Don’t despair, there’s hope for better bike access downtown

Don’t despair, there’s hope for better bike access downtown

elk squeeze

The Hawthorne Bridge is a fine place to ride a bike. The downtown street it leads to is not.
(Photos: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

As I write this, Portland police have just started a one-day enforcement of the city’s law against biking on downtown sidewalks north of Jefferson and south of Hoyt.

Here’s what a reader had to say about this on Facebook today:

mia baldwin

Baldwin was giving voice to a big flaw in Portland’s campaign to prevent biking and walking conflicts downtown: when someone who’s not comfortable biking down the middle of a busy traffic lane needs to go downtown, where else are they supposed to ride except the sidewalk?

Fortunately for Baldwin (not to mention for downtown businesses trying to reduce their parking or transit costs and downtown car or truck drivers dealing with ever-rising congestion) a few recent developments downtown could open the door to some big bike improvements, if city leaders decide to take advantage of them.

About a tenth of downtown’s parking spaces just opened up

Old Town Chinatown-2

(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Last month, as part of what Commissioner Steve Novick described as part of his hunt for new transportation revenue, Portland stopped exempting people with general disability placards in their cars from unlimited free parking downtown. (People with special wheelchair-friendly vehicles can still park for free indefinitely.) The result, the city says, is that the cars have vanished from about 1,000 of downtown Portland’s 9,000 or so parking spaces.

“It’s open spaces,” city enforcement officer J.C. Udey told The Oregonian last month. “We have so much more parking.”

In an email yesterday to the Active Right of Way listserv, biking advocate Jessica Roberts wrote what many others have surely been thinking:

“Is there anything you’ve ever asked for downtown (cycle track or other), only to be told that we need the available parking spaces too badly to consider eliminating them? Surely now is your moment to speak up!”

A group of Old Town hospitality businesses is suggesting that the city convert auto parking or travel lanes to protected bike lanes.

3rd ave concepts

A concept sketch by the Old Town Hospitality Group for a redesigned NW 3rd Avenue near Couch Street. South is up. Click to enlarge.

We reported two weeks ago that a coalition of 30 bars, restaurants and entertainment venues frustrated by the three-lane north-south speedways on 2nd and 3rd Avenues across Burnside have floated a plan to use planter-protected bike lanes to create what one business owner called “an awesome multi-use street” for safe driving, biking, walking and sitting in streetside cafes.

Voodoo Doughnut has started lobbying for a more human-friendly 3rd Avenue

voodoo doughnut

Pink fences appeared this week outside Voodoo Doughnut, but the iconic company is looking for a better solution.

Here’s a intriguing email we got this week from Holly Policy at Voodoo Doughnut:

We are very interested in solutions that make SW 2nd and 3rd more friendly to pedestrians and bikes. Our long customer queue has made it a real challenge for Voodoo Doughnut on SW 3rd Ave to be a good neighbor to all the surrounding businesses. We have always tried to come up with creative solutions, and finally we decided to go to the city to get their take on things, and to find out exactly what we can and cannot do to improve the traffic and pedestrian flow around our business.

The City shared with us some ideas they already had for SW 3rd Ave, a continuation of the plan shown by the diagrams with your July 9 story, dictated by the end of the program which closes NW 2nd and 3rd to vehicle traffic on weekend nights. It is my understanding that the Ankeny Alley Association also has a few projects they would like to see addressed by PBOT. However, PBOT has made it clear that they have no money to spend on any unnecessary [note: maybe this means “nonessential”?] improvements. Any funding for improvements would have to come from grants or private investment.

The good news is that since I read your piece about plans for NW 2nd and 3rd Ave, I will work to forge a relationship between SW 3rd (Ankeny Alley Assoc, Voodoo) and NW 3rd (Dan Lenzen and Howard Weiner). Hopefully together we can meet some of our shared goals.

We’ll definitely be following this conversation as it develops.

The city already has funding to vastly improve bicycle access downtown.


4th Avenue’s bicycle infrastructure: the same as its auto infrastructure.

We’ve written several times about the fact that a council-approved set of federal grants to improve biking and walking citywide included $6.6 million for “central-city multimodal safety improvements,” which we’ve been hearing for more than a year are likely to include north/south protected bike lanes and/or biking and walking improvements at the bridges across the river and I-405.

Though the city is currently “all quiet” on this work, the construction money arrives from Metro in 2016 and planning could begin next year.

“We asked for some advance funds — we could start working on it, but we haven’t even started the planning,” city spokeswoman Diane Dulken said Thursday. “We’re looking forward to getting started sometime in 2015 or 2016.”

Dulken said the principal of the project is to improve active transportation downtown, but the details — north-south protected bikeways? — remain hazy.

“The north-south is something we’ve talked about, but all options are on the table right now,” Dulken said. As we reported back in January 2013, this funded project is a golden opportunity to make much-needed improvements to bike access downtown.

While all these developments show promise for significant changes ahead, they still require leadership from local leaders. Without a champion within PBOT and City Hall — or anywhere else for that matter — these opportunities just might pass us by.

Correction 8/1: An earlier version of this post slightly misquoted Dulken. The city has asked for advance funds for its downtown bike lane project.

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