After city balks at neighbors’ request for bike lane, 34th Ave resident goes public

narrow passage
Riding on 34th between Clinton and Division.
(Photos: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

After nine months and 270 petition signatures, the people who live on SE 34th Avenue between Clinton and Division just can’t seem to persuade the city to remove five parking spots in front of their houses in order to add a bike lane.

“It’s not strictly a bicycle issue. It’s just traffic working more smoothly.”
— Mark Zahner

“We’re just framing the argument as safety on this block vs. parking spots,” said Mark Zahner, who lives at 34th and Clinton and has led the campaign. “We see there’s a lot of near misses, we’ve acknowledged the problem, we’ve got support from the neighbors. Where do we go from here?”

Starting last winter, Zahner collected 170 in-person signatures in support of his concept, which would convert the one-block stretch along a popular bike route to northbound-only for cars, with a northbound shared lane and a southbound bike-only lane. Last month, feeling that the city had brushed off his concerns and those of his neighbors, Zahner upped the ante with a 12-foot-long diagram of his plan on a sign in his front yard. He also launched an online version of his petition that has drawn 101 signatures in two weeks.

Though it’s unmarked with sharrows on this stretch, 34th is a popular bike route south of Laurelhurst Park thanks to the flat grade and the traffic signal across Division. But that traffic signal often fools cars and trucks headed eastbound on Division that it’s a good place to turn south.

Actually, 34th is four feet narrower than other nearby streets. Zahner says it’s just not wide enough to safely fit two parking lanes plus traffic in both directions.

Zahner with his own bicycle on the street in front of his house.

So Zahner, who works as an architect, drew up a plan that adds a few parking spaces on the east side of the street and removes parking on the west side, for a net loss of five spaces.

“It’s not strictly a bicycle issue,” Zahner said in an interview Thursday. “It’s just traffic working more smoothly so you aren’t brushing up against each other. … Basically it’s jammed there every day, and people get impatient.”

Last year, he persuaded nine of the 11 households on his street to support his bike lane plan. There’s since been some turnover among residents of the block, and Zahner hasn’t yet approached the new arrivals. Last fall, the Richmond Neighborhood Association sent a letter to Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick describing the “overwhelming traffic safety concerns of neighborhood residents” about 34th and asking the city to study possible solutions — but it stopped short of explicitly recommending parking removal, a hot issue in the area.

“Nobody wants to stick their neck out it seems politically and endorse removal of parking,” Zahner said.

He said that Portland Bicycle Coordinator Roger Geller wouldn’t push the plan without an explicit endorsement from the neighborhood association.

“If PBOT does it on their own and they get somebody in the media saying ‘What are they doing removing parking?’ then they have someone to say ‘Well, the neighborhood association endorsed it,'” Zahner said. “And the neighborhood association doesn’t want to do that.”

An impromptu neighborhood discussion has also popped up on Zahner’s sign:

“How is this existing road unsafe?” “Cars drive right down the middle right at oncoming vehicles.”

In February, the city sent traffic engineer Matthew Machado to discuss the issue with the neighborhood association. According to Zahner, Machado said the city couldn’t study the issue adequately until after construction work on Division Street was complete.

Zahner said he and others felt the transportation bureau was “attempting to appease us and we were very unsatisfied.”

He’s continuing to gather signatures and working with the new BikeLoudPDX advocacy group that has been trying to reduce heavy cut-through traffic on Clinton, which has for years carried twice as much traffic as the national standard for a bike boulevard.

Zahner said he’s also considering organizing a block party that would allow the neighbors to do  a one-day demonstration of a redesigned one-way street on 34th.

With so much discussion about traffic on Clinton Street right now, there’s certainly potential for change. We’ll continue to follow this issue as it develops.

(If you’d like to learn more about this issue and/or get involved with BikeLoudPDX, join them at a planning meeting this Sunday at 3:00 pm at Montavilla Park on NE 82nd and Glisan.)

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