The Oregon Department of Transportation is planning changes to a nearly five mile stretch of SE McLoughlin Boulevard through Oak Grove and Jennings Lodge (south of Milwaukie) that would make it safer for biking, walking, and busing. And we hear from sources that they need more feedback about bicycle facilities and other elements of the project in order to queue up the best possible projects for future funding.
ODOT’s McLoughlin Boulevard Investments Strategy is a $250,000 planning process that aims to, “identify and prioritize equitable and impactful transportation safety improvements for all users who depend on walking, biking, rolling and accessing transit along the corridor.” (Seems similar to the approach the Portland Bureau of Transportation takes with its “In Motion” plans.) There’s no capital funding yet, but projects that get on the list that comes out of this plan will be more shovel-ready and more likely to get built in the near term.
Currently, this section of McLoughlin is a typical ODOT urban highway (99E) with a very wide cross-section, lots of commercial driveways, incomplete sidewalks, unprotected bikeways, relatively high speeds, and an overall feeling that only car users are welcome. We rode briefly on McLoughlin during the 2019 policymakers ride and it was jarring to leave the quiet calm of the Trolley Trail path and enter the loud, stressful highway environment.
According to ODOT, this corridor of McLoughlin between Sellwood and Oregon City is a top 10 priority statewide and ranks in the 99th percentile for bicycle and pedestrian needs prioritization (as per their Active Transportation Needs Inventory). Between 2016 and 2020 there were a beastly 666 reported crashes — seven of which were fatal and 23 led to severe injuries. And of the seven people killed in those five years, all of them were vulnerable users (walkers, wheelchair users, or bike riders). That’s a striking statistic given how few non-drivers actually use this road. Adding even more urgency to this effort is the fact that neighborhoods along the corridor score in the top 20th percentile statewide for disadvantaged community metrics.
ODOT staff working on the plan say adding more protection to the existing bike lanes and striping new sections of bikeways is definitely on the table. They also recommend bus queue jumps at four intersections, a new crossing specifically for Trolley Trail users (at Jennings Road), and improvements to the bridge over the Clackamas River.
Key to making the safety changes stick will be to tame drivers and lower speeds. The current average speed is just over 40 mph. That’s way too high given that ODOT’s Blueprint for Urban Design (which is now fully integrated into their Highway Design Manual) calls for commercial corridors like this one to have speeds of 30 – 35 mph. The good news is the community advisory committee for the project has been unanimous in calls to reduce speeding, but ODOT needs to hear more support for this in their newly launched online open house.
We’re also watching closely to see what type of recommendation comes out of this process for bike facilities. Right now, ODOT says the plan is to first bring the entire corridor up to a basic standard of painted, buffered bike lanes without vertical protection. Once that happens, they’d add more protection (like plastic wands) at specific locations. But some folks we’ve talked to say that second step — some sort of physical protection for the bike lane — should happen without having to wait for buffered bike lanes on the entire corridor.
Then there’s the conversation about whether bicycle riders would even use McLoughlin at all — especially given the nearby (and carfree) Trolley Trail path. Because of the unfortunate idea that bike riders don’t want or need main street access, there could be a lack of urgency from ODOT to create quality bikeways on McLoughlin.
As for the Trolley Trail, the current plan is to install a diagonal, bike-only crossing of McLoughlin at Jennings to help path users make a connection. This would be a step forward from the two-stage crossing most people do now (taking the lane here is pretty scary!).
For the bridge over the Clackamas, ODOT says widening the current path isn’t being considered, but other treatments like; more lighting, a new paved trail/shared use path connection to the intersection of McLoughlin and Arlington Street, and flashing beacons indicating when a bicyclist is sharing the general travel lanes, are being considered.
If we want ODOT to do more of the right things, they need to hear from more bicycle riders. Their online open house is open now through April 5th and there’s an in-person event on March 29th (4-7:00 pm) at Oak Lodge Public Library (16201 SE McLoughlin) where you can learn more and talk to project staff.