Bicycle lanes and traffic patterns to change
By Mindy Cooper/The Portland Observer
Plans for North Williams Avenue, one of Portland’s busiest roads for combining cars, bikes and pedestrians, is about to undergo some major changes to keep up with increased traffic congestion.
“There are some deep seeded issues, and through this transportation project we are listening to them,” said Dan Anderson, spokesperson for the Portland Department of Transportation.
In an effort to tackle several safety issues, the North Williams Traffic Operations Safety Project was created over a year ago.
There are four main safety issues, Anderson said, which include cross walk safety, driver’s speed, bus and bike conflicts, and bike lane capacity.
Portland’s growing segment of bicycle riders has resulted in more than 30,000 cyclists a day using the street, which also carries two bus routes and thousands of cars.
“We are hopeful Williams will become safer for people no matter how they get around,” Anderson said.
The transportation bureau plans to increase bike lane capacity, especially in the busiest locations like the cross streets of Skidmore and Fremont.
“There is not enough room for all the cyclists in the bike lane, and it is not comfortable or safe to pass other bicyclists in the other lanes where cars and buses are,” he said.
A Stakeholder Advisory Committee has provided input on design and best safety tactics.
The most recent plan, after months of meetings, is a left-side buffered bike lane and a single motor vehicle travel lane for two stretches of the corridor from the I-5 on-ramp to Fargo and from Skidmore to Killingsworth.
The left hand travel lane will be shared by both bikers and cars alike from Fargo to Skidmore.
“So this includes a left side buffered bike lane and changes in the number of automobile lanes,” said Anderson. “Sometimes it is two lanes, and sometimes it is one lane.”
Many residents remained concerned over the safety of the current design.
According to resident Tam Alem, co-owner of Williams Street Market, which rests on the corner of Fremont, the new design is okay, as long as the bikers will be safe, although he thinks the street is fine the way it is.
Alem said, however, he believes the city should wait until all development in the area is completely occupied. “The street is changing really quickly,” he said.
New Seasons Market announced plans in January to open a new location in the Eliot Neighborhood on a vacant lot located at North Cook and Fremont. The locally-owned grocer said the store will have 30,000 square feet of space and sit adjacent to North Williams by 2013.
Resident and bicyclist Anne Lauerman who lives nearby said she is concerned about the way the city plans to switch around the lanes.
“I know there are a lot of residents who use this street, but my thought is more bikes lanes, or a widened bike lane taking away from a lane of traffic, is going to create more car traffic issues,” she said.
Lauerman, who was riding her bike during a recent evening of rush hour traffic, said she is worried about the bikers getting hurt because the plan pushes bikers to turn into traffic. She also was concerned about future developments adding to the street’s congestion.
Others, however, said the design change to the neighborhood is positive.
Elliot Neighborhood resident Shepard Griffin dropped his bike off at the Abraham Fixes, a local bike maintenance shop located around the corner on Fremont. “It is important there are enough lanes,” he said. “There are a lot of bicycles in the city, so it makes sense for this to happen.”
Long time resident Lee Bradley agreed. “I think it is a beautiful thing they are going to reconstruct this neighborhood,” he said. “I believe it is going to make the neighborhood better.”
Michael Brendle, who lives a block west of Williams, said as a neighbor, even with the new design he remains concerned about safety. “They are trying to bring a freeway and off ramp, four lanes of traffic going two ways, hundreds of bicyclists and five to ten businesses in the same block,” he said. “I am not saying I don’t want it, but I would hate to be the person trying to figure out how to do it.”
Still, Anderson said, the current bike lanes are stressful and feel unsafe for both bus drivers and cyclists.
Although no final decisions have yet to be made, Anderson said they hope to get some work done before the end of the year.
The committee recommendations are expected to be fine-tuned come the summer months.