City says NE 33rd bike lane in ‘limbo’ while talks with neighbors continue

Portlanders stood in front of a truck to prevent it from removing bike lane striping on NE 33rd last Wednesday. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

It’s been five days since protestors stared down a City of Portland contractor in a striping truck and forced them to stop removing the bike lanes on Northeast 33rd Avenue.

Now the situation is in an awkward pause while the Portland Bureau of Transportation talks to individual residents along the street between NE Holman and Dekum to figure out a course of action. It’s awkward because the bike lane that PBOT hoped to erase is still there, yet it’s not technically a bike lane because the City says they won’t ticket anyone for parking in it.

While we wait for whatever happens next, I want to make sure everyone reads the official PBOT explanation of what happened. You might have read what PBOT told me during an interview on Thursday; but the official response is worth reading too.

The response below was sent out from PBOT’s constituents services coordinator at around 4:00 pm last Thursday:

Good afternoon, I am the Constituents Services Coordinator for the Portland Bureau of Transportation responding to your email on behalf of Director Williams. I would like to thank you for sharing your concerns around the four blocks of bike lane we prematurely striped on NE 33rd Avenue. We have postponed our work to grind it out for now. However, we want to share some helpful background on what happened here as well as next steps.

Background

After the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) completed the Columbia-Lombard Mobility Plan and council adopted it in 2021, PBOT staff were supposed to do a parking study, look at the impacts and tradeoffs, and do proper outreach to the community about certain elements of the plan, including the removal of parking for the proposed bike lanes on NE 33rd Avenue from Holman to the over-change. These steps are supposed to be routine as our planners hand off to our project managers who then continue to do outreach as projects move through phases of design and pre-construction. 

We clearly skipped these steps around this portion of the bike lane. Staff included this striping in the design but had never spoken to affected neighbors or told them when these changes would be coming. This went straight into work orders and our crews striped it without knowing we skipped these steps. We realized the error too late to stop it or properly notify neighbors outside routine notification we do whenever we do paving work.

Community concerns

If we had done the parking study and outreach like we should have, we would have learned months ago how some adjacent residents don’t have off-street parking and that others live in multigenerational households who need safe access to their homes. These are concerns we are hearing now after this mistake. We commit to doing further outreach to learn how we can find a solution. 

To be clear, our bike and walk maps have long identified this stretch of NE 33rd Avenue as a difficult connection for biking. Putting a bike lane here has been part of the Columbia-Lombard Mobility Plan as well as the 2030 Portland Bicycle Plan and the Transportation System Plan. However, adopted plans are exactly that: plans. They are not final. It’s not only customary but a sign of good governance that we talk to community members and affected neighbors throughout a project’s life, sharing designs, talking through access issues, and using community feedback to make projects work better.

Next steps

Fast forward to today. Regardless of how they might feel about the new bike lane, neighbors were rightfully surprised, even upset, we gave them no notice. Likewise, biking advocates are rightfully upset we planned to grind out this much-needed bike lane at a spot noted to be difficult for biking.

Until we can do the outreach we should have done before anything got to this point, we’re going to be in limbo. We’ll be out talking to the community and deciding a path forward. Whatever happens, we recognize this is a painful, costly mistake at a time when PBOT’s budget crisis is forefront on our minds.

Again, we appreciate you taking the time to contact us regarding your concerns. We hope this background has been helpful. 

So that is where things stand. We’ve heard from a few homeowners (including folks who asked for a bike lane back in 2017) that PBOT staff have already met with them and they say the conversations have been very encouraging.

The community will have an opportunity to hear from PBOT’s Director of Policy, Planning and Projects Art Pearce when he visits a joint meeting of the city’s bicycle and pedestrian advisory committees next Tuesday (11/14) at 6:00pm. Pearce is on the agenda to talk about “NE 33rd Avenue: What went wrong? Lessons learned.”


Video for further context posted to our IG account Monday afternoon:

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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Steven Smith
Steven Smith
3 months ago

Will be interesting to see if the parking needs / desires of a few outstrip the city’s stated goal of advancing toward a city that is more bike-friendly (walking-friendly, transit-friendly) and relies less on cars.

Watts
Watts
3 months ago
Reply to  Steven Smith

Leaving the parking and slowing the speed to 20MPH with speed bumps and other measures would make the street safer and more bike friendly than would bike lanes, which make the street feel wider and faster.

I'll Show UP
I'll Show UP
3 months ago
Reply to  Watts

It’s a major emergency route for the very reason it’s an important bike connection. It’s the only way across Columbia for miles. I don’t think they can put speed bumps on a route that is this important.

Sylvia
Sylvia
3 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I grew up on that street. It was a major route from Columbia Blvd all the way to NE Broadway where the 33rd bus line took you downtown. For a while there was one of those weird island things in the middle of the street at NE 33rd and Portland Blvd. It was supposed to slow down traffic. I don’t know if it is still there. Is there still a bus line? I remember there was no parking for the amount of block it took for the bus to pull up to the curb and pick up riders. A few people were not fortunate enough to have a driveway/garage, even in the alleys. Back in my day, most people had one car only. It was a rare occasion for anyone to park for very long on the street anyway.
I’m guessing many of these bike riders have cars as well as bikes. Where do they park?

bbcc
bbcc
3 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Actually separate infrastructure is better. Hope this helps

blumdrew
3 months ago

The official response is helpful only in the sense that it shows PBOT to have entirely backwards priorities. Loss of street parking (zero-occupancy vehicles) should be of far lower concern than bike lanes. In saying that these are the two concerns, and by attempting to remove the bike lane PBOT is saying that street parking for residents is more important than safer streets for cyclists.

PBOT needs to be at minimum defending the decision to put this bike lane in. Anything less is a betrayal.

Fred
Fred
3 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

I couldn’t agree with you more strongly here, and I can’t stop thinking about how PBOT would treat these blocks if they fronted a major freight route and PBOT needed to remove parking to let trucks through. PBOT would be falling all over themselves to justify in the strongest possible terms why freight movement has priority over all other uses (jobs! the economy! safety! etc).

But when it comes to moving bikes and the people who ride them, PBOT couldn’t be any more equivocal about the need to notify neighbors, follow a process, and otherwise undermine cycling on this stretch to appease neighbors who have gotten used to having priority in these blocks.

The official explanation from PBOT doth protest too much, if I may quote The Bard. I’m 99% certain that PBOT always planned to install bike lanes here – they did not miss a step when they installed them. Only when certain influential neighbors complained did they backpedal (pun intended) and find a justification to remove the lanes. I see the hands of Director Williams all over these actions, despite Art taking the fall here.

Todd/ Boulanger
Todd/ Boulanger
3 months ago

Perhaps the City’s Bicycle Advisory Committee [or BikeLoud] should “audit” PBOT’s planned bike lane list with what is sitting with procurement to make sure there are not similar “gaps” in process. [Not that I am saying that the on street storage of private cars should trump traffic safety, but just to be prepared for the next bike “shoe to drop”.]

ED
ED
3 months ago

I’m stuck on the PBOT statement that “some adjacent residents don’t have off-street parking and that others live in multigenerational households who need safe access to their homes. ”
My first response, like a classic urban planner, is to scoff that those residents never “owned” the on-street parking to begin with and so tough beans that it is being removed to serve a “higher” purpose of transportation connectivity and safety. But I’m cringing even to hear myself and wish we could collectively have a more nuanced discussion about on-street parking. Technically it does not belong to adjacent homeowners and yet, 99% of people would likely prefer to have the curb area in front of their homes available for parking, all other things aside. (If we asked them to trade off that parking for housing affordability or transportation safety or asked them to pay for it, the answer might change…) But cities have effectively been giving that valuable street space to homeowners for 80+ years and so residents have set their expectations accordingly. Some bought homes based on those assumptions. Those assumptions were incorrect in a technical sense, but correct in a de facto sense.
How do we collectively change the conversation about on-street parking and add that nuance? A block by block conversation seems like a very slow way to go about it!

Watts
Watts
3 months ago
Reply to  ED

Eliminating parking minimums (which impacted at least one building along this section) is somewhat predicated on the presence of on-street parking. This might reasonably feel like a classic “rug pull” to some.

Outside the center city and off the major transit corridors (and probably even there), housing without parking is not entirely viable, especially if the occupants didn’t enter the arrangement knowing that was part of the deal.

John V
John V
3 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Maybe the thing to do with the elimination of parking minimums should have been instead a minimum of one off street space, and no minimum only if there is no street parking already in front of the building, ironically. So anything built next to an existing bike lane would have no minimum. Then nobody can buy a house and expect to park in front of it.

As it is, I just cannot imagine it should be that hard to say hey, you’re living at a place with no parking, now it’s going away. Historic inequity issues aside.

Or maybe, we should really just start charging (even a small amount) for all street parking. They don’t need meters, just charge people who have too many vehicles to fit in their off street space, with occasional parking enforcement to verify, and add it to city taxes or something. Or come up with whatever scheme for implementation, it need not be difficult. Huge revenue source to do other good things with. That would at least normalize the idea that it’s city property, not yours.

I don’t know. This BS of allowing peoples’ claim to ANY use of the space on the road near their house just needs to end. Whatever the de-facto reality, it is not your space and there are better uses of it, and the city should not be allowing reactionary complaining to change that.

Outside the center city and off the major transit corridors (and probably even there), housing without parking is not entirely viable,

This part I completely disagree with. Or it depends what you call the city center, but basically all of North Portland and all of the neighborhoods East of the river out to at least, I don’t know, 40th lets say, you can easily make it work just fine. It’s not even a challenge. It might be a shock to have your parking taken away, but I don’t think it would be hard at all to sell/rent places that simply don’t have parking for a huge swath of the city. And probably even further East than that.

Watts
Watts
3 months ago
Reply to  John V

 you can easily make it work just fine. It’s not even a challenge.

I am 100% confident that most people would disagree with you. Just because it wouldn’t be a challenge for you doesn’t mean it would be plausible for everyone else. In fact, I’ll be even you own a car (or have easy access to one)*, despite the splendid, liberating ease of not having one.

*I realize there are people here who do live happily without a car; it’s not impossible, just not something that would work for most people. Ironically, my last staunchly, adamantly, stridently non-car owning friend recently bought one, because, despite living close to downtown on a major transit line and having a fleet of urban bikes, he finally concluded not owning one was too big of a PITA.

John V
John V
3 months ago
Reply to  Watts

The fact that a lot of people don’t ride a bike almost everywhere, or that they say it wouldn’t work for them, is not actually evidence that they’re right. The challenge is getting people to understand that, and yeah it’s a big challenge. I face it on a microcosm every time I hesitate to ride in the rain, only to realize it was fine and actually easy when I’m done. People don’t know what they want, they just think the way things are is actually the right and proper way.

Watts
Watts
3 months ago
Reply to  John V

The fact that a lot of people don’t ride a bike almost everywhere, or that they say it wouldn’t work for them, is not actually evidence that they’re right.

I generally trust people to be a better judge of what works for them than an outsider who has never met them. Most people find the “I know better” attitude to be arrogant and off-putting.

I’m sure plenty of people could ride 30 minutes in dark rainy weather, but driving in a warm dry car sure has a lot more appeal.

John V
John V
3 months ago
Reply to  Watts

People don’t actually know about things they haven’t tried and which have been effectively discouraged as a serious option their whole life. People do not know what they don’t know. We don’t start on some even playing field and I just chose different options as if from a menu, I was LUCKY that I happened to grow up in a way where I rode a bike as a kid, already cared about the environment, needed to maintain fitness, and a plethora of other lucky accidents, without which I wouldn’t have chosen to ride. It’s all luck!

Thinking people already know everything and know best, and have made a perfectly rational informed and unbiased decision is the most misguided BS imaginable and just gives a huge advantage to maintaining status quo. In fact, the ONLY thing thing that does is push to maintain the status quo. Brain dead adherents to the religion of free market economics like to think of people as perfectly informed rational actors and all that gets you is an uncontrolled drive off. Because don’t tell people to steer away from a cliff, they know what they’re doing.

E
E
3 months ago
Reply to  John V

Maybe the expectation that needs to change is the availability of parking *directly* in front of the residence? In more dense cities with no off-street parking (and also in NW Portland!), it is rare for folks to park a car directly in front of where they live. Maybe down the block, or across the street, or around the corner or even a couple of blocks away, but rarely are folks lucky enough to park directly in front. It seems a pretty common thing in Portland that people feel like they are entitled to the space directly in front of their house. I’ve seen home owners put up cones, homemade signs that say “no parking”, even complain on Nextdoor when a crosswalk was being put in that took away a parking space. An extreme case of it is a permit parking zone in Eastmoreland near the golf course and the Bybee Max station on blocks where EVERYONE has driveways and garages, and basically no one uses the permit parking zone as a result. It feels as if the people who live there got the permit parking zone just in order to keep others from parking in front of their house!

Quint
Quint
3 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I agree that it could seem like a bait and switch to some people, which is why we need to be more clear as a city where on-street parking should be expected long-term, and where it shouldn’t. It’s pretty simple. On local streets, and on certain dense main streets with very little off-street parking or loading, on-street parking is very likely to be there long-term, though it’s still not completely guaranteed. But on busy collector and arterial streets, that are primarily residential, I think they should tell people that on-street parking is temporary until such time as a mobility use is identified and funded such as turn lanes, bike lanes, bus lanes, etc. And same with commercial corridors that developed in an auto-oriented way and have plenty of off-street parking and loading space. If such a map were published and put out there, hopefully developers of multi-plexes like the one on 33rd Ave would think twice about not including off-street parking if they feel like their residents want or need parking, and if they still decide not to include parking, they would go in eyes wide open and make sure there buyers or tenants know not to count on parking right in front of the building.

Also, I really wish they would stop saying “four blocks” for this project. At most, we’re talking about four “block-faces” of parking impacted, but it’s really far less because of curb cuts and no parking zones around the crossings, plus one of the four block-faces is very short and not actually in front of any houses. As far as the actual “blocks” go, all of these blocks only had parking removed on one of the four sides of the block, so one could easily say that every block impacted by this project still has around 75% of the parking supply it had before. All one has to do is use the sidewalk, no need to even cross a street! All you have to do is the same thing you do at every big-box store or grocery store–walk a short distance from your car to your destination. And it’s even better than that, since you get to walk on a nice sidewalk instead of through a parking lot.

I'll Show UP
I'll Show UP
3 months ago

If PBOT decided that they shouldn’t build bike lanes because adjacent neighbors don’t want to lose parking, we wouldn’t have a bike network. There are legitimate reasons to want parking. There are also legitimate reasons that we have to make decisions about what our future should look like. Those changes create trade-offs. Every. Single. Time.

Watts
Watts
3 months ago
Reply to  I'll Show UP

we wouldn’t have a bike network

And yet we do have a very pleasant network of streets that are great to ride on, with parking parking everywhere.

Fred
Fred
3 months ago
Reply to  Watts

But not in this section, which is a major connector. And as others have noted here, this is the *only* viable connector in this part of town. The existence of other streets with on-street parking does not apply to the argument for a bike lane in this area.

Watts
Watts
3 months ago
Reply to  Fred

What I’m hearing, not just from you but from others posting on this, is that this is the only viable connector, so we have to let people drive fast on it. I’m starting to see that I’m among the few who don’t buy into this vision, but speed seems to be the primary issue.

I accept that if people need to drive fast, and there are no alternative bike routes, the segment probably needs a bike lane, and the parking must go.

But does the street really need to accommodate fast drivers?

Chris I
Chris I
3 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Fast emergency vehicles, yes.

Watts
Watts
3 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

Could fast emergency vehicles can be accommodated with speed bump cutouts?

I'll Show UP
I'll Show UP
3 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Sure. There are a bunch of examples where parking still exists. But, there are also huge, critical parts of the network that wouldn’t exist without parking removal. Places like NE 47th around Burnside and I-84, SE 52nd from Division to miles south, NE Rosa Parks, and many others had parking removed in huge chunks to get in the lanes. If they didn’t remove parking for the bike network, we wouldn’t have a network.

Bjorn
Bjorn
3 months ago
Reply to  I'll Show UP

Oddly they aren’t willing to respect my desire to remove the parking in front of my house as part of another project. Initially that was the plan, but even though we support removing all the on street parking in front of our home they have added some back in which will create a safety hazard as the parked cars will block vision of the 2 way cycle track and sidewalk at our driveway. Many people turn around in our driveway and seem to have difficulty not driving into our flower bed, I am concerned that someone will be hurt or killed in front of my home but PBOT says parking is number 1 apparently.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
3 months ago

A Solomon compromise: Let’s keep the striping but remove the roadway!

SD
SD
3 months ago

The urban planning of the last century that destroyed the vibrancy of many cities and hit minority and marginalized communities the hardest could be summed up by the principle of “don’t poop where you eat” or “don’t foul your nest.” PBOT and ODOT were key actors in creating idyllic communities at the expense of destroying established communities with the excessive waste products of car-based transportation that rolled down the proverbial socioeconomic hill.

As consciousness of these inequities has risen, ODOT’s response has largely just been repulsive PR stunts and gaslighting with the claim that “poop is actually food.” PBOT’s response has been a bit more honest, but essentially is “let’s all poop on each other!”

Fred
Fred
3 months ago
Reply to  SD

I love this comment and would up-vote it 100 times if I could.

Bjorn
Bjorn
3 months ago

I can believe the part of the story up until the lanes were installed but the idea that someone working at PBOT would decide to just remove a bike lane on the heels of the Broadway scandal and that Director Williams wouldn’t want to be involved in that decision or that neither the project manager or Williams would discuss it with Mapps is ludicrous. Stop lying folks.

qqq
qqq
3 months ago

“…we would have learned months ago how some adjacent residents don’t have off-street parking and that others live in multigenerational households who need safe access to their homes.” 

What does “…others who live in multigenerational households who need safe access to their homes” mean?

It says “other”, so it applies to people who DO have off-street parking. So it looks like it’s saying that the bike lanes make access to their homes unsafe. What else could it be?

It makes no sense to me. It sounds like a phrase created to give credence to complaints from households that DO have off-street parking, while masking what those complaints are.

Chris I
Chris I
3 months ago
Reply to  qqq

I read that as saying they have a bunch of people in a single family home, and own many cars, so their driveway can’t hold them all.
We’ve all had neighbors like this at times, and it seems strange to use this as a reason. There is clearly more to this.

Sylvia
Sylvia
3 months ago
Reply to  qqq

I read it as, grandma and grandpa need to be able to get out of their car in front of their house. Mom and her 5 kids with a minivan full of groceries needs the same. Not everyone has a driveway or a garage.

qqq
qqq
3 months ago
Reply to  Sylvia

Actually, the way PBOT wrote it, all of these “multi-generational households” DO have off-street parking.

Don
Don
3 months ago

From PBOT: “If we had done the parking study and outreach like we should have, we would have learned months ago how some adjacent residents don’t have off-street parking and that others live in multigenerational households who need safe access to their homes.”

Am I missing something or is this a canard? A quick Google street view tour of these blocks indicates that ALL fronting parcels have curb cuts and driveways to parking garages. Multi-generation households is a red herring.

Sylvia
Sylvia
3 months ago
Reply to  Don

lol! No, they don’t all have driveways and garages.

qqq
qqq
3 months ago

One thing that may be factoring into neighbors’ unhappiness with removing on-street parking even though they have multiple off-street spaces is that the on-street parking allows them to avoid car shuffling. You can park one car on the street and another in your garage or driveway, so you don’t have to ever move one car to use the other. Or, if you do keep both off-street, it’s easy to move one to in front of your house so you can get to the other.

It comes across as a pretty selfish argument, though, especially compared to someone who loses on-street parking but has no off-street spaces. So people aren’t as likely to admit that’s what they don’t like, so they’ll stress safety, find one neighbor (the fourplex?) that doesn’t have any parking, etc. instead.

I really hope PBOT didn’t come up with “multigenerational households who need safe access to their homes” to provide cover for car shuffling, knowing that that sounds better than, “We’re planning to remove the bike lanes because there are a couple families with teenage drivers, and if they don’t have parking on the street, they’ll block their parents’ cars in if they park in the driveway”.

Chris I
Chris I
3 months ago
Reply to  qqq

“The teenagers will have to walk a block to get to their free public car storage, which is clearly unacceptable. So the bike lanes must go.”

Charley
Charley
3 months ago

I have a suggestion that should satisfy all parties:

1. Install diverters on 33rd at Rosa Parks and Holman, to close off north-south automobile traffic along 33rd.

2. All parking can remain, as the street is now treated as a “neighborhood greenway.”

3. Cycling will now be safer, because there won’t be any fast automobile through traffic.

It’s a win for all!