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

(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
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