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New bike lanes on N Whitaker will connect slough path to Delta Park

Existing conditions on N Whitaker Rd looking north from Schmeer. That parking lane on the right will become a bike lane.

(Graphic: BikePortland)

A big gap in the north Portland bike network will be closed by this summer.

At last night’s Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting, Portland Bureau of Transportation staff revealed details of a project that will re-stripe about 0.4 miles of North Whitaker Road between the Columbia Slough (Schmeer Road) and Delta Park (Denver Ave/I-5). This stretch of Whitaker provides a crucial connection between north Portland neighborhoods and the Hayden Meadows shopping center (Lowe’s, Dick’s, Dollar Tree, Walmart, etc…), Delta Park athletic fields, Marine Drive, Vancouver, and more.

Currently it has no bike lane and wide general purpose lane which creates very stressful conditions for non-drivers.

Project Manager Zef Wagner said it started as a Rose Lane Project to speed up the Line 6 TriMet bus.


“Most of the time this will feel like an 11-foot bike lane.”
— Zef Wagner, PBOT project manager describing the shared bus/bike lane

“We were just going to do a northbound bus lane from [North] Hayden Meadows Drive up to the I-5 on ramp, and then we looked at the volumes of bike traffic that’s already there, and thought about its role in our bike network and we decided to make it a combined bike and bus project,” Wagner shared at last night’s meeting.

Northbound, the design will trade the on-street parking lane between Schmeer and Hayden Meadows Dr (shopping center entrance) for an eight-and-a-half foot buffered bike lane (six feet plus a two-and-a-half foot buffer zone) that will come with protection via plastic vertical delineators. North of Hayden Meadows Dr, the facility will transition into an 11-foot wide shared bus/bike lane for a short distance to the Delta Park entrance.

Southbound the protected and buffered bike lane will be continuous from the Delta Park exit to Schmeer Road (there are no intersections or driveways in the southbound direction).

Below are a few more existing conditions shots, followed by PBOT plan drawings:

Wagner fielded some concerns from the BAC about the northbound shared bus/bike lane. But he explained that due to “space constraints” PBOT had to make a compromise. The two bus stops are rarely used, he said, “So most of the time this will feel like an 11-foot bike lane.” “And when there is a bus, there’s a small chance that you might have to wait behind the bus for a short time, but most of the time that won’t be an issue… I think this will be a huge improvement”

PBOT plan drawing.

Another issue brought up by BAC members was the tricky cycling route southbound from of Delta Park/Denver onto Whitaker Road (above). This is a curved road next to freeway ramps (and those horrible ODOT wide-radius corners!) that can feel scary to bike riders. There’s also a median in the middle of the intersection with a small cut-through for bike riders. Wagner said PBOT would have preferred to rebuild the median to create more safety and space for riders to cross in that location, but doing so would have required sign-off from state traffic engineers (because of the proximity to Oregon Department of Transportation’s freeway).

“I think the whole corridor is gonna have more friction and visual annoyance for people, which also tends to slow down traffic.”
— Zef Wagner, PBOT

“Modifying the median itself would involve a lot more difficulties getting approval with ODOT than we were prepared to do in this phase of the project,” Wagner explained. “It would have required state traffic engineer approval which can be very difficult and time consuming.”

To help in the short-term, PBOT’s project will stripe a big “Do Not Block” box at the intersection. That should provide some refuge, and Wagner says is just a placeholder until the city can invest more. This project has a “pretty low budget”, he said. “Think of this as a ‘phase one’ that we can upgrade in the future.”

According to a PBOT spokesperson, the project budget is just $150,000. That includes $35,000 from TriMet.

Another bit of good news shared at last night’s meeting is that the Amazon distribution facility being planned nearby will come with a new traffic signal at Schmeer and Whitaker. Wagner said PBOT will take this opportunity to “create a seamless connection for bikes from Whitaker to the Columbia Slough Trail… There will be a little path connection there.”

Whitaker currently has 14-foot general purpose lanes next to eight feet of shoulder/parking area that is rarely used. It’s a design that encourages dangerous driving. PBOT will reduce those 14-foot lanes to 11-feet, and the addition of a buffered bike lane and/or bus lane will dramatically change the feeling of the road.

“I think the whole corridor is gonna have more friction and visual annoyance for people, which also tends to slow down traffic,” is how Wagner put it.

This is excellent news! This gap has been on my story list for years and I’ve been hoping that PBOT would address it.

The project is expected to be constructed this spring.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and
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