A PROPOSED bike lane running along SW 12th through the center of downtown is on hold after major businesses complained that the bikeway would make life more difficult for drivers.
The 12th Avenue lane is meant to patch a hole in the middle of the city's bike network. Nicely marked bike lanes run south, east, and west through downtown traffic—but none run north.
"Downtown Portland has the highest percentage of commuters in the country who bike to work, and there's no northbound route to get through the city," says Portland Bureau of Transportation spokesman Dan Anderson.
This spring, the city started pitching an idea to build either a bike lane or a cycle track—that's a separated bike lane like SW Broadway's—on 12th since the street has relatively low traffic and no streetcar tracks (which often dangerously snag bike wheels).
But in April, a group of powerful business owners and the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) wrote separate letters noting concern over the 12th Avenue lane. Bigwigs from McMenamins, Gerding Edlen, City Center Parking, and other downtown heavyweights signed onto an April 12 letter worrying that the removal of a car-travel lane would back up traffic.
The PBA letter spells out concerns about the bike lane's effect on traffic and loading zones, and it pushes the city to re-evaluate the need for existing bike lanes on SW Oak, SW Stark, and SW Broadway. These three-year-old lanes are all technically "pilot projects" and the PBA letter asks the city to consider changing the lanes or, potentially, getting rid of them.
"We're not out there pounding the pavement talking about removal," says PBA spokeswoman Megan Doern. "We just want a better understanding of usage and impact."
A 2011 Portland State University study revealed mixed reception from businesses along the SW Stark and Oak lanes: A plurality agreed that the lanes have made parking and loading more difficult, but businesses also support the lanes' existence and think they're important.
Business support is politically and financially essential for building major bike infrastructure downtown—especially as the city looks to roll out a bike share system, with hundreds of rentable bikes docked at dozens of stations, in 2013.
Bicycle Transportation Alliance Advocate Gerik Kransky says he looks forward to meeting with downtown businesses over the next year as part of a "Bikes Mean Business" campaign.
"They have some valid points," Kransky says of the PBA's critical letter. "But I was disappointed that there seems to be a reflexive opposition for considering new, safe facilities for people who ride bikes because of some outdated mentality that customers only show up in cars."
According to the city's 2010 count, bikes made up 14 percent of traffic into downtown Portland. Nine percent of downtown employees say they get to work primarily by bike, according to a PBA survey that same year.
There is currently "no timeline" for building the 12th Avenue lane, says Anderson of the transportation bureau. Meanwhile, the city is not considering removing the SW Stark and Oak bike lanes, but is researching ways to keep cars from driving in them and cut down on crashes.
Says Anderson: "We're definitely going to be continuing to serve the public by pushing for safe bikeways downtown."