Have you ever had the joy of using bicycle infrastructure that is better than anything you’d previously seen or imagined? We had this delightful experience this past summer when the City of Hillsboro finished up its major road project on NE Jackson School Road.
Prior to the project, this was a clogged two-lane roadway, with dangerous ditches bordering the road — no sidewalks on sections, and no bike lanes. It’s a road we would never have used for biking or walking and always avoided.
When construction began, I expected a road-widening project to add car lanes. I had no idea the project would give priority to bike riders and walkers and give us a protected cycle track. Flashing beacon crosswalks were also added, along with a traffic-calming roundabout, and improved lighting.
If you have never experienced infrastructure like this: it’s amazing! Cycling (and walking) is comfortable and pleasant, a complete joy to use.
This newly improved road has quickly become a favorite place for us to ride. It also appears to be popular with the community. Perhaps the most telling metric for the success of the improvements is that property owners along the road had trick-or-treaters for the very first time: kids were finally safe enough to walk from house to house!
As we’ve enjoyed this infrastructure, I wonder how it came to be here, and who made it happen. Whom can I thank? I know it didn’t just fall out of the sky, but surely took years of behind-the-scenes work. What responsibility do I have to participate in those processes, to make, preserve, and improve such facilities for my children and future generations?
With these questions in mind, I had the pleasure of talking with Pat Ribellia, who was the planning director for the city of Hillsboro from 2006 to 2012, and Don Odermott who has served the city Hillsboro for 28 years, including about 15 years as the head of Transportation Planning and Policy. They confirmed that the Jackson School Road project has been many years in the making.
“Sometimes it takes a champion”
My biggest question was: how did the awesome bike infrastructure get included in this project? Odermott explained that over the past three decades, “the nature of the bike solution has evolved.” In his career of 35+ years in engineering design, the norm started with no bike lanes, then four foot bike lanes, then five and six foot wide bike lanes, and then buffered bike lanes.
Now it’s six foot lanes plus a two-foot buffer and elevated/separated cycle tracks. A real evolution in cycling infrastructure. “Sometimes it takes a champion,” Odermott said. And in Hillsboro, “the largest credit for that goes to our retired assistant city manager, Rob Dixon, who really led the vision for all of us that we all rallied around that has now made what we call cycle tracks, our city standard for bike treatment.”
Odermott speculated that Hillsboro has “probably built more cycle tracks now than…any jurisdiction in the Portland region over the last 10 years.” Wherever cycle tracks are a good fit, that’s now the “go to” cycling solution in Hillsboro.
For me, it’s a revelation of how great cycling infrastructure can be, and how a cycling advocate in city leadership can make cycling infrastructure dreams a reality. Previously, I wouldn’t have had the vision or the guts to suggest infrastructure like this. Looking at the road prior to construction, I would have thought, “there isn’t room,” “property owners will be angry,” “it would be way too expensive.”
Now, after riding this, I look at every other road in my community differently. I have a vision for what can be, even when it looks challenging or impossible. And I want to get more of that vision (vacation to Amsterdam?) so that I don’t stop short when it comes to future advocacy opportunities. Better cycling infrastructure really is possible.
In this time of thanksgiving, I’m so thankful for all the folks behind-the-scenes that made this project a reality. We’ll be thanking you in our hearts every time we ride.
Shannon is a 36-year-old mom of five who lives in downtown Hillsboro. Her column appears weekly. Contact her via firstname.lastname@example.org
Gave ‘um the old “get back on the sidewalk!!” treatment. Riding on concrete with joints every 6-10ft sucks.
I definitely disagree here: the Portland area needs much more infrastructure like this. Bike lanes should be physically separated from auto traffic. It not only improves safety but also the perception of safety.
Oh, this is interesting to me. I LOVE riding on this separated sidewalk facility. I’m not bothered or annoyed by it. In fact, I wish more of the on-street painted bike lanes would be converted to this kind of separated cycle track. Maybe it’s nicer if the separated cycle track is paved rather than sidewalk, but I wouldn’t have thought much of that distinction. For me, it’s all about being separated from the car traffic. Maybe it’s a different preference for different types of riders: fast adult commuters vs. slow-riding kids and families? I’d love to hear what other think?
I didn’t say anything negative about protected/separate bike lanes. I’m in general supportive of protected lanes with the caveat that any bike facility should be designed to allow safe passing and reasonable average speeds. More often than not with these treatments the intersections, being the most dangerous place for cyclists, are trash with horrible sight lines and stupid jogs/wiggles.
This is just a standard modern sidewalk with little thermoplastic bike arrows painted on one side. And the ramps up and down from intersections force cyclists to navigate very tight chicanes.
Drivers backing out of these driveways are also going to be expecting pedestrians, who they already disregarded, not faster cyclists and I would not be surprised if someone is backed into at some point if cyclists actually use this in any volume.
“I didn’t say anything negative about protected/separate bike lanes.”
Well, actually you did. If you know anything at all about this location, Jackson School Road is a better location than most for a separated facility of this type since it has relatively few, mostly low-volume, cross streets for most of its length, and driveways are almost entirely residential rather than commercial; which in the big picture results in this road being a fairly safe location for a separated facility of this type.
Just look at this ramp blocked almost entirely by the adjacent property’s trash cans. Can you imagine trying to navigate this at any sort of normal riding speed?
Building wide comfortable sidewalks is great, but don’t call it a “cycle track”. With that logic, PBOT should send out crews to burn in thermoplastic stickers onto sidewalks all around Portland and call it an immense overnight increase in bicycle facilities.
I am particularly taking issue with substandard bike facilities that unnecessarily slow, impede, and endanger cyclists. This could have been so much better but the “cycle track” part of this development seems like an afterthought.
People put their trash cans in the on-road bike infrastructure also, it happens regularly in the bike infra on SE 136, NE Cully and plenty of other places, so your single anecdote doesn’t prove anything one way or the other.
The main purpose of a protected bike lane is to mitigate crashes at the intersections, (e.g., slow turns, improve visibility). This design does nothing at intersections and may actually increase crashes at intersections. This is why the PBLs in NYC were (and sometimes remain) awful, often including merging lanes, until the intersections were, in large part replaced with “Protected” intersections. I love protected infrastructure. I’m also not trying to yuck someone’s great new, safeish place to ride. It’s one of the biggest reasons people bike more. But I wish this specific design were prohibited due to design criteria.
Yeah, I ride the road on N Columbia between Lombard and Marine Drive, and on Marine Drive, rather than ride on the joints of the separated cycle track. But I would take my family on the separated track.
I’d rather ride on nice smooth concrete with a few joints in it than on the traffic-hazard, studded-tire-rutted, utility-cut, drainage-grated, potholed and otherwise poorly maintained street any day.
Only one caveat – it will only be good as long as it is managed and maintained to prevent tree root damage and other hazards from rendering it much less desirable over time. In other words, this facility is new now, but how well will it age?
I’m guessing you’re on 700C x 23 skinny road tires? I gave up on those a while ago due to declining road maintenance.
I hear this, even on my giant tired bikes those joints jolt and with a bad back riding on the smooth road is way more enjoyable and less painful than riding on a sidewalk. Wish they would pave these type of lanes and the paths like the Sunset Highway path.
Why is there always center turn lanes? Its more dedicated space to cars, people outside of cars now need to cross 3 lanes, and it provides more open space so the designed speed feels much higher.
The center turn lane is meant to be a safety feature in response to the type of crashes that were common on that roadway: rear-end collisions with a car stopped to make a turn.
From the City of Hillsboro’s FAQ’s on the project, regarding the need for a center turn lane https://www.hillsboro-oregon.gov/home/showpublisheddocument/24130/637233279943830000 :
“In the most recent five years of available crash data, 75% (28) of the 36 crashes reported were turning related or were the result of a vehicle being rear-ended. These types of crashes are less likely to happen when a center left turn lane is present. Rear-end collisions are reduced as the result of a driver being able to stop out of the lane of travel. For vehicles turning left off of Jackson School, vehicles are able to pause and wait for an appropriate gap without the pressure of holding up traffic behind them. Additionally, because they are in a lane designated for turning, opposing drivers more clearly see that a vehicle is preparing to turn.”
I agree that there is a trade-off with a wider roadway and concern about speeding. The project took this into consideration, noting that the plantings on both sides provide a narrower feel, which is supposed to be traffic calming, along with the round-about, which is meant to reduce speed. They are also trying to get a lower speed limit of 30mph approved.
All that said, speed is still a concern for residents I spoke with. Some requested more robust speed enforcement. I think traffic speed cameras would be wise.
Congrats to Hillsboro!
Update regarding the concerning ditches shown in the video: These drainage trenches with plantings serve an essential functional purpose for the bio-filtration system for filtering the water runoff. They are part of the overall stormwater management system, not mere landscaping choice. For this reason, they cannot be covered over with grates or covers.
I received this answer to my questions from the City of Hillsboro’s Engineering Coordinator, Chrissy Dawson:
“The planter strips also provided space for Low Impact Development Approach (LIDA) street side water quality facilities, which you also mentioned below. Currently, the facilities are newly planted, so the vegetation in them isn’t at its mature size and we have received feedback from the community that the depth of the facilities is concerning. City staff will monitor potential safety hazards long term. This type of water quality facility (and in this location, next to the sidewalk) has become prevalent in the Metro area over the last decade. They have recently begun to be common in Hillsboro as part of an effort to increase storm water quality treatment and comply with current Clean Water Services and Oregon DEQ standards. These facilities also provide stormwater detention, a place for stormwater to accumulate during heavy rains, which will help prevent localized flooding. At this time, City staff are unaware of overt safety issues associated with this type of facility in the region. That said, safety is very important to us, and the project team is very interested in community feedback to ensure all aspects of the project are safe to use for the life of the project; and to that end, please do keep us informed of any incidents you see or concerns you have going forward.”
You asked about making that left turn in the vid. FWIW I on my bike solo would most likely make that left just like you did rather than trying to be like a car and getting out into the roadway left turn lane. Your choice was/is called a “box turn” or a “two-part turn.” (I’ve seen “Amsterdam turn,” even.) I hope this isn’t mansplaining. I hope I don’t get in trouble for using that gender-disparaging term “mansplaining.” Thanks for your columns!
Thanks! I appreciate charitable explanations, advice and dialogue from anyone. Please feel comfortable helping me out. I appreciate it.
So much of Washington County is strung together by those threadbare, claustrophobic country roads. One down, and about a million to go
Little or no shoulder on many of them, but there is also not a lot of traffic, so it’s way better than a bike lane on a typical suburban street.
How much per mile did this cost and how many miles does it go?
I like the one along Cornelius Road between Cornell and Imbrie, but that’s probably less than a mile. Had to be expensive.
Warnings! Be sure to skillfully zigzag at each street crossing. Be careful not to run headlong into a curb there or at many other places. Watch that your tire doesn’t drop off the sharp edge into the landscaping because that’s a sure crash. Be careful that you look over your shoulder at each intersection because car drivers may right hook you by not noticing you or underestimating your speed. Figure out how to make a left turn. Figure out who has the right of way when a motorist approaches from a side street. So much weirdness! But hey, it’s all good because it’s “innovative!!”
In my experience, a two lane road plus center turn lane is great for riding. If the lane’s wide enough, it’s easy to share. If the lane’s narrow I ride near the center. Motorists pass with plenty of clearance by straddling the left turn lane. Everyone knows the rules, there are far fewer crash hazards, and it’s WAY less expensive. No more was needed.
Maybe we should repurpose the center turn lane for bicycles? FWIW it’s worth I’m not an advocate of that but it’s recently been proposed on BP by another commenter.
OTOH, I’m willing to bet none of the naysayers commenting here have ever actually been on Jackson School Road in Hillsboro using any mode of transportation.
I have, albeit in my car and not on my bike (I was using Jackson School Road to get to a dental specialist in Hillsboro after breaking my jaw in a bicycle crash), and it’s not a road I would have ever been inclined to ride my bike on. That was all prior to the road reconstruction and IMO these are in fact improvements in this case.