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PBOT widens extremely narrow bike lane on SW 6th Avenue

Posted by on July 20th, 2015 at 12:00 pm

Ride Along with the Stedman Family-29

It used to be a tight squeeze.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Looks like I won’t have to feel sorry for the squished bike lane character on SW 6th anymore.

As you can see in the photo above, the bike lane on 6th where it crosses over I-405 in southwest Portland was so narrow that the bike lane character barely fit inside of it. Every time I’d ride by it I would cringe at how crunched up it looked — and get frustrated that PBOT would even allow any street to have a three-foot wide bike lane in the first place.

Now I’m happy to report that PBOT is widening this bike lane. Reader Barbara Stedman shared the good news and a photograph with me this morning…

6thbikelanenew

New lane striping on SW 6th Avenue over I-405.
(Photo: Barbara Stedman)

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When I rode into downtown with Barbara and her family back in October 2012, I commented that this was the narrowest bike lane in Portland. Barbara knows it all too well: “It’s one of the pinch-points for people commuting from SW Portland via Terwilliger.”

For context, here’s what the area around this bike lane looks like:

6th-contextmap

While it’s far from the safe and low-stress bikeway we need between southwest neighborhoods and downtown, getting a few extra feet of breathing room is a positive step forward.

Now of course the true test is what happens to this bike lane as it enters downtown at SW Jackson. It currently drops completely and leaves users in a shared lane environment.

I asked stalwart southwest Portland bike advocate Keith Liden about this project. Here are his thoughts:

“This is a great first step! The second trouble spot, which apparently will remain (at least for now), is the abrupt termination of the bike lane just before the pedestrian crossing at Jackson. Cars gaining speed at this point, the disappearing bike lane, the pedestrian crosswalk, and the left merging traffic from the 6th off-ramp, all conspire to make this a harrowing journey.”

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Kyle
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Kyle

I always took the car lane at this spot anyway. With the bike lane being so narrow and the fact that it ends shortly ahead anyway, it was safer to get out ahead of the cars right away before any potential conflicts occurred.

soren
Guest
soren

Sometimes a picture explains how terrible a facility is better than words.

In ~70 feet the bike lane disappears:

https://goo.gl/maps/HsLCV

and the space occupied by people biking becomes a concrete curb:

https://goo.gl/maps/IaIol

davemess
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davemess

I always do that.
You’re going to be merging into the lane anyway. And that left lane of traffic usually is pretty empty (most people are trying to get on 405).

Adam H.
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Adam H.

Nice to see PBOT going after low-hanging fruit. I’m looking forward to seeing some bolder steps from them soon.

9watts
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9watts

Are there examples of car lanes that are narrower than a car here in town? Just curious.

Chris I
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Chris I

Ya. They’re all over town. About 5ft wide, and they have a bike symbol every once and a while. Lots of people use them, anyway. Makes it easy to pass turning cars, busses, slow cars, traffic, etc.

rick
Guest
rick

SW Multnomah Blvd has a somewhat narrow car lane, east-bound, in front of Southwest Bicycles for 20 feet. No real problem for drivers. No TriMet bus runs there.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

Many of the SE area has 24 to 28 ft wide streets with parking on both sides. That leaves 12 to 16 feet for two-way traffic.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

12ft might be too narrow for 2 vehicles, 16 is plenty for most qualified drivers (granted, most drivers are not qualified, but how else are you going to sort them out?)

KC
Guest
KC

I don’t know about narrower (can you get narrower than that?), but E Burnside westbound between 86th & 87th is way too narrow.

John Lascurettes
Guest

The bike lane on southbound NE 15th at Multnomah is narrower than that. BOO!
https://goo.gl/maps/1cg3p

But it’s currently ground down and getting a new bike lane treatment. YAY!
http://bikeportland.org/2015/06/04/three-blocks-ne-15th16th-lloyd-get-major-walking-biking-upgrade-143907

John Lascurettes
Guest

I meant that the bike lane there is narrower than the bike lane in the story. Not that the car lane was narrower.

jen
Guest
jen

SE 49th between Belmont and Taylor has parking on the east side of the street and is so narrow it sometimes feels like a game of chicken.

lots of the more residential streets have parking on both sides and a single car lane up the center for both directions, but 49th stands out to me as it comes from a signaled intersection on Hawthorne and is treated as a major thoroughfair

peejay
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peejay

Seeing as how even low-hanging fruit has become a challenge for PBOT…

Patrick Barber
Guest

Way to focus on the positive!

Tony H
Guest
Tony H

For three years I commuted home this way. Many times, during high traffic, I would zip up on the sidewalk that crossed the freeway. I would then reenter the bike lane at the first opportunity. There was never a problem with pedestrians, as there weren’t any!

soren
Guest
soren

I’m a strong supporter of bike lanes but even with a width increase this lane is worse than nothing at all. The lane disappears almost immediately and forces people biking to abruptly merge into inattentive car traffic at a very complex and crowded intersection. To reiterate: a person cycling here is forced to look over their shoulder while riding on very badly rutted pavement with a disappearing bike lane (it terminates into a concrete shoulder) where people driving are distracted by both pedestrians and turning/merging vehicles. I’m not sure who rubber stamped this “improvement” but whoever did so clearly has no understanding of how dangerous and idiotic this facility is. In my experience riding in the bike lane here dramatically increases my risk of conflict with motor vehicles. I ride in the lane here even though I could easily be ticketed for doing so.

Daniel L
Guest
Daniel L

The vast majority of the car traffic either turns onto the highway 26 onramp or left at Jackson. So merging into mixed traffic after Jackson is way easier and safer than mixing on or before the overpass.

Champs
Guest
Champs

At last, a slightly roomier chute into the blender.

Thanks, PBOT! Keep that positive work going…

TonyT
Guest
Tony T

What are the guidelines/requirements for bikelanes in Portland? Minimum widths, etc.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

The standard is 6 feet and minimum is 5 feet. Preferred is 2 meters, or 6 ft 6 inches. The future lanes on SW 3rd are planned to be 7 feet.

rainbike
Guest
rainbike

Thanks, PBOT! This improves one of the worst sections of my daily homeward commute.

ethan
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ethan

I don’t think we should applaud PBOT at all for doing the absolute bare minimum on a bike lane that ends abruptly.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

Yes, encouragement should always be withheld until perfection is attained.

Champs
Guest
Champs

Perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of the good, but this is not on that level. It’s still a bike lane to nowhere.

invisiblebikes
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invisiblebikes

“The only way to encourage bureaucrats is to threaten there way of life” Douglas Adams, Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy

invisiblebikes
Guest
invisiblebikes

Well I’ll be… it looks like my emails and video evidence that I sent to PBOT on this very section of “road” got taken seriously until they handed it over to the clowns!
I would constantly roll up to that intersection (6th on west side of 405) coming down from Terwilliger and stop behind 2 or 3 other people on bicycles and ask them to please Use the “green Bike Box” as they all sat there cued up next to cars that were imminently about to squeeze them into “walking the plank” off the bike lane.
That bike box is there for this specific reason “to take the lane” and not allow cars to race off the line to squeeze people into a narrow bike lane.

Now unfortunately PBOT has exacerbated the issue, by adding a wider bike lane people driving will get frustrated when “smart” cyclists take the lane through the intersection, and expect us to then merge into a 200 foot bike lane then merge back into the traffic lane once all the carheads have accelerated to plaid speeds!

What needs to be done there (if paint is the only option) is to add a couple sharrows all the way across the bridge (next to the bike lane) and add a sign 100 feet from the end of the bike lane that says “bike lane ends, bikes merging” and add some green paint at the merge point.

but obviously in PBOT fashion “just put a band aid on it, and wait till someone gets hurt!”

Gary
Guest
Gary

Do we know that’s all they’ve doe? I know that’s all that the picture we have shows, but it isn’t clear the picture tells the complete story. Has anyone been through today to see whether anything else is happening in this area? I really want to believe they’d make other improvements at the same time.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

Widening of this bike lane is an improvement for people that feel they’ve got to ride there…rather than taking the lane. Shown in the picture at the top of this story, the person riding in the bike lane, alongside the child on the sidewalk, is an example.

People that aren’t able to, or don’t want to bring their bike up to speeds reasonable for main lane travel, will likely prefer to ride in the bike lane. It’s basically downhill from the south side of the overpass to the north side, so picking up a good rate of speed isn’t tough, but I figure there’s a lot of people that just aren’t gong to want to spin up to the 15-20 mph or faster rate of speed that involves.

On a personal level for people biking, a bigger issue across this overpass may be their bike handling and road use skills; if their route requires they transition from the bike lane, across the lanes to the west side of the street for a left turn, being able to effectively signal for and make that transition properly and safely, is essential.

jen
Guest
jen

the problem with the design though, is that the bike lane does disappear and in an area where riding on the sidewalk is illegal. So if one isn’t comfortable riding in the street with motor vehicle traffic, they still end up there anyway.
What other options are available for people who are coming from this direction that would be more suitable to people who aren’t comfortable taking the lane? How much further would it be required for the cyclist to travel to get to that route?

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

“…What other options are available for people who are coming from this direction that would be more suitable to people who aren’t comfortable taking the lane? How much further would it be required for the cyclist to travel to get to that route?” jen

Nobody seems to have answered your question. That’s unfortunate, because someone reading here likely is more familiar with the tangled mess of streets south of I-405 and across from 4th and 6th.

The short answer I think, is that there may not be any better routes for the type of person riding that would be more comfortable with continuous bike routes between OHSU through Downtown. Traffic on the streets near south of I-405 between 4th, 6th, Corbett, Barbur, for people driving or biking, faces tight turns, tricky lane changes, heavy congestion. It’s miserable traveling through there during rush hour.

This bike lane widening over 6th, helps out a little. It’s an improvement, but certainly by itself, no marvelous transformation of bike infrastructure in the general area. Bike handling, and in traffic skills are essential.

If you’re commuting between the hill and southeast, I wonder if a better route for you would be to skip connecting with 4th and 6th entirely: from the hill, take the tram for free, down to Moody, make your way to Naito, then one of the bridges across the river. Not too far distant, the new Tillikum bridge will open, which may well turn out to be a godsend for people making a similar route.

Barbara Stedman
Guest
Barbara Stedman

Sidewalk riding isn’t illegal here yet. That starts at Jefferson.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

The main lane travels 12mph downhill here because of stop light timing, but drivers coming off of the freeway haven’t thought about that yet and are still trying to go 45 in this stretch.

Psyfalcon
Guest
Psyfalcon

Ok, obviously, it ends soon, but it was narrow and usually gravel filled all winter.

Its a downhill street, so while it could do much better than dumping you in the middle lane, its not like it ends abruptly in an area where bike lanes are the norm. Plus traffic tends to slow after the bridge. It can still be brisk on the bridge (with no conflicting turns to slow people down).

soren
Guest
soren

i get buzzed by cars doing 25 or more at that bottleneck a couple of times a month.

Andy K
Guest
Andy K

You could make an argument that this “fix” makes this section of SW 6th even more dangerous than it currently is.

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

This stretch of road, and the nearly identical 4th ave overpass, are the two primary reasons its taken some time for me to build up the cajones to bike to psu from my apartment at barbur and terwilliger. Nevermind the riding on barbur part, transitioning across the 405 into downtown is what sketches me out.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

Does 6th need 3 auto lanes north of Jackson?
If the median is removed to provide a bike lane, and freeway off ramp traffic is put into a yield condition, that extra lane could be a buffered bike lane down to the right only lane (north of Hall), where sharrows could be installed to shift bikes into the travel lanes.
Or maybe use the center lane for bikes – like the fire lane designations in NYC?

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

It really doesnt. Especially when you consider that most of the transit mall is only one lane for autos anyway. It would be sensible to make the right most lane a bike/bus lane similar to the overpass on 5th; the center lane could be for through traffic; and the left lane feeds the onramp to the 405. Keep in mind, the 405 and the resulting overpasses/onramps/etc were designed and built in an era when the car was king; adapting that infrastructure to accommodate bikes is tricky.

jen
Guest
jen

I take 4th everyday from OHSU into SE, and this is always one of my most stressful spots. Freeway traffic merging into a lane from the left (usually with the desire to cross all the lanes to make a left) pedestrians from PSU and the offices and food trucks crossing at marked (but not signaled) crosswalks, and my bike lane that disappears, leaving me in the center lane.
After this stressful bit, it turns more pleasant, as with the slight downhill and the the timing of the lights, I have no problem just staying in the flow of traffic, but I’ve had more people in motor vehicles who see me as an obstical that must be passed at all costs (including a few in “Portland, the city that works”) vehicles that I’ve lost count. I’m fairly certain everytime I stop for someone in the crosswalk, my epitaph will read “Killed while obeying the law on a poorly designed road”

I can’t agree more with invisiblebikes that a better solution would be to get rid of the bike lane and add sharrows and “bike may use full lane” signs across both 4th and 6th, to eliminate the abrupt end of the bike lane which makes so many car drivers think it’s a race to get to that point first. it would also help to slow the motor vehicles who are coming in from relatively highspeed roads and entering downtown.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

I’m glad to see some attention to detail with the painting and maybe someone at PBOT is trying to make biking easier, but what about the next block? Is there any word from PBOT about why, how, what they are doing here? I think we need a “merge left” stencil for these situations to help people remember that bikes are not an important mode of transportation in Portland (at least not in the next 200ft.)

When I’ve ridden here, I’ve always had to slow down for the light and I generally just take the center or left lane with the 13mph green wave. What makes this stressful is only the drivers who don’t know about the green wave and are racing to stop and be in. my. way. at. the. next. light. all. the. way. across. downtown. Maybe a sign? A stop light on the overpass?

We could merge the right lane to the left and give it to people biking, then maybe a green crossover on the right lane yield. All of this will have been done by now if Novick drove a velomobile (i.e. organic transit ELF) to work?

K'Tesh
Guest
K'Tesh

Most of the paint was in this morning… Thanks PBOT