I looked back at 2017 and decided it’s probably best to start looking ahead.
Not everything about last year was bad. We (and by “we” I mean BikePortland and our community in general) had some triumphs and we learned a great deal about important issues; but it was not our best year.
Looking ahead however, we see plenty of reasons for optimism.
The four things below are infrastructure-related. And yes, I’m fully aware that a city’s transportation culture is defined by much more than roads and bridges. I’m thinking about those other issues as well, but I’ll save those thoughts for a different day.
Here’s my list…
Three New Carfree Bridges Are Moving Forward
Right now in Portland we have three new bridges that are moving toward construction and not one of them will be used for driving.
Crews have already begun preliminary surveying and engineering work on the Flander’s Crossing bridge over I-405 at NW Flanders Street. This crucial carfree link has been in plans for decades and it can’t come soon enough. It will connect the most dense residential areas of Portland and open up a low-stress transportation corridor between Waterfront Park and the NW 23rd shopping district. The City of Portland estimates there will be 9,100 bike trips over this bridge every day, making it the busiest span in our network. It’s expected to be open in 2020.
The Sullivan’s Crossing bridge over I-84 at 7th Avenue will be a game-changer. It will stitch together the central eastside and northeast Portland via the Lloyd Center. After finalized the alignment last month, PBOT is moving further into the design phase. With funding lined up and strong public support, design and planning for this bridge could wrap up this year.
And while it’s not as flashy, don’t forget about the new Gideon Street Bridge that will cross over the railroad tracks between SE Gideon and Brooklyn/16th. This is the bridge TriMet removed during Orange Line Construction in 2013. There are issues to work out with Union Pacific Railroad and the project goes in front of the Design Commission this month. TriMet says it will be open and ready for use by mid-2019.
Dockless Bike Share is Coming to Town
You can only keep the biggest trend in bike share away from Portland for so long. Dockless bike share operated by private companies has become a global phenomenon. And while the bubble is bursting in places like China where entrepreneurs and investors have suffered from irrational exuberance, the top companies are doing well and the model works.
The City of Portland has stood firm with its Biketown system even as truly dockless systems have flourished in Seattle. But our 1,000 bike system is too small and the benefits of shared bikes aren’t available in many neighborhoods. A dockless system run by a private company (with permits from the City of Portland of course) could instantly increase bicycle access to places far from the city core like the Jade District, Gateway, St. Johns, and many others.
We’ve heard through the grapevine that Portland Bureau of Transportation staff have recently taken a trip to Seattle to research the dockless bikes. They’ll likely use that knowledge to craft a strategy that will open the door for them here in 2018.
The Year of Protected Bike Lanes
This is the riskiest prediction in the list because we’ve been waiting and hoping for more (and better!) protected bike lanes for many years. But everything is lined up for 2018 to be the year it finally happens.
PBOT is putting the finishing touches on a new internal design manual that will make it easier for city engineers to green-light and install curbs, bollards, and other methods of bikeway protection. For years now we’ve been painting generous buffer zones to existing bike lanes and that space is just waiting to be used. Any place you see paint-only bike lane buffers is likely to become physically protected in 2018: places like the North Larrabee overpass to the Broadway Bridge; North Vancouver Avenue south of Columbia Blvd; and the newly striped North Willamette Blvd (where we expect to see protection added not just in the newly reconfigured section but further north as well).
And those are just the existing bike lanes. PBOT’s Central City in Motion project still inches along painfully slow, but moving faster is the SW Naito project we covered yesterday. And then there’s Better Naito, which is such an easy win for Mayor Ted Wheeler that I’m surprised he hasn’t come out in advance of its return in May to make it permanent.
Portland’s lack of a high-quality, network of protected bikeways has become an embarrassment — not to mention a major public safety liability. We have the tools, the roadway space, the plans and the public support to do this.
Lower Residential Speed Limits
In case you forgot, the Oregon Legislature passed a law this past session that gives the City of Portland authority to reduce speed limits on over 3,000 miles of residential streets — that’s over 60 percent of all the streets in Portland — to 20 mph. This is a big deal that could become a crucial part of the cultural change we need to defend our streets against the motorized menace.
To get ready for a major rollout this spring, PBOT is putting togther a “20 is Plenty” marketing campaign. According to meeting minutes of their December 7th Vision Zero Task Force meeting, PBOT hired an advertising agency to craft an educational campaign “encouraging people to drive at safe speeds.” The company, Borders Perrin Norrander, ran focus groups and decided the best approach was to have a Portland celebrity share emotional stories, “of lives lost on Portland streets due to speeding, and highlighting that everybody is somebody.” PBOT also has about 2,000 new “20 MPH” signs and a list of locations to install them. They hope to finish that work by April of this year.
We’ll hear a lot more about the “20 is Plenty” campaign when PBOT makes a presentation to City Council on January 17th at 9:45 a.m.
A Sunday Parkways Downtown
This year will be the first since 2011 to have a Sunday Parkways route that goes downtown. PBOT has five events planned this year (starting May
21st 20th) and the Downtown/Green Loop edition is slated for July 22nd. They haven’t released the route yet, but with it being billed as a way to showcase the Green Loop project, it’s likely to cross the Broadway Bridge, go through the North Park Blocks and eventually make its way over the Willamette River and loop back up north via the central eastside. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the route on NE 12th Avenue as a way to highlight the alignment of the new Sullivan’s Crossing Bridge (although I think using NE Grand would be more fun!).
While it’s nice to explore neighborhoods, Sunday Parkways will only reach its potential when the route uses our major arterials and even sections of urban interstates. In my view, the point of the event is to inspire people to change behaviors and show them how livable our city can be when you experience it outside of a car. We’ll only have that kind of an impact on the broader population when we put the human-powered fun right in front of their faces.
What projects are you looking forward to this year?
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