PBOT, Depave work toward solution for sketchy SE 7th and Washington intersection

After the carfree Blumenauer Bridge across I-84 opened to the public in August, connecting Portland’s Central Eastside and Lloyd neighborhoods via 7th Ave, the Portland Bureau of Transportation announced a suite of other changes coming to the surrounding streets to make the corridor more bike-friendly. In short order, PBOT made changes to NE Couch St and completed a controversial redesign at NE 7th and Tillamook, both done with the stated intent of making it more pleasant for people on bikes to use the network around the glitzy new bridge.

In addition, PBOT announced a plan to redesign 7th Ave south of the new bridge, including making changes between Washington and Stark streets. As someone who frequently bikes between southeast and northeast Portland via 7th Ave, I was very eager to see what PBOT would do here. But it’s been nine months since PBOT announced their plan to redo this area and the intersection still looks the same. What’s going on?

According to PBOT Public Information Officer Dylan Rivera, the project has been stalled because of contractor availability and weather.

PBOT’s plan for this intersection. (Source: PBOT)

This area is a bane of my biking existence, especially when traveling northbound: crossing from the bike lane on the east side of SE 7th when it turns into Sandy Blvd is one of the most complicated maneuvers I regularly make. It requires crossing two lanes of fast car traffic in an area with very poor visibility, all while watching out for more car traffic coming from the surrounding streets. I dread the experience every single time, so I was eager for PBOT to make some changes.

“We’re awaiting the contractor to complete the work the project. We met with them earlier in March and they expected to begin the work in May or June, but it really depends on weather,” Rivera wrote to BikePortland in an email. “They have a few other task orders in front of this one and they can’t get started until we get some dry pavement.”

In an April 7th letter to Central Eastside residents (PDF) PBOT Capital Project Manager Scott Cohen offered further details on the project. Cohen wrote that, when completed, it will entail:

  • Parking removal on the north side of SE Washington between SE Sandy and SE 8th
  • Traffic operational changes on SE Washington between SE Sandy and 8th (one-way eastbound only for motorized vehicles)
  • Traffic operational changes on SE 7th approaching SE Stark in both directions (right turns only for motorized vehicles)

“The project will result in improved safety for people walking and bicycling and a stronger connection between the Central Eastside and Lloyd neighborhoods,” Cohen wrote. “Construction is expected to begin as early as May 2023 but may begin later in the year.”

A different vision from Depave

Depave’s current design for a cul-de-sac concept at SE 7th and Sandy in between Stark and Washington. This design wouldn’t be feasible with what PBOT currently has planned. (Source: Depave)

“Momentum will be building. We think we can move the needle on this.”

– Ted Labbe, Depave

Some people might be frustrated with the lag on this project, but according to some advocates, this delay hasn’t been all bad. One of these advocates is Ted Labbe, who heads the urban re-greening organization Depave. He and his team (along with other local organizations) have been working on a plan to redesign this area for some time, and they want to make sure that when it’s done, it’s done right.

Last summer, Depave hosted a block party at this intersection, setting up food carts, skate ramps and a performance area to demonstrate the space’s potential to be more than a slab of concrete. A few weeks later on Parking Day, volunteers from Depave and the Parking Reform Network hosted a pop-up in the car parking space on SE 7th to further emphasize why this intersection needs to change. According to Labbe, the community response to these events revealed the need for radical change here. He said that while he thinks there are some urgent safety needs to address here, he wants to see a more fundamental shift in how this land is used.

“[The hazards concerning traffic calming and safety] are the most immediate things we want to address,” Labbe said. “But beyond that, we’re focused on making this a green plaza. It’s not just about safety and mobility for folks outside of cars: it’s also about creating a destination.”

Portland’s Central Eastside has a lot to offer, which is why it’s a prime location for new multifamily developments. It’s transit-dense and located in close proximity to a lot of major local attractions. But one thing it’s missing? Greenery and tree canopy coverage.

“Folks in the Central Eastside have some of the lowest access to green space in the city,” Labbe said. “We see [the intersection on SE 7th] as an opportunity, because it’s a redundant portion of the street grid.”

Labbe said Depave is working closely with the city on this project and the group is hopeful they’ll be able to come up with a solution that everyone can be happy with. But this might take a little more time.

Depave is planning to activate this intersection with a weeklong event at the end of July, culminating in a block party on July 29th. This “activation week” will include mobile green infrastructure elements, pop-up retail and more, and Labbe said Depave is seeking business sponsors and partners to work with them to make the summer event great.

“We’re just doing this by the skin of our teeth,” Labbe said.

If you’re interested in working with Depave on this project, you can get in touch with them here. People going to the upcoming Oregon Active Transportation Summit will also have an opportunity to hear about Depave’s plans for this intersection, so stay tuned for more.

“We think the best opportunity is to layer all of these things together,” Labbe said, referring to PBOT’s street redesign concept and their own push for more urban greenspace. “Momentum will be building. We think we can move the needle on this.”

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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Matt
Matt
10 months ago

The cut de sac is a great idea. That stretch of Sandy from 7th to 12th has so many entry points – too many to process. I walk that stretch of Sandy daily and you have to constantly be on alert with all of the streets coming in from different directions. Cutting a few of those access points off would hardly be noticeable to drivers and would make biking/walking much safer.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
10 months ago

Both so-called fixes still require a north-bound traveler to make an awkward left turn across 2 lanes of speeding cage traffic with no traffic signal. And immediately following this challenging maneuver there is a dangerous un-marked crossing at Stark.

For anyone who wants to avoid this stressful route to the Lloyd district you could try this less awkward (but still imperfect) route:

https://www.google.com/maps/dir/SE+16th+Ave+%26+SE+Ankeny+St,+Portland,+OR+97214/Northeast+Multnomah+Street+%26+Northeast+11th+Avenue,+Portland,+OR/@45.5267804,-122.6559504,1110m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m19!4m18!1m10!1m1!1s0x5495a0bb373da503:0x34ea358807d716fd!2m2!1d-122.6495454!2d45.5221809!3m4!1m2!1d-122.6530575!2d45.5279521!3s0x5495a0b107b4c7f1:0xe45c783d42d7d239!1m5!1m1!1s0x5495a0b3900bab5f:0xdb2496eadd77761a!2m2!1d-122.6545954!2d45.5314866!3e1

comment image

Hint: If traffic on Burnside is not stopping at SE/NE 16th (which should be signalized) just hop into the median island using the ped crosswalk.

maxD
maxD
10 months ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

I commuted through the CEID for years from 2008 through 2021 and I still ride through there regularly. 6th Ave is a very reasonable bike route. It does not have protected/signalized crossings, but it is close to signals at the busy streets and it is very easy to cross. I have tries all of the n/s route many times, and IMO, 6th is the best. PBOT could make make 6th one-way for cars, and alternate the direction every 3-4 blocks which would maintain vehicle access and parking (if they had the drive lane curb tight and the parking in the middle). With half the street dedicated to bike and almost zero traffic, it could be a great bike route. 16th is OK, but there some steep hills and some intersections with poor sightlines.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
10 months ago
Reply to  maxD

Crossing Belmont, Morrison, and Stark without any infrastructure at all (not even a painted crosswalk) is not for the faint of heart during peak commute hours. It often requires darting across a “gap” on a multi-lane road with speeding cage drivers who are not looking for vulnerable traffic. And for those who no longer commute, peak commuters hours are back with a violent vengeance.

maxD
maxD
10 months ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

In practice, it actually works well and is not as sketchy as you imply. There are no signals along 16h at Morrison/Belmont or Burnside, or Hawthorne – and 16th doesn’t continue south of Hawthorne. I don’t mind 16th, but I do not think it is safer than 6th. I used to ride 16th heading north if I had a midday meeting when my office was at 11th/Madison. I occasionally rode 12th north, but that is pretty sketchy- despite having 2 lanes, cars would tailgate and honk instead of just going around or slowing down.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
10 months ago
Reply to  maxD

The concrete barrels, crossbikes, and forest of warning signs at belmont, morrison, and stark seem to have improved motorist behavior at these intersections. I’m now a fan (but would still like to see some sort of signal).

bbcc
bbcc
10 months ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

I also use 16th, but “simply bike 9 blocks out of the way uphill to a street with no protected infrastructure that crosses stark & burnside with no signal” is an idea worthy of PBOT

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
10 months ago
Reply to  bbcc

My comment was intended for the many of people going N-S who do not live in (or need to travel through) the very sparsely populated lower-CEID.

Serenity
Serenity
10 months ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

But why wouldn’t you go up 12th past Sandy & then cut over to 7th to go over the bridge?

Adam
Adam
10 months ago

I rode by there the other day and it appears to be a popular spot for a group of people to camp and do drugs. If it were turned into a cul-de-sac, could the city keep it clean and free of county-sponsored tent-dwellers?

nuovorecord
nuovorecord
10 months ago
Reply to  Adam

Of course. The city is doing a fantastic job keeping our public spaces safe, clean and open to everyone, even taxpayers!

(/s)

maxD
maxD
10 months ago

More weak sauce from PBOT. This is a very poor/weak connection that is proposed at 7th/Sandy. The lanes on 7th are grossly undersized and basically in the door zone from Morrison to Clay. PBOT needs to be much bolder and more decisive- this kind of half-assed design should have been implemented a year BEFORE the Blumenauer Bridge opened and we could use that while PBOT implemented a safe route on 6th. Or they could remove parking on the west side (or both sides) of 7th and create some buffered bike lanes. PBOT should be embarrassed by how badly they have bungled the entire 7th bike route- especially the north end of the Blumenauer Bridge (why is that not a straight connection for bikes?!). Portland keeps pushing the Green Loop, but PBOT is making damn sure that never happens! None of the infrastructure PBOT is building could accommodate 2017 bike levels- we had better hope cycling never catches on or becomes poplar because our infrastructure will not support it. Very disappointed.

idlebytes
idlebytes
10 months ago

I never have trouble crossing Sandy to 7th going northbound. The timing of the lights typically means any the traffic that was stopped at Belmont and Morrison has already passed me so I can cross to the middle lane and the light at 8th is always red when you bike up to it so only traffic turning off 8th is coming south which leaves lots of gaps.

My problem with the 7th connection are all the stop signs across busy streets that people are speeding on. They need to make them 4 way stops or swap the signs and add some diversion. There’s always at least one or two MGIF drivers trying to pass me in the short blocks to the next stop sign. Oh also the timing of lights between Burnside and Couch needs to be synced up.

They have an alternate plan to turn 6th into a greenway all the way down to Division. Which would be preferable if they included diversion and signalized crossings at the busy streets. There was even supposed to be a pedestrian bridge over the tracks to the Tillikum way but I doubt that will ever happen. I think it was supposed to be included with the OMSI district improvements.

Carrie
Carrie
10 months ago
Reply to  idlebytes

I have the same experience as you Idlebytes. In fact, I’ll be really bummed if they remove the center turn lane and expect us to do a 90 degree turn to stay on 7th — that’s really hard to do and also look behind for cars and while going uphill. I’d much rather be able to merge into the turn lane when it’s clear and then turn when it’s clear — JUST LIKE WE DO WHEN IN A CAR. If there was paint/signage/some protection to indicate that this is what cyclists will be doing too then it would be great!

Daniel Reimer
10 months ago
Reply to  Carrie

I would prefer not to do vehicular cycling. Glad it works for you though.

Serenity
Serenity
10 months ago
Reply to  idlebytes

Bully for you, idlebytes. I’m glad you never have trouble. I guess it’s all good then.

maxD
maxD
10 months ago

I like the Depave cul-de-sac concept, but a few their details could be improved:

  1. SW bike lane on Sandy: you could add some buffer here from the cars, but the lane should not have those shapr jogs in it. THis is fast, downhill section. A better use of the space would a through lane for bike that remains tight to the car lane and a right turns for bike lane that would allow bike turning to slow down out of the flow. That lane could continue as space for poeple to accelerate and merge south of the 7th
  2. separate the southbound/northbound bike lanes across Sandy. The geometry for the riders heading south and turning on to Sandy is horrible for people riding. There is no good reason to cram these together- people travelling south are coming down a hill and preparing to continue slightly downhill as Sandy turns into 7th. All those sharp urns are awkward and unnecessary- let it flow a bit.
  3. The trees along 7th North of Washington should be out in the middle of the green area. This would allow the sidewalk to be widened.
  4. 7th/Sandy/Washington should be a roundabout, even with the cul-de-sac
squareman
squareman
10 months ago

Once again, no change to the trajectory of cars (and therefore speed) except for the cul de sac on 7th preventing through auto traffic (that’s welcome!). But two questions about that design:

will cars end out parking in that cul de sac such that it’s hard to reach the bike path?why does the downhill rider coming from 12th to 7th (one of my favorite old spots to let gravity do its work) have to add quite a bit of wiggle to their riding line (and again, no change to cars’ path)?

Adam Pieniazek
10 months ago

There should be some kind of department of transportation that could do the work to upgrade and maintain our transportation network internally without having to rely on and wait on third party contractors.

Serenity
Serenity
10 months ago
Reply to  Adam Pieniazek

Would that be great? If only!

FDUP
FDUP
10 months ago

Article title is wrong/misleading; it is about SE 7th and Washington, and not SE 7th and Stark.

Adam
Adam
10 months ago

I’m not familiar with the details of this plan but at a glance it seems like PBOT is planning to depave the wrong street. Shouldn’t it be that segment of Sandy that is depaved? The awkward crossing of 7th/Sandy does not feel like world class bike infrastructure

Granpa
Granpa
10 months ago

I generally support the Depave agenda and overwhelmingly support green space but without the depave space utilized by persons with societally positive intentions, it will be used by tent campers. The plan shown is flex use green space and we all know how that works out. One of the article’s photos shows a skateboard ramp. This location would be perfect for a small skateboard park.

Serenity
Serenity
10 months ago

I *hate* that spot on 7th!

eawriste
eawriste
10 months ago

Great! Now design all of the other 20 or so intersections on SE/NE 7th with priority for cycling and walking, (eg remove parking, turn it into a one-way lane for cars, install protected bike lanes and pedestrian islands, connect it to the Tilikum, install PBLs on Broadway/Weidler). This would make the new bridge actually tie into a separated network ie useful for all ages/abilities. BTW ask better block and they could get this done by next month. It’s not the budget, it’s not the lack of ideas/skill, it’s not even the lack of advocates. It’s just lack of political will preventing this.