First look: New bike lanes on North Wall between Lombard and Fessenden

Posted by on July 20th, 2021 at 9:44 am

(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Wall and Fessenden intersection before the project.

The City of Portland has installed a mile of bike lanes and overhauled a wide intersection in St. Johns. The new bike lanes are on each side of a half-mile stretch of North Wall Avenue from Lombard to Fessenden (map). At the northern end of Wall at Fessenden, new medians and curb extensions have been built out of “paint-and-post” materials in order to improve safety for all users — with an emphasis on non-drivers.

According to PBOT, the genesis of this project was a student who flagged the Wall and Fessenden intersection in the 2019 Traffic and Transportation Class that’s co-hosted by the City of Portland and Portland State University. Caroline Crisp (also a member of the Portland Bureau of Transportation Bicycle Advisory Committee) chose the intersection for her class project because she lives and rides in the area. “This is so unsafe to cycle through and it’s really scary,” she shared with the class during her presentation in December 2019. Crisp worked through her neighborhood association to make an official request for a fix and PBOT ultimately agreed to not only address the intersection, but to add the bike lanes all the way to Lombard.

The Wall and Fessenden intersection (above) is abnormally broad with very wide turning radii (likely to facilitate freight truck turns and/or an old streetcar line) and is over 100-feet corner-to-corner in one spot (see image at right). This is very wide for a residential neighborhood street. To constrain that expanse, PBOT striped a new crosswalk and created two painted medians protected by plastic bollards. As you can see in the images, the new eastbound bike lane on Fessenden bisects these medians. This treatment has considerably reduced the size of the intersection. If PBOT ever goes back to fortify the paint-and-posts with concrete curbs and planters, this formerly “scary” place could realize its potential as a safe and welcoming neighborhood gathering place!

One issue we (I bumped into BP reader Paul Buchanan while I was out there) noticed about this intersection was the confusing nature of the northbound movement. As you drive or bike northbound on Wall approaching Fessenden, you come to a stop sign, then a new marked crosswalk, then the stop bar for the bike lane, then the general travel lane. I’m not sure if this was done on purpose to create indecision (and therefore slow people down), or if this was just the only way to make everything “work”. Whatever the reason, we saw some confusion about where to stop as drivers approached the intersection when cross-traffic was present.

While the Fessenden intersection has a relatively robust design, the bike lane on Wall to Lombard is notable for being the opposite. It’s a very standard design. I was surprised to see that in 2021, PBOT has installed basic, unprotected, unbuffered, relatively narrow (felt like four to five feet), door-zone bike lanes. Previous to this project, Wall Avenue had no dedicated cycling space, so this is an upgrade in that regard. PBOT did add Star Wars-themed heads to several of the bike lane characters though!

Even though it’s not as wide and protected as we’d like, the new bike lane definitely improves the network. It’s a direct route and it connects to two existing bike lanes (on Fessenden and Lombard) and a neighborhood greenway (N Houghton, where PBOT has added a few more plastic bollards and painted medians). North-south through routes are rare and valuable in this neighborhood because of a huge railroad cut (just one block west of Wall) and a diagonal development pattern. The other good north-south streets near Wall are Portsmouth (seven blocks east) and Buchanan (0.75 miles west).

The anemic bike lane is a result of this being a very cheap, (relatively) quick, and opportunistic project that came together internally – rather than having a big public outreach process and more comprehensive planning and design work.

PBOT Public Information Officer Dylan Rivera said the intersection work and the bike lane cost only $10,000. It was funded through PBOT’s Missing Links program. This tiny program has been around for many years and is used for small, opportunistic bikeway network completion projects often identified by PBOT staff or public complaints. It’s funded with an annual allotment of $150,000 in general transportation revenue (GTR, which comes from state gas tax and local parking meter revenue).

Of course the Peninsula Crossing Trail is another north-south alternative in this area. Even though that’s a carfree multi-use path, it doesn’t connect to the street system as well as bike lanes, and it crosses major streets mid-block. The other issue with the trail is that it has become home to many campers in the past few years and, many people don’t feel safe cycling on it.

Check out this short video for another perspective on this project:

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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drs
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drs

I’d like to think this is an unnecessary and redundant installation. But seeing as the peninsula crossing trail has become essentially a linear campground, this provides a functional, safe alternative north/south connection.

Steve Hash
Guest
Steve Hash

Yeah, this was an eye opener for sure when I got back from vacation. Don’t like it at all as a driver or cyclist. It reminds me of what happens when a committee designs a horse. As far as using the Peninsula Crossing Trail, that’s a non-starter for most folks from Lombard north unless those encampments and bike chop shops are removed.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Apparently the same developer named Francis McKenna picked the names Wall Ave, Fortune Ave, Easy Street, Superior St, and Lovely St in 1905 during an uptick (bullish) stock market period.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Aren’t painted narrow bike lanes recommended for streets 20 mph or lower on the Copenhagen chart? If Portland neighborhood streets are now posted at 20 mph, shouldn’t we logically see more of these simple basic retro lanes?

Psmith
Guest
Psmith

I agree, on low-speed streets it seems fine to have “basic” bike lanes like this. Even better though would be to remove the centerline, widen the bike lanes, and make these advisory bike lanes.

Toadslick
Subscriber

I don’t want to heap scorn on a new bike lane. I really don’t. I’m thankful for them.

But I am so, so, so tired of riding in door zones.

All the parked cars in those photos could have easily fit on one side of the street, which would have allowed for a comfortable and much safer buffer between cars, parked cars, and the bike lanes.

Matt Meskill
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Matt Meskill

Totally agree. More scraps from PBOT.

Steve Hash
Guest
Steve Hash

All those cars could fit easily into their garages or on their driveways.

Caroline Crisp
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Caroline Crisp

That music is bumpin! Thankyou for the article What a fun project to work on.- Caroline

stephan vertal
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stephan vertal

It is nice to see Fessenden get some attention. The quality of bike space on this street varies a lot. Staring at Woolsey it covers some areas with a lot of young people and park activity.

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

Even though it’s not as wide and protected as we’d like, the new bike lane definitely improves the network.

I mean, does it? I ride N Wall pretty frequently and the situation before this was that less bold cyclist ride in the door zone where the bike lane is now and more bold cyclist took the lane, which wasn’t a problem because the street is actually pretty low volume (or at least I’ve never had a problem here, not sure what the actual traffic count is) and wide which allowed for easy passing for motorist who wanted to exceed the speed limit (all of them).

Now, legally, I and other haves to ride in the door zone. The paint isn’t going to stop someone from getting hit from behind by a distracted or drunk driver. Less bold cyclists are going to be riding in the same space, with the same protections, while more bold cyclist are forced into a narrow strip in the door zone.

Seems like a downgrade to me, especially on a wide street lined with single-family homes with driveways. I guess it was cheaper to not have to do “outreach”, but maybe they could just build evidence-based infrastructure without doing “outreach”?

drs
Guest
drs

Can’t you legally take the lane if you deem it necessary and practicable for safety reasons even if there is a bike lane?

squareman
Subscriber

You could. But it also doesn’t keep drivers from being much more aggressive with their horns or their driving, feeling like you’re supposed to be in your own lane. It also won’t keep a cop from citing you, and then you have to convince a judge that you were threatened by riding in the bike lane – that usually does not go in the cyclist’s favor.

drs
Guest
drs

Yeah, it’s right there on page 15: https://www.oregon.gov/odot/programs/tdd%20documents/oregon-bicyclist-manual.pdf you can take the lane to avoid hazards, parked cars, etc

Edward
Guest
Edward

This is a really great example of how the bike infrastructure can be built and expanded cheaply. I like how this is more than “just paint” as the semi-permanent bollards add some physical visual identifiers for drivers.

Maybe the design is not perfect, and maybe we all don’t love it, but it’s better than nothing. I worked really hard on a project a couple of years ago and got the neighborhood association involved and they all voted to adopt the most expensive option that required concrete, for an estimate of $75,000 – $125,000 price point. Now there’s an extra plan in the 30 year pipeline list (which means it will never get built). I feel like PBOT could do a lot more of this type of infrastructure development. Without pouring concrete, what can be done NOW with the resources at hand? Again, we might not all love it, but it’s really great to see forward movement.

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

Maybe the design is not perfect, and maybe we all don’t love it, but it’s better than nothing.

I think that’s been the general philosophy of bike/pedestrian advocates for years and it really hasn’t paid off.

We know these unprotected narrow lanes don’t feel safe and they don’t attract new riders. I’d trade 75% of the bike “network” in the city if it meant real greenways and evidence-based bike infrastructure on arterials. We also spend social capital on stuff like this. These are projects most people look at and they don’t see how cheap it was. It just furthers the belief that the city is catering to cyclist above everyone else and cyclist still don’t use the infrastructure.

drs
Guest
drs

I’ll use it. I already bike anywhere, regardless of whether there is a bike lane. But I personally grew up using door zone bike lanes and I feel very comfortable using them. I’d rather have a door zone bike lane, even knowing the safety concerns, rather than having no dedicated space for bikes at all. Point taken in investing in a few big protected bike lanes rather than lots of small substandard facilities. But I’ll take bike infrastructure wherever I can get it.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

As a bike advocate, I find it easier upgrading bike infrastructure that is shitty after it’s been built than to get good stuff from the get go. If you wait for it, the high-quality bike infrastructure pretty much never arrives.

DW
Guest
DW

Any improvement and getting people out on bikes while feeling safer and calming traffic is good. I still struggle with the look of the plastic popsicle sticks instead of other solves. Speaking of North Portland I still wonder why Wilammete Blvd still has no bike lane leading into and from St. Johns from N. Ida. seems easy enough to add. All of the houses on that stretch have driveways with plenty of room.
Just give me some paint or better yet rumble the phone out of the hand with some rumble strips.

drs
Guest
drs

There was an article on this blog a week ago about plans to upgrade bike lanes on Willamette, including the section to the northwest of Ida. Alas, it won’t go in for six years. But someday…

DW
Guest
DW

Thanks for the update DRS. 6 years out? Seems pretty straightforward for a bike lane project. Unless they plan on some elevated bike lane design by the water tower (which could come later). This is an area that has led bicyclists into a hazardous situation for years with no other options. Yet they piecemeal lanes on Lombard (Lanes to nowhere). I used to commute through this area of Willamette daily for 5+ years and always was hyper-aware. Cathedral Coffee Kids, Doors, and late commuters. Not relaxing.

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

The N Willamette Active transportation corridor is hopefully going to be a lot more than a bike lane project. This route is heavily used by pedestrians and runners/bladers/scooters etc.. because of it’s awesome views and relatively long course without stop lights. Motorist never stop for pedestrians outside of the improved crosswalk at U of Portland.

If they actually protect the bike lanes here, that would be a game changer. Folks regularly drive in the bike lanes here as a matter of fact to pass turning cars.

Dirk McGee
Guest
Dirk McGee

Not crazy about the double conflict because of that slip lane… I would just take the slip lane myself and not do the 90 degree turn that autos should’ve been designed to do