Over the weekend the City of Portland began their project to discourage people from driving on Southeast Clinton street and restore it as a true “neighborhood greenway” where bicycling is comfortable, safe, and prioritized.
There is now a new lane configuration on SE 34th (a north-south bikeway that feeds into Clinton), a semi-diverter at SE 32nd, and a full median diverter in place (but not finished) at SE 17th. After seeing reports about the diverters over the weekend, I rolled out this morning to get a closer look.
New bike lane and one-way configuration of Southeast 34th
More than two years after 34th Avenue resident Mark Zahner began collecting signatures and support from the neighborhood, PBOT has made his dream come true. While the City balked at first, the rising tide of discontent about biking conditions on Clinton seem to have raised this boat as well.
34th is between Division and Clinton and it’s a key north-south bikeway connector to Clinton Street. The trouble was, it was so narrow — with on-street parking on both sides — that riding on it was a gauntlet and it was impossible for two people to drive down it simultaneously in opposite directions without havoc ensuing. PBOT has now fixed that issue by turning it into one-way only northbound (away from Clinton) for drivers and two-way for people riding bikes. There’s a bike lane in the southbound direction and a shared lane (with sharrows) in the northbound direction. PBOT heroically re-allocated space previously used to store people’s cars in order to make room for the bike-only lane.
I walked the road with Zahner this morning. “I’m thrilled. I love it!” he said. Zahner said the new configuration has made “everything move better” on the street.
But Zahner and other volunteer activists with BikeLoudPDX, the upstart group whose on-street actions and City Hall letter-writing campaign spurred this project, say there are still some big issues to resolve. Instead of taking the bike lane all the way to Division and preventing people from turning down the one-way street, PBOT decided to not start the bike lane or the “Wrong Way” signage until 50-60 feet south of Division. This means people are still turning south, then getting confused and awkwardly turning around or just barrelling illegally down the street anyway.
Why would PBOT do this? We’re still not sure, but it’s worth noting that a restaurant (Sen Yai Noodles) on the corner of Division and 34th (owned by non other than famed foodie Andy Ricker who you might recall from our parking story in November) has three new parking spaces accessible by a very long driveway on 34th. The bike lane begins where that driveway ends. Making matters worse, Zahner says delivery trucks park on the driveway and completely block the new bike lane.
The good news is that PBOT is aware of these issues and they’re already working with activists to come up with a fix. Stay tuned.
Semi-diverter at SE 32nd
When I saw one local TV news station report “confusion” about the pair of semi-diverters installed at 32nd, I assumed it was just unfortunate framing. When I saw a second TV station also use the word “confusion” in their headline, I figured they might be onto something. Unfortunately, their headlines are warranted.
Any new traffic control design will take a while to get used to, but in this case PBOT has simply not deployed a very good design from the get-go.
They’ve placed 10 large concrete drums (full of gravel) on each side of Clinton at 32nd. People driving eastbound are supposed to turn either right (south) or left (north). People driving westbound are supposed to either turn right (north) or left (south). People on bikes can continue straight through, and they’re supposed to stay to the right of the drums and pass through an opening on the curbside. The design in place right now however, does a very bad job of communicating proper behavior to both types of users.
Mark Zahner did an informal survey from 6:30 am to 9:00 am this morning. He marked down on paper what people did at the intersection. The results were not good:
- 78 percent of bicycle riders (226 out of 289) veered left and went into the opposite lane of travel to get around the diverters instead of staying curbside.
- 11 percent of automobile operators (15 out of 137) ignored “Do Not Enter” signs and drove around the diverters into the opposite lane of travel.
While I was out there, several people in cars drove around the diverters. Even people on bikes would ask, “Can I go through here?” And some of them even rolled up on the sidewalk just to be safe.
A Portland Police Officer showed up to monitor the situation and talk with a few of us on the corner. Even with her standing there and her car parked in plain sight, two people tried to drive illegally around the diverter. And to my happy amazement, Officer Pierce (I didn’t get her first name) jumped off the sidewalk into the street yelling, “Stop! Stop!” She made one guy put it in reverse while pointing at the “Do Not Enter” signs and yelling, “Didn’t you see the signs?!”. It was pretty awesome.
Why are people not doing the right thing? For auto users, the signage isn’t crystal clear, and since this is just a semi-diverter, there’s nothing to physically prevent them from simply sneaking around the diverter. And for bicycle users, the pass-through opening to the right (near the curb) isn’t nearly wide enough. There’s also an unrelated sidewalk project with barricades and torn up pavement that makes the pass-through even less inviting. Another issue with the bikeway pass-through design is that on-street parking begins too soon. PBOT has only removed one space, so as you look at the pass-through you see a rear car bumper and you have to make a sharp turn to avoid it. There needs to be a lot more breathing room for the bike movement.
There’s a general consensus among BikeLoudPDX that the current design is bad. In fact they’ve already scheduled a meeting to discuss it and make some recommendation to PBOT (Sunday, 4pm on 1/17 at Dots Cafe on Clinton).
And PBOT is already well aware of the concerns. To their credit, project manager Rich Newlands was out there this morning talking to BikeLoudPDX volunteers. The fixes should be simple, but it’s a shame this design was ever left on the street. Even if this project is technically only temporary, first impressions matter and we deserve more well thought-out, safe, and intuitive street designs from the get-go. People should never be guinea pigs.
We look forward to reporting on some changes soon. PBOT said they’d re-assess the diverters this summer; but as activist Betsy Reese told me this morning: “There are some things that can’t wait six months.”
Median diverter at SE 17th
Crews were out this morning finishing up this one. This should work much better than 32nd because it will be a full diverter — meaning there will be a raised median island across all of Clinton forcing people to turn right. But unlike 32nd, these are just short little curbs that are easily rolled over by most cars.
While I was out there today, one of the PBOT work crew members recounted a story to Officer Pierce that an angry man yelled and threw things at them as he drove by this morning. And we just got an image (below) from reader Andrew K. who said a guy in a big truck plowed right over the still-wet concrete just as PBOT crews took a cover off of it…
Overall, it’s fantastic to finally see this happen. We’ve been covering the concerns about too many cars on Clinton for years now, and these diverters — once a few tweaks are ironed out — should help turn the street back into the neighborhood greenway it’s intended to be.
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – firstname.lastname@example.org