A half-mile section of North Lombard (Highway 30) in the University Park and Portsmouth neighborhoods is getting bike lanes.
“Getting across Lombard has always been tough. The bike access and traffic island will really help.”
— Mary-Margaret Wheeler, resident of Portsmouth Neighborhood.
That might not seem like big news until you consider this: This will be the first section of Lombard west of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd to get bike lanes and this a major freight route controlled by the Oregon Department of Transporation — an agency known for, shall we say, conservative roadway management.
ODOT Region 1 Transit and Active Transportation Liaison Jessica Horning says this restriping project in particular is happening because “All of the different pieces just fell together.” Horning, who presented the idea at a meeting of the Portsmouth Neighborhood Association Tuesday night, told us in an interview yesterday that the bike lanes and redesign of this stretch of Lombard came about due to “Agencies and developers working together well in an a way that doesn’t typically happen.”
The catalyst was the development of a New Seasons Market that is set to open early next year at Lombard and Westanna Avenue.
The project will restripe Lombard between N Ida and Wall. The New Seasons site is on the western edge of the project (between Westanna and Wall). Horning says that the section of Lombard to the east of the new store has been on their radar as a safety concern for years.
According to ODOT crash data several sections of Lombard west of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd are among the most dangerous roadways in Oregon. The section between New Seasons and Ida specifically ranks among ODOT’s top 10% sites in the agency’s Safety Priority Index System. “The area to the west of the New Seasons site is pretty high on that list,” Horning said.
But it wasn’t high enough up on the list to actually get any funding until New Seasons came along and “opened up a door” for the project to happen. The new store’s driveway triggered the need for a left-turn pocket, which opened up the possibility for the bike lanes.
“[The need for the left-turn pocket] meant we could try and find some funding and address a known safety problem that gets us some better connectivity between New Seasons, the Peninsula Crossing Trail, and existing bike lanes and neighborhood greenways,” Horning said. “We know kind of demand and behavior we’re going to have at this store and we’re planning ahead for it.”
The case for bike lanes here was also strengthened by the 2004 St. Johns/Lombard Plan which stated, “Between Van Houton [one block west of this project’s boundary] and Ida Streets there is sufficient right-of-way currently to provide bike lanes on Lombard without impacts to on-street parking or the number of travel lanes.”
With strong policy footing, Horning went out and got a $10,000 “Quick Fix” grant from ODOT’s bicycle and pedestrian program and added it to what New Seasons is required to pay as part of their development.
The new bike lanes will be five feet wide in most places, growing to seven feet wherever there’s space. That’s far from ideal in an era when we know protected bike lanes are what really encourage cycling, but Horning says Lombard’s freight designation meant they had to maintain 12-foot standard lanes. Anything narrower would require sign-off from the state freight committee in Salem; a step Horning said could have killed the entire project.
(In a May 2013 story about bike lanes on Lombard ODOT’s Freight Mobility and Construction Project Liaison Tony Coleman told us, “If they can figure out a 12-foot lane adjacent to the bike lane, we could work with that.”)
Unfortunately the project will leave a bike access gap where Lombard crosses a railbed on a bridge owned by Union Pacific. Horning said because the road narrows on the bridge there’s “not enough width to feel safe striping a bike lane.” People riding bikes will either have to take the lane or use the bridge sidewalks.
In addition to the new bike lanes and left-turn lanes, this project will also come with median islands in front of New Seasons at Fortune Avenue to make it easier to walk across Lombard. ODOT plans to commission a traffic study in six months to determine if a flashing beacon is needed to boost the crossing at Fortune. If it is, there’s already funding set aside to install it.
Mary-Margaret Wheeler with the Portsmouth Neighborhood Association said the neighborhood’s response to the project has been “really positive.” Wheeler has lived in the area for 14 years and recalls walking this stretch of Lombard as part of the 2004 plan. “I’m really excited about the work that will be making Lombard into less of a barrier,” she shared with us yesterday, “Getting across Lombard has always been tough. The bike access and traffic island will really help.”
Wheeler did add however that there are some concerns that New Seasons customers will park on nearby streets and a few business owners along the project boundary might not be happy to lose their on-street parking. The new bike lanes will be installed in what’s currently a parking lane; but ODOT says it was very rarely used.
Changing Lombard from the loud, dirty and dangerous highway it currently is into a more human-scale neighborhood street like it should be has stoked dreams and hopes of planners and residents for many years. Now there seems to be real momentum. While the ideal situation would be for the City of Portland to wrest control of it away from ODOT (a bill this legislative session that would have made that possible didn’t pass), this and a few other projects in the pipeline could have significant impacts.
The Portland Development Commission has embarked on a project to improve Lombard (they had an open house on it last night). Their project will focus more toward the east in the same area that Portland State University students researched in the Lombard Re-Imagined effort.
And ODOT is already working on another safety project on Lombard currently winding its way through their 2019-2021 Statewide Transportation Improvement Program. We’ll have more on that soon.
For now, we’ll await these new bike lanes and see how they work. They should be on the ground any day now.
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – firstname.lastname@example.org