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First look: PBOT’s new bike lane ‘adjustments’ on N Willamette Blvd

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

New and wide and buffered on Willamette Blvd near University of Portland.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) repaved a 1.2 mile section of N Willamette Blvd on Thursday night. As we reported last month, PBOT wisely seized this opportunity to update the lane striping to better reflect current usage patterns.

In PBOT’s words their plans for the Willamette Blvd makeover included, “Making adjustments to make it more comfortable to people that are biking.”

On Friday I (along with about 150 other people in the “Policymakers Ride” which I’ll recap later) got my first look at the changes.

The new paving and striping is located between the main entrance to University of Portland (between N Haven and Fiske) and Columbia Park (N Woolsey). The new road is niiiice and smooooth, and the contrast between the black pavement and bright white bike lane striping makes a huge difference in safety and compliance (versus a bike lane that is worn away).

While the new paint is nice, it’s the width of the bike lane that makes most of the difference. PBOT has made the bike lanes one foot wider in the entire section, going from five to six feet. And at the swooping corners near U of P — where people frequently drive onto the bike lane and wear it away — PBOT has added another foot and a second stripe to “buffer” the bike lane.

Here’s how it turned out:

When a bike lane is six feet, it’s suddenly comfortable to ride side-by-side. This is PBOT traffic safety staffer Greg Raisman and Filmed By Bike founder (among other things) Ayleen Crotty.


Trust me. These folks would never have felt
safe enough to ride like this prior to the new striping.
Mia Birk from Alta Planning/Alta Bicycle Share enjoys the wider bike lane alongside Gerik Kransky from the BTA.

One extra foot and a buffer in the corners might not seem like a big deal, but on a bike the extra width is very noticeable. I was riding with a friend in the new section and I pointed out how we could easily ride side-by-side. Then, as we crossed into the old section, without even noticing, my riding mate dropped back about a half-wheel. With a five-foot bike lane, it’s not possible to comfortably ride side-by-side without the outside person riding on the white strip — which is unsettling to the rider and can also enrage people in cars.

The wider bike lanes are a welcome improvement; but I was most pleasantly surprised at the changes on the northbound bikeway as you approach the main entrance to U of P. Where there used to be on-street auto parking that created a serious pinch-point and gap in the bikeway, there is now just a nice, wide and buffered bike lane!

Here’s the before (I even took video of this intersection back in 2009)…

And after…

Looking north with U of P entrance up ahead.
Looking south from where cars used to be parked.

(In the southbound direction near the U of P entrance there’s a bike/bus mixing lane and other changes I didn’t get the chance to see for myself.)

And initial reactions from users are positive. Here are two comments we received over the weekend on last month’s story…

It’s always nice to see PBOT update street designs to reflect today’s usage demands; but let’s not forget that there is still work to do in order to bring Willamette Blvd up to current standards. PBOT knows this, that’s why they set-aside planning money to create a “world-class” bikeway here several years ago (only to shelve the plan after a few residents balked at giving up on-street auto parking).

So, enjoy this little step of progress and stay tuned for something more substantial (hopefully) soon.

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