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Williams Ave project will break ground next month

It can’t happen soon enough.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

At long last, the Portland Bureau of Transportation is ready to break ground on a re-design of N Williams Avenue. The project began in January 2011 with an eye toward transforming Williams into a street that offered world-class bicycling conditions.

However, as many of you know, just five months into the public process, the project became embroiled in a wide-ranging and often emotional citywide discussion about race and gentrification.

At the end of a 16-month public process, PBOT and the project’s citizen advisory committee finally reached consensus on a suite of changes that will have a dramatic impact on everyone who travels on Williams.

According to PBOT project manager Rich Newlands, the project is slated to begin in the first week of September. The contractor then has three months to complete all the work. That means the new lane configurations and other changes will be fully functional no later than early December.

Here are some highlights of the project (taken directly from PBOT website):

Improved pedestrian crossings:

  • 5 crossings will be upgraded with curb extensions and painted crosswalk markings.
  • A new traffic signal will be installed at N. Cook Street.


Traffic calming:

  • Speeds are being reduced from 30 to 25 mph and 20 mph in the main commercial section between Fremont and Skidmore.
  • Two lanes of motor vehicle travel will be changed into one lane of motor vehicle travel and one left-side bicycle lane on most of the corridor, with the exception of the section between Fremont and Skidmore where travelers will share the road. This change will accommodate growing bicycle travel, eliminate conflicts with transit, and improve safety for pedestrians, who no longer will be faced with the “double threat” of crossing two lanes of traffic.

Enhanced transit and bike travel:

  • Transit and bicycle traffic will both flow more smoothly as the bicycle lane moves from the right side of the street to the left, eliminating conflict with buses which make frequent right-side stops
  • The bicycle lane also will be widened from five feet to 12 feet to accommodate the only roadway in Portland that has reached capacity for bicycle users. N Williams is Portland’s busiest bicycle corridor with 4,000 cyclists at peak hour

Driving – what’s new, what remains the same:

Improving the environment for transit, biking and walking gives people choices and increases the capacity of the street to handle more travelers in this rapidly developing urban neighborhood.

  • Turn lanes will be maintained for drivers, to miniimize congestion from turning vehicles. Drivers will need to look out for bicycles on the left as they turn.
  • The new traffic signal at N. Cook will make that crossing safer and more predictable for drivers and all travelers.

Public Art:

  • Public art will be installed to honor the rich history of the neighborhood as a center for Portland’s African-American community

The new design will consist of two basic configurations. Most of the project (which stretches from Broadway to Killingsworth) will feature four lanes: a left-side buffered bicycle travel lane, two parking lanes, and a standard travel lane:

And in the busiest section of Williams — from Fremont to Skidmore — the configuration will be what PBOT refers to as, “Shared Left-Side Bikeway & Left Turn Lane”:

One unexpected thing that emerged from the Williams project public process was a desire by many people to make NE Rodney into a neighborhood greenway. Rodney is used as an alternate for people who don’t like the hustle-and-bustle of Williams. Newlands said PBOT plans to finish all the work on Williams before turning any attention to Rodney. There’s a bit of design and public process work that remains for Rodney and PBOT says that phase of the project will be put out for bid in spring 2015.

Learn more the North Williams Safety Project on PBOT’s website and browse our archives for past coverage.