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Sharrows on the St. Johns Bridge!

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on July 27th, 2006 at 7:09 am

Sorry, just kidding.

But just for fun's sake, I'd like to share these doctored photos sent in by City of Vancouver transportation planner and bicycle advocacy renaissance man Todd Boulanger (click to enlarge):

For the record, Todd points out that he thinks bike lanes would be a better solution. Unfortunately lanes nor sharrows are a possibility. I don't have time to post about it right now, but I received a call yesterday about the bridge from ODOT's Charles Sciscione. More on that later...right now I'm off to traffic court to watch Mark Ginsberg in action...

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  • John Boyd July 27, 2006 at 7:30 am

    Very effective and convincing images. See that it even has a "bicycles in lane" sign.

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  • Lenny Anderson July 27, 2006 at 9:21 am

    Sharrows should be centered in the lane, signaling to bicyclists to "take the lane, so passing vehicles don't try to just squeeze by, but use the 2nd lane for passing.
    I can't see why ODOT would have a problem with this. Need them to on the right lane of Hawthorne in SE.

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  • Randy July 27, 2006 at 9:41 am

    I'll agree with both of Lenny's points:

    1. Sharrows should be centered in the lane.

    2. Hawthorne (and a lot of other local inner-city arterial streets w/o room for bike lanes) need them also.

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  • Andrew July 27, 2006 at 10:46 am

    Has anyone considered forming a local "Sharrow Crew"? I'm sure professional-looking sharrows could be produced by someone in town. Then we could go out and do it ourselves (after carefully studying which streets are in need, of course). Maybe it could be a new City Repair project... Also, I remember reading an interview with Mayor Potter where he said that local citizen's should think more about how we can take things into our own hands more often when it comes to gov't services. This could be a great example of citizen initiative.

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  • Scout July 27, 2006 at 11:21 am

    Bad Jonathan! You got me all excited and let me down. . .
    :(

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  • Aaron July 27, 2006 at 11:23 am

    My letter to Mr. Siscione

    Mr. Siscione;
    We in the safe streets campaign group have been watching the St. John's Bridge carefully over the past few years. Since you have inherited this messy situation and were not the proginator, I will save my impertinence for the higher managers. However I strongly encourage you to take steps to improve the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians on the St. Johns Bridge. Putting a minimally legal sidewalk on a 4 lane arterial is not the means by which intelligent planners make roadways safe.
    http://www.techtransfer.berkeley.edu/newsletter/01-2/myway.php
    I implore you to meet with the neighborhood residents and coordinate with ODOT management (which has showed a failing record of sympathy) in order to create more humane conditions on this vital connection.
    Thank you for your time.
    Aaron Tarfman
    Transportation Diplomat

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  • Scout July 27, 2006 at 11:24 am

    Andrew: I think a sharrow crew would be awesome. We just need some big cardboard, some white spray paint, and maybe even something sparkly to stick to it.I even have a bright orange hardhat to look all official-like!

    Someone or several someones should totally do this before the Bridge Pedal on August 13th.

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  • Lenny Anderson July 27, 2006 at 2:05 pm

    A "graveyard shift" Sharrows crew might just be all it takes to push Portland into the Platinum category.

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  • Roger Geller July 28, 2006 at 9:34 am

    In response to Lenny, Scout and Andrew, and anybody else thinking about forming a "Sharrows Crew": please don't.

    We're testing sharrows now. We want them to work. We want them to be accepted. We also want them to be available to more jurisdictions than just the City of Portland. We are conducting a formal study with the Federal Highway Administration. The process isn't as fast as we'd like, but it will be thorough. We're following up on similar testing that was done in San Francisco.

    San Francisco had also hoped to have sharrows approved, in that case by their state transportation authority, for inclusion in their state traffic manual. It hasn't happened for a number of reasons. The fact that it hasn't yet happened in San Fran could eventually threaten their long-term use of sharrows.

    We're currently collecting before and after data for sharrows (using video cameras) and are planning to expand the test to additional locations beyond those in NW Portland. It took a long time for our traffic engineers--who must consider lots of different things, not the least of which is liability for the city--to become comfortable even with testing these things. We're glad they are--in fact, they're enthusiastic about using them. But, before they'll be comfortable using them in a widespread manner sharrows will have to become an approved traffic control device. Once that happens, then the gates are more or less open. If that doesn't happen, then it's unlikely we'll see sharrows in this city.

    Why is it important that they be approved? Approval by FHWA means that if we use them and there is a crash in the vicinity of one, we can demonstrate that it wasn't our fault--that we were following established, approved designs for managing traffic. If we don't have that approval, then the crash victim would have a very easy time sueing the City. They'd be likely to win and get a lot of money; such an outcome would guarantee that any existing sharrows would immediately be removed and not get put down again.

    It would be very difficult to politicize this, as what you really need to get these markings on the roadway is the signature of a professional traffic engineer. If sharrows are unapproved they're unlikely to sign off on them because they, in addition to the City of Portland, could be personally liable if anything bad happened.

    Yes, our rules do allow "engineering judgement" to do things that aren't approved at the federal or state level, and we have done those types of things numerous times. This one is different because we're encouraging cyclists to go out into the middle of a travel lane, rather than stay as "far right as practicable," as they law states.

    If you go out and mark sharrows in a bunch of locations, you may confuse people (we have some pretty specific criteria we're using for selecting locations), anger people, and threaten our ongoing experiment.

    Be patient. A couple of years may seem like a long time, but if the result is approval by FHWA to use these, then we'll have full licsense to use them widely. Five years from now this wait will be long forgotton--if they're approved.

    I'd encourage those of you interested in seeing sharrows and other innovations used more frequently in Portland to participate in the update of the bicycle master plan. We'll be rolling out public forums on the master plan beginning in August. The first public event will be at Southeast Uplift on August 29th at 6:30 pm (3534 SE Main Street). This discussion will be an overview of our thinking and not that specific, but the update will be a two-year process that will get into great detail about all sorts of things, including bikeway design.

    Regarding their placement: on an 18' lane (basically 10.5' for travel and 7.5' for parking) we're centering them 12' from the curb. The initial installation had them at 11' The 12' placement has the center of each sharrow 4.5' from the edge of a 10.5' travel lane. That's 9 inches away from the dead center of the travel lane.

    Roger Geller
    Bicycle Coordinator
    City of Portland

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  • Lenny Anderson July 28, 2006 at 10:09 am

    I was not quite serious about taking paint into our own hands, but meanwhile getting from CityBikes to my house via NE 28th continues to be a less than pleasant experience on a bike, not something I would suggest to anyone, especially the young and/or inexperienced. Portland does need to really ramp up the "gaps" effort in order to preserve its bike friendly status.

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  • Scout July 30, 2006 at 1:37 pm

    I certainly understand the ongoing experiment with sharrows that you bring up, Mr. Geller, and I appreciate your dedication to making it happen. However, I must take umbrage with your question of whether or not "a couple of years" is too long to wait.

    I live in SW Portland, near Multnomah Village, and frequently commute by bike to two different jobs. One of my jobs requires crossing the Hawthorne Bridge, where my path is clear and comforting. The second job leads me to cross Burnside and follow sharrows into Northwest until I meet a bike lane. Though both of these are clear benefits, hopefully making me safer on the streets, the single road I ride most frequently is Barbur Boulevard, where I am most certainly NOT safe.

    In the next couple of years, how many times will I have to ride so far to the right of the road I risk falling into the dirt, in the places where the bike lanes abruptly end, yet there is no shoulder to be found? How many popped tires am I expected to bear with good humor for riding too close to wild berry bushes and endless broken glass? How long should I wait while drivers pass within inches of my handlebars, clearly ignoring the signs and flashing lights which state, "Bicycles on Roadway"? And while I do my best to stay to the right on those two narrow bridges without a bike lane or sharrows, how much crap should I expect to be launched at me by angry drivers, yelling, "Get out of the road"?

    These are everyday occurrences for myself, and for many other cyclists, be they riding down Barbur, passing through downtown, or seeking to cross the St. Johns bridge.

    I'm sure you are addressing these issues, and I don't fault you personally for these shortcomings (unless, of course, you have ever thrown a bottle or a cup of [hopefully] water or an egg[!] at me while I rode down Barbur), but I do request that when you ask for my sympathy to be directed at your cause, do not assume that I am asking too much when I insist that my health and safety-- and the health and safety of every other cyclist in this "bike friendly" city-- be seen to sooner rather than later.

    With that said, I will put down the spray paint, and await your action.

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  • Joe Planner July 31, 2006 at 7:33 am

    Roger has made a very valid point. We want sharrows to work not just for us, but for the City that's liable for their use. Despite the wait, we should be grateful that we live in one of the few cities in this country that's pursuing innovation in bike planning. That said, I hope to see you all participate in the bike master planning effort. I agree that the gaps in the bike network leave much to be desired and I hope to get that point across in the master plan update.

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  • Roger Geller July 31, 2006 at 2:06 pm

    Scout,

    I can assure you I've not thrown anything at you...

    I'm quite familiar with the area on Barbur to which you refer. Years ago (1996-7?) ODOT put down new asphalt on Barbur and in doing so striped the road with bike lanes. We (the City of Portland) tried to get them to provide bike lanes in this areas, which would have required narrowing down the travel lanes to what ODOT considered substandard and unacceptable widths. Since then, we have repeatedly applied for grant funding from various sources to widen the roadway at this point. It's very expensive--well over $1 million, and by now, probably closer to $2 or $3 million. We haven't been successful.

    To tell you the truth, even if we had sharrows as an adopted tool, I'm not sure that would be a good place to put them because of motorist speeds. Speed is a huge consideration when planning on where to put them.

    I suggest you talk to ODOT about Barbur Blvd (it's their road and we really can't do much on that section of it). Talk to Basil Christopher (ODOT's local bike/ped person) in Region I and Charles Scisscione, who is a manager for ODOT here in Portland. I agree with you, the conditions on Barbur are unacceptable.

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