Southeast Foster Road fans are rejoicing today as their beloved retail strip now has dedicated bike lanes. But that’s not the only east Portland commercial area to get new bike access this month. The Portland Bureau of Transportation says they’re about 99% finished with the much-anticipated Halsey-Weidler Streetscape project.
This $5.5 million project is a partnership between PBOT and Prosper Portland that (similar to Foster), aims to use street design changes to improve safety and boost economic development. The city has made significant updates to Halsey and Weidler between 102nd and 112th. Changes include: curb extensions on every corner, new pavement on Halsey, improved street lighting, median refuge islands, three new crossings with rapid flash beacons, parking protected bicycle lanes, transit stop upgrades, new street trees, a “festival street”, a new public plaza, and more.
I spent about an hour so on the couplet yesterday to talk with folks and watch how the street is being used.
“People hate it,” said the manager of a liquor store near 103rd. “95% of our customers have asked me about it… Mostly they’re upset about the loss of parking. This is the main thoroughfare and they took out like 14 spots.” Upon further discussion, the man said he thinks the changes are, “A good idea,” but that’s just been implemented poorly. He didn’t elaborate on how he thinks it should have been designed; but he said he’s heard of two people (drivers) who have been hit as they stepped out of their cars in the new “floating” parking zone (which puts them in much closer proximity to passing drivers than parking at the curb).
Two people waiting for the bus were thrilled with the changes. I watched one man with a cast on his foot cross where PBOT just installed a curb extension and a median refuge island — essentially reducing the distance across by about 15 feet or so. “I wouldn’t have tried that before with my foot like this,” he said with a smile. “I’m not very fast these days.”
A woman behind the counter of Namaste Indian Market (which is wonderful by the way) had some concerns about parking loss. Her store is adjacent NE 103rd, the street PBOT converted from a parking lot/alleyway into a “festival street”. The idea is to make it more of a public plaza with one-way driving access that could be prohibited (via bollards) during events like farmer’s markets. She wasn’t sure what the plan was and didn’t understand the new bike lane and other changes to the street. Once I explained everything, she agreed it seemed like an improvement that would encourage people to visit the Gateway district and make the streets safer.
Here are a few of my observations and images to illustrate:
– The transit island just west of 102nd is a marvel: It makes transit service and biking more efficient, there’s plenty of space for bus riders to get on-and-off, and makes for a nice, low-stress welcome to the couplet.
– From what I could see, the changes are working relatively well. People are still getting used to the new striping and lane configuration. And yes, there were several folks who parked in the new bike lane. Hopefully that subsides.
– PBOT really needs to do more to protect these new biking spaces. Whether it’s plastic wands, concrete curbs or both. And maybe “BIKES ONLY” pavement markings, more signage, and a few enforcement actions to drive awareness. If we’re going to call these “protected” bikeways, let’s be honest about it and give people what they deserve.
– Fortunately speeds on the couplet are relatively low, and the median islands and other changes will only make them slower. People on foot now feel more empowered to cross in more locations, which makes people in cars more cautious.
– Now that we have this great bike facility, we need places to park! I had to park to a sign pole because there were no staples in sight. That should never happen!
– One serious problem is how many drivers coming onto the couplet from a sidestreet block the new bike lane as they wait for a gap in traffic (see below). This is a tricky situation and I’m not sure what the solution is, other than signage and pavement markings. Of course if people were more competent and courteous in general — and if cars weren’t such large and awkward vehicles — this wouldn’t be a problem.
– The new Gateway Discovery Park at 106th and Halsey is fantastic! It’s a modern facility with wifi, places to hang out, and lots of cool amenities. And one of the best crossing treatments is right on the corner so it’s very welcoming.
Here’s a video of me riding the entire couplet (has been sped up 2X to save you time)…
But wait, there’s more…
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