Archive for March, 2011

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Bikes and Streetcars: Raising the Level of our Game

March 7, 2011

At Tuesday’s Planning and Sustainability Commission meeting we have a work session around the Locally Preferred Alternative for the Lake Oswego to Portland Transit project. The steering committee recommendation is streetcar, mostly using the current Willamette Shoreline rail right-of-way, except for a few blocks on Macadam, and with several alternative routing options toward the Lake Oswego end of the corridor to be studied further.

This is consistent with previous comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement that the Commission had provided to the Mayor (Portland’s representative on the project steering committee).

So now the question becomes whether Portland should include any conditions on its approval of the recommendation.

I expect that tomorrow we’ll have some discussion about mitigating the impact on several parks and natural areas that the alignment passes through in Portland. And I’m planning to offer some language along the following lines:

The streetcar alignment should be designed and executed with a significantly higher degree of bicycle compatibility than achieved in prior streetcar projects, with the goal of creating an environment that will attract “interested but concerned” potential cyclists, including:

  • Safe and comfortable crossing designs where bike facilities intersect the alignment
  • Safe and comfortable treatments where bike facilities run parallel and adjacent to the alignment
  • Convenient access (including bike parking) to platforms, particularly those outside the Portland Central City
  • Good connectivity for the bicycle network in or near the envelope of the transit corridor
  • Safe and comfortable bicycle access should be maintained without interruption during construction
  • The project contingency funds should be sufficient to provide the ability to mitigate unintended impacts to bicycle facilities during or after construction

So what’s the fuss? The Streetcar Loop Project hasn’t repeated some of the mistakes of the past like putting bike lanes between parked cars and rail, where an opening car door leaves you no place to escape to. And where possible we’ve put streetcars in the left lane, away from the bike lanes, and even created a new neighborhood greenway on Marshall in the Pearl to keep bikes well-separated from the rails on Lovejoy.

But for all our progress, we got a lot of things wrong, including:

  • Crossings that aren’t close enough to perpendicular
  • An intersection at Broadway and Larrabee that is almost certainly less safe than it was before streetcar
  • Inadequate wayfinding that leaves folks in the Pearl unclear about where to go

and a myriad of small details that all could have been better.

The big opportunity identified in the Bicycle Master Plan is the “interested but concerned” portion of the population – up to 60% of us – who would be willing to use a bike for some trips, but don’t feel safe or comfortable enough to do so. The level of design we achieved on the Loop project is an improvement, but in my judgment in many places it will not assuage the concerns of the “interested but concerned.”

We have to do better. Let’s commit ourselves to doing so on this project.