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by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JONATHAN HOUSE - Cyclists and pedestrians head for home during an evening commute along the Willamette waterfront. City planners are charting out a complete network of downtown bicycling routes in the proposed update of Portlands comprehensive plan. Bicycling in downtown Portland isn’t for the weak-hearted.

And some might say the same about driving downtown — especially with so many bicyclists on the roads nowadays.

But downtown is in line for $6.6 million worth of bicycling and pedestrian improvements in the next few years, thanks to a recent award from Metro, and safety improvements will be a top priority. City planners also are drawing up plans for a complete network of downtown biking routes, as part of an updated comprehensive land-use plan designed to accommodate the next 20 years of growth in the city.

“As we grow, we want to add life and vitality to the city,

not congestion,” says Portland Bureau of Transportation spokeswoman Diane Dulken.

The central city’s residential population is projected to more than double by 2035, and the number of downtown jobs could grow some 30 to 40 percent. Combined with surging tourism here, that’s a lot more people to get around town.

 “As best as we can,” says the city bureau’s senior transportation planner Mauricio Leclerc, “we want to make those trips non-auto.”

About one in 10 downtown commuters now come via bicycle, and city leaders want that share to grow. But Leclerc says downtown’s designated bicycle routes are hit-or-miss, especially compared to the nearly complete array of downtown sidewalks, roads and transit.

“When it comes to bicycling, we don’t have that robust network,” Leclerc says.

What’s not working

Lots of bicyclists cross bridges over the Willamette River in the morning, only to find nowhere safe to go when they hit downtown. 

“It’s dumping thousands of riders to sharing the roads with buses and thousands of vehicles,” Leclerc says.

Leclerc, who works in the heart of downtown at the Portland Building, says there’s really no good route to pedal from there to Powell’s Books, Old Town or the Pearl District. 

On sunny days, bicyclists snake their way along the bustling riverfront path at Waterfront Park, zigzagging around crowds of joggers, parents pushing strollers and other pedestrians. The potential for conflicts can only grow as more people use downtown and more people bike.

Some of downtown’s bike routes are incomplete, Leclerc says. There’s a safe route for bicyclists coming southbound via the Broadway Bridge into downtown, but no safe way for them to bike home at day’s end.

Jefferson Street provides a safe westbound route, but there’s no equivalent route in the other direction. 

The money from Metro will fund some of the high-priority projects identified in the comprehensive plan by the time it’s readied for City Council consideration next year, Leclerc says. Other longer-range ideas are gathering support as land use and transportation planners get input on the plan from residents, business owners, bicyclists, engineers and urban design experts.

Building out the network

Building on the city’s Bicycle Master Plan, planners envision safe bicycling routes every three to five blocks downtown in all directions. “That could really get a lot more people interested in riding,” says city planner Karl Lisle.

The concept is the same as with bus or transit, Lisle says. You need to offer convenient access to transit stops close to where people are if you hope to get them to use it. 

The same principle applies to pedestrians, who are prone to take shortcuts or jaywalk when their journey is cumbersome. 

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JONATHAN HOUSE - Cyclists have plenty of space to ride during a late-fall commute along Portlands waterfront. But as more people are drawn to downtown, planners say there needs to be separation between cyclists and pedestrians on the riverfront. “To get around by bike, you want as direct a route as you can,” Leclerc says. “If you don’t do that, at some point bicyclists will do their own thing.”

If there are well-marked routes that bicyclists see as safe, that should reduce conflicts between bikes and cars, Leclerc says. “If we have a better network, more direct, safe, intuitive ways to get to their destination, hopefully there would be less of that.”

As bike commuters know, biking downtown can actually take less time than driving there, especially when you factor the time it takes to land a parking space. It also saves money, and can be more fun and healthy.

But planners figure many bike commuters are the hard-core type. The real potential for expanding the pool of bicyclists comes from those classified as “interested and concerned,” who would be out pedaling more if they thought it was safe and convenient. The full network is designed to provide that safety and convenience. It also will help promote usage in the planned Bike Share program, a short-term rental service that will cater to tourists, downtown workers and students doing short hops by bike.

The network being discussed in the comprehensive plan also would provide a northbound route to match the southbound Broadway route, and an eastbound return route for those using Jefferson heading west. There’d also be a new north-south route, perhaps along

Second and Third avenues.

New green loop planned

Pedestrians and bicyclists are heavy users of the loop hugging the Willamette River, using Waterfront Park, the Hawthorne and Steel bridges and the Vera Katz Eastbank

Esplanade on the east side. Planners are talking up the idea of a new larger “green loop” connecting downtown to the east side. As envisioned, the western edge of the loop would run along the north and south Park Blocks, connecting to the Broadway Bridge on the north and the new light-rail bridge

going up on the south side. The eastern edge of the loop, on Portland’s east side, hasn’t been defined yet.

The green loop is conceived as a great amenity for recreational riders, but also as providing safe access to Portland State University, museums and galleries, downtown shops, and the Pearl District, Lisle says.

Waterfront Park

A major theme of the new comprehensive plan is re-orienting downtown to the waterfront. Still-evolving plans call for adding east-west paths through Waterfront Park to the river, and a sidewalk on the east side of Naito Parkway, next to the park.

Eventually, planners figure speedy bicyclists must be sepa rated from pedestrians on the waterfront pathway. That may be done simply by painting a stripe on the sidewalk, Lisle says. Another idea is to move bicyclists to a parallel route. 

As with other ideas in the plan, specific designs and engineering fixes are left for later. Right now, planners are gathering peoples’ visions and floating them to get feedback.

City planners expect to provide more details about plan priorities in January and February.

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