The case for streetcar as pro-bike infrastructure

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

The Lloyd District’s new “bikescraper”: also a streetcarscraper.
(Rendering: GBD Architects)

Though the experience of China, Japan and Northern Europe makes it pretty clear that you can’t have a great bike city without also having a great mass transit city, streetcars are the one transit type that seems to rankle bike-lovers.

Maybe it’s the rails that turn traffic lanes dangerous for biking. Maybe it’s that streetcar projects often underinvest in adjacent bike improvements. Maybe it’s that streetcars are deeply controversial in the public transit world, too.

But there’s also an argument that streetcars are actually the very best sort of public transit at improving biking. On Portland Transport Monday, local streetcar and biking fan Chris Smith laid it out.

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Guest Article: Getting creative to move a pole on the Broadway Bridge

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward
Broadway Bridge pole

It will be moved.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

[Publisher’s note: As an update to a story we covered several times last month, I’ve accepted a guest article from Chris Smith explaining his successful effort to have a streetcar pole on the Broadway Bridge moved out of the way of bike traffic. Smith is a well known (and quite busy) citizen activist who also happens to be a member of the City of Portland’s Planning and Sustainability Commission, the founder of the Portland Transport blog, member of the Portland Streetcar Inc. board of directors and much more.]

Chris Smith

Today, I’m celebrating, because it looks like we’re going to be able to move a streetcar catenary pole (a pole that holds up the overhead wires) that has been impinging into the bike facility on the Broadway Bridge since this summer.

But I want to be clear about what I’m celebrating. I’m not celebrating a win for cyclists over streetcar. That would be the wrong lesson to take from this. I’m celebrating the ability of people of good will who don’t always share the same perspective to work together to achieve good outcomes (Congress, take note).

“I’m not celebrating a win for cyclists over streetcar. That would be the wrong lesson to take from this.”
— Chris Smith

This was not simple, and for a while I thought there might be no feasible way to move the pole, which is why, in conjunction with the BTA, I put a formal request for mitigation on the table as an alternative (download a PDF of that request here).

So how are we going to do it? The key challenge (acknowledged by a number of folks here in the BikePortland discussion who have looked at the bridge structure) is that the structural foundation for the pole is constrained by where the edge of the bridge structure is. The answer is to use the same foundation bracket, but then shift the pole horizontally from the anchor by a little bit (it will be more in ‘the shadow’ of the street-light pole on the sidewalk).

A number of folks noted that a similar “cantilevered” approach was used on poles on Weidler. In this case, the sidewalk is much more shallow. So instead of the large brackets used on Weidler, we’ll use a 2-inch thick metal plate with welded bolts (see diagram below).

Diagram of new pole location.
(Click to enlarge)

Secondary Effect # 1
The thin plate will sit on the surface of the existing the sidewalk. So we will need to increase the sidewalk height to match. This will require tapering the sidewalk gradually over a number of feet east and west of the pole. The plate itself will be flush with the new sidewalk grade and textured to keep it safe for people walking and cycling over it.

Once moved, the streetcar pole
will be in line with the
existing light pole (red).

Secondary Effect #2
Because the pole will now be much closer to the curb than standards provide for, we will need to place a bollard in front of the pole. This is to protect the pole if an auto ever jumped the curb. But the bollard will also be in line with the existing light pole, so it does not reduce the usable path.

Tertiary Effect
But we’re not done yet. No good deed goes unpunished. Because we’re raising the grade of the sidewalk, the railing on the river side of the sidewalk will no longer be tall enough above the sidewalk surface to meet standards. So we will fabricate and attach an extension to the railing on the two sections nearest the pole.

Because of the extensive modification of the sidewalk adjacent to the pole and bracket, we’ll need to close the north sidewalk for about two weeks. The work will be funded from the Streetcar Loop project budget.

I’d like to thank my colleagues at Portland Streetcar who were willing to keep looking for solutions, ultimately threading the needle through all the constraints and regulations, and the members of the community who helped keep focus on the need to address this issue. Together we’ll keeping making Portland a better place for users of all modes of active transportation.

Thank you Chris Smith for not being afraid to stand up and make this happen. Citizen activist Joe Rowe also deserves our thanks for his persistence and effort in bringing this issue to the fore. — Jonathan Maus

The Oregonian’s commute columnist weighs in on Broadway Bridge pole issue

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

A new pole for the streetcar (marked
with orange/white stripes) has
narrowed the entry to
the Broadway Bridge path.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

As the story unfolds about how and why Portland Streetcar Inc. installed a utility pole on the Broadway Bridge bike/walk path, it is becoming more clear that they made a bad move.

We’ll have more to share on this story in the coming days; but for now, check out what The Oregonian’s “Hard Drive” columnist Joseph Rose thinks about it (taken from a news roundup he published today):

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Streetcar construction comes with detour, closure of bike lane on Weidler

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

A traffic advisory has just been released by Portland Streetcar Inc. and the City of Portland warning of traffic detours and a bike lane closure due to Streetcar Loop Project construction on Weidler, MLK, and Grand that is set to begin this Tuesday (1/4) and last for four weeks.

The work zone will be on NE Weidler from N. Ross to NE 1st Ave (see detour map below)s. For four weeks, NE Weidler will be narrowed to two vehicle lanes and, according to Portland Streetcar, “Due to the narrow roadway conditions, the bike lane on NE Weidler must be removed.”

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The streetcar construction (black and) blues

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

Portland Streetcar crews are in the middle of major construction all along Broadway right now. Work zones are always of special concern for people on bikes, but this stretch of Broadway — between NE Grand and and the Broadway Bridge — is not a nice place for bike traffic even without construction.

Add in one of the most glaring safety gaps in Portland’s entire bike network (the intersection of Broadway and Williams, which the City listed as dangerous over 2 1/2 years ago yet has done nothing to make safer) — and you’re bound to have some problems.

Portlander Aaron Reyna is the latest victim of that intersection. He got in touch with us after being hit at that intersection yesterday morning. Here are snips from his email where he describes how the confusing construction zone resulted in him taking a trip to urgent care (emphasis mine):

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First look at new bike lanes through cobblestones on NW Marshall

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

New bike lanes on NW Marshall. See what
it will look like when completed below.
(Photo: Paul Peterson)

New bike lanes are being constructed on NW Marshall between 12th and 14th Avenues in the Pearl District — but these aren’t just any bike lanes. What’s notable about this project is that the new lanes are being cut right through historic cobblestones (a move that has irked some local residents who say the cobbles are key to the area’s charm) and they’re part of a larger streetcar project that will make NW Marshall into a bicycle boulevard.

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