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First look: The tiny (yet important) cycle-track on SW Terwilliger at Capitol Highway

Posted by on May 3rd, 2017 at 11:17 am

New bikeway SW Terwilliger and Cap Hwy-1.jpg

It might not look like much, but it makes a big difference.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

“The changes are a big improvement.”
— Barbara Stedman, southwest Portland resident

Slowly but surely, the City of Portland is improving bikeways in southwest. Case in point are the recently completed changes to the intersection of SW Capitol Highway and Terwilliger (a.k.a the “teardrop”).

People who ride in this area know the intersection well because it was a common place for close-calls. I experienced this first-hand during a ride-along with a southwest Portland family in 2012 (see photo below). The curvature of the road, mixed with the unprotected bike lane was a bad combination. Fortunately a Portland Water Bureau project provided the impetus to finally fix the bikeway and make something much safer (and we were fortunate that a volunteer advocate spoke up to make sure it happened – thanks Keith Liden!).

Before I share more photos of the new bikeway, here’s how it used to look (note the pinch-point and how the younger rider opts wisely for the sidewalk):

Ride Along with the Stedman Family-13

And here’s how it looks now:

New bikeway SW Terwilliger and Cap Hwy-3.jpg

New bikeway SW Terwilliger and Cap Hwy-2.jpg

New bikeway SW Terwilliger and Cap Hwy-4.jpg

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New bikeway SW Terwilliger and Cap Hwy-5.jpg

New bikeway SW Terwilliger and Cap Hwy-6.jpg

New bikeway SW Terwilliger and Cap Hwy-7.jpg

And coming back southbound toward Capitol Highway (note the old lane markings that have been ground down):

New bikeway SW Terwilliger and Cap Hwy-8.jpg

New bikeway SW Terwilliger and Cap Hwy-9.jpg

New bikeway SW Terwilliger and Cap Hwy-11.jpg

New bikeway SW Terwilliger and Cap Hwy-10.jpg

As you can see, in addition to the new grade-separated bike lane, PBOT has restriped the notorious s-curve in both directions. They widened the southbound bike lane, gave it a generous (but only painted) buffer, added a mini-bike box at the intersection, and added a few cross-bike markings into the intersection for good measure.

As for the teardrop itself, there are separate paths for bicycling and walking and pavement markings throughout to let you know where you should be. The design overall is straightforward. North of Capitol Highway the paths re-connect and then bicycle users are directed back onto the unprotected Terwilliger bike lane (via a curb cut and arrow markings) a few hundred feet later.

This is an important intersection because of its location at the crossroads of a major north-south bike route (Terwilliger) and the main access road between Barbur Blvd and Hillsdale (Capitol Highway).

Southwest resident (and the subject in that harrowing photo above) Barbara Stedman says, “The changes are a big improvement. Widening the street and adding the cycle path and MUP to the sidewalk was very helpful.” Stedman worked with PBOT and volunteer advocate Keith Liden to design the bikeway. She also mentioned that the sharp curve to the left at the split of the bike and walkways is “kind of awkward” (especially since it comes on a slight downhill when people on bikes have a bit of speed) and that many people ride on the walking path instead.

I also noted that on the section of Terwilliger right outside of downtown Portland (near the Sam Jackson intersection), PBOT has repaved the street and widened/buffered the bike lane. It’s great to see improvements like this and they follow a positive trend of PBOT upgrading bicycle infrastructure whenever they repave or do other projects.

Do you ride through here? What do you think about the upgrades?

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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David
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David

As someone who used to ride this daily for almost three years before the change, I’m glad that they eliminated this gap in the network as it was every bit as dangerous as your description. The extra striping opposite the cycletrack is even more important as vehicles often cut into the bike lane when it was narrower and prevented passage during high traffic times of day.

It would have been nice if they could have had the bike path track alongside the pedestrian walkway as that teardrop is awkward but this is dedicated and grade separated so this is minor in the scheme of things.

Here is hoping the city can grow to 10 miles of protected bike lanes by the end of the year (look for the MUP on BHH this fall/winter hopefully).

Adam
Subscriber

Would be better if it was wider and didn’t have a mountable curb.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

Man, I hate that grinder!

Champs
Guest
Champs

The cycle track looks to be bathed in pea gravel (N Vancouver over the Slough being another). I realize that this winter was harsh, but short of the Larch Mountain gate, the snow in Multnomah County is long gone and it’s not as if PBOT could have missed this.

“First class” indeed. Small wonder I prefer the roads.

rick
Guest
rick

Nice, but the car speeding and “banked” curves of Terwilliger need to be addressed.

rick
Guest
rick

The sewer / water line project at this same location later had new Doug-fir trees planted. Lots of Ivy have killed trees around Terwilliger.

Michael Williams
Guest
Michael Williams

I have a different outlook on this project and Terwilliger in general. I ride this route twice a day. The improvements at SW Capitol make for an awkward left hand turn as one is riding downhill at speed. I will always take the route marked for peds if it is clear (9 times out of 10 it is clear). The southbound bike lane of Terwilliger is often debris-strewn or one is faced with vegetation hanging into the bike lane. The southbound bike lane between Terwilliger and Caruthers-ish is often full of dirt and rocks from the cut bank right next to it. A painted buffer does little good when your bike lane is full of large rocks! That section also has a lot of traffic in the commute periods.
This is really a shame because that whole corridor would be so easy to convert to a two-way cycletrack that would make commuting between SW and downtown a lovely experience. As it is, I often ride on the asphalt “sidewalk” when headed southbound to avoid all the crap in the southbound bike lane. Peds there seem to understand (at least I haven’t been yelled at yet or been the subject of some passive-aggressive behavior) and I appreciate their forebearance. I avoid riding this route after dusk altogether because of the poor lighting and all of the debris there.
I believe the low bike commute numbers out of SW would dramatically change if this route were properly constructed.

Scott Kocher
Guest

Someone once said “Far too often, we settle for incremental progress—a new bike lane here, a new bike law there—when what’s needed are big, bold changes in both culture and infrastructure.” 🙂

JJJ
Guest

Why wouldnt you just take the shorter, more direct pedestrian cut? The route confuses me

Terry D-M
Guest
Terry D-M

I can see taking the cycletrack if you are stopped at the left turn light, but if you get the green coming downhill from Capital it is too narrow…..I take the lane. I think the intersection needs better striping as well.

I do like the new buffered bike lane on the capital highway to Barbur northbound curve further east/downhill from here. It has really slowed down traffic.

Keith
Guest
Keith

Jonathan,
Thanks for the article. I think there are a number of takeaways including:
• Creating plans, such the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030, are short and easy compared to implementation, which is long and hard.
• While large transformative projects are great, we also need to capitalize on small cost-effective opportunities when we get them. Every time a street is modified, repaved, or rebuilt, PBOT should ensure compliance with the bike plan (and TSP) whenever possible.
• There are probably relatively few bike facilities in the city that please everyone or make all types of riders feel safe – perhaps partially explaining our low ridership compared to our goal for a 25% bike mode split.
• The project wasn’t just about cyclists. Pedestrian advocates wanted separation from cyclists, and the Water Bureau and BES (these bureaus were behind the initiation of this project in the first place) had design requirements for their new facilities within the teardrop.
• The cycle track design is relatively unique in Portland, and we can learn from its performance to potentially fine-tune this approach when/if it’s applied elsewhere.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

This used to be on my daily commute. I think it’s an improvement, but it was never a huge trouble spot (my bigger concern was uphill from there: the risk of cars backing out onto Capitol Hwy while I’m flying downhill at the speed limit in the bike lane). The reason I never had problems at this spot is that it’s downhill through the intersection if you’re making the left turn from Capitol: I’m a slower climber, but I’m fast off the line and down hills, so I could carry a lot of speed around that curve, then drift to the right as the slope turned uphill and slowed me down. Slower cyclists might really appreciate the change, though. My bigger problem was that the bike lane on Terwilliger didn’t start early enough.

The shortcut pedestrian path may be confusing for first-time riders through this location, and I suspect the markings may come up on them too fast to react accordingly. Before that path was paved, IIRC it was dirt or gravel and I sometimes used to take the shortcut, then hop off the curb once the bike lane started on the uphill.

Vince
Guest
Vince

The start of this lane, going north, is really poorly marked. i had no idea that was a bike lane until I rode past and saw the markings pointing bikes down onto the old bike lane. The only marking is a bike painted on the side walk. That’s the last place I am going to look when I am crossing a busy intersection. How hard would it have been to put up a sign at eye level?
its better than what was there but its C+ work at best.

Justin M
Guest
Justin M

I guess I never saw the old design. I’ve only been riding on this path for about six months or so. So maybe this redesign happened before I got on it? It’s great though. I’ve always felt very safe riding Terwilliger.

dwk
Guest
dwk

A 5 year old could ride this….

Uptowner
Guest
Uptowner

Looks a lot like a sidewalk to me.