By Nancy Tannler
The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) began developing a network of bike boulevards back in the 1980s. They experimented with aggressive traffic-calming projects on streets like SE Lincoln, Clinton and Harrison Streets that made it difficult for cars to speed through residential neighborhoods. These were streets that saw up to 5,000 cars a day. In some instances, the bike boulevards cut this amount in half.
At first the focus was on making it safe for cyclists using busy thoroughfares. Over time, PBOT realized that even with designated bike lanes, a lot of people weren’t going to bike on them. They expanded their vision to include streets where the volume of traffic was low.
In 2009 PBOT branded these streets “neighborhood greenways” and since that time they have developed 100 miles dedicated to the mission of having safe streets. Speed limits, speed bumps, intersection art, signage, refuge islands, activated traffic signals and traffic diverters are some of the methods used to calm traffic.
A recent SE neighborhood greenway improvement was the Hawthorne Pave & Paint project. Since 1996 there has been a campaign to build protected bike lanes on SE Hawthorne Blvd. In 2019/20, the Hawthorne Pave & Paint project was introduced by PBOT and this issue was revisited. The area between SE 24th and 50th Avenues on Hawthorne Blvd. had a history of crashes because it was designed mainly for people in cars, trucks and buses.
Despite an active campaign for change–especially one that means less driving and parking spaces–BikePortland and Healthier Hawthorne advocates were disappointed when they were not included in the Pave & Paint project.
As an advisory board, the Hawthorne Boulevard Business Association’s (HBBA) recommendation was taken into consideration by PBOT. William Levesque, HBBA president, said, “The HBBA heartily support cyclists, we would have loved bike lanes.” In the end, they concurred with PBOT’s decision citing commute time and idling car exhaust as a couple of the deciding factors.
Hannah Schafer, PBOT Interim Director of Communications, said that they considered bike lanes on SE Hawthorne Blvd., but decided that improving the existing greenways will be a sufficient substitute for now.
Instead PBOT chose to change the four lanes to three wider ones with a turning lane in the center. The new construction also installed and upgraded curb ramps to assist people who use wheelchairs, mobility devices and strollers. TriMet’s Line 14 will also move faster thanks to signal timing and lane striping changes.
PBOT’s Paint & Pave crews repaved 28 blocks, upgraded 163 curb ramps to ADA standards, improved 10 crossings with crosswalks and/or median islands, installed 14 new streetlights, retimed 10 traffic signals and upgraded the signal at SE César E. Chávez Blvd.
The concession to cyclists is a commitment to develop and fund neighborhood greenway improvements parallel to and connecting to SE Hawthorne Blvd. within the next five years. Currently PBOT is working with the HBBA, neighborhood associations and other interested people to upgrade existing neighborhood greenways and discuss the newly-proposed neighborhood greenways.Schafer said they will require new pavement markings, stop sign changes, way finding signage and speed bumps to meet PBOT guidelines.
One of the proposed new neighborhood greenways on SE 34th Ave. from SE Belmont St. to SE Division St., has traffic volumes above PBOT guidelines for neighborhood greenway operations. This indicates that traffic diversion on the route may be necessary to prevent neighborhood cut-through traffic trips, while still allowing people to access homes and the commercial district. PBOT’s outreach has been a mix of support, concerns and opposition to using traffic diversion.
When asked whether the greenways have increased bike riders, Schaffer said, “We have found that the areas of the city with the most neighborhood greenways have the highest rates of bicycling, according to US Census Bureau data.” She went on to state that neighborhood greenways are part of a larger system and a single corridor project can be challenging to measure individually.
The bold vision advocated by BikePortland and Healthier Hawthorne for dedicated bike-lanes is off the table, for now. These groups concede that the greenway upgrades are better than nothing, but they don’t accomplish the overall goal of making the street better for biking. Their vision is to adapt other busy thoroughfares, like the 82nd Avenue of Roses, to bike lanes too.
As a national leader in bicycle and pedestrian transportation planning, PBOT will continue to develop greenways to reduce the speed and volume of motor vehicle traffic, Schaffer pledges.
This will become even more necessary because it is predicted that there will be another 110,000 cars on our streets by 2035, and our roadway space in not growing.
For the current Neighborhood Greenway network, visit bit.ly/PDXGreenways.