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:
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:
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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
- 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. [↩]