Big sale at Community Cycling Center

A closer look at PBOT’s SW 1st and Main project

Posted by on December 20th, 2017 at 12:20 pm

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The view of the new striping from SW 1st and Main.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

The City of Portland has completed a project on SW Main that repaved and restriped the road between 1st and 3rd Avenues. The project illustrates how the Bureau of Transportation is often limited in what they can accomplish with a paving project, and how those constraints frustrate advocates who want better bus and bike access.

As the westbound outlet from the busy Hawthorne Bridge, SW Main is a major entrance into downtown for bus riders, auto users, and bicycle riders. Its previous configuration dumped bike riders onto a potholed mess of a street where all the modes jumbled together. It was an extremely rude welcome into downtown.

With about $500,000 from the Fixing Our Streets program, the Bureau of Transportation flagged this section of Main for repaving and changes in paint striping that would improve conflicts between users. Much of the cost was due to a concrete pad necessary for the bus stop between 1st and 2nd that serves 4,400 passengers daily.

The street is now much smoother and the striping is vastly improved. There’s a green-colored bike lane and bike box at 1st Ave with hashed striping across the intersection and a green bike lane the length of the block to 2nd Avenue. PBOT has installed a left-turn box at 1st Ave to help people who want to go southbound. Between 2nd and 3rd there’s now a buffered (non-colored) bike lane where there was no dedicated biking space before. Between 3rd and 4th PBOT has installed a sharrow.

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While observing the street this morning, I noticed how inconsistent the bikeway treatments are. In just four blocks, riders go from a separated path on the Hawthorne Bridge to a green-colored, curbside bike lane. Then they transition to a green bike lane between a bus lane and a standard lane. Then they return to the curb in a buffered bike lane which then transitions into a shared lane with a sharrow.

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Buffered bike lane between 2nd and 3rd.
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Welcome to downtown! Enjoy your sharrow! Note that the man in this photo opted for the sidewalk instead of sharing the lane.

It’s counterintuitive, but the bikeway gets progressively weaker as you get further into downtown.

Another thing I noticed was that conditions remain a bit chaotic between 1st and 2nd. The primary cause of this is bus and motor vehicle operators that swerve between lanes because they’re either servicing the bus stop or getting into the right-turn only lane at 2nd.

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This auto user is in the bus only lane.
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Because the lanes are only painted and there’s no physical separation of the lanes, people do all sorts of different behaviors. Many auto users illegally drive in the bus only lane despite clear “Bus Only” pavement markings and signs. Other people don’t use the mid-block break in the bike lane to make the merge. And bus operators, who did as best they could given the conditions, still end up blocking the bike lane when they service the curbside stop and wait for red lights at 2nd.

When we shared these plans back in September, transportation activists were disappointed that the project didn’t do more to improve bus and biking conditions. On September 15th, Portland Bus Lane Project wrote a letter to PBOT Commissioner Dan Saltzman and PBOT Director Leah Treat. They asked for two things: a ban on right turns at 2nd for auto users and the relocation of the bus stop one block west.

When neither of those changes ended up in the final project, PBLP volunteer Alan Kessler did a records request of PBOT emails to learn more about why the opportunity was missed.

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In an email on September 17th to PBOT project managers, traffic engineers and staff, Director Treat wrote:

“We’re continuing to get blowback on our 1st and Main design for not doing enough for bikes and transit. If we can’t do better than what we’re proposing, we need to communicate differently.

I know I pushed back on you already, but I’m just checking in again to make sure we’re following our modal hierarchy. Can we do better for transit and bikes? If this is the best use of the limited space, we need to do some outreach with constituents.”

In response, PBOT traffic engineer Jamie Jeffrey wrote that,

“While there are options to consider, they require some capacity analysis to evaluate the impact of losing a travel lane to accommodate a different bus/bike configuration… Unfortunately, the Main Reconstruction project did not include the cost or timeline for a broader system analysis.”

And City Traffic Engineer Lewis Wardrip added,

“We did look at other more impactful options but they were outside of the scope and schedule of this project. One option was a transit island which would eliminate the bus bike weave but it would have required public outreach and traffic modeling that was beyond the scope and timeline of the project.”

The context here is that, from PBOT’s perspective, this was only a repaving project first and foremost. That means there wasn’t money in the budget for a more holistic approach like a floating transit island, changes to turning movements, lane reconfigurations, and so on.

PBOT says they could take another crack at this segment of Main as part of the Central City in Motion project that’s ramping up in 2018.

In related news, this coming May PBOT, PBLP, and Better Block PDX will do a one-week trial project that will create a bus-only lane on Madison from SW 5th to the Hawthorne Bridge.

Do you ride this stretch of Main? What do you think of the changes?

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

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44 Comments
  • Avatar
    Todd Boulanger December 20, 2017 at 12:40 pm

    Does anyone remember from the open house, if:
    Did the summer time traffic counts show more bicyclist or bicyclist+bus passenger traffic than private motor vehicle traffic in this short section of Main?

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    John Lascurettes December 20, 2017 at 12:41 pm

    Sounds like another shrug off from PBOT ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    “We didn’t have the budget” — but they still did this which is just confusing to everyone (and too easy for people driving to just ignore the paint).

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    Stephan Lindner December 20, 2017 at 12:46 pm

    Why is a capacity analysis necessary? Given the modal hierarchy, if an option is clearly better for bike and bus, shouldn’t it be implemented no matter what the capacity analysis shows? This reminds me to the internal scoring system for the N Vancouver project that assigns same importance to all modes. I am wondering whether PBOT’s internal processes are really in line with its stated goals.

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      alankessler December 20, 2017 at 3:29 pm

      +1 From digging through the internal correspondence it’s clear to me that the ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ is coming from PBOT’s engineering staff, who do not seem motivated to move beyond auto-focused level of service.

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        Ixta December 21, 2017 at 4:17 pm

        This is intolerable from a bureau whose director has explicitly stated that physically protected bike lanes are the default. If she is being sabotaged by her own engineering staff, she shouldn’t tolerate it, and we need to help stiffen her spine. She’s the damn director, after all. This will continue to happen across the city until the road dinosaurs within PBOT are fired or overruled.

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      9watts December 20, 2017 at 4:54 pm

      The question I have is how do equivalent entities in, say, Germany or The Netherlands handle this kind of a situation. They have cars and buses there too, and, typically, much narrower streets. Somehow I have my doubts that the result is as consistently confusing as our recent treatments (Morrison/Grand) and here. I’m sure someone here has experience with this and could enlighten us.

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        paikiala December 21, 2017 at 9:18 am

        One of many aspects is higher fuel prices result in smaller vehicles. Smaller vehicles and more enforcement/culture regarding speeding has a virtuous feedback loop.

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          9watts December 21, 2017 at 9:24 am

          But those are not, I don’t think, characteristics that would allow us to distinguish between those two countries…

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty December 21, 2017 at 7:41 pm

          Germans do not, as a rule, drive small cars.

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            9watts December 21, 2017 at 10:03 pm

            Actually they do; they just tend not to export the smaller ones to our shores.

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    Ben December 20, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    I bike through here daily, turning right at 2nd. The transition from the bridge to SW 2nd is much better than before, but only because I no longer have to hold on for dear life while crossing the rutted pavement. I still encounter people in cars crossing the bike lane without signaling almost daily, and people parked in the bus-only lane more than once.

    I much preferred the sharrow lane that was in place during construction; traffic here moves slowly enough that it’s easy to merge and keep pace, and I didn’t have to worry about being side-swiped by an impatient driver.

    The obvious solution here is to ban right turns onto 2nd. I don’t mind having to wait for buses, but I’m sure I’ll be hit by a turning car one of these days. People heading north in cars could just as easily take 4th, which doesn’t have a protected (if problematic) bikeway like 2nd.

    As for the sharrows on Main—move the damn elk already! There’s no justification for sticking a huge fountain in the middle of one of the city’s busiest streets. It should be relocated to the center of Chapman Square, and the street should be restriped with a bus-bike lane all the way up to where the 4, 10, and 14 turn around at Broadway, then a protected bike lane clear through to 13th.

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      Andrew Kreps December 20, 2017 at 1:36 pm

      Do we, as a community, think bikeways with cars adjacent are ‘protected’? I’m honestly asking, because I haven’t found it to be.

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        Evan December 20, 2017 at 5:09 pm

        I believe that NACTO’s guidelines are solid.

        https://nacto.org/publication/urban-bikeway-design-guide/cycle-tracks/one-way-protected-cycle-tracks/

        I won’t call a bike lane “protected” unless it has reliably occupied parking AND some vertical delineation, OR solid concrete or planters. The idea is either that parked cars protect you from moving cars, or physical barriers protect you from moving cars.

        In my opinion, raised cycle tracks are the best, but they also need protection.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty December 20, 2017 at 6:05 pm

          Parked cars protect you from being seen by drivers, maximizing your chance for a collision when your paths eventually cross.

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            Evan December 21, 2017 at 7:41 am

            NACTO recommends mitigating intersection conflict “using parking lane setbacks, bicycle markings through the intersection, and other signalized intersection treatments.”

            I have similar concerns about some PP lanes, but do you have any evidence to support your claim that parking-protected cycle tracks actually *maximize* crash risk? I’d be surprised if crash risk was any higher with a PP lane versus a door-zone lane.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty December 21, 2017 at 7:38 pm

              Is there evidence they reduce risk? I hate car door lanes, but popping up in front of someone who is turning across your path seems awfully risky. The driver may have already committed before seeing you, and you may have no idea a driver is turning, and may likewise have committed. And then you’re hooked.

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          turnips December 21, 2017 at 12:10 pm

          maybe a bit off-topic, but is there any NACTO guideline for a one-way bike lane against one-way auto traffic on one (auto) lane streets? I encountered that a lot in Frankfurt am Main, and it seemed to work well. there was no physical separation, just paint. made many, if not most, of the smaller streets two-way for bikes and one-way for cars. I don’t know if this is popular with bicyclists there, but it worked well during my brief visit.

          rode on similar streets in Budapest. the larger streets and really aggressive driver culture there made these lanes unpleasant at best, and more often terrifying.

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            eawriste December 22, 2017 at 5:05 am

            This exists in DC near H street NE. I’m not aware of any data on this design. I found them to function well.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty December 21, 2017 at 7:46 pm

      I’ll make a case for keeping the elk. Yes, there is an awkward merge and squeeze point, but if you are traveling W beyond 4th, you can usually move to the left lane and bypass the cars turning onto 4th. This is both safer and faster, and if there was a bike lane, it would be illegal; instead you’d be forced to contend with a major right-hook threat.

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        eawriste December 22, 2017 at 5:07 am

        Protected intersection and/or separated signal at 4th Ave would fix this.

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    Clicky Freewheel December 20, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    I will continue to avoid this block and opt for turning off the bridge at Naito instead. What a mess.

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    David December 20, 2017 at 1:18 pm

    I ride this stretch pretty much every day to get to the transit mall on SW 5th (another route that could use bike lanes). Simply put, the merge at 3rd is pretty much terrible. Because there is a marked bike lane you are generally stuck in there until the lane disappears at the traffic light. The sign is inadequate as well.

    The only good thing is that the green lane markings and bike box do help until you reach 2nd Ave. It would have been nice to see physical protection of some sort integrated into this project given all the hype about that being the norm.

    It’s an improvement over what was there before but the bar was very low. I am still baffled at how poorly this bridge connects to the rest of the city.

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    MTW December 20, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    Just happened to ride it this morning (Steel Bridge was raised so I dropped down to the Hawthorne.) It was okay, but a bit hectic. Had to turn south on 3rd which requires weaving from the right hand bike lane into the left lane ( if there’s a turn box I didn’t notice it in real time.) The traffic wasn’t moving that fast so I could merge without issue, but it’s the sort of thing that can stress you out.

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    Manville December 20, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    Trusting the green paint is a death wish. How many people have ever stopped for one of those green “bike crossing” jokes? I ride Everet and Gilson almost every day and not once has anyone stopped.

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      shirtsoff December 20, 2017 at 9:07 pm

      Could you elaborate, Manville? I’m not familiar with the green “bike crossing” joke.. Are you referring to the bike boxes? It feels uncomfortable but if I place my bicycle in the far left corner of the box, I find compliance to be exceptional at the bike boxes..

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        John Lascurettes December 20, 2017 at 11:07 pm

        I think he means that the newer “crossbikes” (the green zebra striped pseudo-crosswalks) are a joke of a facility. That is, they have no actual legal meaning. They don’t give you rights to cross, not in the way a crosswalk does if you’re operating as a pedestrian (on foot or on bike).

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          soren December 24, 2017 at 5:48 pm

          A crosswalk confers no additional rights in OR. Are painted crosswalks also a joke of a facility?

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    bikeninja December 20, 2017 at 3:25 pm

    No wonder that cyclists are better drivers of automobiles than ordinary citizens. This is like facing a daily game of Super Mario with your life on the line. After a few years of this your reflexes have to be superhuman and your field of vision 270 degrees. Next PBOT will having us hopping from one raised platform to another.

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    Glenn December 20, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    should have just paved to make it all smooth. and paint on some sharrows and just let bikes take the whole lane.
    Downtown is never going to get protect bike lane, it just too small of area, unless they close an entire street for just bikes and peds…which would be awsome!

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    Evan December 20, 2017 at 5:02 pm

    I’ve seen a few of those emails, and the most frustrating thing for me is that PBOT showed a deep sense of urgency around getting this project “done” in 2017 but no sense of urgency with regard to improving safety conditions.

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      Evan December 21, 2017 at 7:44 am

      I keep coming back to this!

      PBOT’s emails show that they found it *imperative* to repave this street in 2017, but it was not imperative to improve safety or transit operations on this street in 2017.

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    shirtsoff December 20, 2017 at 8:34 pm

    It is better than it was. I want to put that first in my message; however, it is a missed opportunity to do it correctly. What I appreciate the most is the opportunity to easily transition to the left-turn bike boxes on SW 1st Ave and I seem to recall one on SW 3rd Ave, but I may be mistaken on that point. This makes turning left less unpredictable and easier for those who don’t want to negotiate their legal right to turn left with heavier classes of traffic. I appreciate that even if it is less than ideal. I rode this segment to the Arlene Schnitzer a few weeks ago. It was not a bad choice, but I still find the segment around the wildlife statue difficult when people driving motorized vehicles are crowding the space in the hopes of saving time. That said, the repaving of the section between 1st and 2nd Avenues on Main is greatly appreciated. It was only a couple of years ago that it was so torn up that a rear bike light ejected from my bicycle to only be crushed by a SUV turning from 1st Ave within seconds despite it still blinking. It was obliterated. I don’t see that happening with the current road condition and that’s a gain. Overall, it’s an improvement but we should expect better.

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    Catie December 21, 2017 at 3:15 am

    Amazing photos Jonathan! Its upsetting that with a half million dollars PBOT couldn’t have done more and viewed the public process as too slow to deal with. The public agrees too..everything takes too long. Now we’ll have to wait longer for a safer intersection despite many people trying to intervene. Our policy for new bikeways to be protected doesn’t cover restriping I guess. How long will we have to wait for this intersection to be reconfigured for 8-80 biking? My guess is six years or a death, whichever comes first.

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    Kittens December 21, 2017 at 4:01 am

    I love the passive aggressive responses in the emails Treat received. Lol. Well played!

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      Alex Reedin December 21, 2017 at 2:10 pm

      Yeah, I guess that begins to answer my curiosity about whether Lewis Wardrip is Portland’s Dongho Chang….

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    Evan December 21, 2017 at 7:48 am

    To answer your question about my experience on this section — I ride it very infrequently when I go into town for a meeting. I found my last time was a lot like every other time — full red alert riding, mixing with traffic, but the pavement was smooth. I rode really aggressively so I could get out of that awful mixing zone as fast as possible.

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    maccoinnich December 21, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    “PBOT says they could take another crack at this segment of Main as part of the Central City in Motion project that’s ramping up in 2018.”

    It seem somewhat unlikely that PBOT is going to rip up infrastructure that was only just built, at the cost of $500,000. They missed the ball on this one, and what we see today is the best we’re going to get for the foreseeable future.

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    Mele Kalikimaka December 21, 2017 at 1:21 pm

    Looks like Art Pearce from PBOT is coming in late to work in the photo after “This auto user is in the bus only lane.”

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    Crowsby December 22, 2017 at 2:27 am

    I ride this stretch every day as my daily commute into downtown. I’m certainly glad that it’s repaved, but other than that, the changes don’t help me at all. I need to get over to Jefferson, so that means a left turn either at 1st (tricky when the road is busy) or 3rd (less tricky). Either way has me merging across lanes, and I find it’s much easier to get into the left lane at the light right off the bridge.

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    Tim Roth December 24, 2017 at 12:54 am

    I ride this nearly every weekday as well and am still bracing myself for the gauntlet between 1st and 4th.

    It would have been nice if they had shaved the bump down after you come down the ramp once you leave the raised sidewalk. I can’t believe it’s still there. Maybe it’s a symbolic beacon of the dangers that await in the next few blocks.

    I often cut through at a diagonal through the park between 3rd and 4th and opt to continue west on Taylor, as it tends to be far less hectic than Main.

    But I echo other riders shifting to the left lane between 3rd and 4th when I do choose to continue west on Main. The right turn on 4th is a classic clusterf@$k and it’s usually possible to swerve around the elk to the left and make all the lights going up the hill as a result.

    Until Main has protected bike facilities til you get to the top of the hill at 10th, I will refuse to believe that Portland is a world-class biking city.

    It is indeed a rude, unceremonious dumping into the downtown core. “Welcome to Portland, cyclist, now get bent!!!” it seems to say.

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    mark smith December 30, 2017 at 9:37 pm

    That’s a meat grinder of a section for only the brave. Sad as it leads pretty much up to city hall.

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    Eric Leifsdad January 8, 2018 at 9:22 pm

    Shout-out to the mom with an electric xtracycle now gracing the header image.

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