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Plans for SW 4th Avenue include physically protected bikeway, bus-only lane

Posted by on August 20th, 2020 at 11:52 am

Concept plans for SW 4th at Hall shows protected bike lane, bus lane and new floating bus island.

A street that currently has no dedicated space for cycling is poised to become one of the most important bikeways in Portland.

Existing conditions.

New concept plans revealed last week by the Portland Bureau of Transportation show bike lanes separated with concrete medians, protected intersections, new bike-only signals, and more.

Southwest 4th Avenue is already one of the most high-profile and important streets in the city. Its southern end connects directly to Barbur Boulevard with a bridge over I-405, then it runs adjacent to City Hall and the Multnomah County Courthouse before crossing Burnside under the Old Town gates en route to a relatively easy connection to the Broadway Bridge.

Bicycle users currently share the road with car users and compete for space among five car-centric lanes (two for parking, three for travel). The only upside to riding a bike on 4th is that it’s got a slight downward gradient which makes it easy to gain speed and — once you know the trick — easy to hit all the green lights (thanks to PBOT’s strategy of timing lights downtown for bike speeds of 12-15 mph).

SW 4th is one of the top priority projects in the Central City in Motion Plan (CCIM) that was adopted in 2018. The project boundaries are from SW Caruthers to Burnside.

PBOT Project Manager Gabriel Graff presented the latest plans to the PBOT Bicycle Advisory Committee last Tuesday (8/11). Here are some of the key takeaways.

Protection!

Protected bike lane with added beef at intersection of SW College (PSU food cart pod).

This project is a major capital improvement. That’s PBOT-speak for something that isn’t just “paint and posts”. This means it will have more funding and higher-quality construction that includes concrete medians to separate bicycle users from everything else. The concept shows a bike lane adjacent to the curb, then a concrete curb/median, then parked cars or a bus lane, then car users.

4th Ave will go from a shared environment between bike and car users to a dedicated biking facility with ample separation between modes. This type of build-out comes at a financial (project estimated to be about $3.4 million) and procedural cost. This project was first planned to break ground in 2020, then it was late 2021, and now PBOT says it won’t begin construction until 2022*.

Right to Left

The switcheroo at Caruthers.

The existing bike lane on SW Barbur is on the right side of the street. In order to avoid high-volume right-turns onto Willamette River Bridges and other destinations, the new bikeway will be on the left. The crossover will happen at SW Caruthers (just south of I-405). This means PBOT won’t have to deal with the freeway off-ramp merge that currently exists at SW Lincoln.

In order to facilitate the movement of bicycle users from right-to-left across two travel lanes, PBOT will install a new signal. The signal will allow bike riders to cross the intersection only while car drivers (headed straight) have a red light.

Addition of Bus-only Lane

Since the CCIM plan was conceived and adopted long before Commissioner Chloe Eudaly’s bus-focused Rose Lane Project, the 4th Avenue project didn’t include any bus-only lanes. Now it does. Plans show a new red-colored bus lane will run from SW Grant to SW Mill. This lane will carry six TriMet bus lines (the 9, 12, 17, 19, 43 and 44). The bus lane will be adjacent to the bike lane.

An existing bus stop currently on the right side of 4th near SW Hall will be relocated to the left side. PBOT plans to build a floating bus island at the northwest corner of Hall and 4th between the bus lane and the general travel lanes so bus operators won’t have to cross into the bike lane.

Onto the Sidewalk at Harrison

I’ll take the sidewalk over streetcar tracks any day.

Existing conditions at Harrison.

One of the trickiest intersections of the project is at SW Harrison where Portland Streetcar comes into play. With two sets of streetcar tracks running parallel on the left side of 4th Avenue for one block, it would be impossible to route the bike lane over them. PBOT has decided to avoid this hazard by routing the bike lane onto the sidewalk.

According to Graff, the new bike lane will be built adjacent to the existing bollard-and-chain fence (that keeps people away from tracks). A new building coming to that block will have a recessed facade so the sidewalk area is expected to be wide enough to handle bikers and walkers at the same time. “I wouldn’t say [putting a bike lane on a sidewalk] is the best-case scenario,” Graff said, and added that because there are no destinations on the other side of the bike lane (like car parking or a crosswalk), “We think it’s going to work reasonably well.”

About Those Left Hooks

Note how the bike lane makes a slight shift in direction and gets an added median for protection.

While PBOT chose to put the bike lane on the left side to avoid right-turning vehicles, there will still be left-turning vehicles that will create left-hook hazards. PBOT hopes to mitigate these risks by building either protected intersections or installing a bike signal where they expect high left-turn volumes.

Protected intersections include a more robust concrete median that creates physical separation and better sight lines between vehicle users. They are also cheaper and come with less delay than traffic signals. On corners with buildings that come right up to the property line, PBOT says there’s not enough room to build in the protected medians so they’ll opt for signals.

Northward Bound

Into Old Town.

The northern terminus of this project is at Burnside where PBOT will install a new bike signal to separate northbound riders from westbound car drivers. Once into Old Town, SW 4th is calmer and narrower. PBOT plans to end the protected bike lane at Burnside and will install sharrows north of there.

If you’re riding to the Broadway Bridge or the Pearl, your best option would be to head west before Burnside at SW Oak. A related project on Broadway will come with a new northbound bike lane that will start at Oak. That project is slated to be installed (with paint and posts) this October.


It’s exciting to see this project come together, I just wish it wasn’t delayed until 2022. Asked at the BAC about the potential to do a quick-build, paint-and-post implementation while we wait for the full project, Graff said they’ve considered it but it would be “challenging”. “Our traffic engineers are worried about some of the left turns,” he said.

Don’t despair! About six of the ten CCIM projects currently in the works are slated to begin construction this year. Stay tuned for updates on those in the coming weeks.

*UPDATE: Here’s more on why this project has been delayed from PBOT Communications Coordinator Hannah Schafer:

“This project began as a Fixing Our Streets I paving project that rose up as a key northbound bike connection during the Central City in Motion planning process.

As part of that process, we decided to combine the paving work and installation of a new protected bike lane into one project. More recently, we have been working with TriMet and the Rose Lane team to add include a bus lane extending from SW Grant to Mill streets. Resolving the myriad design challenges of incorporating all these facilities in a busy downtown corridor has proved more challenging than we anticipated, and our Concept Design phase has been extended.

Our current schedule has us bidding this project in fall of 2021 and breaking ground in December of 2021, with the majority of construction work occurring in 2022.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Hello, Kitty
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Hello Kitty

Aaargh!!! Before the pandemic, I used to ride 4th a lot from Hawthorne to Old Town, and always took the center lane to avoid contending with turning vehicles. It’s flat or downhill for much of its length, and my main problem was riding slow enough to time the signals right.

With this “upgrade”, I’ll be legally required to ride in the curb lane and will have conflicts with bleary eyed commuters turning across my path every block, dramatically increasing the danger.

I’m more positive about the improvements to the south (except for the on-the-sidewalk section, which will be “interesting” given the gradient and therefore speeds involved). That section was always a bit more dicey given the tracks, congestion, and generally more chaotic nature of the traffic and street configuration.

This is an “improvement” I am highly unexcited about. Put this on Broadway instead.

Don
Guest
Don

At Harrison, there should be an option to ride in the bus lane, no? In Old Old Town, it appears that the curbside parking will remain. Why? Finally, The transitions of the protected intersections are too tight. They have made the same mistake on Rosa Parks, at Burnside and 18th, and at new 20th intersection in Slabtown.

maxD
Guest
maxD

IMO, it is mistake to move the bike lane to the left side of the street. The freeway offramp should not “merge” with a city street as if it is another freeway, that should be rebuilt to intersect with 4th at a right angle with a signal. At a minimum, access from the ramp on to 4th could be controlled with a signal. If the bike lane was on the right side of the street, connections to the the bridges and the waterfront would be maintained and you could avoid the awkward, bike-only diagonal intersection crossing.

 
Guest
 

Protected bike lane with added beef at intersection of SW College (PSU food cart pod).

But what if I only want tofu from the food cart pod, not beef? 😉

But in contrast to some of the other posters here I do like this project. Remember that the majority of cyclists may not be comfortable taking the lane on 4th and thus have no easy northbound bike route into downtown. After this they will.

David LaPorte
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David LaPorte

This is going to massively slow down and inconvenience bikes. They’re should just be a protected bike lane on the right in the fast steep section, with street parking removed. All it would take to deal with the 405 off-ramp issue is keep the bike lane across the overpass (by removing the left-side street parking Grant to Lincoln), and have the signal at Lincoln alternate between 4th and the off-ramp so bikes don’t have to merge. And the right hook issues farther down could have bike signals/ no right-turn signs like Broadway/Williams. Where do they think bikes are going? Old Town? No, we’re turning right to get to the Hawthorne bridge or Better Naito. Duh.

Adam
Guest
Adam

I ride down 4th a lot on my commute home from Marquam Hill to SE. Most often I turn right at Madison to get on the Hawthorne Bridge. I’m totally comfortable mingling with traffic because it rarely is going much faster than I can and if I stick to the middle and right lanes I’m able to cruise most the way down 4th even when there is a lot of traffic. I’ve never had an issue going by the off ramp from 405. There is a light at Lincoln that allows you to either continue in the middle lane if it is green or move over to the right lane if it is red. There is a concrete median that almost goes all the way up to the cross walk at Lincoln, so the off ramp only really poses a challenge if traffic is heavy and you want to turn right on to Lincoln from 4th during a green light. As a bike commuter though I’d much rather ride on the right side of the street than the left. If I need to turn left I can maneuver into the westbound traffic lane of the cross street while that street has the red light. This is a common set up around town. Oh, and the streetcar tracks crossing is not a major concern if you’re riding in the right lane. Traffic engineers need to actually observe how bike commuters are currently using 4th and then base their designs off those observations.

 
Guest
 

One thing I do have substantial worry about is the diagonal crossing at Caruthers. Frankly, that intersection is absolutely atrocious, and the backup from the even-more-poorly-designed 6th and Broadway intersection causes the 4th and Caruthers intersection to be constantly blocked by cars. I worry that even when the bike signal is green that cyclists simply won’t be able to go because of poor driver behavior. I wish they’d move the crossing to somewhere on the 405 overpass itself, installing a new signal there.

JR
Guest
JR

I think the bike lane will be useful for commuters. I work a couple blocks from here and I wouldn’t dream of biking on 4th during rush hour because it’s often backed up with cars in all lanes. Having a separate facility would allow me to reconsider that. I agree that 3rd and 4th are nice to ride on when traffic is limited though. Like others, I take the center lane. While bike speeds may be a little more slow than free flow, it will be substantially faster than rush hour gridlock.

Perhaps what we need is a change to the law to allow bikes to occupy vehicle lanes in reasonable conditions so that more confident folks can take the lane and ride with traffic speeds when lanes are free flow?

Fred
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Fred

JM, I have a concern to share with you, followed by a question:

My concern is that BP is becoming an uncritical cheerleader for this type of cycling infrastructure. I’m wondering if you are really asking the most important question – Is this design really good for cycling? – and instead just saying to yourself: PBOT is willing to spend the money, so we should just be grateful for whatever they want to build for us.

I would be happy to read a really thoughtful analysis of PBOT’s current design thinking (if you have already written it, please share the link). Whom is the design for? Whom is it designed to benefit? My guess is that PBOT planners are driven by a desire to increase cycling’s mode-share numbers. What are the people who are NOT currently cycling saying about what would get them to cycle? – they are probably saying “Whatever helps me feel safe,” which then drives PBOT to create these awful stop-and-cross, put-you-off-by-yourself-and-in-conflict-with-peds-and-turning-vehicle designs. It’s a “build it and they will come” strategy. But does it actually work? Is it possible that a freer-flowing, interaction-with-traffic model that moves bikes more quickly and efficiently, combined with intentional efforts to train cyclists to ride with traffic, would achieve better results in the long run?

If someone has already done this research, I would love to know about it. Otherwise I’m afraid PBOT is going to spend millions on cycling infrastructure that very few cyclists actually like AND fails to attract the uncycled masses.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

Looks like quite a few people in the comments aren’t a fan of this. I’m someone who will cycle on 4th Avenue as it is today, but most people I know who aren’t regular Bike Portland readers won’t. It takes a lot of confidence to cycle in busy mixed traffic, and it took me a long while to get there.

A few years ago I was in Vienna, and explored a lot of it by bike. While they don’t have a lot of dedicated bicycle infrastructure in the very Innere Stadt—the most visisted area by tourists—they do in the neighborhoods surrounding it, which are all very dense by Portland standards. This is one street I cycled along, which has a pretty similar configuration to what’s proposed for 4th (except for the fact that’s the path is narrower in Vienna). It felt comfortable to ride on in a way that busy streets in Portland never do. I don’t think it was unrelated that I noticed a lot of people riding on it, which I don’t see on 4th.

In the past decade we’ve built very little bike infrastructure in downtown / the central city, and what we have built has been low quality. We’ve also seen no significant change in bicycle ridership. I’m excited that, for a change, there seems to the be ambition to build something that’s high quality and that will attract people who aren’t comfortable with vehicular cycling.

onewheelskyward
Guest
onewheelskyward

Is it just me or are none of the images provided following cardinal north? It really confuses the eyes and the brain.

Doug hecker
Guest
Doug hecker

Listening to Hannah is a snooze fest. Also, what’s protective about the left hook we will greeted with on left turns? I usually ride fourth daily and still do 2-3 a week. This looks like that trash filled road that is SW 2nd. Poor bike design that I will refrain from using.