Fixing Bicycle Access in Downtown Portland : Time to Get Real

I recently sat reading a Bike Portland blog entry, as I do so often. This one is about a project manage position with the city to work on downtown bike infrastructure. Something that this city, especially with the volume of cycling traffic we have, sorely needs. I started to write a comment, but it got so long I realized I needed to write a blog entry, so here it is…

$6 Million is Not Much For Infrastructure

First off, it’s really great that there is $6 million for this. Albeit if it doesn’t include real separation, then we’re not talking about bike infrastructure for the 8-80 range, which we NEED if we’re to reach the 25% mode split in any millennium, let alone the next 10-20 years.

I’m one of those that doesn’t need serious infrastructure, I just cut around all the cars that are stuck all the time (within limits of 99% of the laws, I stop at stop signs even though motorists scream at me for it sometimes anyway). But I’d love to see the families, the mothers and fathers with children riding. These are actions I’ve only seen previously in places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen or only in inner south east neighborhoods of Portland. Stout children with the fortitude to keep up with their parents, without fear of being slaughtered by errant motorists being negligent while checking the latest twitter retweet (which killed more under 21 persons than anyone wants to ever count). That’s what I’d like to see, something that really ups the level for us all, and moves us past this petty stage of “kinda sorta bike infra” while we pretend we’re wanting people to really treat alternates as a real option to the automobile.

The two routes that immediately come to mind – and one isn’t 12th, not because I agree with the PBA either – is to connect the Waterfront to things that are inside the city streets. That means running something west from the waterfront. Ideal would be to close off the east and west streets that run parallel to the MAX tracks to the stadium (I hear families might like to bike to the soccer games eh?). These two streets, Yamhill and Morrison are already very low traffic streets. Again, as I often say, throw in some bollards for service trucks or emergency access as needed, but keep general traffic out and turn them into true – high grade – bike ways. In addition it would cost how much to do this? Probably 40-50k for bollards and some paint. This is not a lot of money, and fits well within a $6 million allowance. That should provide enough for some decent pavement smoothing, cleanup, and lights to insure smooth flow of traffic for all users.

The other direction, north to south and south to north, is a different story. There are two key locations where a bike way needs to exist. One in the stretch near the waterfront that would move into Old Town / Chinatown and one that would go all the way into the Pearl District. This is a bit more confusing of an area for me personally, but it could easily have one corridor start at PSU following the Park Blocks and one that starts around the infrequently used 3rd and 2nd Avenue Streets.

A third option, which I really think some focus should be honed in on, is the Couch couplet idea, but drop the streetcar notion and focus on breaking it out for a strong pedestrian and cyclist focus. Just close Couch to traffic altogether, put a small flower bed in the center and turn it into a major cycle way with obvious pedestrian access to boot. Put the flower beds at the areas where cars aren’t allowed to turn into anymore and magically, with maybe 50-100k we have a major cycling arterial that could effectively be car free. A perfect corridor for the 8-80 crowd.

Anyway, here’s a few key streets that could be turned into cycle and pedestrian only roads with an absolutely microscopic effect on actual auto traffic flow. They’d be able to line up and queue for inbound and outbound traffic flows with zero traffic changes – because simply, these roads are barely used by automobiles now!

Here’s a few thoughts drawn below… easy to implement, cheap, and barely disruptive. Let’s get this done!

Primary Corridors where dedicated Cycle-Tracks should Exist

Primary Corridors where dedicated Cycle-Tracks should Exist

Looking at the routes above, seriously, after years of living in Portland. These routes would also cause almost zero change in automotive traffic movement and would change so little automotive parking that I’d be largely surprised if 99% of motorists even noticed. Do you see where this would cause much disturbance?


  1. Third is not “barely used.” Third is the southbound pair for Fourth, and these are the only pair of N-S auto streets of any consequence until you get to 10th and 11th. Second, as a two-way route, should be fine.

    The remainder of the ideas sound great. Honestly, I’m so annoyed trying to cross Couch as a pedestrian that I don’t understand why it is still an auto route at all.


    1. When I worked with the street redesign for PDX Better Blocks we brought the street down to one lane for several blocks north of Burnside and for a block south. There were zero real capacity issues even during rush hour. It could be brought down to 1, maybe 1 turn lane onto Burnside, and it would be enough to handle the current capacity of the road. This would give a chance for the businesses on the street to actually turn the roadway into a space where people would actually walk, linger, and do business. Currently these streets are not used that way. Left only for the night time activities of Friday and Saturday night.

      I’d be highly confident that street reconfiguration with dedicated cycle-tracks, plenty of street seats and public space, and a reduction to 1 auto-lane, and one turn lane north of Burnside onto Burnside would be perfectly fine for 3rd.

      In addition to those elements of 3rd, every single business owner in the area is in support of adding these elements and removing car lanes – they understand that auto-traffic is not what they need or want, but instead they want a vibrant street with actual paying customers and people looking to be entertained. With a street redesign, they’ll get that. 🙂

      Also – interviewed a few people:

      …and yeah, about Couch, seriously. We should get that turned into a bike route yesterday. It shouldn’t even have auto traffic. Which as is the case often, that would actually make it easier for auto-traffic up slithering through the intersection by Powells, where the 4-way for automobiles just makes it more complicated.


  2. Many, many streets in Portland could be one way, one lane streets. Even neighborhood streets. It’s the best way to free up space for bikes & dedicated transit.


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