East Burnside now has a bus-only lane and a better bike lane

More spaces for buses on Burnside! (Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

There’s one less lane for driving on East Burnside between Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd and NE 12/Sandy. That’s because the Portland Bureau of Transportation has installed a bus-only lane and a bike lane on the southern side of the street as part of their East Burnside Bus and Bike Lane Improvements project. The project broke ground last fall and is nearly 100% complete, so I figured it was time for a closer look.

The project is part of the Central City in Motion plan adopted by City Council in 2018. The goal is threefold: speed up buses on three busy TriMet routes (lines 12, 19, and 20); make driving less attractive (as per our climate and transportation goals); and improve bicycling from downtown into the central eastside. The project also completes an east-west transit-priority couplet with NE Couch, a street one block to the north that got its bus-only lane one year ago.

Beyond the big, red lane; the star attraction of this project is a new traffic signal at Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd that gives separate phases to bicycle, bus, and car operators. This signal (and associated no-right-turn-on-red provision) aims to prevent right-hook collisions between people turning south onto MLK Jr. Blvd (a one-way street) and people trying to walk and bike across the street.

The signal is also a tool to manage traffic volumes and mitigate congestion, as we shared in this 2015 post where some expert sources proposed almost the exact configuration PBOT ended up with.

Of course, with any project that relies solely on paint and signage to enforce behavior, its success will depend on people following the laws. And in my observations, compliance wasn’t that great. Delivery trucks are parking in the bike lane, drivers are using the bus-only (and sometimes even the bike) west of MLK Jr. Blvd, and some folks are just disregarding the signals. If you’ve been around a while, you know this happens every time PBOT does one of these projects. The good news is that the city watches these projects closely and make adjustments as time goes on, and people also adjust their behavior as the changes become more familiar.

Another reason people are driving into the bus and bike lanes is because the project has increased traffic backups considerably. When I was out there last Friday, it was bumper-to-bumper from SW 3rd all the way to NE 12th or so. As I stood mid-span on the Burnside Bridge I could feel peoples’ frustration and impatience as they sat in traffic right next to a wide open lane. (This is one reason it’s imperative that we get more folks on bikes and buses. When PBOT does high-profile lane changes like this one, and folks don’t see the new bus/bike space being used, it just fuels their rage and erodes political and public will to make more changes.)

PBOT has a history of under-designing projects, then they have to react to drivers’ lawlessness after-the-fact. That seems to be what they are doing here as well. The first time I observed the approach to MLK Jr. Blvd, the new bus lane was unpainted. When I returned a few days later I noticed PBOT has put up traffic cones to help reinforce the concept. And then yesterday, crews were out adding red paint to the lane.

“We are tracking some compliance issues with the new lane configuration approaching MLK,” PBOT Public Information Officer Dylan Rivera told BikePortland on Thursday. The right turn lane is in a new location, so it will take some time for folks to adjust and the additional work over the next two days is to make the lane configuration even more clear.”

The rest of the route seemed to be working pretty much as planned.

From a cycling perspective, the bike lane is now painted green (it was unpainted before) and instead of cycling next to cars and trucks, we get to ride next to a (mostly open) bus lane. This is a nice buffer from other traffic lanes. Unfortunately the bus stops are still on the curb, so there is some leapfrogging. But since it’s uphill and cycling speeds are a bit slower, and with an extra lane of space to use, it’s easy and safe to navigate around a stopped bus.

With a better bike lane on Burnside, we now have a much stronger connection to NE 7th, which gets riders to the Blumenauer Bridge (north) or the Ankeny neighborhood greenway (south).

Speaking of Ankeny, one of the other selling points of this project was a new bike lane on MLK Jr. Blvd that would create a stronger connection between the Burnside Bridge bikeway and the greenway. When we last shared about this project back in October, PBOT’s plan was a new bike lane on the east side of MLK Jr. Blvd and then some median islands on Ankeny to improve safety and strengthen the connection.

PBOT plan drawings, October 2022 (left) and today.

But they’ve changed that plan and the bike route is now on the west side of MLK Jr. Blvd. From what I saw, it’s a very underwhelming connection (see below). I didn’t see much markings or signage; but I think they want bicycle riders to roll up onto the sidewalk/curb extension on the southwest corner of Burnside and MLK Jr. Blvd, and then there’s a new paved ramp back onto the bike lane (a former parking lane). If a bike rider misses the ramp and tries to go right in the lane of MLK, they will be just inches from exposed streetcar tracks. And right now, the bike lane striping ends just prior to Ankeny where you would make a two-stage turn to orient yourself from south on MLK Jr. Blvd to east on Ankeny. I expect PBOT to add more pavement markings, green paint in the bike lane, and a stronger connection to Ankeny to make this work better.

But as I thought about it, I think the vast majority of people might just feel better staying on Burnside a few blocks and taking 6th or 7th to connect to Ankeny — so maybe the bike lane on MLK Jr. Blvd isn’t really that important. We’ll see how it all shakes out. I’ve asked PBOT for an update and will update this when I hear back. (UPDATE: I’ve realized that one major reason the bike lane was kept on the west side of MLK was because of how it creates a better connection to the Central Eastside Industrial District (which makes total sense). So, if you want to get into the CEID (Wayfarer, Produce Row, skate park, etc…), you should use this MLK bike lane. If you want to continue further eastbound on Ankeny, better to cross MLK and then cut over on 6th or 7th.)

Overall, this feels like a good upgrade to Burnside. Whether or not it moves the needle (which everything we do must at this point!) will depend on how well PBOT and the Portland Police Bureau manage the scofflaws who violate the lane assignments. As long as drivers are able and likely to swerve into adjacent lanes and/or delivery drivers park in the bike lane, the cycling environment will be stressful, the project will not reach its potential, and it will not attract new riders or entice drivers out of their cars — both of which we desperately need.

Stepping back a bit, it’s exciting to see all the bike and bus connections coming into focus! Each new piece of the network adds exponential value to the existing ones.

What do you think about this? What’s it like to drive on? Will it improve your cycling experience? Have you noticed better bus service as a result?

Don’t miss the video I shared about this project to our Instagram yesterday.

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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David Hampsten
David Hampsten
9 months ago

Long overdue. When are they planning to extend it to SE Gilham/Thorburn and the Washington/Stark couplet?

AL
AL
9 months ago

The burnside parts seem great but the bike lane on MLK makes no sense. I’d rather just ride in traffic for a block. But if they add a signal to ankeney and MLK I’d use it for sure

dan
dan
9 months ago

I’ll take leapfrogging any day over the crummy implementation of the bike lanes on lower Hawthorne, where bus riders cross the bike lane and cyclists have speed tables

dw
dw
9 months ago
Reply to  dan

I have never had a conflict in that area and I bike and bus through it at least once a week. It’s okay for cyclists to slow down and yield to pedestrians sometimes.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
9 months ago
Reply to  dan

Most riders are not so fearless. Physically separating bicycle and car traffic is needed to get more “interested but concerned” people on bikes:

https://trec.pdx.edu/news/research-reveals-perceptions-safety-and-use-protected-bike-lanes

The prefab floating bus platforms on Hawthorne could be a step toward permanent bus islands. These would protect cyclists even more while also speeding up transit:

https://nacto.org/publication/transit-street-design-guide/stations-stops/stop-configurations/side-boarding-island-stop/

maxD
maxD
9 months ago

The additions to Burnside could be good if they enforce it enough to keep drivers/delivery vehicles, Ubers/Lyfts, etc out of the bus and bike lanes. The MLK changes actually make things significantly worse for people biking, IMO. If you are biking east on Burnside and want to continue east on Ankeny, then you can use the east-most lane on MLK (as they had proposed). The nonsense they built that routes bikes up and over a pedestrian space, then forces a tight turn across streetcar tracks is total garbage. PBOT should rip that today before they waste more money adding paint and signs.

Ruth
Ruth
9 months ago
Reply to  maxD

This is a major problem with virtually every traffic change made. Whenever something is changed, there should be immediate increased enforcement at that location. It doesn’t mean you need to ticket everyone, but pull them over, explain how things work now, maybe give a warning if someone is recalcitrant, but overall just make sure they know the ground rules here have changed.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
9 months ago

After an entire year of forcing people biking to merge from the burnside bridge bike lane into raging cage-driver peak hour traffic without a detour I find that I have no charitable feelings towards PBOT’s illusion of progress. WTF were they thinking?

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
9 months ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

More context: The bus lane is very good. The bike lane is just another half-a**ed project with an implementation that highlighted just how little interest PBOT has in encouraging people to ride bikes for transportation.

dw
dw
9 months ago

Great reporting. I’ve been through on the bus and it felt very premium to zip past all the cars. I love bus lanes.

You pretty much nailed all the criticisms I have about the project. I’m interested to see what kind of adjustments they make. And whether or not PPB/PBOT will enforce no cars in the bus/bike lanes. Maybe some strategically placed flex-posts between the car and bus lane could help motivate drivers to stay in their lanes?

Champs
Champs
9 months ago

Slightly off topic:

I forget how long ago they put wands on the Burnside Bridge, but I always remember how they have remained intact far longer than any others even after you account for fewer vehicles using the adjacent lane: it’s obviously not all buses, and the drivers of anything else likely aren’t too safety-minded.

Just this once, wands seem to be okay! This is either a miracle or cause for reflection on just how bad everyone is at driving around them otherwise.

Andrewkpdx
Andrewkpdx
9 months ago

I ride in and around these routes all the time, and I agree that the main crux point is the one block area approaching and leaving the Burnside and MLK intersection, especially when autos are backed on Burnside more than 15-20 cars. I find it less stressful to continue on E.Burnside for 2-10 blocks and then move over to Ankeny, versus going South on MLK, unless my goal is to move down to SE 3rd.

Joseph E
9 months ago

Re: “I think they want bicycle riders to roll up onto the sidewalk/curb extension on the southwest corner of Burnside and MLK Jr. Blvd”

That was a really poor choice by PBOT.

The initial mistake was putting the streetcar on the right side of the street. The streetcars should be in the left lane, in an exclusive right-of-way, then they would not interfere with bikes and other slow vehicles on the right side.

Ruth
Ruth
9 months ago

They need to color the bus only lanes downtown. Perhaps then drivers would pay attention.

Social Engineer
Social Engineer
9 months ago

Jonathan, the entire point of the bike lane on MLK is to get you from the bridge to Ankeny WESTBOUND if you are headed to the Produce Row area. Until now there has never been a safe connection from Burnside Bridge, except for riding on the sidewalk.

As you have deduced, it’s much more straightforward to continue on Burnside to 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th etc. if you are trying to get to Ankeny eastbound from the bridge. Hopefully we get some more wayfinding signage to make this connection clearer.

ActualPractical
ActualPractical
9 months ago

This will help my rides back to the east side. The only problem is making a left turn from so far over without stopping and doing it in two stages.

Steven
Steven
9 months ago

The lanes are nice but unprotected, which is par for the course. Just got doored tonight by someone getting out of their Uber that was straddling the bus and bike lane. Unapologetic about it of course. There were three of them all parked in a line in front of Dirty Pretty doing the same. Unprotected bike lanes on Burnside are just invitations for Ubers.

Michael K
Michael K
9 months ago

I drive through that intersection a couple of times a week (don’t hate…I live in Washington County) and I really like the new format. I did notice the congestion noted in the article, but it seems to be easing as people become more familiar with the changes. Cycling through the area is really improved (partly because it was so miserable during the construction).

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
9 months ago
Reply to  Michael K

partly because it was so miserable during the construction

It was not just miserable, it was incredibly dangerous to dump bike traffic into a speeding SUV/truck lane for a couple of blocks with little warning (the bikes merge sign was hard to read and often moved out of the right of way). I will also note that this situation was not just a temporary change but persisted for ~9 months. I for one changed my route across the river and doubt I will ever take burnside again — too many really dangerous experiences.

RipCityBassWorks
RipCityBassWorks
9 months ago

These changes are good and hopefully hint at long overdue changes to W Burnside as part of the Burnside Bridge Replacement. With the planned lane reconfigurations, there would be plenty of room for protected bike lanes connecting to at least W 18th.

Paige
Paige
9 months ago

I used this intersection this weekend, and the only thing I would add is a bike box at 7th & Burnside to connect to the Blumenauer. Otherwise, it worked well, and is definitely one of the better unprotected bike lanes.

Bjorn
Bjorn
9 months ago

I urge the city to consider automated enforcement of the red lanes, I see far too many drivers using them as express lanes.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Bjorn

I was just thinking the same thing myself.