If the four-mile stretch of Powell Boulevard east of Interstate 205 is completely rebuilt in a few years, it could get some of Portland’s highest-quality bike lanes.
Some advocates say a meeting this Monday evening is the best chance yet to support Dutch-style raised bike lanes on outer Southeast Portland’s most important east-west arterial.
Today, east Powell is home to numerous businesses and other destinations between 99th Avenue and the Gresham border near 176th Avenue, but is missing even complete sidewalks for most of its length. East Portland advocates have long named biking and walking improvements on Powell as their No. 1 transportation priority, but it’s currently far from certain that protected bike lanes will be part of that plan.
The Outer Powell Conceptual Design Plan, approved in 2012 by the City of Portland and Oregon Department of Transportation, called for eight-foot-wide buffered bike lanes on most of the state-run road. But some say that recommendation might not hold up, let alone the curb-protected bike lane that people are dramatically more likely to perceive as a comfortable place to bike compared to a buffered lane.
“In 2012, it was hard enough to get ODOT to accept and consider buffered lanes, let alone a more robust protected bike lane,” Portland-based biking advocate Nick Falbo wrote in an email Thursday on the BikeLoudPDX listserv. “If they are going to reconstruct the roadway (and it sounds like they are) then the added cost to make a raised bike lane should be negligible.”
“More than any previous meeting, this is the chance to get loud about the preferred Powell bicycle facility,” wrote Falbo, who in his professional life works as a bikeway planner for Alta Planning and Design.
The meeting is 6 to 8 p.m. on Monday, June 8, at Human Solutions, 12350 SE Powell Boulevard. The public comment period is scheduled for the end.
Last year, Falbo created a groundbreaking video of what he called a “protected intersection.” Something like it is now being built in four U.S. cities. The corner of 122nd and Powell was one of the intersections he used as models.
When we reported from East Portland for a week last summer, Powell’s importance as one of the area’s relatively few commercial corridors was impossible to ignore. Jim Chasse, a transportation advocate on the East Portland Action Plan bike committee who has lived just off this stretch of Powell for decades, told us at the time that protected bike lanes, also known as cycle tracks, would help turn the street into the area’s main street, with shops and other employers that can easily be walked or biked among instead of just driven to.
“Powell can stay relatively small, especially if we have high-capacity transit coming out on Division,” Chasse said. “There’s enough room in and around the whole facility to do a really good buildup. Cycle tracks in some areas and bike lanes in the constrained areas. And definitely sidewalks. … There’s already an established business district at 122nd, 112th, and going down to the 205 interchange.”
Chasse said in an email Friday that he, too, plans to attend Monday’s meeting. So did Emily Guise, an advocate with BikeLoud.
Elizabeth Quiroz, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance’s full-time organizer and advocate in East Portland, said Friday that the many relatively low-income neighborhoods and communities of color along the street “have been advocating for improvements in Outer Powell, and I think it’s time that we give them the best walking and biking facilities possible.”
In her email, Quiroz said there would be “some time at the end of the meeting for public comment 5 mins to be exact. This is an opportunity for people to come listen and talk about not only bike facilities but walking along the corridor.”
Protected bike lanes on Powell would come with some complications. TriMet’s frequent-service No. 9 bus runs along Powell. With the current buffered bike lane plan, it would be likely to pull across the bike lane at each stop. Floating bus stops would allow continuous raised bike lanes while improving average bus speeds, but might force people driving to sometimes wait behind a bus that has stopped.