Imagine a Cycle Track on SW 12th Avenue in Portland

As reported over a month ago, the City of Portland is considering installing a new cycle track on SW 12th Avenue in downtown Portland. The BTA strongly supports the project, which is in the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030 and could help create a more complete network of safe bicycle facilities in our urban core. SW 12th is one of the BTA’s priorities for new, safer bike facilities downtown, along with even more centrally located streets like the northbound SW 4th Ave.

sw 12th ave

The BTA is advocating for a cycle track on SW 12th Avenue, which currently has three standard auto lanes and two parking lanes. 

Unfortunately, there is already strong opposition to the project and a loud voice asking that the city should look elsewhere when considering safer bike facilities. On April 12th, a group of business owners sent a letter opposing the project and asking for more analysis of the transportation environment before moving forward. Specifically, the letter lists a series of “impacts” that they perceive a new cycle track would create on automobile traffic in the area.

Their message is clear: they don’t want to see safer bike facilities on SW 12th.

On April 26th, the Portland Business Alliance sent their own letter opposing the project. This one went one step further, actually calling into question the existing bike facilities in downtown. Here is a choice quote from the letter;

Whether SW 12th Avenue would be a meaningful addition to the city’s bicycle network is a very legitimate question to still be evaluated. We urge the city to slow the process down and not move forward with a decision until a broader stakeholder conversation has been had and the proposal has been looked at through a more comprehensive planning process. With regard to the Stark and Oak bicycle buffer lanes and the Broadway Cycle Track, as well as any other demonstration program, we would like to see a follow-up process that includes an evaluation and a sunset-review date. While research and outreach was made on the existing bicycle buffer lanes and Cycle Track, we are concerned that the evaluation was left without a broader process of stakeholders to determine whether or not these demonstration projects should remain in place.

SW 12th is a critical north-south connector street through downtown Portland, serving businesses, shops, restaurants, coffee shops, movie theaters, food cart pods, and offices. By investing in projects like buffered bike lanes, green bike boxes, and bike corrals (such as the one pictured above on SW Stark between 10th and 11th), the city has made it easier and safer for people to get to these destinations on bike. Portland’s innovation has inspired cities around the country to redesign their own urban streets to better serve people on all modes of transportation. Cycle tracks are a staple of the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030, and they will make it even safer for people of all ages who want to ride bikes downtown.

As we learned during the process around the North Williams safety and operations project, an effective public process is one that transparent, empowering, and inclusive. As a matter of how we design and build transportation facilities in Portland, it makes sense to conduct a thorough review of the benefits and burdens the project will create. The BTA welcomes the opportunity to work with the city and local businesses through a comprehensive process. We feel confident that most of the concerns raised in the letters can be addressed.

The path forward for a new cycle track on SW 12th is not yet clear, but one thing is. Now is the time to make our voice heard. Now is the time, early in the discussion, to speak up in support of safe and accessible bike facilities.

Speak your voice: Send an email to [email protected] and let him know that you support a cycle track on SW 12th. While you’re at it, let him know that you would hate to see the removal of projects like our buffered bike lanes on SW Oak and SW Stark and the experimental cycle track on SW Broadway. In fact, we want to see improvements to these projects so that they work for both people riding a bicycle or a motor vehicle.

If we are going to build a transportation system that accommodates everyone from age 8 to 80 years old, we are going to have to build more cycle tracks. Lots more. If the City of Portland really wants to be a partner in the new Green Lane Project, they should listen to people who ride bikes when we make our request.

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Comments (4)

  1. r. willis Permalink  | May 03, 2012 04:09pm

    both the west end property owners and the business alliance raise seemingly legitimate questions to which BTA ought to frame a reasoned, coherent response before seeking to rally people around a call for action, for which the average jane is likely to be insufficiently informed to make sensible arguments. the reference to the green lane project is especially sad, as it suggests that this particular project is being pushed not because of any actual bike transportation need but in order to get a particular grant from bike belong, which is frankly an industry group, not a transportational bike advocacy group.

  2. Ian Stude Permalink  | May 03, 2012 05:24pm

    I have to respectfully disagree with the comment from r.willis re: Bikes Belong and the Green Lane Project. While you are correct that Bikes Belong is largely made up of members of the “bicycle industry”, that’s precisely why their potential involvement is not be squandered. The bicycle industry is finally developing into a legitimate and earnest partner for advocacy groups nationwide. Bringing supporters to the table that represent private businesses, rather than just non-profits and government agencies, should prove helpful in diffusing the persistent image that bikes are somehow inherently anti-business.

    Regarding the project as a whole, and the comments from the PBA, I agree that a well-reasoned response is best. But I see nothing wrong in bringing BTA members into the conversation. While some comments to the mayor’s office may not dovetail as nicely with the reasoned and expert stance of the advocacy staff, many voices are often better than just a few. Advocacy for bicycling has always been a patchwork of opinions, which in many ways gives it its strength. I say turn it on and turn it up!

    For the record, I’m a big supporter of the 12th Ave cycle track, as well as the Broadway cycle track. Facilities like these come with challenges, but more importantly, with rewards. In surveys we’ve conducted of PSU community members who are bicycling, support for the Broadway cycle track has been very strong. Most importantly, the highest level of support has been from those who identify themselves and “interested but concerned riders.” The project on 12th Ave would provide a matching facility type to Broadway that would greatly benefit our northbound riders on their return home from campus. Furthermore, PBOT’s traffic analysis shows there is clearly enough capacity to reduce the number of vehicle lanes on 12th Ave and still easily meet existing motor-vehicle demand.

    It won’t be easy, but this project and others like it, are clearly worth the effort. After all, bikes mean business, right?

  3. Ed Permalink  | May 03, 2012 05:40pm

    I agree with r. willis that the letter does make some legitimate questions on the value and effects that cycle tracks will make in the area. However, one of their major concern with the generated traffic from the upcoming Target store and “fragile” retail spaces does seems bias. The fact that keeping the street the way it is without a cycle track does not solve the problem of parking and traffic congestion. To me it seems there is a safety problem right now for cyclists on SW 12th, and cycle track is a good solution to that safety concern. I personally feel the letter is saying the business alliance and west end property don’t care for the safety of the cyclists that bikes on SW 12th. They want the street to remain unchanged. If it weren’t for the buffered bike lanes on SW Oak and Stark I doubt the many new wonderful local retail stores will even exist. The buffered lanes makes cyclists including inexperienced cyclists feel safer. Therefore, people are more likely to bike to the stores, rather than driving and wasting time finding parking and paying for it. Do they not know many of the consumers like myself bike to stores on SW 12th? (there should be a statistic?)

    If you want to continue to keep Portland a green and livable city. I doubt more vehicle traffic and parking will achieve that goal. Change is always going to attract opposition. Just because there are oppositions doesn’t mean we shouldn’t change.

  4. rex burkholder Permalink  | May 04, 2012 10:44am

    Unfortunately, the PBA is so stuck in the “NO mode” on anything remotely affecting car traffic that they don’t know an easy win when they see it. 12th avenue with its 3 lanes for moving, and two for parked, cars is almost empty at all times of day. Totally a waste of valuable real estate. The PBA, if they were smart instead of reactionary, would graciously support this project on the edge of downtown that has little car demand and then they could be seen as good partners while not really giving up anything valuable like extending the Broadway cycletrack the length of Broadway (which is really needed and actually would benefit way more cyclists than 12th ever will).

    Attempting to work with the PBA has become a waste of time. Negotiations only are useful if all sides are actually interested in achieving a solution.