Ride green, save green: PBOT coupon program looks to boost bike business

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward
Green lanes on SW Stark-13

Businesses along SW Stark.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

One of the Great Myths that somehow continues to follow urban bicycling around is that when you redesign a street to improve bike access, it will automatically be bad for adjacent businesses. This is of course completely absurd. But even with studies and common sense easily disproving such notions, the myth persists (particularly among business groups that use the idea as leverage).

This myth is partly why the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) goes out of their way to help and work with business owners whenever they do a project that improves bicycling. On Stark and Oak streets downtown — where they’ve painted an entire lane green and made it a bike lane — they wanted to make sure adjacent business owners were on board.

Before the new green lanes were completed and made public, PBOT staffers walked the Stark/Oak corridors and talked to every single ground floor business and even those on side streets. According to PBOT, staffers made 65 in-person visits and mailed a fact sheet about the project to over 500 businesses.

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Checking up: PBOT mulls improvements on Stark/Oak buffered bike lanes

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward
SW Stark buffered bike lane isn't working-14

The buffered bike lanes on SW Stark — which are supposed
to be bike-only — don’t work at all.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

It’s been about three months since I shared my photos and thoughts about the buffered bike lanes on SW Stark street, so I figured it was time for an update. Back then I was shocked at how poorly the design of the lanes was functioning. Driver after driver after driver rolled down them as if it was just another regular lane. I’d like to think everyone knows the lanes have the same legal standing as a bike lane (which means no cars allowed); but they don’t. And who can blame them? There’s little/no signage, the striping has all but worn off completely, and there’s no physical separation or medians to deter people from driving cars in the lane.

And in case you were wondering, from my vantage point as a daily user of this street, the problem has gotten even worse in the past three months.

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PBOT to collect data on Stark buffered bike lane; changes possible by summer

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

PBOT will look to prevent this type
of illegal driving.
(Photo © J. Maus)

The City of Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) has announced that they will analyze traffic behavior on the buffered bike lanes on SW Stark and could make changes to the street to improve bike access by the end of the summer.

On April 20th, I shared photos documenting that the buffered bike lane between 3rd and 4th was not working. Stark and Oak (its couplet one block north) were re-striped back in May 2009 in order to improve bicycling access through downtown.

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The buffered bike lanes on SW Stark are not working

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward
SW Stark buffered bike lane isn't working-19

The entry to SW Stark east of 4th Ave as
seen from my office window.
(Photos © J. Maus)

When the Portland Mayor Sam Adams announced new buffered bike lanes coming to two downtown streets back in May of 2009 there was talk of “innovation” and making bikeways appealing to the “interested but concerned” demographic. Adams said at the time that, “The City wants Portlanders to be comfortable coming to downtown on a bicycle – whatever their skill level.”

In the nearly three years since, it’s very clear that more needs to be done for these buffered lanes live up to that promise.

In particular, one busy block of SW Stark between 3rd and 4th (which I can see from my desk as I type this) has become a joke. Many people driving cars illegally drive in the bike lane. In fact, the lane has become a de facto standard vehicle lane with many more people driving cars in it than bicycling in it.

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