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Better biking a top priority in Multnomah County road plan feedback


If you like riding up Larch Mountain Road, you should pay attention to Multnomah County’s investment priorities.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus)

When it comes to roads, you might not think of them as often as you do the City of Portland or the State of Oregon, but Multnomah County is a big player in the region.

For those of you who like to venture beyond their central city bridges (they own and maintain the Broadway, Burnside, Morrison, Hawthorne and Sellwood bridges) the County takes care of many of the rural roads you hold dear. Think of cherished pieces of tarmac like Marine Drive, Larch Mountain, Newberry, Old Germantown, Rock Creek, Springville, the Sauvie Island loop, Gordon Creek and many others.

Now that I have your attention, you should know that the County just wrapped up a major public feedback process on how they should prioritize road investments for the next 20 years. And guess what? Improving bicycling conditions emerged as one of the top priorities.

Earlier this spring through a series of open houses and surveys for their Roads Capital Improvement Plan, the county heard from over 400 residents. The County has since tallied up all the feedback and they report that just over half of all respondents mentioned the importance of bicycling and walking.

One part of the survey asked people to rank 15 actions on a scale of “most important,” “important,” “less important,” or “not important.” The actions included things like “preserve rural character,” “ensure emergency vehicle access,” and “fix problem areas before they get worse.” In the end, “Make it safer to walk and bike,” received the second highest ranking, just below “prevent collisions.”

At the bottom of the list? “Increase capacity for growing population” and “improve mobility for freight.”

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When asked for comments on specific roads and/or projects that the County should pay more attention to, the road mentioned most often was none other than Skyline Blvd — a lynchpin of the local cycling scene. The County summed up feedback about Skyline as people being concerned that it is too narrow for car users and bike riders to safely mix, that people drive too fast, and that sight lines at intersections are not good. Also in the top five of responses were Germantown and Cornell roads which are also popular cycling routes that had similar feedback as Skyline.

When it comes to solutions for making these roads better, the County hasn’t laid out anything specific yet. They did mention in response to a question at one of the open houses that they’ll consider adding uphill bike lanes to some of the roads they manage. If I had to wager a bet, I’d say at a minimum we can expect the County to lower speed limits (the City of Portland has already done this on their part of Skyline south of McNamee), improve the quality of shoulders, and cut back vegetation.

And then there was the classic word-cloud exercise. The County asked people to choose five words that described their vision for getting around 20 years from now. Here’s how it turned out:

One more thing: It’s important to keep in mind who responded to the County’s survey. The vast majority were car drivers, but a significant number identified as bicycle riders. 87 percent of them were white and 98 percent spoke English at home. 54 percent were female and the average age was 51 years old. 46 percent had an annual household income of $100,000 or more.

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

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