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First Look: Protected bike lane on SW Multnomah Boulevard

Posted by on December 10th, 2014 at 10:40 am

entering sw multnomah curb

(Photos by M. Andersen/BikePortland)

Like NE Cully Boulevard before it, SW Multnomah Boulevard has become a relatively far-flung street with a few blocks of one of the city’s best bike lanes.

With work nearly finished on the city’s eighth protected bike lane — three years in the making, it’s one of the last few bike projects begun under the Sam Adams mayoral administration — I stopped by Multnomah Tuesday to check it out.

Here’s the stretch of road that has been rebuilt, which covers about one-third of the mile or so that connects Multnomah Village to Barbur Boulevard:

Here’s a 2007 Google Street View shot from near the east end of the project:

multnomah before

And here’s one from this September, when construction was nearing completion:

multnomah after

As you see, the project also greatly improved the sidewalk here and added some natural stormwater drainage areas to each side of the street.

Many Portlanders will remember the media fury that erupted in 2010 when Mayor Adams ordered storm runoff projects that were going to lead to street rebuilding to coordinate with the transportation bureau so they could also include upgrades to bike facilities. Behold one of the few results.

According to project manager Rich Newlands, this project cost $4 million, half of it from stormwater improvement money (which comes from Portlanders’ water/sewer bills) and half from the state’s 2009 gas tax hike.

The north side of the street, where traffic points from Barbur toward Capitol Highway and Multnomah Village, has a 6.5-foot-wide curb-raised bike lane for a few blocks, which curves to the right behind a few car parking spaces.

raised side wide angle

The relatively low demand for street parking here means that there isn’t always another car to show how it works – but the markings are newly installed so more people will probably figure it out. Assuming people do park their cars in the right place, there are some advisory markings to help remind you to avoid the right-door zone. (Without markings like these, bike lanes are demonstrably terrible at keeping people out of door zones.)

behind the car

Another advantage of this setup is that the right door of a car opens much less often than the left one.

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As for the curb itself, it’s got a very smooth grade and is easy to move on and off, much like the ones Jonathan saw last year in Copenhagen. (With all the Danophiles in the Portland Bureau of Transportation, I’m sure this is no coincidence.)

curb closeup

And here’s one nice touch at the western end of the project: a bike signal detector to help stop you from being stranded at a red light. It looks as if it’ll soon get a stencil to help indicate where you should pedal to activate the light.

signal detector

On the south side of the street, which leads traffic eastbound toward Barbur (and downtown Portland) the design is different. It’s a 9-foot wide pathway designed to be shared by people walking and biking:

mail truck sidewalk

Portland Bicycle Planning Coordinator Roger Geller said this should be considered a “shared pathway” rather than a “sidewalk” because of two factors: “width and intent.”

In addition to having room for a bike to pass someone walking (though not two people walking side by side), this path has ramps on both ends that make it easy and intuitive to bike on and off of.

climbing curb

rapid flash beacon

In the second photo, you can also see the newest installment of Portland’s new favorite tool: the rapid-flash beacon, which gives people the option of drawing attention to the fact that they’re about to use a crosswalk.

Geller said he thinks this merging of bike and foot traffic will work because the south side of Multnomah doesn’t have much development.

“We don’t see that as being a very high-demand walking corridor there,” he said. “Those properties are not likely to turn over and redevelop any time soon, if ever. Certainly not in any significant way.”

Earlier plans had actually called for no sidewalk at all, but that idea was scotched.

“We recognized that if we put some concrete out there, people were going to walk on it,” Geller said.

In about half an hour, I only saw one man biking here midmorning on a rainy Tuesday. But talked to one woman, walking her dog on the new sidewalk, who said this project has let her son bike to school when she wouldn’t have let him use the street before. She expressed hope that it’ll eventually be extended further west.

This project, though it’s very nice to ride, won’t make a huge difference to the area until more of Multnomah is rearranged — three blocks of riding outside a door zone aren’t much good if you’re back in the door zone for the next three.

But the real payoff here is very long-term: if Southwest Barbur is chosen as the route for the planned Southwest Corridor project, as most people expect it to be, there’ll be a chance for the street to get comfortable bike lanes leading to many important commercial nodes and, thrillingly, a relatively flat all-ages bike connection to the rest of the city.

If Portland can make that happen, this link between Barbur and one of Southwest Portland’s coolest commercial areas (Multnomah Village) will be essential. Kudos to the city for having the foresight to snatch this opportunity when it came up.

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Lynne
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Lynne

those also exist in some parts of Hillsboro. My brain does not recognize them as a place where bicycles should be. I’d see that ramp and probably stay in the street.

jeg
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jeg

I’m excited about this. Multnomah Village and SW Portland has a lot of potential to be a nice corridor for density and community. Ground floor retail and residential above in mid rises. I really hope the SW corridor ends up being MAX. That is pivotal to tying all quadrants of Portland together. SW Portland can really thrive and shine like Division and Williams with their flurry of positive development and increase in housing stock. I look forward to a great evolution in SW with MAX and density.

Rick
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Rick

In order to activate this new addition to Multnomah Blvd, cycle tracks are needed on Multnomah Blvd from SW 40th to where it meets SW Garden Home Road. Then SW Garden Home Road needs ped and bike improvements along with the missing link of SW Capitol Highway by SW Taylors Ferry Road. It is nice to see this new addition to the Multnomah neighborhood, though.

Spiffy
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Spiffy

I wouldn’t call that a protected bike lane… as you say, it’s protected by empty parking spaces… air is not a good buffer between a cyclist and a driver… Cully has the same issue…

also, if that’s a shared pathway does that mean bicycles are required to use it? I wouldn’t think so… and that creates a problem of bikes darting into the traffic lane when the bike lane ends into a sidewalk… they had room to continue the bike lane here separate from the sidewalk but they chose conflict instead of separation…

it’s better than Cully because there are no houses so there won’t be a problem with garbage cans blocking the paths…

TonyT
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TonyT

That first image makes me wince. I can easily imagine a driver creeping out to see past the parked cars on the left, just as the bike lane zigs right toward them.

It reminds me of all the zig zaggin on Cully which I find very discomforting. So much so that I prefer to take the street.

Alan Love
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Alan Love

Like most other “good” bike infrastructure on the West side, this project is wonderful for all of a 1/2 mile. Before and after it’s still just 1990’s bike lanes, so for the “interested but concerned crowd” it doesn’t really connect much. It’s a great start, but it won’t really be used much until the entire Multnomah corridor gets finished in 2257/Stardate 4438.27. It does seem there is some momentum brewing, though, as there are other improvements (though small in scale) like the area under the Capitol Hwy bridge that area being built as we speak.

wsbob
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wsbob

The bikeway being elevated slightly from the adjoining main lane is a commendable effort, though I don’t feel certain that’s going to be enough of a barrier to motor vehicles, to draw to biking people that don’t want to ride directly alongside motor vehicles. And this may be a lot of people potentially interested in riding.

Side note: I’m interested in how well the elevation works to resist road debris from being spread into the bikeway, as it does in non-elevated bike lanes.

Rapid Flash Beacons: My observation of the one such signal I’ve seen in action numerous times, at the Westside Trail on Baseline Rd in Beaverton, is that they work very well. On the road, the flashing yellow lights are very visible from 200′ back or so. They begin flashing within two or three seconds after the person intending to cross, pushes the button. People driving seem to consistently stop. These lights can be excellent aids to safe use of the road.

El Biciclero
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El Biciclero

I’m starting to think that the counterpart to “vehicular cycling” is “pedestrian cycling”. Isn’t there anything in between? Why must we feel like we need to pedal uncomfortably fast (to avoid angering motorists) or wobble along uncomfortably slowly (to negotiate zig-zags, be prepared to yield at driveways, and avoid scaring pedestrians)?

Most designs like this seem to be aimed not at “protecting” cyclists from marauding drivers, but at “protecting” drivers from having to pay attention, which they don’t really do, since they more strongly (than, say, a bike lane) suggest that cyclists *must* stay to the far right at all times, even being hidden protected behind parked cars at times.

Also, with all the focus on separation, why are we leaving out pedestrians? Don’t they deserve to be “protected” from scorchers who are out there mowing down everything in their path? Oh, that’s right—when it comes to mixing cars and bikes, we expect cyclists to get out of the way and give up their right-of-way rather than expecting drivers to slow down, but when it comes to mixing bikes and pedestrians, we expect cyclists to slow down and take responsibility for pedestrian safety. I forgot.

Jeff M
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Jeff M

I’m very excited for this. It’s a great improvement that will provide several opportunities for improved connections as the SW Corridor is developed.

One point of concern is where the you highlighted the westbound cycle track being directed to the right of parked cars just prior to 31st. Immediately after that point, it makes a quick transition back toward the auto lanes in the same location that cars are beginning a right turn. So, bikes are moving left as they emerge from behind the parking strip and cars are merging right to make a turn at 31st. Then, a couple blocks later at 34th, the exact opposite takes place – the bike lane continues straight and the parking strip is inset to the right of the bike lane. I can’t think of a reason why the design is inconsistent.

At the east end of the eastbound bike lane (and outside the scope of this project), we really need improved crossing of Barbur to connect this route beyond Multnomah. Right now, that means waiting at the stop sign on 22nd and Barbur, next to the Boom Boom Room, to cross four general purpose lanes and a turn lane. It would be fantastic if we could continue east on Multnomah, under the Barbur overpass, and then connect to a separated bike path that climbs back up to the northbound side of Barbur – bypassing the dangerous crossing altogether.

Tyler
Guest

Swing and a miss.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

For me personally, it isn’t really an improvement. I never ride this section westbound, only eastbound. There was already a bike lane, and the new shared pathway isn’t any improvement. It’s wider and separated, but I fully expect to have occasional conflicts with pedestrians yelling at me for using the “sidewalk.”

That said, aside from MY needs as an eastbound cyclist it is still a major improvement overall. It will make this dark section of Multnomah much safer for pedestrians, and for westbound cyclists the new bike lane is great. Hopefully the tavern patrons are finally figuring out to put their cars in the parking spaces beyond the bike lane instead of in the bike lane, which they were doing during much of the construction period.

The biggest problems, as already mentioned, aren’t with this stretch, but with connectivity further afield. Right now a significant stretch of eastbound bike lane is closed for clean streets construction just to the west of Multnomah Village, creating a (temporary) dangerous situation.

And the most natural connection back home from eastbound Multnomah, if I’m going to take it instead of Beaverton-Hillsdale, is Barbur. I didn’t expect the recent Vermont/Newbury bridge rehab project to magically make it a nice place to ride, but there’s a huge defect for cyclists.

Fortunately the railings are higher and the ramp up to the first bridge going northbound is nice and smooth, but the second bridge has a deeply recessed drainage grate right in the middle of the path at the bottom of the ramp up onto the bridge. This is particularly dangerous here because the bridge’s sidepath is extremely narrow, and a slight deviation from course (such as recovering from a big bump like this) can cause a crash. Cyclists WILL end up being injured here, I predict. I am extremely disappointed that this drainage grate wasn’t relocated out of the way as part of this project.

PJ Souders
Guest

This was my main commute for several years. Multnomah was not particularly stressful for riding once I got used to the speed differential (there’s freeway on/off ramps on the other side of Barbur) but it was dreadful for walking. Despite living less than 2 blocks from Jimmy’s I almost never went there because it was unpleasant to get at on foot. The bike improvements are…fine, I guess…but I’m really glad to see some proper accommodation for foot traffic.

Adam H.
Guest
Adam H.

Why wasn’t this design considered for N Williams?

danny
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danny

I use the lanes built by this project on a daily basis. I’ve been riding this route for over 20 years, and there’s no doubt that there have been huge improvements over that time. Yes, it is easy to quibble about specific design elements and the relatively small area of improved cycleway, but this project provides significant improvements for both cycling and storm-water management. I’m glad I live in a city that is trying to put to use some of the latest innovations in promoting alternatives to driving and in keeping storm-water out of the overtaxed sewer system. In most other places in the U.S. cyclists would be lucky to get a wider road and a little paint, if that. Kudos to the city for this one (and I have my fingers crossed that someday I can ride Barbur with anything near the better sense of security I now feel on Multnomah…).

ac
Guest
ac

There are some unfortunate transitions along this corridor where the path leaves the roadway for the raised path…sharper turns than i would want to use at commute speed, tho probably fine for the < 12mph crowd. I expect to see the confident riders just avoiding the raised lane for the sake of continuity and speed. [east bound at 37th in particular]

Jeff S
Guest
Jeff S

Nice piece, Michael.

“Another advantage of this setup is that the right door of a car opens much less than the left one.”

It’s a little late in the game, but you should add “often”, lest someone misunderstand the sense of this.

Vince
Guest
Vince

I’m on this section of road in various forms of transit pretty much daily. Until I read the article, I had no idea that the south side of the road was a shared path. I simply stayed in the main traffic lane.
That said, one suggestion for future projects might be to get more signage as to the intent of lanes, and get them up ASAP. If you don’t know where to ride, or where a rider is going, the element of predictability is lost. That’s when things get scary.

Justin Carinci
Guest

I’ve figured out the secret: roads named “Multnomah” get protected bike facilities before others. Multnomah Lane, Multnomah Avenue, Multnomah Circle, Multnomah Way are next.

m bodd
Guest
m bodd

how are you supposed to cross back over to North bound transit to enter freeway on ramp on route to terwilliger?? i would not want to be stuck on the wrong side of the street just to ride this path for 1.5 minutes!!!! i hate the new design.

Clark in Vancouver
Guest
Clark in Vancouver

Grade separated bike lane?