Co-Authored with Russ Doubleday
Broadway serves as the primary gateway into downtown Portland, Oregon. Residents and visitors alike who cross the Broadway Bridge are dropped a major commercial corridor through the heart of the city. Broadway – currently a three-lane road with parking lanes on both sides – should represent everything that Portland is about and aspire to be – a livable place that is accessible for everyone no matter their transportation mode. As a result, we envision Broadway to be a central commercial corridor on a human scale.
Our vision for an improved Broadway corridor fits with the Central City 2035 Plan, the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030, the 2035 Comprehensive Plan, and Portland’s Vision Zero Plan. The Central City 2035 Plan identifies Broadway as a street with a “retail character,” not a street with a “boulevard character” (see photo below). The bicycle plan wants to build a vast network of “low-stress, efficient and comfortable facilit[ies]” (page iii) across the city. The plan’s recommended bikeway network map identifies the length of Broadway – from the Broadway Bridge down to I-405 as an “Existing or funded bike lane or separated in-roadway” under the “Separated in-roadway bikeways” section header.
The new Comprehensive Plan wants to make walking and bicycling more desirable across the city (page I-8 of the Introduction). Vision Zero data from the city of Portland tallied one automobile fatality, two walking fatalities, and one bicycling fatality from 2005-2014 on Broadway. In addition, there were 13 serious auto injuries, 6 serious walking injuries, and 4 serious bicycling injuries. Our plans to slow down Broadway, remove a traffic lane, and make it accessible for all modes should increase safety along this corridor in line with the City’s Vision Zero goals.
To make this vision a reality, we identified four separate goals with accompanying policies for the Broadway corridor:
- Improve safety for all users on Broadway
- Improve pedestrian crossings by reducing crossing distance and adding pedestrian refuges
- Separate bicycles from vehicle traffic and public transit to reduce conflicts and level of stress
- Create a low-stress bicycle network near major amenities and hubs downtown
- Time signals so that bicycles and pedestrians have priority and can enter the intersection ahead of automobiles. Separate phases where possible without increasing delay significantly for other modes.
- Build a human scale streetscape and welcoming entrance to downtown Portland
- Prioritize walking and bicycling before considering the needs of automobiles
- Replace on-street automobile parking along commercial corridors with amenities for pedestrians or bicyclists
- Add design elements to beautify the space (flower planters on medians and street lamps, bioswales, and different stamped and colored pavement)
- Demote Broadway to a local arterial and commercial district
- Prioritize walking and bicycling before considering the needs of automobiles
- Foster a strong economic base for the city
- Add bicycle routes and wide sidewalks along downtown retail corridors
- Add more safe bicycle parking and corrals along downtown bicycle infrastructure
The current streetscape of Broadway (and SW 4th Ave, which we are proposing as the northbound couplet for Broadway) is very auto-oriented, and bicycling is either uncomfortable or downright unsafe for all but the strong and fearless bicyclists. Our proposed design changes (outlined below) will seek to employ these policies.
Common Stakeholder Goals
We feel that each stakeholder group wants the same four objectives, which tie into our vision statement for a new and better Broadway. First, every stakeholder wants a vibrant corridor. The added eyes on the street will help boost businesses and make the space more interesting and dynamic for all the groups who front Broadway. Second, every stakeholder wants the street to be safe. An unsafe area will discourage visitors and trips, which impact businesses, transportation interests, and citizens specifically. Safety will also encourage bicyclists and pedestrians to use the space. Third, a stable economy will help businesses settle into the area and provide a place where people will know exists for the long term. Last, accessibility for all transportation modes – and not putting the automobile above any other mode – is vital to ensuring that all possible users will feel welcome in the space.
We anticipate two primary arguments against our proposed design changes, and both are related to the automobile. First, we expect that the changes will raise concerns about parking availability and loading zones. Some car parking will be replaced by bike corrals, possible street furniture, bioswales, and turn lanes at intersections. Businesses have traditionally been against removing auto parking despite evidence that demonstrates that bicyclists spend more money per capita than any other transportation mode user. Our plan seeks to provide space for loading zones for businesses and hotels adjacent to where it already exists on Broadway, thus there is no net loss of parking by continuing to provide these zones.
Second, we expect opposition to our proposals to reduce the number of travel lanes on Broadway on Broadway and 4th from three one-way travel lanes to two. With the automobile no longer the primary transportation mode for planning purposes, there will be an outcry over what people should do with their cars. Through traffic will still move smoothly through Broadway on two lanes, but the street will be slower and more accessible for all users as a result. At intersections, the on-street parking is dropped to allow for protected intersections for bikes and pedestrians and turn-only lanes for motorized vehicles that will allow for better flow and capacity.
Currently, Broadway is a street that is mismatched from its surrounding land use. It is a high-volume, arterial for through traffic connecting downtown Portland with I-405 and Barbur Boulevard. Our proposed design for Broadway is to downgrade or demote the street to a local arterial and commercial district, similar to the 30 kph streets in the Netherlands or the 40 kph streets in Delft that run along commercial corridors. It will still be possible for through traffic to move through, but the slower speeds and elevated status of both bicyclists and pedestrians along (and crossing) the corridor will keep speeds slow for automobiles.
Specifically, we were inspired by the Krakeelpolderweg in Delft that runs a low-speed street through a small commercial corridor. While SW Broadway in Portland has a larger volume of cars and number of businesses, many of the design ideas remain the same. On Krakeelpolderweg, the Dutch built two one-way cycle tracks on each side of the roadway. As a one-way street, SW Broadway is different, but we will follow the same format of placing a one-way cycle track in the direction of automobile traffic.
We realized that there were very few one-way downtown Dutch streets that could be comparable to SW Broadway, but if there were, bicycles would be prioritized over automobiles. As a result, we feel that the Dutch would still try to install a two-way cycle track and cause automobiles to slow down as a result. However, Portland’s city blocks are very short (200 ft), and it would be very hard to time signals in a way that would allow northbound bike traffic move at any sort of reasonable speed. As a result, the Dutch would likely need to adapt to the American reality and install a one-way cycle track with a couplet going north on SW 4th Ave. American is a car-centric country, and even though we’re working hard to change that habit, it is still something we must account for in a way that the Dutch do not have to.
SW Broadway and SW Taylor
Broadway and Taylor is currently problem intersection for bicyclists. The bike lane is squeezed between parked cars to the right (where bicyclists must avoid dooring), and a travel lane to the left (results in right hook conflicts at the intersection). There is a bicycle box at the intersection, but the light before Taylor at Yamhill is often red for the MAX light rail train crossing, so bicyclists approaching Taylor will often see a green light and will not be able to move to the bicycle box. As a result, they must navigate between right-turning cars from behind, where these cars are not often looking.
Our primary goal is to protect these bicyclists from the right hook turn, and we feel the above protected intersection design accomplishes this task. First, moving the row of parking away from the curb and adding a median protects bicyclists from dooring and the travel lane. Second, automobiles must navigate around a small island before turning right. This puts drivers at a 90-degree angle facing the bicycle lane, which gives them a much better vantage point for seeing bicyclists. Approaching the intersection, parking lanes will be dropped and the travel lanes will shift to the east to allow for a right-turn lane only, which will also restrict right turns on red. Our design also adds a buffered bike lane to Taylor going westbound with corner islands for protection on through- and right-turn movements for bikes.
On the south side of Taylor, a bike corral will be provided in place of car parking as a buffer for the cycle track and the median curb will be removed. This trade-off will be typical along other segments for this corridor and 4th Ave. to allow for easy, convenient bike parking without taking up space on sidewalks.
SW Broadway and SW Salmon
The next block south on Broadway is Salmon, which is one-way eastbound. On Salmon, we have removed parking from one side of the street to construct a buffered bike lane. We mitigate a potential right hook conflict again through a protected intersection design with corner islands. This also adds pedestrian refuges between the cycle track and travel lanes, which reduces the crossing distance for pedestrians.
Currently, there is a hotel loading zone area between the bicycle lane and the curb just south of the intersection. Automobiles are constantly traveling through the bicycle lane and opening their doors into the lane. Our design will eliminate both of these risks and will only force visitors to walk an additional 11 feet from a taxi to their hotel – a very small trade-off to make for increased safety for bicyclists. We replace the concrete median between the hotel loading zone and the cycle track with a painted buffer to remove grade changes between the median and cycle track, although this could also be solved using an intermediate cycle track design with beveled curbs on each side. This would make it easier for visitors to move between the loading zone and the sidewalk without needing to step down into the cycle track and back up onto the sidewalk. This design would also be used for providing loading zones for businesses.
On NW Broadway, there are travel lanes in both directions. Currently, there are two southbound travel lanes (10’), one northbound travel lane (10’), two parking lanes (7.5’), and a southbound bicycle lane (4.5’). Our design creates one-way cycle tracks on each side of Broadway, which provides a vital connection to and from the Broadway Bridge starting at Burnside. To make this all fit, we only put in a two-foot buffer between the parking lane and the bicycle lane, and we narrowed the sidewalk by a half a foot. This trade-off raises the likelihood of dooring, but the passenger side faces the cycle track, meaning the probability of a dooring event is much lower. The loss of the sidewalk is negligible.
Burnside and Broadway
At the intersection of Burnside, a bike lane on NW Broadway currently connects across to SW Broadway. There is no northbound bike facility provided. Our design recommends continuing the southbound one-way cycle track and a protected intersection design. For the small northbound segment of Broadway between Pine St. and Burnside, we would install a cycle track that jogs behind the bus stop and narrow the travel lane. To improve the experience for transit users, the design would include a bus shelter and an elevated bus curb. Across from the bus stop, we would install a triangular traffic island with bioswales. In the current design, paint denotes where this island would go. Lastly, the long-range goal would be to install cycle tracks on both sides of Burnside that would provide easy, safe connections to and from the Burnside Bridge.
Along Broadway, we have removed a southbound travel from all three diagrams. Clearly, we have made a trade-off between automobile traffic and bicycle safety and accessibility, consistent with our policies from the beginning. Given America’s history of being auto-oriented, this is a big trade-off that we are making in order to demote Broadway. We also have removed some parking in our designs and made parking slightly less convenient to access, but we have kept parking spaces at 7.5 feet, which is how wide they are now. Outside of limiting car mobility on the street, we did not have to make very many compromises anywhere in our diagrams.
We wanted to make a two-way cycle track on SW Broadway (where the road is one-way), but we realized that contraflow bike traffic would like hit every single signal on a red cycle, which would greatly compromise speed of travel. By putting the couplet one-way cycle track on 4th Ave, we had to compromise bicycle accessibility moving northbound. Additionally, because the blocks in Portland are only 200 ft in length, a bicyclist would only need to travel 600-750 ft to reach 4th Ave from Broadway. There currently are no strong northbound bicycle connections between the waterfront and 14th Ave, and we feel that 4th Ave is the best (the transit mall on 6th Ave violates our policy of separating bicycles with transit, and the Park Blocks will be slow). Similar to Broadway, we will remove a travel lane on 4th Ave to help facilitate a better street environment for all users, which is consistent with our policies.
Overall, we have met many of our goals. We have improved safety for all users, we have worked to take cars off the street, our designs we feel will help solidify Portland’s economic base, and the Broadway corridor will be more welcoming as a result. We recognized that more could be done to integrate beautification elements into the design, which we envision would be the next step of this project. Because the designs made trade-offs with on-street parking rather than removing sidewalk space, there will be plenty of space to add additional planters and bioswales along the segments.