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ODOT makes St. Johns Bridge sharrow plans official

Posted by on May 9th, 2012 at 8:45 am

family riding on St Johns bridge
Sharrows, signage on the way.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Back in February, we reported that the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) was considering a slate of changes to the St. Johns Bridge with an eye toward making bicycle travel safer and more pleasant. Now those plans have been confirmed.

In what they’re calling their “St. Johns Bridge Safety Awareness Project,” ODOT will lay down 16 sharrows (8 in each direction) along the two outer lanes of the bridge and they will “improve signage on the bridge span indicating to all users that the bridge span is a shared road facility.”

Residents around the bridge were sent a postcard earlier this month that described the reasons for the project and some specifics. The mailer explained the new pavement markings:

What is a Bike Sharrow?
Bike sharrows are pavement markings with a bicycle symbol and arrows indicating to all users that the roadway is a transportation facility shared by motorists and bicyclists alike. Adding sharrows and signage will help increase awareness that the St. Johns Bridge is a shared facility. Both motorists and bicyclists have the right to use the travel lanes. Bicyclists may also choose to use the sidewalk. A picture is provided below for your reference.

And, what are the expected benefits of this project?

“The new signage and pavement markings will encourage motorists to be aware that the bridge and roadway is a shared facility and that bicyclists may opt to travel on the roadway. ODOT’s hope is that increased visibility and awareness will increase safety for all users.”

ODOT says they’re doing this project now because “previously sharrows were not an allowed traffic control device [in the Federal Highway Administration's Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devicess].” In reality, sharrows have been allowed in the MUTCD since 2009, so it’s much more likely that ODOT is doing this project now because of a high profile collision back in February that left a man who was bicycling on the bridge with a serious injury. (NOTE: As pointed out in a comment below, ODOT didn’t adopt the new version of the MUTCD (with the sharrows in it) until 2011.)

The project is expected to be completed before the end of May.

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Comments
  • don arambula May 9, 2012 at 9:01 am

    Another lost opportunity. This proposal is great for the strong and the fearless who probably take the lane today anyway. Not so great for those of us who are capable but cautious who don’t want mix it up with big rigs.

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    • Nathan May 9, 2012 at 10:43 am

      Better than nothing?

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    • spare_wheel May 9, 2012 at 10:54 am

      Far better than nothing. This makes me far more willing to take the lane on this bridge.

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    • Steve B May 9, 2012 at 2:11 pm

      We can certainly do better, but it would probably take a more intensive public process (and political will) to make the changes necessary to make this a truly bike-friendly bridge.

      A welcome improvement and a step in the right direction, thanks ODOT!

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      • Middle of What Road? May 10, 2012 at 9:42 pm

        Completely agree.

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  • dan May 9, 2012 at 9:23 am

    Yeah, I am a capable rider, but there’s no way that sharrows are going to get me off the bridge sidewalk. How about some Jersey barriers?

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    • Allan May 9, 2012 at 10:09 am

      Jersey barriers might weigh too much for the bridge… Even if it wasn’t, don’t forget we want this thing to last a long time and putting extra weight on the bridge isn’t going to help that

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  • Ely May 9, 2012 at 9:27 am

    There will always be riders who are more comfortable on the sidewalk. IF this works, if motor traffic becomes more aware/respectful/SLOW, it will be a big improvement for those of us who are a bit chicken but still feel constrained on the sidewalk.
    Those are some big if’s but I look forward to seeing the result.

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  • Tim w May 9, 2012 at 9:39 am

    This is great… Maybe not as ideal as a seperated facility or buffered bike lanes, but it’s a quick, easy-to-implement improvement that should do some good.

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  • Paul May 9, 2012 at 10:03 am

    I’ll stick to the sidewalk

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  • Spencer May 9, 2012 at 10:07 am

    sidewalk up, bunny hop :) , road on the downslope

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    • q`Tzal May 9, 2012 at 11:09 am

      Yeah but could we get a sidewalk ramp for those of us who are heavy, are riding bikes not conducive to bunny hops or both?

      I’ll be honest: I’m a very heavy cyclist but the overloaded rear panniers make any hop maneuver fraught with even more chance of equipment damage.
      On the other hand, once I crest the top of the bridge my speed quickly becomes unsafe for the sidewalk even when empty.

      For my own selfish reasons then I’d like a cutout allowing fast down hill cyclists to safely and easily transition from the sidewalk to the road deck.

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      • martin May 10, 2012 at 11:00 am

        Yeah I think a little ramp at the crest of the bridge to help bikes get off the sidewalk would be an improvement. Maybe even a bit of green paint and a “bicycles entering roadway” sign would work well. great idea!

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  • Chris I May 9, 2012 at 10:09 am

    Maybe they can revisit the lane configurations in two years when the sharrows are completely worn away due to the truck traffic?

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    • Todd Boulanger May 9, 2012 at 4:05 pm

      These discussions for a bike lane need to start once the sharrows are up and the next resurfacing date for the bridge is known. It will take a lot of more discussions [and institutional leadership] to get a bike lane on the bridge vs. sharrows. Best to be prepared and have the bike lane plans on the shelf ready for some grant money.

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  • Zaphod May 9, 2012 at 10:12 am

    Great news. Given our budget it’s a good thing. Incremental to be sure and I’d advocate for more comfortable & safe infrastructure to highlight what we are capable in the future. We shouldn’t let perfection get in the way of good.

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  • Ed R May 9, 2012 at 10:15 am

    Try the new arrangement before you decide. While I agree that bike lane should be there )and should have been part of the redo of 2005) sharrows DO make a difference. Motorist behave differently and notably less aggressively. You might be surprised…

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  • Skid May 9, 2012 at 10:19 am

    Awesome! And taking the lane should be part of the skill set of any cyclist.

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    • jram May 9, 2012 at 11:13 am

      I agree 100%.

      I understand that I may be a bit more “strong and fearless” than some of the other folks riding, but it doesn’t take a ton of courage to take a lane that is legally yours. Not to mention that taking the lane is typically safer than riding the sidewalk or hugging the curb (I don’t have any stats handy on this, but i am fairly certain I’ve seen them).

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      • Chris I May 9, 2012 at 11:45 am

        Until you get buzzed by a fully-loaded dump truck going 45mph…

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        • are May 9, 2012 at 1:55 pm

          if you assert a position far enough to the left, the dump truck will have to move some distance into the next lane to pass, and if you feel he is passing too close, you have all that room to fade to the right.

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        • are May 9, 2012 at 1:56 pm

          also, if a dump truck passes you too close at 45 mph on the bridge, get the plate and phone in the complaint.

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    • Dan May 9, 2012 at 11:25 am

      Yeah, but taking the lane on the St. Johns feels less like taking the lane on a city street, and more like taking the lane on Highway 30. I’m comfortable with the first, not so much with the second. A 25 MPH speed limit on the bridge, that was periodically enforced, would help.

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  • deborah May 9, 2012 at 10:41 am

    Are they also decreasing the speed limit on the bridge and offering enforcement actions so that regular bridge users realize the speed change? While I’m happy for the sharrows, I don’t see them as being a real improvement without other traffic calming measures in place as well.
    Can the neighboorhood greenways 20mph speed limit law (HB 3150) apply to a roadspace that has sharrows designations?

    http://bikeportland.org/2011/03/09/salem-watch-residential-speed-limit-bill-passes-house-45-14-49467

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    • El Biciclero May 9, 2012 at 1:22 pm

      I’ve often wondered whether having different speed limits (painted onto the road surface) for different lanes might work. 20mph in the outside lane, 30 on the inside.

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      • Todd Boulanger May 9, 2012 at 4:07 pm

        Great idea! The outside 25 mph lane could also be enforced with speed cushions.

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  • Ben May 9, 2012 at 10:46 am

    now if we could get a bike lane going up and down the South on ramp to/from hwy 30. The car-traffic culture on the south bridge on ramp does not allow use of both car traffic lanes so a re-stripe there wouldn’t affect car traffic.

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  • Kristen May 9, 2012 at 10:47 am

    I wish more cities would use sharrows on their collector streets and neighborhood streets. Like, Burnham Rd (poorly placed, only one on each end) and Fonner (absolutely none) in Tigard . That would certainly go a long way towards making the roads safer for all modes.

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  • J-R May 9, 2012 at 11:33 am

    Sharrows will be only slightly beneficial. I don’t think motorists know what they mean. Signing is the key. How about signs reading “Bicyclists are permitted full use of right lane. Motorists must pass in left lane. – State Law”

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    • Chris I May 9, 2012 at 11:48 am

      Would you be able to read that while driving 40mph?

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    • spare_wheel May 11, 2012 at 7:38 am

      The article stated that signage will also be installed. I am willing to bet that thats exactly what they will say.

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  • Rol May 9, 2012 at 11:37 am

    It’s funny how the whole purpose of sharrows is to explain the obvious. Can this be far behind? http://www.neonbubble.com/neonimg/1/nomurder.jpg

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  • BURR May 9, 2012 at 11:45 am

    Yes!

    FYI, the signs California uses in conjunction with sharrows say: “Bicyclists Allowed Full Lane Change Lanes to Pass”

    http://farm1.staticflickr.com/125/423812965_da1647a446.jpg

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    • Matthew May 9, 2012 at 12:28 pm

      Austin, TX uses those as well.

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  • eli bishop May 9, 2012 at 11:46 am

    a good first step, but don’t let it be the only step!

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  • GlowBoy May 9, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    I’ve seen some pretty egregious behavior from motorists towards cyclists on the SJB, and I’m sure the sharrows will help quite a lot in changing drivers’ attitudes.

    I will probably still mostly take the sidewalk, but I may still experiment with taking the lane once the sharrows have been there a while and everyone’s gotten the message.

    I would like a decent “off-ramp” per q’tzal’s point though. It’s a pretty big drop from the sidewalk down onto the roadway at the end of the bridge.

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    • PorterStout May 9, 2012 at 12:59 pm

      I think a key point here is “once everyone’s gotten the message.” Right now a lot (even most?) drivers probably think a cyclist is illegal in the lane so feel indignantly justified in “buzzing” them. If the sharrows lead to a change in mindset, and I think it will for many, the overall attitude will likely change. Not for all drivers, nothing will ever change the minds of some, but for the majority cyclists will become an established user of the roadway. Note that all cautions that pertain to riding on any busy roadway will always apply, of course, and perhaps more so in this case where there are limited escape options.

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      • El Biciclero May 9, 2012 at 1:34 pm

        “…drivers probably think a cyclist is illegal in the lane so feel indignantly justified in ‘buzzing’ them.”

        This is one of the unintended consequences of the proliferation of bike infrastructure (not that more infrastructure is bad, but): some drivers think that you only belong on “roads with bike paths (sic)”, and feel justified in teaching you that lesson any chance they get.

        At least one comment above points out the fact that many drivers don’t know what sharrows even mean. Others have pointed out that drivers don’t know cyclists are allowed to use the “car” lane. What we have here is an ignorance problem, and adding sharrows doesn’t necessarily fix it, it just adds to the number of things about the road that drivers don’t understand. I think all traffic tickets should come with a fine and traffic school–at least a two-hour night session on the specific area you violated. Oh, but wait–nobody ever gets tickets for unsafe passing, driving in bike lanes, throwing things at cyclists, engine-revving, tailgating, honking…so I guess nobody would ever attend the class on bicyclists’ rights to the road until they actually injured or killed someone (and didn’t get away with a hit-and-run)…

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        • GlowBoy May 10, 2012 at 12:25 pm

          I’m not sure I agree that this is a consequence of having bike infrastructure and not forcing everyone to ride VC-style.

          The people who think cyclists don’t belong on the road — at least roads without bike lanes — didn’t think cyclists belonged on the road before we had the bike lanes either.

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          • El Biciclero May 11, 2012 at 10:45 am

            Probably true enough, but it seems that those of that ilk have more “ammo” the more “bike amenities” we build.

            “With all the bike lanes and paths around here, why don’t you go ride there? Why do they waste my gas tax money on special paths for you bikers if you’re not even going to use them?”

            Again, not saying we shouldn’t invest in infrastructure; we should just be prepared for sentiments such as the above when either a) riding in the road next to poorly designed or implemented infrastructure, or b) riding on any road without bike-specific infrastructure.

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  • Tourbiker May 9, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    almost an Axiom…if a Motorist can stuff their arse into the same lane
    as a cyclist,

    They will.

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  • Suburban May 9, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    Sharrow is a combination of the words Share and Arrow. They are torch-down stickers. I invented another clever word “Speedforcemen”.
    When has there ever been any Speedforcement on this bridge?

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    • A.K. May 9, 2012 at 2:48 pm

      Never that I’ve seen (though I rarely drive or bike the St. Johns Bridge, so what do I know?).

      However, Portland PD feels the need to sit a traffic speed enforcement van (and police officer) near the end of the Morrison bridge in the evenings quite often.

      And god forbid someone runs a stop sign in Ladd’s Addition. The HORROR. ;)

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  • Champs May 9, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    Look, they’re not going to build a new bridge or take out two full traffic lanes for bikes, and that sidewalk is no better than the northbound span of the Interstate bridge.

    Sharrows and a “BICYCLES MAY USE FULL LANE” sign would clear up any confusion about the fact that taking the lane *is* your best option.

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    • Chris I May 10, 2012 at 1:15 pm

      The current traffic levels do not require 2 lanes in each direction, except at the ends where the signals back up. The right move is the reconfigure the bridge with single lanes that expand to two at each end. This will allow for bike lanes in both directions, and will not adversely affect traffic flow. I think this outcome is very possible.

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  • jeff May 9, 2012 at 3:28 pm

    what a stupid waste. do you all feel better now? If ODOT is serious about cyclist safety due to the incident in February, why aren’t they assisting in the arrest and conviction of drunk drivers?

    paint and signs aren’t going to save you, folks. Not that drunks read them anyway.

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  • redhippie May 9, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    I live at the foot of the bridge and ride across it all the time, and would still use rider discretion when choosing between the lane and sidewalk. Sharrows only help reinforce that there might be bicyclist present, but I still wouldn’t ride the lane during busy times. You can’t argue with the mass of a semi or a vancouverite commuting back from Hillsboro while texting.

    When on mtn bike = Sidewalk
    When on Road bike E-bound, low to medium traffic = lane
    When on Road bike W-bound, low traffic = lane
    When on Road bike, high traffic = Sidewalk

    Taking a traffic lane away is only going to create a more hazadous situation at either end, especially for any cyclist trying to turn across traffic. So rather than multi-million $ upgrades to add sidewalk space i would rather have the $ go to the North Portland Greenway, or more bike specific treatment in the neighborhoods or small bike bridges over RR tracks and busy streets. This would go a lot further and in the long run save a lot more lives.

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  • charley May 9, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    I ride this bridge in the lane regularly. I do so because I find the sidewalk an acrophobia inducing experience (I rock climb sometimes and have no others problems with heights, but that teensy, low profile guardrail just gives me the heeby-jeebies). I’m glad they’ll paint some sharrows on the road. It’s an incremental improvement, though, and I *don’t* think it’s enough to make the facility safe for all users. In truth, if the guardrail were higher, and if the sidewalk were wider, I’d much rather use them. . . but they won’t and so I won’t. Getting across the bridge right now is a matter of “pick your poison,” and I’d rather deal with the occasional jerk driver than that inadequate sidewalk.

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  • Barney May 9, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    I like it! This will be a big improvement!

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  • Todd Boulanger May 9, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    I hope that ODOT makes sure to utilize a specialized black framed white thermoplastic sharrow stencil versus just a regular white stencil that will not have enough contrast on the concrete bridge surface.

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    • A.K. May 9, 2012 at 5:17 pm

      I think they should put them in bright green boxes, sort of like how disabled-permit parking spots have the white wheelchair user icon surrounded by blue.

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    • oskarbaanks May 9, 2012 at 9:15 pm

      email ODOT and tell them… great ideas.

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  • wsbob May 9, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    The text of ODOT’s mailer as posted in this bikeportland story, is vague in terms of explaining what it is that bikes being entitled to share the bridge deck’s main travel lanes means. It seems as though the mailer should have at least mentioned that the bridges posted speed limit is 35mph, which…of course, is a speed way faster than anybody pedaling a bike uphill is able to attain.

    Reducing the bridges posted speed limit is worth seriously considering. Since many people place a lot of importance on the ‘time is money’ issue, the first fact that would be worth being aware of, is the time in seconds it takes to cross the bridge at 35mph and 25mph. Just guessing, it might take an extra 30 seconds to cross at the lower speed.

    25mph is still faster than most people can comfortably pedal a bike uphill, but the differential between it and a more typical climbing speed for people on bikes, of perhaps 10-15mph for this bridges grade, would allow the faster traffic to be more compatible road partners..

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    • q`Tzal May 9, 2012 at 8:07 pm

      Math time!
      Using GMaps I got a distance of 0.4 miles for the suspension portion of the bridge and 0.7 miles for the entire raised road deck.
      So it goes a bit like this:

      0.4mi @ 25MPH = 57.6 sec
      0.7mi @ 25MPH = 41.1 sec
      0.4mi @ 35MPH = 100.8 sec
      0.7mi @ 35MPH = 72.0 sec

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      • John Lascurettes May 10, 2012 at 12:06 am

        Something’s wrong with your math (or labels). It takes longer to cross the bridge at higher speed?

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        • q`Tzal May 10, 2012 at 6:48 pm

          DOH!
          Matrix rotation typo.

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      • wsbob May 10, 2012 at 1:49 am

        Hey q`Tzal ! You first took the initiative to come up with the figures. That’s the important thing here.

        Re; John Lascurettes suspicion q’Tzal’s math is off:

        I’m going to guess that math wizard q’Tzal maybe just got tripped up in labeling the times. How ’bout this for a correction? (I had to get a little help from a speed calculator: http://www.unitarium.com/speed-calculator )

        0.4mi @ 25MPH = 57.6 sec
        0.7mi @ 25MPH = 100.8 sec

        0.4mi @ 35MPH = 41.14 sec
        0.7mi @ 35MPH = 72.0 sec

        Less than 30 seconds additional time to cross the SJB at 25mph than the trip takes at 35mph. That 30 seconds could add up for somebody, or for example, a business that had to make the trip across the bridge many times over the course of a day.

        Maybe the additional accumulated crossing time could build into some kind of economic loss. For most people crossing the bridge though, whether by motor vehicle or bike, the lower speed limit wouldn’t likely be a very significant burden, and it could make the trip considerably more enjoyable experience.

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        • eric May 10, 2012 at 9:29 am

          The time could add up if the flow of traffic is unimpeded. 15-20 seconds on a bridge bounded on both ends by slow roads, multiple traffic lights, and heavy traffic is really no economic loss at all. Most vehicle operators don’t realize that the thing that slows them down the most is traffic lights and other vehicle operators, not lowered speed limits, road diets, and non-motorized road users.

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        • El Biciclero May 11, 2012 at 11:51 am

          Doesn’t really matter how fast one travels between stop lights. Catching the traffic signals “wrong” somewhere else on a commercial route could also really add up. Most drivers use the “saving a few seconds” rationale for speeding anywhere, yet we put speed limits all over the place.

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        • wsbob May 12, 2012 at 12:20 am

          On the chance that someone might be willing to purse the idea of reducing the speed limit for the bridge, it’s probably worthwhile to reflect on various reasons there might be opposition to reducing the posted speed limit from 35mph to, for example…25mph, over the SJB. Here’s a couple:

          People driving modern, precision cars over smooth roads seem to generally take that as an invitation to drive fast; in addition to whatever reasons they have for reducing their overall trip time, for them, a swift pace over a narrow, intersection free bridge span may be kind of a thrill.

          ODOT probably looks at speed limits in part, in terms of what volume of vehicles over roadways during the course of the day a particular speed limit will allow; as part of how much use from the infrastructure can be had per dollar of the public’s tax dollars.

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  • q`Tzal May 9, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    Add video cameras to the bridge pointed at automotive traffic.
    They don’t necessarily have to actually all have working live cameras in the exterior camera enclosures but the mere presence is like having a life sized cardboard cutout of a police officer in the liquor store; studies show it does stop the stupid.
    Later you add cameras by donation like adopt-a-highway or expensive auto license plates.

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  • Peter May 9, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    Jonathan, The State of Oregon did not adopt the MUTCD until December of 2011. Until a state formally adopts a new version of the MUTCD, all agencies in that state must use the older version or risk additional liability if an accident occurs. The FHWA gives states two years to formally adopt the newer version, and for some reason Oregon chose to wait until the end of this window. To suggest that ODOT was not honest about the reasons behind the timing of this project is unfair at best.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) May 9, 2012 at 8:29 pm

      Hi Peter,

      Thanks for making that point. I would say that ODOT could have/should have adopted sharrows more quickly; but your point is taken. I will make an edit to that part of the story. That being said, I still don’t think my assessment of their timing on this project is unfair. I guarantee you they would not do the sharrows if the public didn’t know that a guy almost died on the bridge while biking.

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      • Ted Buehler May 12, 2012 at 1:58 am

        The folks in Davis, CA convinced their city council to use 2009 MUTCD sharrow guidance in advance of official adoption by California.

        Their logic: by delaying implementation, they are reducing legal risk to the city. But they are also increasing risk of bodily harm to residents, which is a much bigger deal.

        City council agreed with their point and directed staff to install sharrows ASAP.

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  • jim May 9, 2012 at 10:05 pm

    They used to use sharrows a lot on freeway onramps to show what direction the street is. I don’t know why they didn’t keep them re-painted? Probably no money for that. Who is going to repaint the sharrows when they get worn off?

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    • Ted Buehler May 12, 2012 at 1:59 am

      ODOT will repaint them. But it might take a citizen calling 800-ask-odot and making a request once they start to deteriorate. A lot of these things are dealt with on a complaint-basis.

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  • Drew May 9, 2012 at 11:10 pm

    Sharrows are a help, but they also represent a complete failure of our drivers education system.
    We have children and the advanced elderly behind the wheel. Most forgot what was in the drivers ed book if they read it at all.
    I have 3 liscences (drivers, RN, and EMT-P). I did almost nothing to satisfy the requirements of the drivers liscence, in stark contrast to the others.

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    • GlowBoy May 10, 2012 at 12:23 pm

      We don’t even HAVE a drivers education system. Many (most?) Oregon drivers have NEVER taken drivers ed. Which boggles my mind: even though I grew up in overwhelmingly car-dominated Minnesota, at least everyone was required to take DE in order to get their license. It makes a difference.

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  • Lois May 10, 2012 at 8:49 am

    Cleveland has a similar bridge that had similar problems: multiple narrow lanes, lots of trucks, motorists going too fast, extremely dangerous plus it is part of the state highway system which makes it more difficult to change. Against all odds, we were able to reconfigure the lanes to create a safer bridge way back in 2004. It boggles my mind that Portland hasn’t done a similar lane reconfiguration. If Neanderthal Ohio DOT can do it, there is no logical reason that progressive Oregon DOT can’t do it. http://www.ecocitycleveland.org/transportation/bicycles/detroit_superior_bridge.html

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  • Erinne May 10, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    I always ride the bridge deck. I will be happy to see these go in. I rarely have problems, but occasionally there is a jerk who doesn’t know how to share the road. I don’t know why anyone would want to ride on the sidewalk.

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  • Ted Buehler May 12, 2012 at 2:02 am

    This is a huge step forward.

    Other “solutions” proposed, like lowering the speed limit or putting the bridge on a road diet, would take months or years of deliberation. With sharrows, its just a matter of sending out the crews.

    This will make the bridge safer, and will make bicyclists more comfortable riding on the road, and make it faster for bikes, thereby allowing bikes to compete more favorably with cars for travel time.

    And, sharrows will put more bikes on the bridge, which will increase pressure to either lower the speed limit or road diet it, which could make these “better” solutions come through the pipeline and be implemented faster than if the sharrows weren’t there.

    Thanks ODOT!

    Ted Buehler

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