As the swiftest and least-hilly route to North Portland, N. Williams Ave is essentially the bike highway for North and NE Portland and daily bike ridership along the street has exploded. Six years ago, the city's annual bike counts showed that about a thousand bike riders a day used North Williams. In 2010, that number had grown to 3,000 daily riders, all squished into a bike lane between two lanes of cars, a lane of parking, and TriMet's #4 bus which criss-crosses the bike lane to reach curbside stops. Too much!
"It's one of the most heavily used bike corridors and the fastest growing. We seem to have passed the critical point where bus and bikes work together, that weave of the bus and bikes is not always working," says Portland Bureau of Transportation Manager Ellen Vanderslice (who, on a completely unrelated note, has a funny website about hats).
Alta Planning scored the $215,000 city contract to plan the next step for the bike highway, and their public meetings on the busy street start in January. Here's the concrete ideas Vanderslice says could be on the table for North Williams during those public discussions:
• Widening the bike lane slightly, but not cutting back car lanes or parking.
• Widening the bike lane by by reducing car travel lanes or parking.
• Switching the bike lane to the other side of the street, which would fix the problems with the bus criss-crossing, but would require bikes to cross the freeway entrance ramp to I-5 (yikes) and also ride on what's technically the wrong side of the street.
• Pouring a cement buffer between the bike lane and the cars, creating a cycletrack.
Taking away any car travel lanes or parking is going to be a fight, I'd expect. Think the city will go to the mat on this? In my ideal world, Williams would be a cycletrack because although it's probably the more expensive option and I'm not sure how bus riders would board, it would definitely be safest for bikes.