‘Buffered Bike Lanes’ slow the traffic on outer SE Holgate Blvd.

PDOT says this ‘demonstration project’ helps bicyclists feel safer as they ride the roads; neighbors agree – but, say the project isn’t what officials originally presented. Here’s the story …

After the street is paint-striped, a worker places reflective markers in the Buffered Bike Lane on outer SE Holgate Boulevard.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
With two vehicle lanes in each direction – plus a turn lane – the stretch of SE Holgate Boulevard between SE 92nd and 122nd Avenues used to offer motorists the opportunity to quickly travel the 30-block corridor in outer East Portland.

But now, since the Portland Office of Transportation (PDOT) re-marked the street by installing “Buffered Bike Lanes” a couple of weeks ago, this part of SE Holgate has been reduced to just one motor vehicle lane in each direction.

“These buffered lanes help to reduce the risk posed by car doors on the parking lane side,” explained PDOT project manager Jeff Smith. “And, they provide additional space between cyclists and motorists. This bike lane will improve connectivity for cyclists with the I-205 bike and pedestrian path, as well as with the new I-205 MAX station.”

Lents Neighborhood Association Chair Damien Chakwin (seen here, at the September Lents Neighborhood Association meeting) says the new Holgate Boulevard bike lanes does cut down on speeding vehicles.

Slowing the ‘Holgate Speedway’
Too many drivers have a habit of driving too fast on this section of SE Holgate Blvd., commented Lents Neighborhood Association Chair Damien Chakwin.

“Holgate had turned into a raceway,” Chakwin told East Portland News. “Before the bicycle lanes were put in, it wasn’t unusual to see cars going as fast as 60 to 70 miles per hour. This [change] has brought the traffic speed down to a normal level, thereby making Holgate safer for our children and neighbors.”

The project was identified in the Lents Neighborhood Traffic Safety Plan adopted in 1999. PDOT officials say that both the Powellhurst-Gilbert and the Lents Neighborhood Associations requested this project be completed.

“Last winter, PDOT people came out to talk with us about putting in bike lanes,” Chakwin said. “They said they had money to complete the project this summer. By a unanimous vote of our association general assembly, it was approved.”

Makes kids’ travel safer to schools and parks
The eastern half the bike lane project is in Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association (PGNA) territory.

John McDonald, PGNA Land Use Committee Chair, lives on Holgate, and asked if bike lanes could be installed some time ago, reported PGNA Chair Mark White.

“When the issue came for discussion, there was quite a debate on the topic,” White told us. “Some said they appreciated having two lanes for vehicle traffic in each direction. Others complained that people drove too fast and thought it might make Holgate Boulevard safer.”

Within blocks of that portion of SE Holgate, White noted, there are three schools – four, if one counts the Marshal Campus. “With all of the kids who travel it to and from school, it was dangerous without any bike lanes. And, there are also four public parks in the vicinity.”

In the end, White reported, the neighborhood association voted in favor of the bike lane plan.

Mark White (seen here at the EPO XPO), chair of Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association, says the bike lanes are needed, but making it a demonstration Buffered Bike Lane project took him – and the neighbors – by surprise.

Demonstration project surprises folks in PGNA
“After we approved adding bike lanes,” White continued, “PDOT officials said they would design a project, and share the final drawings with us. We had agreed on having the center lane be 13’ wide; the vehicle lanes each be 12’ wide; and, bike lane 6½ feet. That is not what it ended up being.

In fact, one motor vehicle travel lane in each direction was replaced with a 7-foot wide bicycle lane – and an additional painted 3-foot buffer on the traffic side – reducing the width of the motor vehicle lane. “Analysis indicates that this design will provide adequate traffic capacity,” claimed PDOT officials in a press release.

“While I truly believe it is important to have bike lanes on SE Holgate Boulevard – what they installed is different than what we were presented,” White commented.

“Many residents here in outer East Portland have deep-seated mistrust of the City,” added White. “Doing things like this doesn’t help; it’s hard to get people involved, as it is. This is an example of a flawed public process.”

White restated that he is in favor of ideas and projects that provide more transportation options for the neighborhood, and increase safety. “I drive on Holgate every day and see very few other cars. For me, slowed traffic isn’t a big deal.”

One flaw, White pointed out, is that there are not broken white lines leading up to the intersection at SE 104th Avenue “It’s just not safe.”

We suggested that PDOT may make changes, since this is a “demonstration project” of Buffered Bike Lanes – the first in the City. White replied, “We were never told this was to be a ‘demonstration project’.”

(From our front page) After placing the reflective strips that demarcate the super-sized bike lanes, workers use a blowtorch to melt them into the pavement.

Project funded by federal dollars
From City documents, we learned that this project was funded by grant from the United States Department of Transportation’s “Jobs Access and Reverse Commute” program, “established to address the unique transportation challenges faced by welfare recipients and low-income persons seeking to obtain and maintain employment.” The grant is administered locally by TriMet.

To learn more about why the City of Portland plans to install more super-sized bicycle lanes here, see their official website: CLICK HERE.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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