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Getting to know Washington County’s new bikeway design ‘Toolkit’

Posted by on April 20th, 2012 at 9:12 am

Susan Peithman, Bicycle Transportation Alliance
Susan Peithman with the
Bicycle Transportation Alliance
was one of the presenters.
(Photos and story by Will Vanlue)

The most interesting (in my opinion) and well-attended session I sat in on at the Oregon Active Transportation Summit focused on the work being done just over the hill from Portland in Washington County.

The session covered a few topics including an overview of two recent road projects and a change in the county’s policy on mid-block crossings (a key policy given the presence of many multi-use paths and suburban/rural arterials).

It also dove into Washington County’s highly anticipated Bicycle Facility Design Toolkit, an official document to help planners and engineers select the appropriate facility for bicycle traffic.

“the last thing people in Washington County need to hear more of is “Portland, Portland, Portland.”

Drusilla Van Hengel, Planning and Programs Manager for Alta Planning & Design, explained the simple three-step process laid out in the toolkit:

    1. Evaluate a road (the speed and volume of motor vehicles, the age and abilities of people expected to use the road, etc) and select the safest, most protected type of bicycle facility for that type of road.
    2. Evaluate the technical feasibility of the type of bicycle facility chosen and adjust the design if needed.
    3. Run through a final yes/no decision chart to confirm the final design is appropriate for the given situation.

So why does Washington County need its own toolkit when there are other design standards (like the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide)?

It’s because most modern design standards focus on solutions for urban environments. While that’s all well and good, Washington County covers a wider range of land use, from urban downtowns to rural farmland and nearly everything in between. With a broad mix of land use in Washington County, engineers need support and guidance on a wider range of design options.

Having a Washington County-specific guide also gives engineers greater confidence when choosing “innovative” (which usually means “safer”) designs for bicycling infrastructure, knowing designs they’re choosing from were identified and approved by other officials in Washington County.

The toolkit isn’t just for engineers and planners, however.

Jessica Horning, Kittelson & Associates
Jessica Horning, Kittelson & Associates

Jessica Horning, Transportation Planner with Kittelson & Associates, explained how, along with planners and engineers, the toolkit is also geared towards developers and citizens.

There are plenty of photos and easy-to-understand charts in the toolkit to help developers better understand county standards and give residents an idea of what to expect when projects are underway in their neighborhood.

Horning also said the toolkit gets Washington County out from under the shadow of neighboring Portland. Transportation is a regional issue in the tri-county area but challenges faced in Washington County are far different from those in Portland’s core. As Horning put it, the last thing people in Washington County need to hear more of is “Portland, Portland, Portland.”

That’s why the toolkit contains lessons from a number of places outside of the Portland-Metro area. Designers of the toolkit drew on knowledge from Minneapolis, Victoria, Vermont, and even Wisconsin to find “best practices” that fit Washington County’s needs.

Since the toolkit contains solutions and decision guides for a wide variety of land use, it could be useful to many other jurisdictions across the United States that have a blend of urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods.

Adam Argo, Westside Transportation Alliance
Adam Argo, Westside Transportation Alliance

Adam Argo, who presented the overview of two Washington County road projects and is on the board of the Westside Transportation Alliance, mentioned that this presentation has already been accepted into another transportation planning event in California.

Currently the Toolkit is in it’s final draft phase. You can review the full toolkit (PDF) on Washington County’s website and provide your thoughts and feedback for consideration until April 30th.

— This report from the Oregon Active Transportation Summit was contributed by Will Vanlue. Read more from him on The Prudent Cyclist and check our archives for more Washington County coverage.

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Comments
  • Tom April 20, 2012 at 9:25 am

    Washington County is the next Washington County! So excited for where they’re going out there.

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  • Lynne April 20, 2012 at 9:29 am

    I did click over to the offer comments page. I would like to see use of the R4-11 sign (Bicycles May Use Full Lane), rather than “Share the Road”. The “Share the Road” sign is often misread as bicycles share, rather than everyone share.

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  • Steve Durrant April 20, 2012 at 9:32 am

    This is a really exciting project for us (Alta Planning + Design) to be leading with Kittelson. Washington County has a real cross-section of roadways from rural to suburban to very urban. To demonstrate the application of bikeway design techniques that can make cycling an everyday choice in this environment is challenging. The county has shown real, progressive transportation leadership.

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    • Will Vanlue (Contributor) April 20, 2012 at 9:39 am

      Thanks, Steve! You’re right – the county has shown very strong leadership here and you (Alta) and Kittelson have done a great job moving this project forward. It’s not easy to draw up a document that’s both detailed and technical enough for engineers while also being easily understandable to non-wonky people. :)

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  • wsbob April 20, 2012 at 9:53 am

    An active transportation ‘toolkit’, assembled to fit Washington County’s specific needs that differ from those of the larger metro area city, Portland, is fine idea. Contents of such kits seem to boil down to pre-formulated road infrastructure treatments that planners, engineers and developers can plug into whatever projects are on the table, rather than devise something completely from scratch.

    A ‘tried and true’ package of solutions has some advantages and some pitfalls. One of the potential pitfalls of such a resource, are mistakes that can be made in installation of a given solution from the toolkit to actual street situations. While a solution can look good in people’s minds and on paper, will it actually work as intended, in actual use on the street.

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  • El Biciclero April 20, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    Here is what I just entered on the comment form for the toolkit:

    First of all, as a Washington County resident, I heartily applaud the efforts The County is making to put thought into and formulate standards for designing roadways that are appealing to all users, regardless of vehicle choice.

    I will start out by saying that bike lanes are my preferred facility type, and I love what is presented in the toolkit for designing bike lanes of all types. However, I have longstanding concerns regarding implementation of segregated/separated facilities such as MUPs and so-called “cycle tracks”.

    I note that among the items in the “Facilities” section, there are descriptions of cycle tracks, off-street paths, etc., but under the “Treatments” section, there are no descriptions of how to “treat” such physically segregated bikeways at intersections. It shows bike boxes, chevrons/sharrows painted through intersections, left-turn boxes–all treatments for bike lanes. It remains my biggest fear with respect to “Protected” bikeways that we do not know what to do with separated facilities at intersections and driveways, other than to make cyclists stop or yield at all such intersections. As a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, a cycle track is only as good as its intersection treatments.

    Is it the intention of Washington County to follow some other existing standard for separated facilities (e.g., the “NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide”)? If so, then perhaps those intersection treatments could be referenced in the Washington County guide (or reproduced in it). As separated cycle tracks are likely the most expensive type of facility to construct, it would be a shame to construct them in a way that was dangerous or inefficient for cyclists.

    I would also caution the planning agencies involved in this effort against equating “protected” with “safe”.

    Just for fun: as a near-daily, year-round bike commuter in Washington County, here are my criteria for any bike facility:

    – Allows drivers to see cyclists and anticipate their movements at any potential conflict point.
    – Allows comfortable passing room for drivers
    – Allows safe operation of a bicycle at speeds up to the speed limit of the roadway or 30mph, whichever is lower.
    – Does not require cyclists to stop more frequently than drivers traveling along a parallel path.
    – Is not a MUP, unless the MUP also provides separated space for pedestrians and cyclists.
    – Is clearly marked at pedestrian crossing points so that peds know they are about to enter a bikeway when they see the markings.
    – Is not constricted or disrupted by obstacles such as car doors, low overhanging trees/shrubs, damaged pavement, storm drains, etc.
    – Allows ample room for cyclists to pass other cyclists going in the same direction.
    – Allows a cyclist to legally NOT USE it. (I know, we have to get on the State of Oregon for that one…)

    Thank you again for the time and effort that is being put into this design guide. I hope it results in the kind of roads that allow for true freedom of choice in transportation options for Washington County residents and visitors!

    I didn’t mention it in my comment to them, but I like how so many WA Co. residents seem to drive red Porsches…

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  • Syzlak April 20, 2012 at 9:44 pm

    Red flag! “Evaluate a road (the speed and volume of motor vehicles, the age and abilities of people expected to use the road, etc) and select the safest, most protected type of bicycle facility for that type of road.”

    Why would you design facilities with just one age group in mind? The expected road users are people of all ages and all abilities, that way every street is safe to travel.

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    • Will Vanlue (Contributor) April 21, 2012 at 9:37 am

      Maybe I should have said “…the age and abilities of all people expected to use the road…”

      But in the presentation they were clear (and the language in the guide indicates) that you should be looking at the entire expected user group. For example, if a road runs past a retirement center and an elementary school in a suburban neighborhood it will likely have a different mix than on a road that connects two industrial districts in a rural setting. But in both cases the design would be aimed at more than one specific demographic.

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  • Hot Rod April 23, 2012 at 12:05 am

    If you click on “change” in the second paragraph of this article, it takes you to an article on changes that will include more mid-street crossings in Washington County. One crossing in the article (or comments) is for Fanno Creek Trail at Hall Blvd. If you look at the map of that section of trail you can see how ludicrous it would be to put a crossing at that location. The trail only goes about 3/4 mile north of the crossing and ends, AND there is a perfectly good intersection for peds/bikes/wheelchairs to cross on about 200 feet to the west on Hall! I’ve ridden and driven this route hundreds of times – there is NO REASON for a crossing there. Here’s the map:
    http://www.mapmyride.com/s/routes/view/bike-ride-map/oregon/tigard/8180946

    This is just another example of government employees wasting taxpayer money. If they install it, a criminal investigation should be done and those responsible should be put in jail for intentional waste of taxpayer dollars. This is a perfect example of why this nation is bankrupt and is going to fail HARD and soon.

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    • Will Vanlue (Contributor) April 23, 2012 at 12:31 am

      If the trail only continued for another 3/4 of a mile I might agree but the trail actually continues much further; it just doesn’t look like it on the map. At Denny Road there’s a small break but it does continue all the way up to Portland. Also, if you take a left where the trail gets to Denny (when you’re traveling North) you can get to the Beaverton Transit Center.

      The crosswalk at Hall is an option but it adds a considerable amount of time as people travel along the trail and it’s a fairly dangerous intersection if you’re not in a car.

      If you’ve ridden the Fanno Creek trail (which it sounds like you have) you’ll know that people in cars frequently dart in and out of the parking lot of the grocery store and the road at the intersection west on Hall. They have a habit of paying more attention to the vehicles speeding down Hall than to the people walking or riding, even in the marked crosswalk at the intersection. (I’ve nearly been hit while crossing at that crosswalk three times in the last two years by people looking the other way while driving.)

      Sure, these are all hazards I can deal with personally (and it sounds like you can too). I just shudder to think of my grandmother or friends’ kids trying to cross Hall at the trail considering the current conditions.

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  • Hot Rod April 23, 2012 at 11:20 pm

    The intersection at Hall, just to the west of the trail/street intersection is no doubt plenty safe if you hit the “pedestrian crossing button”. That is a much cheaper and better option than spending a lot of money on a crossing that is not needed. If however the intersection at Hall (Greenway is the street I think) is unsafe, then make minor changes there to make peds/cyclists safer. THEN, if you have a place where ACTUAL safety improvements are needed, spend the money there IF the county isn’t bankrupt. FYI, if you take a right at Denny you can end up in Boston.

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    • Will Vanlue (Contributor) April 24, 2012 at 11:45 am

      Yes, if you take a right at Denny you could get to Boston but first you’ll continue traveling on the rest of the Fanno Creek Trail which gets you much further than a quarter mile. Regardless of how you personally choose to get around Washington County, hundreds of people incorporate this intersection of the tail and Hall into their daily routines.

      There have already been many public meetings on this crossing and the prevailing opinion of everyone in attendance (officials, engineers, citizens, etc) is that a safer option is needed at the trail itself. If you have other specific suggestions that those folks haven’t thought of yet — about how to make the crossing at the signal, and the driveways and sidewalks leading to and from it, safer and easier to use — I’m sure the city and county would love to hear them.

      But regarding the signaled crossing, the times I’ve nearly been hit were in the marked crosswalk when I had the walk signal. People driving cars turning right (east) onto Hall don’t always look for other people walking across the street.

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