A closer look at how PBOT will reconfigure Hawthorne Blvd

(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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