“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.
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Seriously? I can’t believe this is the hill Iannarone picked to die on. There’s a high chance that anyone riding a bike on that part of the bridge got there by riding in a 4-foot bike lane next to car traffic. Hell yeah, I’ll take an 8 foot bike lane with a bus lane to my left that will frequently be empty. How is this even a conversation? Let’s talk about the massive, hazardous speed bumps in the bike lane at the lower Hawthorne bus stops instead.
Don’t worry. Once Iannarone realizes that PBOT doesn’t at all care what the BAC thinks, she’ll back down. It will be interesting to see how (or if) the Street Trust responds.
Biking is a spent force in Portland.
“Hell yeah, I’ll take an 8 foot bike lane with a bus lane to my left that will frequently be empty.”
I’d much rather see a discussion of removing the dangerous off-ramp to MLK/McLoughlin. Options could include having drivers turn left on Grand, left on Main (they could even make this block one-way) and then left on MLK; or — less desirable because of right-hooks and impacting a bikeway — having drivers turn right on 6th and right on Clay. Alternatively, a one-block contraflow lane on Grand to Clay.
Or just get rid of it and let drivers figure it out. Who comes from downtown needing to use the Hawthorne bridge to get onto McLoughlin, when the Morrison bridge is right there and slips you right onto MLK SB?
Anyway, that’s the part that needs to be improved on that viaduct, for both walkers and rollers.
It’s not just people coming from downtown. Southbound I-5 traffic is routed there to get to MLK and McLoughlin.
No, SB I-5 is routed onto the Morrison/Belmont viaduct. I-5 is far above Hawthorne by the time it crosses.
This area feels like the most unsafe part of my commute. I feel like the plastic wands block visibility for cars of cyclists in the lane. I wish there was a better solution.
This is why I couldn’t vote for Iannarone for mayor. She has a good heart but terrible ideas and bad political instincts. You can have the best intentions but still manage to hurt your cause.
I would support removing an auto lane, but the removed SOV lane would literally need to span the whole bridge or else the backups at Grand Ave will continue to negatively impact the bus lane. The point is to get buses past the SOV traffic.
Given that it’s Portland, I’m surprised that no one is proposing to ban cars altogether on the Hawthorne. It’s not like there’s bike facilities to trade on the nearby Marquam bridge, so if bikes are banned there, why not ban cars on the Hawthorne?
I agree…totally time for the Hawthorne to be humanized…and tying it to a much more expansive transit uplift project would be perfect timing and open it up to FTA funds etc. Transit needs all the help it can get to woo riders back. And also piggy back on the IPCC report, if not now when? [Those SOV drivers that will be most vocal about it are probably able to work from home for most days anyway due to their status – my guess.]
[The only technical modification I would suggest would be an interim – say 10 years – access in the single transit lane for taxis + registered TMC vehicles; EMS/ Fire/ Police would have full access…which is common in the Netherlands. There would be a ‘bus sluis’ and RFID bollards at the entrance and exit to prescreen motorized users.]
I’m sadly amazed at how determined PBOT is to take the premier, original Awesome Portland bike facility in this ostensibly platinum city and make it narrower, slower, and choppier – worse by any metric. I’m not a huge Sarah fan but she has a point – if we can’t maintain a Grade A facility here, what hope is there for any other substantive improvement?
Thanks to the BAC for their thoughtful pushback to this. I agree that making a space for the bus should come from cars rather than bikes.
Is this PBOT’s idea of restorative justice, first no PBL’s on Hawthorne, now narrowing bike lanes? Give me a break!
Bike infrastructure is restorative justice?
According to PBOT, bike infrastructure is anti-restorative justice. That was one of their reasonings for saying no to PBL’s on Hawthorne. Crazy, I know.
I agree with this 100% and I’m really happy that Iannarone is pushing back instead of rolling over.
I’m not as against this as most folks. I’m not oblivious to the potential of how improving bus flow makes makes that travel mode more attractive, which could down the road lead to less SOVs on the roads, which is a win for all. Kind of a stretch in this tiny microcosm, but still, I see where they are going with it.
The two-lane section only occupies a small part of a one-lane or shared lane bike facility. The idea that this glorified passing zone is somehow an essential bike facility is not credible and has a distinct whiff of “speedracer” elitism. To be blunt, infrastructure that inhibits fast cyclists from close-passing slower cyclists on the bridge deck seems to me like a good way to make the Hawthorne bridge a less stressful environment for the “interested but concerned”. Iain MacKenzie and other fast cyclists are, after all, free (legally and in practice) to pass slower moving cyclists after they exit the bridge deck.
Nevertheless, if removal of a SUV/truck/(car) lane is a genuine possibility I would definitely prefer this option (but agree with JR that this should occur over the entire east-side ramp span).
I find the fact that PBOT and MC are considering another expansion of Rose lanes to be encouraging. If these facilities are to be a success PBOT must focus on connecting these facilities and installing signal priority over SUV/truck/(car) users.
“one of the bikey-est spots in our entire region”
As I recall, census data shows that both the Buckman and HAND neighborhoods have seen a reduction in bike mode share and are no longer among the bikey-est spots in the Portland.
I know Speed Racer, and I would challenge your poor opinion of him when he cycles.
…But when he drives while racing or to the dry cleaners / barber I would agree with you. 😉
Mmmm, eschewing “‘speed racer elitism'” in favor of the always preferable catering to the lowest common denominator. To be blunt, if the bridge deck scares you as an “‘interested but concerned'” party, how did you end up there in the first place? And if you’re headed eastbound, things are going to get much much more interesting and concerning. So, this sounds much more like someone who gets passed all the time loving any infrastructure that keeps that from happening.
We the massive increase we’re seeing in e-bikes (I’m now in Seattle and I would guess maybe 50% of bikes I see out on the road are now ebikes) and more variation in speed between riders, I don’t think having multiple options for speeds is a bad idea.
I guess I’m guilty of “speedracer elitism” because I like to get exercise on a bicycle.
No wonder things are so messed up and going nowhere in this community when this is the conversation.
Haha the only correct way to ride is slowly and to going or coming from work, no one else counts to some folks.
To the best of my memory we’ve never met, let alone been on a bike ride together, so I’m not sure why you assume I’m a particularly fast cyclist. I don’t own a fast bike or any cycling specific clothes. If I’m using BIKETOWN I probably am going faster than most cyclists without e-assist; if I’m using my own non-electric bike I’m probably in the slower half of cyclists.
In either case, sometimes I need to pass people and other times people need to pass people. I for one don’t find the experience of having someone cycling right behind me and wanting to pass particularly pleasant. I don’t think it’s elitist—indeed I think it’s quite the opposite—to suggest that we should have facilities with enough width for side-by-side riding and for people to travel at whatever speed is most comfortable for them.
The only reason to have two SOV lanes on the Hawthorne bridge is to facilitate motor vehicle speed racers. If PBOT is going to continue to cater to them, why not speed racer cyclists?
As someone who is back to commuting on this stretch daily, even in the pre-pandemic times I rarely have seen traffic along that stretch requiring the two lanes – I’m much more likely to have to wait to pass while crossing the actual bridge that has pedestrians, scooters and the like on the shared sidewalk. Not sure what the practical concern is here.
I would gladly take the reduced bike lane in exchange for clear signage that cars are supposed to yield to bikes when going on to McLoughlin. It’s regular that cars speed through that exit assuming bikes and pedestrians are stopping.
This is simple, PBOT. Reclaim space for people walking, rolling, biking and on transit – like your priority pyramid dictates. That means taking a car lane and repurposing it for people. There is zero reason that the Hawthorne viaduct (in either direction) should have two car/general purpose lanes. Protect people instead of supporting the car and oil industries.
Spot on. The message that “we’re going to narrow the bike lane to put in a bus lane so we can preserve two car lanes” is the antithesis of the priority pyramid.
This is a complete non-issue. The bus lane will be a de facto bike passing lane anyways the 95% of the time that it’s not occupied by a bus. No loss here whatsoever for bikes, and a big improvement for transit. If you can’t handle not passing a slower rider for the 5 seconds the bus is going by, then I don’t know what to tell you.
Iannarone and others need to put their attention towards places that actually need it, like the multitude of arterials in East and Southwest Portland that lack any sort of safe bike or walk facilities, rather than destroying their credibility on stuff like this.
Speaking of credibility, the BAC members quoted here supported the conversion of the Madison bike lane into a shared bus lane when removal of one car lane would have made room for a PBL and a Rose lane.
> The bus lane… 95% of the time that it’s not occupied by a bus.
Shouldn’t the plan also entail an improvement in bus service (increase in frequency)?
I hope so, but even a bus every 3 minutes would be just fine for using the bus lane as a bike passing lane; the lane would be unoccupied the vast majority of the time.
Also, it’s TriMet… so they’ll probably find some excuse to make the bus service worse instead, as seems to be their MO lately.
Bus ridership (especially paying customers) is way down, and a decent chunk of the operating budget comes from fare revenue. Many transit agencies are in a death spiral right now, and I’ve been surprised that Trimet has been able to maintain the levels of service we are seeing.
I took MAX this week for the first time since COVID started and I told my roommate what a nightmare it is now. Luckily I only had to ride for a week and not more. If I had I would have given up and driven and paid the outrageous monthly fee for parking downtown rather than ride MAX and I’m a notorious penny-pincher but MAX is completely out of hand.
If TriMet ever hopes to get ridership back they are going to have to step up and enforce the rules. The Mad-MAX (pun intended) atmosphere has to end.
For a bit of history here, the passing lane and wands were added in 2014. Before that, the space was occupied by a larger buffer area.
And more history…we could return to the motorized vehicle volumes of its design year (1900) or opening year (1910) as it “operational limit” .
IMHO we should also equip Hawthorne with a carbon-free (electric) public transport system, while keeping the existing bike space. That could be a streetcar like it originally had (and is actually designed for, see below), or electric buses with overhead wires or batteries.
* 1912 streetcar network
* Hawthorne streetcar photo
> The new deck put in place in the outer lanes during the 1998–99 renovation was designed to be strong enough for possible use by modern, heavier streetcars or light rail trains in the future, which was proposed at that time… [wikipedia]
No matter what they do with it, the Eastbound Hawthorne viaduct is a horrible bike route, I stopped using on my bike a couple of decades ago. You can argue all you want about lane widths, but what they really need to do here is close the exit ramp to MLK southbound.
So wha route do you take when you need to cross the river?
E-bikes aka motorbikes or mopeds don’t belong in bike paths anyway. They belong is the SOV lanes with the other motorized vehicles. I frequently wait patiently pedaling behind slower riders, waiting for an opening to take the SOV lane to pass and I have never owned an e-bike. So, I would say leave the barriers off, the SOV lanes in place, add sharrows and lower the speeds in the SOV lanes.
Good luck with that! PBOT will never do it and motorists won’t recognize the difference between an ebike and a pedal bike. The more bike infra the city lays down the more likely you are to be confronted with an irate motorist if you choose not to use it. Plus there is the legal issue of Oregon requiring mandatory bike infra usage if it is present (ORS814.420). Interestingly, ORS814.420(3)(e) now allows a cyclist to legally leave the bike lane if the cyclist is continuing straight thru an intersection and the bike lane is to the right of a right-turn only lane.
I appreciate the coverage of this topic. I feel inspired to write the city a letter to share my opinion re their plan. I would like to suggest that in the future, perhaps you could provide links to help facilitate readers to make comments to the city – when that is possible. It’s so hard to get people to get involved but if it was a little easier maybe more would do it. Thank you.