Just over a month after they went in, bike-friendly changes to NW Overton between 9th and 10th avenues will undergo a significant redesign.
As we reported in late September, PBOT established a new neighborhood greenway route on Overton by adding bike lanes and converting this block to one-way only for drivers. In order to build the bike lanes, PBOT removed all auto parking on the south side of Overton and and several spaces on the north side. In total, about 12 parking spaces were reallocated.
According to Portland Bureau of Transportation Interim Director of Communications Hannah Schafer, the city now plans to redesign the project in response to “traffic operations and access challenges.” Schafer said the changes are a, “result of communication with area stakeholders and on-site evaluations.” She told BikePortland Wednesday they’ve received many reports of backups and have fielded concerns from first responders.
In addition to the new bike lanes, PBOT created a traffic diverter at the northeast corner of NW Overton and 9th (that was supposed) to prohibit westbound traffic from 9th onto Overton. Overton is an emergency response route that’s used by a nearby Portland Fire Bureau station to access Naito Parkway. We’ve learned their concerns about large fire trucks being able to make the turn onto Overton influenced the design (which makes it too easy for drivers to disobey the access ban) and has now helped convince PBOT to make changes.
Another issue is this project’s proximity to a railroad crossing. When trains block 9th and car drivers get backed up, it’s too easy and tempting for them to bail from 9th and drive westbound on Overton, despite four “Do Not Enter” signs.
From what I’ve learned, the biggest pushback to the new design was based on the loss of those 10 on-street parking spaces.
In 2019, when the project was in its public outreach phase as part of Northwest in Motion, PBOT’s plan to double bike use in the area, someone posted flyers on the street warning that the loss of parking would negatively impact nearby businesses and residents.
One tenant of the Encore, the ground-floor Ovation Coffee & Tea that opens onto Fields Park at the corner of Overton and 10th, was particularly opposed to the changes.
The owner of Ovation Coffee, Abdelkaddar Elhabbassi, emailed PBOT in January 2020 to express his concerns.
“We already have the problem of customers complaining that they had to go to a different coffee shop because they couldn’t find any parking spots,” he wrote. “Why would they waste time in their routine and walk 2 blocks to get a drink, and then walk back when there is literally a [different] coffee shop right there??”
Elhabbassi told PBOT that the changes would be “absolutely devastating” to his business. Currently there’s only one small section of parking next to Ovation and customers share those spots with Encore residents, park visitors, and other businesses. “We serve at least 400 customers per day, with the majority of the commuting here by car… How can you really expect 6 parking spots to accommodate all that?” he shared in the email.
When PBOT announced the new greenway on September 16th, they made it clear that the materials used for this project were temporary and “can be easily moved or modified,” but it’s rare for changes to come just this quickly after an installation. PBOT said in that same announcement that they would collect traffic and parking data in spring 2023 and would share the results with the community if changes needed to be made.
Yesterday, PBOT’s Schafer said city engineers are still working on the new design and the details should be released within the next two weeks. She added that this is an example of a design that was created prior to the pandemic and that changes in work and driving habits demand a different solution. “We’ll be tweaking the design,” Schafer said. “But the intent is to still make it very bike-friendly.”