Is that a bike lane in the middle of the street? Yes it is

Posted by on September 10th, 2021 at 2:12 pm

(Bike lanes on SE Stark at 41st. Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Portland is home to many different types of bikeways. Too many if you ask me. Innovation is great, but we could use a bit more standardization so that everyone knows what’s going on. But I digress…

One of the situations where the Portland Bureau of Transportation is at its most creative is when a key bikeway crosses a major street at an offset. These offset intersections — where the two streets don’t line up perfectly (see below) — are very tricky because the standard crossing treatments aren’t applicable. They also require bicycle users to leave the relative safety of their designated bike route for a temporary excursion into much more unfriendly waters.

Some offsets are mild, like the one at NE 9th and Webster. Others are more extreme, like the one on the Going Greenway at NE 33rd. You can see other examples on SE Division and SE Powell at 129th.

But there’s nothing like what PBOT has done at the offset intersection of SE Stark and 41st.

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41st is a key north-south greenway that connects southeast neighborhoods to Hollywood thanks to the 42nd Avenue overpass of I-84. At this location, PBOT decided to build the bike lanes in the middle of the street. They’ve added robust buffer striping and some plastic wands for added safety. I’ve been sharing the video above on social media for a few days and the response from riders has been mixed. Overall, it seems like a majority of people think it works well.

Here are a few of the comments:

wlmhsu: I’m a big fan of this design. As a cyclist you only have to worry about traffic from one direction at a time. You get to the middle bike lane and then you only concern yourself with the oncoming traffic. Better than having to worry about traffic both ways.

jacobmbuckmaster: I’m not a fan. I live right in this neighborhood. We always use 42nd instead. Feels much safer to wait for an opening in traffic to turn left then to sit in the middle of the road with fast cars on either side of you.

benji_benji_benji_ok: I ride by very often and I love it. I feel safe and I don’t have any insecurity issues crossing the street. I used to live right there when I first moved to Portland a looong time ago. My favorite neighborhood.

rollinsjenni: I dig it.

lestergalula: It is pretty easy to use but also every time I bike there it is obviously the case that a car has recently run over the wands so I don’t know how much it actually improves cyclist safety vs just giving the appearance of improving safety. I would also say one of my pet peeves with the greenway system is that there are many places where they cross collector streets like that, and if it is a time of day when it is busy, you end up having to wait until someone stops to let you cross. While people in Portland are pretty good about doing that… It would be nice to see stop signs or those before button activated stoplights on more of those intersections.

Have you ridden this? How does it work (or not) for you?

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

IMO, this whole setup is over-kill. It’s been there for years now only without the second paint line or the hazardous wands, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone use it.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

I’ve used it a few times, but then I realized that it is built to route cyclists onto the wrong street. If you’re heading south, it sends you west to 41st, and the you have to go back a block east to 42nd a few blocks south. Why is this not configured to send cyclists onto 42nd, which is the bikeway.

squareman
Subscriber

Because, silly rabbit, direct routes are for cars. /s

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

Oh, magoodness. Rolling on the floor laughing with anger at the truth of this statement. I don’t think your “/s” is warranted here. Even though Dan makes some good points below, this is pithy and sincere truth, IMO…

Dan
Guest
Dan

The bikeway jogs down to 41st for a few blocks just south of Stark. The jog is irritating, but you have one less stop sign if you go to 41st. Also, 42nd doesn’t line up on both sides of Stark, so you have to ride half a block on Stark to continue north on 42nd.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

I think my point is that the bikeway shouldn’t exist on 41st at all. If the only issue is one stop sign, that’s a very easy fix, and it would have cost much less than this wand treatment. You have to jog half a block at Stark, you might as well jog in the correct direction.

Jason
Guest
Jason

Well, it actually goes from 41st north of Stark to 41st south of Stark. It only goes to 42nd when the road ends.

nic.cota
Subscriber

My only 2 guesses:

1) 41st has less 4 way intersections (potential conflicts)

2) sightlines issues. The NB stop sign on 42nd at Stark has some tall hedges at the SW corner to the left, making it really difficult for greenway users to see EB stark traffic.

Other than that, I think using this middle lane treatment isn’t a bad idea. I think it would help to stripe some cross bikes to direct bike users to this middle lane, because it seems easy to miss as its so rare.

Dan
Guest
Dan

Oh yeah, I agree with you. In general, the chunk of 42nd between Hawthorne and Stark has an annoyingly high number of stop signs. If the designated bike route is going to go through there, definitely turn as many stop signs as possible. I was just saying that given the wonky way that bikes are currently routed, the facility in Stark is arguably in the right place.

I used to commute from around the Richmond School to Hollywood, and I eventually settled on going northbound on 52nd because it’s actually smoother from a stop sign / stop light perspective than either 42nd or 47th.

Jason
Guest
Jason

I just rode through there and say the method to the madness. Noatter if you are going north or south, you only have to hook one right and traverse one lane to get to the refuge lane. In light traffic this is unnecessary, but in peak traffic, this is idea design for a refuge Lane.

Jason
Guest
Jason

I live in that area, I use it and I’ve seen it used countless times. The hazard wands are chewed up from cars running over them.

Dan
Guest
Dan

I used to commute through there before the wands and it was scary as hell to ride through there when it was dark and be sitting in the middle of the road with fast traffic on both sides. The wands help a lot, but there should really be median islands on both ends of this facility.

Bill Stites
Subscriber

Agreed.
As with other examples around the city, this is infrastructure that one must decide to use or not – just because it’s there, doesn’t mean it’s safe at all times. One should feel empowered to take the pass less traveled, and avoid this at night.
Reminds me of the classic right hook risk – YOU have control, so don’t put your self in precarious situations where you depend on others to do the right – or risk getting crushed.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

I did periodically use the one on Stark & 41st when I lived in inner Portland (1997-2006), but without the wands. It was innovative back then, but as others have said, it’s a bit outdated and in the wrong place – it really ought by now to be rebuilt as a pedestrian island with a concrete barrier on both sides. It’s like a miniature suburban version of the PA Avenue bike lanes in DC or the downtown two-way bike lanes in Minneapolis, but on a tiny minor collector street.

Peejay
Subscriber
Peejay

I agree with the poster who uses 42nd, but not because of the Stark treatment in particular. Heading south, to follow the marked route and use 41st, you must jog west onto 41st across Stark, and then jog west a couple blocks later when the street turns, so you wind up on 42nd anyway. Just heading onto 42nd at Stark is faster and simpler. PBOT keeps making these weird indirect routes for us, and we keep finding simpler alternatives (see virtually the entire 20’s bike route, as it meanders from 20th to 30th in no particular order across its route). The middle-of-the-street bike lane is PBOT solving a problem of its own creation.

mm
Guest
mm

What do you mean, “no particular order”? They seem to have been very systematic about snaking it around to hit all the steepest hills… 🙁

Mike
Guest
Mike

What’s funny about this location is that it was one of the most cited locations on how to handle an offset intersection at bike boulevards. With all the other treatments now like at Division, this seems somewhat antiquated.

There’s a more beefier version of this in Albuquerque on the Silver Ave Bike Boulevard. It has a median island on each side and concrete curbs on either side. Here’s what it looks like in Streetview: https://www.google.com/maps/@35.0787548,-106.6045907,3a,45y,173.94h,86.01t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s7kvfnh5xPYxlMcAK8U2XRQ!2e0!7i16384!8i8192

Mark H Linehan
Guest
Mark H Linehan

I ride this occasionally, and I like it because it allows me to cross each lane without worrying about traffic from the other direction. The middle turning lanes give me a relatively safe spot to wait for a gap in the opposing traffic.

The 42nd street alternative doesn’t help. It’s still a jog to get across Stark.

bjorn
Guest
bjorn

I agree that the best part about this is that it allows you to cross one lane at a time. I would like to see it be hardened a bit, maybe raised up with ramps to ride up on a bike and planters on the ends so cars can’t drive on it but I find this to be a pretty pleasant way to cross and prefer it to the crossing on going at 33rd with 2 way bikeway on one side of the street because there you have to cross both lanes of traffic at once.

Brian
Guest
Brian

I use this all the time, including with my 11 year old, and it works just fine. It also slows traffic a bit, thankfully, because the speeds on Stark seem to continue to increase.

James
Guest
James

They need this in Queens, New York, where the 55th Avenue Bike Lane goes over to 53rd Avenue, because they … don’t line up perfectly…

Ted Buehler
Guest
Ted Buehler

It was one of PBOT’s early experimental designs, dates from before 2007.
https://goo.gl/maps/xkXHXpeqphPghPzc9

I don’t think it was replicated anywhere else.

It seemed to work fine for me when I first moved here in 2008. But I’m glad to see it is now somewhat protected. There are lots more cars on the road now than there were in 2007, lots more road-angst, less enforcement of traffic laws.

Ted Buehler

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

According to Google Earth, it was there in July 2000 but not there in June 1994. I moved to Portland in 1997 and I remember biking there as part of a PSU planning group ride to check it out, but I can’t clearly remember the year, 1999 maybe? Or was it 1998?

Todd Rundgren
Guest
Todd Rundgren

It works! Is it perfect? No. But it works pretty well and usually I transition in and out quite quickly, no waiting in it. The cars usually seem confused by it though, so in that respect it’s not so great. Though most confused cars just stop and look afraid of this isolated traffic control scenario. Overall though I wish offsets were all managed better some way, whether this or something else.

Paul
Guest
Paul

I haven’t used it (much) but it seems like a really good idea in the abstract. I’d actually like to see it replicated and expanded upon (stronger protections). Crossing one lane/direction of traffic at a time is huge.

bArbaroo
Guest
bArbaroo

The mid-street infrastructure never feels very safe to me, in fact I feel pretty vulnerable there. I’ve used this once then have stuck to using the 42nd Ave alternative. It feels safer and it is easier. Another new facility where I feel vulnerable is waiting to cross Stark at 30th (heading north). Only wands between you and cars turning onto southbound 30th. I feel like a sitting duck sometimes.

Clem Fandango
Guest
Clem Fandango

I’ve used this intersection a few dozen times. I like it. Compare/contrast this to the terrifying scramble of crossing a similar (albeit wider and busier) offset on the same North/South route at Powell and SE 43rd/42nd, which is the worst crossing in town imho. Or even the useless little chicane thingy at 41st and division, where everybody just cuts across diagonally.

Jason
Guest
Jason

The only issue with that particular intersection is, the line of sight for pedestrians is blocked both ways, if you’re crossing north to south. Combination of me sticking my nose out to get a look and cars crowding the absent gutter makes for a face smash waiting to happen. And of course, the obligatory,and unnecessary speeding doesn’t help.

Chopper Mark
Guest
Chopper Mark

Just think if Portland had been designed as an actual grid and not had these stupid jogs in the block this would be unnecessary. Traffic calming is a misnomer, there is nothing calm about a street dead ending and then not knowing whether to go right or left to find it again.

JS
Guest
JS

I ride this route twice daily to work. I always take 42nd option for the reasons already mentioned: shorter, avoids sitting in the middle of the street.

Another option which I sometimes do is dismount and cross at 42nd as a pedestrian, then usually sidewalk riding to 41st.

The new buffered bike lanes on stark between 41/42 seem like a partial admission of initial design failure. However as they are right next to the island, cars often are in the buffer or bike lane (see google earth satellite view shoes a semi truck in the buffer….).

My dream is those plastic wands are installed with covered spikes so if they are run over by a car it is a flat tire. Might get taken more seriously….

Mark Allen Remy
Guest
Mark Allen Remy

I use it often and think it’s fine. Apart from the obvious use (helping cyclists make safer left turns), setups like this one are helpful insofar as they’re big visual reminders to motorists that cyclists use these roads too.

maxD
Guest
maxD

This like a very modest improvement. Although it would feel bold to some, taking the lane and signalling a left turn is relatively safe mid-day in summer. This provides some dedicated space for that and reinforces that that is the intention so that is a benefit. However, when are people on bikes the most vulnerable? In my experience, getting hoe from work in the winter. 6-7 at night in the rain motorized vehicle traffic is heavy and fast. This design seems completely inadequate to providing visibility and protection when and where it most needed.