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Activist group to track bike/streetcar track crashes

Posted by on April 29th, 2011 at 10:33 am

According to a 2008 report by Alta Planning, bike crashes on streetcar tracks are a “major and underreported problem for Portland-area bicyclists.” Even so, the issue struggles to gain official attention because the vast majority of crashes do not get reported.

Portland-based, grassroots transportation advocacy group Active Right of Way (AROW) hopes to change that with their new, online Streetcar Crash Reporting form.

Conditions on Lovejoy-5
(Photo © J. Maus)

AROW volunteer (the group has no paid staff) Steve Bozzone was at our Get Together Wednesday night and shared a bit more about the project. Bozzone said the crash form is a “citizen’s reporting mechanism” that’s part of a campaign they launched back in December to fix existing bike/streetcar safety issues that exist with the new Eastside Streetcar Loop project (more on that effort later).

“Most crashes when a car is not involved don’t get reported, they don’t go into any dataset [the DMV only processes reports that involve a motor vehicle and where the amount of damage is valued at more than $1,500]. So we are trying to collect that information so we can present it in an organized way and show a compelling need for addressing these safety issues.”

If you’ve crashed on streetcar tracks, help AROW keep track by visiting their website and filling out the form.

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  • NF April 29, 2011 at 10:54 am

    I hope some cards are printed up to advertise this reporting tool. It could be distributed to the bike shops in the vicinity of the streetcar. Can we donate money to AROW?

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    • Amos April 29, 2011 at 11:19 am

      I think some cards and signs are in the works. In the mean time if you want to help spread the word just tell people to go to streetcarcrashreport.org, it redirects to this form.

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  • Gregg Woodlawn April 29, 2011 at 10:58 am

    I hope AROW gets an Alice Award nod next year. These folks are amazing!

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  • 9watts April 29, 2011 at 11:36 am

    streetcar tracks parallel to the line of travel are scary, even to me who bunnyhops and has wide-ish tires. Lane changes on MLK… how do folks do it in heavy traffic? I know some of you are going to say ‘stay off MLK’

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    • sabernar April 29, 2011 at 3:05 pm

      stay off MLK

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      • JR-eh April 29, 2011 at 3:32 pm

        Yep, sorry all you businesses along MLK, sabernar said you can piss off. Friends and family along there too. Oh wait, what if my office is there? Guess I’ll get a job along a neighborhood greenway because my choice of transportation dictates it.

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        • colin May 1, 2011 at 3:40 pm

          In all fairness there are roads parallel to MLK that are much better for cyclists. Sure you can ride on MLK but it’s uncomfortable for everyone involved and not at all necessary.

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  • Domes April 29, 2011 at 11:41 am

    What exactly is the point of this?

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  • cold worker April 29, 2011 at 11:43 am

    lift.your.wheel.

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  • Chris I April 29, 2011 at 11:45 am

    I hope that they apply the same scrutiny to the problem of clothing getting caught in gears. “Jeans: the silent killer” Someone call the GAP.

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  • Karl D April 29, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    It is not really A street car crash as much as a bike crash.

    And should this article be on Page 2 of Bike Portland?

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  • BURR April 29, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    This is a great idea

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  • Steve B. April 29, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    The point of collecting crash reports is to understand
    (1) where crashes are happening
    (2) conditions that may contribute to a crash
    (3) consequences and true costs of crashing on the tracks
    (4) the need for PBOT & Streetcar to fix or mitigate certain “hot spots” for bike crashes

    To be a truly multi-modal transportation network, we need to pay attention to these details. For more info, please read this:
    http://www.activerightofway.org/p/why-arow-is-working-on-streetcarbikeway-safety

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  • daisy April 29, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    There is no box for helmet usage and if you were on a hybrid or not.

    Oh and blinky light on or off.

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  • Steve B. April 29, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    One myth that is being dispelled through this exercise, based on the 22 reports we’ve collected in just 48 hours, is that a person’s experience level cycling in a city doesn’t seem to be a golden ticket to avoiding crashes. Many of our respondents are citing “6 years or more” as how long they have been riding in an urban environment.

    Education, bunny hops, shrugged shoulders and rolled eyes won’t fix the problem. The clear fix is better design, many thanks to everyone who has submitted a report! Please tell your friends who may have had an unfortunate experience crashing on the tracks to complete a report: http://www.streetcarcrashreport.org

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    • pat h April 29, 2011 at 3:57 pm

      That could be confounded by exposure time. To make the type of statement you want to make, you would have to compare crash *rates* (crashes per time unit). One would expect more experienced bikers to have more crashes because they have had more chances.

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    • cyclist April 29, 2011 at 5:10 pm

      Steve B. How would you design rail tracks differently so that cyclists wouldn’t ride their tires into the gaps? Most people I ride with understand what happens when you take the wrong angle crossing tracks, short of putting an invisible train on the street I just don’t see how anybody with 6 years of cycling experience could be taken by surprise.

      Now excuse me while I roll my eyes.

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    • Domes April 30, 2011 at 10:05 am

      I read the page you linked out to, but could not find any discernable solutions within the text. One sentence reads: “…our concerns… can be solved with some rather simple solutions, most of which are already in the transportation planner’s toolbox,” with no examples given to support the statement. I live next to the streetcar, ride down the tracks on a daily basis, and I’m curious, what do you plan to do? There are already signs that rather graphically depict cyclists crashing on the tracks. What more can you do?

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      • Steve B May 1, 2011 at 9:05 pm

        Great question! For wonky solution details, please review our list of outstanding concerns:

        http://www.activerightofway.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Outstanding-Bicycle-Safety-Issues-Along-New-Streetcar-Alignment-with-PBOT-Response.pdf

        as well as our initial presentation to PBOT/Streetcar from January (there are some helpful graphics that envision ideas fixes):

        http://www.activerightofway.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Outstanding-Bicycle-Safety-Issues-Along-New-Streetcar-Alignment-with-PBOT-Response.pdf

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        • Steve B May 1, 2011 at 9:06 pm

          whoops, here is the correct link to the initial presentation to PBOT/Streetcar:

          https://docs.google.com/present/edit?id=0AU3z1U7GBZQgZGZta205c3hfMzRkYmJ6bWdkMw&hl=en

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        • cyclist May 2, 2011 at 7:46 pm

          So your solutions boil down to signs and paint? Do you think that the folks that get their wheels stuck in the tracks really don’t know what the tracks are there? If the folks who crash their bikes *do* know the tracks are there, how are signs and paint a solution to the problem?

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          • Domes May 3, 2011 at 11:21 am

            *ditto*

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          • Domes May 3, 2011 at 4:47 pm

            I hope our governmental organizations are wise enough to spend our bike infrastructure dollars elsewhere. If you don’t see the rails, you probably won’t see the signs or the paint either. The gravel idea is just plain bad. I’m sure PBOT has better things to spend their time and money on.

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          • Steve B May 3, 2011 at 4:49 pm

            Nope, we proposed much more serious fixes and were denied on most of them because there is no money (for instance for real separation or cycletracks). Take a look at the slideshow for some examples.

            We are trying to be realistic and work within what is a part of the purview of this project team and budget. The fact that very simple solutions are not part of elements of the current roadway design (i.e. paint, signage, wayfinding) gives us concern. There are some easy fixes, and then some not-so-easy solutions. We’d like to see both looked at when handling the issues. Feel free to send me your ideas for solutions: now (at) intersection911.org – thanks!

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  • Chris Smith April 29, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    I’m really looking forward to get this data. I share the belief that these events are under-reported. Actual data will be extraordinarily helpful in helping us know where to put focus.

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  • spare_wheel April 29, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    the following intersection is one of the reasons i am glad i no longer take the tram. the picture does not accurately show what a ridiculously sharp turn is required to take the tracks at a safe angle. in the winter when there is an accumulation of grit and ice this thing is a frakking bike trap.

    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=center+for+health+and+healing+portland&aq=&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=59.639182,107.138672&ie=UTF8&hq=center+for+health+and+healing&hnear=Portland,+Multnomah,+Oregon&ll=45.505219,-122.674023&spn=0.000562,0.000817&t=h&z=21&layer=c&cbll=45.505133,-122.673986&panoid=1mP4dSl7xHyR1xrvx91RhQ&cbp=12,199.68,,0,3.03

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    • Chris I April 29, 2011 at 2:04 pm

      Using the auto lane helps a lot here, provided there are no cars in the way.

      Good news, though. This particular hazard will be going away very soon:
      http://swmoodyproject.com/

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    • jeff April 29, 2011 at 5:16 pm

      I know it sounds completely unreasonable, but you could envision yourself slowing down at that intersection. I ride through it quite often and don’t have a single problem. Of if the lane is clear, move left.

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      • spare_wheel April 30, 2011 at 3:55 pm

        i personally find that taking the hill is quicker, less enervating, and more aesthetically pleasing.

        i have friends who crashed here and at the CHH. the street car-bike lane alignments are a disgrace.

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  • BURR April 29, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    you really don’t have to stay inside the lines if it’s not safe.

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    • spare_wheel April 30, 2011 at 3:55 pm

      burr, i feel this way about lines everywhere.

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  • q`Tzal April 29, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    Amos
    I think some cards and signs are in the works. In the mean time if you want to help spread the word just tell people to go to streetcarcrashreport.org, it redirects to this form.

    Post signs at anecdotally known hazard areas that include a QR code link to website reporting page so it can be done quickly with a minimum of typing.

    It would be nice to also have an optional data entry page that allows all possible data to be entered by pull down multiple menus and the like.
    Typing on a touchscreen keyboard can be problematic for anyone with large fingers or someone who just hit the ground hard.
    Or both.

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  • Jim Lee April 29, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    Having grown up with streetcars, in Saint Louis, I strongly favor expanding that service, which seems to be the second most popular form of urban transport–guess what is first. (Hint: two wheels and self propulsion.)

    Chris and I have corresponded about this. I think our conclusions are very close: it cannot be streetcars OR bicycles. The document of record for this is: http://www.altaplanning.com/App_Content/files/pres_stud_docs/Bicycle_Streetcar_Memo.pd

    It is puzzling that Portland Streetcar seems to have completely ignored Alta’s two primary recommendations: on wide two-way streets streetcars should be in the middle lanes; on one-way streets streetcars should be in the leftmost lane.

    Perhaps we can forgive Portland Streetcar, in the process of reintroducing the streetcar to North America, for not being aware of that on its first line through the Pearl District and downtown. On the other hand, had Portland Streetcar taken pains to observe the alignment TriMet chose for Max downtown in 1986–up Morrison and down Yamhill–it would have noted that it is much better for street rail to stay to the left. Makes it easier for all users of a public right-of-way.

    But it is inexcusable for Portland Streetcar to have perpetuated this gross error on its east side line–MLK and Grand tracks both are in the right lane, so preempting the primary lane for motorists and cyclists. Perhaps motorists can cope, but it is extremely dangerous for cyclists, not only for riding, but for making us dismount in the middle of the street instead of the normal right curb when we need to stop.

    Also note that neither motorists nor cyclists are permitted to ride in the right-of-way for MAX, which is correctly positioned. But we are supposed to drive or ride in right-of-way for Portland Streetcar, which is a profound barrier to doing so!

    Is this perverse, or what?

    AROW is right. Portland Streetcar must be stopped until it gets its act together.

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    • Chris Smith April 29, 2011 at 2:34 pm

      Jim, at least give us credit for being in the left lane on Broadway and Weidler. There were serious issues with locations of utility lines on MLK/Grand. And neither were developed bicycle facilities, although I have been educated since construction that a lot of cyclists to use them. If we were designing it today, I suspect we’d do it differently.

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    • BURR April 29, 2011 at 3:03 pm

      These things have been pointed out to Portland Streetcar right from the beginning, and they have chosen to ignore the recommendations for making the streetcar more bike-friendly every step of the way.

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  • Chris April 29, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    How would they design the tracks to avoid this? After compiling these statistics, what are you going to propose to reduce this?

    I am usually on the side of the cyclist, but in this case it seems like the responsibility is on the cyclist to be aware of their surroundings. I have wiped out on the max tracks pretty hard on burnside, but it was due to my daydreaming, and it’s a small price to pay to expand public transportation and get more cars off the road.

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    • Chris Smith April 29, 2011 at 2:53 pm

      If we were doing this today, I would try for a cycletrack on the right side of both MLK and Grand. Several years ago when we were actually doing the design (rail projects have a long lead time) there probably would have been too much political pushback against this. Today it would probably still be a tough fight, but it would have provided the additional benefit of a safe and comfortable crossing of Sullivan’s Gulch, which is still missing between 12th and the Esplinade.

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      • Tonya April 29, 2011 at 7:33 pm

        Can we get a cycletrack on 7th? Twice this week I’ve been stymied by a [car first time UPS truck second] parked in the bike lane. Problem there is that there’s no room to pass the vehicle unless I bunny hop the tracks and let’s just say my bunny hopping skillz are not so sharp.

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        • Sigma April 30, 2011 at 10:27 am

          The drawings they used to sell this project to the public showed a cycle track on 7th.

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          • Chris Smith April 30, 2011 at 10:40 am

            That’s correct. 7th will use a cycle track configuration (implemented with paint – there is currently no physical barrier planned – at least within the current budget).

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  • sabernar April 29, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    Ummm….take a different route? Pay attention to where you’re riding? Take a different lane? Why is it that cyclists think that everyone must adapt to whatever they choose to do, even if what they choose changes all the time? Stay out of the streetcar lane. Take a different road. Sheesh.

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    • jeff April 29, 2011 at 5:22 pm

      you speak blastphemy on this site. be away with you!
      the world must be a catered, padded, insulative barrier for all bike riders in Portland at all times. I think we should blanket downtown in pillows as well so no cyclist ever gets a scratch from the built environment. I remember when breaking a collarbone was a right of passage. mainstream riding in this town is becoming become soft and insular.

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      • q`Tzal April 30, 2011 at 9:32 am

        Wonderful elitist attitude we got going here: “buck up or shut up”.

        Designing streetcar tracks in the same space as cyclist facilities is not a zero sum game.

        If the position of streetcar tracks have not been layed out yet then there is some capacity to compromise with the needs of cyclists. It seems that even the most skilled will occasionally wipe out on rails. Bunny hops at every rail crossing are not conducive to paying attention to careless drivers around you on the busy streets where streetcar tracks are.

        If there is still a design possibility of accommodating cyclists when laying the path of streetcar tracks then it should be done because you know durn good and well that automobiles have been accommodated in the process already.

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  • K'Tesh April 29, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    I’ve witnessed a couple of wipeouts myself. Just about every ride that I’ve been on that crosses them in downtown Portland seems to attract at least one rider in my field of view (WNBR being the exception)

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ufobike/sets/72157625468291039/with/5250998716/

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  • pdxpaul April 29, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    Can I report collisions with the aerial tram’ those wires constantly confound me and I can find no other way to get where I’m going.
    In all seriousness, I want more streetcar tracks criscrossing portland. If there’s a better way,I’ll be the first in line.

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  • Seth Alford April 29, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    So, experienced riders can just handle tracks? I don’t think so. Here’s a link my post from June, 2010 where I reference a stage in the ’09 Giro that had to be neutralized because of the riders’ protests: http://bikeportland.org/2010/06/01/in-seattle-bike-crashes-on-streetcar-tracks-lead-to-lawsuit-34271#comment-1564569

    That post also referenced how the Salem bike club
    either put down carpet and/or had someone stationed at bad railroad crossings for their Monster Cookie Metric Century. Here’s a link to a picture of one of those crossings: http://www.flickr.com/photos/49622638@N00/5309489004

    I don’t think that there is a way to design an in-street track that does not represent a hazard to bicyclists. That’s why I’m opposed to any additional rail based transit in the Portland area.

    (By the way the 2011 edition of the Monster Cookie ride is this Sunday May 1; see http://www.salembicycleclub.org/index.plx)

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    • are April 30, 2011 at 10:28 am

      yes, experienced riders who are not racing in a pack at 35 mph can handle tracks. the photo you show from some century ride merely illustrates that the ride promoters did not trust weekend warriors to know how to handle the situation.

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      • Seth D. Alford April 30, 2011 at 1:12 pm

        But aren’t those “weekend warriors” the type of riders we want to convert to daily bicycle commuters to increase bicycle mode share? And if those riders can’t handle it, then who can?

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        • are April 30, 2011 at 3:48 pm

          it does not take long to learn to cross tracks safely. it is true that recreational riding can be a gateway drug to transportational cycling, but that does not mean that we have to rearrange reality to remove all risks from the path of the novice.

          seems to me a recreational ride organizer has an opportunity to do some minimal education. do they or do they not, for example, tell people at the outset to single up for overtaking traffic, or to stop for stop signs (and if not, why not).

          while they are busy putting little arrows on the ground, maybe they could paint some instruction on how to cross the rails, instead of putting down a carpet.

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  • Amos April 29, 2011 at 11:11 pm

    Great discussion so far and the reports are flooding in.

    One point of clarity for some commenters who may be confused: AROW’s position is not anti-streetcar. We are generally proponents of this kind of facility, and are simply advocating for planning and execution that focuses more on road user’s safety.

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    • Seth D. Alford April 30, 2011 at 1:17 pm

      I don’t think that there is an in-street rail facility that does not represent a hazard to bicyclists. Please provide links to pictures of such a thing, if you have it.

      Also, will you be producing some sort of summary of the reports you get, such as a map with dots on it where crashes happened, or some statistical breakdown like percentage of crashes that involved a car, or turning movements by the bicycle, or rain?

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      • Steve B May 1, 2011 at 9:12 pm

        Good question. We will definitely be working with the data to come up with a report. At this stage, there is little that can be structurally because of budget constraints, but the best solution is separation whenever possible, and when not possible, providing a facility that allows as close to 90-degree crossing as possible. Review this presentation for more potential fixes:

        https://docs.google.com/present/edit?id=0AU3z1U7GBZQgZGZta205c3hfMzRkYmJ6bWdkMw&hl=en

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  • mo April 30, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    I don’t understand why we can’t have electric bus trams that run off of overhead wires. Sure I can see the benefit to laying tracks where there are no roads: light rail is more efficient because metal wheels provide less friction, and the articulated cars often hold more people. But if it is using the existing road infrastructure, what is the need for ripping up the road to lay tracks? It seems overly expensive, and dangerous to cyclists. There are plenty of great cities that use rigid and articulated electric bus trams, including Seattle.

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    • David Parsons May 1, 2011 at 8:37 am

      Trolleycars are more efficient than trolleybusses. A two-car train of the articulated cars that Tri-Met uses carry something on the order of 5 times as many people as a single bus does. 4 additional driver salaries is not exactly chicken feed, and Tri-Met already has trouble getting a stable funding source for staffing.

      Tri-Met used to use a small fleet of articulated busses, but they’re all gone now; the city of Portland is not well-suited for articulated busses, and I believe that the artics only ran on express routes out to the westside, which is built more along the classic auto-oriented American fashion with super-wide streets and big blocks.

      It’s good to track bike crashes on the streetcar lines, because it’s then possible to put in additional warnings, barriers, and/or street reroutings for the cyclists who pay attention to the road (there are a few places in town where this has been done, but there are still things that need to be worked out; there’s a nice bumpout on Marine Drive where a siding crosses Marine Drive at an acute angle, but, alas, it’s NEVER EVER cleaned and is always full of sharp tire-chewing debris.) I’m not sure if Alta is doing it right (isn’t this the same Alta that proposed the 10mph bike speed limit and prohibition against unconventional cycles on the Golden Gate Bridge? If so, I have some pretty strong reservations about the goal of their project) and I get the very strong feeling that all their project will do is provide a fountain of bogus statistics for the Cascade Policy Institutes (motto: billions of state money for automobiles, bicycles off the public roads!)

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    • q`Tzal May 1, 2011 at 4:31 pm

      We will when the price of diesel goes too far up to run the buses.

      It is reasonable to retrofit city bus mainline routes with overhead power and retrofit buses with pantographs so that the diesel can be used on the un-wired sections of the routes.

      This effectively makes the bus system an all electric system except when it is not available.

      Of note is that with more wire installed, or if non petrochemical energy storage systems get better, the system can run without diesel or gas.

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  • jim May 1, 2011 at 9:51 am

    The whole planning process for streetcar was ramrodded through with little consideration for bikes. Did they even think where they are going to ride? I noticed that even cars going up lovejoy ramp will straddle the tracks, as the tracks are awkward to drive on. This usually puts them into the bikelane.
    All this just so rich people in the condos downtown can have a fun ride to the Blazer games, The bus isn’t good enough

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    • esther c May 5, 2011 at 1:09 am

      I get the feeling it isn’t so much for “the rich people in the condo’s” but for the developers. They’re trying to sell a lifestyle and part of that lifestyle is living on trolley tracks.

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  • Michael M. May 1, 2011 at 10:14 am

    This effort could be really worthwhile if it reveals particularly troublesome spots; not-so-worthwhile if it doesn’t.

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  • spare_wheel May 1, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    these “i can bunny hop 3 street car tracks in a row while almost braking my clavicle” are interesting but kind of off topic.

    call my a softie but i believe that directing hapless newbies into a steel flange trap at a ~40° angle is WRONG. one would think that after all of those trips to yurp the nerds at pbot and the alta annex could have learned how to draw perpendicular lines (or turn boxes).

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  • Hmmmm May 3, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    Streetcar tracks seem to suck in front tires. I’ve fallen more times than I’d like to admit. The only fix is to take track free routes.

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    • are May 3, 2011 at 10:51 pm

      or unweight your front wheel

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      • El Biciclero May 4, 2011 at 11:09 am

        …And be ready for your back wheel to slide sideways if it’s wet out. The problem with tracks is that they are a dual hazard: slippery when wet, and wheel-grabbing regardless–essentially a really long storm drain grate.

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    • Seth Alford May 4, 2011 at 10:26 pm

      Or rip the tracks out.

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  • Jim Lee May 4, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    Chris Smith was kind enough to point out to me that the board meetings of Portland Streetcar are closed to the public. We are channeled through a citizens’ advisory committee. It is frustrating to us who support streetcars but would like to ensure that the concerns of cyclists are heard to be so deflected from the decision-making process. TriMet never could get away with such a structure.

    Perhaps the problem is that Portland Streetcar is essentially an exclusive organization. Apparently the interests of ordinary citizens, be they motorists, cyclists, pedestrians are so inferior to those of developers that they are beneath direct consideration. TriMet has an open process and seldom messes up. Portland Streetcar has a closed process and seldom does anything right. There is a lesson here.

    Chris is a great guy who has done an immense amount of valuable civic good. But the powers that be at Portland Streetcar go their incompetent ways and leave him hanging out to dry defending their screw-ups.

    Time to bail, Chris, and join the good guys!

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  • Chris Smith May 4, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    Jim,

    I think you’re only telling part of the story. Portland Streetcar Inc is a private non-profit that functions as a contractor to the City. While it undeniably has a lot of clout, final decisions belong to the City and all the public processes that entails.

    I don’t think you will find too many Oregon non-profits that open up their board meetings to the public and I doubt than any other City contractors do either!

    And the decisions that impact the bike-compatibility of Streetcar are very much in the domain of PBOT as well as PSI. I think the AROW activists working on this will happily confirm this.

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  • Nick May 5, 2011 at 12:12 am

    I live between 10th and 11th downtown . I ride both streets almost daily. Both are one way. I NEVER ride to the right. Is there a good reason I should not just stay left? Hell, with all the stop lights I keep up with the cars no problem. Traffic is pretty slow most of the time. I have only fallen once, and that was when i first moved here a few years back. I was getting off the MAX over by PGE park and tried hopping the tracks. I missed. My fault, and lesson learned.

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