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A closer look at how PBOT will reconfigure Hawthorne Blvd

Posted by on February 9th, 2021 at 3:41 pm

(From SE Hawthorne Pave and Paint Decision Report – PBOT)

The chosen one.

In all the hullabaloo around today’s big Hawthorne Boulevard decision from the Portland Bureau of Transportation, let’s not lose sight of the plans that will be built this summer and the analysis that led PBOT to make their decision.

If you recall back in September, PBOT graciously went back to the drawing board to refine two alternatives for Hawthorne between 22nd and 50th. One (Alternative 2) would change Hawthorne from two general lanes in each direction and one parking lane west of Cesar Chavez, to three lanes general lanes (one center-turn lane) and auto parking on both sides for the entire length. The other (Alternative 3) would create a cross-section with two general lanes, two bike lanes, and two parking lanes.

PBOT chose Alternative 2, a decision they explained in a 10-page report released today.

They spent three months garnering more feedback on the project and doing surveys. They found “broad support” for making changes and safety emerged as the top priority. Of all survey respondents, Alternative 2 received the most support. Notably, PBOT says support for Alternative 2 was strongest among people who live nearby and/or who take the Line 14 bus from the Lents neighborhood through the Hawthorne corridor.

What about people who live outside those two areas? Most of them supported the bike lane options.


Bus service delays were a major concern throughout this project. The 8-16 minute estimated delay found in PBOT’s initial analysis is what led them to score Alternative 3 (bike lanes) so much less favorably than Alternative 2. This wasn’t a simple bus service equation. The fact that many riders come from east Portland — designated as “equity areas” on PBOT maps — gave the city major concerns about how any changes might impact the speed of their trip (recall that when former Commissioner Chloe Eudaly launched the Rose Lane Project she did so with the specific purpose of speeding transit trips for riders of color).

The bike mixing zone that never was.

As we reported earlier, the sticky point in the delay estimate appeared to come from only one intersection: Cesar Chavez Blvd.

Armed with their initial evaluation, added feedback and surveys, PBOT spent October through January doing more technical analysis. One thing they looked at was whether they could refine Alternative 3 to include a combined bus/bike mixing zone at Cesar Chavez to alleviate the estimated transit delay. This option would have put bicycle users, transit operators and car drivers in the same lane for one block on each side of the intersection (image right).

In the end, PBOT chose Alternative 2 because they believe it’s the best choice for safety, walkers, transit users, emergency vehicle operators, climate and equity outcomes, and because it would allow more flexible uses of the curb zone (a key element for the walking environment).

PBOT expects crashes to fall by 29% with the new lane configuration. The addition of concrete median islands is expected to reduce crashes even further, as much as 50% in the few intersections they’ll be installed.

PBOT has never done the four-to-two lane change that Alternative 3 called for. But since it wouldn’t have allowed turn lanes, PBOT said they “would not expect a decrease in left turn crashes.” It’s difficult for PBOT to predict how the presence of bike lanes and their many users would impact crashes and safety on the street. They are comfortable predicting crash impacts of protected bike lanes, but since none of the alternatives would allow for physical protection at intersections, they estimated Alternative 3 would not reduce as many crashes at Alternative 2.


Low-stress biking connections to Hawthorne were added to the chosen alternative.

In the end, Alternative 2 also scored highest because PBOT says it best supports speed and reliability of the bus line. Their new analysis of the mixing zone section reduces some of the transit delay that plagued the bike lane option in the initial evaluation, but it doesn’t do enough. In Alternative 3, PBOT states, “Buses would be delayed by turning vehicles at side streets and driveways along the corridor, with the most significant delay caused by left-turning vehicles blocking the through lane in Alternative 3. We expect some additional delay caused by right-turning vehicles yielding to bicyclists.”

While bike lanes won’t be coming to Hawthorne as part of this project, it’s likely biking to-and-from Hawthorne — and even on it — will become better. PBOT said they will request a 20 mph speed limit on the length of the corridor, which will make sharing the lane with drivers much easier. And in the most bike-consequential bit of today’s news, PBOT has promised new “closely-spaced north-south neighborhood greenway connections” as part of Alternative 2. In addition to new low-stress biking treatments on 23rd, 34th, 37th and 45th (29th and 41st are already considered greenways), PBOT will add signage/markings and bike parking where the routes cross Hawthorne. “Once this expanded network is fully established, all destinations along Hawthorne will be within roughly a three-block walk from a designated bikeway,” says the report.

In addition to the lane striping, PBOT has identified 11 intersections for median islands. Four of them — at 23rd, 35th, 36th and 38th — are listed as “high priority” for funding. These new islands would be added to the two existing islands at 43rd and 48th. How many get built depends on the budget, which PBOT will figure out in the coming months.

One point of concern is that the new lanes will be wider than they are now. They will go from 9 feet to up to 12-feet wide.

Speaking of space, many folks are curious why a full-scale on-street parking removal wasn’t considered. PBOT answered this question back in September when asked by the city Bicycle Advisory Committee (which meets tonight at 6:00 pm). PBOT said parking removal would not impact traffic delay or diversion given the many pinch-points due to curb extensions already on the street. They also point to Hawthorne’s “Civic Main Street” classification that says, “curb zone uses such as parking… are very important and should be considered high priorities in addition to moving people.”

In the end, today was a disappointment in many ways: The opportunity to create space for cycling on such an important commercial street is extremely rare. But for what started in 13 months ago as just a paving project with only the tiniest inkling that bike lanes would be considered, turned into a much more robust discussion about cycling and the need for more safe space on main streets.

But changing the lane configuration on one of Portland’s marquee commercial streets — while adding more median islands, setting up the street for rapid bus service, creating the potential of slower speed limits (please ODOT?!), better bike connections and bike parking — are all solid steps forward.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and
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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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Reading through the report I feel like they’re double counting the benefits of the three lane configuration. Where intersections are offset, they might be able to provide left turn pockets and refuge islands. However I don’t see how that’s possible at any of the unsignalized straight intersections, such as 31st, 32nd, 44th, 45th, 46th, etc. So either they’re creating a two-lane road with the same impact to transit as a two-lane road with bike lanes; or they’re creating a condition where it’s easier for cars to turn, but pedestrians are left crossing three lanes of traffic.


This Hawthorne project is for 24th to Cesar Chavez, and there’s a separate project from the river to 12th.

So does that really mean they’re going to leave the two-narrow-lanes-both-ways striping from 12th to 24th in place? That section along Ladd’s Addition is the worst bit — and (as Jonathan pointed out this morning) historically the place where bicyclists were originally promised a sharrow in order to climb that hill going EB.

If the current plans are really unchangeable now, is there a chance we could transfer some of the momentum of Healthier Hawthorne to work on at least giving us some better future options for 12th to 24th?

Zach Katz
Zach Katz

FYI: Boston is reconfiguring Tremont Street—a major commercial arterial currently with the same exact lane configuration as Hawthorne—with protected bike lanes and no deadly center turn lane:
comment image

They’re including major pedestrian improvements like leading pedestrian intervals, raised crosswalks, and median islands. Incredible. PBOT could learn a thing or two from the BTD.

John Liu
John Liu

This will not help salve disappointment, but the center turn lanes in the road diets often tend to be nice places to ride.


Portland is going to be a case study in how hiding bike lanes from public view results in poor uptake of cycling.

Scott F Kocher

Echoes of what BTA (now The Street Trust) experienced in 1990: “We had become very frustrated trying to convince the City’s transportation department staff that there was a need and a demand for bike facilities, especially on the big streets where there was the most traffic and the most danger for cyclists. They insisted that people didn’t like riding on the main streets (no wonder when they were designed to be dangerous for cyclists!) and it would be better if they used quiet side streets. We insisted that they were required to provide bicycle lanes…”


The city needs to be more forthright about the fact that they are creating a situation that they know will lead to severe conflict. We have seen several people on bicycles intentionally struck by people driving cars already this year and this alignment will be a flashpoint for road rage. I rode hawthorne from the bridge out to 50th today and I had no problems with road rage, why because anyone in a car could simply move over to the left lane and safely go around me. With the new alignment cyclists will be forced to share a lane with motor vehicles and buses that has a speed limit that is higher than the speed most of us ride uphill. This is going to lead to a combination of unsafe passing and road rage. I can’t see this shared lane concept working with a speed limit of more than 15 mph, but the real issue is that it seems like this concern has not even been acknowledged by the city let alone addressed. Their solution is just go ride somewhere else, which doesn’t seem to have been an answer considered for any other mode.

Nadia Maxim
Nadia Maxim

Disappointed, but better than nothing.


Sounds like a lot of hot air coming from PBOT (110 pages worth?!). Any time they don’t want to install bike infra they are always going to point at the expected delays which that *might* cause.

The fact that the bus riders they are so concerned about don’t even live in the neighborhood is just an added insult.

Frankly, most of the SOVs crowding Hawthorne aren’t driven by people from the neighborhood either, that fact was well established in the 1990 studies.

So in essence PBOT is choosing to prioritize two modes – driving and transit – whose users are demonstrably primarily from outside the neighborhood, over two other modes – walking and cycling – which primarily have local neighborhood sources.

Howe much more ass-backwards can their logic get?

Allan Rudwick

One thing that jumps out at me when looking at these maps is that there are no parallel (east/west) roads within 3 blocks Hawthorne that go all the way through the corridor. This means that useful parallel routes are really far out of the way from the commercial corridor. I wonder if repurposing that center lane into a 2-way cycletrack should have been considered.