A new bridge for bicycling and walking will soon link 7th Avenue between the central eastside, the Lloyd and northeast neighborhoods. In advance of its opening the Portland Bureau of Transportation wants to make the bikeways on 7th as good as possible to keep the expected influx of riders safe and encourage as many of them as possible.
With a $2 million budget ($522,000 from Fixing Our Streets program and $1.48 million from system development charges), PBOT is creating a mix of better bikeways on NE 7th and 9th as part of their Lloyd to Woodlawn Greenway project.
At last night’s Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting, PBOT’s top bicycle planner shared the latest plans for bike lanes on 7th between Weidler and Tillamook and sparked a debate about how — or if — the desires of one business owner should impact this important bikeway.
Before we get into that discussion, let’s take a look at PBOT’s latest plans to connect the 7th Avenue bikeway to the existing neighborhood greenway on Tillamook.
Initial designs would have dropped the bike lanes (in both directions) near the off-set Tillamook intersection where the curb-to-curb width of the roadway narrows to just 22 feet. This would have forced riders to make the turns onto Tillamook in a shared environment with drivers and offered no clear guidance around the little traffic roundabout that currently exists at the northern spur.
PBOT bike planner Roger Geller said the new plan (above) would extend the northbound bike lane all the way to Tillamook by ramping them up onto curb extensions. The traffic roundabout would be removed and PBOT would stripe new crossbike and crosswalk markings to facilitate connections to the greenway. The southbound bike lane would still be dropped between Tillamook and NE San Rafael. “Because the street is very narrow here, we decided that we’d rather have the bike lane in the northbound direction and we could live without it for this relatively short distance in the southbound direction,” Geller explained. (Note: The southbound direction here is also on a downhill so biking speeds are a little higher than usual, which makes sharing the lane less stressful for some riders.)
Those changes were widely supported by BAC members last night. It was a much different story for bike lane plans just north of Broadway.
The plans for the 7th Avenue bike lane between NE Weidler and Broadway are not in dispute. PBOT will remove the existing parking lane and create 8-foot wide buffered bike lanes in both directions for that block.
“We should be prioritizing the bicycles and the people on the bicycles here, instead of one single business.”
— Nicholas Swanson, BAC member
North of Broadway however, is still very much in flux.
After some back-and-forth with city traffic engineers about lane widths, PBOT has decided that to remove all the on-street auto parking between Weidler and Tillamook. This is an exciting development that will lead to wider bike lanes in this busy section of the route. But there’s one spot where the quality of this bike lane is in question because the owner of Cotton Cloud Futon is concerned their business might be impacted by the design.
The business currently has a curbside truck loading zone on 7th that directly conflicts with the bikeway. PBOT has been in contact with the business owner and has created a few different design options for how to accommodate two parking spots (one for truck loading and the other for customers in cars). Geller shared these options with BAC members last night to get feedback and guidance on how to proceed. (Note that he did so knowing full well they might be objectionable to some people, but did so anyways in the spirit of transparency and a genuine interest in making the best choice.)
As you see the options below keep in mind that the business owner has told PBOT the truck loading zone is usually used for “a few large deliveries per week” and the customer parking spot is used about 2-5 times per day.
Here are the four options shared last night:
A wrap-around loading zone: In this option the bike lane would go around the truck and customer parking spot. This option breaks the continuity of the northbound bike lane and leads to a narrow southbound bike lane.
Relocate the loading zone onto Broadway: In this option the bike lanes would not be impacted. Geller said the business owner objects to this option because, “Having to go about 120 feet [with loads from the truck] instead of a few feet would be a big burden to their business.”
Allow the loading zone/parking spot to use the bike lane: With this option, bike lane users would have full use of the lane unless a truck or car was actively using the spots. Geller said PBOT could set a time limit for the spots to minimize blockage.
Direct bike users up onto the sidewalk: PBOT would create ramps up the curb so bicycle users wouldn’t have to swerve into the general lane when the spots were occupied. This option wasn’t taken very seriously.
When it came time for BAC members to share feedback, there was no appetite for lowering the quality of this bike lane to cater to the whims of one business owner.
“I hate to see such a roadblock set up by a single business who’s really acting in bad faith simply to keep things from changing,” said BAC member Clint Culpepper. “I don’t think we should be working very hard to solve their problem, to be totally honest.”
(Culpepper’s “bad faith” charge was made in part due to the owner of Cotton Cloud Futon being an outspoken opponent of the Central City in Motion plan. When that plan was debated at city council in 2018, they testified that, “If these things go through… we’d probably go out of business.”)
BAC member Nicholas Swanson concurred: “It’s problematic, from an all-ages-and abilities perspective [to compromise the bike lane] and I don’t like the idea of sanctioning a loading zone in a bike lane… We should be prioritizing the bicycles and the people on the bicycles here, instead of one single business.”
Another BAC member asked why we were having this debate and not just referring to existing city policy to settle the issue. “City policy supports loading zones for businesses and it supports bike lanes for transportation. It’s not clear cut,” Geller explained. “It’s not unusual that we have conflicts between policies.”
BAC Chair David Stein suggested that PBOT could solve the conflict by making this one-block section of 7th Avenue one-way for driving. His idea received a lot of support. Geller said the project team had talked about that option and that they’d be willing to talk about it more.
Another comment from Stein summed up much of the sentiment at the meeting: “If we’re building this great new bike bridge over I-84, we should not mess up the connection to it.”
Stay tuned for updates. If you’d like to share feedback, contact Lloyd to Woodlawn project manager Nicole Pierce at Nicole.Peirce@portlandoregon.gov.
(Note: The bike lanes in this project are not expected to have any physical protection. When someone asked about that at the meeting, Geller said protected bike lanes weren’t currently in the plans because initial cost estimates were already over-budget.)
UPDATE, 4:42 pm: A reader emailed Cotton Cloud Futon and received this response:
“Thank you for your concerns regarding the 7th avenue greenway. However your concerns are unfounded as the city is going to proceed with their plans regardless of our objections. Please know that we do not object to a bike lane, the cleansing of our planet from toxic fumes is of utmost importance to us. We are concerned for the safety and well being of the men, women and children who will be using the path.
We have regular daily deliveries of large furniture items and mattresses, these arrive by box truck, transit van and even 18 wheel semi-trucks. In addition, up to 5 times a day we have customers arriving to pick up their orders of said large furniture items and mattresses. This all happens on 7th ave. Having no other place to park, the drivers and customers will be forced to occupy the bike lane for 10-30 mins at a time, forcing cyclists to go around them and out onto a very busy lane of traffic.
During our decade long occupancy here we have been witness to multiple accidents involving a cyclist being struck by a vehicle. This is a very dangerous intersection for cyclists normally.
We understand that a few blocks north of us the bike path will be redirected up to NE 9th ave. We would like the bike lane to jog over to 9th before reaching the dangerous intersection of 7th and Broadway.
We hope you will reconsider your stance and let the city planners know that a bike path down NE 7th will put cyclists in unnecessary danger.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and email@example.com
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