The Portland Bureau of Transportation has added a lot of new bike-specific infrastructure to Northeast and Southeast 7th Avenue in the past several months. On Tuesday, I went out to take a closer look at some of it.
7th Ave has long been a key north-south street in Portland’s bike network. Then its value skyrocketed when the Blumenauer Bridge opened along its alignment in summer 2022. Now PBOT is trying to make good on a promise to create a low-stress cycling experience on 7th that’s befitting of its designation as a neighborhood greenway and as laid out in the Central City in Motion plan.
Since we last checked-in on the 7th Ave Neighborhood Greenway back in December 2022, PBOT has striped new bike lanes on the five blocks between NE Tillamook and NE Weidler. They’ve also added a few speed bumps south of Tillamook. This is a busy commercial/industrial section of 7th that has long been a troubling gap. The new bike lanes are unprotected, but they come with a generous buffer space that someday (hopefully?!) PBOT will fill with some sort of protective curb or other treatment. They’ve also added green cross-bike markings to reinforce the bikeway through the intersections. It’s notable that PBOT swapped space previously used for free, on-street car storage in order to fit the new bike lanes. More photos below the jump…
These are straightforward bike lanes that are a welcome addition to this section of 7th. Hopefully PBOT can prevent people from parking in them and keep the new lanes clear of leaves and gravel through winter.
Moving further south, I spent a while observing the new crossing treatment on SE 7th at Stark. PBOT has installed a center median diverter using yellow plastic curbs and wands. They also left a large channel in the middle wide enough for bi-directional bike lanes to fit through the center. On each side of Stark the sharrows transition to green-colored bike lanes to signal to riders that they should be in the center of the street to cross. There’s also a green cross-bike through the entire intersection.
This design is meant to facilitate cycling traffic, make it easier to cross Stark, slow down drivers by reminding them this is a bikeway, and reduce the amount of cut-through traffic on 7th by forcing drivers to only turn right.
It’s a nice idea; but far too many drivers are making the dangerous and illegal decision to simply drive right through the gap in the center of the median. It’s clearly a bike lane (the color green should tell everyone that) and there are (way too small and low) “Right Turn Only” signs, but none of that stops the majority of car users who disobey the rules and drive on through.
PBOT Communications Director Hannah Schafer told BikePortland they’re aware of these behaviors and are, “working on a few avenues for improvements.” She said the project team had added temporary traffic control devices, “to help reinforce the operational changes.” Schafer might be referring to a traffic cone places in the middle of the gap; but she might not be aware that as of yesterday it was gone and only its base remained.
Schafer also added that PBOT are reaching out to the Portland Police Bureau to see if they can do “spot enforcement to re-affirm the changes.” “This has worked well at other locations when we see compliance issues,” Schafer shared. And a more permanent fix might be possible through a small PBOT project program known as Missing Links.
We’ve seen this pattern play out many times over the years: a new bikeway design is so anemic that many drivers ignore it, then PBOT throws out some cones or makeshift signs, and we hope for a permanent solution. It’s a frustrating dance that erodes confidence in PBOT’s work — and more importantly — leaves bike riders exposed to unnecessary risk. We must do better.
Thankfully, Schafer said PBOT doesn’t plan to wait the typical six months to collect data and see if the changes are (or aren’t) working. Because of the safety concerns, she says the project team has “elevated the timeline for this specific intersection.”
Related to the crossing at Stark is a new crosswalk and bike lane one block south on SE Washington. In order to facilitate westbound bike traffic onto 7th (from 12th and other points east), PBOT has turned the block of SE Washington between 8th and 7th/Sandy into eastbound only for car drivers and added a westbound bike lane. That new bike lane feeds into an enhanced crossing of 7th/Sandy where PBOT has added a green cross-bike and constructed a new center median island out of yellow plastic curbs and wands.
This intersection of SE Washington, 7th and Sandy is very wide. It also has five openings and a curve, and is at the base of a downhill slope. These elements make it dangerous for all users, especially bike riders who have to navigate onto the greenway from a busy section of 7th Ave en route to the new bridge. As you can see, PBOT and community partners have already reclaimed some of the space by adding cones and planters (even a small dumpster!) to calm traffic. These efforts have reduced driving space and sharpened turns to prevent speeding.
These are all small steps forward as we wait for better designs and protection that will encourage more people to ride and keep safe those who already do. And of course, the ultimate solution at this intersection is the one proposed by Depave that would prevent drivers from using 7th north of Washington and add concrete to separate and physically protect bicycle riders at the corners.
Until then, hopefully all this plastic and paint will do.
Have you ridden 7th lately? What about the Stark crossing? What has your experience been so far?