The City of Portland has successfully gotten developers to usually preserve walkways during construction, but it needs to clean up its own act for in-roadway projects.
Five years ago, providing an alternate, covered walkway during building construction using the sidewalk was a foreign practice in Portland. Now, though the situation still isn’t perfect (especially for people experiencing difficulties walking), Portlanders can mostly count on there being a place to walk while a building’s being built in the adjacent plot of land. Kudos, Bureau of Development Services and Bureau of Transportation project staff, and to the Street Trust for bird-dogging this issue for years.
However, at least in my experience, there seems to have been little if any improvement for in-roadway projects. These projects are generally completely in government control. My perception is that they impact people biking more than people walking. They often turn a comfortable place to ride into a white-knuckled experience. They don’t have to, with some pre-planning.
The planning should recognize the stress that construction inherently introduces for travelers. It should also recognize the fact that people biking bear disproportionate stress. For one thing, the average bike tire is less accommodating of bad road surface conditions than the average car tire. For another thing, if people driving are unusually stressed and distracted due to construction, the burden on people biking to pay attention and not get hit is even higher than usual. That’s why making a real effort to preserve and/or provide bike infrastructure during construction is especially important. Although the current status quo may appear at first glance to some to make both driving and biking about equally less pleasant, the actual degradation of comfort is much worse while biking.
Let me give a few examples currently occurring and my suggestions for improvement.
Example 1: SE 50th / 52nd
Between SE Division and Powell, between Chavez and 72nd, SE 50th and SE 52nd are the main through-routes for driving. This summer, there have been lengthy and disruptive projects on both streets simultaneously. SE 50th is being repaved, and it looks from my ride-bys like SE 52nd has a water pipe and/or maybe a sewer project going on.
The result has been SE 50th’s roadway has been closed completely during rush hours a number of days. From the increased auto traffic on SE 52nd, my guess is that some people who would have driven on SE 50th appear to have started driving on SE 52nd instead. SE 52nd is the main official bike route in the area, with 6-foot bike lanes and significant bike traffic. However, the construction on the SE 52nd project has eliminated the bike lanes temporarily for a block or two, forcing driving and biking to share space. The construction has also created an extraordinarily rough ride, with the bike lane punctuated with extremely non-level linear asphalt patches for a block. The ride is so rough that I fear being diverted into a car’s path by one of the bumps.
I would suggest some or all of the following improvements to these projects:
- Change schedule for one or both of the projects by a few months or a year. There are other roads that can be repaved this year.
- Do temporary asphalt patching to a higher standard, especially on roads with high bike traffic. At least, I hope that those godawful patch jobs are temporary!
- Improve temporary signage – be sure to include “bikes merge with cars” signs if they’re called for
- Don’t put temporary signage in the bike lane!! (If you really must, provide a “bikes merge with cars” sign first).
Example 2: SE Foster between Powell & 90th
SE Foster was restriped a few weeks ago with a road diet. Two motor vehicle lanes each way became one motor vehicle lane each way, a center turn lane, and (space for) bike lanes. There are cones up and down the street to signal to people driving that there is one motor vehicle lane, not two, which gives the street a bit of a chaotic construction zone feel. The cones are generally placed where the bike lanes will be. It has been weeks and the bike lanes have not yet been striped, even though the center turn lane was striped the weekend of the road diet. This means that people biking on Foster are biking in a construction zone, with cones in much of the logical area for biking.
I would suggest the following improvement to this project:
- The bike lanes should have been striped the same weekend as the center turn lane! You might not even need cones to keep people driving in the motor vehicle lane if the bike lanes had been striped.
Overall, to avoid discouraging biking in Portland, the city needs to pay more attention to accommodating biking well in its roadway construction projects. Until the Foster Road construction, I would have thought the problem was mostly with the Water Bureau and BES, but the Foster Road construction situation is not good either, so I think even PBOT could use some self-reflection.