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


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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