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PBOT: Bike lanes on Hawthorne would be bad for climate change, racial equity

Posted by on September 1st, 2020 at 11:35 am

PBOT is concerned about how these bike lanes might impact transit and racial equity.

“…It is likely that the bike lanes would offer a mostly localized benefit to access destinations on the corridor rather than benefiting people further away in the Foster and Lents areas.”
— PBOT

A golden opportunity to create safe space on Hawthorne Boulevard for bicycle users might be slipping away. That’s the feeling of many local advocates following the release of a draft report yesterday by the Portland Bureau of Transportation on the SE Hawthorne Pave and Paint project.

Since we shared news of this project back in January there’s been a hope that bike lanes could finally be coming to one of Portland’s marquee main streets. There’s strong grassroots support for dedicated cycling space and back in May nearly 60 business owners said they’d support bike lanes.

Since Hawthorne is slated to be repaved from 24th to 50th, PBOT has a clean slate to replace the existing lane striping with something new. Currently this section of Hawthorne west of Cesar E Chavez Blvd (39th) has six lanes — four general traffic lanes and two lanes used to park cars. East of Cesar E Chavez Blvd, the road has five lanes — two for general traffic, one center turn lane, and two car parking lanes.

Here are the three options PBOT has under consideration:

  • Alternative 1: Keep everything the same.
  • Alternative 1 (same as today).

  • Alternative 2: Extend the cross-section that currently exists east of Cesar E Chavez west to 22nd Avenue.
  • Alternative 2.

  • Alternative 3a: Swap a general traffic lane for a buffered bike lane and maintain some of the on-street car parking.
  • Alternative 3b: Swap a general traffic lane for a curbside, parking-protected bike lane and maintain some of the on-street car parking.
  • Alternative 3a and 3b

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PBOT evaluates these three options based on five criteria: “Improve safety; Support Hawthorne’s Main Street function and help people get to destinations there; Connect people to other parts of the city; Will it advance equity and address structural racism? Will it reduce carbon emissions?”

As you can see below, PBOT has positioned option 2 as the clear winner:

Yes it appears PBOT is leaning toward no space for bicycle riders on Hawthorne. This is despite strong support for bike lanes and a 2030 Bike Plan that explicitly calls for them. Not surprisingly, this has set off a few alarm bells. “I hate the lack of ambition here,” tweeted transportation reformer and member of the PBOT Bicycle Advisory Committee Iain Mackenzie. “I think the whole thing is a joke and they will use this data to say why the status quo will continue,” activist and software developer Lance Poehler shared with me via email this morning.

To better understand PBOT’s justification, here’s how they summarize options 2 and 3:

Notably, the bike lane options got dinged for their expected negative impacts on nearby neighborhood greenways, “[auto] parking retention”, climate change and equity.

PBOT believes bike lanes on Hawthorne would force more drivers onto popular neighborhood greenways streets such as Salmon, Ladd, Harrison and Lincoln. PBOT’s analysis shows that the resulting number of drivers that would divert onto these streets would push them above the 2,000 cars per day maximum they allow on “low-stress, family-friendly” side streets.

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2030 Bike Plan map showing bike lanes on SE Hawthorne.

Missing from this evaluation is any expectation that — if we succeed in updating our infrastructure in a way that makes driving less convenient — people might actually change behaviors and drive less.

And in another troubling sign for a city ostensibly committed to fighting climate change and boosting cycling and other non-driving trips, PBOT frames on-street auto parking as a necessity and a right, rather than a privilege. All three options maintain space for parking cars. Alternative 3b would lead to 225 fewer car parking spaces that PBOT says would, “Make it more difficult for people visiting the Hawthorne Business District to find parking,” and “be a significant impact to some main street businesses that rely on short-term vehicle access.”

Keep in mind as we discuss these options that if you use a car, walk or take transit, you are guaranteed some type of dedicated and safe space for that activity. However, if you use a bicycle, only Alternative 3 gives you this type of space. Put another way, for bicycle riders, we’re talking about whether or not there is access. For everyone else, we’re talking about how much access.

PBOT also tries to make the case that bicycle and car users sharing the same lane “would provide some safety improvement for cyclists that choose to take the lane,” because there would be “slower vehicle speeds and wider travel lanes”. They offer no citation for this claim.

The impact on transit times is framed by PBOT as the most serious threat posed by the addition of bike lanes. They say if bike lanes are added, Line 14 bus riders could expect between 8 and 16 minutes of delay. They also say reliability would suffer because drivers would back up behind bus drivers waiting for a gap in traffic to make turns. “Since Hawthorne Blvd is classified as a Major Transit Priority Street,” the report states, “this kind of travel time increase and reliability impact for the Line 14 would be very concerning.”

It’s important to keep in mind that PBOT is currently led by Commissioner Chloe Eudaly. The direct line between transit and racial equity in this report is very similar to Eudaly’s approach to transit in her Rose Lane Project. Suffice it to say, no design concept will survive if it delays transit by 8 to 16 minutes.

“…adding one stretch of bike lane in an area of Portland with among the highest bicycle mode shares in the city is likely to have less marginal benefit than improving one of the most frequent and highest-ridership bus lines in the area.”
— PBOT

For similar reasons, PBOT says bike lanes on Hawthorne would have a “high impact” on driving times and that the, “level of diversion onto lower classified streets would be concerning since it does not align with City policy.”

The report includes no analysis of how a lack of safe space on Hawthorne for bicycle riders negatively impacts cycling trip times.

The justification for giving bike lanes low marks on equity and reducing carbon emissions is also related to these claimed impacts on transit times.

Using their new focus on racial equity, PBOT says the bike lanes’ negative impact on transit speed and reliability would hurt low-income people who live in east Portland areas served by the Line 14 bus. PBOT acknowledges the benefit bike lanes would have for some, but they frame them it a “mostly localized benefit… rather than benefiting people further away in the Foster and Lents areas.” “Therefore, our conclusion is that Alternative 2 [which they say offers the most benefit to transit service] is more consistent with the goal of advancing equity and addressing structural racism with this project.”

For climate change impacts, PBOT said they leaned on Metro’s Climate Smart Strategy, which evaluated relative climate benefits of different transportation strategies. In that report, “make biking and walking safe and convenient” received 3 out of 5 stars, while “make transit convenient, frequent, accessible, and affordable” nabbed 5 out of 5 stars. “This seems especially true in this situation,” the report states, “since adding one stretch of bike lane in an area of Portland with among the highest bicycle mode shares in the city is likely to have less marginal benefit than improving one of the most frequent and highest-ridership bus lines in the area.” PBOT also says that the increased bus travel times would cancel out any climate benefits of new bike lanes.

Now that the report is out, it’s time to share your feedback. PBOT has released an online survey and will host two webinars to hear your input on these alternatives. Learn more on the project website.

— 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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maccoinnich
Subscriber

Alternatives 2 and 3A/B both have the same number of through vehicle lanes. The difference is the center turn lane (alternative 2 is basically the existing condition on Hawthorne, east of Chavez). If the center turn lane makes such as dramatic difference to bus speeds along Hawthorne, because buses aren’t stuck behind cars turns left, it would probably be worth PBOT’s time to do a more granular study of where that benefit is occurring. It’s hard to believe it’s required for the whole corridor, with no variation in cross section.

With in the existing curb-to-curb width of Hawthorne it would be quite possible to have a cross section that varies. In order to achieve that we might need to remove some parking on one side of the street. But every policy in our Comprehensive Plan says we should do that. It beggars belief that PBOT would put out a report that is so stacked against adding bicycle access, rather than further studying what needs to happen to make it work.

Eawriste
Guest
Eawriste

I’m confused. Does this sound like it was written in the ’90s to anyone else? If parking is more important than safety, why not take out the sidewalks? Businesses need cars not bikes because bikes are for recreation off main streets. Since there are currently no alternatives to using a car on Hawthorne, everyone should drive. If everyone drives we can’t add a PBL because people will use other streets too much. People on bikes are safer riding with cars. Did PBOT copy the cyclist fallacy bingo cliffs notes?

zuckerdog
Guest
zuckerdog

While I applaud PBOT’s shift in policy to now wrap climate change and equity into the planning/decision making process, the process is still limited/flawed and leads to the “vanillation” of projects. Projects like Hawthorne (as well as most types of projects) are complicated and nuanced and does no justice to try to assess and rank alternatives by creating a discrete number of variables. I get it, you need to create a (limited) set of variables/metrics that can be presented to public and elected officials so you can make a coherent presentation.

I see this process analogous to what I remember learning about climate models 20-plus years ago: the variables are so vast and interactions are so complicated that it would take a 1990’s computer so long to run the model that the results of the model would be outdated. So you have to simplify the model.

Don’t you remember, the matrix has rules. Good planning and design professionals, with enough understanding of intended goals and outcomes, can land on better solutions, its just hard for them to articulate why they are the best solution when the rules confine them.

Let’s accept that better designs can’t always fit into tidy benefit/impact models and start breaking some more rules. Otherwise we are going to continue to get more vanilla projects.

Toadslick
Subscriber

This is so incredibly disappointing.

Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
Member

If you can’t do it right then wait until you can.

Remove more parking to increase transit times. You can add angle parking on side streets if that is an issue (or, gasp, charge people for parking). Not adding bike lanes on Hawthorne is unacceptable.

Zach
Guest
Zach

PBOT’s “evaluation” doesn’t mention these huge benefits to 3b:

Equity: Giving people in outer SE (Lents, Foster, etc.) an affordable and fast alternative to transit. Commuting from Lents to downtown by 20 mph e-bike (coming soon to Biketown!) will be much faster than riding the bus, but people will only do it if they have a safe and direct route.

Safety:: Increased safety and comfort for pedestrians because bikes and scooters won’t need to ride on the sidewalk anymore. Also, people riding bikes and scooters won’t continue to be injured and killed by drivers (the report mentions this basically as an aside, but that’s a pretty huge deal!).

Accessibility:: Protected bike lanes give people with disabilities a safe, fast, and comfortable way to get around, and lets them be independent by not relying on the bus. Protected bike lanes offer a much smoother ride than narrow, crowded, non-ADA-compliant sidewalks.

Transit-friendly:: Transit speed can be *improved* with 3b if things like signal priority, all-door boarding, stop consolidation are implemented when funds are available. Banning left turns can be implemented immediately, which would prevent buses from waiting behind turning cars.

Great for business:: Protected bike lanes offer a massive benefit to businesses by way of increased visibility. Thousands of people who currently ride on the greenways will be passing by your store, grabbing a smoothie on the way to work, dinner on the way back, etc.

COVID safety:: Bus ridership is way down, and people will probably be reluctant to take the bus for at least another year or two—especially low-income and POC who are more vulnerable to catching and spreading the virus. Biking is more COVID-safe.

Looking to the future:: Offering people an attractive alternative to driving is the only way to reduce car dependency in the long-term, which we need to do for climate reasons, spacial reasons, public health reasons, etc.

John
Guest
John

If it is any consolation, those center turn lanes end up being pretty good places to ride.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

When I was involved with the East Portland Action Plan 2009-15, East Portland’s concern for central Hawthorne varied depending where you lived. For everyone living beyond I-205 (90% of us), Hawthorne was an utterly insignificant and very inconvenient street in inner SE portland. For folks in Lents, between I-205 and 82nd, it was a bit more important, but not as much as Foster or Powell. West of 82nd the street is “main street”, but that’s outside of East Portland.

Apparently pBOT is using East Portland as a proxy for communities of color and poverty, so I am curious how exactly pBOT defines “East Portland” – is it everything east of MLK? East of 50th or 60th? East of 82nd? Or the area within EPCO, east of a line that includes 82nd and I-205, jogging at Division?

Personally I find the whole process repugnant. pBOT rejected complaints from East Portland on previous projects (such as on Foster), but now suddenly cares. How did they get input from EP? From BIPOC communities? Do tell.

For what it’s worth, IMO Alt 1 is unsafe for anyone at any speed, car drivers included; Alt 2 is designed for car drivers – have you tried crossing a street with a constant stream of cars with irate drivers? Not fun nor safe; Alt 3a is good for cars and bicyclists, but not for transit users or pedestrians (long crossings, crazy traffic); Alt 3b is the best of a bad bunch, safest for pedestrians and transit users, the top of the pBOT safety pyramid.

I’d prefer to see continuous bus/BRT lanes, no through-traffic more than 3 blocks on any section, and lots of car-free pedestrian malls, but that’s just me.

Yes, I did the survey.

Allan Rudwick
Subscriber

I am suprised they didn’t pitch a Rose Lane (bike/bus shared lane) concept in the current lane configuration. As in make the outer lanes transit + bike only. I think this could solve some concerns. It wouldn’t be parking-protected, but it would be a huge step in the right direction

David LaPorte
Subscriber
David LaPorte

Why are “ability to retain on-street parking” and reduced “travel time for drivers” positive things we are trying to benefit? Aren’t the climate and bike/pedestrian goals only realized if we disincentivize driving?

maxD
Guest
maxD

I understand that this is a repaving project that ends at 22nd, but it seems ridiculous that they would not consider painting the lane changes between 22nd and 12th. That section would benefit from the Alt2 proposal quite a bit, but if extended the bike lanes to reconnect at 12th, Alt 3 would start to look a lot better!

Racer X
Guest

For more information on this project…folks may want to “attend” the next PBOT BAC meeting (Sept 8 via Zoom at 6PM), as there will be a project presentation and questions from the PBAC representatives at 6:10 PM (so don’t be late!).

PBAC AGENDA:
https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/ORPORTLAND/bulletins/29cd36c

Zoom meeting information:
Register in advance for this webinar:
https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_UKwDE3RpSRqPgfYDg9AVHg
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

igor
Guest
igor

Adding bike lanes between 21st and 50th will increase auto and bus transit times by “8 to 16 minutes”? Is that correct? The distance is 1.6 miles, and right now Google says a car can drive that in 6 minutes, so the current average speed is 16mph. PBOT is saying that the bike lanes will slow traffic down to between 6.8 mph (14 minutes) and 4 mph (24 minutes). Is PBOT saying that after adding bike lanes it might be faster to walk Hawthorne than to drive it?

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

I’m probably showing my fascist leanings, but I think vehicle throughput is an absurd measure of equitable outcomes. Is that the best the agency can come up with given that equity is their new “top priority”?

Dagny Taggart
Guest
Dagny Taggart

Looks like PBOT evaluated many of the pros and cons and came up with the correct answer. Most folks are going to use cars no matter how inconvenient driving becomes – you’ll discover just one reason why from mid October to mid May – the weather isn’t conducive to biking even for experienced cyclists. Yes, the hard core ones will do it, but even with good bike routes non-cyclists are not going to suddenly think: “I should get out of my comfy car and ride a bike like that cyclist there in the cold/rain/dark.” Because of this FACT, keeping the cars moving WILL reduce CO2 emissions from cars along this street.

I’d assume cyclists can navigate this street as-is, or if not, using a side street – so it’s a win-win: less CO2, cars move along, cyclists navigate just fine as they currently do.

FDUP
Guest
FDUP

This is a familiar story from PBOT, they used a similar justification to keep bike infra off Hawthorne 20 years ago, as Yogi Berra said, it’s deja vu all over again!

squareman
Subscriber

Help me out here if I’m wrong, but isn’t the most common unexpected delay in the lanes on Hawthorne people trying to parallel park and traffic either backing up in the right lane because of it or drivers trying to go around them (leading to more collisions)? Seems to me option 3a/b would reduce those trying to parallel park by about 50-60% and not cause 12-18 minute delays. Then again, I haven’t hung around the Hawthorne district in a very long time — so I don’t know how bad traffic has been before or during COVID.

Clark in Vancouver
Guest
Clark in Vancouver

A travel lane should be for travelling, not for storage.

What a waste of an opportunity when they’re paving it anyway. This display of “options” looks like it’s designed to pit two disenfranchised modes against each other so that the privileged can continue with the status quo. What a scam.
There needs to be pressure to have them produce some more options that remove car parking. How many parking spots are there off street? Are there side streets and parkades near by?
This reminds me of Vancouver, BC when the first protected bike lane went in on Hornby Street downtown. A few dozen parking spaces were repurposed. The city showed how many parking spots there were in the immediate vicinity that could be used instead. It was still a tough fight but it helped calm some people down and the project got made. (And it’s great!)

soren
Guest
soren

“…adding one stretch of bike lane in an area of Portland with among the highest bicycle mode shares in the city is likely to have less marginal benefit than improving one of the most frequent and highest-ridership bus lines in the area.”

It’s nice to see a statement where PBOT overtly criticizes the classist demands of the YIMBY elite.

Nevertheless, an option that removes parking and installs two dedicated bus lanes would have far more benefit to those who depend on transit (and live outside of the elite urban core). Apparently, preserving the Hawthorne Business Association’s vehicle storage subsidy is still more important than maximizing movement towards transportation equity and decarbonization.

Alex Reedin
Guest
Alex Reedin

This really points out the weakness of Council’s oversight of PBOT and the lack of transportation vision at Council. It results in project-by-project planning and a lack of willingness to consider committing to transformative change. IMO, what should have happened *years* ago in the Foster Rd. saga was a consideration of the entire 14 transit corridor, with significant portions of dedicated bus lanes along the entire corridor being IMO the best option.

The parking removal that many are suggesting, while ultimately the right answer, is not feasible without removal of myriad curb bump-outs for pedestrians. And that’s “not in scope” for this “pave/paint” “project.” Why aren’t the “projects” defined as large enough to meet our city’s supposed transportation vision/plan? No/limited support from Council.

Also… if transit is such a priority, why isn’t there a “1B” alternative suggested where the right lane is a bus lane? Oh, right, parking. I think a combined bus/bike right lane, with parking spaces repurposed for a slow-bike area, is what bike advocates should push for, If PBOT says too much bus/bike conflict – fine. Make it a bus only lane. But PBOT is letting their assumptions about parking politics constrain them from considering the best options, even within the (too) narrow confines of this “project”.

Zach
Guest
Zach

One more thought:

Their negative equity and environmental grades are entirely based on the prediction that bus travel time will increase by 8-16 minutes due to being stuck behind turning cars.

What if we just ban left turns? This would be great for pedestrian and driver safety, too.

Eawriste
Guest
Eawriste

chloe@portlandoregon.gov

Let our PBOT commissioner know how how important parking is versus safety.

ChadwickF
Guest
ChadwickF

Ooh! Can someone please draw me the PBOT sasquatch mascot driving like, a 1995 Dodge Voyager with no hubcaps, expired tags, spewing smoke & backfiring?

Eawriste
Guest
Eawriste

Here’s an example of a scenario where PBOT prioritizes safety:
1. Based on existing research and best practices PBOT proposes the safest design (ie PBL with protected intersections)
2. PBOT then builds multiple trials to test this design in real life, gathering data on what works best
3. PBOT seeks community feedback on these trials
4. PBOT tweaks the design based on feedback
5. PBOT builds the design

Instead we have a commissioner and department that precludes the safest most data-driven design based on preexisting ideology, not research, where car parking and crashes are essentially equal. Think about this. Parking and climate are equal under their criteria.