Let’s take a ride on the Southeast Foster Road bike lanes

Posted by on August 18th, 2021 at 8:54 am

Can you believe it’s already been two years since the bike lanes were installed on Southeast Foster Road? A seven-year journey from concept to completion that was marked of controversy and compromise ended with more space dedicated to cycling and less space dedicated to driving on this very important east-west commercial corridor.

This past weekend I found myself in east Portland (doing reconnaissance on 122nd Avenue for an upcoming story and video) and decided to come back toward the city via SE Foster. It gave me a chance to ride the new bike lanes from where they start in Lents all the way to where they connect to the 50s Bikeway at 52nd.

Overall I found them to be good and better than nothing; but far from great. Portland missed a massive opportunity to build excellent, all-ages, physically protected bike lanes on a dense commercial corridor surrounded by lots of bike-loving neighborhoods. Instead we painted standard, old-school, unprotected bike lanes. Remember the idea for a bike lane in the center median? Or how about the grassroots effort for protected bike lanes (made by a former volunteer activist (Nick Falbo) who’s now a bike planner at the Portland Bureau of Transportation)?

As nice as it is to have bike lanes on Foster, the current design will never entice young children or older folks to hop on a bike and leisurely pedal on the street to find a place to eat or to do some window shopping.

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While we didn’t get the robust, low-stress bikeway we (still) need, PBOT was successful at taming the “Foster Freeway”. Thanks to a reduction in general purpose lanes (from four to two, plus a center turn lane), more median islands at selected crossings, a lower speed limit (from 35 to 25 mph), enhanced crossings and other changes, the vibe on Foster is a bit more chill than it used to be. A recent influx of on-street outdoor patio dining sheds also helps calm traffic.

Another thing I noticed is how I was able to move through the section between 92nd and 52nd without hitting many red signals. I was on an ebike going a steady 18-20 mph or so, and I assume PBOT did some signal timing work to reward slower traffic with something like a “green wave”.

Yesterday I asked some of our readers on social media what their experience has been and I got mixed reviews. Several folks said they’re very grateful to have these bike lanes and it has opened up Foster as feasible route for them. But others said it’s still too stressful and I even heard a few folks say they’ve seen, heard about, or been involved in a collision with a car driver while using them.

I’m curious: Do you ever ride the Foster Road bike lanes? If not, why not? If so, how do they work for you? Any trouble spot PBOT should be aware of?

If you want to learn more about the Foster Streetscape Plan and how this project evolved between 2012 and 2019, peruse dozens of articles about it in the BP archives.

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

The first year, I often that forgot they were there. Now I use them when I can. They’re fine, and relatively uncluttered with distractions and high maintenance items like signs, paint, and wands. It also seems like the street is as good or even better as place to be. Not even the furniture store can argue with that, I’ll bet.

On protection, I was out in Beaverton/Aloha yesterday and noticed several protected bikeways. Many of the wands were damaged or missing. If you’re not using them as a guide for where to put more robust protection then they might as well be paint. At least then you’re not wasting money on plastic garbage.

Andrew Kreps
Guest
Andrew Kreps

Yeah, I consider those wands “buffered” rather than “protected”. There are a couple of wand-ed bikeways south of Foster in Woodstock and they regularly get taken out at high-traffic intersections by, presumably, errant drivers.

mh
Subscriber

I don’t much like it, but I’ll ride it if I’m going somewhere served by it. It’s much like the bit of my daily commute on Lloyd Blvd. The accommodations aren’t good and there are too many impatient drivers, but it’s the obvious route to and from my office. The alternatives are longer and no more comfortable. I put Foster in the same category.

Betsy Reese
Guest
Betsy Reese

I second most of this.

Every time I ride SE Foster I remind myself never to ride it again.

Maybe it’s age-related perception of danger and experience of stress around the aggressive body-language of the motor vehicles. When I was younger I traveled arterials, either in the bike lane, or as a vehicular cyclist in the travel lane because we didn’t have much bike infrastructure then. I took riding among aggressive drivers more in stride then. Being closer to a polar extreme on the 8 – 80 continuum might make this type of infrastructure less comfortable for me, even though I am not new to bicycling.

Several people have mentioned even ‘less comfortable alternatives’, some specifically naming the Springwater. When I ride from inner SE to my dentist on 122nd and Foster, I try to leave home with enough time to take the Springwater instead of SE Foster. I am alot less squeamish about the homeless campers than I am about the drivers on SE Foster.

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

At SE 52nd there is a bike/bus only right hand lane for turning right onto NB 52nd, and the adjacent traffic lane is painted with a straight ahead/ turn right arrow, meaning it is intended for vehicles to make a right turn across t(e bike lane. But I’ve seen many people who haven’t figured that out and shift over into the bike lane to make the right turn, which could potentially be a disaster.

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

This is every morning heading WB on Foster when approaching the NB on-ramp for I-205. The actual turn lane can only fit around 4-5 cars (or less if there are trucks waiting to turn), so people will partially move over and straddle the bike lane for a few hundred feet waiting to turn. I really don’t understand the reasoning; they completely block the bike lane but still can’t move over enough to allow other cars to use that lane, so why not just wait in the lane!?

Toadslick
Subscriber

I regularly use those bike lanes to travel to bars and restaurants on Foster. It’s one of my favorite streets for going out, but farther than convenient walking distance, so I’m always on my bike when I’m there.

Although the bike lanes themselves are totally meh, they’re a huge improvement over having no bike lanes on that street.

The biggest improvement, by far, is when crossing the street on foot. When there were four car lanes of traffic, crossing at the blinking crosswalks was frequently harrowing, as there’d be cars that couldn’t see you who would blow right past through the crosswalk. That’s much less of an issue now.

Andrew Kreps
Guest
Andrew Kreps

Listen, to start, Foster is far better than it was back when I made it part of my daily commute. Pre-Tilikum I would use foster and cross Powell twice daily at the unlit crosswalk on 54th. Don’t get me started on that one, it’s pretty dangerous.

Anyway. I do like the treatment overall. I feel much better riding my bike on our only diagonal thoroughfare. That said, the parking being on the outside of the bike lane is a perennial issue. It’s twofold- first, you regularly have car pilots veering into the bike lane to either investigate parking, attempt to turn right (only to find the designers have blocked that move), or outright blocking the bike lane attempting to pull into traffic.

I do hope the next time they do this, with Foster’s lack of mid-block driveways, put the bike lane closest to the sidewalk. This mode doesn’t work downtown (I’m looking at you 2nd ave bike lane) because large vehicles block sightlines on both sides of the equation, and there’s are many, many mid-block driveways into surface lots. With the combo of long blocks and removed parking at the ends of the block (give me at least 50′ please) then it’s much more likely both pilots will be able to visualize each other allowing either/both to mitigate the conflict.

It’s much, much better than it was. And it’s a lot more comfortable to sit on the sidewalk and patronize the foster-powell businesses to boot.

Andrew Kreps
Guest
Andrew Kreps

I don’t know what software you used to make that timelapse but it’s incredibly good. You got the pacing just right and it’s stable enough I can tell when you veered left to avoid obstacles.

Charley
Guest
Charley

Both the new lanes and the new on-street dining are a big improvement to the street. The street now feels like part of the neighborhood, instead of a sword cutting through the middle of it. The increased number of pedestrian crossings help, as does the overall slowing of auto traffic (and maybe less volume of traffic? I can’t really judge but that is my subjective observation).

I know this kind of road design (which represents a vast improvement over previous designs, but is technically sub-optimal, relative to higher-cost treatments like a cycle-track) isn’t as exciting, but I continue to feel that incremental improvements make the city safer, more attractive, and more livable.

If the option is no improvement or bike lane, I’ll happily take the bike lane.

(I don’t know if it’s possible to make a truly objective study of whether or not this kind of incremental design improvement “paves the way” for better designs later, or merely displaces or forestalls better designs. Does it move the Overton window or does it suck up space and resources for 8-80 type infrastructure? I’d guess it paves the way, but I don’t really know. It might be unknowable. That ignorance allows for a constant, regrettable, deleterious friction between natural allies on the left and center-left).

Betsy Reese
Guest
Betsy Reese

Comment of the week.

“a vast improvement over previous designs, but is technically sub-optimal”

“I don’t know if it’s possible to make a truly objective study of whether or not this kind of incremental design improvement “paves the way” for better designs later, or merely displaces or forestalls better designs. Does it move the Overton window or does it suck up space and resources for 8-80 type infrastructure? I’d guess it paves the way, but I don’t really know. It might be unknowable.”

    That ignorance allows for a constant, regrettable, deleterious friction between natural allies on the left and center-left
JS
Guest
JS

We live in Lents off of 102nd and Foster. Coming from Phoenix a couple of years ago I have no reference to what it was like before. Foster has some issues but it beats the Springwater (which is one of the reasons we bought in this location a couple of years ago).

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

I used to take Burnside to southbound I-205 path, but the latter has become too dangerous, so I now take Foster. It’s far from ideal, but it’s great to have the option, since our city has decided that multi-use paths are no longer transportation corridors.

n-1
Guest
n-1

I rode SE foster from SE 52nd to SE 92nd and back for a few months when if first opened. I ride southeast in the mornings around 6 and back home anywhere from 5-8pm. It cut my commute by about 1.5 miles and about 15 minutes. At first, I enjoyed the speed and ease. Then, things started to wear on me. Cars started driving faster, traffic started to build, more debris in the road (I got four flats in one winter). So, I gave it up after three seasons (just like I did the Springwater corridor just prior). Now I mainly ride the greenways, it’s quieter, less traffic, better air, occasional rude driver (just as much as rude people on bikes or otherwise), and more trees. I’ve been riding to Clackamas for a good 10 years now, I’m not sure why it took me so long to use the greenways. It added maybe 5 more minutes to my ride, but I don’t carry bear mace anymore. There are a number of free pantries and fridges along my route that I collect donations for at work. I feel more connected to the community now.

igor
Guest
igor

I use this route all the time. It’s an improvement, but things could certainly be better.

One of the problems that PBOT has partially addressed is that the new bike lane is an attractive right turn lane at some intersections. They installed wands to stop that behavior going east at 52nd and 72nd, and west at 67th, but there need to be more of those. Particularly bad is the stretch eastbound just before Harold. The bike lane has a large buffer, and traffic gets backed up at the 82nd light. I’ve seen multiple drivers pull into the bike lane before Harold to get to the right hand turn at 82nd.

As others have pointed out, the condition of surface is somewhere between fair and poor in the curb lane. That doesn’t make the experience more enticing. There’s also an ongoing problem with debris across from Mt. Scott Fuel, as trucks and trailers pull out going west, and drop a bit of their newly acquired load in the bike lane.

Betsy Reese
Guest
Betsy Reese

I second the Mt. Scott fuel debris problem. Could they be approached for a good-neighbor agreement about the constant gravel in the bike lane? What could be done? Sweep it up daily? Have all trucks leaving their lot do a little shimmy and shake it all out in the lot before traversing the bike lane? Surely there is a simple solution to this problem.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

I think it’s only a matter of time before they move further out of the city. I use Mt. Scott Fuel once or twice per year, and it is really nice having an option that is so close. However, it just isn’t a good use of this land. I’m sure the owners will realize this at some point and sell to a developer.

Betsy Reese
Guest
Betsy Reese

It would be interesting to interview or include comments from the advocates, like Steve Bozzone, who worked so intensely and tirelessly to get this funded. Are they happy with it? How much of their wish-list did they end up getting? What do they still hope for in the future for SE Foster?

This would be good for two more reasons:

1. Give credit to and thank the individuals who worked so hard and long to make this happen.
2. Share examples of volunteer advocacy efforts that are successful, and tips on how to do successful advocacy.

Bicycling Al
Guest
Bicycling Al

Foster was an absolute horror show before. I NEVER biked it and disliked driving it because people would speed, change lanes suddenly, weave around turning cars and such. The speed and weaving were so bad that I started avoiding it on the motorcycle as well.

It improved A LOT. It’s not an area I bike often so I’ve only biked it a couple of times since the remake. One of the problems I noticed is one that also plagues say 181st, people pull out of the business parking lot exits abruptly and stop in the bike lane or don’t stop at all. You really have to watch what’s going on in the periphery.

I applaud the changes. Even walking on the sidewalk is so much nicer now. I don’t have to worry about cars buzzing by. Totally different atmosphere.

David R Burns
Subscriber

I was doing Foster from 84th to 52nd (then up to Clinton and the Tillicum), and back as my commute from the finishing of the streetscape until the pandemic and WFH. I find it … pretty good. It’s not great, it sure isn’t 8-80 infrastructure, but it makes for a fast leg going to work, or just around the neighborhood.

Brian
Guest
Brian

Short on time on my return ride from Boring, I remembered the new lanes on Foster and chose them instead of the less direct route on the Springwater. It’s a huge improvement and I would definitely ride it again, but damn those lanes need some upkeep. Keeping them swept would make a significant difference, IMO.

LS
Guest
LS

I ride the SE 67th to 52nd segment very often to commute to work, and it is a decent bike lane even for a not super confident or fast rider like me. It’s not quiet and leafy like a greenway but I like it for how direct it is and that it allows access to nice businesses along the way. I like the clear sightlines with good visibility of traffic coming from side streets, and I feel like drivers also can see and be cautious around cyclists too. Sometimes pedestrians getting out of their parked cars can be more of an issue than drivers. The only issues I’ve noticed is the occasional debris in the bike lanes, and the relatively short segment where there are driveways into store parking lots that sometimes can cause issues when drivers want to turn into or out of those. But overall, it’s a very useful bike lane!

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

It took me awhile to finally use them, and now I take them every time I go into the office (2x a week currently). I’m on Foster from the Springwater to Holgate. I used to get off the Springwater at 128th, connect to Holgate and take that down to 42nd. I should say, it took me awhile to use Foster *consistently*, because the first couple times I tried I found the condition of the asphalt to not be pleasant on a road bike. But, even though the road surface is better for the majority of Holgate, until you get to 92nd there are no bike lanes but still curb parking in several spots. A few too many bad experiences made me feel Foster’s cracked and broken asphalt was the better trade-off. It’s not as bad on my winter commuter/CX bike with fatter tires, but it’s still not pleasant.

However, the biggest issue I have is that since they didn’t do anything with the surface except paint it, there’s a rut that runs down the inner third (closest to auto lane) of the eastbound lane. That’s typically the area I like to ride when I’m next to parked cars, since it gets me a little more out of the door zone or at least requires a smaller adjustment to get out of the way if a door suddenly swings open (has happened a few times on Foster). That rut makes me feel like I either have to ride on the line next to moving traffic, or closer to parked cars that could open a door at any moment. Definitely not a situation I’d want my kids or even my wife riding in.