First look at new, left-side buffered bike lanes on NW Everett

First look at new, left-side buffered bike lanes on NW Everett

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There’s a new, 10-foot wide bike lane on NW Everett (and as you can see not everyone knows it’s for bikes only).
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

PBOT has completed a lane “reorganization” project on NW Everett Street between NW 25th and I-405. As we reported back in May, this project is the result of two factors: An understanding by the bureau that the intersection of NW Everett and 16th is unsafe due to its history of right-hook collisions; and a repaving project that gave them a golden opportunity to do something about it.

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Looking east from NW 23rd.

I spent about thirty minutes this morning taking a closer look at the new lane configuration. (As you read my observations and check out more photos, keep in mind that NW Everett is a one-way street that goes eastbound from the Nob Hill neighborhood all the way to the Willamette River. It has a gradual decline almost the entire way.)

The changes start at NW 24th, where PBOT has striped a mixing zone to encourage bicycle riders over to the left side of the street. Putting bikeways on the left is a new — yet increasingly used — tool by PBOT to help mitigate conflicts on the right side such as right-hook collisions and bus/bike conflicts. A street design update coming to N Williams later this summer will also feature a left-side bikeway.

The new buffered bike lane on Everett starts at 23rd (new signs tell drivers in the left lane that they must turn left from Everett onto 23rd). Once on the new buffered bike lane, you notice the width right away. At seven-feet wide, the bike lane itself feels nice and wide. Then there’s a three-foot buffer. The 10 feet of width is needed, because, while PBOT removed one standard lane from the cross section, they have maintained auto parking lanes on both sides of the street. This means the new bikeway is in a door-zone — albeit a less dangerous one because it’s on the passenger side as opposed to the driver’s side.

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There were only a few bikes on Everett while I was out there.
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Green stripes at intersections.
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As this person so perfectly demonstrated, left-hooks are a possibility, but they’re a lot less likely then right-hooks because drivers have better visibility on their left side.

The buffered treatment continues for several blocks, but it goes away approaching major intersections. At NW 21st, the buffer drops and PBOT has created a “mixing zone,” an environment where riders need to be prepared to share the lane with people turning left.

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Mixing zone as you approach 21st.

At NW 19th, the bike lane narrows, the buffer goes away, and the street widens to accept an additional standard lane. Then, as Everett approaches the I-405 crossing, it disappears completely. PBOT has installed a sharrow just east of NW 14th to help transition into the different environment of the Pearl District.

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Approaching 16th, there are two standard auto lanes (instead of one) and the buffer goes away.
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At 16th you can see where the old green bike box has been scraped away. The new bike lane is in the background.
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East of 16th, prepare to share.
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Welcome to downtown Portland!

Now that we’ve taken a photo tour, here are a few of my observations:

While the new bikeway is nice and wide, it feels under-designed. There is only scant use of green paint (a few skinny strips prior to intersections), there is no physical protection (like planters, curbs, or plastic wands) or striping of any kind in the buffer zone (like hash marks or yellow color like on NE Multnomah), there is only one bicycle symbol on each block face, and no overhead signs to remind people that the left lane is only for bicycling (something I’d love to start seeing here and elsewhere).

Fortunately, PBOT says they’re still assessing the new striping and some tweaks are still possible.

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Oops.
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Oops again, but you can hardly blame them since it’s new and not very well marked as a bike lane.

With a lack of visual and/or physical cues that the left lane is for bicycling only, people use it for driving. Whether they’re swerving into the bike-only lane to avoid congestion, or to access a parking space, or simply because they’re oblivious of the legal standing that bike lanes have in Oregon — all those behaviors undermine the safe conditions we’re trying to create.

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With cars backed up for 2-3 blocks, that bike lane becomes very tempting.

When PBOT did a similar treatment on SW Stark and Oak back in 2012 they also left the bike-only lanes under-designed. It took an outcry from the community for them to go back and add the green paint. With that addition, Stark and Oak are arguably the best bikeway in the central city.

Speaking of couplets… This new and improved bikeway on Everett (a one-way street eastbound) only makes it more unfortunate that we don’t have an westbound couplet on NW Flanders or Glisan. We had a golden opportunity on Flanders when former Mayor Sam Adams (then the transportation commissioner) proposed using the old Sauvie Island Bridge as a biking and walking-only bridge over I-405; but that plan was scrapped after it fell victim to mayoral politics. Today, the lack of safe bike crossings of I-405 north of Burnside remains a major gap in our network.

(UPDATE: A commenter below says a source at PBOT has informed him that they are planning a similar buffered bike lane on NW Glisan (a westbound complement to Everett) when that street is repaved. Great news!)

“This is a big improvement in my everyday cycling and I couldn’t be happier about it.”
— Brendan Ault, nearby resident who rides Everett daily

With the new cross-section having one standard lane, a similar situation will develop here as currently exists on Stark and Oak: When service vehicles like FedEx and garbage trucks double-park, the cars behind them back up. When that happens, people become impatient and they will tend to swerve over into the bike-only lane to get around the stopped traffic.

As for what the reaction from users has been so far, I’ve read nothing but positive responses. Reader Brendan Ault lives near Everett and 22nd, works downtown and wrote us yesterday to share that he “couldn’t be happier” about the new bike lane. “In the past,” he wrote, “I haven’t gone farther east on Everett than 19th because even with the stub of a bike lane leading up to the 405, as soon as I got over the bridge I got pushed into traffic on Everett without any chance to get over to Flanders and calmer traffic/sharrows. Now that the buffered left hand lane is in place, it is easy to cruise down Everett, across the 405 bridge and take a left onto Flanders, take that to Broadway and join the bike commuter trains there.”

Seth Hosmer, who lives in the southwest hills and owns a business in the Pearl District, also likes them. “With the new pavement and the nice bike lane,” he wrote to us via email. “It’s definitely a big improvement.”

But of course not everyone is thrilled about the change. John Blair, who lives in an apartment at Everett and 20th, was outside while I was taking photos this morning. “This is crazy!” he exclaimed. “It’s completely unsafe.” Blair said drivers in cars are backing up for blocks during peak hours, while the bike-only lane sits empty. “The other day, a TriMet bus was stopped behind other cars. Then it swung into the bike lane and almost took a cyclist out. He [the bus operator] had nowhere else to go!”

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John Blair doesn’t think the new design works very well.

Blair said he heard that PBOT traffic engineers said the new lane configuration (from two standard lanes down to one) would not lead to more auto congestion. “How could he think that?!” Blair said incredulously, “Is he smoking crack? He obviously doesn’t live down here.”

If PBOT wanted to keep buses and cars from using the bike-only lane, he says “They should have put up a barrier.”

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What do you think about the new design? Share your comments below and make sure to tell PBOT your opinions via safe@portlandoregon.gov.

The post First look at new, left-side buffered bike lanes on NW Everett appeared first on BikePortland.org.

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