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What the heck is going on with the 26th Avenue bike lanes?

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

SE 26th Avenue looking south toward Powell.

Is the City of Portland, newly anointed “Biketown”, really going to remove a bike lane because our state department of transportation said it would improve safety?

That story we reported yesterday has sparked outrage, confusion, and frustration — all completely reasonable reactions to the idea of removing a bike lane in order to make biking safer. While we work to clarify the details and get to the bottom of what’s really going on (weaving the different communications from city officials and state officials together into one coherent whole is proving more complicated than expected), I thought I’d share what two notable Portland bike advocates think about the idea.

“If we have a safety problem, why would you take the victims of that problem and force them to go to a different place?”
— Ray Thomas, lawyer and veteran bike advocate

I called lawyer Ray Thomas yesterday to ask him about the legal implications that might arise if the bike lanes were removed and someone riding a bike was subsequently hit and injured or killed. A lawsuit that settled in California just a few months ago ordered the City of Indian Wells to pay $5.8 million to a man’s family after he was killed while biking on a street where bike lanes were removed.

When it comes to the possibility of removing the bike lanes on SE 26th Avenue, Thomas said he was more curious about the political liabilities of the decision. Here are his comments:

“If we have a safety problem, why would you take the victims of that problem and force them to go to a different place? Why would you take an existing facility out on a corridor where people ride and force them into what is essentially a detour? It’s sort of like adding insult to injury. You’re punishing the victim. I’d rather see them spend money to improve the intersection or restrict traffic on 26th so it could be a pedestrian and bicycle non-motorized corridor.

This is a solution that doesn’t take into account the nature of the wrong, which is, that people are driving dangerously. A solution that sends the bicyclists on a detour, even with a nice signal, doesn’t make sense to me.

If someone was hit trying to follow the bike map on 26th that shows it as a bike route, or trying to follow the new the detour, then I could see it resulting in some liability; but mostly I see it as just a bad idea.”


The next person I talked to was the Executive Director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, Rob Sadowsky. He said he and staffer Gerik Kransky met with ODOT Region 1 Director Rian Windsheimer and ODOT’s Region 1 Public Policy and Community Affairs Manager Shelli Romero several months ago when the issue first bubbled up with a big rally at the site back in May. Sadowsky expressed some confusion about the removal of the bike lane because he has heard different things from ODOT and the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT). “I’m hearing different things from different people at both agencies,” he said.

“Over our dead bodies. I made that clear. We will look at legal options if necessary.”
— Rob Sadowsky, BTA

At issue (and we’ll be reported more on this later today) is the timeline. If ODOT got an agreement from PBOT to take out the 26th Avenue bike lane in exchange for putting in a signal across Powell at 28th, when would the bike lane on 26th get removed? Sadowsky said he’s asked PBOT to keep the bike lane as long as possible, well after any construction on the signal.

In general, Sadowsky said, “This is a really clear example of how ODOT’s priorities are very different than local prioriries. It’s the same battle we’re having on Barbur.”

So, what does the BTA plan to do if the bike lane gets ripped out? Sadowsky didn’t mince words:

“We went to ODOT, and we said, ‘Over our dead bodies.’ I made that clear. We will look at legal options if necessary.

We’re not going to let this bike lane go away. We believe very strongly that you need arterial and neighborhood greenway treatments at the same time. And they picked the wrong street. Our Board Member Leslie Carlson has kids at (adjacent) Cleveland High and my stepdaughter goes to Cleveland. We will look at every option we have including legal options. We also want to partner with PBOT and ODOT and use this as a case study to do more planning as a group. We see this as a sympton of other challenges around the way DOT policy and implemntaiton lines up around bicycle planning.”

Stay tuned. Michael is working on a story today that should clarify exactly where things stand with this bike lane.

UPDATE, 3:#9 pm: Here’s the latest update with clarifications from PBOT and ODOT about the future of the 26th Avenue bike lanes.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –