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Portland bike share deal ups pressure for downtown bikeway project

Posted by on January 8th, 2016 at 9:25 am

elk squeeze

The bike route west from the Hawthorne Bridge.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

This July, when downtown workers start grabbing big orange bikes to head across the river for lunch at Olympia Provisions, many will make an unpleasant discovery: Downtown Portland has hardly any bike infrastructure.

Art Pearce, Portland’s manager for transportation policy, planning and projects, said last month that “public process” for the downtown bike infrastructure project will begin in “”summer of 2016.”

The good news for those future Biketown customers is that this is set to change. The bad news is that it probably won’t until 2017 at the soonest.

Experienced Portland bike users know that the stoplights in most of downtown Portland are already timed to make it pointless for anyone to drive faster than 14 mph. Our “green wave” is a brilliant bit of invisible (and therefore uncontroversial) bike infrastructure.

But invisible infrastructure isn’t much comfort to people experimenting with city biking for the first time — or for people who simply don’t feel comfortable riding in the same lane as people in cars on crowded and hectic streets.

So Thursday’s bike share sponsorship deal adds to the urgency of a project that has been rattling through the local bureaucracy for three years now: adding one or more protected bike lanes to the downtown street grid.

Portland’s low-stress bike network (defined as buffered bike lanes, protected bike lanes, neighborhood greenways and off-street paths) in its central city. This predates installation in 2015 of a new southbound buffered bike lane on 3rd Avenue.

In 2013, Portland received $6 million in federal funds to spend on something it called the Central City Multimodal Safety Project. According to its grant application, the project would include “bikeways that provide more width for cyclists and more physical separation between those bicycling and those driving.”

Which streets would get these nice new bike lanes? That’s been ambiguous so far. By all accounts, the city has resisted writing any plans in stone.


Last May, the city hired a veteran consultant, Rick Browning, to be its project manager. Two days before he started work, he stopped by our office to talk about the project.

Little has happened since, at least in public.

Art Pearce, Portland’s manager for transportation policy, planning and projects, said last month that “public process” for the downtown bike infrastructure project will begin in “summer of 2016.”

New bike lane on 3rd Ave-13.jpg

Traffic on 3rd Avenue, which Portland planned and installed in several months last year.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Here’s Pearce’s summary of where things stand, taken from an email exchange with BikePortland late last month:

Phase 1 Planning funds became available for this project October 1 2015. In preparation for this funding availability, during the summer of 2015, PBOT, METRO and Portland Parks engaged in an iterative review process of a draft project scope of work and more detailed project budget. The final version of that scope was sent to Metro in September.

The final revised scope and budget was sent to ODOT in October for approval. ODOT is currently reviewing the submittal to release Phase 1 funds. PBOT is working with ODOT to estimate the date for start of funding. While the project is still not funded, PBOT staff have starting work on preparing a consultant RFP that will be issued in early spring with that consultant team and the public process starting in the summer of 2016.

PBOT staff is excited to get this much anticipated project underway.

Dan Kaempff, a planner for Metro who helped oversee the project, confirmed on Thursday that ODOT and the city are continuing to make small revisions to Browning’s scope of work.

Cities which opened bike sharing systems in an effort to show bike-friendly credentials without making major changes to their streets have seen their systems struggle for riders.

PBOT Spokesman John Brady said Thursday that the protected bike lane project, once it’s built, will probably be good for downtown bike sharing. He also noted that downtown isn’t the only place bike sharing will be available.

Still, if there’s one major flaw in Portland’s bike share plan after Thursday’s sponsorship announcement, this is it. Cities like San Antonio, Chattanooga and Denver, which opened bike sharing systems in an effort to show bike-friendly credentials without making major changes to their streets, have seen their systems struggle for riders. Cities like New York and Montreal, which introduced bike sharing after big investments in their central-city bike networks, have seen stronger ridership.

There are also cities like Seattle, where a lack of downtown bike infrastructure may have contributed to a slow start for bike sharing, but where the city is rapidly building infrastructure to help it work. In May 2015, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray made a surprise announcement that a protected bike lane would be on 2nd Avenue in time for the bike share launch. Four months later, a half-mile bidirectional bike lane was on the ground, complete with bike signals.

Portland proved last year that when the stars align, it can move quickly. The new buffered bike lane on 3rd Avenue — project-managed by Browning, as it turned out — is a big improvement for the downtown network.

Portland’s transportation bureau has six months before Biketown starts rolling. Will it bring the same sense of urgency to building better bikeways as it did to building a fruitful partnership with Nike?

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

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sorenalankesslerAdron @ Transit SleuthEric LeifsdadMichael Andersen (News Editor) Recent comment authors
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It’s frustrating as heck that Browning was hired 8 months ago (May 2015) and the bureaucrats are “continuing to revise the work plan.” The basic work scope must have been developed in connection with the application in 2013.

I was a bureaucrat for part of my career, but the glacial pace of this project is ridiculous. Too many meetings and no action.


Wow, four months to install a protected bike lane? We can only dream of that kind of turnaround here! We really need to work on a way to speed projects up here while still engaging the public.

If done right (i.e. nothing like that buffered bike lane on Third), this project could be transformative for downtown. Most of the streets downtown are two to three lanes of uni-directional travel plus parking. There’s no reason any street should be that wide, especially in the most pedestrian-dense neighborhood in the city. Nearly every street downtown could benefit from a road diet, by converting some of the widest streets to one or two lanes with physically-separated bike lanes. Or go back to all two-way streets, but that’s a much larger undertaking.


Car-free transit mall? Naito 2-way path? a couple other streets could get done but it is hard to see much happening between now and summer. Not without the PBA giving some serious ground

Pat Lowell
Pat Lowell

There really needs to be a better connection northbound from Terwilliger. Southbound is great with Broadway to Terwilliger. Northbound, the bike lane abruptly disappears when Terwilliger becomes 6th, and then you’re sandwiched between traffic and tracks, often needing to get over 2 lanes of traffic to turn left to PSU.

Todd Boulanger
Todd Boulanger

Actually the “green wave” signal timing may need to be tweaked to support bikeshare by lowering the MPH from 14 to X (10? or 12?). I would expect that these bike share bikes due to design (weight, front loaded basket, geometry and shaft drive internal hub etc.) and novice riders would have a much lower average MPH. More like a “Dutch” average of 10 mph.


I don’t know if this is new, but I hadn’t seen it before. PBOT has a page on their website about 10c gas tax proposal, that will hopefully be before the voters in May:

One document lists the projects that the revenue could be used for:

One of the projects is “Central City; fill out the protected bike lane network identified in the Multi-Modal project”, with an estimated cost of $2,834,759. Presumably that would be in addition to the $6 million grant.

So while I am incredibly frustrated that this is taking so long, at least it seems like they’re planning on spending serious money on it. If they combined this with some SDC funding, which are coming in by the bucket load right now, this could actually be a really trans-formative project.

Don Arambula
Don Arambula

Will this be another Portland transportation planning failure? I hope not. We certainly have reason to be skeptical considering the mixed results of Williams and the failure 28th Street efforts. I would hope that PBOT will consider ‘lessons learned’ from those projects.

This cannot be another transportation ‘go-it-alone’ project. BPS needs to be a active, equal partner.

Having designed and implemented protected bikeways through downtowns in other cities, I know that the work scope needs to extend beyond the curbs and consider the adjacent development context; it MUST be comprehensive– land use needs to be a central consideration. That was the only way we were able to get buy-in from property owners and business people who were hostile to road diets, loss of parking, etc.

A consultant team with demonstrable land use and transportation expertise will be required to make this work, otherwise it will be ‘deja vu all over again’ and as you astutely noted, the bikeshare will be less successful.


What’s the possibility of some shared sidewalks? Sidewalk riding should be made legal especially in areas where it is too dangerous to ride on the street. The transit mall would be a great area for a shared sidewalk since it is so wide. That has to be an obvious possibility especially as it runs north-south through the center of downtown. There is even enough room here to paint a dedicated bike path.

If the Biketown bike share is intended to get more people commuting by bike, then the obvious targeted population is going to be the casual cyclist. The casual cyclist is not going to be the militant “right of the road” biker who tends to demand his/her right to ride on the road despite the obvious physical differences between bike and car (the laws of physics guarantee that the cyclist will always lose when impacted by a car).

A shared sidewalk would replicate the dilemma between car and bike on the road with bike and pedestrian on the sidewalk. In both instances, commuters must slow down to the lowest common denominator. Bikes would have to make way for pedestrians on the sidewalk as cars already make way for bikes on the road. By opening the sidewalks in downtown to the bicyclist would be an endeavor of shared civic empathy. Downtown Portland has many wide sidewalks. Perhaps we could even get a militant pedestrian rights sidewalk movement going to raise awareness and keep Portland weird.

Shared sidewalks coupled with dedicated on road bike ways to northwest Portland, the zoo (Canyon Road) and Terwillger/Barbara Blvd, would about do it for downtown cycling.

By the way, in Japan, sidewalks are widely used as shared pathways for cyclists and pedestrians and from what I’ve seen both groups coexist in a polite, peaceful and civilized fashion.