On Monday, City of Portland crews began a project to smooth out a very bumpy section of railroad tracks in the Pearl District. Many bike riders are familiar with the dual rail crossings on NW 9th between Naito and Overton (map). They’re hard to forget because of the jolt you feel when cycling over the large cracks that have formed next to the rails, not to mention the uneven positions of the rails themselves.
All this week, PBOT and the company that owns the railway will work to regrade and repair the crossing, “to make it easier for all users to safely cross.” PBOT Capital Projects Communications Coordinator Hannah Schafer told BikePortland they don’t plan to add any new features to the street during at this time — which is currently a shared lane without a dedicated bikeway. “The surface has really degraded over time and this repair is intended to smooth things out and get everything level again,” Schafer said.
This project was very “surprising and welcome” news for Pearl District neighborhood advocates, one of whom told us they’ve been asking PBOT to fix this crossing for years. Pearl District Neighborhood Association Planning and Transportation Committee Co-Chair Reza Farhoodi said this rail crossing is among the worst in the city for people riding bikes and scooters.
“This project will fix one of the most notoriously deficient rail crossings in the Central City and create a safer and smoother experience for people walking, biking and rolling at this important gateway into the neighborhood,” Farhoodi wrote us in an email this morning. “While we regret the unfortunate circumstances by which this project was implemented, the hope is that there will no longer be any serious injuries at this rail crossing moving forward.”
That “regret” Farhoodi mentions is a very serious injury crash experienced by an electric scooter rider at this location in October 2019. According to the Portland Police Bureau, a 65-year-old man hit these cracks and fell to the ground while riding a rented Spin scooter. When officers arrived, the man was unconscious and was ultimately transported to the hospital in critical condition.
Farhoodi also says there are “exciting” plans on the table for a future bike lane connection across the tracks.
According to a project development memo (PDF) dated September 2020 and sent to a PBOT project manager from engineering consultants, a separate project is in the works that would remove the existing median island to make room for protected bike lanes on this section of 9th between Naito and Overton. Here’s an excerpt from that memo:
The conceptual design relies on the opportunity to reconstruct the median located on the northeast and southwest sides of the railroad in order to free up space for bicycle facilities within the existing curb-to-curb cross section.
As part of the roadway reconstruction, the cross section is proposed to be restriped to include two 11-foot travel lanes (including one-foot shy distance from curbs), two 7.5-foot bike lanes with 3-foot buffers including raised concrete delineators with flex-posts, and a 1-foot center median island. In constrained locations, the buffer may be required to be reduced; however, the 7.5-foot bike lane is proposed to remain throughout the project extents.
…The proposed bicycle facilities are planned to tie into the existing NW Naito Parkway bicycle facilities and future improved bicycle facilities
along NW Overton Street.”
Here are two more sketches of the proposed project:
This $473,000 (estimated) project would also tie into planned buffered bike lanes on 9th south of Overton to connect to the existing bike lanes on the NW Lovejoy ramp up to the Broadway Bridge. Farhoodi says he expects this to be built in 2022 along with the NW Overton Neighborhood Greenway project as part of the NW In Motion plan.
PBOT’s Schafer said while they have a concept designed for this crossing, “At this time we do not have specific plans or a schedule for when it might be implemented.”