no diversion proposed, the local residents demanded to know the impact of Holgate and how come a greenway was needed when Powell was to the north and Holgate was to the south. Imagine kids riding on Powell or Holgate.

jonno
Guest
jonno

Spot on…seems to me that public outreach is not always a good thing. Regardless of what “the public” (and the news hype) thought at the time, the bike lanes were then and are now a step in the right direction. Whether it was hubris, stupidity or guts, if only our current city leadership could do the same re: 20’s bikeway.

Terry D
Guest
Terry D

Excellent work Michael. I did not pay attention to this project until after the controversy, so this filled in a few history gaps. I am happy to see that most are happy with the improved road environment. This meshes with what acedemic studies have shown.

Jess
Guest
Jess

I bike this at least a few times a week. I always see at least a dozen other bicyclist out riding on it too. From the weekend warrior on high end road bikes with full spandex attire, to the old Asian man collecting cans with a worn out kid trailer, and yes, unfortunately a whole lot of tweakers too :/

Bottom line, the people out in outer SE / Lents – Gilbert area need bike infrastructure badly. A whole lot less of the “two car” families out in that hood. Before this lane (from what I heard) you could not ride out there without getting a flat from all the broken glass.

Spencer Boomhower
Guest

This was great:

Morgen, who lives in the Lents neighborhood, said he owns a car but gets around mostly by bike because, as he said, “I drink.”

Bravo, sir.

9watts
Guest
9watts

This is why it is important to just do the right thing; the whiners be damned. What are we waiting for?
Rich Newlands, are you thinking about 28th?

Excellent article!

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

…so on ward to the 25% mode split for the 2030 plan goal!

007
Guest
007

Smoke pot, smoke pot. Everybody smoke pot.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

The 11% drop reported in corridor traffic is pretty common in my experience (Vancouver’s early road diets 2000 thru 2004) and in the literature we reviewed then. I would also expect that any traffic volumes depressed by the Great Recession would have begun in 2007 or 2008. (I assume the city’s traffic volume data collection process for this project was robust and minimized as many variables as possible.)

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

I was barely aware these bike lanes existed – I think I’ve driven that section of Holgate maybe once since they were put in, and hadn’t biked them.

But today I rode all over East Portland, and I have to say that of the major streets I rode on, that section of Holgate was easily the most pleasant – or least unpleasant, anyway – of any of them.