Back in September, I rode over to the Slabtown neighborhood to check out a new neighborhood greenway in Northwest Portland. Due to high numbers of drivers, the Portland Bureau of Transportation wanted to move the NW Overton greenway over one block north to NW Pettygrove. At the time, the project wasn’t complete yet, but the plan was to include a variety of traffic calming measures on NW Pettygrove from 11th Ave to 25th (west of The Fields Park).
In order to create a smooth connection to the new greenway from the Naito bikeway, PBOT also made some big changes to NW Overton between 9th and 10th avenues — removing most of the car parking and adding plastic safety posts to create short post-protected bike lanes on both sides of the street. This bike infrastructure also prevented auto traffic from driving westbound on this stretch of Overton.
Ah, those plastic safety posts: we hardly knew ye!
As those of you who followed the Overton saga know, these changes didn’t last long. Only a month after they completed the street redesign, PBOT got cold feet. One reason for this might have been complaints about losing parking spaces from owners of a nearby business and residential tower.
Well, the car parking is back on Overton, and people driving can, once again, travel in both directions. As a result, most of the bike-friendly changes to the street have been reduced to mere sharrows. There are still some protective posts on the south side of Overton near 9th, but their placement so close to a parking lane doesn’t make a lot of sense.
In order to bike behind these posts for a few feet, you’d have to travel through the parking door zone, requiring a sharp turn if there’s a car parked behind the posts. Although it seemingly offers some protection for people against drivers taking a right from Overton onto 9th, I saw several people biking in the car lane instead of using this piece of infrastructure.
While less-than-ideal biking conditions on one block of Overton may not make or break someone’s commute, what happened here still matters — especially in light of the city’s recent bike ridership report. If we want more people to ride bikes, we should maintain every piece of bike infrastructure we have. And the fewer cars and drivers we have in the system, the better.
NW Overton is located in one of the densest, most walkable and transit-rich parts of the city, where it should be the easiest to convince people to look for alternatives to driving cars. The Overton saga was bad for morale, and it resulted in a street that (to this reporter at least) is less comfortable to ride on than it should be.
On the other hand, things are looking a bit brighter up on Pettygrove, where PBOT completed a section of the NW Pettygrove greenway project between 11th and 12th. Now, this stretch of the street only allows westbound car traffic, and PBOT has installed a short post protected eastbound bike lane similar to the one that used to be on Overton.
As I pointed out in September, there is still work to do at the intersections between Pettygrove and busy NW streets in order for biking on this corridor to be a really smooth experience. But overall, I appreciate what PBOT has done on the Pettygrove greenway: unlike some other “bike streets” throughout the city that heavily rely on sharrows to deter car traffic, the city has installed quite a few physical diverters along this street to make it more comfortable for people biking.
This design really highlights the importance of built infrastructure when creating facilities that truly prioritize people on bikes. It would be impossible for a car driver to take the greenway for any longer than a few blocks at a time because so many streets are one-ways in different directions. So, hopefully, the future of PBOT’s design ethos is better represented by Pettygrove than Overton.