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Portland’s cheap and easy bus lane projects are working well

Posted by on November 26th, 2019 at 10:38 am

Cheap, fast, and effective.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Amid all the talk about how to “fix congestion” there’s one cheap and relatively simple solution staring us in the face: dedicated lanes for efficient vehicles like bikes and buses.

Six months ago Portland unveiled our first significant dedicated bus/bike lane on SW Madison. Despite being only four blocks long, TriMet data shows the project has had significant positive impacts on bus speeds. According to data released this week, lines 2, 6, 10 and 14 have seen a decrease in delay during the evening rush by 68%, 26%, 60%, and 76% respectively.

On NW Everett between 5th Avenue and the Steel Bridge, TriMet’s Line 4 had seen a 14% average speed decrease in the last 10 years. A bus lane project completed back in August has resulted in a significant decrease in delays — between 25% and 34% — for five of the six lines that use the street. On TriMet’s Line 8, the new lane cut evening commute travel time by more than a minute and a half.

The 10 lines on Madison and Everett serve about 50,000 trips per day and the time savings downtown have a ripple effect throughout the system.

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PBOT Project Manager Gabriel Graff shared at Portland City Council last week that the latest bus-only lane on Burnside should have similarly positive impacts.

While road widening projects can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, what’s notable about these recent bus/bike lane projects is how inexpensive they are. The SW Madison project cost just $160,000. The city’s cost estimate for creating 5,500 feet (about one mile) of red painted priority lanes is just $200,000.

While some policymakers think the answer to congestion is to give users of the least efficient vehicles — cars and trucks — more room to operate, expensive lane and freeway-widening projects never have this much return-on-investment.

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That’s why PBOT, City Hall and TriMet plan to keep the momentum going. Last week the City of Portland accepted $3.14 million from TriMet as part of a grant to fund their ongoing partnership on these and future lane redistribution projects. These initial successes are also key to building political and public will for the recently launched Rose Lane Project. (To learn more about what’s coming, attend one of the three Rose Lane Project open houses early next month.)

These successes have me thinking: If this works so well for crowded central city streets, wouldn’t it work even better on crowded interstates and state highways? Hopefully the Oregon Department of Transportation is taking notice of these projects. Who knows, maybe someday soon they’ll pilot a dedicated bus rapid transit lane on a nearby freeway. I’ll put that one on my Christmas list!

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
Member

I have added it to my christmas list as well. Remember when Novick made a list? https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/474350

Catie
Guest
Catie

What kind of metric is “decrease in delay”? I wish Trimet/PBOT could be a bit more specific in what this means. Is it a decrease in the number of delays (more continuous movement) or a decrease in the length of delays (still in traffic overall, but now less long because of this segment). Are the buses running 1 minute faster during rush hour? Did ridership increase after these improvements? I wish they could get a better PR person to sell these results more clearly.

bikeninja
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bikeninja

My dream is that one day these will be everywhere in town and that those that travel in them (cyclists and transit riders) will be bestowed with high social status and admiration from all. Those still crawling along in the ” congestion lanes” will aspire to adjust their lifestyles and achieve a worthy goal.

Johnny Bye Carter
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Johnny Bye Carter

If this works so well for crowded central city streets, wouldn’t it work even better on crowded interstates and state highways?

They could easily put shared carpool/bus lanes on all the major commute highways. We shouldn’t be on a bus sitting in car traffic.

Todd Boulanger
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Todd Boulanger

This is good news and I hope to see a more in-depth report once the facilities have been in use for 6 months to a year. [I hope CTRAN is keeping an eye on this effort by TRIMET since CTRAN has gone out of its way to do the opposite with its BRT projects (by not having dedicated lanes).

Lance
Guest
Lance

And wow, they actually did it without taking away a driving lane. They took away parking lanes. That’s something I can actually get behind.

pdx2wheeler
Subscriber

Trimet needs to market a free week/month on the buses to get commuters to who were horribly let down in the past to try it again and realize what’s happening.

Kerry
Guest
Kerry

It’s still not clear to me whether or not we’re allowed to ride bikes in the bus-only segment of NW Everett. Has there been any official word on that?

Asher Atkinson
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Asher Atkinson

It’s great to see data showing the investment is getting the intended results and I appreciate the projects were ‘cheap and easy’ relative to what we’ve come to expect from bureaucracies like PDOT and TriMet. Still, painting a four block stripe and installing 100 plastic wands cost 160k and painting a 5,500 foot lane cost 200k, or $4.50/sqft. My hope is that these early projects can serve as a template and be scaled at an even lower cost.

Kittens
Subscriber
Kittens

This lane on Madison is such a boon for transit and yet so simple. Only wish it had been implemented sooner. Hard to take away lanes from areas where congestion is already def-con 5 and not expect some raised voices. Time to act now in other areas where delay are likely to intensify. Huge swaths of East Portland are in need of transit-priority during PM rush.

X
Guest
X

This sounds good, as far as it goes. However transit riders are moving outside 205 and 217 because of increasing housing prices close in.

https://transitcenter.org/in-portland-economic-displacement-may-be-a-driver-of-transit-ridership-loss/

Transit lanes need to start happening 5 miles from downtown as well. How about express bus lines that serve distant neighborhoods and then switch to transfer stops only?

Bob
Guest
Bob

I like the 2 blocks on Madison that have the shared lane. The problem is getting to those 2 blocks from the Park blocks/Broadway can be difficult during rush hours. If I leave work after 5, I often find it quicker to hop on the sidewalk and slowly roll to those 2 blocks of shared lanes; Madison itself is chocked with traffic. As a former east-coast city commuter, I’m comfortable with squeezing through locked traffic, but sometimes Madison is too tight.

bob jona
Guest
bob jona

Those lanes are mostly empty. What a waste of a car lane. PDX hates cars that pay for the roads. Makes no sense to me.

Carter Kennedy
Guest
Carter Kennedy

I suspect that “decrease in delay” was a larger number than “increase in speed” or some other metric. It sounded better, so they used it.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

Too bad their ‘cheap and easy’ bikeway network isn’t working out nearly as well…

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

I asked trimet what metric they were using to calculate the percentage decreases in delay noted in this article and was told I would need to make a public records request through their legal department to get that information. Seems weird that they won’t just explain how they are calculating the numbers in their press release. I didn’t particularly think it was a gotcha question but the response makes me wonder what is up.

mark smith
Guest
mark smith

No bike lanes in front of city hall, still a race track. Bus lanes? I don’t know..does a bus go by the front door? Is there a bulb out for pedestrians? Bus lanes are great. Because really, you aren’t going to change the bad kids in class (which in this case are the single car drivers), you have to make a way for the good kids (bus lanes). So it’s great. But when will city hall take the real first step?

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

The Madison lane didn’t appear to be working well when I rode in it a few days ago. The bike portion of the lane next to the bollards was buried in a deep layer of leaves, while the bus portion was clear.