Time to fix SW 6th Avenue gap into downtown, says veteran advocate

Keith Liden riding on the SW 6th Avenue bike lane over I-405 toward SW Jackson.
Green line is SW 6th Ave.

Keith Liden is not your average bike advocate. As we shared in our profile last fall, he’s been a thorn in the side of Portland Bureau of Transportation staffers for 30 years — many of them as a member of the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee.

A few weeks ago I met up with Liden to take a closer look at one of his many personal advocacy quests: closing gaps on Southwest Terwilliger Boulevard. Terwilliger is very important street. It’s one of the two main veins that connect southwest Portlanders to downtown and other destinations. It’s also much lower stress than its parallel, state-owned cousin, SW Barbur. Terwilliger is classified as a “major city bikeway” in Portland’s Transportation System Plan and provides a direct connection to the VA Hospital and other medical buildings. Beyond its utility, it’s a beautiful parkway with views of the Willamette River (and far beyond) that was recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Compared to many other important bike route streets in Portland, Terwilliger is in fine shape. Liden knows that. He just has a few quibbles that, if addressed properly, could take Terwilliger from good to great. And he’s got a good point. Portland has a lot of good bikeways, but very few great ones (which might be one reason why our ridership numbers have fallen).

In November 2022 Liden sent a 9-page memo to PBOT planners titled, “Terwilliger gaps – time to fix them!” “Terwilliger is one of the most heavily used bike routes in SW Portland,” he wrote. “The existing  gaps have been identified as a high priority in virtually every transportation-related plan since the mid-90s, but oddly, correcting the gaps has received relatively little attention over the past quarter century.”

Liden’s memo detailed the existing conditions and his proposed solution to four gaps. Today l’ll focus only on the one at SW Broadway (Terwilliger turns into SW 6th just south of this intersection).

“This one’s personal for me,” Liden shared as we waited in a green bike box at a red signal headed northbound on SW 6th at Broadway. As drivers roared by, it felt like we were standing on a tiny island atop a tumultuous sea. “I got hit by somebody taking an illegal right hand turn right here [where no right turns are allowed]. The guy took me by surprise. I did a cartwheel right out in the middle of the intersection. Luckily I had a helmet on.”

“This one’s personal for me. I got hit by somebody taking an illegal right hand turn right here.”

When I shared a video about this intersection last week (above), a lot of folks chimed in to say how terrible it is. Set on a diagonal, and with four-to-five wide lines in all directions, the widest section of SW 6th and Broadway is about 165 feet from curb-to-curb. Adding to the stress is that it’s adjacent to I-405 freeway onramps. And if you make it the 104-feet across Broadway, you enter a narrow, unprotected bike lane on the freeway overpass. Then, just as you begin to enter downtown and begin to breathe easy, the bike lane ends just before SW Jackson. Then, as you try to decide what to do, you realize there’s a freeway off-ramp lane on your right and you’re dumped in the middle of the street sharing lanes with drivers. And those drivers on your right? Many of them want to merge across two lanes (including the one you’re in) to go left at SW College. It’s a complete “F-you” to bike riders.

Seriously? This is how we welcome people into our great city?

To their credit, PBOT knows about the problem. They identified it in the Southwest in Motion plan (Top Tier BP-02) and the Transportation System Plan (projects #20168 and #20167). One of the proposals would extend the bike lane to Jackson by removing some on-street car parking spaces on the west side of 6th.

For an estimated $15,000, PBOT says they could do this (from SW in Motion plan):

(Source: PBOT 2019 SW In Motion Plan)

Liden says that change would be welcome, and is long overdue, but here’s what else he’d like to see:

1. On the south end of the 6th Ave. bridge, illegal right turns at Broadway [where he was hit] need to be addressed. I believe part of the problem relates to drivers who are not familiar with this area (OHSU visitors). Once they see they’re about to get sucked into downtown, they turn right to escape. They could be helped with a directional sign before Sheridan saying something like “To Ross Is. Br. /26 East & Barbur Next Right.” Directional arrows on the 6th Ave. pavement just south of the bike box could also help, and/or the overhead signage could be made more obvious

2. Provide green dashed markings connecting the south bike box with the striped bike lane on the bridge (Figure 2).

3. To complement #2 above, eliminate the curved travel lane striping immediately south of the bridge that guides NB motorists to drift right into the bicyclists’ path when it’s not necessary.

(Source: Keith Liden)

4. Shift vehicle lanes west and enhance and extend the existing bike lane (as proposed in SWIM project BP-02).

5. Prohibit the left merge from the 6th ramp between Jackson and College. Motorists intending to turn left at College typically look at traffic on their left rather than pedestrians crossing in front of them. This traffic only would need to go one more block to Hall to turn left, and it would help mitigate the crazy merging that occurs between Jackson and College.

6. Visually extend the bike lane ending at Jackson with green skip striping to College.

PBOT has done some of the preliminary planning work on this gap, but funding challenges mean it likely won’t get attention any time soon. At a budget work session today, Interim PBOT Director Tara Wasiak told Mayor Ted Wheeler and the other commissioners that her agency is in a “revenue crisis” with a 5-year forecast that demands a $60 million cut in discretionary resources and a plan to cut $6.3 million and 16 staff positions from their 2023-2024 budget.

Liden says his suggestions aren’t expensive because they’re mostly just pavement markings, striping, and signs (and he acknowledges it would take a much larger investment to bring the crossing up to ADA standards). He understands the perilous budget situation and has heard PBOT talk about it for many years. But for advocates like Liden hope and persistence is part of the job and he feels where there’s a will, there’s a way.

“This condition has persisted for way too long,” he says, “but let’s start somewhere.”

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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1 year ago

Ugh! That whole area by 6th and the 405 ramps is such a cluster F. I don’t like being there via any means of conveyance (even inside a car) day or night. Any improvement is welcome, but it’s going to take something drastic to make any meaningful change. It has to be improved for drivers too, otherwise all the same dangerous and aggressive maneuvers that confused and aggravated drivers pull will still put everyone in danger.

1 year ago
Reply to  squareman

My thoughts exactly. This area is just like the “Barbur Crossroads,” where I-5, SW Capitol Hwy, and SW Barbur (OR-99) all meet, with SW Taylor’s Ferry Rd joining nearby. These intersections are just big CFs – ODOT needs to demolish them entirely and start over.

Daniel Reimer
1 year ago

405 makes this whole area awful. I don’t know why there needs to be two off ramps at both 4th and 6th. I think they can get away by at least closing one of them. The same situation with the disappearing bike lane happens on 4th but at least CCIM plans to start construction in a couple months (by diverting the bike lane to the left side of the street). But this falls into the next problem, there is no connectivity between Terwilliger/4th and Broadway/Barbur so even with the upgraded 4th ave there is no reliable way to use it if you’re coming down from Terwilliger. Don’t get me started on the non existent connectivity from SW Barbur or Terwilliger to Naito…

As a frequent rider from SW through downtown and as much as I enjoy Terwilliger, it’s been too unconsistently maintained compared to Barbur and has too much elevation change compared to the consistently graded Barbur/Capitol Hwy for when I just want to get to where I’m going quickly. Guess my point is that we need to make all roads safe for cyclists.

1 year ago

Try being a pedestrian here! There isn’t really a ‘safe’ way to cross from south to north, but my favorite is that box with an X in the illustration above – cars treat that box as the line to stop at, so they routinely cover the crosswalk! If you are in the crosswalk, drivers act like you are illegally in the middle of the road for no reason.

The least dangerous crossing is SW Broadway Dr to SW Broadway, but even that entails dashing westward across SW Broadway Dr in an area with no obvious crossings (tho they put in yellow ramps in two spots, there’s nothing on other side), or walking down Grant 100 yards and doubling back an equal distance and THEN make 2 crossings at the light. This is mostly because PBOT refused to require a sidewalk on the west side of the Morris Marks House lot, saying it would encourage people to cross SW Broadway in an unsafe place.

We all laughed when the big light rail bond showed plans for how to get the train into downtown from Barbor – it flew up and over the whole mess on a trestle, creating even more obstacles for pedestrians and making the Berlin Wall effect even sweeter. We were told PBOT would not allow them to make a surface crossing, even if it helped clean up some of these intersections for cars, bikes and peds…

1 year ago

Ugh, this intersection. This might just be a contender for the worst intersection in the entire city for any mode. It causes complete gridlock for drivers all the way to the Ross Island Bridge and up to OHSU, is nearly impossible to bike through without a close call, and has horrible pedestrian infrastructure. This area as a whole needs a complete overhaul and I don’t think any small or mid-sized projects will fix it. Tear down the whole thing and start it over again.

1 year ago

I worry about the new riders who are going downhill on cruddy pavement and don’t realize the bike lane drops and there’s cars on both your left and right. Simultaneous braking, looking, left, right and over your shoulder is not easy!

My advice is to take the lane well before the bike lane ends and hang on tight.

1 year ago
Reply to  AndyK

Good advice, but I’ve been honked at and yelled at many times for leaving the bike lane early, since most drivers just don’t understand what I’m doing – they think bikes should stay in the bike lane, where there is a bike lane.

PBOT should come up with a whole new design for these situations, where a bike lane drops – maybe big green arrows painted on the pavement to warn cars that bikes are moving over, plus some standard signage.

4 months ago
Reply to  AndyK

Agreed. I take the lane early and then try to quickly get into the L lane vacated by freeway onramp traffic. I get some annoyed looks, but it removes me somewhat from the onramp merge. Also, the lane just to the L of the disappearing bike lane has terrible potholes.

The whole expereince is made so much more fun when the sand and grit lingers in the “bike lane” for months after winter weather events.