Advisory group backs bike lane separation on outer Powell, co-chair says

Advisory group backs bike lane separation on outer Powell, co-chair says

Cully Blvd cycle track-3

A low mountable curb like the one on NE Cully
is among designs being seriously debated for
SE Powell east of I-205.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Bike lanes separated by a low curb and/or Copenhagen-style raised bike lanes continue to look likely for parts of Powell Boulevard between Interstate 205 and 172nd Avenue.

At least, that’s the word from Paul Grosjean, the co-chair of the Outer Powell Community Advisory Group and a member of the Outer Powell Decision Committee, both part of the state-run Outer Powell Safety Project.

“Separation between the bike and the travel lane has been a priority of all the committees,” Grosjean, who also serves as vice chair of the Pleasant Valley Neighborhood Association, said in an interview Monday.

“Where appropriate, the stronger separations should be expected in the final plan.”
— Paul Grosjean, co-chair of the Outer Powell Community Advisory Group

The news is significant because Powell stands a chance of gradually becoming an important commercial main street for East Portland, and also because Powell could become one of the first state highways in the country to get physically separated bike lanes. One important stretch of Powell, between SE 122nd and 136th avenues, won $17 million for improvements this spring thanks to a last-minute bill in the state legislature, so any decisions made now are likely to result in relatively rapid change.

In the interview, Grosjean said bike lane separation “was the major topic of discussion at both the citizens advisory group meeting and the decision committee meeting over the last four weeks or so” and that the desire for “bicycle corridor success” was probably even stronger on the Decision Committee he sits on than on the citizens’ committee he co-chairs.

That said, Grosjean said he expected that some stretches of the street, which is also a state highway and a significant trucking route, would have a simple striped buffer.

“One of the major concerns is that there is long distances in that corridor that are served with numerous driveways because there are so many residences that face Powell directly,” Grosjean said. “You might end up that 50 or 60 percent of the street being openings for the driveways.”

Despite the talk about bike facilities, there’s also wide agreement that complete sidewalks on the street (which currently lacks any for most of this length) are outer Powell’s single most important need. In some narrower parts of the street, the bike lane quality might be a lower priority.

“Where appropriate, the stronger separations should be expected in the final plan,” Grosjean said. “I would be shocked if that appeared throughout the majority of the corridor, because it wouldn’t be appropriate.”

Would mountable curbs be enough to improve biking on Powell?
entering sw multnomah curb

Raised bikeway on SW Multnomah.
(Photo by M. Andersen/BikePortland)

Another consideration: whether raised bike lanes with three-inch sloped curbs, like the ones on NE Cully or SW Multnomah boulevards, are enough to actually make biking comfortable on Powell.

“Especially if it’s a mountable curb, it doesn’t really do anything — it can be easily traversed by cars,” said Portland Bicycle Coordinator Roger Geller, who was involved in preparing a rough sketch of a different alternative: a low curb that sits in the buffer between bike and car traffic.


Geller cited the new Separated Bike Lane Design Guide published this fall by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which he said doesn’t categorize raised bike lanes as a truly separated bike lane unless there is actual space between bikes and cars.

Geller said the Cully and Multnomah designs had been modeled after streets in Denmark, where a raised bike lane would be a possible treatment on a street resembling outer Powell. But unlike on Cully and Multnomah, outer Powell isn’t expected to have on-street parking spaces to further buffer the lane. And outer Powell, Geller said, isn’t “in a country where almost everybody who’s driving a car is also at some point riding a bicycle.”

Even so, Geller said, his sense of the current conversation about outer Powell’s future bike lanes isn’t whether there should be physical separation between cars and bikes, but “what would the nature of that physical separation be — that’s really what we’re talking about.”

ODOT staff will make final design decision
curtis trailers site

SE Powell at 100th outside Curtis Trailers.

Mike Mason, a project manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation assigned to this project, didn’t say anything inconsistent with Grosjean’s summary of the committees’ positions.

But Mason noted that “we certainly haven’t made any decisions” and emphasized that neither the advisory committee or decision committee are actually tasked with selecting a design for the bike lane. Instead, he said, their job is to make recommendations and decisions about “environmental” issues like roadway width, noise, biological and wetland impacts.

“The process was not to decide on a specific treatment for the bike facility,” Mason said. “That requires doing some more detailed design work. It requires having the funding to know what the different options would cost. It would require really knowing do they require more right-of-way. … And then there’s maintenance concerns with different facilities. … We need to be able to plow in the winter and remove debris at other times of the year and then have access to the stormwater system.”

The “project team” of ODOT staff will ultimately decide on the street design, Mason said.

“We need to have more information to make that decision,” he said. “So that’s what we’ll be doing probably over the next — and I’m just going to throw this out there — three to six months.”

I asked Grosjean about this tweet last week from Bicycle Transportation Alliance Advocacy Director Gerik Kransky:

class="twitter-tweet" lang="en">

I'm hearing reports of @OregonDOT staff working to prevent protected bike lanes from being built on Outer Powell: https://t.co/8p13riHJJq

— Gerik Kransky (@gerikkransky) December 16, 2015

Grosjean said he hasn’t picked up any explicit ODOT skepticism of protected bike lanes on Powell.

“We have ODOT people who are working with us on the advisory committee, and the district 1 chief mucketymuck is on the decision committee,” Grosjean said (referring to ODOT’s manager for the Portland region, Rian Windsheimer). “Through my eyes and ears, that’s not my impression.”

Finally, I asked Grosjean whether he thought there was any chance that ODOT might never get around to asking the Community Advisory Group or Decision Committees for their explicit positions about bike facility design.

Grosjean said he expected the committees will get a chance to make their recommendations known.

“I’m an unpaid volunteer, but I’m not shy at meetings if I don’t think it’s going in the right direction,” he said.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org


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