Part of Gap Week.
Every morning and afternoon on East Burnside at 82nd Avenue, 10 cars at a time queue up in what ought to be a great advertisement for finding some other way to get around the city.
People on bikes, meanwhile, squeeze past to their right. They’re riding one of the city’s very few continuous bikeways connecting inner and outer East Portland.
Well, almost continuous.
As we wrote in 2014, East Burnside probably offers one of the most unique biking experiences in the United States. The one-hour ride from 182nd, where its bike lane begins, to North Tabor and central Portland, connects a 1 percent biking neighborhood to a 20 percent biking neighborhood. The difference between East Burnside’s eastern and western ends is about the same as the difference between central Portland and Amsterdam.
Burnside has huge practical value in bringing those worlds together, and not only because it offers solid bike lanes from Mount Tabor to 182nd. Because the MAX Blue Line has left just one auto lane in each direction for most of its length, Burnside is also a remarkably calm and low-stress street to bike on by East Portland standards.
But before you even leave the relatively bike-friendly parts of Portland, there’s a two-block stretch were Burnside’s crucial bike lanes just vanish: the blocks on either side of 82nd Avenue.
To make room for center turn lanes, the 35-foot-wide street eliminates its bike lanes.
On the west approach, this happens just as the street crosses the driveway of a busy gas station.
On the east approach, it happens as the street crosses a couple of curb cuts to an auto sales lot, both of which are actually fenced off:
On both sides of the street, the City of Portland has striped the through lanes a bit wider on the approach to the intersection. This creates a shoulder that’s wide enough for people biking to sidle past while traffic is stopped.
And for the most part that’s what people do — people like David Kelly, a bike-commuting teacher at Madison High School who recently relocated east of 82nd.
The thing this squeeze point is missing, of course, is anyone who might be biking on Burnside if they weren’t freaked out about crossing 82nd Avenue without bike lanes, which would indicate to people driving that it might be a place to watch out for someone on a bike.
According to the city’s bike counts, about 800 people a day bike on Burnside at 86th, just east of here. That compares to something like 8,000 motor vehicles per day on the same part of Burnside, based on an afternoon peak-hour count of 761 through vehicles.
Bikes get 0 percent of the road width to themselves here.
What the future holds
In a project that’s scheduled for construction next month, the Oregon Department of Transportation will install a new traffic signal set at this corner, replacing the current overhead wires with overhead masts and adding a left-turn signal phase onto 82nd from Burnside. And they’ll slightly upgrade the diagonal pedestrian ramps that are there today into diagonal pedestrian ramps with truncated domes that make them friendlier to people with visual disabilities.
Adding traditional bike lanes here would require one of two options:
Removing the left-turn lanes. The city doesn’t seem to have recent counts of how many people turn left here onto 82nd, but it seems to be at least one per signal cycle during the peak hour. If the turn lanes were removed, the bike lanes could be continuous but auto traffic would back up further on Burnside while people waited to turn left. Another option would be to bar left turns.
Widening the roadway a bit. All four corners of this intersection are parking lots. Buying a few feet of road space on one side of Burnside or the other would be enough to shift the sidewalk inward and put a narrow bike lane on each side of the street right up to 82nd. All that would have a cost in the six figures — but then again, so will the new traffic signal being installed next month.
Asked about this bike lane gap, the Portland Bureau of Transportation said that in ODOT’s current project, “funding was not available to extend bike lanes through the intersection.” ODOT didn’t answer questions by late Tuesday afternoon.
There might be other ways to call attention to people biking here, such as a green thermoplastic crossbike in the intersection. Kelly, the Madison High School teacher, said he wished there were a bike box that would give him a place to stand in front of cars while he waits for the light, rather than hanging out to the right of a potentially right-turning vehicle.
“They have them all over Southeast,” Kelly said Monday. “Why not here?”
If you want to share your thoughts about this gap with PBOT, contact them via firstname.lastname@example.org. For ODOT, which manages 82nd Avenue, use the Ask ODOT service.
And stay tuned for our next gap. And we’re still taking submissions from readers. Tag your gaps with #GapWeekPDX or drop us a line with the location.
— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – email@example.com
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Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.