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.
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.
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.