Back in July, the City of Portland finally cut the ribbon on their $30 million makeover of Southwest Capitol Highway. This morning I finally got out there to take a closer look.
The project stretches about one mile from SW Garden Home Road (near Multnomah Village) to SW Taylors Ferry Rd (near I-5). And if you’re wondering why we spent $30 million on one mile of road, keep in mind that this was much more than just a transportation project. In addition to new sidewalks, bikeways, curbs, and pavement, the City also laid down 7,000 linear feet of stormwater pipe, 3,000 linear feet of water main, built three large stormwater treatment gardens and built 13 retaining walls.
Combine all that with the fact that folks have been asking for this for over 30 years, and the City had to cut into the yards of about 100 homes to gain the width for the sidewalk and bikeway — and you understand why it was such a big deal to finally get it done. And in a part of town like southwest, where it’s almost impossible to ride a bike in most areas, having a mile of protected bikeways on a major street is nothing to shake a frame pump at.
This morning I rode it a few times. Scroll down for a full photo gallery and video ride-through.
This is some of Portland’s best work. Besides the cross-bureau collaboration it took to make this happen, the street itself looks and feels really good. At quick glance, the non-driving space is about as wide as the driving space. That’s a great sign that people will feel comfortable walking and biking.
The biking space feels more like a sidewalk than I prefer. It’s separated from the street by a curb, which is great, but the concrete material is indistinguishable from the sidewalk and the bikeway. PBOT is still in the process of laying down a dividing line stripe which should help a bit, but I’d love to see more use of different colors to mark vehicle spaces (which bike lanes are) from walking spaces. (It’s also notable that the concept drawings on PBOT’s website show the bike lane a different color than the sidewalk.).
The bikeway itself is intuitive to use and feels very safe. Because the street is only one lane of car drivers in each direction and the speed limit is just 25 mph, the overall riding environment is pleasant and calm.
The bikeway crosses a ton of residential driveways. This might not end up being an issue, but any time you have people backing out with their cars over a bikeway, bad things can happen. The fact that PBOT has installed a bunch of yellow caution signs saying, “Warning Look Driveway Slow Down” makes me think they are concerned about this too.
The southbound bikeway is very slightly uphill, so it’s not as wide and has less separation from pedestrians than the northbound (downhill) side. In some spots, both sides feel a bit cramped. If we ever have the type of bike mode share we all expect and dream about, facilities like this will be very tight.
I saw only three bike riders the entire time I was out there (on a sunny, pleasant, weekday morning) and they were all on e-bikes and they were all taking the lane (not even using the new bikeways).
This project is a godsend for runners and walkers! What an amazing new facility for nearby residents.
On both ends of the project, I was sad to see the same thing our bike network suffers from almost everywhere else: the protected environment erodes quickly into narrow, unprotected bike lanes and then drops to nothing right when all the good destinations appear. On the Multnomah Village side, the project dumps riders onto a narrow, paint-only bike lane (that was full of gravel) as it descends into the shops and cafes where it them becomes a shared-lane environment.
At least on the Village end, the street is chill and calm. But on the south side, the project comes to a very ignominious end. In a matter of a few hundred yards, you go from: off-street protected bikeway, to on-street, curb-protected bike lane; then to painted, unprotected bike lane; and then you are discarded into a narrow crossing of a slip lane before being directed onto a narrow sidewalk. Then you come to SW Barbur and I-5 on-ramps where they’ve installed a teeny-tiny bike box. I shudder to think what some folks will do when they reach this point. It takes a big leap of faith to continue southbound to the other side of the freeway.
Overall, this project is a huge step forward for southwest Portland and our bike network in general. It’s a demonstration of what’s possible when the City puts their best foot forward and builds “8-80” all ages bike facilities. I just wish projects like this didn’t take so long to get built. And I wish they connected directly to other bikeways of similar quality.
As it is, with its limited connections and the overall lack of bike-friendly routes in this area, I just hope enough people ride it to solidify the “built it and they will come” narrative that is likely to be increasingly scrutinized in political debates in the months and years to come.
NOTE: I forgot to switch the banner in the second half of the video. Sorry for any confusion.