Esplanade closure begins February 1st

PBOT will make changes to three Williams Ave bike lane trouble spots

Posted by on February 17th, 2015 at 10:29 am

Because of a bad design coupled with dangerous and illegal behavior by some road users,
PBOT will move the bike lane over and add a median island at Williams and Stanton.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

The “three-year journey” (to use the City of Portland’s phrase) to make North Williams Avenue work better for cycling isn’t quite over yet.

Even though they announced a month ago that construction on the project was all but complete, we’ve heard consistent concerns about three intersections in particular: Stanton, Cook, and Fremont. The good news is they’re working to address those trouble spots.

Last week I spotted the spray-painted lines of a re-positioned bike lane and a new median island at Stanton, so I inquired with PBOT Project Manager Rich Newlands to see if anything was up. Sure enough, he confirmed that a relatively major change is coming to that intersection, as well as more minor tweaks to the two other intersections.

Williams and Stanton (at Dawson Park)

(PBOT change order document)

Notice the word “island” near the bike lane character.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

We’ve already reported about the issues at this intersection. The problem here is that PBOT has not made it clear enough to road users that the left lane leading up to the intersection (prior to an existing median at N Graham) is left-turn only. Because there is zero signage or markings to that effect, many people use the lane illegally and with no intention of making the left turn at Stanton. As a result, they sit in the lane and try to merge back into the single standard travel lane to continue north. Instead of waiting to merge, some people simply drive in the bike-only lane. The other problem is that the bike lane at Stanton veers too drastically the right (in order to preserve room for an auto-parking lane adjacent to Dawson Park). This jog in the bike lane puts riders in the direct path of people illegally attempting to merge with their cars into the right lane.

N Williams at Stanton-2

All the cars in the left lane here are in violation of the law, but they might not even know it because there’s such a lack of signage.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

To fix this problem, PBOT is planning two things: They’ll re-stripe the bike lane so it doesn’t jog so much to the right and they’ll install a new median island. Newlands says the island aims to, “prevent right merging traffic from using the bike lane for merge space.” The new island will be similar to the existing ones in the left one between Beech and Skidmore.

In addition, PBOT plans on adding more signage prior to the existing median at Graham in order to “send a stronger message” (says Newslands) that the left lane is for left turns only. There will be two, “Thru Traffic Merge Right” signs and two, “Left Lane Must Turn Left” signs.


Williams and Cook

(PBOT change order document)

The Cook intersection has been a mess for months now. This is a major feeder of Williams traffic thanks to it being an outlet from Interstate 405. There was a delay in getting a new traffic signal up and running, and the new bike lane here is just five feet wide — the most narrow of anywhere else in the project. Add in the constant stress of nearby construction and the fact that the bike lane is sandwiched between two standard lanes and it doesn’t feel like much of an improvement over the old design.

To help bulk up the bike lane here, PBOT plans to add some green paint.

Williams and Fremont (New Seasons)

(PBOT change order document)

This is the block face (between Ivy and Fremont) adjacent to New Seasons Market. It’s a very busy area, and once again the new design requires people using cars to cross over the bikeway to access a left-turn pocket to go west at Fremont. Back in December there was a collision in this location.

According to their design drawings, PBOT plans to add green paint to the entire bike lane from Ivy to Fremont.

All of these changes should be completed by the end of this week. Let us know how they work for you and we’ll keep sending feedback to PBOT until we get this right.

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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

  • redhippie February 17, 2015 at 10:41 am

    I was just encountering this problem last week. Good to see that PDOT is responsive on this issue. By the way, the worst offenders I saw also had Wa. liscence plates. Is there any information on why there are so many Wa. plates (as in picture) using this cooridor during rush hour?

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    • Mark February 17, 2015 at 11:36 am

      Yes, I think it is because they are Washingtonians heading back to Washington using Williams as a bypass for Interstate or I-5.

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      • are February 20, 2015 at 10:58 am

        if the opportunities to rejoin interstate five farther north were closed, this problem would go away.

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    • Adam February 17, 2015 at 1:56 pm

      Seriously. Have they never heard of MLK? Or I-5 for that matter?

      How many problems with bikeways would be completely solved if drivers DROVE ON THE ROADS THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO. I wonder!

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      • paikiala February 18, 2015 at 9:22 am

        Which roads are those? Which roads should bikes not be allowed on?

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        • KristenT February 18, 2015 at 10:55 am

          Bikes aren’t allowed to ride I-5, currently, so I don’t know what your point is.

          The car traffic should stay on I-5 instead of cutting through surface streets. They’re the ones causing the bad traffic on the freeway, they should have to sit in it. Want fewer cars in front of you? Encourage ODOT and the local DOTs to do more to make biking and walking safer, easier, and more connected, and get more people out of their cars.

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          • Randy February 19, 2015 at 1:11 am

            If they would add more lanes onto I-5, cars could move at a normal pace instead of sitting still not moving. Fix I-5 and you automatically fix Williams at the same time.

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            • Emily February 19, 2015 at 9:29 am

              You can’t build your way out of congestion. If you build it – they will come.

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      • are February 20, 2015 at 10:59 am

        MLK used to be a walkable street until it was “improved” for the very purpose you suggest. a comprehensive approach to this whole area would include restoring MLK and pushing all through traffic back onto interstate five, period.

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  • GirlontwoWheels February 17, 2015 at 10:42 am

    Where I think the changes to the first intersection will help greatly, green paint only has a limited impact. I had a close call on the way home yesterday at the Freemont intersection where a person driving a large SUV sped past me, and cut me off to get into the left turn lane. I think Freemont will always be an issue.

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  • Adam H. February 17, 2015 at 10:53 am

    The Williams bike lane should have been a wide Copenhagen-style curb-separated lane with floating bus stops. This would have solved most of not all of the problems on Williams. Instead we just have this design-by-committee offend-no-one clusterfsck.

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    • Reza February 17, 2015 at 11:35 am

      Talk to TriMet about that.

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    • Kyle February 17, 2015 at 11:56 am

      B-b-but the world will end if we remove a single parking space!

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    • davemess February 17, 2015 at 12:32 pm

      A protected lane also would make a few new problems though. They’re not a panacea.

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    • Alex February 17, 2015 at 2:41 pm

      Or instead of one-ways, Vanc/Williams could be turned into dedicated streets for traffic and bikes/peds.

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    • Jonathan Gordon February 18, 2015 at 5:15 pm

      It’s a great idea, but with what budget? I believe this was/is primarily a paint and signs project.

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    • Evan February 19, 2015 at 11:15 am

      I agree. I feel the whole N Williams project is a sad missed opportunity for a real world class separated cycling facility. Instead PBOT created more situations where a Left Hook might occur and disconnected two of our major commuting corridors N Williams and NE Going St.

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  • PeeJay February 17, 2015 at 10:55 am

    If PBOT isn’t actively thinking about how to get Washington thru-traffic off Williams, they are serving nobody in the neighborhood. Not the people on bikes, not the local people with cars, not the people running businesses on the street. PBOT has no reason to serve an out-of-state constituency that does not belong on a local retail street. They need to make it more painful for a Washington driver to use that street than to sit in I-5 traffic, and then everyone else’s experience will be better.

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    • paikiala February 17, 2015 at 12:01 pm

      Apart from complaining, any real solutions? Your diatribe seems odd, at best. At what point does a person become and uninvited guest on *your* road? e.g., how far away does the ‘other’ have to come from to be ineligible, and how would you determine that, let alone enforce such exclusionary policies? What’s next, skin color?

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      • Peejay February 17, 2015 at 2:17 pm

        Of course, everyone is welcome on any public road. But when a large portion of traffic is the result of a use case that the street was not designed for, then the design has to improve.

        I’m not a traffic engineer, but it seems that if you want to cater to retail traffic, then reducing speeds is the way to go. People whose destinations are on Williams or the nearby neighborhood should not mind going a little slower. More traffic lights, fewer through lanes, whatever.

        I am unapologetic about my desire to inflict pain on people who choose long SOV commutes, since they cause pain to those who make other choices. I get that not everyone can choose to avoid longer commutes, but you have to change the dynamic eventually.

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    • Random February 17, 2015 at 12:27 pm

      “PBOT has no reason to serve an out-of-state constituency that does not belong on a local retail street.”

      Well, aside from the fact that the Washington commuters pay Oregon income taxes and use few Oregon services, other than roads.

      We could upgrade I-5 to get the Williams cut through traffic back on the freeway, but of course that would be accommodating auto traffic, which is politically incorrect.

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      • Chris I February 17, 2015 at 3:15 pm

        Because expanding I5 would only provide temporary relief, and at great expense. You can’t build your way out of congestion.

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        • Random February 17, 2015 at 6:19 pm

          “You can’t build your way out of congestion.”

          Maybe you can’t in the long term, but you certainly can in the medium term – it took decades after Portland freeways were constructed to get them saturated with traffic.

          For example, I-84 through Portland was constructed in 1955, I-5 in 1964, and I-205 in the early ’80’s. They hardly had congestion from Day One.

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          • Joe Adamski February 17, 2015 at 8:07 pm

            My memory is there has long been congestion on 5 and 26 and 84, but in spite of ‘fixes’ over the years,it has gone from bad to worse. Or, IMHO, bad to better, because I find a certain perverse justice in watching the line of 10mph cars forever.

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            • Random February 18, 2015 at 6:36 am

              “because I find a certain perverse justice in watching the line of 10mph cars forever.”

              Enjoy all the cars cutting through your neighborhood…

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    • Bob February 17, 2015 at 2:58 pm

      To say nothing of the OR drivers who use that road instead of one of the others you mention? Way to be short-sighted and state-ist.

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  • PdxMark February 17, 2015 at 11:04 am

    IThey need to make it more painful for a Washington driver to use that street than to sit in I-5 traffic, and then everyone else’s experience will be better.
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    A single northbound through lane does alot toward that end…

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  • oliver_whalen February 17, 2015 at 11:08 am

    “This is a major feeder of Williams traffic thanks to it being an outlet from Interstate 5.”

    You can’t get onto cook from Interstate 5. It’s an exit from the Fremont Bridge/Interstate 405. (not that it cuts down on traffic)

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  • soren February 17, 2015 at 11:27 am

    How the heck is a 5 foot wide bike lane an improvement on the previous configuration?

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  • Reza February 17, 2015 at 11:38 am

    Why doesn’t PBOT continue the curbside bike lane treatment at the Cook and Fremont intersections and install protected left turn signals with clear “no turn on red” signage? Those would be an improvement IMO, over the current situation where drivers have to merge across the bike lane.

    Something similar should be added at Stanton, as well.

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    • John Lascurettes February 17, 2015 at 4:55 pm

      Why not just put up “no turn on red” signs? Because I routinely watch people turn where there are “no turn on red” signs, every time I’m at the following lights:
      * Westbound N Cook at Williams
      * Northbound NW 23rd at Thurman/Freeway onramp
      * Northbound NE 16th at Multnomah Street
      * At the east end of the Steel Bridge when there’s a flashing LED “no turn on red” sign.

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      • John Lascurettes February 17, 2015 at 4:55 pm

        Sorry, Eastbound Cook on that first item.

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      • Panda February 17, 2015 at 11:07 pm

        I see people ignore those signs at NE Couch and MLK and at westbound Russell at Interstate

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  • Ian Stude February 17, 2015 at 1:50 pm

    Re: WA drivers on Williams — I suspect many of these “commuters” are also shoppers. New Seasons and the host of other attractions along the new Williams Ave are all desirable stopping points prior to the dreaded northbound commute. I’m glad to see PBOT refining this corridor to address the primary safety concerns.

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    • Peejay February 17, 2015 at 3:33 pm

      I’d really like to see some research either way. If people are shopping on the street AND they’re willing to drive safely, AND not feel entitled to free parking (I can dream), sure, I’ll throw down the welcome mat.

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  • Steve B February 17, 2015 at 2:10 pm

    Good looking out, PBOT!

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  • Paul February 17, 2015 at 2:33 pm

    Now I know what PBOT means when they write text to “the cloud”.

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  • Jack February 17, 2015 at 3:21 pm

    Glad to hear these improvements are happening soon and apparently very quickly. I’ll look forward to not looking over my right should every three seconds between Russel and Cook.

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  • Dwaine Dibbly February 17, 2015 at 5:46 pm

    Hopefully that island will have a bright yellow post (6″ diameter steel) in the center of it, or the most dangerous vehicles (large trucks) will be able to go right over it.

    Safety certainly is an iterative process, isn’t it?

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  • Nick Fox February 17, 2015 at 7:46 pm

    I’m happy that PBOT is paying attention to the concerns so far, but I do think that future left-turn lane from Williams to Cook is going to be the next one when it comes online. I am so freaked out by that–the lane itself looks tiny and is led up to by a very short merge. Would any amount of green paint will solve that?

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  • Paul Wilkins February 17, 2015 at 8:03 pm

    I’ve tried to get used to this redesign. Sadly, it’s only been an exercise in developing vigilance. I am hoping that these changes help. Because it certainly can’t get worse.

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  • fredlf February 18, 2015 at 9:14 am

    Perhaps it would help if the Vancouver intelligentsia would stop voting down light rail and every other attempt to provide some alternative means of transportation other than driving a porcine SUV on an interstate.

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    • paikiala February 18, 2015 at 9:37 am

      The last referendum related to light rail, the CRC vote in Clark County, was defeated 53% to 47%, a difference of 13,500 votes. Hardly a landslide.

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  • RH February 18, 2015 at 9:42 am

    When I bike home, I now just skip N Williams and head up Interstate. I just feel safer with a bike lane on the right hand side….maybe it’s me being old fashioned.

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  • redhippie February 18, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    Sounds like the main issue is to change behavior. What if cyclist just slow down when they see an illegal car in the bike lane. MAybe a few dedicated folks like on Clinton and just do a revolving slow down. Snarl the traffic and PDOT will listen and the Wa. drivers will go elsewhere. All leagal

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  • Jess February 18, 2015 at 3:38 pm

    I wish they were doing more to fix the section from the New Seasons entrance to the intersection with Fremont. Near left hooks from people turning into the New Seasons parking lot are almost expected at this point. Then this morning as I was entering the diagonal, striped part of the bike lane leading into the intersection, a TriMet bus passed me and merged into the bike lane (with me there) and came to a stop at the intersection totally straddling the bike lane. Luckily, I was paying attention and realized the side of the bus was getting a little too close for comfort and was able to veer into the left turn lane on the left so I didn’t get pushed over. It is not the only interaction like this I have had at this intersection since the “improvements” but it was the scariest given it involved a large bus. Unfortunately, I got no pictures or video of it, but I made a complaint to TriMet. How is more paint going to prevent that from happening in the future when that section is already painted and striped? I am disappointed that so much money was spent on this project and I do not feel any safer. What was the point?

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  • Ted February 23, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    I think it is good that PBOT is still evaluating their design as its been implemented and making refinements where they can. But with all of the worrying and complaining I have read from commenters of this blog post I was thinking that I even with the nice weather I would see a decreased number of people riding up Williams. I am happy to say that on several days last week, I was part of a 25-30 person group of cyclists waiting for the light at N. Wielder and Williams. I noticed several people having conversations while riding 2-abrest in the spacious bike lane.

    The anecdotal incidents discussed here sound like standard urban cycling issues rather than any fault with the design. I am very happy with the PBOT’s decision to claim an entire lane of traffic to accommodate the heavy bike traffic up Williams. I never felt that the redesign would alter driver behavior or “fix” the problem of drivers using Williams as an alternative to driving on I-5, though I am sure the single lane, and resulting congestion at rush hour, have contributed to some finding a different route. What the redesign has done, I believe, is provided a spacious and comfortable facility for the thousands of bikes that use it every day.

    If riding in a bike lane that is on the left side of the street is uncomfortable for you then the problem is in your head, not in the design. The bike-centric suggestions made here for what could have been done on Williams do not reflect the multiple uses and needs of all the stakeholders that use the street. I applaud PBOT for their commitment to balance all of those uses and provide an updated facility that accommodates a large volume of daily bikes trips through a busy commercial and residential district. While I have seen cars, bikes and pedestrians challenged by the redesign, I have already experience smoother trips through the area. And once all the construction settles down (some day) I expect the ride up Williams to be one of the best in the city.


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  • Jacob Mason March 1, 2015 at 6:03 am

    It’s amazing how much effort is spent reinventing good bicycle facility design in the US. We completely ignore the places that have been solving this problem for decades (the Netherlands) and wonder why our designs don’t work very well. I guess that’s the American way. If we didn’t come up with the idea, it’s no good.

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