By John McLaren

Construction of the NE/SE 50s Bikeway, plans which were hotly debated two years ago in the Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association (MTNA), is now expected to begin in late July and will take about four months to complete, according to  the city’s Bureau of Transportation (PBOT).

The $1.5 million bikeway, running north-south along SE 52nd and SE/NE 53rd avenues, will extend from SE Woodstock Blvd. to NE Thompson St.

The most disputed feature is a “regulatory” diverter intended to keep northbound cars and trucks on 52nd from continuing past Division St. Opponents fear a diverter on SE 52nd would send some motorists – no one knows how many —  to SE 51st or SE 53rd, both quiet residential streets within the Mt. Tabor neighborhood, as alternative pass-throughs.

The diverter (basically a “Do Not Enter” sign) could be removed following an eight-month test of how the bikeway is working, according to project sponsors. Another major change will be to remove on-street parking on the east side of 52nd from Division to SE Woodstock St. to make way for new bike lanes.

While approving the overall bikeway project, the MTNA voted 56 to 55 at its June 2011 meeting to oppose the diverter. The project was unconditionally approved by the seven other neighborhood associations along the 6.7-mile route, although there was some grumbling about the loss of on-street parking on SE 52nd..

“We are still anticipating a late July start to construction,” Project manager Rich Newlands said in an April 23 email.  “The (final) plan set was submitted to Oregon Department of Transportation last week.  We are one hurdle away (a go-ahead from the Federal Highway Administration) from having a much more predictable schedule, but confidence is high that we will cross it next week and be on the schedule noted above.”

Newlands said he hoped to meet with MTNA  in July or August to brief members “on what to expect during construction and how we will proceed with the testing”.

As for the diverter, he said, community input will be sought at all stages: planning, testing and final disposition. “I am all ears for suggestions on the process to make it better for the neighborhood.”

John Laursen, an MTNA board member, is not convinced. He says PBOT is determined to keep the diverter regardless of what testing shows. Although he says he supports the bikeway “in general,” he is “absolutely opposed” to the diverter.

“That closure is unnecessary to the overall success of the bikeway, given the broad expanse of that stretch of 52nd, and PBOT knows it. Although they (PBOT staff) paid lip service to public input, they never intended to possibly allow public concerns to sway them from the plan they had always had. It was deliberate, and it was conscienceless, and it was an appalling abuse of the public trust.”

The project has been endorsed by the influential Bicycle Transportation Alliance. However the BTA also backs additional traffic calming measures, such as speed bumps, to alleviate neighborhood concerns about the diverter.

“While studies show that a traffic diverter on SE 52nd would be unlikely to impact traffic flows on nearby streets, the BTA understands such concerns and supports additional traffic-calming measures if they prove to be necessary.”

North of Division, 52nd currently carries more than 2,500 cars a day, according to a PBOT count, well over the preferred volume for a local street. However, if the diverter sends more than 150 cars a day to 51st or 53rd Aves, PBOT will first try traffic “calming” measures, such as speed bumps and parking lane curb extensions, and if those don’t work, will remove the diverter, the agency says. PBOT must report back to the Portland City Council on the results of the testing.

SE 52nd is currently regarded as a “shared roadway” by PBOT because of the relatively wide outside lanes that cyclists can use.  Still, cyclists must contend with heavy vehicular traffic, especially in and around the intersections with Powell Blvd and Foster Road.

For more information, go www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/53345,  and click on “UPDATES” for the latest developments in the project.