Closer Look: Protected intersection and bike lane on W 19th at Burnside

The City of Portland’s West Burnside Multimodal Project wrapped up in 2018 and I’m afraid to say after a few initial stories in 2016 we never followed up on it. So let’s remedy that, shall we?

One of the more interesting elements of the project is the protected intersection on 19th. It’s a one-way street southbound that connects folks from the Pearl District and northwest neighborhoods into the Providence Park (where the Timbers and Thorns play), Goose Hollow, and downtown area. As the Portland Bureau of Transportation has made it a better bikeway over the years, the crossing of Burnside — a busy, four-lane arterial — has become a glaring gap in their vision for a safer network.

Adding to the issues at this location is a major break in the grid with SW Alder breaking off from Burnside west of 19th at a diagonal, and with 18th curving across the arterial. There’s also a major bus line and lots of foot traffic and business driveways to deal with. Suffice it to say there’s a lot going on here.

PBOT’s method of creating some sanity at this intersection included protected bike lanes, medians, and a bunch of striping changes.

On 19th, they installed two large concrete median islands on both corners on the western end of the intersection. The idea is that bicycle users and walkers now have more protected space and shorter crossing distances at these corners where there is a high-volume of right-turning drivers and a relatively wide cross-section. They’ve also added green coloring and “cross-bike” treatments to further highlight the bikeway.

I found it to work reasonably well when I was out there a few days ago. The transition from southbound on 19th to eastbound on Alder (and the brand new bus/bike lane) wasn’t as smooth as it could have been however. There was a bit of confusion in which signal to use and with people coming off Burnside at a high rate of speed, there’s a chance for mix-ups. Overall, I like having curbs, medians, and colored bike lanes because I think it scares drivers a bit and forces them to slow down and take notice of other road users.

As I researched this post I saw that the initially preferred design (above left) from PBOT included a large grassy median space (circled) on SW Alder just east of 19th. Unfortunately that didn’t make it to the final design. I asked PBOT why. They said because SW Alder has limited right-of-way,

“The project team determined that that space was more valuable to the north given the projects goals of increasing safety and access across and along W Burnside, a High Crash Corridor. The final design enlarged and extended west the floating island between W Burnside and Alder, allowing for accessible pedestrian access to the transit stop from the west side while also permitting pedestrians to walk continuously along the south side of W Burnside without detours (which they were unable to do prior to the project).”

When I posted a video of the intersection on Instagram and Twitter, I heard from several folks who don’t think this works well. Here’s a sample of the feedback:

“I used to bike it often and really think it improved driver behavior here. Given it was retrofit the issue I’ve seen is because it’s a standard width lane many drivers think it’s a right turn lane.”

Love it :), I just wish there was signal separation, or at least a leading bike/ped interval. Ideally it would come from curbside lanes on 18/19th so there wouldn’t be an awkward shift right at the intersection.

“This is such an awful intersection, getting right hooked all the time, to me a classic example of good intentions and bad design.”

“Since it’s installation I’ve seen more people nearly get hit by right turning on to burnside cars. The angle the car now has to turn leaves the cyclist bombing down a hill to be in the vast majority of vehicles blind spot.”

“I use it all the time. It’s great!”

“Personally, I experience some confusion there as a cyclist and delivery driver. I’ve witnessed motorists using the wrong lanes for heading south, or turning onto Alder. McDonalds feeds its post-drive-thru traffic right into it as well. As stated above, it’s green and a bike lane so I’ll take it over nothing, but regardless of my transportation mode I approach it with some trepidation.”

What do you think? Do you ride this? If so, what do you think about it?

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bArbaroo
bArbaroo
27 days ago

I like this intersection until there’s a motor vehicle turning right here. Both auto lane and bike lane get green lights at the same time so motorists aren’t really looking so far to the right to see who’s crossing Burnside, they just see a green light and turn right.

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
27 days ago

I used to live right near there and only recently returned there on a bike on my way back from my eye-doctor on 19th & Northrup.

I was not terribly impressed, dropping down to Burnside (SB) I felt like a right hook was imminent and braked hard to stay behind the car approaching Burnside with it’s blinker on. They actually stopped and held there for me to go by, but I didn’t feel visible over there.

Matti
Matti
27 days ago

From personal experience, I agree that the signals intended for bike riders heading east bound on Alder is extremely confusing. And right hooks from seem likely. I’d suggest a bike only phase of signals, with bike specific signals.

maxD
maxD
27 days ago

I rode through this on Friday for the time- it not a pleasant experience. THe radii ar way too tight for bikes, you lose all you momentum from the downhill and you enter Burnside too slow. You have to do so much navigating of the twisting bike lane that is difficult to check for cars overtaking and turning right (into you!). Letting bike move straight through would allow them to travel at the speed of cars and be more visible cars- it would be easier for cars and bikes to track each other. THis is yet another example of PBOT creating a bunch of wonky design to slow down bikes so that people driving can just move more quickly and easily. I think the bike lane should have gone straight across, adjacent to a straight-only car lane, and a right only lane could replace the current bike lane. I also think the slip lane on to Alder should be closed to all modes and the Fireman’s Memorial Plaza extended all the way to Burnside. You could make a case for allowing buses and bikes, but it would ruin the plaza. At the least, cars should be excluded- it is treated like a freeway on-ramp.

jo
jo
25 days ago
Reply to  maxD

it’s another example of how a bike route has been designed to treat a bike like a pedestrian instead of the vehicle that it is.

resdar
resdar
27 days ago

I take the lane because it’s less confusing for drivers and safer for me. It’s downhill and trivial to match the speed of traffic, and completely avoids that screwy left turn on the other side, so it’s not just easier but faster too. The bike lane’s completely off of right-turning drivers radar even more than usual. The curve makes it look like cyclists are turning right so it’s okay for drivers to turn as well. The curb hooking out into the bike lane is going to sweep someone’s tires out from under them. Chicanes belong on Sandy, not bicycle infrastructure at the bottom of a hill in the middle of an arterial intersection.

See also the clear evidence of tire scrub on that part of the curb here:

comment image

It’s almost certain that’s from car tires. It would take a *lot* of cyclists (or scooterists) getting tripped to leave that much of a mark, but surely there have been at least a few… The bike lane looks like an undersized right turn lane for cars, it’s shaped just like a right turn onramp to Burnside, and I’ve seen it used as one.

maxD
maxD
27 days ago
Reply to  resdar

resdar, I agree that taking the lane is the safest option here.

FDUP
FDUP
24 days ago
Reply to  maxD

And yet…if you take the lane and get hit you may not win your case or receive any compensation, since Oregon has a mandatory bike lane law (ORS 814.420). My position has always been and continues to be that the cycling public should insist that PBOT refrain from building these types of questionable experimental facilities until the state repeals the mandatory bike lane law.

jayson
jayson
27 days ago
Reply to  resdar

as noted in my other comment, I live up the street from here. You would (or perhaps you wouldn’t) be amazed how many people use the bike lane as the right turn lane. They just repeated the lanes along Northwest 18th and 19th which may help, but the reason they have to repaint the lanes is because so many cars drive on them.

jayson
jayson
26 days ago
Reply to  jayson

“repeated” should be “repainted”

bArbaroo
bArbaroo
26 days ago
Reply to  resdar

The last time I went through this intersection, a car was heading toward the bike lane to make a right turn, then realized in time it was a bike lane and stayed to the left of it…so, it surely seems possible that other motorists are making this mistake

Toadslick
27 days ago

As is so frustratingly often in this city, the problem isn’t the traffic pattern itself. The problem is that every intersection with a bike crossing feels unique when what they desperately need is to be predictable. Drivers have been conditioned into going first and thinking second, and that is wholly incompatible with Portland’s piecemeal, one-off infrastructure projects.

Like NE Prescott and 37th, this intersection feels less like it was designed for the safety of people on bikes, and more like it was designed to get bikes out of the way so that drivers can continue unimpeded and without inconvenience. Screw that; I feel safer in the left-turn lane.

ivan
ivan
27 days ago

I think I’m with PBOT on the ability for pedestrians to walk continuously across Burnside compared to the original plan. It is damn annoying to be walking and see one of those “crosswalk closed” signs.

But so much more could have been done:

  1. Alder could have simply been closed between 18th and 19th, as maxD suggests. It’s not a major street, there are plenty of alternative routes even allowing for the one-ways, and making it ped/bike (or even ped/bike/bus) frees up the “limited right-of-way” PBOT mentioned.
  2. Right turns from 19th onto Burnside should have either been prohibited, or there should have been a mixing-zone cross to put bikes to the left of right-turning cars. I know some people really dislike the mixing zones, but in this case I do think it would be safer. Instead they actually designed the concrete barrier to curve into the bike lane! When someone dies here, I hope Hannah Schafer gets called up to comment.
  3. The green cross-bikes, while legally meaningless, do signify something to drivers (especially drivers intending to drive safely). They should have been put in across 19th, as the original design included, and 18th to make it clear the route of many bikes.
  4. Leading ped/bike-only crossing lights at every part of these intersections.
  5. Protected lanes on Alder, and on 18th, and bollards that accommodate cargo bikes but make the possibility of cars driving right into these lanes impossible.
  6. “Hardening the lines” in the approaches to the intersections so that cars changing lanes — as in the very first “after” photo in this article — becomes impossible or at least very uncomfortable.
jayson
jayson
27 days ago

On Friday (9/2) at about 3 PM, a cyclist on a Biketown bike heading east on NW Flanders was struck by an SUV driver heading north on 18th, just north of the intersection referenced in this article.

i live (until today ironically because I’m moving out) on the corner of 18th and Flanders and heard the crash. I saw a horrific scene on the street and called 911. Others quickly assembled to render aid and I was on hold Forever. In fact police fire and medical all arrived before anyone answered my call I assumed others got through. I do not know the condition of the cyclist but what I observed looked and sounded life-threatening.

11 years of living on the first floor corner apartment above this intersection makes me believe that it really needs a stop sign on 18th at Flanders heading north.

Two hours later there is no sign of any problem which makes me wonder how often this happens that I don’t see or hear.

my prayers, such as they are, to the victim and their loved ones.

Esthar
24 days ago
Reply to  jayson

Hey, I’m the person that got hit. I was looking for information on if anyone saw what happened.

Someone asked if I’d rolled through into oncoming traffic and I absolutely didn’t.
I stopped a little earlier than I normally do but seeing around that corner wasn’t too hard.

There was about three whole seconds before I was hit where I attempted to brake after seeing them, and my BIKETOWN unit’s brakes had failed, I was going around 6 MPH (roughly) so there’s no reason that they should have not stopped my unit from proceeding into that car that I saw as I approached the full intersection view.

I head that they tried to slow down and don’t blame them for this accident. This is entirely because my brakes failed. The speed limit there was 20 and I believe they also had ample time to stop, but I’m fairly certain given my road rash that they were going a lot faster than 20…

I’m in good health, but I’m pretty banged up. I miraculously broke no bones, and am essentially walking away with scrapes and bruises. Thanks for bringing this to other’s attention.

I’m going to be emailing BIKETOWN today about their brake failure.

jayson
jayson
23 days ago
Reply to  Esthar

i am grateful you were not seriously injured! thank you for letting us know.

there is a biketown rack directly below my (former) 1st bedroom window. a driver in a van comes by frequently to replace batteries and move bikes around.

with all of the touches on these bikes, a regular test pull on the brakes and repair or removal of the bike for life safety seems reasonable.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
27 days ago

The compromise at Alder is preferable IMO. People walking should always be given priority over other modes. But Burnside is still too damn wide. I’m disappointed in PBOT’s choices on SE Hawthorne, but a similar road diet of one lane in each direction plus a center turning lane would be safer than the existing design here. We could even have protected bike lanes if the Fire Bureau would switch to smaller fire engines.

FDUP
FDUP
26 days ago

Too complicated for everyone. Avoid this intersection at all costs no matter what mode of transportation you choose.