A Better Williams for Everyone, if we ask for it

Posted by Steve in News on April 15th, 2011 – 14 Comments

It is critical that everyone email their preference for the best biking and walking conditions on Williams to PBOT Project Manager Ellen Vanderslice: Ellen.Vanderslice@portlandoregon.gov

PBOT is currently conducting a public design process for improving conditions on N Williams Avenue between Weidler and Killingsworth.  There are welcome improvements proposed for the corridor, but there are some problems with the approach that all active transportation advocates should pay close attention to.  Here’s a run down of the situation.

EXISTING CONDITIONS ON WILLIAMS AVENUE

  • About 35% of all trips on Williams are made by bicycle, making it the second busiest bikeway in the city.
  • Williams serves about 100 less daily trips than its one-lane southbound counterpart, Vancouver Avenue (see graph)
  • Williams is designated a neighborhood collector, meaning traffic destined for points outside of the neighborhood is not the type of trips the street should accommodate (i.e. bypassing I-5 or MLK traffic)
  • Despite the existing mode-share split, cyclists are only given 15% of the available roadway space.  The other 4 lanes including vehicle parking, make up the other 85% of the roadway.
  • Williams is home to the city’s first bicycle-oriented development, featuring dozens of bike-based and bike-friendly businesses.
  • Because of a thriving retail corridor, parking demand on Williams is high, especially on weekend evenings. As a result, parking removal seems to be a non-starter.
The Barrier to a Better Williams - 2 hours of evening commute SOV traffic.  This also is the most congested time for cyclists too, but note that is not as strong of a consideration in the revisioning process.

The Barrier to a Better Williams - 2 hours of evening commute SOV traffic. This also is the most congested time for cyclists too, but this is not as strong of a consideration in the re-visioning process.

WHAT THE PROJECT AIMS TO FIX

Based on PBOT’s survey of local residents and businesses, some priorities were developed and here is what can be culled from the first 3 Stakeholder Advisory Meetings:

  1. Eliminating the Bus/Bike “leap frogging” interaction
  2. Increasing Crosswalk compliance
  3. Reducing traffic speeds
  4. Handling bike congestion
  5. Getting bikes out of the “door zone’

BIKE & PEDESTRIAN FACILITIES

The City and its consultants are still working with the SAC and neighborhood to decide on

1.) number of car lanes,
2.) presence/absence of on-street parking,
3.) type of bike facility (i.e., cycle track, regular bike lane, etc.), and
4.) placement of bike facility relative to car and on-street parking lanes.

The SAC already voted to have the bike lane on the right side rather than the left.  I believe the Open House this weekend is intended to get the general public’s input on which floorplan to use, with the specifics of crosswalks, transit stops, and turning lanes to be resolved after they make that decision.  If you want that connected cycletrack, it’s not too late to fight for it.

The City folks and the designer/planners are going to be giving a presentation to the Pedestrian Advisory Committee next month (May 17), when presumably they’ll have their floorplan established.  It will be an opportunity to comment on the pedestrian aspects of the design, including transit stop placement which may affect the “leapfrogging” issue along this corridor.

SEGMENTATION & TRADE-OFF’s

The current approach to the corridor is to divide Williams into distinct segments, which provides an opportunity to change the lane configuration in different areas.

Segments 3 & 4 would not receive the benefit of a road diet if current proposals are implemented.  Segment 4 would remain largely the same.  This is a missed opportunity if we let it slip away.

I am looking at the vehicle counts and it seems we lose 100 vph between Fremont and Cook.  Since this is the first opportunity for a connection to a neighborhood collector (albeit not designated until east of MLK), would it be reasonable to break this section into two distinct segments?  That is Cook to Fremont as 4A and and Fremont to Skidmore as 4B.  Perhaps this would give the opportunity to have 2 lanes where they are most needed (closest to 405 offramp) while allowing the retail corridor to thrive as the bike-oriented development and pedestrian paradise it is already trying to be.

We have been told it’s all about “trade offs” and the current trajectory for the project says we cannot afford the trade off of potential congestion during rush hour.  In turn, improvements would be nominal in sections 3 and 4, and 4 would remain mostly the same as it is today.  That would be an unfortunate missed opportunity.

WHY THE CURRENT APPROACH IS PROBLEMATIC

Cars Still RuleDespite unprecedented, growing levels of bicycle mode share on this street, somehow we cannot afford to provide adequate, equitable space for people riding bikes.  Utilization has already outstripped capacity on this bikeway, yet we cannot dedicate an equivalent amount of right of way space for these users.  The reasoning is because of a 2 hour rush period, the other 94% has to bare that burden. That is an injustice.

We’re not implementing the Bike Plan for 2030 —  It is mind-boggling  that they are considering two cycletrack sections separated by a section where a regular bike lane is maintained. PBOT keeps backing down from connected facilities that serve cyclists’ needs when cars might be inconvenienced by the change. If car convenience (not creating car congestion) is a more important consideration, then of course putting in connected infrastructure will not happen, because capacity issues will always come up at critical intersections. Having two cycletrack sections that aren’t connected will not create the kind of continuity and safety that will protect existing users and encourage prospective new users of the route. They have to move past that if they want to continue to see growth in ridership and increases in safety that the Bike Plan envisions.

What about pedestrians? — Anyone who walks in Portland knows crossing one travel lane is leaps and bounds more pleasant than crossing two lanes.  We have no pedestrian counts for the district, but anecdotally there are hundreds, if not thousands, of pedestrian crossings daily.  We should consider pedestrian levels of service and create the most walkable commercial corridor in the city.  The best way to do this is to put Williams on a road diet and bring it back to people-scale.

We see traffic as a problem, not an asset. — If the corridor functions as designated, any traffic that builds up on it will be a sign of high patronage of the retail corridor and access to the neighborhood’s churches and other services.  

Read more on the missed opportunities being presented for Williams Avenue at Bike Portland.

UPDATE: Way to go, folks! Big thanks to everyone who mobilized for the Williams Ave open house.  If we don’t end up with the best Williams for walking and biking, it won’t be for lack of public support. This is what Segment 4 looked like in the public comment section:

And if you’re a bean counter, the cycle-track option is well supported:

If you weren’t able to make it, it’s still critical that everyone email their preference for the best biking and walking conditions on Williams to PBOT Project Manager Ellen Vanderslice: Ellen.Vanderslice@portlandoregon.gov

Thanks to Alexis, Rebecca & Russ for contributing to this write up.

PBOT is currently conducting a public design process for improving conditions on N Williams Avenue between Weidler and Killingsworth.
  1. Beautiful post.

    I don’t see exactly how the bus-bike leapfrog problem could be solved. That dedicated cycletrack, right? Anything short of that?

    • Steve says:

      There is some potential for bus pads that would live in the parking lane (with a bike lane/cycletrack behind it). I couldn’t find a great photo example, but imagine it would be where the bollard is in this picture:

      The concrete bus stop islands wouldn’t come cheap, which is all the more reason to support a low-fi fix to Williams with a road diet, instead of implementing a bunch of new signals as PBOT is proposing. We only have $370,000 for the entire project, even just 2 signals would eat up most of the budget.

  2. Ted Buehler says:

    If they can’t take a lane off Williams above Cook, then maybe they can turn Rodney into a guilt-fledged Neighborhood Greenway through there. Like Morris to Going. Then the slower-speed bike traffic would have an alternate route. It wouldn’t cost much — turn a few stop signs, put in crossing improvements at Fremont, and you have yourself a secondary route.

    • Steve says:

      By all means, Rodney is already serving hundreds of bike trips daily, it should certainly be offered as a low key alternative route by bringing it up to neighborhood greenway standards. Can’t wait for the city to undertake that process in the near future!

      • Ted Buehler says:

        I’ve heard that the Rodney Bike Blvd is way out in the lineup at present. Like 5 – 10 years. The story I heard is that PBOT proposed it maybe 2 years ago, but wanted to cut 4 parking spaces at each intersection. And in the Eliot Neighborhood (Broadway to Fremont) the blocks are very short, so it would have been a lot of spaces, and the neighborhood association nixed it.

        The Eliot neighborhood now has some pro-bike people on the Land Use and Transportation committee, so it could be proposed again with possible different results, but it’s at the back of the line.

        So we’ll need to ask for it if we want it any sooner. And it’s only a couple blocks in Eliot from Morris to Fremont, and all of the parking problems (Rose Quarter, Russell St. restaurants) are well south of Morris.

        For starters they wouldn’t even need to flip many stop signs, just the one at Ivy. But they would need to put in sharrows and add “do not block intersection” markings at Fremont.

        • Steve says:

          Well this is where opting for neighborhood greenways means a much intensive process. Greenways carry bioswale/rain water systems along with new street trees. I’m not sure PBOT is interested in creating new bike boulevards (instead transitioning to more holistic greenways). The advantage is that there are more improvements for all road users and local residents with a greenway, which means a more lengthy, thorough review process.

          My understanding is PBOT’s priority is using greenways to extend to parts of Portland that don’t yet have access to a safe, convenient bikeways. In that sense, I’d say improvements to other parts of the city should come first seeing as we do have a viable bikeway one block over on Williams. I take Rodney often as is and it’s pretty good, so it’s not as big a priority for me.

        • r. willis says:

          it is already illegal to park within 30 feet of an unmarked corner crosswalk. ORS 811.550. we just have no enforcement.

          r.

    • Ted Buehler says:

      BTW, previous post should read “turn Rodney into a full-fledged Neighborhood Greenway” — iPhone spelling autocorrect glitch…

  3. some body says:

    If “parking demand on Williams is high, especially on weekend evenings”, could one of the parking lanes be used for the second driving lane during rush hour, like on Division Street? That would allow plenty of room for bikes, since it would be the equivalent of having only one lane.

  4. Ted Buehler says:

    >> we cannot afford the trade off of potential congestion during rush hour <<

    The increased volume from Cook to Skidmore — part is from I-405 exit traffic via Cook, part is from I-5 diversion traffic from the Broadway entrance ramp, and part is local traffic.

    Local traffic and 405 exit traffic are perfectly legitimate and the street should be designed to accommodate them reasonably well. Diverted I-5 traffic has no business being on Williams.

    I'd suggest to target this I-5 traffic. Here's how we do it.

    * Calm Williams from Broadway to Cook.
    * Put in a traffic light at Tillamook, timed for 12 mph progression north from Broadway.
    * Put in nice little directional signs at Russell, helpfully pointing out that Interstate is to the west and MLK is to the east.
    * Put in speed humps. Either on the whole section, or at least from Russell to Cook, to give the I-5 traffic a good reason to get off of Williams at Russell.
    * Cut it down to one lane for cars, 2 lanes for bikes the whole way.

    This would reduce the number of I-5 wannabe drivers on "section 4" and probably reduce total traffic down to a level that can be carried on 1 lane.

    Ted Buehler

  5. Ted Buehler says:

    The traffic light at Cook could bring an increase in traffic to Section 4.

    The I-405 exit (“Kirby”) feeds cars from downtown, Hillsboro, NW Portland and NE Portland into the inner NE. It’s a good, direct exit. If you use another exit (Alberta, Rosa Parks, Broadway) you need to worry about I-5 being backed up and delaying you.

    But the Kirby Exit routing slows cars down anyway. Stop sign at Kirby (ramp) and Cook, stop sign (difficult one) at Vancouver and Cook, and stop sign (extremely difficult) at Cook and Williams. Then north on Williams to Fremont, Skidmore/Prescott, Alberta, etc.

    At peak period, the block from Vancouver to Williams is often full of cars waiting in line to turn left on Williams. If they put in a traffic signal, it will shorten the transit time for these cars by a minute or two, and induce more drivers to choose to use the Kirby exit.

    Maybe, maybe not. There’s still a lot of friction in there. But I’m sure drivers *hate* that spot now. And if we put in a traffic signal so the Level of Service goes from F to C, then more folks may well go that way.

    Food for thought, probably not a deal breaker or magic bullet either way…

    Ted Buehler

  6. Dennis Hogan says:

    In the Williams section 4 there are at least two vacant lots between Vancouver & Williams – has there been any exploration of the possibility of off-street parking to accommodate the neighborhood and commercial needs

    • Steve says:

      I don’t think so, Dennis. If some of the new development along Williams is any indicator, off-street parking for cars is not a priority for developers. There does seem to be a lot of interest in providing ample on-site bike parking.

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