City’s bike advisory committee to PBOT: Close the Sheridan Gap before it opens

It must include these vital connections… Anything less would be yet another missed opportunity at a time where we cannot afford them.

– PBOT Bicycle Advisory Committee

In a strongly worded letter to Portland Bureau of Transportation Director Millicent Williams, the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee has called on PBOT to expand the scope of its 4th Avenue Improvement Project. The May 16th letter urges the city to fill a “critical gap” in the connection to downtown from the south — and from OHSU — and lists further improvements that should be completed “within the time frame of the current SW 4th Avenue Improvements Project.”

The BAC effort stands in contrast to the curious episode earlier this month when the Portland Metro Chamber (formerly the Portland Business Alliance) thrust the 4th Avenue project into the news with a letter to Commissioner Minugs Mapps calling on him to cancel it. Mapps and city staff have since assured the community it’s moving forward as planned.

The BAC’s letter focuses on an area south of the project boundary and is a follow-up to a committee discussion we covered back in March about how to get bicycle riders from SW Terwilliger/6th over to the new infrastructure coming to SW 4th. The BAC wants the 4th Avenue project expanded and says its current scope is “missing a major opportunity.”

Here’s an excerpt from the letter that lays out their argument:

With SW Broadway improvements ending at SW Clay Street, and SW 4th Avenue improvements currently planned to end at SW Sheridan, neither project fills the critical gap to Terwilliger envisioned by Southwest in Motion [an already-adopted PBOT plan] to connect a neighborhood with 10% of the city’s population and a major medical service provider and Portland’s single largest employer to the Central City. This represents only one of three feasible routes to the Central City; the other two involve cresting the West Hills or surviving Barbur Boulevard which is a high speed High Crash Corridor owned and largely ignored by ODOT.

Specifically, the letter urges PBOT to include the following additions to the 4th Avenue project:

  • Add a right turn bike box on Terwilliger/6th at Sheridan to prevent congestion queueing in the existing bike lane
  • Bike lanes on both the left and right sides of Sheridan from 6th to 4th Avenues to maintain the existing right-side bike lane for people turning right to go south on Barbur, while also empowering people on bikes to cross over at either 6th (or 5th with a full intersection bike box) and then stay on the left side.
  • Move the existing bike lane on 4th between Sheridan and Caruthers to the left side to avoid conflicts with the bus and other vehicles (and will encourage a turn from the new left lane on Sheridan) and continue the left-side lane over the freeway overpass to match the rest of the SW 4th Avenue Improvements Project. Add pedestrian signal actuation for left-side cyclists at 4th and Caruthers.
  • Add a bike signal cabinet that attracts northbound bicycles on Barbur using the right-side bike lane to cross over diagonally to the new left-side bike lane on 4th.
  • Also, to complete the connection, fix the gap where the bike lanes drop off at SW Sam Jackson and Terwilliger. Extend the northbound lane on Terwilliger through the intersection with a turnaround where bikes can use the pedestrian phase to cross (and make the response immediate).
  • Fill the gap for the eastbound lane on SW Sam Jackson by bringing cyclists up onto the path (with separation from pedestrians and in a way that maintains the historic lighting) through the intersection.
Graphics from Southwest in Motion Plan (project RP-02). Image on right shows possible bikeway on SW Sheridan. (Source: PBOT)

The idea for improvements along SW Sheridan Street originated as project RP-02 in the Southwest in Motion plan. PBOT, in a recent SWIM “Implementation Update,” added the design of RP-02 to its list of feasible projects citing recent project budget changes that made its inclusion possible.

As PBOT’s Communications Director, Hannah Schafer, told BikePortland last month,

“Because SW in Motion has limited funding opportunities at this time, PBOT staff are exploring the feasibility of including RP-02 Terwilliger to 4th Connector as part of the larger capital project to save on costs and increase the benefit of the SW Fourth Avenue Central City in Motion Project for people biking from SW via Terwilliger.”

But the BAC suggestions go beyond the north-side bike lane the Sheridan project originally envisioned and even though the BAC says it will work to help PBOT secure additional funding to meet their requests, it’s unclear if PBOT will be willing to oblige.

The BAC noted in its letter that “The quality of bicycle facilities are defined by their weakest link.” In southwest Portland, that weakest link often seems to occur where the going gets toughest. With this letter, the BAC is trying its best to prevent yet another dicey spot in the network arising between differently funded projects, in this case, Southwest in Motion and its better-funded cousin, Central City in Motion.

BikePortland has reached out to PBOT for a response to the letter and will update this story when we hear back.

— Read the BAC letter here.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)

Lisa Caballero is on the board of SWTrails PDX, and was the chair of her neighborhood association's transportation committee. A proud graduate of the PBOT/PSU transportation class, she got interested in local transportation issues because of service cuts to her bus, the 51. Lisa has lived in Portland for 23 years and can be reached at

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20 days ago

The only possible way to make this low-stress for bikes (that doesn’t involve new freeway ramps to get get the Ross Island Bridge traffic off the surface streets) is to make a bike/pedestrian-only flyover over this whole mess.

And that’s not a joke, from someone who used to pass through this area every day.

15 days ago
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I think you could get most of the way there with sufficiently hardened infrastructure, like jersey barriers and stuff, but the existing flex-posts and paint in this area are wholly inadequate.

Used to commute through here and it was one of those places where you have to take the lane to stay safe, because cars/trucks will come into the bike lanes.

18 days ago

I can already see that if the bike lane is on the left side of Barbur/4th before Broadway, there will be a lot of issues with cars queued up on Broadway trying to get on 405/26. They are often sticking well out into that intersection and block cars trying to turn left onto Broadway and pedestrians currently. Personally I’d much rather have the bike lane on the right and deal with the bus stop, as that stop is not used that often, and especially if there could be a bus island like are getting installed on Broadway at hotel loading areas. I think it could work well to keep the right side bike lane all the way across 405 to Lincoln, and split traffic on 4th into two phases, where bikes and cars coming off 405 get a light cycle, and having the bikes would cross to the left side of the street, and prohibit left turns from the offramp onto Lincoln, and then have a green light for traffic on 4th.