By David Krogh

During the last week in October, City crews painted two of the bus only lanes in downtown Portland’s transit mall a bright shade of red as an initial attempt by the City to deter private vehicle use of those dedicated bus lanes. 

The lanes in question are located on SW 5th and 6th Avenues. Some 1,570 TriMet buses use the transit mall every day, as do 298 MAX trains. It is not uncommon to see drivers turning into the bus lane, either because of uncertainty or because they are just trying to get out of the one-way couplet in whatever way works best. The red lanes will help to make clear that these are bus only lanes.  

Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) is exploring how to clarify traffic circulation in the transit mall with a limited application of painted lanes. This is an early step as the City rolls out additional bus-only lanes elsewhere. 

Because of the complexities of traffic circulation in  downtown, the Central City is the first area chosen for study. While new to Portland, this type of painted lane has been used in other cities to identify bus-only dedicated lanes, including San Francisco, Baltimore and Washington D.C. 

In Portland, this is being touted as the “Rose Lane Project” according to Commissioner Eudaly, who oversees PBOT.

Between 2016 and early 2018, PBOT received both State and Federal transportation-related grants intended to facilitate a planning process in coordination with TriMet for the Enhanced Transit Corridors (ETC) Plan. 

This plan suggests improvements to help make transit more attractive and reliable for people to get to work, school and to meet their daily needs, especially for people who depend on transit. 

It also identifies where transit priority, streamlining and access treatments could be most beneficial on the planned TriMet Frequent Service network including buses and streetcars. According to TriMet, Frequent Service is defined as transit lines that run every 15 minutes or better most of the day, every day of the week. 

According to PBOT, goals from this program aim to:

• Increase transit ridership and improve the experience for current riders by improving transit capacity, reliability and travel time.

 • Support planned growth in centers and along corridors consistent with the City’s Comprehensive Plan update. 

• Define and identify Enhanced Transit Corridors with clear and objective operational performance measures and thresholds.

The Rose Lane Project Concept Plan is anticipated to be submitted to the City Council in February 2020. Ultimately, this plan will result in transit corridor improvements outside of the central city area which will include dedicated bus lanes, enhanced bicycle lanes and facilities.  

For inner E. Portland, concept plans included a dedicated bus lane addition to the Burnside Bridge along with wider bicycle lanes. 

In addition, the possibility of dedicated bus lanes or other transit priority improvements are being considered to extend east along Burnside (up to SE 12th) and along several other transit streets (including SE Belmont to Cesar E. Chavez; SE Hawthorne to SE 50th; SE Holgate to SE 28th and NE Sandy to NE 82nd). 

At this point, details are still being identified as to specific improvements and locations, with timelines for the construction of pilot projects expected to extend out into 2021. 

The result will be to prioritize and facilitate bus transit improvements along higher trafficked corridors as a means to promote transit use and discourage auto commuting. PBOT is hopeful traffic congestion along those corridors will be reduced as drivers see advantages of using city transit.

For additional information on this project and how to be involved, go to: bit.ly/2sdcIn4.

Photo by Pierre Haou, PBOT.