Something Better than Bike Lanes for Foster?


The Foster Road Streetscape Plan is almost done. The City has shown their official options and in a few months the vision of the New Foster Road, whatever it looks like, will be adopted by City Council.

But people won’t stop talking about the bike lanes.

BikePortland.org, the premier forum for bicycling issues in this city, has raised the topic a couple of times in the last few weeks and each post is filled with 100+ comments of discussion. The BTA has identified Foster as a potential world-class bicycling corridor, and the official City of Portland Bike Advisory Committee has expressed disappointment that regular bike lanes are the only bikeway on the table for the new design.

The Official Bike Lane Proposal:

RegularBike Lanes

Disclaimer: The decision between 4 and 3 lanes has not yet been made. The City held an open house in June to hear from the neighbors, and the ultimate call will only be made once that information is available.  

There is a growing consensus in the transportation planning profession that on a street like Foster Road bike lanes are not adequate for most people to feel comfortable enough to ride.1

For neighbors that don’t often bike, this may sound odd…Bike Lanes aren’t enough? Isn’t that what bicyclists want? What is their alternative? To answer your question, all you need to do is ask yourself “Would I let my 10 year old ride on this street?” With bike lanes on Foster, the answer is most likely No.

“Would I let my 10 year old ride on this street?” With bike lanes on Foster, the answer is most likely No.

In the United States, conventional bicycling facilities are usually simple: bike lanes on busy streets, or calm “bicycle streets” like SE Center St or SE 87th Ave. But there is another option that could serve Foster neighbors better. The “protected bike lane” (also called a Cycle Track). This design is like a bike lane, but with a physical barrier between our neighbors riding and the fast cars nearby. These Cycle Tracks have been built in cities across the country and around the world and have shown to safely serve people of all ages and abilities. This includes 10 year olds, 70 year olds, and everyone in between.

A Protected Bike Lane:

Photosof-Cycle-Tracks

Could a protected bike lane work on Foster? Do we have enough room? Absolutely. Foster is one of the best streets in the city for a protected bikeway because of its long blocks, and it is one of the few main streets with enough space to even be considered. Here’s what it could look like:

Unofficial Cycle Track Proposal:

bikeway_CycleTrack-UPDATE

So given all this, why are we not considering it? The short answer: it is expensive. The original streetscape plan from 2003 was not particularly bold, and budgeted only for important but relatively minor upgrades. To create a street as shown above, it would require moving the curbs of the sidewalk. This part of the street contains utility poles, fire hydrants, storm drains, and moving the curb requires moving all of those along with it. This is a costly proposition, and do so along all of Foster to create a protected bikeway could potentially double the cost of the current plan.

Are we worth it?

So Foster neighbors, I have a question for you: Do you want this instead of bike lanes? Should we fight for this? I’ve always been a fan of getting the best we can for Foster, but I am sensitive to the need to get improvements on the ground sooner than later. In my mind, here’s what needs to be in place to make it happen:

  • The design needs to be better than anything seen in Portland so far. In bicycling circles, there are strong debates about the merits of regular Bike Lanes versus these Cycle Tracks. The Foster Cycle Track would need to be more functional and safe for everyone than regular bike lanes would be.
  • A Funding plan needs to be identified to make up the difference in cost. We don’t want this bikeway plan to sit on the shelf for 10 more years.
  • The decision to include protected bikeway must not delay implementation of the rest of the streetscape: The crossings, the trees, the streetlights – We’ve waited too long already. Can we install streetscape features today in a manner so that we don’t need to re-do much when implementing the bikeway in the future?

I am a Foster area neighbor, living near Foster Rd & 82nd Avenue. I bus, bike, drive, walk and MAX. I am also on the Stakeholder Advisory Committee for the Foster Streetscape Plan, tasked with updating the old document from 2003. We’re so close to the end of the process, but the options are still on the table for discussion.

Want to learn more or tell me what you think? Email me at nick@fosterunited.org, and consider coming on the WTS Foster Streetsape Tour as a part of Pedalpalooza:

Pedalpalooza Foster Bikeway and Streetscape Tour

June 18th, 5:30pm, Speedboat Coffee (“51st” & Foster)

We’ll cruise all the way down Foster Road and talk about what we’re likely to see as a part of the final plan, and we can talk more about these bikeway options and how they might work on the ground.

Authors Note: The unofficial cycle track illustration in this post incorrectly noted the sidewalk width as 16 feet wide. To fit everything in as illustrated, sidewalks would need to be 15 ft wide. This is still far wider than the city standard for a street like foster. The image has been corrected.

  1. It’s worth noting that there isn’t professional consensus of what the best “better-than-a-bike lane” facility is. Maybe it’s a wider, 8 foot bike lane, maybe it’s a cycle tack as shown here. What is for sure is that 5’ bike lanes are not going to appeal to many of our neighbors. []
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30 Responses to Something Better than Bike Lanes for Foster?

  1. Nick FalboNick Falbo says:

    Early in the planning process, there was a Cycle Track option proposed for Foster, but it was not like the one shown here. The City proposal explored the possibilities of routing bicyclists onto the sidewalk, while maintaining the existing utilities and sidewalk curb to minimize costs.

    This “bikes on the sidewalk” option was rightfully rejected by the committee as being too damaging to the pedestrian environment.

    The unofficial option illustrated here does not share the same problems. Foster’s wide sidewalks are preserved along the corridor, and there is a clear separation between bicyclists and pedestrians.

    If this design were shared with the committee, I think the City would get a different response than they did to their “poor man’s cycle track” proposal.

  2. Brett says:

    I think the design is a good compromise… shave a little bit of sidewalk space for a great cycle track. It eliminates most, if not all, of the issues associated with the cycle track option as presented earlier by PBOT. It would be great to see a basic estimate for the cost of this type of design.

    Does the BTA ever get involved with preferred designs for projects they want to see done?

  3. Clay says:

    So why is there is need for a cycle track on Foster? I thought the side streets that they have put speed bumps, signage and changed all of the stop signs were for the bikes to use. Do the handful of riders that use Foster need this? I watched a bike go from the sidewalk to the street to the sidewalk last week, all while running to red lights and crossing back and forth on the street to not have to slow down or stop. Maybe some education or requirements like understanding traffic laws would be a better start.

    • Nick FalboNick Falbo says:

      Hi Clay.

      I agree that on most main streets and arterials, the side streets with speed bumps are a great alternative to having a bike lane on the busy street. Foster is a different story – it is diagonal, and there are no parallel routes that don’t involve a circuitous zig-zag path. Because Foster contains the majority of our neighborhood destinations, it is a very attractive route for our neighbors. This appeal shows; I don’t think I have ever walked down foster without having multiple people riding past me (sometimes in the street, most of the time, on the sidewalk).

      Do the handful of riders that ride in the street on Foster need this? No, they’re perfectly happy as it is. But do all of our neighbors that ride on the sidewalk need this? Do all of our neighbors that want to hop on their bike and go to dinner but are afraid to need this? Absolutely.

      If we build regular bike lanes, plenty of people will use them. But plenty more will still be riding on the sidewalk because they don’t feel safe. If we build a cycle track, riding on the sidewalk will stop completely.

      • Clay says:

        Nick,

        I do see that and agree with you that Fosters layout does create a problem for a straight path on side streets. Bikes needs to realize that Foster is a transportation corridor and there are some streets in Portland that are not bike friendly and never will be. We can’t keep throwing money at bike paths on every street and disregard the cars and trucks that pay for those streets. Cars and trucks cant be cut down to one lane to give not even 1% of the total traffic on foster a special lane to themselves.

        • Brett says:

          Foster Road is more than a “transportation corridor”. Increasingly, it is also the center of the surrounding neighborhoods and it requires the planning/design to reflect that future.

        • Justin Carinci says:

          Clay:
          Your concern would be warranted if we had any real paths to town from my neighborhood (Foster near Holgate). We don’t, so we mostly drive. We do know, however, that bike routes that actually go somewhere get a lot of people out of their cars. (See http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/370893). You’ll also find that when we give a special through lane to cars and a special turn lane to cars, traffic moves pretty smoothly. (If you remember Tacoma Street before it lost a lane, you’ll know that its three lanes move better than the old four used to.) And you might think you’d prefer that I take my Subaru on this transportation corridor, but you’ll get where you’re going faster if I (and my neighbors) use the cycle track instead.

          • Cora Potter says:

            Justin- I’m a bit confused, what is “to town”?

            If you mean downtown – the combination of Center and Woodward/Clinton works pretty well. In neighborhoods that don’t have angle streets, no one complains when they have to work of the normal grid system and go a few blocks N/S then a few blocks E/W or vice versa to get where they want to go.

          • Justin Carinci says:

            Cora:
            Yes, to downtown Portland. Woodward and Clinton work well once you get there, which involves a bunch of jogs or backtracking before finding a crossing at Powell. I’m not so worried about neighborhoods without angled streets, because we have an angled street. It just isn’t safe to use unless you drive.

          • Clay says:

            Justin, I would prefer you drove your subaru as then I would still have 2 lanes going each way and not have one lane going each way with a cycle track that a handful of people use to go by the cars and trucks sitting in traffic as we only have one lane. Tacoma is backed up everyday. Holgate is also worse since taking a lane of traffic away.

          • Justin Carinci says:

            Clay:
            When people have good bike facilities, they drive less and bike more. When people drive less, you have fewer cars on the road and less congestion.

            My secondary point (re: two through lanes vs. one through lane plus turn lane) could have come in another comment.

        • Susan Hashem says:

          I pay to live in SE Foster and would appreciate it not being treated as a highway. My kids have to cross Foster to get to and from school at the busiest traffic times of the day. The amount of speeders and people failing to see pedestrians and cyclists is appalling. It’s dangerous. It needs to slow down. Our neighborhood is changing, businesses want to move in who will also be paying taxes, people want to be able to have a walk down the street, people who pay taxes. Have some compassion for our neighborhood. I think we deserve a better quality of street life on Foster . Treat and drive Foster Road with respect for the neighborhood.

  4. Courtney says:

    I personally would love to be able to ride my bike more, but I, like many others, don’t feel safe riding it down Foster. Now if I’m just meandering about for the exercise and whatnot, then I don’t mind using some of the back roads. But if I want to get to the grocery store or other parts of town on my bike, then I would love to be able to quickly and safely commute down Foster then trying to find my way in the maze of little side streets.

    • Alex Reed says:

      I agree, Courtney! Additionally, it would be really nice to be able to bike on Foster to destinations on Foster. It’s a hassle to need to memorize which sidestreet leads to which Foster destination.

      • Susan Hashem says:

        Our bike lanes are screwy. There is no straight shot to get downtown from where I live. I ride most days to work. I have to hop over to Clinton across Powell which is treacherous during rush hour. I would love to hop on Foster and feel safe…

  5. Ben Waterhouse says:

    Short of a radical speed reduction (like to 25mph), Foster will never be a safe place 10-year-olds to bike. I guess I just don’t see how a cycle track would make bicycling on Foster any safer than removing parking and putting in a buffered bike lane. Most fatal bike-car collisions happen at intersections, and there’s little evidence that cycle tracks make intersections any safer in a standard grid. They work great on roads with few cross streets, but I can’t see how they wouldn’t lead to more injuries than bike lanes on Foster by removing riders from drivers’ peripheral vision. When I’m riding, I prefer whatever route keeps me as close to the field of vision of drivers as possible—in the lane whenever I can, and never, ever on the sidewalk.

    On top of all that, I don’t see that we have a major problem with bicycle safety in our part of town, compared to the rest of the city. What we do have is a lethal combination of overly wide lanes and badly designed intersections. Our priority has to be making it safe to cross the street all along Foster, especially if we hope to see the neighborhoods along the road thrive commercially. That means slower traffic, narrower lanes, and lots of pedestrian refuges.

    • Clay says:

      Ben, I agree with all of your first paragraph and the first sentence of your second. The problem is education also. For some reason a well designed intersection doesnt help if a bike rider doesnt stop and gets hit. A pedestrian refuge doesnt help if the pedestrian doesnt look both ways before stepping into traffic. None of the mentioned doesnt help if the driver is distracted also. The problem is the city has given bike riders as well as pedestrians a false sense of security in telling them that they are always in right of way. Common sense still is what should be taught.

    • Nick FalboNick Falbo says:

      Thanks Ben,

      I don’t share your pessimism about the potential to make Foster Road a place a 10 year old can ride a bike safely and comfortably. But let’s say I lower my standards and aim for the average 40 year old. I don’t think even the average 40 year old would be comfortable riding on a painted lane next to 35 mph traffic.

      I absolutely hear you on your concerns about cycle track design, and I’m very aware of the issues related to visibility at driveways and intersections. However, cycle tracks can be every bit as visible as bike lanes if they are designed properly.

      You mention that you never ride on the sidewalk – this is good, you clearly know that sidewalk riding is the most dangerous place to ride a bike. The dangers of sidewalk riding are absolutely real, and yet it is pervasive all along Foster Road today. It is clear to me that the majority of my neighbors that ride on the sidewalk are not comfortable taking the lane as you are. When faced with the question of what Foster road should look like in the future, I wonder whether they’ll be comfortable riding in the street even with a painted bike lane. It is concern for my neighbors like this that prompt my proposal here.

      I know anecdotal stories aren’t hard data, but I’ve seen the benefits of cycle tracks here in Portland. When checking out the new cycle track on NE Cully Blvd I saw a man riding southbound in the cycle track toward Prescott. South of Prescott the cycle track stops and a conventional painted bike lane picks up where it left off. After this intersection, the man chose not to continue within the bike lane, and instead transitioned onto the sidewalk. The best way to prevent sidewalk riding is to provide better facilities where people feel comfortable and are safe. Painted bike lanes do not provide that, and cycle tracks do.

      Regardless, putting a cycle track on Foster is an uphill fight. This proposal is not official in any way, and can only advance with the permission of the City. With the way things are going it is likely that if we get anything it’ll be plain old bike lanes, and our neighbors will continue to ride on the sidewalk.

      • DM says:

        Nick, I appreciate your hard work on this. Two points though:
        1. Williams has shown that a bike lane next to a busier street does not necessarily reduce bike traffic. We both can agree that Williams has exponentially increased in bike traffic in recent years. (Regardless of how “safe” your or I feel it is, the numbers of riders on it have significantly increased, despite the environment). Yes, it might have gotten more riders with a different design, but there has been a major increase.
        And I disagree with the notion that Williams is only for “commute cyclists” as some have insinuated. The fact that MANY bike-oriented shops/restaurants have opened recently on Williams, shows that a bike lane can still provide access to local destinations.
        2. I don’t totally understand how the above proposed track is really that different from riding on the sidewalk already (other than it makes it safer for pedestrians as they won’t get hit by bikes). There is still a row of parked cars blocking drivers views. Intersections are still going to be the problem point, and I really don’t see cycle tracks as having a major advantage over buffered bike lanes. The debates we’ve had recently on bikeportland clearly show that there is very little data showing cycletracks to be safer than bike lanes.

        I agree with you that a cycletrack may recruit more people to ride, and that is definitely a noble cause, but if this proposal costs 4X as much as the current available funds, are you willing to wait 5, 10, 15 years for it to be built?

        • Nick FalboNick Falbo says:

          I definitely don’t want to want to see these improvements delayed. My hope is that we can find a way to phase the implementation. Bike lanes today along with all of the streetscape/safety improvements, with the expectations to retrofit with cycle tracks in the future when funding is available. I’m not sure if it can be done that way, but I’m asking around.

          I recognize the doubts about cycle tracks. By then, we may have more experience and practice making cycle tracks to make sure it’s substantially safer than a sidewalk, and more attractive than a bike lane.

          • DM says:

            Would you then look to leave the bike lane and have two facilities on each side of the street?

          • Nick FalboNick Falbo says:

            Interesting thought DM … perhaps it would be possible to have both cycle tracks and bike lanes, but I think it would be a challenge to fit it all in.

      • Ben Waterhouse says:

        I haven’t ridden the Cully cycletrack, so I can’t speak to it. I have ridden the one on SW Moody, which seems designed to create as much bike-pedestrian conflict as possible.

        My personal preference would be to remove parking on Foster entirely, reconfigure the street to three lanes, and have a painted, 11-foot bicycle and bus lane, keeping the bikes away from the sidewalk and giving enough room for nervous riders to feel safe.

        I’ve taken to counting cars parked on Foster. Last night, between 65th and 52nd at 7:30 pm, I counted six. That space could be put to much better use than auto parking.

        • Nick FalboNick Falbo says:

          Definitely check out Cully if you get a chance – It is far more similar to what we’d end up with on Foster than the Moody example. That said, the Cully design has it’s problems too. There are a few more design enhancements available to make our cycle track far better than that one.

          Yeah, the parking situation is tricky. Today, no one uses it, and I have no doubt out neighbors will make far more use out of a buffered bike lane than they do the current parking lane.

          But in the future? All it takes is the right business, or a new development to make those spots high in demand. I think that on-street parking is generally a good thing for a main street, and good for emerging business districts. If we want to encourage more main street development like what we have around 65th, I think on-street parking is going to be an important part of making it happen.

  6. Shawn says:

    I, too, would welcome a safer Foster where fatalities are reduced and pedestrian and bike uses are more feasible. I do think the use of “consensus” in this case is a bit of an overreach, because that’s all relative to the group of people with whom you’re talking. I also remember the “old Tacoma” and the reduced lane configuration is not an improvement in terms of efficiency. Another topic that’s being discussed is the direct impact constricted traffic will have in the near term on those of us who live and raise families on side streets what will become instant cut through routes.

    • Nick FalboNick Falbo says:

      Thanks for the stories about Tacoma. It is often held up as a model for something similar to what is being discussed on Foster. I think Foster will be different because there are almost no cut-through routes due to the diagonal and zig-zag street network. There are a few potential cut throughs. I live right off one of ‘em, and we’ve been warned by the planners about the likely effects.

      My consensus comment is meant to refer to the transportation planning profession. If you asked the transportation planners and engineers in Portland what would be the best bicycle facility for Foster Road, I doubt any of them would put a 5′ bike lane on the top of their list.

      But you are absolutely right that there is not consensus about what Foster Road should be by the community at large. As seen by the comments here, not everyone is convinced the 3-lane arterial design is the right way to go.

      And if you read the comments on BikePortland.org, it is also clear that there is not consensus about whether cycle tracks like the ones illustrated above are the right kind of bikeway for Foster (or for anywhere for that matter).

  7. Anti-m says:

    @Ben Waterhouse — Oh, man, the Moody cycle track is completely perplexing! Why on earth does it spontaneously cross the pedestrian track at seemingly random points? I really wonder what the designers were thinking when they cooked that one up.

    I would be happy with any variety of bike lane on Foster, and anything to slow the traffic somewhat. Crossing Foster is inevitably hair-raising.

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