Sandy Blvd primed for a future bikeway, report says

Existing conditions on Sandy Blvd are… not great. (Jonathan Maus – BikePortland)
Tonight’s event flyer.

A key section of Sandy Boulevard has big potential to improve Portland’s transportation system — especially if it can be redesigned to meet a latent demand for cycling.

That’s one of the takeaways from a report made public last month by a group of Portland State University graduate students. The Future Sandy Existing Conditions report was prepared by Strategic Minds Consulting Group as part of a project for PSU’s Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) program. Students Afroza Hossain Misty, Anchal Cheruvari, Heather Rector, Holly Querin, Katelyn Dendas, and Symeon Walker are working with local nonprofit BikeLoud PDX to investigate the potential of adding a major bikeway to Sandy when it gets repaved by the Portland Bureau of Transportation in 2026. (You might recall that several of these students came to Bike Happy Hour on April 10th to garner feedback.)

In a bid to fortify their advocacy push for a bikeway on Sandy Blvd, BikeLoud PDX submitted an application to PSU back in November and the project was chosen for the “MURP workshop”. According to PSU, that program, “is intended to give our students hands-on experience in conceiving, planning, and implementing a community-based planning project in close consultation with a committed client/partner.”

This existing conditions report is the first product of the student’s partnership with BikeLoud.

BikeLoud feels the upcoming PBOT repaving project is “an important opportunity to reconfigure the street.” As we’ve reported, Sandy’s flat, direct, diagonal alignment makes it a very seductive short-cut to many important destinations, but it lacks dedicated bicycle infrastructure and most riders don’t feel like the safety risk is worth the time savings.

Strategic Minds Consulting Group hasn’t completed their full report that will offer recommendations on more detailed insights, but the existing conditions report validates BikeLoud’s vision. “The study area’s population density combined with the mixture of commercial development and (mostly renter-occupied) housing along the corridor make it well-suited for investments in transit, walking, and biking,” reads the report.

Here are more of their key takeaways:

  • Sandy Boulevard has taken many forms through the years and is again poised to change as the number of multifamily and mixed-use developments increase along the corridor. 
  • The median household income of the study area is noticeably lower than the median income of the city as a whole, reflecting a need for low-cost transportation options to serve the community. 
  • Sandy Boulevard is estimated to have a high latent demand for cycling due to its diagonal nature but currently lacks cycling infrastructure, which is misaligned with the corridor’s designation as a Major City Bikeway. 
  • The city and region’s current plans and policies support the transformation of the corridor into one that prioritizes active transportation and transit usage in order to meet goals related to climate change mitigation, safety improvements, environmental health, and quality of life. 
PSU MURP student Holly Querin and other members of Strategic Minds Consulting Group at Bike Happy Hour last month. (Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

The students’ fresh eyes on Sandy also validate a lot of what many veteran Portland bicycle riders have known for many years:

“Unless they choose to bike within the travel lanes on Sandy, cyclists currently must zig-zag along the bike network to move southwest to northeast… Even when following the bike routes, gaps in the bike network create a confusing and stressful experience when biking.”

Not only is Sandy “confusing and stressful” for cyclists, it’s current design caters only to car users. And when bicycle users try to avoid it they incur an unfair time and distance penalty.

Strategic Minds believes increasing housing and commercial density along the corridor are another factor that should point toward a bike-centric future for Sandy.

“The city and region’s Vision Zero goals, modal hierarchy, and climate goals support the need to move the corridor away from dominant automobile use and toward active transportation and transit,” the report concludes.

Meet the students and learn more about their Future Sandy project at an hopen house tonight (Monday, May 13th) from 5:30 to 7:00 pm at The Village Free School (1785 NE Sandy Blvd).

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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nic.cota
Nic Cota
6 days ago

Awesome work! A lot of folks through the years (including PBOT staff) have brought up that getting both bike and bus-priority infra on Sandy is critical for growing our biking and transit mode share. Really excited to have this talented team of MURP students lay the foundation for this future vision!

John Carter
John Carter
6 days ago

Seems odd that the study corridor stops short of covering the Hollywood District?

 
 
6 days ago
Reply to  John Carter

I don’t have traffic count data to back it up, but anecdotally speaking the section of Sandy to the north of I-84 — which includes the Hollywood District — has much more traffic than the section to the south. My guess is that’s why they’re focusing on the southwestern section: it’s lower-hanging fruit and going to be easier to build political and popular support for.

dw
dw
5 days ago
Reply to  John Carter

The upcoming repaving only covers 14th to 28th

Watts
Watts
6 days ago

Why is rental housing more conducive to bike riding than owned housing? Is it all the great bike parking/storage opportunities that landlords typically provide?

A Grant
A Grant
5 days ago
Reply to  Watts

First you misrepresent the quote, which noted that “(mostly renter-occupied) housing along the corridor make it well-suited for investments in transit, walking, and biking,”

And I think you know the answer to your question – renters are far more likely not to own a vehicle at all (or own only one vehicle per household). Making alternatives such as transit, walking, and biking well suited to the area.

Watts
Watts
4 days ago
Reply to  A Grant

renters are far more likely not to own a vehicle at all (or own only one vehicle per household). 

You mean the young, poor, carless tenants filling the rather swish A-class market-rate apartments being built across inner Portland? Or those further out, far from this project, where rents are actually a bit cheaper?

Over 92% of Portland households have access to a car; if we suppose the 8% who don’t are primarily renters*, then the folks we’re discussing are only slightly less likely to have access to a car than their neighbors who own their houses/apartments.

So yes, I “know” the answer, and I think it’s primarily based on stereotype. I believe (adjusting for age and ability) renters and property owners would be equally likely to walk, bike, or take transit when high-quality options are available.

https://bikeportland.org/2022/04/28/how-can-we-bring-zero-auto-ownership-out-of-the-shadows-352878

*Purely anecdotal, but all the car-free folks I personally know own their place of residence. They all have the economic luxury of being able to arrange their affairs to not require a car.

Micah
Micah
2 days ago
Reply to  Watts

Rental housing in apartment buildings is more dense than detached single family housing (which is what we’re talking about whether rented or occupant owned). ‘Alternative’ forms of transportation become more attractive with density for a variety of reasons unrelated to stereotypes of renters as losers. I understand why you bristle, but the fact that there are a lot of apartments on Sandy is indeed a good argument for building high quality transit and bike systems that serve Sandy. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect people to give up their cars just because the bus is frequent and there is a nice bike lane … but it’s a step in the right direction.

Watts
Watts
9 hours ago
Reply to  Micah

I would love for there to be high quality transit and bike systems on Sandy, especially if that’s what local residents and businesses want. I was primarily noting that renters in apartments often lack good bike storage options (a condition likely to persist thanks to Carmen Rubio), meaning bikes often work better for people who live in houses. It doesn’t have to be this way, but it’s a result of the policies we’ve chosen.

I didn’t think renters are losers.

Fred
Fred
5 days ago
Reply to  Watts

Why is rental housing more conducive to bike riding than owned housing?

Because younger people with less income are assumed to occupy most rental housing, like apartments. Because they have less income, car ownership is thought to be less likely, and because they are younger and fitter, bike use is assumed to be more likely.

Would these assumptions actually hold up if someone were to study this population? Probably not. All of the young people I know who live in apartments downtown and the inner eastside own cars, no matter their income, since they see cars as a necessity for modern civic participation. They drive everywhere b/c that’s just what Americans do, unfortunately. Changing that mindset is the key to saving the planet.

Todd/Boulanger
Todd/Boulanger
6 days ago

Enjoying that 1943 photo of Sandy Blvd and the wider pedestrian sidewalks (16FT or 20FT?) vs. the 12FT (?) sidewalks retrofitted in post war.

eawriste
eawriste
6 days ago

It’s nice to hear about PSU choosing Sandy. It always gives me a glimmer of hope that Portland might finally figure out how to start building a separated bike network outside downtown. Good luck to BikeLoud and PSU!

A few thoughts:

  1. Let’s hope the PSU group demonstrates what Sandy would look like given standard design practice, or the status quo. Remember a traditional civil engineer designing a street chooses (in order of importance) speed, volume, safety and cost. Despite the belief of some engineers, these are value decisions and it is very important to make this decision making process as transparent as possible. With this status quo design, a projection of future deaths/injuries based on the current deaths and injuries needs to be front and center.
  2. A trial of a design that prioritizes the values of safety and the movement of people via a better block-like experimentation should show people what this explicit decision (i.e., choosing safety over speed and volume) gives them.
  3. It will be very important to have a group of people who live within the neighborhood to provide a coherent rebuttal when (not if) the safer design is challenged by a politician due to special interest.
  4. What separated cycle routes will this connect to and how? It’s nice to get a great street design project going, but if it’s not connected to anything substantial, its worth is diminished.
Fred
Fred
5 days ago
Reply to  eawriste

Engineer asks question:

“How many people will have to die during the life of this street?”

Answer: 15.

“Is the throughput worth these deaths?”

Answer: Yes.

That’s essentially how streets have been designed.

eawriste
eawriste
5 days ago
Reply to  Fred

To be fair Fred, I’m sure we have quite a few “recovering engineers” at PBOT who would jump at the opportunity to transform spaces across Portland given just a modicum of political support. It won’t happen with Mapps, but maybe we’ll get someone who supports safe streets in the future? Anyone who wishes to better understand the historical context of how and why the US has designed so many awful places surrounded by stroads, I urge you to read Marohn’s Confessions of a recovering Engineer.

Fred
Fred
5 days ago
Reply to  eawriste

Thanks for the reading tip.

dw
dw
6 days ago

Sandy desperately needs a road diet! I’d love to see a similar treatment to Foster (another charming, diagonal former streetcar route), though with better bike infrastructure.

eawriste
eawriste
5 days ago
Reply to  dw

dw Foster was redesigned a decade or so. While the 4 to 3 conversion did improve safety via slowing cars and providing a few median crossing islands, it has standard bike lanes and a LOT of unused space to encourage speeding. I doubt PBOT would revisit Foster, but since it’s where I’m from, I’d agree with you. Foster desperately needs a redesign to include separated bike lanes and “bus bulbs.”

On the other hand Sandy has all of the characteristics of a traditional “Stroad.” It is extremely expensive, dangerous and inefficient. Like a road it serves to move a lot of cars quickly through the space to the detriment of businesses and safety, but since it’s not a street it reduces the value of the space and few people want to use it or live near it. This is a grand opportunity for the students, PBOT and BikeLoud to demonstrate to the public what a stroad is, and why they are so harmful, inefficient, and completely unnecessary.

Watts
Watts
5 days ago
Reply to  eawriste

This is a grand opportunity for the students, PBOT and BikeLoud to demonstrate to the public what a stroad is, and why they are so harmful, inefficient, and completely unnecessary.

What I’d like even better would be a clear demonstration of what a wonderful opportunity an overhaul of Sandy would be for businesses and residents. What would it take to restore Sandy to be a prime commercial street in this modern age?

It would be far more important in such an effort to have involvement and vision from residents and the business community as opposed to “mode advocates” such as BikeLoud.

I care less about what a “stroad” is and more what a vibrant community is.

Watts
Watts
5 days ago

A “vibrant community” is impossible with a stroad.

Perhaps; my point is start with the positive, community driven vision rather than a negative, activist/wonk one. If the community is not involved, they need to be, otherwise this will not go anywhere, especially on a street like Sandy that has so many businesses (which can translate to political power).

We should be working toward their vision rather than trying to convince them to support ours.

qqq
qqq
5 days ago
Reply to  Watts

Your view is timely, given the recent article about Parks excluding biking–before the project even got started–as a potential use for the proposed Rose City Golf Course trails.

I agree with Jonathan that the current Sandy design makes a vibrant community impossible, so there at least should be quite a bit of overlap between what the community would want and what the project proposes.

On the other hand, I’ve been involved in lots of projects similar to the Rose City one, where the well-intentioned project assumed there’d be no controversy about the direction it was aimed in, only to find out that it was bad one, once it informed the general public. And the projects found out because they scared/surprised people, who then had to scramble to react, and by then the focus of the community had to be simply keeping the project from being damaging.

On the positive side, PSU did a project in a park near me, and actually did a good job (with Parks) informing people that the project was starting up, and they started it with a pretty well done phase where they gathered opinions from people who used and lived near the park, to see what those people thought was important.

Watts
Watts
5 days ago
Reply to  qqq

On the other hand, I’ve been involved in lots of projects similar to the Rose City one, where the well-intentioned project assumed there’d be no controversy about the direction it was aimed in, only to find out that it was bad one, once it informed the general public.

The most successful projects tend to be an outgrowth of what the community wants. If it doesn’t start with them, the project is going to have a tough time if it turns out that the community wants something different than the project outcomes.

I have no idea if the PSU folks talked with community members. I hope they did, but their choice of partners (BikeLoud instead of a neighborhood or business association) suggests this vision is being driven by outside perspectives rather than internal ones.

Fred
Fred
5 days ago
Reply to  Watts

This is always your mantra, Watts – that we can do only “what the community wants.”

It’s pretty clear “the community” (aka The American People) wants to sit in their cars and have the easiest, fastest journey everywhere. They want to step from one room of the house into their car in another room (aka the garage), drive quickly and heedlessly to another location and park DIRECTLY in front of that location. And then do the reverse.

How does ANY active-transportation plan have a chance in that kind of environment? Clearly it doesn’t. We need clever leaders who can work AT projects into plans b/c if we can only ever do what People want, the AT projects will never happen.

Watts
Watts
5 days ago
Reply to  Fred

that we can do only “what the community wants.”

Yes. I believe fairly strongly in democracy, even if it means that other people don’t always do what I want them to. But I’m arguing here in purely practical terms — community involvement reduces the political risks of a project, making it more likely that we can build something transformative.

You are clearly thinking of Sandy as an “active transportation plan”. I think we’ll get better overall results if we approach it as a neighborhood/community improvement plan. I really don’t think people will say “yes, we actually do want an urban highway here”, but if they do, maybe we should listen to why.

Andrew S
Andrew S
4 days ago
Reply to  Watts

I like Watts’ take here, especially for Sandy. It may be harder work, but it’s probably the right call here. Nobody really likes Sandy as is. Watts (or others), do you have any good examples of where this approach has been met with success?

I’ll add that Sandy really doesn’t do anything very well. A quick Google at 10AM on a weekday shows 19min to travel by car (in light traffic) to do the 5.5mi trip from 7th and Washington from Parkrose TC. That’s about 17mph avg, which is a travel speed that does not justify a car sewer here. Bus service says 36min (including wait time), which would average out to 9.2mph. The bike directions add 1.7mi to the route for a total of 41min. I don’t think it would be hard to get community members to imagine a better version of the corridor.

Watts
Watts
4 days ago
Reply to  Andrew S

do you have any good examples of where this approach has been met with success?

Inner Division Street — it’s makeover was almost entirely community led, and while I don’t love everything about where it ended up, it was a pretty radical transformation.

qqq
qqq
5 days ago
Reply to  Fred

Every time I’ve been involved with a neighborhood taking a position against a project or plan, it’s been the neighborhood that’s had the progressive view. We often had to fight aggressively–filing lawsuits, appeals, freedom of information requests, etc.–all of which would have been avoided if the projects hadn’t blasted ahead while squelching public input.

The worst fights–and our biggest wins–came when we went up against project teams that had attitudes about us that sounded like your description of “the community”. Often, people in the neighborhood even had better professional credentials than the project teams did.

Paul H
Paul H
4 days ago
Reply to  Fred

I think you and Watts might be more aligned than it seems. I believe (but could be wrong) that the residents and businesses near Sandy are the community Watts mentions. Based on my experience living on Holgate, that community likely wants a far different outcome than the folks who live elsewhere but use Holgate, ahem I mean, Sandy as an urban highway without regard to folks who live with the consequences of the noise and traffic and tire dust.

Mark Remy
Mark Remy
6 days ago

This is great to hear. Every time I bike on Sandy Blvd, or even walk along the sidewalk—and I do mean every single time—I despair at how horrible it is. It’s essentially I-84Jr.

Seems like a no-brainer to make at least certain stretches of it WAY narrower and slower for cars, using the freed-up space for pedestrian plazas, bike lanes, etc. Maybe starting with Hollywood.

Fred
Fred
5 days ago
Reply to  Mark Remy

Where I live in SW Portland, Sandy is in fact an alternate route to drive to the airport. And really everyone drives b/c there is no other fast and reliable means of getting to PDX, sad to say. The bus to the MAX takes almost two hours.

Any modern European city with an airport has fast and direct trains arriving from all directions. But not Portland – just the slooooow MAX train, and I suppose we are lucky even to have that.

Watts
Watts
5 days ago
Reply to  Fred

just the slooooow MAX train

The sad thing is that that’s our fast Max train.

Fred
Fred
5 days ago
Reply to  Watts

True. Go to Germany and ride any S-Bahn (Stadt-Bahn, or city train) and you will be blown away by how fast and direct they are. You can cover vast distances across large cities like Frankfurt and Munich in 20-25 minutes – the amount of time it takes the MAX to travel from Goose Hollow to the Convention Center, which is barely three miles.

Will Portland ever get serious about public transit? I doubt it.

Watts
Watts
5 days ago
Reply to  Fred

Will Portland ever get serious about public transit? I doubt it.

And you wonder why I’m skeptical about claims that TriMet’s model of transit is the future of transportation in Portland?

bjorn
bjorn
6 days ago

I moved here almost 20 years ago and back then the city didn’t want to put bike facilities on Sandy because the street car was coming soon and there wouldn’t be room for both. I was even on a citizen advisory group around bringing the streetcar to Sandy, in part because I wanted to try to make sure that cyclists weren’t banned from Sandy because it is a pretty big shortcut especially going into town from out past 57th where the downhill nature makes it fairly reasonable to keep up with traffic. I am guessing the city would probably say the same thing now, but we don’t seem any closer to either bike facilities or street cars on Sandy.

Watts
Watts
5 days ago

And that’s why biking has flatlined in Portland!

I think you have the causality backwards. Had biking continued to grow at the rate it did in the 2000s, bike lanes on Sandy would be easy (because you’re right that they’re obvious). But because ridership has tanked (not flatlined), there’s no longer much political support for potentially disruptive bike projects that serve a dwindling sliver of Portlanders.

Matt Z
Matt Z
5 days ago

I think the discussion should be on 2 things:

  1. Sandy Blvd has a massively different usage patterns even in the last few years than when it was originally designed and build. The form no longer fits the function, so it is time to change it to fit current and future use patterns. It’s time to change the infrastructure to support it’s current and future intended use. I.e. it was a car lot-centric suburban commuter corridor (check Google Street view circa 2007). It now has thousands of new residential units up or coming up (old Pepsi plant, old Sunshine Dairy, and MorningStar Assisted Living to name a few)
  2. We as residents, businesses, and communities near Sandy Blvd, need to think strategically and capitalize on changing transit modalities. Right now it’s as car-centric as it gets. If you think that’s the best thing for residents and businesses, then you’re doing the best you ever can. Otherwise, If we don’t change with the times, other areas will get eaten up by more inviting residential- and consumer-centric districts and cities.
Geohiker
Geohiker
3 days ago

I live over in Roseway and frequently will commute down Sandy on my bike to downtown in the morning. It does to take a bit of nerve, but it is quite doable. The section of Sandy between 57th and 72nd is easy since there is parking lane that never has more than 4-5 cars. 57th through Hollywood shrinks down to two lanes and you have to be comfortable taking a full lane, but I-84 traffic usually backs up through Hollywood and it is pretty slow. Once you pass over I-84 car traffic drops significantly and you can just take the full lane down to Couch and then you are gold with the rose bus lane. I would not recommend biking up Sandy in the opposite direction however. I find that to be much more stressful and the hill climb up to 57th is tough.

Watts
Watts
2 days ago
Reply to  Geohiker

I rode Sandy in the outbound direction last week to meet someone at 81st. It was on a weekend, but I agree with your assessment. Not too bad for confident cyclists, and less fun uphill. My ride was MUCH faster than the bus would have been, though significantly slower than driving.