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Gap Week: SW Terwilliger between Chestnut and 7th

Posted by on January 27th, 2016 at 2:12 pm

SW Portland Week - Day 1-6

Gap? Check. Curve? Check. Narrow road? Check. Dangerous driving? Check. This one has it all (unfortunately).
(Photo: J Maus/BikePortland)

Part of Gap Week.

So far this week we’ve covered a gap in downtown, one out east, and now we’ll travel over to southwest. Today’s gap is one that I had the displeasure of discovering during our Southwest Portland Week last February: southbound Terwilliger between Chestnut and 7th/Caldew (map).

After we spent a week riding and reporting in the southwest quadrant, I came to expect the unexpected. Even so, this gap stands out for several reasons.

Network context

This is Metro’s Bike There map. Note the dearth of bike routes in this part of Southwest Portland. Arrow points to our gap on Terwilliger, which you’ll note isn’t labeled as a caution area (it’s listed as a continuous bike lane on City of Portland maps too).

There are precious few bikeways in Southwest Portland. Its hills and complete lack of street grid makes it a challenging place to ride, so relatively flat and direct roads like Terwilliger are absolutely essential to the biking network. In fact, if you want to go north-south between downtown Portland and Burlingame, your only good option is Terwilliger — or if you don’t mind running a gauntlet you can also use the bike lanes on the state-managed Barbur Boulevard.

While Terwilliger is labeled as having a continuous bike lane between downtown and Burlingame on both Metro’s Bike There! map and the City of Portland’s official bike map, there’s actually a dangerous gap about a half-mile south of Capitol Highway.

Reader Eric Wilhelm lives in the area. Back in August he contacted us after hearing about a crash in/around this gap. He said despite the narrow roadway (about 30 feet total for two standard lanes), people frequently drive 10 miles per hour over the posted 25 mph speed limit. “I see far too much curb-hugging here and drivers not paying attention,” he wrote in an email. “I’ve been unsafely passed, tailed, and cut off at 7th numerous times with my kid on the bike,” he added. Wilhelm also said he’s tried working through his neighborhood association and the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s safety hotline to but hasn’t made any headway.

Existing conditions

This gap is sort of the perfect storm for danger and high stress. As you approach this gap all seems well as you head south toward Barbur Blvd. You’ve got a bike lane (not a very wide one, but at least it’s there), and the road also has a bike lane and a parking lane in the opposite direction so it feels like everyone has some breathing room. Then, just after the bike lane drops, the parking lane goes away too. And then there’s a sharp curve.

A road narrowing by about 25%, the lack of dedicated cycling space, a curve, and dangerous driving are a bad combination. Making matters worse are several large trees adjacent to the southbound side of the road, which can impair visibility.


In the gap.



Looking back (north) where the bike lane ends.

Then, when the bike lane picks back up again at SW 7th/Caldew, there’s a storm drain grate right in your path.


Looking north at intersection of SW 7th/Caldew and Terwilliger.

Yes it’s just 330 feet (0.06 miles), but as we’ve shared many times in the past — a good bikeway is only as good as its weakest link.

Would you feel comfortable riding with a child or pulling one in a trailer through this gap?

What the future holds

Fortunately this gap is on PBOT’s radar. A project with an estimated cost of $1 million and aptly named “Terwilliger Bikeway Gaps” (project #90091) is on the recommended project list of the City’s draft Transportation System Plan that will be adopted this spring. This project made it on the “financially constrained” list which PBOT reserves only for the one’s it considers most feasible. PBOT staff confirmed for us that this specific gap will be one of the gaps addressed in this project.

But this doesn’t mean we can sit back and relax. For some perspective, the Terwilliger Bikeway Gaps project is just one of over 250 projects on the TSP fiscally-constrained project list and among hundreds of millions in identified capital infrastructure needs. So, while there are very few sure-things in this budget-challenged environment, the relative low-cost and high-demand of this project should give it a great chance.

If you live, ride, or work in this area and want to make this key bike route better, stay tuned for opportunities to weigh in. And when you advocate for it, make sure to tell everyone at PBOT that, “It’s on the TSP financially-constrained list!” They’ll not only appreciate your wonkiness, they’ll be much more able to grant your wish.

Stay tuned tomorrow for our final gap. Then on Friday we’ll round up your submissions! Speaking of which, don’t forget to tag your gaps with #GapWeekPDX or drop us a line with the location.

UPDATE, 1/28 at 9:52 pm: Reader 2WheelBeamer sent us this video of him getting honked at while riding through this gap. It happened just 10 minutes after we posted this story!

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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32 thoughts on “Gap Week: SW Terwilliger between Chestnut and 7th”

  1. Avatar rick says:

    A mess considering a lot of Terwilliger Blvd is a linear parkway operated by the parks bureau.

    The far southern part of Terwilliger will get a traffic shut down for a sewer project this fall for 12 months.

  2. Avatar Tom Hardy says:

    Have ridden this hundreds of times in the last few years. I noticed then disregarded it. There is enough time to build speed going down the hill as I take the traffic lane. I have never has a problem here.

    1. I experienced it differently Tom… Consider that some people aren’t comfortable “building speed going down the hill.” And this is a problem I see in our current system: The people making decisions and planning bikeways tend to be relatively strong and confident riders so they don’t see stuff like this as problematic. I would love to see some slow and cautious riders (re)infiltrate the City’s Bike Advisory Committee, and PBOT staff!

      1. Avatar Chris says:

        I agree Jonathan. I know I feel comfortable in that section, but I am comfortable with speed and a lot of people just aren’t. It is an area that needs focus.

        I ride Terwilliger a lot. It is truly frustrating how little regard there is for the 25mph posted speed. In my 20+ years of riding Terwilliger weekly, I have yet to see one officer with radar. I have seen the ‘your speed is’ radar readers to educate, but a $250 ticket does a much better job at educating now & then.

      2. Adam H. Adam H. says:

        Agree. I would likely never ride on Terwilliger even if this gap was fixed. The painted lanes are too narrow and unprotected. I don’t like that the people making the choices about “safe” bicycle infra are okay riding in four-foot painted door-zone bike lanes.

        1. Avatar Bradwagon says:

          So are you against bike lanes then? Do you just ride your bike on the sidewalk all the time if painted bike lanes aren’t protected enough?

          You’re missing out as Terwilliger is an awesome road to cycle so close to city. Used to use it often to get between downtown and Lake Oswego, while dropping down into Lake Oswego can be a bit annoying if there is heavy traffic I never gave a second thought to this specific gap. Then again having done most of my cycling in rural and suburban areas I may not be as nervous about sharing the lane as some folks.

          The more bikes using roads without bike lanes and taking the lane the better. Lest we give cars the victory and submit to only riding where it has been approved and deemed safe to do so. Roads are transportation vehicles, bikes are transportation vehicles, therefore, ride bikes on roads.

      3. Avatar spencer says:

        I agree with Jonathan here, I’m totally confident riding this route as it used to be my work commute, but my Dutch Mother in Law would have nothing to do with the high speeds and mixed traffic, despite spending her entire life on a bike.
        This gap exemplifies the disconnect between city government and cyclists. We all aren’t roadies, yet most of our outlying infrastructure is designed for recreation cyclists, not family commuters. If we want to accommodate and promote increased cycling rates, we need to build roads to keep everyone safe.

      4. Avatar carrie says:

        True. I am a confident rider and I would never build up speed here because there are cars that pull out from the stop sign on the right just down the hill. I have been frequently squeezed out by cars in this gap.

      5. Avatar mh says:

        I don’t live around there any more, but I am even more than before a slow and cautious rider. With skinny tires and a very recent wipeout, I now restrain myself if there is any sign of loose gravel or road debris. Is there ever not loose gravel and road debris in most of our bike lanes?

    2. Avatar eric says:

      Having ridden it daily with my kid, I’ve had more than enough problems — full lane, 20mph won’t prevent people from trying to pass around the curve and I’ve seen a few meet oncoming traffic. How much speed do I want going into that intersection while a driver on seventh just rolled the stop bar by 5ft but hasn’t quite stopped, a northbound driver is signalling left about to peel off the back of a tailgate train and head up 7th, and the car halfway down the hill 3s behind me at 35mph might be the only traffic they’ve seen? This is a typical morning scene. Starting at chestnut (technically 6th), you would need to sprint a bit to get to even 25 before the lane ends (assuming you stop at stop signs.) But, the traffic is regularly moving at 35.

      Cars continuing “straight” north on terwilliger block the view of drivers turning left due to the curve. I’m not sure if a bike lane would fix that, though closing the south end of 7th to cars might.

  3. Avatar redtech116 says:

    Looks like they could cut in a nice dirt single track in the grass there.

    1. Avatar Tom Hardy says:

      That is a scairy thought. A downhill dirt single track with 23C tires! Give me the lane.

      1. Avatar Al Dimond says:

        I think I’d actually be more scared of the sight lines at speed than hitting the mud with road tires!

  4. Avatar Fred says:

    I ride Terwilliger each way to/from work. I do carry enough speed through here to take the lane south bound, but as said before, some riders are not comfortable with doing so. Other problems are created when traffic from the light at Barbour backs up and drivers move over to the curb and block bike traffic. Then there are cars weaving to move to the right turn lane, in and out of the businesses on both sides of the street at Barbour and the dreaded drainage inlet. As a matter of fact, the drainage inlets all along Terwillger are problems.

  5. Avatar Oliver says:

    It is especially bothersome given the time and money recently spent re-engineering the two intersections at either end of this gap.

  6. Avatar B. Carfree says:

    That door-zone bike lane on the other side would give me more worries than a short section of road where I need to take the lane. I do see where others would much prefer to have a bike lane, but I would prioritize dumping the dzbl’s first. (OMG, could we ever actually prioritize cyclist safety over the storage of cars on the public right of way?)

  7. Avatar ethan says:

    I’m not familiar with this area or this gap at all, and I appreciate the coverage.

    Does anyone know of a good solution? I’m thinking that an off-street path could work well.

  8. Avatar Dave says:

    For part of the 1980s I had a commute that went through that area, then 20 years later did frequent evening rides there. The west side of Portland has areas that made a socio-economic bigot out of me. Take a man or woman. Give them a real estate license or an MBA. Put them in a German car and twenty minutes later they’re hungry for power!;)

  9. Avatar Kevin Wagoner says:

    I ride that a lot at a high rate of speed since it is downhill. You really need to watch the traffic coming uphill from Barber as some of the cars cross your path to go up SW 7th. The continuous bike lane on SW Terwilliger right before SW Capital Hill (headed out of town) is also extremely narrow. I saw a bike in front of me nearly hit by a car this fall when a car tried to overtake him. He looked at me and said that was awkward and I responded yes I’m not sure what you were really suppose to do there.

    What do you think of the new gap going into town from Barber down Pacific Highway at SW Lincoln Street and SW Harbor Viaduct? I take this in the mornings at a high rate of speed after coming downhill after fighting through some odd merging traffic at Natio Parkway (and a miserable experience on Barbur). The bike lane doesn’t pick back up till SW Salmon.

  10. Avatar eddie says:

    One can completely avoid that gap by taking the back roads: make use of Wilson High School’s parking lot and the streets between it and 7th.

    1. Avatar El Biciclero says:

      What if one is coming from the north end of Terwilliger? Should that person climb up to Sunset (in another very narrow bike lane), then make a left turn into Wilson’s parking lot and backtrack their way down Vermont/Chestnut to 7th?

      Some bicyclists like (and lots of others expect them) to scurry and sneak around in the corners out of sight like mice. I would rather counter that expectation and ride like I own the road—because, to the same extent as any driver, I do. I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I very much dislike being deprived of direct routes due to motorist bullying and transportation agency buffoonery.

      1. Avatar eddie says:

        I prefer to scurry. Safer. Less conflicts with motorists. Hell, I scurry all over this town avoiding these “gaps”… works for me! To each their own I guess…

  11. Avatar Keith says:

    Perhaps the worst part of this story is a major opportunity was recently lost to fill this long-recognized bike lane gap. With all of the adopted plans, notice, and conversation with SW Portland representatives in advance of the project start, this inability of the city to deliver starkly illustrates the problem of its refusal to seize opportunities, especially when considering the background of this case:
    • 2006 – The Portland TSP identifies Terwilliger as a “city bikeway” with bike lanes as the primary design treatment.
    • 2010 – The Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030 designated Terwilliger for “separated in roadway” (bike lane) treatment along its entire length. Terwilliger Gaps (#8291) is in the Appendix A: Action Plan and Project List to eliminate the gaps on Terwilliger including this one.
    • Fall 2012 – SW residents requested copies of the proposed plans (to improve Chestnut and 7th intersections with sidewalks/storm water facilities) to review and comment. PBOT staff indicated the city would try to fill the bike lane gap.
    • December 17, 2012 – PBOT staff gave a presentation to the SWNI Transportation Committee, indicating that potentially the design of the proposed work at Chestnut and 7th could be modified. SW Portland representatives expressed concern about the design and the need to include the missing bike lane section.
    • December 19, 2012 – I submitted design ideas and photos for PBOT consideration to use the curbside portion of the planter strip (shown in the photos – no trees/approx 10′ wide). It would have been a section of cycle track that would allow the existing curb to stay in place. I was told this would be shared with “our engineers” to see if the southbound bike lane could be included. The ideas were apparently rejected or simply ignored.
    • Spring 2014 – Completion of this bike lane gap is identified in the SW Corridor Refinement Phase as an early multi-modal project to support high-capacity transit (Project #3093).
    • Summer 2014 – The project concluded without the bike lane between Chestnut and 7th. To add insult to injury, the new sidewalk at 7th is in the path of the future bike lane!

    Unfortunately, this is representative of how the city blows perfectly good opportunities to make improvements when it has all the equipment and personnel on site, but only does a piece of what really needs to be done. So what if its on the constrained project list in the draft TSP ? It hasn’t made a difference so far.

    1. Avatar nwsw says:

      I think this is a really important part of this gap story – how is there extensive work done between Chestnut and 7th and the bike lane is left out? Definitely seems like a major opportunity missed.

    2. Avatar eric says:

      The portion of freshly poured sidewalk north of 7th is under 2in of mud at the moment, just like it was before the BES work. This is a city lot which is overgrown with invasive plants, improved by Friends of Terwilliger’s efforts but still a large dirt bank with erosion problems. The drain on 7th has been torn into twice since and the curb on 7th has been replaced once to modify the swale inlet. This was because runoff from the east edge of 7th was flooding across terwilliger instead of going into the swale.

      1. Avatar eric says:

        Today I noticed they’ve torn out the west side of 7th again. Third time is the charm?

    3. Avatar rick says:

      a slap in the face to sw portland

  12. Avatar Tom Hardy says:

    Sounds Par! City agreed to bike land multiple times disregards the lane, gets called on it, then makes it totally impossible.
    Needs a few class action suits to actually do it. The city will say they have no money, But they have plenty of insurance to pay the department when they lose the suit.

    1. Avatar paikiala says:

      Identifying deficiencies in the system is not ‘agreed to (build) a bike lane’.
      Your non sequitur comparing an insurance payout (someone else’s money) to project funding is just curious. Insurance payouts only happen due to liability and negligence. The premium for the insurance is a tiny fraction of any potential payout.

      Are you suggesting the City stop buying insurance to protect the taxpayers from potential liability, so that the premium money can be spent on infrastructure?

      I recall the same thing happened with the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge (risk insurance not purchased), and that turned out great!

  13. Avatar axoplasm says:

    I’ve ridden through here 1000s of times in the last umpteen years and never realized it was a gap! It totally is though.

    And they could have fixed it when they poured the new at Chestnut & re-did the sidewalk by 7th.

    I always took the lane. I had lots of cars zoom up on me from behind, driver irate at having to get behind a bike going a mere 30mph…approaching a stoplight that is red about 95% of the time

    Hooks from cars turning into the Starbucks/Pizza hut parking lot are a big danger, as is lane crossing in and after the “mixing zone”

    Kind of a hairy stretch all around now that I think about it.

    Funny enough, when I’m on Terwilliger with my kids we ride on the MUP.

    As Rick notes above, Terwilliger is a “linear park;” given the road width AND the MUP there’s already ample space for completely separated paths for all modes (bike/car/foot). It would mostly require moving the west curb 8 feet or so…and paint.

  14. Kind of crazy that reader 2WheelBeamer sent us this video of him riding through this gap just 10 minutes after we posted the story. Watch as he gets honked at by another road user just as the gap starts..

  15. Avatar Keith says:

    Thanks for this video. It clearly illustrates the fundamental problems with gaps in general:
    1. Other than a yellow sign off to the side showing the bike lane will end, there’s no clear visual warning for the bicyclist and the motorist. I’ve advocated for the same diagonal pavement arrows used when car lanes end for ending bike lanes.
    2. Motorists too often don’t look ahead or anticipate anything farther than 6′ in front of their hood. The cyclist off to the side probably wasn’t even on this motorist’s radar until he had to move over when the bike lane ended. So in this video, it seemed like the driver was more surprised than anything, honked, and then seemed to back off a bit.
    3. How a comfortable ride can immediately become scary, discouraging the interested but concerned from riding. Experiences like these even gets the confident riders wondering about their mode choice (my personal rider category is “fearful but determined”).
    4. Cyclists familiar with a route aren’t bothered nearly as much as those traveling through for the first time. One early response you received referred to getting up to speed in advance of the gap (good tactic). But if you don’t even know it’s coming – POW!

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