Portland’s street grid system is pretty tidy (with some glaring exceptions – I’m looking at you, Laurelhurst and Ladd’s Addition). But someone traveling around the city will notice there are places where streets join at a slight offset, which means you can’t go straight across an intersection to cross to a connecting street. This problem is at its most disruptive when a designated bike corridor is offset across a busy street, which is fairly common in Portland. In these situations, someone biking down the comfort of a greenway is suddenly made to interact with car traffic at a complicated intersection, which is inconvenient and adds kinks to an otherwise smooth and easy trip.
As a cyclist, these offset intersections annoy me. As a bike infrastructure nerd, however, they’re great. Planners take this street pattern hiccup as an opportunity to flex their creative problem-solving skills, and as a result, we have some very strange bike crossing designs. Let’s take a look at a few particularly notable offset intersection crossings.
SE Stark Street and 41st Ave
We looked at this particular intersection last year (and even made a video about it), so you can check that out for a more detailed explanation. But I wanted to discuss this design again because it makes for a good comparison with some of the others on this list. Portland Bureau of Transportation planners chose a very unique design here, which includes buffered bike lanes in the middle of the busy Stark St to protect people biking down the 41st Ave greenway at this wide, offset intersection.
These bike lanes are nicely visible to people driving on Stark – even more when paired with the yield signs on the street – and they make it so people biking only have to focus on car traffic coming from one direction at a time instead of constantly needing to look back and forth while crossing a wide intersection. It’s still a little snag in an otherwise smooth trip on 41st, but I’ve had good experiences crossing at this intersection compared to other places.
SE Stark St and 30th Ave
This intersection is just offset enough that if people biking were asked to use a sharrow in the middle of 30th Ave south of Stark, it would make for an awkward crossing. Instead, a short two-way bike lane on 30th – which is to the left of car traffic south of Stark and to the right north of Stark – makes the transition smooth. This isn’t a feasible design for a more wide intersection, but it works quite nicely here to create a smooth transition in either direction.
E Burnside and 30th Ave
The way PBOT has attempted to deal with this offset intersection is very interesting (and PBOT has used a similar treatment at NE 33rd and Going, 33rd and Mason (in progress), NE 55th/54th and Killingsworth, SE 129th/130th and Division, and several other locations). When crossing Burnside on 30th, people biking are directed toward a raised two-way bikeway that serves to separate bike, pedestrian and car traffic to avoid collisions. In my opinion, the problem with this design is that it’s too tight of a turn to get onto the raised bikeway from the north, and if another person was riding a bike in the opposite direction, I would be scared of running into them. This would be a good place for a similar solution as the one on Stark and 41st, but since Burnside is such a busy street, I think it would be difficult to implement that.
SE Belmont and 42nd Ave
Any attempt to solve the problems an offset intersection presents for people biking is better than nothing at all. This is most evident at the intersection of Belmont and 42nd, in which there is nothing to alleviate the pain of crossing the wide intersection by bike. This stretch of Belmont is busy with pedestrian traffic, and it would be helpful to have separate facilities for people walking and biking. Instead, people biking must choose between crossing at the crosswalk – which includes a tight turn between the hedges on the sidewalk – before getting back onto the street or just crossing their fingers that people driving will see them and stop at the crosswalk.
There is no signage here, and compared to the rest of the crossings on this list, I have had the most negative experiences at this intersection. It’s a shame, too, because the much more pleasant Stark/41st intersection is just a few blocks north of this! I think PBOT could figure out a creative solution here and make it nicer to travel through the Sunnyside neighborhood.
What do you think of these design treatments? Have any ideas for how offset intersections could be better to bike through? Let us know – and stay tuned for a video looking at these streets.