First look: New bike lanes on 3rd Avenue downtown

First look: New bike lanes on 3rd Avenue downtown

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Traffic on 3rd Avenue this morning.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

A year after activists pulled off an inspiring demonstration of what 3rd Avenue could look like, the Bureau of Transportation followed up with their permanent version.

The project comes with strong support from business interests (something almost as rare as new downtown bike lanes themselves) and the Old Town Chinatown Community Association. While it’s not the physically protected bikeways activists want (and Portland needs), the project represents a significant re-allocation of downtown real estate away from auto use and toward bicycle use. This new bike lane is the latest change in an area that is slowly but surely evolving into a much more human-centric place: Along with newly painted crosswalks on 3rd and 4th on both sides of Burnside, there are serious talks of a new plaza outside of Voodoo Doughnut on SW Ankeny, and the City of Portland is currently planning how best to spend over $6 million dollars to improve bicycling downtown.

I rode and walked the entire length of the new bikeway this morning. Here are my photos and thoughts…

At NW Glisan it’s a standard, six-foot bike lane with no buffers. There’s a parking lane on the right and two standard lanes to the left…

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Looking north from Davis. Note the old lane marking.

No buffer space means you’re this close to cars…

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At NW Davis (home of the raining crosswalk), the buffer begins. There’s a two-foot buffer on the left and a three-foot buffer on the right.

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This buffered lane lasts until just north of Burnside where PBOT has installed a new “mixing zone” where the bike-only lane disappears and is replaced with sharrows and right-turn arrows…

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Looking north at mixing zone north of Burnside.

One of the well-known issues (happens on N Williams too) with these unprotected and uncolored bicycle lanes is that they are often confused for standard lanes…

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Here’s a shot of some mixing going on…

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Across Burnside the buffer continues and is accentuated with green near Voodoo Doughnut…

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Looking back north from Ash toward Burnside…

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Here’s how it looks outside of Stumptown Coffee between Ash and Pine…

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Unfortunately, the new bike lanes end abruptly at SW Stark. Makes me wonder how this woman’s feeling about cycling will change from this block to the next…

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PBOT has also added two new left-turn boxes at Burnside and Oak for people approaching the new bike lane from the east. These boxes help direct people onto the new bike lane. Here’s how one of them looks if you approach the new bike lane from SW Oak:

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This project has evoked a mix of reactions from the community. People involved in the project are ecstatic to see such a significant redesign of a downtown street — especially since the changes came as a direct response to a grassroots demonstration. However, some people are disappointed that the project doesn’t include some form of physical separation and that it doesn’t transform the street like Better Block’s demonstration did last year.

I can understand both perspectives. Speaking of which, perspective is everything. I was struck by how different this bike lane looked and felt south of Burnside depending on which side of the street I stood on. 12-feet of dedicated bike lane sounds wonderful; but it’s really nothing compared to the vast expanse of roadways space we allow driving and auto parking on.

Here’s how the new bike lane looks from the east side of 3rd at Burnside. Compare the images below to the ones above…

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And from the west side of 3rd at Ash the new bike lane drops at intersections, making it feel even less like the oasis of safety it should be…

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The street outside Voodoo Doughnut is full of people and there’s a very clear demand for a public plaza and safer ways to cross. PBOT has recently painted new crosswalks on SW 3rd and 4th. This is great progress, but it has induced even more demand for even better walkways and bikeways…

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Recently painted crosswalks at SW 4th and Ankeny.

It’s also worth noting that north of Burnside, people using this new bikeway face three different riding environments over the course of just a few blocks. As you can see in the image below, first there’s a bike lane without a buffer (background), than a buffered bike lane (middleground), then a mixing zone (foreground). Seems to me that a more consistent environment would be much lower-stress and would encourage more people to ride…

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That thought raises the question: Will these new lanes inspire people to give biking a try? They do open up a nice connection to the green bike lane on SW Oak and the network effect will be even stronger once we build more bike lanes downtown.

What do you think?

— Jonathan Maus
(503) 706-8804

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