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Burnside bridgehead development will come with new carfree road and raised bike lane on Couch

Posted by on June 6th, 2016 at 1:38 pm

Aerial view of Couch curve and new road under construction.

The last thing we need on the infamous “Couch Curve” where it enters onto the Burnside Bridge is a new road that adds another layer of auto traffic into the mix. Thankfully that’s not going to happen.

New road on Couch curve

NE Couch Court under construction.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

We recently noticed a new road being constructed from NE 3rd Avenue up to Couch. Its potential impacts worried us because it spills right onto Couch at the start of the S-curve where about 2,000 people bike by everyday on their way into downtown Portland. The potential for collisions would have been significant.

When we followed up with the city to learn more about the project we got some very interesting news:

The City of Portland has granted a request by real estate developers working on Burnside Bridgehead project to make the new NE Couch Court carfree.

According to Portland Bureau of Transportation Communications Director John Brady, the new street was designed for auto use but will be narrowed under the new plan. It will be reduced from 18 feet to 14 feet and will not be open to cars. It will be two-way for biking and walking only.

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In addition, PBOT plans to install a raised bike lane on NE Couch. As many of you already know PBOT has had a heck of a time trying to prevent people from driving their cars into the bike lane in the curves. They’ve tried LED light reflectors and rumble bumps but both measures have failed.

Brady says the new solution will be a grade-separated bike lane that will be raised up three inches from the roadway. “This is to keep vehicles from straying into the lane,” Brady says, “And also to give drivers a visual cue and discourage them from turning [right] onto Couch Court.”

The City is smart to make a stand for cycling and create roads that do not encourage dangerous driving — or driving at all for that matter. There are three major projects in progress on the eastside of the Burnside Bridge and they include 330 new auto parking spaces combined — including one that will have a mechanical parking system that will house cars on the second and third floors. As growth continues in the central eastside, we must continue to grow the biking and walking infrastructure along with it.

We’ll share more details about the striping and design plans of the new street segment and the Couch bike lane as soon as they’re ready. Stay tuned.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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55 Comments
  • Anne Hawley
    Anne Hawley June 6, 2016 at 1:48 pm

    The City has granted a request to make a street car-free.

    The City has granted a request to make a street car-free.

    STREET. CAR-FREE.

    Holy moly. This is exciting news!

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  • rick June 6, 2016 at 1:48 pm

    More street trees, please!

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    • Doug Klotz June 6, 2016 at 6:59 pm

      Exactly. When that curved section between Couch and Burnside was built, it had street trees on the west side, near the curb, along that entire S-curve. Then, for some reason, they were all removed and the tree wells filled in. It’s hard to tell where they were unless you look closely.

      We should ask for the trees to be put back, with this bike lane construction. Assuming the raised lane will go where the striped on-road one is now. If they’re narrowing the sidewalk, it would be more difficult.

      This needs a call to Mr. Brady, which I, for one, will do.

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      • Steve B. June 7, 2016 at 10:49 am

        You rule, Doug Klotz!!

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      • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) August 4, 2016 at 1:18 pm

        Hi Doug,

        working on a follow up right now… Did you ever call PBOT about those trees? I’m looking at the final plans and I don’t see any in there.

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  • Dan G June 6, 2016 at 1:48 pm

    Excellent news! I would prefer the separation to extend further east to Sandy, but this is obviously the bit most in need of separation.

    And hooray for new bike/ped streets!

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  • John Liu
    John Liu June 6, 2016 at 1:57 pm

    This answers the wishes of many!

    My hope is that a cyclist who is taking the lane through the curve will have an opportunity to rejoin the bike lane, while riding at high speed up the eastern bridge approach.

    I used to take this bridge every morning at 5 am. I liked riding down Couch at the traffic signal synchronization speed (25 mph?), swooping through the curve in the traffic lane, then sprinting up the approach as fast as I could (on good days, 30+ mph). It was a fun little game that got my heart rate up and blew the last sleepiness out of my brain.

    You can easily keep up with cars on Couch, go through the curve faster than cars, and still maintain car speed for about 100 meters after the curve, but eventually the modest grade takes it toll and cars start passing you – and that’s when you need to get back into the bike lane.

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    • Spiffy June 6, 2016 at 3:13 pm

      “a cyclist who is taking the lane through the curve”

      except that such cyclists are generally breaking the side-path law…

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      • Robert Burchett June 6, 2016 at 3:50 pm

        Which must be really tedious for all the mv operators who are carefully coloring inside the lines through the curves?

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        • John Liu
          John Liu June 6, 2016 at 6:34 pm

          They stay in their lane, I stay in mine . . .

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      • Paul Atkinson June 7, 2016 at 9:04 am

        I think (correct me if I’m wrong) that law requires a cyclist to stay AFRAP only when unable to maintain speeds at or near the speed limit / speed of traffic (whichever is lower). If you’re keeping up, you’re not in violation.

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      • Champs June 7, 2016 at 10:30 am

        The mandatory sidepath law has a few exceptions making it toothless. “Avoiding debris or other hazardous conditions” alone is subjective enough that you could rightly claim it just about anywhere.

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      • soren June 7, 2016 at 11:08 am

        law enforcement pays no attention to the mandatory sidepath law in portland because they can’t win in court:

        http://bikeportland.org/2006/11/07/expert-witness-backfires-on-da-in-bike-lane-case-2497

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      • Adron @ Transit Sleuth June 10, 2016 at 5:04 pm

        Is it, if they’re not actually obstructing traffic or free flow of traffic?

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. June 6, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    Terrific news! New car-free streets like NE 8th and Couch Court are small, but powerful statements to show people that they can work – especially when built adjacent to mixed-use developments. This was seriously a no-brainer given the massive amount of development in the area, and I’m glad the city took the right approach here! Hopefully this will become standard for new development projects, as Director Treat has stated she’d like to see.

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  • CaptainKarma June 6, 2016 at 2:01 pm

    A *step* in the right direction.

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  • Social Engineer June 6, 2016 at 2:37 pm

    An unsung benefit of Couch Court is it allows riders heading north on 3rd to go westbound on the bridge without tangling with streetcar tracks on MLK between Davis and Couch.

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  • Eric Leifsdad June 6, 2016 at 2:44 pm

    A jersey barrier or two would be a better “visual cue” about where not to put your car. Applause for the general direction (2006), now be bold (2016) and make the bikeway wider and designed for use at 20mph, even if it means the car lanes are narrower and designed for 15mph. Use at least 25% of the roadway (2026).

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  • paikiala June 6, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    Why not raise the bike lane six inches?

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. June 6, 2016 at 3:03 pm

      Why not indeed? Though it still needs to be lower than the sidewalk.

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    • Spiffy June 6, 2016 at 3:15 pm

      why raise it all when it’s just going to be a gentle transition from the road that drivers won’t mind going over?

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    • MaxD June 6, 2016 at 3:44 pm

      Or just a 6″ curb and keep the bike lane at grade?

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    • Robert Burchett June 6, 2016 at 4:00 pm

      Why not give the mv lane transition onto the Burnside Bridge a 5 degree off camber? OK, it’s wicked, but it would certainly slow things down a bit. Works 24-7, no officers need be present. Maybe a sign or two.

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      • John Liu
        John Liu June 6, 2016 at 7:49 pm

        Deliberately creating a hazardous road design would cost the city in lawsuits. Including from the cyclists who get taken out by cars sliding on the negative camber road.

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        • Robert Burchett June 7, 2016 at 7:00 am

          Yes, my comment was–tongue in cheek? But, the existing design has the observed, provable moral hazard of leading drivers to hit an apex point well over the line marking the area reserved for a class of vulnerable road users.

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          • Dan A June 7, 2016 at 11:40 am

            I read a report today that said 7% of drivers they surveyed indicated that not signaling “adds excitement to driving.” Clearly driving could use a little more excitement, and what’s more exciting than off camber turns?

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      • Gary B June 7, 2016 at 2:26 pm

        Wait, wouldn’t an off-camber send the less careful drivers careening directly into the bike lane?

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        • Gary B June 7, 2016 at 2:28 pm

          Oops, nm, I was talking about the previous turn, not the one onto the bridge. (And yet I continue over analyzing your sarcastic comment.)

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  • Allan Rudwick June 6, 2016 at 3:08 pm

    those blue lines are going to connect, right?

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  • Bob K June 6, 2016 at 3:12 pm

    Any idea where the money is coming from for these projects? I could see SDC money for NE Couch Court but could it be applied to the Couch curve, too?

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  • Abide June 6, 2016 at 4:11 pm

    A triumph of sanity. Yay!!

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  • John Lascurettes June 6, 2016 at 4:51 pm

    Wow. Just great news all around. It makes me all … http://giphy.com/gifs/excited-dancing-dkGhBWE3SyzXW

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  • Dwaine Dibbly June 6, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    I have doubts that 3″ is going to be enough elevation to keep mv operators in their own lane, especially trucks, buses, and other vehicles with larger tires.

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    • John Liu
      John Liu June 6, 2016 at 6:38 pm

      A 3″ curb can be driven over, but it will jolt the car or truck sufficiently that drivers will avoid doing so. At 20 mph, it can also damage a car’s rim.

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      • A.H. June 7, 2016 at 6:43 am

        Sounds like a recipe for a lot of cosmetic damage, not a recipe for compliance.

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        • bendite June 7, 2016 at 7:28 am

          There’s a good stretch of elevated lane here in Bend and drivers stay out of for the most part. Probably 80% of the drivers drive in the bike lane on every other sweeping right.

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          • Dave Thomson June 8, 2016 at 9:53 am

            I hate that section. Since the raised area is neither plowed nor swept in the winter and the MV lanes are narrow it is totally fubar 4 months of the year. The rest of the time the raised lanes are too narrow to safely ride over 8mph.

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        • John Liu
          John Liu June 7, 2016 at 8:23 am

          Drivers avoid cosmetic damage to their cars. And a bent rim is not cosmetic damage.

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      • Robert Burchett June 7, 2016 at 8:11 am

        Deliberate, perhaps hazardous, obstruction of the driving line?

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    • MaxD June 8, 2016 at 10:04 am

      I don’t get what advantage a 3″ elevated path is supposed to have. It sounds like yet another (but more expensive) half measure from the City at this location. A person on a bike still has a significant obstruction on either side (3″ curb or 3″ drop-off), but a 3 inch curb to a truck or bus is pretty insignificant. IMO, a 6″ curb offers much better protection from enforcement and the experience of the person on a bike is about the same as the 3″ option. This is also likely to be far less money, so maybe the project could afford to replace the missing trees.

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  • JeffS June 7, 2016 at 12:42 am

    Yes. It’s too much to expect a motorist to stay between the lines.

    Instead, we ask the cyclist to stay between the curbs, at a much greater risk. You brought this on yourselves. Because simply riding down the road presented too much perceived risk for those who knew no better, we have added actual risk and a false sense of security.

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  • Terry D-M June 7, 2016 at 1:41 am

    Taking Ankeny, once development pays for a traffic light at Ankeny, we will be able to treat the street grid as an on-ramp to the Burnside Bridge that loops around the Death Star.

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  • RH June 7, 2016 at 9:51 am

    Wonder if they will apply this to the hill on N. Interstate? Would love something there apart from just a painted line with all the semi trucks/traffic heading up there.

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  • peter hass June 7, 2016 at 8:33 pm

    I applaud the coming improvement to the curve but I’m far more concerned the main span of the bridge where drivers tend to accelerate to an unenforced 40-60mph and the only thing standing between me and their next text is a thin white line.

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    • John Liu
      John Liu June 8, 2016 at 7:19 am

      There is no reason for cars to deviate into the bike lane there – no curves, driveways, stopped cars, etc. It is safe. I rode that bridge daily, sometimes 2x day, for ten years, with zero incidents in the bike lane. You can always ride the sidewalk, it is wide with little foot traffic.

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. June 8, 2016 at 9:13 am

        No reason other than choking on soda, apparently.

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      • Adron @ Transit Sleuth June 10, 2016 at 4:28 pm

        yeah, as Adam pointed out, not safe. It isn’t the first incident from some distracted motorist anyway. Got away with manslaughter with a whatever made up excuse. Should have gotten charged, at minimum, with failure to maintain control of vehicle. Could have gotten charge with reckless endangerment and speeding too, based on evidence and that strange thing called physics. But I suppose they can’t really drag that stuff into court to much. :-/

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  • Jim Labbe
    Jim Labbe June 7, 2016 at 11:46 pm

    Thanks! I suspect Bikeportland.org can take some credit here. You did a great job bird-dogging the story of cars encroaching on the unprotected bike lane in newly constructed Couch curve.

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  • poncho June 8, 2016 at 8:28 pm

    Seems like a Band-Aid solution for that god awful couplet that was installed 5 years ago and inspired by 50 years ago. Better than current design for sure. Now if they could just beautify that hideous new black high rise eyesore by tearing it down.

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  • Adron @ Transit Sleuth June 10, 2016 at 4:26 pm

    I was actually super worried about this area, as at one point a developer wanted to open the couplet to go straight into the building, but with this I see they’ve went from completely insane idea to a great idea and respective improvement!

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  • CaptainKarma May 31, 2017 at 12:55 pm

    Our first “cofeve” street!

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