The 120-year-old bronze elk statue that once stood tall in the middle of Southwest Main Street between Lownsdale and Chapman Squares in downtown Portland will make its return late this year or early 2023 – and with it, a new bike lane that fills a gap in the downtown bike network.
The elk statue, officially called the Thompson Elk Fountain, was removed in July 2020 after sustaining damage during the downtown protests that summer, but it’s been in safekeeping by the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC). It will return with some changes: namely, a smaller base that no longer operates as a fountain.
This will free up room to add a new bike lane to Main St that will connect people biking from the Hawthorne Bridge to SW 4th Ave. The new bike lane will create a safer connection to the protected bike lane that’s coming soon on SW 4th. PBOT plans to break ground on their $3.4 million SW 4th Avenue Improvement Project this summer.
Currently, there is a bike lane on Main St between 1st and 3rd Aves, but it turns into nothing more than a sharrow west of 3rd. There are no finalized plan drawings or sketches yet, as the official plan for the bike lane has only recently been decided.
PBOT says Main St will also see bus lane improvements through this project, as the smaller elk statue base will allow more room for TriMet buses to pass.
“It’s fitting that the elk – an important piece of Portland’s past – will help improve our transportation system for the future,” said Commissioner JoAnn Hardesty in a PBOT press release. “This project will be a big win for bus commuters, cyclists and, of course, the elk.”
It will take about a year before the antlered creature and accompanying new infrastructure hits the street, owing to red tape that must be sorted out between PBOT, the Bureau of Development Services and RACC.
Update: A reader pointed out a diagram that PBOT made during the initial planning process for the elk statue’s return and the changes to SW Main St showing one idea of what the bike lane might look like. PBOT Interim Communications Director Hannah Schafer said today that there is not yet a finalized sketch that includes all of the most recent updates, but here is the diagram from April 2021 for a potential idea of what this might look like.