When it comes to bike network quality, gaps are a killer. All it takes is one bad intersection and every investment we’ve made on either side of the gap won’t reach its potential.
This is the situation in the Rivergate Industrial District on the peninsula north of downtown St. Johns. The unsafe intersections are on either side of the railroad overpass on North Lombard between N Burgard and Rivergate Blvd. These are major industrial areas with wide intersections where intimidating freight trucks are driven at speeds 45 mph and above. There are bike lanes, but they don’t meet current city standards and are usually strewn with gravel, glass and other driving-related detritus.
One each side of these intersection are areas of relative peace. To the north is where the popular multi-use path to many jobs, and major recreation sites (Kelley Point Park and Smith & Bybee Lakes) starts and where the Portland Bureau of Transportation recently finished a multi-million dollar bridge project with a new, grade-separated bikeway on North Rivergate Blvd. And to the south is where PBOT installed a protected bikeway in 2018 that connects to Willamette Blvd.
When the Parks Bureau completes the carfree bridge over Columbia to connect Chimney Park to the 40-Mile Loop path, it will become even more important to protect the growing number of bicycle users at these intersections.
Thankfully, PBOT has set their sights on this gap and plans to make changes by summer.
In order to create safer space for cycling on both ends of this overpass, PBOT plans to reconfigure lanes, add a buffer to the northbound bike lane, and route southbound bicycle riders onto an existing sidewalk. A presentation by City Bicycle Coordinator Roger Geller at the Portland Freight Advisory Committee meeting on April 7th outlined the problem and proposed solution.
PBOT’s plan would actually reduce the overall cycling space, but it would also reduce conflict points, Geller says. At the freight committee meeting he detailed 10 conflict points for bicycle riders spread between the two intersections.
The overpass currently has five-and-a-half foot bike lanes on each side of Lombard. PBOT wants to create a wider bike lane on the north side that would be nine feet wide (six feet for cycling and a three foot buffer). The biking space would get even wider at the Columbia/Burgard/Lombard “t” intersection when riders leave the existing sidewalk and come back to the street level. A new bicycle traffic signal would then get riders across the intersection and onto the existing protected bike lane on Burgard (which turns into Lombard to the north and south). The additional width for the bike-only lane at this intersection would result in one less general purpose lane.
Knowing that the freight committee is often resistant to lane width reductions and trucking capacity, PBOT conducted a traffic study in March 2020 to understand potential impacts of this project. The conclusion of Portland City Traffic Engineer Andrew Sullivan was that, “…this intersection currently operates so far under capacity that the loss of the traffic lanes … is inconsequential to traffic throughput.”
Truck drivers won’t have as many lanes to use, but the plan widens the southbound lane from 12 to 14 feet.
Since bicycle riders wouldn’t have to cross Lombard as many times, PBOT figures even with an overall reduction in bike lane width, the project will reduce 10 major conflict points to just three minor ones (where driveways to industrial businesses cross the bikeway).
At the urging of freight committee members, PBOT plans to test the new lane configuration on a trial basis over the next two months and, barring any issues, will install the new design this summer. One aspect of the project we aren’t yet clear on is whether the bike lane buffer zone will come with any protective materials such as curbs or bollards.