The 26th Avenue bike lane removal saga appears to have reached a conclusion. At least for the time being.
The Street Trust just announced that their shuttle diplomacy between the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Portland Bureau of Transportation has yielded a compromise that will allow a striped space for biking (not a bike lane, technically) to remain. Also as part of the agreement, ODOT is forcing PBOT to remove the bike boxes that currently exist on 26th on both sides of Powell Blvd.
Southeast Uplift, an official City of Portland neighborhood coalition group that represents 20 neighborhoods, has thrown their weight behind opposition to the Portland Bureau of Transportation and the Oregon Department of Transportation’s negotiated settlement to remove bike lanes on SE 26th Avenue approaching Powell Blvd.
As we’ve been reporting for nearly three years now, the nearly unprecedented removal of bike lanes on a city street is the result of a squabble between PBOT and ODOT. As final word came down from ODOT in February that they planned to cash in an agreement wrung out of PBOT over the lanes, there’s been a ratcheting up of activism to keep them.
Southeast Uplift joins a loud chorus speaking up against ODOT’s inexplicable demands for the removal of these bike lanes. Activists rallied during a snowstorm in February where the director of The Street Trust, Jillian Detweiler, said removing the lanes is “completely unnecessary.”
The Oregon Department of Transportation is so convinced that the bike lanes on Southeast 26th Avenue are dangerous for bicycle riders that they’ve ordered the City of Portland to remove them as soon as possible.
Inexplicably, and despite evidence showing the bike lanes (even at a paltry three-feet wide) make the street safer, ODOT has cited no evidence or best practice standards for their decision. The only rationale offered so far is a concern that the intersection of 26th and Powell is too dangerous for bike riders and a new crossing two blocks east is much safer.
Everyone agrees the new signal and median at SE 28th (part of the new 20s Bikeway) is indeed much safer. But it’s up a hill and two blocks away. And since when is a safer crossing on one street, reason for the removal of bike infrastructure from another?
“ODOT’s reasons are a mystery to us,” a Portland Bureau of Transportation staffer told me recently.
Now there’s a new (to us) piece to the puzzle: A “road safety audit” report prepared for ODOT by Kittelson & Associates, Inc. in 2014. The audit (PDF) focused specifically on Powell between 20th and 33rd Avenue — a section with a crash rate over twice as high as the statewide average for similar roads. The stated purpose of the audit was to, “identify potential issues contributing to crashes and suggest treatments for addressing those issues.”
About two dozen people stood on the corners of SE 26th Avenue and Powell Boulevard last night to protest plans to remove a pair of bike lanes. As big, wet snowflakes fell, people rang horns and bike bells and held signs high that read, “No backpedaling on our safety,” “It’s always biking season,” “Keep your hands off our bike lane” and “Vision Zero now”.
The saga on this street (which we’ve been reporting on since 2015) has opened up an important debate over whether narrow bike lanes are better than no bike lanes at all — and whether having a safer bikeway two blocks away is a reasonable justification for getting rid of one. It also shows just how far the City of Portland is willing to go to stay in good graces with its powerful state partner, the Oregon Department of Transportation.
“PBOT believes there was evidence to justify the State Engineer to reconsider his decision and leave the bike lanes in place. ODOT has communicated to the City that they will not reconsider that decision.” — Dylan Rivera, PBOT
The bike lanes on SE 26th Avenue approaching Powell Boulevard are on life support.
In a saga that has spanned nearly 30 months, PBOT appears to have finally acquiesced to the Oregon Department of Transportation’s demand that a pair of bike lanes that have been in use since the 1980s be removed in favor of the state’s preferred route for bicycle users two blocks east on SE 28th. It all comes back to a deal struck by PBOT and ODOT two years ago.
In order to build a new traffic signal and crossing at the intersection of SE 28th and SE Powell for their 20s Bikeway project, PBOT needed a special permit from ODOT and the blessing of State Traffic Engineer Bob Pappe. ODOT, who owns and manages Powell Boulevard, agreed to that permit only on the very specific condition that once the new signal was up and running, PBOT would remove the bike lanes on 26th.
The Oregon Department of Transportation is in the final design phases of a project that aims to make it safer to bike and walk on and across SE Powell Blvd beteeen 20th and 34th Avenue. They’re hosting an open house tonight (4/5) to answer questions, hear feedback, and share more information about the project.
A city spokesman said that because 26th Avenue won’t be repaved for another year or two, the city will have time and data to try to persuade the Oregon Department of Transportation to reverse its decision. But an ODOT spokesman said the state can’t say what data it might or might not find persuasive.
Is the City of Portland, newly anointed “Biketown”, really going to remove a bike lane because our state department of transportation said it would improve safety?
That story we reported yesterday has sparked outrage, confusion, and frustration — all completely reasonable reactions to the idea of removing a bike lane in order to make biking safer. While we work to clarify the details and get to the bottom of what’s really going on (weaving the different communications from city officials and state officials together into one coherent whole is proving more complicated than expected), I thought I’d share what two notable Portland bike advocates think about the idea.
10 a.m. southbound bike traffic at 26th and Powell. (Photos: M.Andersen/BikePortland)
Two of southeast Portland’s most-ridden bike lanes are slated to be removed at the insistence of the state of Oregon.
The bike lanes on each side of Southeast 26th Avenue near Powell draw something like 600 to 800 people per day (even in winter) and run in front of Cleveland High School. They will be paved over sometime in the coming months and not replaced, the Oregon Department of Transportation said last week.
The City of Portland wants to create a second, more comfortable crossing of Powell at 28th, but the state says it won’t allow one unless bike lanes and bike boxes at 26th (shown here) are removed. (Photos: M.Andersen/BikePortland)
Three weeks after being asked if it can cite any evidence supporting its claim that removing a bike lane can sometimes increase bike safety, the State of Oregon has come up empty.
Moreover, a state spokeswoman wrote in an email Tuesday that four studies cited by the City of Portland that document safety benefits of bike lanes are inadequate, though the state did not say in what way the studies fall short.
“More research needs to be done,” the Oregon Department of Transportation said in its statement.
Research notwithstanding, the Oregon Department of Transportation is continuing to deny the City of Portland’s request to install a new stoplight at 28th Avenue and Powell (which would let the city create a new north-south neighborhood greenway on 28th) unless the city agrees to first remove the narrow bike lanes from nearby 26th Avenue.
About 600 to 800 people a day currently bike on 26th to cross Powell. The city wants to create a second, more comfortable crossing at 28th, but the state says it won’t allow one unless the lanes and bike boxes at 26th are removed. (Photos: M.Andersen/BikePortland)
The Portland Bureau of Transportation is facing pressure from its counterparts at the Oregon Department of Transportation to do something it’s almost never done before: remove bike lanes from a street.
An ODOT official said she could not cite evidence other than the site-specific judgment of her engineering colleagues that removing the bike lane on SE 26th Avenue would improve overall road safety. But she said that because 26th is not as safe to bike on as 28th would be, it stands to reason that the bike lane on 26th should be removed in order to encourage people to cross at 28th.
Therefore, ODOT has agreed to approve the city’s request to add a new traffic signal at 28th and Powell only on the condition that the city remove the bike lane and bike box from 26th.