First Look: NE Couch bus/bike only ‘Rose Lane’ (Video)

The red paint is still fresh on NE Couch where the Portland Bureau of Transportation has installed their latest ‘Rose Lane’. It’s all part of their ongoing effort to speed up bus service and re-allocate road space away from drivers and toward bike and bus riders.

PBOT’s Rose Lane project began in 2019 and the Couch project is one of 20 routes in PBOT’s vision. The new lane, which allows car users to enter only to turn right, goes from 12th to 6th and connects to an existing bike lane that delivers riders onto the Burnside Bridge. It also provides a great connection to NE 7th Avenue just a few blocks south from the new Blumenauer Bridge.

Unlike other Rose Lanes, PBOT’s red carpet on Couch has been rolled out for bike riders too. Bicycling is explicitly allowed in this red lane. If that sounds scary to you, keep in mind that this section of Couch is downhill (and one-way), so it’s relatively easy for bike riders to maintain the same speed as bus operators. I rode it today at a relaxed pace and it felt totally safe.

And yes, I saw several people driving right over the ‘Bus Bike Only’ markings (photos below). It’s frustrating to see people do this despite very obvious signs and markings simply to save a few seconds and create unsafe roads for others, but compliance is (hopefully!) likely to improve once folks have time to adjust to the new configuration. The only way this is likely to fully stop is if PBOT installs automated enforcement cameras. (Until we get better behaved drivers, the only consolation is that if you are involved in an incident with someone driving where they’re not supposed to, the law would be on your side in a legal case.)

But let’s not dwell on this aspect of the project. The new lane is very exciting!

In addition to more space for busing and bicycling, it helps create an even stronger connection to the new Blumenauer Bridge. Just hop on 12th, roll down to 7th, hang a right and a few pedal strokes later you’re in the Lloyd. And you’ll get their even easier thanks to signal timing by PBOT that gives a “green wave” from 12th all the way down.

PBOT says people who use the 12, 19 or 20 bus lines will notice a nice time savings and more reliable service from these changes. Prior to Covid, the city’s analysis showed that the bus lines in this corridor suffered from 251 hours of delay each day. With the changes, riders will save up to 13 hours a year in travel time.

Prior to the changes, Couch was four lanes wide — two travel lanes and two parking lanes. The new cross section has one less through travel lane. Judging from what I saw out there on Tuesday, the decrease in driving space is upsetting a lot of people. While I was observing traffic, the queue was backed up much further than usual. PBOT and Commissioner Hardesty are going to get an earful from some drivers. But bus operators and bike riders? They are likely to give her an earful of praise as the new open lane is less stressful and much more efficient.

One last thing: Some folks have asked what it’s like sharing a lane with bus operators. It felt fine to me. Since it’s downhill and most TriMet drivers are chill and professional, there’s not much of a speed differential. While I was filming there was a bus behind me and it was no big deal.

And did I mention this makes a perfect connection to the new Blumenauer Bridge? Don’t miss our video and check out a few more photos below…

Have you ridden this yet? What are your impressions so far?