Checking up on NW Overton and Pettygrove bikeways

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.

Taylor Griggs (Staff Writer)

Taylor Griggs (Staff Writer)

Taylor has been BikePortland's staff writer since November 2021. She has also written for Street Roots and Eugene Weekly. Contact her at taylorgriggswriter@gmail.com

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Racer X
Racer X
10 months ago

Taylor…yeah “back to the future” for PBOT! (The new photo looks like it was taken 5 years ago…if you overlooked the grinding off of the striping)…for removing protected bike lanes for parking. ;-(

Steven Smith
Steven Smith
10 months ago

Tis indeed a shame. That little stretch of Overton has more cars on it than are suitable for a greenway. Agree it’s a morale deflater on a couple of levels–for what it does to Overton and the revelation that PBOT isn’t capable of rising to the occasion of doing what’s necessary to make conditions as good as possible for biking.

Fred
Fred
10 months ago

Since I live in SW Portland, where there are *NONE* of these fancy street treatments, I often think these discussions are like being given a piece of cake and complaining that it doesn’t have enough frosting.

Yes, Overton isn’t great, but go one street over and it is absolutely great. Thanks for noting what has been lost but I wouldn’t complain about it, since the overall situation is pretty good.

blumdrew
10 months ago
Reply to  Fred

Right – but Overton is the natural connection between NW and downtown (via Naito) and the treatments given on Pettygrove could have been on Overton instead. Having a completely pointless one block jog is just a crystal clear example of bike infrastructure taking a back seat in Portland.

There is also a level of just general confusion that choices like this cause. Overton was already designated as a greenway – taking that away to favor a less convenient street is bad. Overton is still marked as the “bike route” on Google maps, and Apple Maps also routes you on Overton instead of Pettygrove. And there is no amount of treatment on Pettygrove that will change this. Bikes, cars, and pedestrians in the area will always have to go to Overton, since that’s the only way to get across the railroad tracks on 9th (especially since that’s the only crossing from Naito for about a mile after Glisan)..

Moving the greenway a block over instead of adding treatment to reduce car traffic is naked capitulation by PBOT. Sure, it’s not exactly onerous to move one block over. But it’s choices like this that undermine cycling in the city at large – both by making it less convenient and by sowing confusion.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
10 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Totally agree. Then there’s this intersection where 16th follows an S-curve around a giant concrete pillar right at the corner of 16th & Pettygrove, blocking the view of oncoming cars. Really shows that PBOT is more concerned about the convenience of drivers than the safety of people on bicycles.

NW 16th & Pettygrove.jpg
Brandon
Brandon
10 months ago

Ovation Coffee and Tea strongly opposes infrastructure that makes it safer for people to bike and walk.

Alan Love
Alan Love
10 months ago
Reply to  Brandon

Good to know. Plenty of other places to spend money.

X
X
10 months ago

If somebody in a car asked me for directions to NW 23rd and Vaughn I’d probably send them on the freeway. I go through the Pearl a lot and I wound up going the wrong way on Pettygrove once recently. Random one-ways could serve as diverters I guess, and unless you’re in a Maserati it’s hard to get sufficient velocity to actually flip a car on 200 foot blocks.

The randomness is kind of heck-ish for pedestrians.
Motor vehicle operators are looking everywhere except where they should and making bad decisions out of frustration. I’d rather see more areas where heavy overpowered private vehicles are totally excluded.

DT
DT
10 months ago

I live in the area and bike around here multiple times a week. While the current solution is not ideal, the test they ran in September absolutely needed to be adjusted. In my opinion it was a failure of implementation for the following reasons:

  • Initially there was very limited signage coming from 9th Ave; drivers didn’t know that the road became a one-way overnight. After a few days they installed more obvious blockades/signs, but I continued to witness people ignoring them or not noticing the change, leading to dangerous head-on situations for both bikers and drivers.
  • When train crossings happen at Naito (frequent, sometimes 20+ minute delays) people look for a way around. Overton is the obvious escape route and folks would go against traffic to avoid having to wait for the train.
  • A lot of traffic in the area comes from folks crossing the Broadway Bridge. The way the oneways and stoplights are placed, Overton becomes the fastest and least resistant path for people headed west. How so? Coming off the bridge, you can make a right on red/green onto 9th Ave, and proceed to make a left onto Overton without any stops. The other option is to continue straight on Lovejoy until it directs you onto 10th Ave, where you can proceed towards making a left on Northrup (3 traffic lights). This is not an excuse, but explains why making Overton a oneway was so problematic.
  • Parking spaces on the north side of the street with cars facing west (I think they allowed this for people coming out of the garage of the Encore) led to confusion about whether the road was for traffic going both way.

Finally, how was the implementation any better for bikers trying to connect to Naito? Headed east on Overton, you still had to look for cars turning from 10th Ave, and cross 9th Ave while negotiating cars coming from either direction. I think it would be best to eliminate parking on the north side of the street, and install a 2-way greenway that hug The Fields park from Pettygrove all the way to Naito. And get us a damn foot/bike bridge that crosses Naito already!