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Advocates will rally to save bike lanes on SE 26th Avenue tonight

Posted by on February 20th, 2018 at 12:36 pm

Flyer for tonight’s rally by The Street Trust.

The Street Trust will host a rally this snowy evening at 5:30 pm Powell Park to show support for the bike lanes on SE 26th Avenue.

The saga on this street (which we’ve been reporting on since 2015) has opened up an important debate over whether narrow bike lanes are better than no bike lanes at all — and whether having a safer bikeway two blocks away is a reasonable justification for getting rid of one. It also shows just how far the City of Portland is willing to go to stay in good graces with its powerful state partner, the Oregon Department of Transportation.

PBOT has colored the narrow bike lane and added bike boxes at Powell.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

As we reported earlier this month, the removal of these bike lanes is imminent because the Oregon Department of Transportation has deemed them unsafe. The Portland Bureau of Transportation also signed an agreement with ODOT that they’d removed the bike lanes in exchange for the permit needed to put a new crossing and signal on state-controlled SE Powell at 28th. Beyond that permit agreement however, ODOT has been unable to cite any research or statistical analysis to justify their decision. ODOT reasons that simply by encouraging people to avoid using 26th, they are making cycling safer.

The Street Trust however, calls the 26th Avenue bike lanes, “a critical piece of bike safety infrastructure located directly outside Cleveland High School.” As such, the organization says, “We must do everything we can” to prevent their removal. A former leader of The Street Trust said they’d even consider a lawsuit if necessary. A petition started by The Street Trust earlier this month has been signed by 1,000 people.

So far it appears ODOT is unswayed. Asked again last week for a specific justification for requiring PBOT to remove the lanes (the street is owned and managed by the City of Portland), ODOT told us via email that the existing lanes, “Provide a false sense of security and are worse than having no marked bike lanes at all.”

Here’s more from ODOT’s response:

“Bicyclists currently are drawn into a dangerous intersection at 26th and Powell – one with a history of bike crashes. ODOT worked with PBOT on their 20’s Bikeway project, and we together agreed to the new bike/ped signal at SE 28th that provides a better, safer crossing. Consistent with transportation agencies around the country, ODOT is closing unsafe pedestrian crossings and making changes in vehicle traffic flow to avoid situations that compromise safety.”

The bike lanes are definitely substandard and have a width of just three feet for 130-feet immediately north and south of Powell Blvd. Beyond that they widen to just 4.5 feet. 26th itself doesn’t have a bad crash safety record, it’s the intersection at Powell that’s problematic (and PBOT has already added green bike boxes there). Even still, ODOT claims the street would be better off without the bike lanes.

The question remains: Will getting rid of the safest vehicle users and giving more space to the most dangerous ones really improve safety?

Opinions are mixed.

Some people who ride bikes say it’s not that big of a deal and they’re happy to use the safer bikeway on 28th. “As someone who lives and commutes through the area, I’m failing to see the reason for the outrage,” wrote a commenter named Jeff. “At this point, why wouldn’t you choose to ride on 28th?” And on Twitter this morning, Rich Posert told us, “I’m not sure I agree we need or want the lanes on 26th to stay.”

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In an opinion piece we published this morning, reader Kiel Johnson shared his opposition to ODOT’s decision. He feels it’s just the latest sign that ODOT leadership needs a major shake-up:

“How did the city that once served as the national beacon in innovative transportation policy get to a point where we are reactively removing bike lanes with no justification? This is a question that I hope the elected officials who oversee ODOT think deeply about. The lack of vision and a culture that apparently does not value facts or community input ultimately falls with the director of ODOT in Portland, Rian Windsheimer.

We all love Portland because of its livability. Today one of the biggest local institutional obstacles to that is the reductionist and reactionary culture at ODOT. A culture that is willing to trade safety of intersections around like baseball cards. For Portland to become the city it can be, where livability is shared equally among all the people who live here, ODOT needs to change. Keep the bike lane on 26th and show Mr. Windsheimer the door.”

What about PBOT? After all, it’s their bike lanes they’re being told to remove. ODOT’s statements make it seem like the city is in lockstep with them on this issue. But that’s not the case. Yes, the city’s official line is one of agreement with ODOT. That’s predictable because PBOT not only signed on the dotted line and made a promise to remove the lanes, they also know ODOT holds considerable power and pursestrings and it’s not politically smart to pick a fight over this.

But it’s also clear PBOT has mixed feelings.

Citing a traffic analysis taken after the new crossing on 28th was installed (we’ve requested that data), a PBOT spokesperson told us on February 6th that, “PBOT believes there was evidence to justify the State Engineer to reconsider his decision and leave the bike lanes in place.” (Last week we asked ODOT to respond to that statement. They said, “The data was reviewed by ODOT Region 1 decision makers including both the Region and State Traffic engineers and found to be inconclusive and did not provide sufficient justification for reversing the decision to remove the bike lanes.”)

And let’s not forget the difference of opinion shared by PBOT’s lead bike planner Roger Geller when this issue first popped up. “The research on safety seems clear,” Geller said in a letter to the City’s Bicycle Advisory Committee in 2015. “There is a safety benefit to having bicycle lanes on the roadway—even at only 3’ wide. This safety benefit is not just for people bicycling on the street but also for people driving on the street.” He then cited four studies to prove his point and concluded the letter by writing, “Would the street operate more safely without bicycle lanes than with? Based on the evidence I’d have to say no.”

ODOT spokesperson Don Hamilton dismissed these disagreements when I brought them up in a phone call last week. “That’s not what we’re hearing form PBOT,” he told me. Hamilton acknowledged that bicycle users are bearing a heavier amount of burden due to ODOT’s decision, but he maintains the agency is just trying to, “Make this safer for everybody involved.” “And part of that,” he continued, “is to move the bike lanes to a safer location.”

“We’re not banning anybody from crossing Powell from 26th, we just don’t want to encourage it.”

PBOT Commissioner Dan Saltzman tells us he’s aware of the issue. His Senior Policy Director Matt Grumm said PBOT was hoping to do more thorough counts in spring. “The commissioner is disappointed that ODOT is requiring PBOT to remove these lanes before the spring when PBOT could conduct more realistic counts,” Grumm shared via email. “We’ve also come to understand that PBOT and ODOT do these counts differently with PBOT counting bikes and ped, but ODOT only counting bikes.”

But similar to PBOT, Grumm said Commissioner Saltzman’s hands are tied. “The commissioner supports PBOT following through on their commitments as integrity is key to any relationship and the one between PBOT and ODOT is already challenging. It would be seriously impacted if one party believes the other has not followed through on their commitment.”

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

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Bald OneDan AmaxDsorenHello, Kitty Recent comment authors
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rick
Guest
rick

Let’s close a bike lane and crossing to make it safer? That’s like Washington County closing a crosswalk on SW Barnes Road in August, 2016 to St. Vincent Hospital and offices. The largest hospital in the county.

Carter Kennedy
Guest
Carter Kennedy

It’s hard to see how eliminating those bike lanes is going to make bikers want to tackle the steep grades on 28th.

Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
Member

Love that they are still doing the rally even in the snow! Unfortunately, I will be at the bike valet but I encourage you to attend. No better way to show how important our bike lanes are then standing up for them even in the snow. Hope they get some news coverage of their dedication!

SafeStreetsPlease
Guest
SafeStreetsPlease

Has Rob Nosse been contacted? Kate Brown? We need to get folks on the state level to get on ODOT.

Also… lawsuit. The Street Trust, or someone, needs to file a lawsuit. This is beyond absurd, and ODOT’s press releases read like some mega corporation spewing toxins in the air that is simultaneously in utter denial of the public safety impacts they’re creating. They will have blood on their hands over this. Will, not might. Cars are going to start speeding like crazy with how wide those lanes will become.
#ODOTKNOWS

SafeStreetsPlease
Guest
SafeStreetsPlease

(503) 731-8256 . CALL THAT NUMBER!!! It’s for Region 1 ODOT manager Rian Windsheimer who’s overseeing the Portland region. I took this straight from ODOT’s public website. They need to know the community will not go down lightly over this.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

Seems to me that ODOT is the poster child for regulatory capture. Perhaps we should rename them the Auto and Freight Industry Road Regulation Alliance , AFIRRA, instead of ODOT.

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

Kiel Johnson’s points are very good, but he is mistaken on one fact:

“Elected officials” do not oversee ODOT. The Oregon Transportation Commission, which allegedly does have oversight, is appointive, by our Governor.

ODOT is run entirely by autocratic bureaucrats, who do pretty much what they choose, generally controlling our elected officials.

It acts like an old-fashioned highway department, beholden to no one but the “transportation” industry, its primary customer.

SD
Guest
SD

No commissioner Saltzman, your “hands are tied” to demand that the bike lane stays because you work for us, not ODOT.

SilkySlim
Guest
SilkySlim

I live at 35th and Gladstone, and the vast majority of my bike rides (commutes!) send me towards even Inner SE. To get across Powell, I’ve ridden 26th like 1% of the time, because it is terrible. That leaves me with 20th (70%), 33rd (20%), and 28th (9%).

Good riddance to a terrible bike lane. There are three better options, all within a half mile.

Greg Haun
Guest
Greg Haun

This is so *not* the hill to die on. 26th is one of the very first bike lanes striped in Portland, and is hardly worthy of the term. I’ve traveled this corridor for decades, and anything is better. Riding on the 26th sidewalk SB, riding on 28th, riding on 21st, all are better facilities. Most importantly, riding on 26th where it doesn’t have bike lanes is better. Street Trust, stop worrying about markings on a map. There is nothing here worth saving.

SD
Guest
SD

Bike lanes aren’t endorsements of travel routes and they are not permission to ride on a road. Bike lanes are imperfect guides and reminders to car drivers to leave enough space for someone to ride a bike. If it was free and easy, every street in Portland should have a bike lane.

Doug Hecker
Guest
Doug Hecker

Maybe I’m missing something in this write up about the 20’s bike way but it seems to be an enormous win for folks that ride bikes. It connects 9.1 miles of N|S travel and “provides a seamless, low-stress cycling path through these obstacles that serves a broad range of cyclists.” So the city worked with ODOT on the project and came to an agreement to make this happen. I read Sadowsky’s guest column from a few years ago and I’m not sure everything he said was right but I can agree that protect bike lanes and do save lives. In this case ODOT deemed that 28th would provide that avenue and the city, like it or not obliged for the greater good it seems. My question is this, why do we have to sound greedy when it comes to this when in reality the biking community won overwhelming with the project. 26th is about the opposite of low stress as it gets. We should be celebrating.

Glenn F
Guest
Glenn F

should make 26th from both directions, right turn only…

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

The phrase “pick your poison” could not be more applicable here. Until we have a great bike route across Powell in this area, we need both options.

The 26th bike lane is terrible. But it is better than no bike lane.

The problem with the 20s bikeway as a substitute is that it is also terrible. And it, too, is better than no bikeway.

Bike n Drive
Guest
Bike n Drive

perhaps additional revenue could be raised by ticketing bicyclists that violate traffic laws. Use that money to develop safe bike lanes.

shirtsoff
Guest
shirtsoff

People from Creston-Kenilworth deserve safe access to Powell Park. They should not have to walk out of their way up to Powell Blvd to wait at a signalized crossing and use the pedestrian “beg button” to get there safely. The only possible silver lining here is if PBOT adds zebra crossings at the intersection with SE Lafayette Street and SE Rhone Street. Make ODOT pay for it if they are going to mandate a lane reconfiguration/erasure as it stands today.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

If the intersection at 26th & Powell is so dangerous, why are ODOT & PBOT building the same thing at SE 21st & Powell?

maxD
Guest
maxD

PBOT is also closing a bike lane on N Greelely between Going and Interstate. They will replace it with protected MUP that is, unfortunately, too narrow (10′), terminates on a path used as a driveway, and widens the lanes on Greeley to promote even higher speeds (!). I know it looks like ODOT is forcing the bike lane removal on 26th, but PBOT seems complicit. If they wanted to create safer streets that work for everyone, they would be narrowing the lanes and reducing teh speed limit on Greeley, Widening the MUP, and keeping the southbound bike lane so people riding bike have the option of taking a direct, fast route.