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26th Avenue bike lanes in death throes as ODOT turns screws and advocates dig in

Posted by on February 7th, 2018 at 1:46 pm

The bike lanes aren’t pretty, but they’re better than nothing (depending on who you ask).
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

“PBOT believes there was evidence to justify the State Engineer to reconsider his decision and leave the bike lanes in place. ODOT has communicated to the City that they will not reconsider that decision.”
— Dylan Rivera, PBOT

The bike lanes on SE 26th Avenue approaching Powell Boulevard are on life support.

In a saga that has spanned nearly 30 months, PBOT appears to have finally acquiesced to the Oregon Department of Transportation’s demand that a pair of bike lanes that have been in use since the 1980s be removed in favor of the state’s preferred route for bicycle users two blocks east on SE 28th. It all comes back to a deal struck by PBOT and ODOT two years ago.

In order to build a new traffic signal and crossing at the intersection of SE 28th and SE Powell for their 20s Bikeway project, PBOT needed a special permit from ODOT and the blessing of State Traffic Engineer Bob Pappe. ODOT, who owns and manages Powell Boulevard, agreed to that permit only on the very specific condition that once the new signal was up and running, PBOT would remove the bike lanes on 26th.

Provisions included with PBOT’s permit application to install a signal on SE Powell Blvd. Signed by PBOT Policy, Planning and Projects Group Manager Art Pearce.
(Full document here).

ODOT says the 26th and Powell intersection is “over capacity for all users” and they feel it’s not nearly as safe for bike riders as 28th. “The separated crossing at 28th is smart and safe for bicyclists,” said ODOT 
Public Policy and Community Affairs Manager Shelli Romero in a phone call yesterday. Agency spokesman Don Hamilton (who was also on the call) concurred: “We’ve created a safer situation here than what we had before… We’ve taken a significant step to separate bicycles from the fray of 26th Ave.”

The bike lanes on 26th extend about 130-feet on both sides of Powell. Just a few blocks away is SE Clinton Street, the eighth busiest bike intersection in the city with 3,785 average daily trips (as per 2017 PBOT bike counts).

There’s certainly reason to worry about cycling conditions on 26th, given the grisly crash history at 26th and Powell and the fact that the bike lanes are very narrow at just three-feet wide. Even so, PBOT wanted to keep the lanes on 26th because the route is so well-known and relatively popular for bicycle users — and having even three feet of space, they argued, would be safer than having no dedicated space at all.

In August 2015 PBOT Bicycle Program Manager Roger Geller cited four research studies showing that even narrow bike lanes offer an important safety benefit. “Would the street operate more safely without bicycle lanes than with? Based on the evidence I’d have to say no,” he wrote in a letter to the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee.

The Street Trust is fighting to keep the lanes as well. In January 2016, former Executive Director Rob Sadowsky was firm: “Over our dead bodies,” he said, referring to ODOT’s insistence on the removal. “We will look at legal options if necessary.” And just yesterday, The Street Trust launched an online petition aimed at stopping PBOT’s plans:

“On top of dedicating space for bicyclists to ride on, the lanes help slow down traffic, which reduces the likelihood for crashes, even at times when bicyclists aren’t present. This positive safety impact is critical at SE Powell & 26th — not only is it one of the city’s most crash-prone intersections, but it’s located directly outside of Cleveland High School.

To remove this bike lane would be irresponsible and would necessarily threaten the safety of people riding bikes, students, pedestrians, and motorists as well. There is no excuse to increase the risk of death or injury each day.”

But despite this support and research backing up the bike lanes (and no public opposition to them whatsoever) ODOT has not wavered. They actually appear eager to get rid of the bike lanes.

In the past few years, PBOT has added green color and bike boxes in both directions.

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The new signal and crossing at SE 28th and Powell was conditional on the removal of the bike lane on 26th.

“We agreed there was nothing in the data that would merit a change of mind.”
— Shelli Romero, ODOT

In an email obtained via a public records request from ODOT’s Romero to PBOT Project Manager Rich Newlands in November of 2016, Romero wrote that the agencies had a “difference of opinion” about when the lanes should come out. “That needs to happen,” Romero wrote. “It can happen after the 28th Avenue signal is up, but it needs to happen sooner than a year’s time… I believe ODOT will want to add language to your permit application that ensures that the bike lanes on SE 26th Avenue are removed within a specific timeframe. I was a little surprised that your understanding of the lag time between installation of the signal and removal of the bike lanes on SE 26th Avenue would be about a year’s time. This seems too long.”

Reached on the phone yesterday, Romero said both agencies are now on the same page. “We’re not in any level of disagreement on this,” she said. “The city has agreed that the bike lanes are coming out.”

“We resisted this condition. However, given the importance of gaining a much needed traffic signal at SE 28th… we reached a compromise with ODOT.”
— Dylan Rivera, PBOT

That’s true, but PBOT is clearly not enthused about the situation. “Because it is the general policy of PBOT not to remove bike lanes and because we believed the bike lane on SE 26th would still serve the needs of people who bike, especially at the entrance to Cleveland High School even after the improvements to SE 28th,” wrote PBOT spokesman Dylan Rivera in an email to BikePortland yesterday. “We resisted this condition. However, given the importance of gaining a much needed traffic signal at SE 28th to provide access to many SE Portland destinations, we reached a compromise with ODOT.”

As per their agreement, PBOT’s only chance to save the lanes was if a traffic count showed that a significant amount of bicycle riders still used 26th even after the 28th Avenue signal was up and running (June 2017). Those counts were completed in September and PBOT met with ODOT to discuss them late last year. Romero said of that meeting yesterday: “We agreed there was nothing in the data that would merit a change of mind.”

However, PBOT sees the data differently. Rivera shared yesterday that, “PBOT believes there was evidence to justify the State Engineer to reconsider his decision and leave the bike lanes in place.” But, he continued, “ODOT has communicated to the City that they will not reconsider that decision.”

Somehow in the name of safety, the safest road users have been told to go away.

Now it appears the only option left for those who want to keep the bike lanes on 26th Avenue is some good, old-fashioned activism. The Street Trust’s Gerik Kransky told us today that they haven’t given up. “The bike lanes are still on the street, for now, but the decision has been made. We are fighting today because we want to save the bike lanes and we think public pressure is the only option left.”

As for his former boss’s threats of a lawsuit, Kransky said, “We are reviewing the merits of a legal challenge and have not yet made a decision.”

Stay tuned.

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

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eawriste
Guest
eawriste

I thought PBOT was originally considering combining the lanes to make a safer one-direction (preferably physically separated) lane on 26th. Was this not an option?

Justin
Guest
Justin

So they installed new improvements, including cycling infrastructure on 28th in exchange for taking away the lanes on 26th? It doesn’t sound like a bad exchange. What am I missing? It sounds like we’d end up with the same number of lanes as before the improvement, except with improvements. Sorry if I’m reading this wrong.

CaptainKarma
Guest
CaptainKarma

Is this happening due to freight routing?

Paul
Guest
Paul

One thing worth noting is that 28th is quite a bit hillier than 26th.

Shoupian
Subscriber
Shoupian

Can those with insider knowledge help me understand how does ODOT have a say for a bike facility on a local street? I know there is the deal for the signal on 28th and Powell that needed ODOT’s permission, but can agencies actually and legally make these types of agreements trading something that is controlled by one agency for the permission of a project from another? And hypothetically, if PBOT refuses to remove it, then what happens? Will they be forced to remove the signal on 28th & Powell?

Bald One
Guest
Bald One

Nice piece, but I don’t think it really digs deep enough. Why would ODOT fight so hard to remove these bike lanes? Why would ODOT care? These bike lanes are not on Powell, they are on 26th, simply crossing Powell. A significant safety upgrade to this intersection has already happened, in the form of new left turn signals.

Again, we need to ask, why does ODOT want to remove side street bike lanes so desperately?

I think if you dig deeper, you will discover how deeply in bed with ODOT is with the Trucking Industry, which is really just a shill for the RailRoad Industry in this case. The only reason that ODOT wants to remove these bike lanes on SE 26th, is so that the UPRR Railroad can more easily run 56′ semi-truck trailers up and down SE 26th Ave and gain access to SE Powell from the UPRR Brooklyn Rail yard.

ODOT continues to fight against any type of fuel standards, diesel standards, truck pollution standards, air quality standards because of this same Railroad industry that they seem so deeply in bed with, and now they want to continue to degrade the livability of inner SE Portland by expanding access to huge truckers through neighborhood streets in SE Portland.

Mick O
Guest
Mick O

#ODOTKNOWS

Carrie
Subscriber

I am flabbergasted by this. And feel shafted by all the public process and lack of transparency. I have attended all the ODOT Open House events in the past 3 years regarding the Powell Blvd improvement projects and have studied the maps and renderings and asked again, and again, and again about the bike lanes on 26th. And was assured at every single meeting that it was a PBOT decision and at that time (the last open house was just a few months ago) there were NO plans or desire by ODOT to remove the lanes. It’s all BS by somebody.

My kids and their friends and my neighbor’s kids are on this block EVERY SINGLE weekday. Those bike lanes are junk, but they are the only buffer and the only thing even coming close to slowing down car traffic on 26th. At this incredibly dangerous intersection, how can someone even reasonably argue that widening the car travel lanes will make this area safer? The green bike boxes provide some much needed buffer for pedestrian crossing at this intersection as well.

And from personal experience (and reports from several of the students) the light at 28th takes significantly longer to activate than that at 26th. The infrastructure is not separate but equal, but separate and clearly shows which mode of travel is seen as more important for throughput. Not to mention that yeah, when I’m headed home from that area I find it more than annoying I’m supposed to ride several blocks east out of my way, up and down hills that don’t exist on 26th.

Just flabbergasted. And so incredibly disappointed by a city that I used to think had community, environment, and cycling as a valid mode of transportation as priorities. We talk about safety and talk about valuing our kids, but actions say way more than talk.

Al
Guest
Al

ODOT wants cyclists to “TAKE THE LANE” on 26th. Got it!

Doug
Guest
Doug

The steepness of 28th will lead some cyclists to use 26th even without the bike lanes. All over the city, the more level path is reserved for motor vehicles, and the steeper path (whatever was left over) for bicycles. See also, Salmon, 30th n. of Stark, and Harrison. In many cases the auto route was originally the streetcar route, for which the more level street was chosen (this is why Clinton was level: It had a streetcar as far east as 41st).
And yes, 26th was a streetcar route, too. Level.

Doug Hecker
Guest
Doug Hecker

What’s a compromise if the party that asked for a change and received also wants what they had to begin with? Although the light at 28th is forever long and tests my own personal patience, it’s still better than riding on 26th. Seems more political than realistic since a deal was made.

Hazel
Guest
Hazel

Because of where I work 28th Ave will never make sense for me as an option. I’m so disappointed that this was ever put on the table. 26th ave is full of speeding and people making dangerous turns off side streets. I’m pretty sure removing the bike will only make this worse.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

As with other ODOT and PBOT decisions relating to cycling routes, they don’t seem to care much for considering the effects of topography on the relative ease of cycling; SE 26th is a much flatter and easier to ride route than SE 28th.

J_R
Guest
J_R

The problem with safety at the intersection is that autos are speeding, especially westbound on Powell, and blowing through the red light. These obvious safety concerns will not be helped by reducing bikes or by eliminating the bike lane.

Capacity may be an issue at the intersection, but eliminating the bike lanes to provide auto lanes that are a tiny bit wider will not cause any measurable increase in capacity for autos.

28th can work for my children for going to Cleveland HS, but it doesn’t work for me going to downtown, Hawthorne District, or Lloyd area. I guess I’ll be taking the lane on 26th. That won’t help the capacity of Powell and 26th at all.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

If people are going to consistently demand separation, you should expect more stuff like this to happen. With regards to safety/discomfort/convenience issues, people will use 28th, sidewalks, or other streets depending on what works best for them individually.

26th is not great riding, but it’s not awful either. If you value using roads, consider using them rather than insisting on keeping the cars away. Expecting not to encounter cars when using roads in a major metropolitan area is like expecting to take a shower without getting wet.

Spiffy
Subscriber

“We’ve created a safer situation here than what we had before… We’ve taken a significant step to separate bicycles from the fray of 26th Ave.”

this seems like a typical ODOT response… bikes face too much danger on 26th from motor vehicles? remove the bikes!

how do they keep getting away with blaming the victim in so many things they do?

K'Tesh
Guest
K'Tesh

I seem to remember that ODOT resists changes that impede traffic… Cyclists ARE TRAFFIC!

soren
Guest
soren

Does anyone else have problems triggering the signal going south on 28th? It almost never works for me whether I’m using alloy or plastic wheels. (and, yes, i reported this.)

Art Fuldodger
Guest
Art Fuldodger

26th was the first instance of the City removing parking to put in bike lanes. It was a protracted battle. Perhaps they qualify for some sort of historic preservation designation? ;-).

This does stink, and ODOT is entirely predictable in their ability to talk the talk, but nothing more. When it comes to bike/ped concerns, they’re all smokescreen & eyewash.

Spiffy
Subscriber

“Those counts were completed in September and PBOT met with ODOT to discuss them late last year.”

I see the September counts on the arcgis page here: https://pdx.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=7ce8d1f5053141f1bc0f5bd7905351e6

where are the previous traffic counts for comparison?

looking at the September counts for 26th (Mon-Tue 9/25-9/26) and 28th (Tue-Thur 9/26-9/28) south of Powell heading north I see:

26th: 369 PMPkHrVol with bikes and 342 without bikes = 27 PMPkHrVol of bikes
28th: 44 PMPkHrVol with bikes and 28 without bikes = 16 PMPkHrVol of bikes

so after more than a year promoting this as the primary route almost twice as many people crossing by bike still use 26th… 62% of people still prefer 26th… is a majority of people a “significant amount” and thus enough for them to keep the facility the way it is? apparently not…

Carter
Guest
Carter

I live about three blocks from the 28th intersection and I *still* use 26th, which is farther away. Why? Well, the 28th Greenway seems like it’s designed by someone who actively hates cycling. The condition of the roads is terrible throughout, the topography is painful, the serpentine nature of the path is maddening, and the traffic (south of Powell) is full of cars who like the wide, open road away from 26th.

B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

Here’s an idea almost as lousy as a three-foot bike lane: remove the bike lane and strip it as a shoulder. Then put an over-abundance of sharrow markings in the travel lane. Instantly, the people on bikes who ride in the gutter will gain value to the motorists (you’ll be the considerate ones), and those who find a three-foot space in the gutter unacceptable will be able to legally, and with at least some knowledge on the part of the car addicts, take the lane.

Admittedly not a great solution, but it does honor the secret deal PBoT made while still not handing over the road entirely to demonic dangerous drivers.

Eric Ivy
Guest
Eric Ivy

Carter
Well, the 28th Greenway seems like it’s designed by someone who actively hates cycling. The condition of the roads is terrible throughout, the topography is painful, the serpentine nature of the path is maddening, and the traffic (south of Powell) is full of cars who like the wide, open road away from 26th.Recommended 5

All my thoughts summed up succinctly. Plus, the #$%^&* School!!

mh
Subscriber

Who’s gonna plan a series of “take the lane”rides? Taking the lane at my usual pace would aggravate every the most patient of drivers.

Mark smith
Guest
Mark smith

Pbot made a deal with the devil and got burnt. But, they still made a deal. The lanes on 26th are for the fearless. Not 8 to 80. What pbot needs to do is simply close the road to cars.

Ken S
Guest
Ken S

Anybody game for some vigilante bike lane painting?

Legitimately, though, ODOT should not be in charge of Powell, through Portland city limits.

Having driven through most of Oregon, I know that ODOT does a really outstanding job of maintaining highways that actually function as highways.
But SE Powell isn’t in the same caregory as hwy 22 or 35 or 212 or even the rest of hwy 26, and continuing to run ot as an urban highway will keep killing people.

What would it take to transfer sw powell from ODOT to PBOT? Lawsuit? Protests?

JJJ
Guest

B. Carfree is correct. 3 feet is a shoulder. Remove any sign that says its a bike lane. It is an important safety shoulder.

Softrocker
Guest

90% of my transport within the city is done via bicycle. When you ride everyday, staying away from cars is the key to avoiding serious injury. Otherwise, it’s just a matter of time…

I’m not a fan of “sharing the road” which is what 26th is: Super Dangerous, bicyclists waiting to be run over, bumped, killed. I am an advocate for bike-majority routes (boulevards, paths, etc.) that are completely separate from cars. This lowers the blood pressure of bikers AND car drivers. 28th feels safe to me. My metric for a good, safe bike route is whether I would bring my kids on it. Numerous, convenient, and SAFE routes for bikes is what we should be focused on, not sharing busy, dangerous roads. I’m happy to let cars own certain streets (like 26th) as long as there are sufficient alternatives for bikes. This latter piece is the key.

I don’t believe cars and bicycles are not made to co-exist. Let’s design our city infrastructure to keep them separate (as much as possible).

rick
Guest
rick

fight back

Mike
Guest
Mike

Ok, so what happens when the lanes on 26th go away?

1. Cyclists continue to use 26th, now without any protection from lanes, green boxes, signals, whatever. Drivers regain some of their already-skyhigh sense of entitlement when encountering cyclists on ‘their’ road: “Stupid bikers. A perfectly good bike route is 2 blocks east”. Given that it is already a dangerous intersection, PBOT/ODOT raise the stakes that more collisions & hostile interactions will occur. Well done PBOT (slow clap)…well done.

2. Cyclists use the crossing @ 28th & Powell. Add the elevation for getting up and down plus Portland drivers penchant for treating crossing signals as optional. It’s not a big hill but the 28th greenway is bad enough. And if you’re going downtown, why on earth would I ride uphill and 2 blocks *further* from my destination? For new commuters it may be the last straw that turns them off from riding. You’re now starting to drive away the casual & curious commuters.

3. Cyclists head down to 21st. Narrow lanes w/ parking on both sides. No turn lanes.
Mediocre pavement quality. No bike lanes. No bike box. Not even sharrows. Just a handful of speedbumps north of Powell with very aggressive cut-through drivers speeding parallel of Powell on Tibbets/Brooklyn/Woodward. Even as a fearless, experienced commuter, I’ve been clipped at 21st & Powell once. If the 26th lanes are taken away, I predict a increase here. Why? Because it’s downhill towards downtown. Of course people are going to gravitate in the direction they need to be heading in. The sad part is that I also predict more collisions too. It’s inevitable given the infrastructure.

4. Cyclists give up.

Edward
Guest
Edward

If lane lines must be removed, perhaps all lane lines should disappear? The white lines for the bike lanes and the double striped yellow — maybe all should go.

It’s bizarre how a double striped gives car driver’s a sense of safety and boldness. They think it’s ok to drive fast and trust the other drivers to never veer. With no lane markers it becomes just another side street, where people have to SLOW way down in order to visually negotiate their navigation with other road users. Just like the residential street in front of my house.

Chris Anderson
Guest

If 26th and Clinton were converted to a pedestrian plaza, it would be wonderful for the local economy, and clean up the traffic through this section too.

Josh Chernoff
Guest
Josh Chernoff

How do we keep this bike lane without becoming complacent to the issues it has?
I don’t know if keeping this bike lane as is, is better than removing it.

I get not wanting to lose it, but I don’t get keeping the status quo. If we cant come up with an idea to improve it, its just a matter of time before someone gets hurt. How is that any better?

I love the general ideas of what we would like to see there, but lets face it the cars are not going to be removed from that section. What we need is a clever idea that is proposed as a compromise to show we are trying to work with everyone not just our own. We can’t lose this bike lane, we can’t keep it as is and we can’t lose this battle because we cant compromise with our adversaries . What are our options?

SD
Guest
SD

This is the perfect opportunity for PBOT to say they are going to do something and not do it……

Josh G
Guest
Josh G

How about protected bike lanes on 26th?

Josh G
Guest
Josh G

At the same time it might be best to honor the agreement if that’s what PBOT agreed to. Too bad PBOT agreed to this terrible deal.

Why would ODOT make this a condition of improving safety at 28th?

How are bikes the cause of the problem on 26th?

If the intersection at 26th is too dangerous for bikes and pedestrians, than how can the intersection at 26th be made safer?

Nate
Guest
Nate

For what it’s worth, ODOT and the city were already pushing this plan 3+ years ago when I participated in a Road Safety Audit in Sept. 2014. The end result was that ODOT’s consulting team put the recommendation in their final report (https://digital.osl.state.or.us/islandora/object/osl:10895/datastream/OBJ/view – page 29 at the bottom)
I said then that bikers would not stand for the removal of the 26th lanes because of all the reasons that are currently being discussed. And yet, here we are…