“I bike that every day and I believe it’s made the biking situation worse.”
— Ted Wheeler, Mayor of Portland
Yesterday a City Council Work Session on the Bureau of Transportation’s Vision Zero program turned into a sharp critique of recent striping changes SW Jefferson Avenue. Commissioner Nick Fish interrupted a presentation by outgoing PBOT Director Leah Treat (her last day is Friday) to share his concerns that a new lane configuration has made conditions worse. Mayor Ted Wheeler, who said he bikes home on the road every day, agreed with him.
Back in April, PBOT repaved Jefferson (a one-way street) from SW Park to 20th and used the opportunity to update the striping. Their aim was to, “reduce conflicts between buses and people driving and biking.” East of I-405 they improved the bike lane by adding protective plastic wands and using green coloring to designate the cycling space. West of I-405 the bike lane is buffered (on the right side next to parked cars) until 17th. Then the bike lane becomes shared (via a sharrow) and moves to the center to make room for a right-turn only lane at 18th (where the MAX line runs). At the intersection with 18th, the bike lane is colored green and there’s a bike box. From 18th to 20th, the right lane is dedicated for buses and bikes only.
Previously, Jefferson had two general lanes and a standard bike lane west of I-405. The bike lane used to end just after 17th to make way for a right-turn only lane. West of 18th, two general lanes continued toward an on-ramp to Highway 26.
Commissioner Fish thinks PBOT has “over-engineered” the street.
“I love the idea of dedicated bike lanes and bus lanes, but there are virtually no bikes and buses running at the time when there’s heavy congestion.”
— Nick Fish, Portland City Commissioner
Fish lives in an apartment high up on SW Vista Drive and he uses Jefferson (most often as a Lyft passenger) to get home. “It’s now one lane, which pushes traffic all the way back to I-405 and creates a lot of very dangerous behavior,” he shared with PBOT staff seated around a table in Council Chambers yesterday. “Cars go down the right-hand lane thinking it gives them access to Highway 26, but instead they have to cut back in.” During the evening rush-hour Fish says the bike lane, right-turn only lane, and dedicated bus lane is empty. “I love the idea of dedicated bike lanes and bus lanes, but there are virtually no bikes and buses running at the time when there’s heavy congestion,” he shared.
“Mu unsophisticated take is that we ended up over-engineering the street,” Fish continued. “And by taking the lane out, now what we’ve got is a traffic mess which is encouraging bad behavior.”
Wheeler agreed and shared his own concerns. “I bike that every day and I believe it’s made the biking situation worse,” he said. “Now you have to cut across a lane of traffic to get to the center bike lane at the very end. That feels like a very dangerous maneuver to me. I’m not convinced we made it better. We made it worse and I’m curious what problem it was we were trying to solve here.”
PBOT Director Treat said she didn’t have the answers to their questions off the top of her head and she promised to follow-up. PBOT Active Transportation Division Manager Catherine Ciarlo chimed in to say her team analyzes changes like this before and after new striping is installed and she assured the mayor and commissioner that the Capital Projects Division had done the same thing with Jefferson.
It’s worth noting that these recent changes are likely to be short-lived — but not for the reasons Fish and Wheeler might expect. PBOT has big plans for making Jefferson (along with Columbia) one half of a “signature multimodal east/west connection between Goose Hollow and downtown” as part of their Central City in Motion project. The current proposal would create a protected bike lane on the left side of the street, a dedicated bus and turn lane on the right side, and two general vehicle lanes in the middle from Naito to 17th.
I checked out Jefferson yesterday during rush-hour to see what all the fuss was about. Commissioner Fish is right about one thing: The auto users get backed up for several blocks. But I didn’t see any of the dangerous behaviors he mentioned. I did, however, see a fair amount of bicycle riders using the new lane.
Do you ride on Jefferson? What do you think of the changes? Should PBOT consider going back to the old design as Commissioner Fish suggested?
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