“Do we prioritize protection or do we prioritize passing?”. That’s the choice a Portland Bureau of Transportation staffer offered to members of the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee at their monthly meeting Tuesday night. And it’s a choice several BAC members flatly rejected.
As part of their Rose Lane Project, PBOT wants to improve the speed of bus service across the eastbound Hawthorne Bridge viaduct. To do that, they intend to create a new bus lane. At last night’s meeting, PBOT staff sought feedback on design changes that would impact one section of the viaduct in particular: Between the existing bus stop (just east of the bridge itself) and the Southeast McLoughlin off-ramp.
This section Hawthorne (above) is currently about 40-feet wide. It has two 12-foot general purpose lanes and a 16-foot bikeway. The bikeway consists of two six-foot bike lanes (one is for passing) and a four-foot wide buffer zone with plastic wands to separate the bike lanes from the general purpose lanes.
To get the space for a new bus lane, PBOT wants to narrow the existing bikeway and two general purpose lanes.
“We’re choosing between which less bad option we want… while keeping everything open to SOVs [single-occupancy vehicles]. Making any improvements to bus travel at the expense of bikes seems a bit wrong.”
— David Stein, BAC chair
PBOT staff said the two main options on the table would reduce the biking space by half — to eight feet. The two designs being considered would either be one, six-foot bike lane and a two-foot buffer zone with plastic wands (similar to the Burnside Bridge), or an eight-foot wide unprotected bike lane adjacent to the bus lane (similar to a treatment PBOT just installed on Southeast Madison between 6th and 7th). A hybrid option that would use use plastic wands with greater spacing between them to allow passing is also being considered.
Asked to choose between protection or a passing zone, most BAC members pushed back.
BAC Chair David Stein asked the PBOT staffer to maintain bike bikeway width and instead consider removing one of the general travel lanes. “I’m thinking about what we’re prioritizing here,” Stein said.
BAC member (and The Street Trust Executive Director) Sarah Iannarone concurred. “I feel like we’re making false tradeoffs in terms of passing and protected here… the language in the framing isn’t serving us well,” she said. “We want safety and space for active transportation, and the way we do that is actually by reducing SOV [single-occupancy vehicle] right-of-way and I think that’s backed up by so many city plans and policies.”
“The question is, if we can’t make that commitment in this place, we’re not going to make it anywhere in Portland,” Iannarone continued. “I don’t mean to get aggro about it, but like, literally, this is one of the bikey-est spots in our entire region. If we can’t do it here, I’m practically ready to give up.”
BAC member Iain MacKenzie said he thinks passing space is crucial for bicycle riders — especially given how this section is a long stretch without any cross-streets and with many people are using e-bikes these days (a common sentiment at the meeting).
MacKenzie added that plastic wands are not effective. “The plastic wands provide so little protection that’s almost the worst of both worlds… I go over the Burnside Bridge a lot and the plastic wands are just really bad and they make it impossible to pass somebody. Also they don’t provide you with any real feeling of security.”
BAC member Catie Gould said she’d prefer more space for bicycling — even if it was shared with bus drivers. As for the question of protection or passing? “It’s difficult to answer because we’re kind of asking what flavor of worse would we like for the bike facility compared to now.” Gould said.
Gould also suggested to the PBOT staffer that the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report is a good reason to consider removing one of the general purpose lanes instead. “It’s reasonable to take away an auto lane on the bridge. We have this fresh IPCC report out. I don’t think we need to talk about how to shave away space from the bike lane when we still have multiple travel lanes on the bridge. So I’d like to propose that as an option.”
BAC Chair David Stein called PBOT’s proposal a “Faustian bargain”. “We’re choosing between which less bad option we want… while keeping everything open to SOVs. Making any improvements to bus travel at the expense of bikes seems a bit wrong.”
The PBOT staffers said they would take this feedback back to the project team.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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