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First look: Buffered bike lanes on Lombard in north Portland

Posted by on June 27th, 2017 at 12:48 pm

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ODOT has updated Lombard from four standard lanes to two standard lanes, a left-turn lane, and bike lanes.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Oregon Department of Transportation is doing their best to provide a place for people to ride bicycles on Lombard Street in north Portland.

After striping the first bike lanes on the street west of Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard in 2015, they’ve now added buffered bike lanes from North Portsmouth to Wall.

“I’ve found it to actually be faster and more comfortable than Willamette for rush-hour commuting.”
— Travis Parker, St. Johns resident

Lombard is a crucial east-west street from the Piedmont neighborhood near Interstate 5 all the way to St. Johns. All the major commercial destinations are along Lombard and in a part of town that lacks the convenient grid of other parts of Portland, it’s one of the only through routes.

In 2013, Portland Bureau of Transportation Bicycle Coordinator Roger Geller told us, “Given its location and [commercial] zoning, this street has to work. We have to be a city of short trips and this is a very important street if we’re going to make that happen.”

But competition for space on Lombard is fierce: It’s an official “city bikeway” (in the 2030 Bike Plan), it’s the main arterial for several neighborhoods, and it’s a state-designated freight route.

As opportunities arise, ODOT has shown they’re willing to take small steps forward for bike access — even if it means removing the existing auto parking lane. They not only want to make it easier to use bicycles, they also know that updates to the lane configuration will lead to fewer crashes. Lombard west of MLK Jr. Blvd is among the highest crash corridors in the state.

Their latest attempt was to change the cross-section from four standard lanes to two standard lanes, a center turn lane and bike lanes from Portsmouth to Wall (about one-third of a mile). They laid down the new stripes last November, but they wore off during winter. Now they’ve been re-painted with an added buffer stripe.

I took a closer look at them last week.

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This image gives you an idea of the size of the bikeway relative to the overall width of the street.

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Advertise with BikePortland.
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Fishwife restaurant sign tells customers to park in back. That white truck is parked illegally in the bike lane.

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This moving van was here for quite a while. An unfortunately byproduct of timid bikeway design.

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Agencies should not be allowed to “complete” projects with such small — yet significant — infrastructure gaps like this one. Making this worse is that it’s right near New Seasons Market, a major destination.

The new lanes lack physical protection and are a standard width of about five to six feet wide. Without enough bicycle symbols or other signs/markings, the new lanes also look like auto parking lanes. This was a problem with the 2015 installation near New Seasons Market. And ODOT continues to struggle with the issue. Last winter business ire over the parking situation made local news headlines.

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A sign posted outside Fishwife restaurant just north of Portsmouth.

St. Johns neighborhood advocate Travis Parker said he’s impressed with the new lanes. “While this is a small section of Lombard, I’ve found it to actually be faster and more comfortable than Willamette (a more popular bikeway to the south) for rush-hour commuting.”

The new buffered bike lanes make a key connection to North Portsmouth — a north-south street with bike lanes that connects to bike lanes on Willamette.

It’s nice to have more dedicated space for cycling; but these are not comfortable lanes. People drive fast on Lombard and it’s unlikely families and people with young children will enjoy riding here. And there are also key gaps. After Wall, the new lanes vanish before appearing again near New Seasons. Another gap happens at the railroad bridge just south of Ida.

These gaps make already substandard and unprotected bike lanes unusable for a large swath of our population.

That being said, it is better than nothing. And these new buffered lanes make it easier to bike to great local restaurants like Fishwife, Flying Pie Pizzeria and Drunken Noodle.

“I feel these bikes lanes will grow as a resource for cycling families to connect to iconic and newer establishments from St. Johns to University Park along Lombard,” Parker shared with us earlier this summer. He sees only more bikes and bike infrastructure in Lombard’s future as more multi-level apartment buildings and businesses spring up.

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

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56 Comments
  • John Liu
    John Liu June 27, 2017 at 12:53 pm

    Is the striping work completed? Will “bicycle” symbols be added in the bike lanes? I recall that in other locations, symbols and signage appeared after the basic striping was added.

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  • Jared Moran June 27, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    Thanks for checking this out Jonathan! I live in Piedmont so seeing this progress is exciting for me and my family.

    The lack of symbols or any other separation is pretty disappointing. I ride by N Vancouver/Lombard every day and there are usually cars parked in the bike lane on N Vancouver. Having that same situation on Lombard seems even more dangerous than what I regularly encounter. Fingers crossed that something is done to improve it.

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  • Middle of the Road Guy June 27, 2017 at 1:19 pm

    Trucks that do this bug the heck out of me. I know it’s not easy for them, but they still have to find a place to park that is not in a bike lane. I live on Vancouver, and I see trucks and cars parked in the bike lane by El Torito at least a dozen times a day.

    The city could make some easy money by hanging out there and writing tickets.

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    • Eric Leifsdad June 27, 2017 at 10:16 pm

      Have you tried the illegal parking report tool with pdxreporter? My understanding is that they’ll swing by if they are near enough when a report comes in.

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      • Middle of the Road Guy June 28, 2017 at 11:14 am

        Yes, i have in fact. I probably sent in a half dozen reports over 2 days.

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    • Jared Moran June 28, 2017 at 2:25 pm

      Oh man, yes! That’s the exact spot I was referring to in my comment too. I’ve reported it over a dozen times via the app, have called parking enforcement as many times, tweeted at PBOT on multiple occasions, and have even filed complaints to Parking Enforcement via their website. Nuttin.

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  • SE Rider June 27, 2017 at 1:20 pm

    “Without enough bicycle symbols or other signs/markings, the new lanes also look like auto parking lanes.”

    PBOT and ODOT seem to really both struggle with this. Same issues when they striped the new bike lanes on SE 52nd. When it’s a completely new facility where there used to be parking you have to over-signage it. I don’t understand why they either ignore or don’t seem to recognize that.

    Also a bit weird that they left the auto lanes so wide. They could have bumped the buffer over a few more feet.

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    • Garlynn Woodsong July 1, 2017 at 12:34 pm

      Yeah, concrete curbs aren’t actually all that expensive; putting one down in the middle of the buffer would seem to be the right move in this situation. It would make it much more clear that the lane is not for parking, even temporarily.

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  • Chris I June 27, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    “Lombard street is now a poorly marked bike lane”

    That is a poorly worded statement.

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  • Buzz June 27, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    Why would you patronize any business that actively opposed the bike infrastructure? There are plenty of other bike-friendly businesses to patronize.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty June 27, 2017 at 5:53 pm

      I read it as a warning not to park in the bike lane because it was marked in a way that resembled a parking lane.

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    • monkeysee June 28, 2017 at 12:37 am

      Do you live close by in this neighborhood?

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      • paikiala June 28, 2017 at 9:48 am

        why does that matter?

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty June 28, 2017 at 10:07 am

        I don’t, and I have no connection to or prior knowledge of the restaurant. It looked like they were angry about the lack of clarity and didn’t want their customers to get stung.

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  • Damon T Watters June 27, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    As a resident and riding the area over 12 years, I have to question why this was done when a crucial section of Willamette Blvd. remains unstriped for bikes into St. Johns. All of the homes the west end of Willamette Blvd. have driveways and off-street parking and yet it sits unchanged. I would rather have this section taken care of for a complete bikeway and potentially add a bike boulevard on the South side of Lombard (Princeton) rather than Lombard. I’m afraid few will use these lanes due to the speed and behavior of motorists, now illegal bike lane parking (new seasons delivery trucks), the volume of use and business access cross over traffic. I ride more than most (30-100mi per week) and still can’t believe people would choose to ride Lombard over Willamette or a bike boulevard (there’s one that parallels it on N. Houghton). It isn’t a pleasurable experience, bike lanes or no and doesn’t do much for bike advocacy when you take away parking from businesses and disrupt the function of the bypass IMO. We can give over some roads to cars and truck traffic and make the bike arterials that we have work really well. Heck, center the car traffic on Willamette and create nice wide bike lanes with views and side streets to access any point along n.lombard! That’s my vision and opinion. Don’t think it’s very useful or functional….but its there!

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    • Kyle Banerjee June 27, 2017 at 1:56 pm

      I was thinking this is a huge improvement. With regards to why not Willamette, this serves a totally different area and there is absolutely no comparison in terms of which needed more help with cycle friendliness.

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    • Big Knobbies June 27, 2017 at 1:58 pm

      I think the ORS laws allow delivery vehicles to stop in bike lanes.

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      • mark June 27, 2017 at 3:07 pm

        The Oregon law does provide an exception for loading and unloading passengers and property, but the Portland city ordinance does not. It is illegal. Don’t get me started on the Uber/Lyft violations that I see many times every day.

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        • monkeysee June 27, 2017 at 4:42 pm

          Is it just me, or do only uber and lyft drivers do this? In my 17ish years here, I never recall this as an issue with the regular cabbies.

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          • mark June 27, 2017 at 7:30 pm

            It’s not just you. Those amateurs driving for a living are the worst.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty June 27, 2017 at 10:56 pm

              That makes them professionals, even if they drive like amateurs.

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              • mark June 28, 2017 at 8:22 am

                I hold professionals to a higher standard of performance. I have seen so many frustratingly inept Uber-goobers that I can no longer consider them professionals, even if they did lease a new Kia and download an app.

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    • monkeysee June 27, 2017 at 4:44 pm

      The issue is the St.johns cut. You must know there is no passage over the rail line between Lombard an Willamette.

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      • paikiala June 28, 2017 at 9:49 am

        A ped-bike bridge connecting N Central greenway to N Houghton greenway would be sweet.

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        • eawrist June 28, 2017 at 5:52 pm

          Yes…. but I’d go for a bi-directional PBL for the price of a bucket of paint and a few plungers. And use the bridge money on PBLs the length of Lombard.

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    • Matthew in Portsmouth June 28, 2017 at 8:47 am

      I agree with Damon. I live in Portsmouth and ride 100 – 200 miles per week. I almost never ride on Lombard. If I’m heading from Portsmouth to the Cut, I use N Houghton and hit the Peninsula Crossing Trail at Westanna – even if I’m going to the Peninsula Fred Meyer – it’s such a safer route, if a couple minutes longer. I have noticed some slowing of traffic on Lombard over the last couple of years, but it is still way too busy with too many trucks and idiots who only have a passing acquaintance with Oregon’s speed laws. I actually think that they are going to need to build a new bridge over the Willamette River further downstream from St Johns Bridge to take the freight traffic directly to the freight terminals – North Portland’s housing density is increasing all the time and having heavy freight on residential streets is becoming increasingly untenable.

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  • Big Knobbies June 27, 2017 at 1:54 pm

    Ignoring any impacts to businesses along that stretch, and only considering bicycles, these lanes look like a big improvement. I’d use them if nothing better is available – families may not like them, but there’s limited money for “separated” lanes so this is a good intermediate alternative for now. They could add rumble strips to warn phone users to look up when they “veer” into the bike lane. See how I did that?

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  • Josh G June 27, 2017 at 1:58 pm

    Buffered with paint. No way vehicles can drive over that paint! 🙂

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  • Ben G June 27, 2017 at 2:29 pm

    While I certainly think Lombard has room for massive improvement, it’ll always remain an arterial. I wonder if it’d be better to make Willamette better for cycling by slowing/diverting traffic. Willamette feels pretty fast and tight at times and it sees way fewer cars.

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    • monkeysee June 27, 2017 at 4:53 pm

      They will never slow traffic on Willamette IMHO, as it is the route the NoPo police and Sheriffs Dept use exiting St.Johns. I get it, because it is a clearer route in regards to pace. I was under the impression that Portland took over management of Lombard from the state. Is it still designated a highway business route ?

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      • paikiala June 28, 2017 at 9:50 am

        Request already submitted.

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  • encephalopath June 27, 2017 at 3:55 pm

    Take this all the way to MLK… it’s about goddamn time. I hate driving on Lombard. The 4 lane sections are a terrible street design.

    I’ve taken to going around on Rosa Parks to get to Fred Meyer when it’s raining because the visibility on Lombard is terrible and the 4 lane configuration encourages dangerous driving. I’ve never seen a crash on Lombard in person, but the amount of smashed up plastic you see in the middle of the road from headlights and turn signals is disturbing.

    A month ago I was sitting the the left turn lane at Lombard and Interstate and a couple of cars went by me heading west on Lombard at 60 mph. The air pressure change was enough to rock my car as they went by. People just continually drive stupidly on that road.

    Getting rid of 2 of those lanes and adding the center turn lane will hardly change the level of service on the road at all. Left turning vehicles are already choking the road up more than a 2 lanes and a center turn lane ever will. Everyone will get slowed down to the speed limit, which should be 30 not 35, and all the dangerous lane diving to go around turning vehicles will stop.

    I will definitely ride my bike there when there is a bike lane available in the 3 lane configuration. The crazy driving will stop, and the whole road will be safer.

    Also it’s time to repave Byrant. That 100 year old concrete is way too rough for a neighborhood greenway.

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    • Bdog June 27, 2017 at 4:10 pm

      It’s good to point out that converting the road to 3 lanes has traffic calming effects (i.e, slowing cars down). That’s huge in and of itself. The double white line does seem a little confusing though– maybe “No Parking this Block” signs would help.
      We shouldn’t let perfect be the enemy of better.

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    • eawrist June 27, 2017 at 8:55 pm

      Yes. 4 lane roads without median are horrible design as evidenced by the change in traffic crashes when converted from 4 to 3. Not too difficult to see why it is a high crash corridor. This should be converted to 3 now, and next year lined with PBLs.

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  • monkeysee June 27, 2017 at 4:38 pm

    FYI… eastbound mornings west of Portsmouth lines of Starbucks customers in bike lane for two hours some days. Ha. I laugh every day at the silliness . So many other coffee shops around too. My kid has to divert around it every morning on his way to school.

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  • Annag June 27, 2017 at 4:40 pm

    Good Luck with this, go by on a Sunday and see the bike lane filled with parked cars for the entire block for the flea market, (that’s across the street from the Fishwife. ) Without enforcement, fixing the gaps, potholes or cleaning the debris in the lanes, few will probably use them. I wish both ODOT and PDOT would ask us to prioritize projects instead of just going off on their own, street sweeping anyone ?

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    • joe adamski June 27, 2017 at 9:15 pm

      agree with lack of enforcement. Another aspect is this is the US bypass, designated the oversize freight route. Understandably, most oversize goes through in the wee hours. But that ODOT ownership just makes it all the more quirky. ODOT knows freight, they don’t usually get the community thing.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty June 27, 2017 at 10:52 pm

        Unless someone puts the community on a truck.

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    • Bald One June 28, 2017 at 1:05 pm

      I agree. I rode this yesterday. It’s brand new, yet littered with debris. Not to mention the large number of sunken and poorly leveled pavement sections around water main and sewer line covers in the bike lane. They couldn’t even trim the overgrown shrubs hanging into the bike lane they had just created. This illustrates the level of interest in any maintenance or follow through or thought about actually riding a bike in this lane. Perhaps they’ll fix it up one day, re-surface, clean, add signs, etc…. Maybe then I’ll give it another ride.

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  • Adam June 28, 2017 at 3:22 am

    Seems like a DIY bike stencil is in order here. Ssssshhhhh, you didn’t hear that from me!!

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  • Adam June 28, 2017 at 3:23 am

    Why is Lombard a freight route? Shouldn’t that traffic be on Columbia?

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    • Jess June 28, 2017 at 8:02 am

      There are two bridges over Columbia that create a pinchpoint for large loads, so they have to use Lombard.

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    • Bald One June 28, 2017 at 1:07 pm

      It is. And lots of freight on N. Lombard north of the SJB. Of course, this section of Lombard is used by many construction vehicles, beer trucks, etc, but regional freight is on Columbia and north of here on N. Lombard coming off the bridge. But still, city is never going to remove that designation from any street that already has it, as freight lobby is way too powerful.

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  • Jason VH June 28, 2017 at 9:23 am

    Am I the only one that thinks a few strips of paint is nowhere near enough? Where is a raised curb or physical divider to discourage cars?

    The more I ride bike ways in this town, the less I’m impressed. After riding and living in other cities with greenways that actively discourage cars (I ride Tillamook daily and almost every day I have cars creeping out from side street that feel like they’re going to jump out) I don’t think Portland is anywhere as bike friendly.

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    • Kyle Banerjee June 28, 2017 at 9:31 am

      Raised curbs are bad for cars and cyclists alike while contributing to the idea that bikes don’t belong on the road. They do nothing to mitigate hooks and might even increase them since they make cyclists complacent while making them less in view of the motorists. They force closer passing of slower cyclists and increase threats to squirrely riders. They decrease flexibility for dealing with acute road situations for cyclists and motorists alike.

      With regards to bike lanes being used for parking, the problem is that the bike lanes are too wide. If you want lots of space between cars, the lane needs to be narrower so it is clearly not wide enough for a car and then increase the buffer distance. This encourages cyclists and cars to stay away from each other, allows passing, and discourages using the bike lane as a sidewalk, parking lane, and other inappropriate uses

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      • SE Rider June 28, 2017 at 1:11 pm

        The bike lanes also need to be obviously marked as bike lanes. Not one stencil every 3-4 blocks. When the street design is rearranged it needs to be obvious for everyone.

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        • Kyle Banerjee June 28, 2017 at 2:05 pm

          It needs to be obvious, but having a lane that looks like a car lane is going to create problems regardless of stencils (don’t forget they’re less visible in dark and inclement weather). Consider Broadway near PSU. There’s a clearly marked bike lane, an obvious parking lane, stencils, etc.

          Yet people park and drive in the bike lane all the time. Today I encountered a pickup truck driving in reverse along the bike lane because he was sandwiched between the parked cars and the curb.

          This same area consistently has people wandering all over it. Simply narrowing the lane and increasing the buffer to the parked cars would make it more obvious how this space is intended to be used without any loss of usable space for cyclists.

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      • Bald One June 28, 2017 at 1:13 pm

        Bike lanes need a buffer on the curb side, also, for the actual gutter: storm drains, debris accumulation, standing water. It is not okay to have 1/3 of the bike lane be a gutter. Bike lane width should start 1 foot from the curb, then extend into the street for 4-5 feet. The first 12″ next to the curb are useless to cyclists. Car parking is another issue; and beer trucks, UBER, etc. are always going to use bike lane for parking – city needs to come up with new ideas for enforcing no-parking/stopping in bike lanes. Perhaps, by directly contacting delivery service companies.

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  • Kevin June 28, 2017 at 10:53 am

    Hello, Kitty
    That makes them professionals, even if they drive like amateurs.
    Recommended 1

    Professional gets bandied around a lot.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty June 28, 2017 at 12:19 pm

      I’m a veteran of the pro bandy circuit.

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  • Travis June 29, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    Thanks for the coverage. Issue with PBOT and the St. Johns Truck Strategy have consumed my time the past couple of weeks (and now fatalities on Columbia). When looking wider at St. Johns, the area is really a series of disconnected solutions and PBOT/ODOT mixed ownership doesn’t make connected solutions easy.

    But YES, the initial lanes were a first step by ODOT, the addition of a buffer lane and improved community outreach a second (though I too am disappointed in actual implementation), and I’m excited/hopeful to see where access goes next.

    Burley sent us a sweet trailer and we’ve been taking the twins out more via the greenway that runs along Lombard where, as parents we feel more comfortable, but wish connections were more immediate and destinations more direct.

    Be it via better connected greenways or improved bike paths on arterial roads the communities of Cathedral Park, St. Johns, University Park and Portsmouth have been and are heading in the right direction. Just a few years ago, St. Johns was a very different beast to navigate via foot or bike. Good and healthy debates on what this means for gentrification/correcting food deserts etc are being had as well.

    The more streets like Fessenden and Lombard past town (where PBOT is planning a cycle track and new sidewalks) improve for folks biking and walking across and on, the more folks we’ll have commuting to other neighborhoods and “Central City”. Cycling and walking lifestyles don’t begin with long commutes; they begin with short neighborhood adventures.

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  • Mark smith June 30, 2017 at 9:36 pm

    “The Oregon Department of Transportation is doing their best”…..

    Evidently.

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    • Babs July 5, 2017 at 10:28 pm

      I have gone back and forth with PBOT and ODOT about better making and enforcement. Poor or no signage along with graffiti-overed symbols on the path have made this stretch a shit show for the last couple months. Super frustrating.

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  • Ryan Carey July 7, 2017 at 3:13 pm

    I have called in everyday multiple times a day about all of the vehicles that park in the lane. I live next to the Villa de Marcel and the Sundown pub, and during the day it is the big vans that park in the lane for 20-30 mins at a time yet when I call Providence or whichever transportation utility or email them with photos they just say they will make sure the drivers do not park there any longer. At night it is the patrons of the Sundown pub that are parking in the lane, there needs to be more harsh action with these repeat offenders, I am tired of seeing cyclists put into harm’s way everyday in front of my place. If anything happens, ODOT knows what is happening and should also be held accountable.

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