PBOT is helping clear dozens of campers from Northeast 33rd Avenue

The bike lane on Northeast 33rd in April 2021. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

“Each impacted camper who was present was offered shelter.”

– Hannah Schafer, PBOT

The Portland Bureau of Transportation is part of a massive effort to clear campers from the shoulders of Northeast 33rd Avenue between Columbia Blvd and Marine Drive. This is a very popular route for bicycling and there are bike lanes on both sides of the road.

We’ve fielded concerns from many people recently about how dozens of cars, trucks, RVs, and campsites have spilled over into the bike lanes. This is a relatively large street with high driving speeds, and people have to leave the bike lane to get around various hazards and obstructions.

Local news outlets starting covering this effort on Thursday and some people thought it might be related to a PBOT project to restripe bike lanes. We asked PBOT what was going on and here’s what we found out…

According to spokesperson Hannah Schafer, PBOT parking enforcement began towing RVs and other vehicles from the shoulders of NE 33rd Thursday morning. The impetus is two-fold: The location falls under Mayor Ted Wheeler’s emergency declaration that bans homeless people from living alongside major roads and highways; and an edict from the Port of Portland to clear the area.

(Map: BikePortland)

The land adjacent to this section of 33rd is owned and managed by the Port and is part of the Portland Airport flight path. Schafer said the Port asked PBOT to clear the campers to avoid violation of Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

Safety concerns are another reason PBOT is towing vehicles. With all the people living out there, a lot of folks are crossing the road in areas where there are no crosswalks and car drivers don’t expect humans to be present. In July 2021 a man who is believed to have lived in the area was hit and killed while walking across 33rd.

Schafer also said that one week before they began towing vehicles, PBOT crews canvassed the area to talk with people and warn them about the towing operation. “Each impacted camper who was present was offered shelter,” Schafer shared with BikePortland.

Asked if a bike lane restriping project had anything to do with the clearing effort, Schafer said no.

This isn’t the first time the City of Portland has done a focused camp clearing at this location. In 2020 it was on a prioritized list of sites that crews addressed.

Read more about this on KGW.com.

City plans two-way protected bike lane on NE 33rd and Skidmore

Existing conditions on NE 33rd at Mason. The new two-way bike lane would be on the right next to Wilshire Park.

The City of Portland wants to make it easier to bike, scoot and walk around Wilshire Park in the Beaumont-Wilshire neighborhood. Two upcoming projects would add bike lanes to key stretches of NE 33rd and Skidmore, which would give people a safer way to cross a major north-south street, create a better connection to an existing neighborhood greenway, and allow people to avoid a gap in the network that requires sidewalk riding.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation has plans for two separate but connected projects.

NE 33rd

Click to enlarge. (Source: PBOT)
(PBOT bike map with location of new bike lanes circled.)

The first project would create a better connection between NE Mason and Skidmore across 33rd. Mason and Skidmore are currently used as east-west bike routes through the area and are important options when the nearest neighborhood greenways on NE Klickitat and Going are too far away. Skidmore also intersects with NE 37th, a major north-south greenway.

The problem is 33rd — a very high-traffic street with no dedicated cycling space. The official city bike map (right) recommends that bicycle users roll up onto the sidewalk in Wilshire Park to make the connection.

PBOT wants to get bike riders onto the street. They plan to re-allocate space currently used as free car storage to create a two-way, physically-protected bike lane. To make it even safer for bike users, PBOT will add a user-activated signal to help folks get across 33rd. The design is similar to what PBOT did just a few blocks north in 2010 at NE Going and 33rd.

A PBOT rep told us the project will be installed later this summer as part of a paving project on 33rd.

NE Skidmore

A closely related project would change the layout of Skidmore between 33rd and 37th. This four-block stretch adjacent to Wilshire Park is 40-feet wide, has no lane striping and is used as a typical residential street with free car storage on both sides.

PBOT has released an initial proposal that would create 12-feet of dedicated cycling space. The idea is to continue the two-way bike lane from 33rd along the south side of Skidmore (but instead of a cement-curb buffer, this section would be a paint-only buffer). As you can see in the cross-section drawings from PBOT, their initial proposal would maintain four, seven-foot lanes for drivers — two for moving and two for parking.

Balto’s post on Nextdoor.

You might recall at the onset of the pandemic in April 2020, neighborhood resident and noted bike advocate Sam Balto created his own “extended sidewalk” on this stretch of Skidmore. Balto has spent years pushing his neighbors and PBOT to see the potential of this street.

In November 2020, Balto posted the message below to Nextdoor along with a photo of the street:

“Besides the 7 homes that have driveways on this stretch of Skidmore why do we need this road?? It’s 42 ft wide and a quarter mile long. Couldn’t it serve the public better besides being just another road??”

Many of the 627 comments expressed shock and confusion that anyone would care about changing this street.

But Balto’s campaign appears to have worked. A PBOT rep confirmed with me yesterday that while the above cross-section drawings are just an initial proposal, they plan to do something as part of an upcoming Fixing Our Streets project that’s scheduled for construction in 2024.

The Beaumont-Wilshire Neighborhood Association might have something to say about these changes. That group is coming off a difficult interaction with PBOT from a nearby traffic diverter project, so it’s hard to know how they’ll respond to these plans. I’ve reached out for comment and will update the story if/when I hear back.

CORRECTION, 4:21: I originally reported that these proposals had been presented at a BWNA meeting. That was incorrect. I regret the error and any confusion it caused