East Portland’s most important north-south street is about to get much easier to cross on bike or foot, and also its own frequent-service bus line.
TriMet is preparing to improve its No. 71 bus to run every 15 minutes or better almost all day, every day, between Parkrose and Lents, transit agency spokeswoman Mary Fetsch said this week. It’ll happen after an $8 million City of Portland investment in 122nd Avenue pavement, sidewalks and crosswalks that’s expected some time in the next year.
TriMet requested those street improvements as part of an informal understanding with the city about what it’d take to improve the bus line.
The 71 will become TriMet’s 13th frequent service bus line, and the first new one to be created in 10 years. It’ll be one of only four that doesn’t connect to downtown Portland; the other three are the 72 (which is also TriMet’s most-boarded bus line), the 75 and the 57.
“Once the City has made these high-priority safety and access improvements, we will improve the 122nd Ave service to Frequent Service on Line 71 between Parkrose and Lents as soon as possible,” Fetsch wrote in an email. “We have not entered into an [intergovernmental agreement] yet, but expect to as this moves forward.”
The No. 71 bus is already very popular on the street, even with its current 20-minute frequency for most of the day. (On Sunday, frequency currently falls to 25 minutes.) As of 2011 a single stop on the line, at 122nd and Burnside, drew more riders than the entire 96-block length of the No. 25 bus line on east Glisan Street. TriMet is not planning to improve frequency on the section of the 71 that runs further west, between Parkrose and Clackamas Town Center.
TriMet’s statement marks a significant victory for Portland Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick, who has talked frequently about the need for 122nd to have a better north-south bus line to connect to other major east-west routes.
“We’re super excited about 122nd,” Novick transportation policy advisor Timur Ender said Wednesday. “Novick has been talking about increasing service on 122nd ever since he started at City Hall.”
A frequent bus line on 122nd was on Novick’s 2013 letter to Santa Claus, when he started promoting a new Portland Street Fund. Last year, it became a key part of the city’s Street Fund pitch to voters: city leaders cited TriMet predictions that if the street’s sidewalks and crosswalks could be fixed up, the transit agency would increase frequency on the 71.
Now, thanks to Portland’s big budget surplus, the city has found the money to do the projects some time in the next year without a new street fund. It’ll cost $8 million from the city’s general fund: $4.7 million for various sidewalks and crossings between Parkrose and Foster Road, $3.3 million for a major repave between NE Skidmore and NE Siskiyou streets.
TriMet’s tax revenue, too, has rebounded thanks to growth in Portland-area payrolls.
Some nearby side streets will get fixes too, city transportation spokesman Dylan Rivera said.
“Maybe there’s a sidewalk gap, a way that people need to access 122nd or get to a destination from a TriMet stop on 122nd,” Rivera said. “We’re viewing it as a corridor.”
Rivera said the city has yet to settle on designs for the new crossings, including decisions on whether they’ll include curb extensions (which would shorten crossing distances, but could complicate any future plans for a protected bike lane on 122nd).
“There’s a lot of details and decisions to work out,” he said.
Correction 1:20 a.m.: An earlier version of this post neglected to mention the 75.
Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.