They’re the best bike lanes in Portland that no almost no one has heard about.
In an opportunistic move, the City of Portland has built one mile of new protected bike lanes on Lombard Street north of downtown St. Johns. PBOT has transformed a 60-foot, two-way road that was previously striped with only a centerline and two very large standard lanes into a road with a large center turn lane, much more sensibly-sized lanes standard lanes, and two bike lanes separated from motorized traffic by a buffer that varies between plastic wands, paint-only, and a concrete median curb. On the northernmost section of Lombard just before the intersection with Columbia Blvd, the bikeway turns into a multi-use path up on a sidewalk that’s separated from walkers by a planter strip.
The impetus for the bikeway was a major paving and road widening project aimed at improving truck and freight access to NW Container Services at the intersection of Burgard and Time Oil Road. (This part of town is heavily industrial due to its proximity to the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia river and corresponding major port terminals.) With the paving and widening planned, PBOT jumped on the opportunity to update the street to current standards, hence the new protected bike lane. They piled on some additional funds thanks to System Development Charges and PBOT’s own “Missing Links” fund to do the bike-related work. Overall the project cost about $2.6 million with the bike-specific elements accounting for about $1 million (my estimate, not PBOT’s).
Intrigued by the location and the design, I headed out to the area yesterday for a closer look.
Like most of you, I’ve never ridden this section of Lombard. However, I do ride near hear very often. The route from North Willamette Blvd to Reno, and then through Pier Park to connect to the path that goes to Kelley Point Park is one of my standard training loops. I ride it at least once a week on average. It’s a very cool loop that offers many car and stop-free miles. The worst part is a sketchy crossing of Columbia Blvd north of Chimney Park and the the gap in the bike lane that follows until you reach the intersection of Columbia and Burgard. That gap remains (see map); but in the future there will be a carfree bridge over Columbia Blvd that connects to a new path (part of the NPGreenway project) through the St. Johns Landfill and Kelley Point Park.
Until then, I might be using this new bikeway on Lombard.
The new bikeway begins at N Bruce at the western entrance of Pier Park. It stops just two blocks short of Reno, a street that’s part of the 40-Mile Loop and connects to Willamette Blvd. This is likely due to the high auto parking demand and residential land-use of those blocks. As we’ve seen in the past when PBOT jumps onto already-scheduled paving projects to add bikeways, they can only pull it off if the project demands little to no public outreach. If it does — or if it spurs controversy and lengthy meetings — they’d miss their chance to reconfigure the lanes. I was disappointed by this gap until I learned PBOT plans to add new bike lanes in this section by the end of this year!
From Bruce to Terminal Rd, there’s a new two-way bike lane protected from other lanes by plastic wands. At driveways where the wands go away, PBOT has striped green rectangles to increase visibility. For a short section between Terminal Rd and the entrance to NW Container Services, PBOT has used a curb to protect the bike lane. I’m not aware of this treatment anywhere else in Portland. It’s nice to see them use this instead of the (rather ugly) plastic wands.
At Sever Road the bike lanes morph into a multi-use path. The path is up on a new sidewalk and there are pavement markings and signs to help on people on wheels and on foot share the space.
Here’s a before/after of the new path:
Amazing change isn’t it?
Unfortunately the new path ends abruptly at the Burgard/Columbia intersection.This is a very intimidating place.
If you want to continue north toward Kelley Point Park, you must negotiate across a slip lane (which many smart cities are doing away with completely) and then deal with high volumes of large truck traffic to reach the bike lanes that continue on Lombard near the Columbia Slough. I’d love to see a bike-only signal at Burgard/Columbia to help get people safely across. Or better yet a tunnel under this intersection might be the best solution. It will also be nice when (not if!) the path continues south onto Columbia to the entrance of Chimney Park — making a very safe and easy loop that would attract a lot of St. Johns residents (there’s already a carfree bridge that connects Chimney to Pier Park).
Overall, it’s fantastic to see PBOT grab an opportunity like this. And it gives me chills to think that physically separated bike lanes are the default treatment whenever they update a street.
A few minor quibbles: There are a lot of driveways on this bikeway, and with many of the road users driving huge trucks, we might need more aggressive design and/or signage to prevent collisions. I was also surprised at how dirty the new bike lanes were. They are full of glass and gravel and other small bits of road detritus. Maybe that’s from the project’s construction and won’t be as bad in the future. Either way, PBOT needs to keep it clean if they want people to use it.
Once the Willamette/Reno/Lombard/Columbia connection is complete by the end of this year, we’ll have a very welcome addition to the bike network. And when the Burgard/Columbia intersection becomes safer, we’ll have opened up Kelley Point Park and Smith-Bybee Lakes as a cycling option for thousands more people who would never bike in this location otherwise.
Portlander Ben Guernsey is happy to see the changes, even the design has left him scratching his head. Guernsey recalls riding in the “pinch point of no shoulder” in the past. “But my initial impression is it seems a bit over engineered,” he shared with us via message. “Like two bike lanes and a sidewalk would have been just fine.” He also worries about coming off the path into the Columbia/Burgard intersection. “I think I’d feel more visible just in a bike lane.”
Overall though, he likes what he sees. “I’m very glad they’ve done something. I’m sure it’ll be fine. I appreciate the effort in a zone outside of the core of the city.”
Do you ride this location? What do you think of the changes?
NOTE: As of yesterday (8/6) there were two sections of unpaved sidewalk in the portion of new path north of Sever Road. I could ride through the dirt and gravel on my road bike with 32mm tires, but your experience might vary.
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