PORTLAND, Ore. - It’s an inexpensive part of the city’s $600 million bike master plan but more than seven months after the city striped a major east-west route, many people who live and work along the new bike path say hardly anyone uses it.
Business owners said they first saw the new buffered bike lanes on Southeast Holgate stretching from 92nd to 122nd when they returned after a weekend last August.
“It’s a pretty big sacrifice to give up traffic lanes for bicycles that aren’t even using it,” said David Lentz with Lentz Automotive.
Already struggling with a bad economy, Lentz lost two car lanes in front of his auto repair business.
“I bought my property on a four-lane highway,” Lentz said.
When asked if business has dropped after the street went from four lanes to two, Lentz said, “Everybody is blaming it on the economy, but I do an automotive repair shop. I rely on traffic flow.”
Lentz said bottlenecks and confusion over the bike lanes has driven drivers and prospective clients away.
Down the street from Lentz, Kim Lynn, the owner of Pro Hair and Nails, works seven days a week just to get by.
“It has hurt a lot,” she said.
Lynn said she has lost about a third of her business.
Her only customer during a recent visit to her business wondered who decided it was a good idea to place the huge bike lanes on Holgate.
“My sister has lived on 102nd off of Holgate for almost 30 years,” said Darlene Zak. “And in all of that time I haven’t seen more than a dozen bikes on Holgate, and I come out here a lot.”
The neighborhood’s postman, Jerry Ferguson, said it’s slowing his deliveries.
“They took away four lanes of traffic to build a bicycle lane to nowhere,” Ferguson said.
It’s a common complaint from others in the neighborhood who also said the bike lanes are hardly used by anyone.
“Well, I guess maybe it’s an experiment,” said Jennifer Sadler, a Holgate neighbor.
KATU News did its own experiment. Reporter Thom Jensen made trips during commuting hours for a week and recorded what he and his photographer saw: Without exception, they never saw a single bicycle.
Then he went back and set up a chair in the westerly bike lane and waited. In an eight-hour period he saw only eight bikes on a road where more than 16,000 cars drove daily before two lanes were taken away for bikes.
Roger Geller, City of Portland Bicycle Coordinator, is in charge of the city’s bike program and said it’s not a bike lane to nowhere.
He said it is a valuable link for bicyclists in East Portland who want to get to the new MAX line along Interstate 205.
He said over time the bikes will come.
“We have seen bike use on all bikeways that we have built in Portland grow steadily over time,” Geller said. “It just usually takes a couple of years before people discover it.”
Geller pointed to six other bike lane projects closer to downtown that saw usage grow exponentially over time: In some cases from a few hundred to a few thousand bicyclists.
KATU wanted to know if bike traffic grew on two other Southeast Portland bike lanes near or connected to Holgate.
But on Southeast Foster from 136th to 92nd KATU found little or no peddling taking place. And on 122nd from Foster to Holgate KATU found another nearly bikeless boulevard.
A spokesman for the Lents Neighborhood Association said people wanted the lanes because they do go somewhere.
“Neighbors that attended and were participating in their neighborhood at the time were very much in support of it and today we benefit with the expansion of the bicycle infrastructure,” said Jess Laventall.
He said Holgate ties all of these bike lanes together and will one day bring bicycling-hungry neighbors in Southeast Portland to shopping and mass transit.
“This is definitely an improvement for people on bicycles,” he said.
Many people who were interviewed for this story asked why the lanes were needed because Springwater trail is just a few blocks south.
But the city and the neighborhood association said the trail veers too far south and the new bike paths gives future bicyclists a direct east-west route.