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Portland Parks addresses bumps on Esplanade ramps

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on July 19th, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Eastbank esplanade ramp-2
Parks will consider adding stripes
and signage to warn riders of
these bumps.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Last week I joined a Portland Parks & Recreation staffer for a visit to the Eastbank Esplanade. Our intention was to see what, if anything, could be done to smooth out a series of bumps that exist on ramps leading to the floating portion of the trail.

The meeting came after I published a story on July 9th about the bumps. That story sparked over 200 comments that expressed a range of opinions about them. Many people said they are no problem at all (once you get used to them), while others felt the bumps should be fixed. The man featured in that story, Ron Richings, crashed and sustained a serious shoulder injury after the bumps caused a bungee cord attached to his bike to become dislodged and get caught in his wheel.

Bob Downing, Portland Parks -1
Bob Downing, Portland Parks.

During our visit out at the site, Parks' Central Support Services Manager Bob Downing demonstrated how the bumps are attached to a two-foot piece of metal on the edge of the ramps that moves up and down depending on the height of the tides in the river. The bumps are caused by a small, black rubber lip on those metal pieces. Those rubber lips are at about a 40-degree angle and they are jarring when rolled over by bicycle tires.

"Right now, they seem to be catching some people by surprise... We try to engineer out the surprise factor."
-- Bob Downing, Portland Parks Central Support Services Manager

As we observed people rolling over them (at 1:30 pm on a weekday), nearly everyone slowed down and rolled over them without issue. A few experienced riders even bunny-hopped them. Before Downing arrived, I asked several people what they thought about the bumps.

Eastbank esplanade ramp-1
Close-up.

One man, an older gentleman in full lycra on high-end road bike said "They're pretty harsh, but if we didn't have them people would go too fast." Another man, riding an old mountain bike with front suspension and knobby tires, said he's used to them: "It's just a bump... I get used to them. I get used to everything except for the cars." A couple out for a leisurely spin on rental bikes said they definitely noticed the bumps: "Good thing we were going slow... They should definitely smooth them out."

Downing acknowledged the "hassle" of rolling over the bumps and he's aware that speeding by people on bikes is a major concern on the shared Esplanade path. But, according to Downing, the bumps weren't installed to slow people down. "You try to stay away from hassle when you design facilities like this... and this isn't the tool you'd use to slow people down."

Eastbank esplanade ramp-3

Upon inspecting the rubber bump, Downing said they have no immediate plans to change it. "Since it's not broken, if we look at putting in a new rubber lip piece, we'd have to look at the importance of this relative to other priorities."

That importance is based in part on whether or not the bumps led to a significant public safety hazard. Downing says they'd consider replacing the rubber piece (with ones that have a less severe angle) if the problem was larger then they currently think it is. But as of right now, Parks hasn't gotten enough reports of injuries or damages to warrant such action.

I asked Downing how people would report incidents if they occur. He said 823-SAFE (7233) is an option, but that a better tool might be Parkscan. Parkscan is run by the City of Portland and allows citizens to report problems/observations within the Park system and have them routed directly to appropriate staff.

While redesigning or replacing the bumps is not on the table right now, Downing is looking into improved signage and possibly adding reflective striping to the bumps in order to warn people about them. "Right now, they seem to be catching some people by surprise... We try to engineer out the surprise factor."

Downing said they had no idea these bumps were an issue, but that learning about them has been an important learning process for him and the Parks bureau as they work on current and future projects. He also wanted to stress that they don't want to wait for a serious incident before addressing the bumps, but that right now these bumps haven't been on their radar as even a minor issue. Before making any significant change or investment in a new design, Downing said, "We want to hear from the people we work for."

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Comments
  • Shelb July 19, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    I'm not sure if this story is:

    a) The result of a nit-picky bicyclist who lives in a city that practically caters to cyclists, therefore making it acceptable to whine about the stupidest of inconveniences; or

    b) A very slow "news" day.

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  • Marcus Griffith July 19, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    Standard issue reflective stripping should goes a long way in letting people know the bumps are there.

    As a precaution, bungee cords, ropes, boom boxes, panniers, groceries etc should be properly secured while cycling. Road hazards of all types are out there. Don't let Murphy's Law turn a minor bump into a trip to the ER.

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  • steve July 19, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    From the recent Sunday Parkways story-

    ' Carver and her family live on a section of Harold that has no sidewalk and no shoulder. People driving too fast, she and her husband said, is a constant danger. "Every night a drunk driver will fly by going 70 mph... People crash into front yards along here at least once a year... Cops fly up this street everyday." Carver is looking forward to improvements on her street that will extend the shoulder and bike lanes Harold has just a block west of her house. "Families have more problems biking out here. It's just too nerve-wracking." '

    No sidewalks vs. 1/2 inch bump. Yup, this level of attention makes perfect sense.

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  • Allan July 19, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    Just because life is good in Inner East PDX doesn't mean it couldn't be better! These bumps are annoying on a road/racing bike and not a factor with fatter tires. I'd love for them to get changed, I agree that it isn't the HIGHEST priority, but it is a very highly used, high profile path so making it as nice as possible should be the goal, right?

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  • Pete July 19, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    Shelb (#1):

    c) a great way to update a previous story while getting word to residents about two ways to report general problems with parks infrastructure.

    I wish my city catered to cyclists! ;)

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  • John Reinhold July 19, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    Allan:

    but it is a very highly used, high profile path so making it as nice as possible should be the goal, right?

    The key lies in the "as possible".

    I think the East Bank Esplanaude is just about one of the nicest places I have ever ridden. Bumps and all.

    Just put some yellow stripes and a sign and call it a day. Bumps happen.

    We have much bigger needs in the city and I can't even believe this warranted one story let alone two.

    We must be getting soft..

    And don't get on me about those "interested but concerned" category of cyclists because my wife, very young daughter, and best friend's wife all fit SECURELY into that category and have absolutely no problem with those bumps and enjoy the Esplanaude very much.

    Seriously. How spoiled and soft do we need to be in this town? There are people who literally can't cycle to work or the grocery store or to school due to complete lack of infrastructure - and people want to fuss about these stupid little bumps.

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  • matt picio July 19, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    Allan (#4) - Exactly. "These bumps are annoying" - there are much greater safety issues in both inner and outer NE and SE that could be addressed, and there's still the matter of access / safety issues in SW, the bastard step-child of city transportation spending.

    There are limited transportation dollars available, there's still no evidence that this is a significant safety issue.

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  • matthew vilhauer July 19, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    what shelb said-

    with a bit of caveat. yes the transitions on and off the floating secton just plain suck. like many roads. as cyclists our recourse? just deal. we do anyways egh?

    a note for securing your load. bungees=bad berries. semi-acceptable for bikes but hardly something you should feel safe with. cinch straps are my good friend. i've toured by bike, motorcycle and sled (snowmobile and dogsled) and have found bungee's to be a liability when you have a load that needs to be secure. period.

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  • Allan July 19, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    @6: Portland Parks manages this area, so their money is perhaps limited, but not part of the general transportation pool. Just because something isn't the highest need doesn't mean it shouldn't be improved.

    On to another topic: The ramps on and off the esplanade really put cyclists going from the RQTC to points south out of their way. (and vice versa) How many years will it be before we get a more direct ramp?

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) July 19, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    keep in mind that there is nothing but budget dust/crumbs currently spent on trails/bikeways... the reason we are so programmed to think "there are more important things to do with limited money" is because so much of our money is going to subsidize motor vehicle travel.

    Also, I think little things like this are what's going to be necessary to fix if we are going to ever reach the lofty goals outlined in our 2030 Bike Plan. To me, these bumps are just one of many symbols of how marginalized, underfunded and poorly designed non-motorized thoroughfares are in comparison to places made for the exclusive use of motor vehicles.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) July 19, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    Steve (comment #3),

    I think the lack of sidewalks on SE Harold as referred to in my previous story are a much more important issue than these bumps. The number of words I write about an issue does not always perfectly equal it's level of importance.

    Thanks.

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  • jeff July 19, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    As anecdotal proof of why bungees are not good for securing anything - how many times a day do we all ride past them on the side of the road, popped off of cars/trucks? I usually see a few per commute.

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  • GlowBoy July 19, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    I don't really care for the bumps on these ramps, but

    (1) they're no worse than the potholes or railroad crossings (or cemetery speedbumps!) that many of us encounter on a daily basis. If the famous bungee didn't slip off on these bumps, it would have done so somewhere else.

    (2) I fear they are necessary as speedbumps. Without them people would REALLY fly down those ramps.

    I agree: color the lip pieces safety yellow or reflective or both, put up a couple of idiot signs, and be done.

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  • Jack July 19, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    I agree with Jonathan's response (#9). The only time you get a bump in the street that is equivelantly jarring to a car is when that street is under construction...and then there are big BUMP signs all over, and it's just temporary.

    The esplanade is a transportation corridor. If the bumps were only a problem for a recreational road cyclist who wants to maintain his cadence at 22 mph, then this would be a non issue. But, these bumps discourage even normal commuter speeds. What's worse is that they greatly reduce efficiency of going up the ramps.

    Related note: Bunny-hopping should be treated as an impossible feat when talking about bicycle infrastructure. To suggest it as a reasonable means of dealing with deficiencies is just absurd.

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  • Bob_M July 19, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    The notion that the esplanade exists for bicycle commuting is false. This was built and designed for the recreational use of walkers, cyclists and other path users. To insist that cyclists are entitled to a commuter's pace of 15 or 17 MPH is a spurious argument. To share the constrained space of those ramps, where cyclists are must yield to pedestrians we should not whine and bristle at having to slow down.

    I say apply reflective marking tape and be glad we have such a fine facility and move on.

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  • matt picio July 19, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    Allan (#9) - Parks could be spending it on the Springwater Trail's poorly paved sections, or improving the Willamette trail on the west side of the river, which has numerous safety issues.

    Jonathan (#10) - Keep in mind that total funding is very unlikely to increase in the near-term, so any increases in bike funding come at the expense of non-bike funding. While percentage allocations do not currently reflect mode share, changing that will be an uphill battle.

    We're not going to reach the 2030 goals without a commitment from the general public or a change in the funding situation.

    Jack (#14, re: equivalent bumps) - Equivalency is a red herring. Bumps affecting bikes are a fixture of the issues attendant to the mode. But taking your argument as presented, cars also encounter speed bumps that can be equally jarring, and there are many roads in outer SE that have no pavement and gigantic potholes - many more examples of those than examples on the city's current bike/ped specific infrastructure.

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  • BlueBox July 19, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    "To me, these bumps are just one of many symbols of how marginalized, underfunded and poorly designed non-motorized thoroughfares are in comparison to places made for the exclusive use of motor vehicles." J. Maus

    Jonathan, if a dynamic (in that the ramps move), secure (well lit, no major surprises), floating (in some places), 99% smooth path on/near the water is "marginalized and under-funded," I'll take it.

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  • Michweek July 19, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Who cares about some little bumps? I've got cars swerving into bike lanes, glass, pot holes, no bike lane etc. all over this city. Riding on the Esplanade with little baby bumps is a pleasure. No one needs to be going more than 10 mph on that path anyways, it's too high traffic, just slow down and enjoy the ride.

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  • Jack July 19, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    The existence of bigger issues is not a reason to dismiss the details. We don't have to reverse global warming before we can smooth out these bumps.

    In fact, the opposite is probably true. Focus on the details long enough and eventually we'll start eating away at the bigger problems.

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  • sparewheel July 19, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    "The notion that the esplanade exists for bicycle commuting is false."

    Um...No. It was built for mixed use, which includes commuters.

    "they're no worse than the potholes or railroad crossings (or cemetery speedbumps!)"
    except that those things were not planned features.

    "that many of us encounter on a daily basis"
    by that kind of logic we should just do away with bike lanes and bike paths entirely. (e.g. take the lane, whiners.)

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  • Ken July 19, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    Those bumps actually keep me from riding that way. They are not only annoying and loud they are potentially damaging to your wheels and as we have found out dangerous. My friend and I have for a year now talked about contacting the appropriate authorities to get them fixed. It is the simplest fix in the world. Make the strip be at a much more acute angle. It was just a really dumb design for a bike path and was obviously engineered by non-cyclists or at least untested by said engineers for viability.

    And to argue that other projects in other neighborhoods need money more than this seems to completely miss the obvious fact that the number of cyclists travelling over this floating section of esplanade utterly dwarfs the numbers in just about any other location you can name. Thus money per cyclists could hardly be better spent.

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  • Paul Johnson July 19, 2010 at 5:06 pm

    I'm not sure that adding reflective tape and signage is going to do much good at this location: It's a high-speed section with lots of traffic, sudden braking is likely to cause a collision most days. Why not use longer, flatter ramps at the expansion joints?

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  • Paul Johnson July 19, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    Why not stripe in some pedestrian lanes instead of claiming the bumps are a good thing? The Vera Katz Esplanade is a major commuter corridor, catering to high-speed bicycles is more or less why the Springwater and VKE get the traffic they do.

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  • Red Five July 19, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    What bumps?

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  • Felipe July 19, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    I can understand why people might find this to be minutia of a "slow newsday," but it truly is an issue for those of us who have handicaps -- things bounce around, if you will. I'll spare you details but the bag I wear does splash sometimes -- if you get my meaning -- and as much care as i take to ride smoothly on commutes and not jostle it, bumps like this can make quite a mess. Not good when you get to work, if you follow me. Funny to say, but not to wear, hehe. Anyway, peace to you all my brothers and sisters. Love shines from our best riding companion, JC

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  • The Translator July 19, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    I propose that we eliminate turns and hills as they cause great distress and possible injury to our brave velonauts!

    I also implore the mayor and the council to pass a non-binding resolution of condemning all manner of liquid or frozen precipitation as it frightens many away from using the bicycle as an escape from the oppressive yoke they are forced to shoulder by our oligarchist ruling class and their clever automotive marketing / mind control schemes!

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  • Ted Buehler July 19, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    What are the regulations for allowable bumps in multi-use paths? Anyone know where to find the info?

    If it's not to code, it should be repaired. Path design standards are set for a reason...

    Ted Buehler

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  • Can't hop July 19, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    #14 Jack: Got no coordination, can't bunny hop on my best day, but I can with some effort lift my front wheel a bit off the ground. Even if my timing is off, I can get my ass off my seat, take the jolt with relatively flexible legs, and not hit a bump like I'm 150 pounds (including load, thank you) of dead weight. Anyone who can't do at least that shouldn't be screaming down the Esplanade so fast that the rough spots create real problems. No one should be screaming down that trail that fast anyway, unless there is no traffic, and I've never seen it empty.

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  • Mike July 20, 2010 at 1:26 am

    "Downing says they'd consider replacing the rubber piece (with ones that have a less severe angle) if the problem was larger then they currently think it is."

    I think you mean "larger than" not "larger then."

    Also, I broke my bike on those bumps I can't bunny hop but I raised my front wheel to go over more easily, which placed more of my 200 lbs of weight on back wheel and I broke a part in the axle... can't remember the name of it. Ended up springing for a brand new wheel.

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  • Michael M. July 20, 2010 at 6:17 am

    I wonder what the tools are that they would use to slow people down, because too often whatever they're doing isn't working. It seems like the worst offenders on bikes just ignore the signs. I'm all for the the bumps as a tool to accomplish this, even if that's not how Mr. Downing's people would choose to do so.

    Thanks for informing everybody about Parkscan -- a useful thing to be aware of.

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  • Bob_M July 20, 2010 at 6:39 am

    Sparewheel #20
    My sentence should have read: "The notion that the esplanade exists ONLY for bicycle commuting is false"

    Thank you for drawing attention to my oversight.

    Translator #26

    funny

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  • A.K. July 20, 2010 at 9:45 am

    I don't mind the bumps, and I ride a mixed aluminum/carbon bike on 23c wheels.

    They do FORCE me to slow way down and think about the other people who are also using the path.

    If given the opportunity, such as on the 3-mile section between OMSI and the Sellwood bridge, I'll haul ass, but the Esplanade itself is not a place for that.

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  • Steve July 20, 2010 at 10:10 am

    The problem with making the rubber edge pieces less abrupt, is the rubber is more likely to chip and break down where it feathers into it's mating surface.
    (even if they did want to change it).
    Causing what could be an even greater problem.

    A foot of yellow & black hash'd caution paint would be my solution.
    I'm sure a few pedestrians have tripped on em too.

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  • El Biciclero July 20, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    I don't see complaints about these bumps as "whining" any more than drivers might "whine" about a planned, permanent, unmarked, unsigned speed bump being introduced into a major auto commute route. Sure, drivers would eventually learn to slow down, but not until they had jarred their teeth loose by driving over it at least once.

    The issue is that these bumps, necessary as they may be to the construction of the floating sections of the MUP, are not called out in any way. It is up to individuals to learn about their presence through the school of hard knocks--literally. In the auto world, this would not fly. If a similar situation were present along a major auto route, I would not be surprised to hear about lawsuits arising from drivers hitting comparable unmarked speed bumps and losing hubcaps or sustaining suspension damage.

    1. If we want cyclists to slow down, then post a speed limit along this route: "Bikes 10mph"

    2. To make sure cyclists aren't surprised by a significant, jarring interruption in the surface, paint the bumps with yellow stripes.

    3. Even better, do both. Post a sign: "Cyclists Warning: Bumps - 10mph", and make the bumps visible.

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  • noahjack July 20, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    the parkscan tool that is being refereed too doesn't give you the option for selecting the east bank esplanade.

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  • Paul Johnson July 21, 2010 at 12:11 am

    Biciclero: 1: The MUTCD allows for speed limit sign treatments ("SPEED 10" would work in the Oregon addendum), but speed limits are set by ODOT, not local authorities.

    2 & 3: There's already a MUTCD approved marking for a bump. Section 9 sets the expectation that bumps of concern be marked with the same reflective white chevron pavement markers you would find in the street for a speed bump, with warning signs in advance outlined in Section 3. In places where asphault bleaches in the sun, it's not uncommon to help the contrast of white markers by outlining them with black for a drop-shadow effect (this would help make 'em stand out on concrete, too). No reason to reinvent the wheel when there's already standard road markings.

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  • CaptainKarma July 21, 2010 at 1:28 am

    I wonder if these ramps measure up to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards? Like for non-sighted folks, for instance?

    Anyway, now that the city has come out and stated basically that there "is not a problem", the next person to get hurt due to the bump will have an actionable lawsuit claiming willful, and with full knowledge, negligence on the part of the city. End result will be the closing of the esplanade, at least to bikes, and maybe everyone. Grr.

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  • Ted Buehler July 21, 2010 at 2:00 am

    After a little research --

    I looked for
    * ADA compliance
    * Multiuse path surface compliance
    * Roadway compliance.

    There's standards for these things, and when you ride, drive or walk around town the infrastructure is pretty smooth -- these 1.5" bumps are rare. And usually where everything is uniform, it is because there are standards that mandate it.

    1) Bumps are not ADA compliant for a "Pedestrian Access Route"

    R301.5 Surface. The surface of the pedestrian access route shall be firm, stable and slip resistant.

    R301.5.2 Surface Discontinuities. Surface discontinuities shall not exceed 13 mm (0.50 in) maximum. Vertical discontinuities between 6.4 mm (0.25 in) and 13 mm (0.5 in) maximum shall be beveled at 1:2 minimum. The bevel shall be applied across the entire level change.

    From http://www.access-board.gov/prowac/draft.htm

    To correct this, the 1.5" lip would need to be stretched out over a 30" ramp to achieve the maximum allowable sidewalk slope of 5%.

    2) Multiuse path
    Bumps are apparently compliant in Oregon. But they would be out of compliance in California, based on the California Highway Design Manual, bike and ped section. http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/oppd/hdm/hdmtoc.htm

    Page 1000-25
    Table 1003.6
    Bikeway Surface Tolerances
    Perpendicular to travel
    No more than ¾" high

    3) Roadway compliance -- I haven't dug up the ODOT standards. I suspect that a 1.5" lip is not compliant, but I doubt that the Esplanade would be considered a roadway.

    Summary -- the bumps appear to be legal as a bike corridor, but are defective as a " Pedestrian Access Route" under ADA.

    I'm putting together a detailed blog post on this for http://www.activerightofway.org

    Ted Buehler

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  • Ali Ryan July 21, 2010 at 9:13 am

    @noahjack: The esplanade is listed on ParkScan as the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade.

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  • checkya July 21, 2010 at 10:05 am

    I both bike and rollerskate over these bumps all the time at full speed with no problem.

    I wish we could spend our time and money worrying about issues that are outside the core of the city. I commute by bike from Pier Park to Milwaukie 3 times a week (yes, over the those small bumps), and there are so many better places that I see every day for cash and energy to be spent.

    If you really want to encourage people to commute by bike, you need to look around at the issues that affect other neighborhoods.

    Yes I ride a mountain bike- but I have to because of the horrible conditions at the far flung ends of my commute. Those little bumps in the middle are the least of my worries.

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  • Bob_M July 21, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    #37 CaptainKarma
    your assumption that any other fall will be the fault of the facility. The fall and injury that prompted this thread were the result of an improperly secured load, the fault of the rider. Damage to tires, wheels or forks would be the result of excessive speed, again at the fault of the rider.

    I hope that lawsuits do not follow this thread, but from the tone of many posters it is likely that they may already be shopping for lawyers (and perhaps a Renovo bike) with the hope to slam the city with rich lawsuit.

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  • El Biciclero July 21, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    Paul J (#36)-- "No reason to reinvent the wheel when there's already standard road markings."

    I'm not wanting to reinvent the wheel, but I'm not a roadway engineer, either. All I am saying is that whatever the standard treatment is for a comparable bump along an auto route, it should be applied here so that people aren't surprised by bumps that can be significantly jarring. Again, I think the main issue here is not the presence of bumps, but that if there are "standard road markings" to draw attention to such hazards, why aren't they being used here?

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  • suburban July 21, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    There it is, right on schedule! the "More Signage solution". It is frequently used as placeholder for an actual solution, look for more of them soon in public spaces.

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  • Paul Johnson July 22, 2010 at 11:35 am

    #42: That's a good question. Oregon State Parks understands that the cycleways they build must have proper markings, so it's a mystery why the Portland Parks Bureau can't understand basic American highway design. If they can't do that, Portland Parks shouldn't be building them to start with, leave it to Portland Bureau of Transportation.

    #43: If we wanted your opinion, we would have given it to you. The MUTCD includes traffic control devices for certain situations that are unavoidable.

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