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With key federal approval, Portland is ‘full steam ahead’ on bus lane project


Red bus lane in Seattle.
(Photo: Seattle DOT)

“They are an absurdly obvious idea and it’s even more absurd that the federal government had to give us permission.”
— Jarrett Walker, transit consultant

Just days before New Yorkers marveled in the success of a bus lane project on a major street in Manhattan, Portlanders who want transit to play a more dominant role on our streets received some very good news.

Late last month, the Portland Bureau of Transportation received approval from the Federal Highway Administration to use red coloring on bus-only lanes. Since the use of red to designate bus-only lanes hasn’t been fully adopted into the FHWA’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), cities that want to use the treatment have had to “request to experiment”. After going through an application process, Portland is now on the list of cities sanctioned to use the color. (PBOT went through a similar process with their use of green to designate bike lanes.)

Red lanes have proven to be very effective in keeping automobile users out of the way of bus operators and in speeding up transit trips. San Francisco has used the treatment since 2012 and other cities including Minneapolis, Seattle, New York City, and Washington D.C. have followed suit.

Jarrett Walker, an author and consultant who helps cities improve bus service, says red bus lanes are a no-brainer. “They are an absurdly obvious idea and it’s even more absurd that the federal government had to give us permission,” he shared in an email this morning.

“If all goes according to plan we could have a pilot coming to council for approval in February 2020.”
— Jamey Duhamel, Commissioner Chloe Eudaly Policy Advisor

The use of red bus lanes will be a major weapon in PBOT’s arsenal to boost bus ridership and it’s seen a central element of Transportation Commissioner Chloe Eudaly’s Rose Lane Project (a.k.a. Red Lane Project). Eudaly’s Policy Director Jamey Duhamel confirmed the federal approval with us last week and said, “Our Rose Lane Project is full steam ahead.”

Launched back in June, the Rose Lane Project is part of the Portland’s effort to battle both congestion and climate change. Funding for the project comes from the $2.5 million Portland earned by being named one of the 20 cities to take part in the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge. Mayor Ted Wheeler mentioned red lanes in testimony on Capitol Hill back in July when he told the Senate Democrats Special Committee on the Climate Crisis that, “PBOT is studying how best to roll out transit priority investments across Portland’s most congested corridors through the Rose Lane project vision.” Wheeler said dedicated lanes for buses will make transit a, “more attractive and reliable option for more people” and said the entire network would be planned and ready for implementation by the end of 2020.

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A list of 25 potential bus priority routes were adopted in June 2018 when council passed the Enhanced Transit Corridors (ETC) plan. That plan identified 15 central city (two of which – SW Madison and NE Everett — have already been implemented) and 10 regional routes that could be turning red (see maps below). 11 of the central city routes are likely to come with a “low-stress” cycling facility.

Source: PBOT/Regional ETC Pilot Program
Candidate Enhanced Transit Locations.

Source: PBOT/Regional ETC Pilot Program
Candidate Enhanced Transit Locations.

Duhamel and her team have been massaging the politics and meeting with community groups about the project for almost a year now. The bulk of their work has been to identify specific locations and designs. She told me last week that a special City Council work session on the project will take place on November 7th in east Portland. At that meeting Eudaly and her staff will share a report on the project and solicit feedback from Wheeler and other commissioners.

“If all goes according to plan,” Duhamel says, “we could have a pilot coming to council for approval in February 2020.”

After adding bus-only lanes to short segments of SW Madison and Everett earlier this year, PBOT is poised to begin construction on a bus lane on Burnside soon. We’ve asked PBOT for an update on where and when they’ll paint our first red lane and will update this story when we hear back.

If you’re a fan of better bus service, send TriMet feedback or attend an open house on their coming service updates.

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