This guest opinion is by Paxton Rothwell.
Traffic issues on NE 7th Avenue are once again in the spotlight. As BikePortland reported, the neighborhood meeting held September 14th did more to ignite additional concerns about the safety of the street than it quelled. PBOT has suggested new traffic calming measures in the vicinity of NE 7th and Tillamook to try and make peace with this coalition of neighbors. From the looks of it though, the larger conversation about the safety of NE 7th is back on the table.
I have lived in the King neighborhood for almost four years. During that time, I have become intimately familiar with NE 7th Ave. But, like some of the concerned neighbors I met at the meeting with PBOT this week, I did not live in this area of the city when discussions about the Lloyd to Woodlawn greenway were being held back in 2018.
The political temperature of Portland has changed a lot in the last four years. Those opposing the changes proposed to 7th back in 2018 may have had a change of heart. The only way to know is if PBOT continues the larger conversation about 7th.
In anticipation of that conversation, I want to present 7th Ave as it is today and some design options that would make it a safer street for cycling, walking, and driving.
I frequently use 7th as a biking route, walking route, and even as a driving route. As a cyclist I often fear the uphill (northbound) ride, especially at night, because of poor lighting, many potholes, and close passes from drivers. As a driver on 7th, I feel out of place. The street has the feel of a neighborhood street that I should not be on for too long. But it also has traffic signals at major intersections and a defined center line. The design of NE 7th fails to be either a vehicle through route or a bike-friendly neighborhood street. And yet it remains popular as both.
NE 7th parallels MLK Jr. Blvd (a state highway) for its entire length. Since it is only 400 feet away, MLK ought to be the sole through route for drivers. But the current design of 7th welcomes drivers and offers an alternative to congestion on MLK. Keeping this vehicular redundancy flies in the face of the City’s own goals of reducing vehicle trips and increasing cycling trips by 2030.
The second the Blumenauer Bridge opened 7th Avenue became a de facto north-south bike route from Alberta to Division. There are city projects in the works to improve the 7th greenway from Sandy to the Bridge. There is also a Metro funding decision (pdf) in progress to see if 7th through the Central Eastside will be rebuilt into a complete street. To make this street a true biking thoroughfare, PBOT must discourage drivers from using 7th between Alberta and Broadway.
Here are some ways to do that.
1) One Way Vehicles, Two Way Cycle Track
Similar to Better Naito, this design would provide a continuous two way cycletrack from Broadway to Alberta. Vehicle traffic would be one way but could alternate in direction to discourage through travel. Some on street parking would be lost. A section of 7th near Irving Park would remain two way for vehicles due to the break in the street grid caused by the park. This design could face pushback because of its boldness, but would do the most to make 7th a world class bike boulevard. Below are cross sections of 7th for the configuration north of Fremont St.
2) Two Way Vehicles with Advisory Bike Lanes and Diverters
Similar to recent installations in northeast Portland, this design would remove the center line of NE 7th, narrow the driving lanes, and place an advisory bike lane on both sides of the street. Minimal on street parking would be lost. This design would also add diverters at key intersections to keep traffic volumes low. This design would provide a reasonable compromise between local drivers interested in keeping driving possible on 7th and non-vehicle users who want a safer street.
3) Two Way Vehicles, Sharrows, and Diverters
Similar to the Clinton Street greenway, this design would remove the center line of NE 7th, add sharrows to the roadway, and place frequent diverters to direct vehicle traffic off of the street. Minimal on street parking would be lost. This design would be the most similar to how NE 7th is today and would provide little dedicated cycling space. But with frequent diversion, the hope would be to discourage drivers from using 7th. When the Lloyd to Woodlawn greenway routing was still in talks in 2018, PBOT released diversion concepts for a few intersections (see below).
Continuing the conversation about 7th Ave seems likely. Let us hope that PBOT boldly engages the community this time around.