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.
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.
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.
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: