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A ride on downtown Portland’s new buffered bike lanes (updated)

Posted by on September 14th, 2009 at 11:45 am

buffered bike lanes
The buffered bike lane, westbound on SW Oak.
(Photos © Elly Blue)

It was a perfect Portland morning, alternating between gray and sunny. We’ve been getting tips all weekend about the new buffered bike lanes being installed downtown, and I decided to ride the full length of the new lanes and see how they work.

The buffered bike lanes dedicate one out of four lanes on SW Stark and SW Oak to bikes alone. One additional lane on these one-way streets is dedicated to through traffic, and a the outer lanes are for parking cars or (sometimes) making right turns.

The buffered lane runs westbound on SW Oak from Naito Parkway to SW 9th (a regular bike lane has been installed between 9th and 10th), and eastbound on SW Stark from SW 14th (home of the Zoobomb monument) back to Naito.

The bike lanes are fairly wide, and at the beginning of each is a green box and a bike symbol, marking them as bike-only. On the left, a couple of feet serve as a buffer between bike and car traffic, and a solid white “do not pass” line. On the right of the bike lane are parked cars, separated by a similar buffer that protects against dooring.

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These lanes are the latest chapter in the city’s experiments in creating dedicated spaces and standards for bicycle traffic. Earlier this month, the new cycle track was installed on several blocks of SW Broadway, and a separated bike lane was painted onto a stretch of SE Holgate.

My impression of these buffered lanes is largely positive. They’re nearly relaxing to use once you shake the embattled feeling that used to come with riding on these streets. The pavement is bad in places, but it’s much easier to navigate when you aren’t keeping a constant lookout over your left shoulder.

The two times I saw people enter the lanes in cars they quickly realized their error. The parking on the right is unnerving on paper, but in practice anyone I saw entering or exiting a parking spot was using far more caution than I’m used to seeing downtown.

And the curbside parking did seem to eliminate the urge to use the space for purposes other than bicycling (a problem I saw a lot of on New York City’s similar 9th Avenue cycle track).

It’s worth riding the lanes yourself to form an opinion. But if you’re not able to do that right away you can take a look at some photos from my ride, or watch the slideshow below:


Update: A project manager from the city responds with an update: “I just wanted folks to understand that while we finished the bulk of the work on SW Stark and Oak over the weekend, we still need to install the hatch marks in the buffered area and the “Bike Lane” pavement marking.” We’ll keep you posted with photos as the lanes are completed.

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Comments
  • Jay R. September 14, 2009 at 11:58 am

    That’s awesome. It’s a route I regularly ride to work, so it’ll be nice to check them out. The cycletrack it outside my regular ride, so I haven’t been able to see that yet.

    (BTW: Your first link is broken. Two “a href”s.)

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  • Schrauf September 14, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    Given three recent newly buffered bike lanes, and three different street marking systems, I assume and hope the plan is to see which one works the best, and then change the other two to match.

    Even though the buffer markings on Broadway seem to be the most logical, I support the City experimenting with different options.

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  • John Lascurettes September 14, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    I think without the hash marks in the buffer zones, these lanes will continue to be used by cars. Though I didn’t see it on my way to work at Oak and 9th, co-workers said they were sharing the lane with various vehicles that were not leaving the bike lane.

    As it stands now, the solid white line simply looks like a “no lane change” type of line.

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  • Alexis September 14, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    Do you mean on SE Holgate, rather than Holman?

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  • Elly Blue September 14, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    Fixed link, fixed Holgate. Added some links — thanks all.

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  • Mike M September 14, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    I rode the lane this morning, and it was allright. Granted, traffic is never really an issue on Oak, so there isn’t much to be protected from. One odd location is at big Pink, where there is already an extra lane for parking off the plaza. Somehow there is just too much space to the right of the lane. This was the only place I would think could easily be confusing for car drivers.

    Otherwise, I wouldn’t mind seeing this type of lane implemented elsewhere in the city. Compared to the cycletrack on Broadway, I feel much more visible, and much less likely to be right hooked.

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  • Blair September 14, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    It seems to me that a simple word – ONLY – under the bike symbol would make these lanes a lot more clear to motorists.

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  • Ethan September 14, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    Any bets on what UPS/FedEx drivers will do with this?

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  • Lance P. September 14, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    to Mike M.

    There are no Right turns on the entire length of the cycletrack on Broadway and therefore no possible way to be involved in a Right hook on the cycletrack.

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  • patrickz September 14, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    Thanks, Elly. Very thorough reporting, and very appreciated.

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  • Kyle Chisek September 14, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    Hi folks,

    Transportation crews completed most of the work over the weekend. Still left to do this week are the hatch marks in the buffer zone and a “Bike Lane” pavement marking on every block.

    Mike @ #6 – we noticed that too. Our traffic engineer is looking on how to mark that space since it is quite wide. We still want people to be able to access the parking – but there is a quite a bit of width there.

    Thanks,
    Kyle Chisek
    Portland Bureau of Transportation

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  • Jeff P September 14, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    That is not true Lance P. #9 – there are numerous ones into the campus – either the inner walkways for deliveries or the parking areas.

    Right turns exist as do Right Hooks. Kind of like little green boxes exist – so do right hooks.

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  • E September 14, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    I rode Oak this morning from my bus stop. The bus of course stopped in the lane. One car was driving in the lane and then made a right turn; it was not obvious what one is supposed to do in that case. Two cars used the lane as a loading zone.
    It was about the same as a normal morning. I really think people don’t know what to do about that lane; their normal route has changed, but it’s very easy at 6am to not even notice.
    I’ll be riding Stark this afternoon so we’ll see about that one. I love the concept and it would be great if it worked, but I am concerned that the lack of education and minimal signage will cause it to fail unfairly.

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  • Bent Bloke September 14, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    I rode both Oak and Stark a few blocks on my morning commute. Didn’t see any autos having trouble figuring it out, but there isn’t much traffic at 6:40am. A co-worker who drives mentioned she was initially confused. Like anything new, this will take some getting used to.

    The best part for me will be exiting the parking garage under my building when I go home. Parked vehicles (usually delivery trucks) block my view of oncoming traffic. Since I will be turning into the new bike lane without crossing a traffic lane, that should be less of an issue.

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  • Jabin September 14, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    Is there any plan to do something at the end of stark as it splits north south onto naito. Right now looking out the window of my office I can see the bike lane just ends at the MAX tracks. I have been riding this way anyway and don’t expect an issue for me, but it could come as a confusing shock for some as it just ends and is fairly busy there at rush hour.

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  • f5 September 14, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    E: I think it’s worth pointing out that whether in a bike lane, and auto lane, or a parking strip — buses will stop. We’ll all have to accomodate things like that regardless of what the lane markings are.

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  • matchu September 14, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    Call in those rough spots on the road! The Portland Bureau of Transportation’s pothole repair line is 503.823.2867.

    I’m looking forward to checking these new lanes out this week.

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  • John Lascurettes September 14, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    Thank you for the additional info, Kyle. It’s good to know there is additional paint coming.

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  • Mike M September 14, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    Matchu,
    Oak is a pothole. No simple maintenance can fix this street. There has been so much work done to Oak over the last few years that only a complete repaving will solve the problem.

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  • Allan September 14, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    cycletracks were around @ the University of Illinois when i was there and i remember constantly having to yell at pedestrians to get out of the way (or else proceed @ walking pace). this lead to frequently moving onto the sidewalk becasue that’s where the free space was (their cycletracks were at sidewalk height instead of road height). It appears that there is still a decent problem with people walking in the cycletrack– when crossing the street or going to their cars. This wasn’t the case with a normal bike lane because noone wants to walk on that side of the cars. Anyone else seem to think this is a problem?

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  • craig September 14, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    WRT Courriers, deliveries, and other service vehicles, I was surprised to read this in the Oregon Driver Manual: “You may use a bicycle lane as part of an official duty, such as delivering mail.” p.76.

    ???

    I thought they all had to stay out of bike lanes?

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  • kitty September 14, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    great idea, but have to ask, how is the city to measure the response to the given lane marking strategies? it is hard to the results not being skewed by the other types of markings. all in all, i would imagine either an increase in bike/car conflict due to confusion or a net decrease downtown due to heightened awareness because of all this stuff.

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  • Paul Cone September 14, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    The City has posted a document describing how this new buffered bike lane will work…

    http://www.portlandonline.com/transportation/index.cfm?c=50349&a=262801

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  • Lizzo September 14, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    I rode the lane on Stark today- behind a car the whole way. Even with that problem (I didn’t know it was a bike-only lane either), the lane is clearly marked and was a joy to ride.

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  • Hart September 14, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    I just did five full laps up and down Oak/Stark and my overall rating: B-

    Pros: Very easy to cruise down hitting all green lights, felt safe for the most part with the buffer zone, most car drivers seemed to adapt instantly, and of those that didn’t, they figured it out within a block or two.

    Cons: Of the car drivers that didn’t seem to know what what going on, several did roll down their windows and ask me what the deal was. Many seemed to want to comply, but were confused about where to turn right from. I saw several new right lane turn arrows painted in the middle of parking spots, yet inexplicably, the parking spaces were still painted and signed. And without any markings of ‘BIKE ONLY’ in the new lanes, many drivers probably assumed the solid white line simply meant ‘DO NOT PASS’. I do know why it was decided to not complete the work over the weekend for the business week, but hopefully having the angled buffer markings and ‘BIKE ONLY’ markings will fix this problem. Also some eye level signage saying something like ‘CARS LEFT LANE ONLY’ or ‘RIGHT LANE BICYCLES ONLY’ would be great, if even only every other block.

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  • jon September 14, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    stark/oak is a great location for a well designed bike route beyond your standard painted lanes, theres the great routes along the river that bypass downtown but nothing until now that penetrate into the downtown core.

    i think 9th avenue should be made into a major north-south bike route, be a blvd, cycle track, or buffered lanes but something beyond just the standard lanes. 9th ave hits the pearl, runs as far north as the river by centennial mills, and goes all the way to psu in the south. it would need to be a 2 way route and have improvements at burnside so that one can cross burnside. the pearl needs a north-south bike route into downtown (14th is one way to the northbound, its missing a southbound and is pretty far to the west). nw broadway is great as a route but sw broadway is one way, and something is needed north-south thru the heart of downtown that runs all the way from the north end to the south end. stark/oak would feed into 9th ave.

    i dont feel a cycle track has been given a fair trial with broadway by psu. i much prefer the cycle track concept in general but feel that stark/oak is better executed because it is a much better and useful route.

    many times motorists see the solid white line in the road and then takes them a few minutes to figure out which side they need to be on, this is the case with stark/oak and also the transit mall.

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  • Anonymous September 14, 2009 at 10:39 pm

    I walked through the intersection at 2nd and Oak today and I was pleasantly surprised to see the new lane markings. It’s great to see a solution that keeps us out of the door zone and a small buffer with traffic.

    However, the new lane is confusing. In 3 trips through the area, I saw cars using the bike lane. With the non-standard markings, it’s easy to see how drivers can be easily confused.

    My issues with the new lane are:
    1. With parking on the right, the solid line and two sets of dashed lines, the configuration is challenging for the uninitiated. I saw an elderly driver tentatively straddle the solid line while trying to decide what to do. When she did decide to park, she almost ran over a bike squeezing through on the curb side.

    2. There is no bike only or no car (my preferred) wording on the lane at the intersection.

    3. The green box at the start of the block isn’t intuitive, since it’s also the color used for stop light boxes. What does it mean at the beginning of a block? Bike only?

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  • Matthew September 15, 2009 at 8:14 am

    This is on my normal route to work. Two days now with the new bike lane and it still feels like nothing’s changed. Which is to say, cars are still treating it like an auto lane.

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  • BURR September 15, 2009 at 8:33 am

    another solution in search of a problem

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  • E September 15, 2009 at 11:01 am

    I rode down Stark yesterday. A car pulled up behind me at a light. I thought he was turning so ignored him; when he continued through the intersection I pointed down at the bike logo and gestured for him to pull over. He did.
    On the next block I saw bicycle-mounted police. I wondered if I just saved that dude a ticket – or at least a warning. :D

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  • Matt Picio September 15, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    craig (#21) – They should probably update the manual, and I’d encourage people to write the DMV and demand it.

    They may NOT use a bike lane “as part of an official duty”. ORS 811.440(2)(c) clearly states “as REQUIRED in the course of official duty”, not “as permitted” or “as part”. A mail carrier would need to justify why they are required to drive in the bike lane rather than in a normal lane of traffic. It’s these kinds of subtle transgressions of the law which erode the protections they are intended to provide.

    Mail trucks are permitted to stop or park in the bike lane in order to load / unload mail, but only when they are actively doing such.

    Of course, good luck trying to get the police to enforce that statute. Until we as a society begin enforcing those statutes, and providing severe penalties when violation of said statutes results in the injury or death of a cyclist, they’ll remain nearly useless. (the statutes, not necessarily the bike lanes)

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  • snolly September 16, 2009 at 10:45 am

    I got stuck behind a car today that was using the bike lane as an unloading zone, and using the entire buffered space to open their door. Luckily Stark has little traffic, so I could easily slide into the neighboring lane.

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  • MeghanH December 3, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    Interesting. Looks like San Francisco is having similar issues with their bike lanes — even when they put up barriers to separate car and bike traffic. See the story here:

    http://sf.streetsblog.org/2009/12/03/sf-gets-first-protected-bike-lane-drivers-already-violating-it/

    I work a block from Stark St., and I see drivers constantly driving long distances in this bike lane. I think it’s just too wide — their eyes don’t perceive a lane that wide to be designated for bikes.

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