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Solutions for Sandy

Posted by on May 11th, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Sandy Blvd as it appears in the
Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030.
(Thin orange lines are “City Bikeways”)

Given the existing bicycling environment on NE Sandy Boulevard, you might be surprised to learn that the street officially classified as a “City Bikeway.”

Here’s how the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030 (section 2.3.3), defines City Bikeways:

“They establish direct and convenient bicycle access to all significant destinations… and function to allow residents access to Portland’s bikeway network, ideally within three city blocks from any given point. They provide a mobility function and help establish the fine-grained network of a world-class bicycling city…

Unless developed with separated facilities for bicycling, trails classified as City Bikeways would continue to operate with equal priority for people bicycling, walking or using other means of non-motorized transportation.”

“There are practical solutions for implementing a comfortable bikeway on Sandy while still accommodating freight and auto mobility.”
— Collin Roughton, PSU Masters of Urban and Regional Planning student

Given that, you might wonder what’s possible in terms of creating a Sandy Blvd that lives up to that definition. That’s where reader Collin Roughton comes in.

Roughton is a Masters of Urban and Regional Planning student at Portland State University. Last term he took a “Bicycle and Pedestrian Engineering Design” class in the civil engineering department as an elective. One of their assignments was to make Sandy compliant with the Bicycle Plan for 2030.

Roughton said the assignment turned out to be “complicated” because Sandy is also a major freight route and a priority streetcar corridor in various other city plans (we are city awash in plans if you haven’t realized that already). Even so, he still feels more can be done to make Sandy better for everyone.

“There are practical solutions for implementing a comfortable bikeway on Sandy while still accommodating freight and auto mobility, and even potential future streetcar service.”

Roughton and his classmate Chloe Ritter came up with two options; a buffered bike lane and a parking-protected cycle track (similar to SW Broadway near PSU). (He says simply narrowing existing lanes to make a conventional 4-5 foot bike lane wasn’t even under consideration because, “Both research and experience indicate that most people will not use narrow conventional bike lanes on high-speed, high-volume arterials.”)

See the graphics below for existing conditions on Sandy followed by Roughton and Ritters’ two options:

The big question is, what is our opportunity to actually make changes to Sandy? Turns out, PBOT is just about underway on a major project that will repave and rebuild Sandy from NE 47th to NE 82nd. We’ve asked contacts at PBOT whether or not any striping changes are possible.

As for what Roughton and Ritter proposed? “Our professor sent our proposals to the City,” Roughton tells us, “but who knows if/when we’ll see a bike facility on Sandy.”

Of course, there are some who feel simply adding sharrows to the outermost lane would suffice.

“PBOT should just paint the sharrows after the repaving,” says frequent BikePortland commenter “BURR”, “as it will take another 10 to 20 years to agree on, design, fund and build anything else, and doing nothing in the interim is not an acceptable solution.”

UPDATE: A commenter on the other Sandy story unearthed an interesting excerpt from the City of Portland’s 2005 Sandy Boulevard Resurfacing and Streetscape Project Plan (PDF):

“Sandy Boulevard is a designated City Bikeway, and many cyclists travel on it between downtown and NE Portland, as well as between the surrounding residential areas and shops along the street. It is, however, a challenging cycling environment.

Due to the right-of-way constraints and the corridor’s need for on-street parking and auto capacity, bike lanes are not planned for Sandy Boulevard…”

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Comments
  • eli bishop May 11, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    “simply narrowing existing lanes to make a conventional 4-5 foot bike lane wasn’t even under consideration because, “Both research and experience indicate that most people will not use narrow conventional bike lanes on high-speed, high-volume arterials.”

    some of us would! and it would be a good stopgap until a more elaborate plan could be created/funded. don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good!

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    • Alan 1.0 May 11, 2011 at 12:44 pm

      A narrow bike lane between fast-moving traffic and parked cars is a recipe for dooring. Sharrows are a better guide for bike’s location in the road, provide at least as much indication to drivers of bike presence, and don’t fall afoul of the mandatory sidepath law.

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      • Bjorn May 11, 2011 at 12:54 pm

        Seriously a narrow bike lane planted between a narrowed thru travel lane and parallel parking would be deadly for those who use it in this situation. Bikes travel fast down the hill on sandycrest, we don’t need to build a door zone here.

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      • eli bishop May 11, 2011 at 1:39 pm

        most bike lanes have a potential for dooring. but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be used as a stopgap: they’re still a useful expectations management tool for people who drive cars and ride bikes. division, powell & foster all have fast-moving traffic, hills and parking, and i would still rather ride on them with bike lanes than sharrows.

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    • Collin Roughton May 11, 2011 at 12:47 pm

      Eli – You’re right, some people would use a conventional bike lane, and I think it’s worth considering as a short-term improvement. One issue, however, is that Sandy is currently a frequent service bus route, so narrowing travel lanes to 10 feet makes for a very tight situation (Tri-Met would almost certainly object) and would be unpleasant and potentially dangerous for cyclists. For this reason sharrows might be a better stop-gap measure, although my sense is that this would do little to increase safety and comfort for existing riders or attract new bicyclists. The main point I was trying to make is that if we want to get to 25% mode share, we’ll have to do better than a conventional bike lane.

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      • eli bishop May 11, 2011 at 1:34 pm

        better, yes! something in the meatime, too, please. :)

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  • Esther May 11, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    Love it! This would be so great. Would love to hear more from PBOT staff about current plans. Thanks for the info Jonathan.

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  • BURR May 11, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    Minus the streetcar, Option 1 is exactly what the BTA proposed for Hawthorne Boulevard way back in the early 90s.

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    • OnTheRoad May 11, 2011 at 6:28 pm

      Yes. And the fallback position was to at least have a bicycle “climbing lane” on those stretches where bicycles can’t quite keep pace with traffic flow. But the Hawthorne Merchants HBBA) poo-pooed that idea as well. To them, car traffic = business.

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  • Dave May 11, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    Option one sounds pretty good to me, for Sandy, and Hawthorne :) Let’s do it! It would honestly be great to have a streetcar there that would hook up with the eastside loop, and the buffered bike lanes would be a notable improvement over the current situation. The advantage of option 2, is that you would still retain more road capacity for automobiles some of the time, and parking cars wouldn’t cross the bike lane, which is nice.

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    • Rain Panther May 11, 2011 at 1:17 pm

      I agree – in the abstract, anyway – that a streetcar sounds cool, but I’m not sure how realistic it is to expect Sandy to be reduced to only two lanes of car/truck traffic. The second option seems like a much more practical solution in that way, still allowing for two lanes of traffic moving in the same direction during rush hour.
      And as far as the sharrows vs bike lane debate, I’d vote for sharrows. As someone who rides on Sandy with some regularity, I think squeezing a bike lane in would likely create more hazards than it mitigates.

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      • OnTheRoad May 11, 2011 at 6:31 pm

        These streetcars lines are spreading like locusts. They should just stop building the things until they can better co-exist with bicycle traffic — if that is even possible.

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  • Andrew Kreps May 11, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    I haven’t read the full text of the bicycle plan yet, but I’m downloading the 31MB PDF. That said, I was wondering:

    Has the notion of lowering speed limits been explore? I’ve found that slower roads feel orders of magnitude safer than higher speed roads when riding along them, with or without a bicycle lane. My back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that at an average speed of 20, a trip on Sandy from 82nd to 12th ave would take about 12 minutes, which is around four minutes slower than an average trip of 30mph. I don’t think that’s a whole lot to ask to help ensure the safety of our vulnerable roadway users. As a bonus, it doesn’t require any roadway changes.

    The speed limit shouldn’t affect the amount of freight that can travel along the roadway, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask people who are in a hurry to take the freeway. In fact, Google Maps recommended the freeway when I typed in the 82nd to 12th route, even with the current 30mph speed limit.

    Fremont between 42nd and 50th is an absolute joy to cross over, ride along, etc. Even with the parking lanes. Why? The 20mph speed limit. When going that slow, cars will even stop to let people cross the street, which is something I rarely see on a 30mph road.

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    • Bjorn May 11, 2011 at 2:00 pm

      The city is not allowed to change the speed limit on Sandy.

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  • Paul Cone May 11, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Uh, how are you supposed to pass the streetcar? Or does traffic just get stuck behind it? Also, this seems like a pretty extreme diet for a busy street like Sandy. Sandy is no Williams.

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    • Collin Roughton May 11, 2011 at 2:20 pm

      From my perspective, the most “extreme” aspect of our transportation system is that we continue to prioritize motor vehicle speed and capacity over smarter, cheaper, healthier options. Just depends on what you want to achieve. If the goal is to maintain the status quo it might seem extreme, but if the goal is to create livable streets for people, it’s pretty reasonable.

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  • Brad May 11, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    Cycletracks also provide loads of right hook dangers.

    Sharrows!

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    • Alan 1.0 May 11, 2011 at 1:55 pm

      Cycletracks on a grid is nearly an oxymoron. It sure doesn’t have the same effect as uninterrupted linear routes where cycletracks traditionally are used.

      (Yes, bike lanes also have the right hook risk.)

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      • Dave May 11, 2011 at 1:58 pm

        In Amsterdam in many places where there are cycle-tracks on busier streets that have many cross-streets, the cycle-track and sidewalk are continuous across the intersections (raised up from the road surface), and cars turning off the busy street have to go over a bump to cross the cycle-track and sidewalk, naturally slowing them down, and sending the message that they are entering someone else’s space.

        That way of doing things makes a lot of sense to me.

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        • Alan 1.0 May 11, 2011 at 2:09 pm

          Yes, I don’t disagree, but Amsterdam isn’t built on a grid system. It has a greater hierarchy of street size (corresponding to volume, speed) so the frequency of cars turning down side-streets (thus crossing the ‘track) is much lower. Trying to superimpose that sort of ‘track system over a “univalent” grid like Portland’s is…challenging!

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          • BURR May 11, 2011 at 2:27 pm

            most of the cycle tracks in Amsterdam follow the canals, where there are few intersections and virtually no driveways.

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          • Dave May 11, 2011 at 2:30 pm

            Burr: most of the roads along the canals in the center of the city are one-lane (not one lane each way, but one lane), one-way (except for bikes) but shared traffic. Cycle tracks are mostly on larger streets.

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    • Tbird May 12, 2011 at 4:31 am

      only when built by US standard. Using the standards in place in other parts of the world they are actually a superior option.

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  • Sigma May 11, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    Aren’t there vehicle volume thresholds the city uses to determine when/if sharrows can be used? If so sandy certainly exceeds it.

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    • are May 11, 2011 at 3:28 pm

      MUTCD certainly does not indicate volume thresholds
      http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/pdfs/2009/part9.pdf
      to the best of my knowledge, the city has no criteria at all. for the most part, PBoT has used sharrows only as wayfinders on side streets, which is clearly not what the MUTCD intended

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      • are May 11, 2011 at 3:31 pm

        MUTCD does indicate that sharrows are not to be used on roads where the posted limit is above 35 mph. the portions of sandy with which i am familiar are posted 35, not above.

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  • Chris I May 11, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    Option 2 is probably the most realistic. There is no way they are going to get away with a single lane of traffic with streetcar stops. Option 2 gives them the flexibility to have 2 lanes of travel in one direction during peak times (ie: inbound in the morning, outbound in the afternoon). Residents will have a harder time complaining about decreased parking or increased traffic, and bikes get a door-free buffered bike lane.

    The only problem might be the existing conditions of the curbs on Sandy. They would need to be rebuilt to accommodate the buffered bike lane.

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    • Collin Roughton May 11, 2011 at 2:34 pm

      We did consider the impact of the streetcar stops on congestion, and wanted to mock up another diagram showing how the stops might work but ran out of time. However, if parking was removed adjacent to each streetcar stop, cars could pass the streetcar without impacting the bike lane.

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  • Dan Liu May 11, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    Does the city intend Sandy to continue being an arterial for carrying freight? On Interstate, where this kind of conversion has been a success, there are lots of other arterials for larger trucks to access commercial districts (MLK, I-5 come to mind). Sandy not only has commercial districts, but a couple of light industrial areas, if memory serves me correctly. I can’t imagine catenary lines mixing well with larger trucks, and there just aren’t any other roads around that could take them.

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    • Bjorn May 11, 2011 at 11:44 pm

      If I-5 is an alternative to Interstate then I-84 is an alternative to Sandy.

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  • Christianne May 11, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    It’s always good to know that no matter what, even on bike blogs, that anyone who bikes beyond 82nd on Sandy gets ignored. At least it’s consistent. Shudder to think they might even mention any sort of improvement beyond 102nd. Like, say…pavement. Pavement would be nice.

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    • captainkarma May 11, 2011 at 5:14 pm

      Second that emotion.

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    • Chris I May 11, 2011 at 5:18 pm

      There are some plans to widen and pave certain sections of east Sandy. Unfortunately, it means we’ll be trading a bad shoulder for 5 high-speed vehicle lanes and a 5ft bike lane on each side.

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  • rootbeerguy May 11, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    On option#2, you might not make left turn till the end of intersection. Option#1 would give you the opportunity to go for a left turn.

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  • dwainedibbly May 11, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    I like that people are thinking about this. My first though, after looking at the plans, is that narrowing the parking to 7.5 feet doesn’t buy you anything. Cars are going to park as close to the curb as they would with an 8ft lane but now you’ve moved the bike lane 6 inches closer to the door zone.

    Let’s get expensive. Are 8ft sidewalks mandatory? Could you steal a foot from each of them?

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    • BURR May 11, 2011 at 8:12 pm

      have you ever walked the sidewalks in the Hawthorne business district? they shaved a foot or two off of them in the past, to widen the road to four lanes, and the sidewalks are simply too narrow. I believe the minimum sidewalk width downtown is 9′.

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  • Dave Thomson May 11, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    Sandy absolutely should have Sharrows until something better can be agreed to, funded, designed, and installed. Personally I think a cycle track on Sandy would be nuts given the number of awkward 45 degree intersections.

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  • Mike Allen May 11, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    I bike down Sandy every weekday from 42nd through 12th (or 13th?) where I turn left to go down to 7th. The lanes are really wide, as is the sidewalk and there are numerous curb extensions. Most of the way is okay in that there is ample parking lane/shoulder to stay out of the way of traffic, not that that prevents people from passing dangerously close. I see that the sidewalks on Hawthorne are way too narrow for the amount of pedestrian traffic that they carry but Sandy’s are far wider and there is very little pedestrian traffic. I agree about the sharrows too, motorists seem to think that bicycles have no right to be on the boulevard.
    Although I agree with the comment that the number of streets veering from Sandy at a 45 (or narrower) angle makes the cycle-track dangerous (since people turn off the street so quickly), if some visionary traffic engineering could make it workable and safe it would be a real boon in that it would make cycling so much more convenient and visible on a major arterial.
    As it stands, I bike down because I can go fast enough to keep up with traffic, but I rarely bike up because I can’t go fast enough to work around traffic.

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  • John Landolfe May 12, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    I appreciate the thought that went into this and the 2nd option would be rather amazing. But I gotta be honest, the 1st thing I thought when I saw Option 1 was “oh geez.” Sandy is also a bus route and I’d frankly be happy with no bike lane at all than told I need to bike sandwiched between parked cars & a frequently stopping bus. It’s the same problem we’re seeing on Williams.

    One other issue is that if the streetcar comes to Sandy, the City will require a free flowing traffic lane. If drivers cede a lane to cyclists AND have to sit behind a crawling streetcar, their heads will explode and, frankly, I wouldn’t blame em.

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    • Dave May 13, 2011 at 7:54 am

      In a sense, I kind of agree with spare_wheel, that if we don’t start taking the view that we can inconvenience people who choose to drive from time to time, we’re never going to get anywhere. But I do think it would be possible to create a good cycling facility on Sandy without drastically reducing the automobile capacity (which honestly, is small for the size of the road as it currently is, I think).

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    • Dave May 13, 2011 at 7:55 am

      That is, the amount of traffic on Sandy is small for the size of the current road.

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  • spare_wheel May 13, 2011 at 7:49 am

    John Landolfe
    If drivers cede a lane to cyclists AND have to sit behind a crawling streetcar, their heads will explode

    Instead of exploding their heads motorists could take the streetcar, ride a bike, or use I84.

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  • Merckxrider May 13, 2011 at 11:43 am

    I rode to work on Sandy Blvd. for the better part of twenty years. In my view it’s proof that Portland’s traffic engineers do psychedelic drugs on the job. The intersection of 57th and Sandy had to have been designed in a state of acid or psylocybin intoxication.

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