City beefs up bike lanes, seeks input on SW Alder Street Rose Lane project

The new bus and bike lane on SW Alder St in between 2nd and 4th Aves. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

A new addition to downtown Portland’s emerging slate of bike and transit infrastructure opened late last month when the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) and TriMet debuted the first phase of their SW Alder Street Rose Lane Project. This project is part of the larger Central City in Motion plan to improve active transportation infrastructure in the city center, which includes the recently-completed Better Naito, bike lanes on Broadway, SW 4th Ave, and more. But the Alder Rose Lane project isn’t done yet. As PBOT and TriMet work to plan its second phase, they’re seeking feedback from people about what is and isn’t working in the initial plan rollout.

In addition to bus-related elements, the project comes with two new bike lanes – a shared bus-bike lane between SW 4th and 2nd avenues and one going north on SW 2nd Avenue between Alder and Washington streets to connect to the bike lane north of Washington. When we checked out the project last month, those bike lanes weren’t complete. According to PBOT project managers who spoke at a Central City in Motion Working Group meeting Wednesday, some of the materials needed to complete these bike lanes have been on backorder, but they expect to complete the project with green bike lane striping and plastic “tuff-curb” and wands this week.

PBOT’s Rose Lane initiative is intended to prioritize bus and streetcar transit citywide. But while a two-block bus priority lane downtown is better than nothing – and small changes do make a big difference in the congested Central City – what has been completed of the Alder Rose Lane Project is not yet up to par with what we need to make it safe and convenient to bike and bus downtown.

In response to feedback they’ve received already, project planners will try to improve the experience for people using the new bike lane on 2nd Avenue. Their plan is to add a concrete planter with yield signage at 2nd and Washington to make it more apparent to people driving that they need to pay attention to oncoming bike traffic. This should be implemented within the next two months.

At yesterday’s CCIM Working Group meeting, PBOT project manager Gabe Graff said phase two of the project is still in its early stages, but the basic plan is to solidify the temporary infrastructure changes they made to TriMet stops on Alder with permanent bus stop improvements, concrete curb extensions and shelter amenities.

Graff said the team plans to begin designing the second phase of this project this winter, with installation coming the following year. This kind of timeline isn’t surprising, especially for projects multiple agencies are working on, but it doesn’t relieve people who bike around Portland’s car-clogged city center to know that permanent changes will be coming in two years. And with TriMet ridership still suffering, will this kind of incremental change even be enough to entice people out of their cars?

We’ll update you when the bike lanes and signage for the first phase of the project are complete. And be sure to share your thoughts with PBOT and TriMet about the project via a survey which will be open through August 20th.

First Look: New Rose Lane on SW Alder (video)

(Note: This project isn’t 100% complete. Please see update from PBOT at end of post.)

The Portland Bureau of Transportation celebrated the opening of their latest Rose Lane on SW Alder on Wednesday.

The Rose Lane initiative was launched in 2019 under former PBOT Commissioner Chloe Eudaly and its development has remained a priority under Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty. The goal is to speed up buses to make them more competitive with driving and deliver better service to bus riders. When it launched, Eudaly said it was the most effective way to simultaneously address climate change and racial disparities with transportation infrastructure.

With the SW Alder project, PBOT’s work complements TriMet’s Line 15 route change that moved the eastbound bus from SW Salmon to Alder to reduce travel time and simplify the route. To keep buses moving faster, they’ve built two new bus platform extensions (at 10th and 6th) and have created a dedicated bus lane between 4th and 2nd as Alder approaches the Morrison Bridge. The project also includes new crosswalks and several new stations.

At an opening event yesterday, PBOT staff talked to passersby and handed out free ice cream at Firefighters Parks at the 18th/Alder/Burnside intersection.

As you can see in the video, PBOT Director said the project is a “win-win” for transit and bicycle users. On the project website, PBOT says the project creates a “comfortable”, “safer”, and “protected” bikeway. Unfortunately I didn’t see or experience much of that while biking through it yesterday. I didn’t see the protected bike lanes (that we expected as per our story in April) and I experienced a mish-mash of disconnected bikeway treatments. One block I was in a door-zone bike lane, then a bus/bike mixing zone, then I was surrounded by car users, then I was in a bus/bike only lane (that was being illegally used by drivers).

This is unfortunately what I’ve come to expect biking downtown. It doesn’t feel like something that would entice a more novice rider onto a bike. It’s not comfortable and it doesn’t feel like the scale of progress we so urgently need.

Rose Lanes are necessary because we have too many people using cars and they make our system unsafe and inefficient. So while relatively tiny upgrades to the transit system are a great thing that benefits all of us, if we want our streets to reach their full potential, we must do more to reduce service levels and access for car users. Incremental steps for “alternative transportation” while letting drivers run amok, is not progress. And it just doesn’t make sense to me why PBOT would do any project these days that doesn’t make significant and tangible upgrades to the bike network.

These projects often take a bit of time to settle in and perhaps PBOT has more to do. Based on my experience yesterday, I certainly hope so (see update below).

Take a look at the video and roll through it next time you’re downtown and let us know what you think.

UPDATE, July 1st: I should have checked in with PBOT before doing this video and post! Sorry about that. Below is more information about this project from their comms person Hannah Schafer.

This project was designed and scoped specifically to be a transit project, but we also improved some of the more critical bike connections including from the future 4th Avenue bike lane to the Morrison Bridge as well as extending the SW 2nd Avenue bike lane from Alder to Washington. Because of existing curb extensions at 5th and 6th, and the need for bus platforms at 6th and 10th, there just wasn’t space.

The project isn’t fully complete. We have items that still need to get done. The block from 4th to 3rd still has right turn arrow signage, but the project will actually be prohibiting that right turn. There are also some blocks in Goose Hollow that will be improved for bikes once some building construction is complete. Finally, we also have plans to add tuff curb but, like many things, tuff curb is currently on backorder so it may take a few weeks until that goes in.