A Look Back: Fixing Our Streets fixes SW Main Street, a gateway to downtown Portland

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Conditions at the intersection of SW First and Main Street, prior to the repairs funded by Fixing Our Streets. Photo by PBOT.

This blog post is the first installment of “A Look Back”, a column that examines completed Fixing Our Streets projects by revisiting the project’s goals and asking community members how they are feeling now that the project is complete. This first piece will look back at a critical Fixing our Streets effort that fundamentally changed a gateway into downtown Portland: the SW Main Street Project.

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(Dec. 6, 2019) Back in September 2017, construction began on SW Main Street between First and Third avenues, providing a much-needed facelift. This section of roadway was failing many modes of transportation. At that time, this street was cracked, sagging, and had sizeable potholes that posed a serious threat to pedestrians and cyclists alike. People biking using the Hawthorne Bridge to enter downtown—one of the busiest bike routes in North America—had to dart, swerve, and dodge potholes just to pass through this section of road. Worsening an already precarious situation, the street striping forced bus and bicycle traffic to engage in a dangerous act of weaving amongst each other in the middle of the intersection. The street was in dire need of improvements.

Improvements for SW Main Street, funded by Fixing Our Streets, included replacing the base underneath the road surface and paving the street to extend its lifespan by 15 to 20 years. A concrete bus pad was also added at the bus stop. Concrete is a better material for bus stops because the weight and heat generated by stopped buses can create wheel ruts in asphalt, while concrete is stronger and can hold up for longer.  

The new street striping design added a bike box to increase visibility of people on bicycles coming off the Hawthorne Bridge at SW Main Street and First Avenue. It also added green paint to bike lanes, as well as areas where bike traffic and vehicle traffic intersect. The city added smaller green boxes—called “turn queue boxes”—to make it easier for people bicycling to turn. People bicycling can use these boxes as part of a two-stage turn and not have to merge across travel lanes. Sometimes called a “Copenhagen Left” this move is sometimes referred to locally as the “Portland Pivot.” 

Click here to see video of before and after  

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Recently, as a collaboration between Central City in Motion and Fixing Our Streets, PBOT crews installed Portland's first red “bus only” lane on SW Main Street between First and Second avenues. This second component of the SW Main Street project is part of a broad effort by PBOT to support better, more reliable bus service with innovative tools. Other cities that are experimenting with this new tool have made bus service more efficient by decreasing conflicts between buses and other road users. In New York City, after applying red lane treatments, lane violations fell by approximately 50% and illegal parking/standing in transit lanes decreased by over one third.

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A red lane on SW Main Street at SW First Avenue. Photos by PBOT.

Checking in on a Friday morning commute, it was immediately apparent why SW Main Street is a key entrance into downtown Portland. Filling the sidewalk, pedestrians were swiftly moving while guzzling down their morning coffees. People biking whizzed by in the new lane, with scores pouring into downtown, resembling something akin to a locomotive train. Adding to the flurry of activity, buses entered at a steady rate delivering people to their destinations. Remarkably, thanks to the striping and road work, these different modes of transportation interacted seamlessly and safely. This interaction conjured up images of an opera, with various instruments (or modes) interacting with one another in impeccable form. This stood in stark contrast to the former reality of SW Main Street, where various modes of transportation had to dangerously weave amongst one another.  

“I appreciate the bike box at the intersection of First and Main,” said one person biking by on their commute, “It makes me much more visible, putting me directly in the driver’s vision.”

Funding for SW Main Street came from Fixing Our Streets, also known as Measure 26-173, a 10-cent gas tax voters approved in May 2016 to rebuild our roads and make them safer. This was the first local funding source in the city’s history dedicated exclusively to the city’s transportation needs. Fixing Our Streets projects span across all of Portland. 

To learn more about Fixing Our Streets projects, visit its webpage here.

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This blog post was written by Pierre Haou, Portland Bureau of Transportation