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Three local agencies just endorsed these visions for better streets (Images)

Posted by Michael Andersen (News Editor) on December 19th, 2013 at 9:42 am

The NACTO Urban Street Design Guide's suggestion of a healthy downtown roadway.
(All images by NACTO)

When it comes down to curbs and crosswalks, a great street is as much a product of design as a great mobile app: the process of moving safely through a city needs to be as intuitive as sharing a photo with your phone. If it isn't, people won't.

That's why it's exciting that a new urban street design guide has been getting big attention.

"The best street design also adds to the value of businesses, offices, and schools located along the roadway."
— NACTO Urban Street Design Guide

Though it's been harder to notice than the surge of biking and walking in U.S. cities, traffic engineering in the United States has also been changing fast, shifting away from the 1950 assumption that wide arterial streets are best used to move cars as quickly as possible and back to the traditional understanding that arterials are instead the logical places to attract lots of people and the commerce and culture people create.

The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) has been at the front of this movement by creating a series of guides that traffic professionals can consult for ideas about designing streets that are worse at moving many cars quickly, but better for people and for economic activity.

On Wednesday, NACTO announced that the Washington Department of Transportation, in addition to 23 cities including Portland and Seattle, has officially endorsed their latest product, the Urban Street Design Guide.

To get a sense for what these local governments and WSDOT have endorsed as good inspiration for their engineering teams, check out these neat images from the new guide.

Here's NACTO's "before" picture of a "neighborhood main street," which doesn't look much different than Northeast Sandy, Southeast Foster, Southeast Grand or North Lombard:

And here's the "after" sketch. Check out the sharp corners, bump-out sidewalks, center turn lane, parklet, dedicated truck loading zone and of course the buffered bike lanes:

Here's what the guide calls a "commercial shared street," before changes:

...and after, with textured pervious pavement and public seating that communicate to people in cars that they should proceed with caution:

Here's the "before" version of an intersection between a minor and major street:

And here's the image after, with expanded sidewalks, raised crosswalks, bollards to guide turning cars, and a curb-protected bike lane:

Can't afford to move the curb between sidewalk and street? No problem, says the NACTO guide. Create an "interim sidewalk widening" by putting planters in the street:

Here's one of my favorite insights from the guide: which of these two intersections is safer?

The intersection at the top doesn't have trees that block lines of sight as a car approaches, so it might seem unsafe. But as the guide points out, removing them isn't the only solution. By narrowing the intersection, as in the bottom picture, street designers are cuing drivers to slow down — something that improves their peripheral vision and makes them less likely to miss someone coming around the corner.

For people who, like me, spend most of their time on Portland's relatively close-in east side, many of the "after" images in the NACTO guide are reassuringly familiar. The streets in Portland's gridded neighborhoods could improve, but in many ways they're a model for the NACTO guide's ideas. We can be proud of that.

But it's easy to forget that even in Portland and our neighboring cities, making more streets look like these is still highly controversial. Maybe that's because people who use these streets understand the downside (it'll take longer to go long distances in cars) but don't appreciate the benefit (because pleasant streets lead to more development, you won't need to travel a long way to get where you're going).

Or maybe the problem is that even in relatively progressive agencies like Washington's and Oregon's, engineers and planners just aren't questioning enough of their own habits and practices.

That's why NACTO supporters are pushing to get as many states and cities as possible to follow WSDOT's lead and officially endorse this guide.

"What is very surprising is not that they have done it but that they were the first DOT to do it," Todd Boulanger, a local transportation consultant who often works in Washington, wrote in an email Wednesday.

The race for second place is on. Which state DOT will be next?

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  • Alan 1.0 December 19, 2013 at 10:08 am

    I sure hope I'm right in seeing Michael's tongue firmly wedged in his cheek on that opening analogy. Cities, being around for about 1000x longer than "personal devices," sure as *bleep* better be WAYYYYYY more intuitive than any OS yet concieved.

    (And yeah, those diagrams are progress, but cars still look like kings on those streets.)

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  • Christopher Sanderson December 19, 2013 at 10:10 am

    Any way we can get this treatment on SE Hawthorne, SE Belmont, or hey, why not on SE Cesar Chavez? I have actually thought about doing a mock petition in front of New Seasons on Hawthorne to rename SE Cesar Chavez to SE Dick Cheney Drive. Seriously, would Cesar Chavez be proud of the road bearing his name? Between Belmont and Hawthorne, it's a parking lot at 5:30 in the evening. The sidewalks are awfully narrow between Taylor and Salmon, and when there's a bunch of rain, water is standing on the road, and when cars fly by, pedestrians get showered with water. I'd like to see Urban Street Guide ideas and principles applied to this stretch of road. Now if only we had the political will to do it.

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    • John Liu December 20, 2013 at 7:11 am

      These treatments make safer roads that are better for pedestrian, cyclists, sidewalk businesses. But they reduce road capacity for cars - no question. Why would you want to apply these treatments to Cesar Chavez where that street is already over capacity and jammed with cars, as you point out?

      I think Cesar Chavez needs better crossing facilities, but otherwise that street's main purpose is to move as many cars as possible. That keeps cars off the other north-south routes, and allows those routes to be better for cycling.

      (I'm referring to Cesar Chavez from Sandy to south of Powell, by the way.)

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      • 9watts December 20, 2013 at 7:18 am

        "but otherwise that street's main purpose is to move as many cars as possible."
        Sure, but is that such a good thing? A necessary thing? A forever and ever goal? I doubt it. Moving as many cars as possible is a reflection of our having too many cars, of using them for thousands of tasks that other means would also work, of driving alone way more than is necessary. It is not a sign of success but of failure to solve our transportation needs at lower total cost.

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      • Christopher Sanderson December 21, 2013 at 2:26 pm

        I can't agree. It's like making SE Cesar Chavez (SE Dick Cheney Drive) the sacrificial lamb of sorts. Should we always concede Cesar Chavez as a main arterial. The reality is that the road will always travel through neighborhoods, in front of people's homes, and in what I consider a livable area. I am not sure what the solutions are, but at the present, the road needs a fixing, from just a walking point of view. My hope is that some day this road will be calmer, and way to get groceries by foot without getting wet or nearly run over.

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  • Adam H. December 19, 2013 at 11:49 am

    The third image is still bad design, with people on bikes protecting parked cars. Buffered lanes should never have been included in the NACTO guide. Curb-side bike lanes, or go home.

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    • Gezellig December 19, 2013 at 8:35 pm

      100% agreed. The bike lanes in that third image are wonderful examples of lots of time and money to create some very special shiny new Double Parking Lanes.

      Actually, in community meetings and the like instead of calling these kinds of bad bike plans by their drab technical names we should actually cognitively frame and brand them intentionally with the appellation of shame Double Parking Lanes. Because that's exactly what they become pretty much immediately after the paint on these types of profoundly and inherently flawed installations dries.

      When it takes up the same amount of space to just swap the bike lanes and parking lanes and route bikes to the right of the parking it just fails me to no end why these aren't proposed more often.

      The third image (and the first one, for that matter) is also a bad design in that it does a patently *terrible* job with intersections.

      Intersections are by definition one of the most conflict-point prone areas of a roadway, so why do guidelines that establish protected cycletracks mid-block suddenly leave bikes high and dry with laughable sharrows and bike boxes come the intersection?

      I mean, yes, obviously these guidelines are a vast improvement over almost all currently existing bike infrastructure in the US, but that's really a very low bar. My point is if we're bothering to improve a road, why spend lots of time and money to implement total third-rate solutions? I just don't get it.

      The Dutch figured out intersections long ago, and this is the standard cycletrack intersection there:

      http://youtu.be/FlApbxLz6pA

      It works like a charm, and can easily be adapted to American intersections, as rendered here a few months ago at Bike Portland:

      http://bikeportland.org/2013/09/05/dreaming-in-dutch-six-young-planners-visions-for-portland-93450

      It's not just some exotic concept for European cities--you can't get more American-looking than that Walgreens intersection--and it could easily be retrofitted like that.

      Why isn't this kind of solution happening or even being proposed seriously? Am I missing something?

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      • Michael Andersen (News Editor) December 19, 2013 at 10:07 pm

        At the "Dreaming in Dutch" event, I overheard a fascinating conversation between one of the organizers and a PBOT staffer in which the staffer argued that the Dutch intersection design didn't work in an East Portland context for various reasons including ADA rules. We made a strong pitch to get this debate onto BikePortland, where I think it would have been a huge asset to conversations like this one, but unfortunately the staffer declined. (As he had every right to do, but I was still disappointed.)

        Thanks for the thoughtful and critical feedback.

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      • Nick Falbo December 20, 2013 at 10:15 am

        Just so you know, this idea *is* being taken seriously by a few firms, and with luck we'll start seeing some examples on the ground in North America.

        There are many real issues to address with these corner islands and the design is counter intuitive to many American bicyclists and engineers. But I'm confident we'll get them here some day.

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  • Humongous Ed December 19, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    Hmm... I feel conflicted aboutructure chang this, but overall i think i support this.

    Im worried that its too easy for cities to "nickel and dime" these plans in ways that undermine them completely. For example, they might try to squeeze in extra parking at the corners, which can make it impossible for cars to see bikes at intersections. Im also worried that these elaborate buffered bike lanes will make it impossible to ride bikes anywhere outside the bike lan, and im worried about conflicts between bikes and peds, especially at bus stops at night.

    Otoh, this is a great opportunity to reduce traffic speed and encourage more biking, both of which will help bike safety a lot (and car/ped safety for that matter). So I think im going to swallow my misgivings and accept this as the best compromise we're likely to get.

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  • PDXJoe December 19, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    I like most of these options. However, I'm not a fan of the curb separated bike lane in dense urban environments. It sets up a condition where right hooks are probably more likely. The curb and activity such as parallel parking, trees and pedestrians along that curb cause a visual obstruction for drivers in which they cannot easily see bikers approaching intersections. The concept may feel and seem safer, but I'm not sure if it truly is safer. I like the curb separated lane along fast moving roads
    and secondary highways where bikers aren't dealing with as many intersections and keeping separation from fast moving traffic is beneficial.

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    • Nick Falbo December 19, 2013 at 3:33 pm

      You raise good points - It's really easy to make a bad cycle track. But most of your concerns can be addressed through design. Good cycle tracks can be a joy to ride on, and safer than in the street.

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    • paikikala December 19, 2013 at 5:10 pm

      Vancouver BC has some nice ones downtown.

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  • Todd Boulanger December 19, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    In my statement referenced in the above article, I was not suggesting that I did not expect WSDOT to ratify it as an early adopter (given Washington State's often #1 ranking as the most bike friendly state) but I was instead surprised that ODOT was not the first state DOT agency to adopt it given how much of the design and political discussion of NACTO has been done in Oregon by public and private firms here. I just had assumed ODOT would have been all set up to hit that home run out of the public affairs gate.

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    • 9watts December 19, 2013 at 8:37 pm

      ODOT? Barbur-Blvd-Dig-In-Our-Heels-ODOT? Cheap-Out-And-Don't-Do-QC-On-The-HWY-101-Shoulder-Repaving-ODOT? Roads-Don't-Kill-People-Bad-Drivers-Kill-People-Tweet-ODOT? CRC-Über-Alles-But-Don't-Ask-Us-For-Money-For-Anything-Cause-We-Ain't-Got-Any-ODOT?

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  • Terry D December 19, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    I did the NACTO webinar a few weeks back and found their information very easily acessible. The debate about whether to place the bike lane curb tight then parking or the other way around seems to me to be more of a question of what the primary need of the route is. If it is for comercial acess, then curb tight. If it is primarily a commuter connection, then it seems better to place it next to the travel lane with a painted buffer to allow for passing.

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  • Gezellig December 19, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    Totally!

    Alan 1.0
    (And yeah, those diagrams are progress, but cars still look like kings on those streets.)
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    Totally! Cars are still king on those roads--they just upgraded bikes from Outcast Leper to, like, Court Jester status--there for fun and games if that's your thing but not really essential and we know who still really calls the shots and gets priority.

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    • ed December 19, 2013 at 11:18 pm

      Well, its not very realistic to expect them to give equal weight to bikes when we're only 6% of traffic. We haveto focus on incremental improvement.

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      • 9watts December 19, 2013 at 11:23 pm

        Momentum doesn't seem to be something you're much interested in.

        If you could double the rate of people biking every 24 months, would you make the necessary adjustments, take steps to facilitate that? Given that bicycling is good for everyone, a windfall for the taxpayer, and fun to boot, why wouldn't you want to do everything in your power to accelerate the rate of adoption?

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      • Gezellig December 19, 2013 at 11:34 pm

        Well of course that's the whole point. It's at 6% precisely *because* of bad infrastructure designs like this. No community jumps to 20% modeshare and above with horrid Double Parking lanes as the supposed Good New Ideas.

        Double Parking lanes that dump you off in a sharrow at intersections just in time for cars to right-hook you just simply aren't perceived by most people 8-80 to be very safe (and they're right). Let's be perfectly clear--these renderings are not 8-80 lanes.

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  • Gezellig December 19, 2013 at 11:24 pm

    Michael Andersen (News Editor)
    At the "Dreaming in Dutch" event, I overheard a fascinating conversation between one of the organizers and a PBOT staffer in which the staffer argued that the Dutch intersection design didn't work in an East Portland context for various reasons including ADA rules. We made a strong pitch to get this debate onto BikePortland, where I think it would have been a huge asset to conversations like this one, but unfortunately the staffer declined. (As he had every right to do, but I was still disappointed.)

    As a Portland admirer from afar (I live in SF), I was unfortunately unable to attend that event but thanks for sharing that! Did anyone happen to record and post that event up anywhere, by the way?

    That event was really exciting to read about because even with the (somewhat justified, it seems) concerns over Portland's bike-infra stagnation I still see a place like Portland as more open to implementing some of those great ideas than SF, where change tends to come even more slowly.

    Anyway, it's always a shame when people use ADA as a catchall copout when what they really mean is We've Never Done This Before And It Looks Weird And It Wasn't In My Planning Textbook So It Won't Work Because....ADA. I mean, ADA considerations are absolutely important and valid, but how that design inherently cannot be configured to ADA-compliance is beyond me.

    Such concern-trolling excuses on the part of the PBOT staffer also painfully miss the intent of ADA---these types of protected-intersection designs are safer for sidewalk and cycletrack users of *all* abilities not only due to their intrinsically safer designs but also due to their sheer ability to coax more people out of their cars, thus reducing the chances of conflict with 2-ton speeding metal boxes even further simply due to there being fewer of them.

    Not to mention the fact that disabled people who make use of motorized wheelchairs are allowed to use bike lanes as per Oregon law!

    http://www.stc-law.com/bikerightlaw.html

    Yet what cycletrack user--whether going by bicycle or motorized wheelchair--wants to be dumped off in a sharrow at the right-hook point of the road where they're *most* vulnerable?! Once again, the Dutch figured out long ago that cycletracks are great not just for people on bikes, but for people with disabilities:

    http://youtu.be/xSGx3HSjKDo

    I would *love* to show that to the next PBOT-staffer-type who starts concern-trolling about people with disabilities.

    Sometimes you just have to show people in person that it can work in your country--in a large parking lot in the UK the following Dutch-style (in all but traffic direction, of course) demo cycletrack roundabout has been set up:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-22347184

    Confirming to skeptics in the UK that, yes, the same basic principles of physics and separation that work swimmingly all over the Netherlands also work just fine on British soil, too.

    Money quotes from that article:

    "The roundabouts do not conform with Department for Transport regulations as they stand."

    (as I'm sure they do not with ODOT regulations, so it's the same situation they're in currently)

    "Members of the public can participate in the trials."

    Yes. This! Real people--and lots of them--just need to be able to experience this kind of infrastructure in person to see how truly amazing, intuitive, self-evident, and, frankly, simple it all is in action.

    Anyone got a large underutilized parking lot that could be used for such a demo? :D

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  • Gezellig December 19, 2013 at 11:35 pm

    ed
    Well, its not very realistic to expect them to give equal weight to bikes when we're only 6% of traffic. We haveto focus on incremental improvement.

    Well of course that's the whole point. It's at 6% precisely *because* of bad infrastructure designs like this. No community jumps to 20% modeshare and above with horrid Double Parking lanes as the supposed Good New Ideas.

    Double Parking lanes that dump you off in a sharrow at intersections just in time for cars to right-hook you just simply aren't perceived by most people 8-80 to be very safe (and they're right). Let's be perfectly clear--these renderings are not 8-80 lanes.

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  • Gezellig December 20, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    Nick Falbo
    Just so you know, this idea *is* being taken seriously by a few firms, and with luck we'll start seeing some examples on the ground in North America.

    Great! If you happen to be aware of any such publicly available renderings and/or communities maybe considering such treatments in North America that'd be fun to see.

    The proposal from the Dreaming in Dutch event which Bike Portland reported on was the first time I'd ever seen that proposed for a US intersection, though I used them all the time when I was living in the Netherlands. They're really (in)genius designs and would love to see them here.

    There are many real issues to address with these corner islands and the design is counter intuitive to many American bicyclists and engineers. But I'm confident we'll get them here some day.

    I hope so! Yes, we still deal with the "vehicular cycling" biases inherent to most North American bike infrastructure. If you truly believe bikes are just like cars and should be treated exactly the same then a sharrow on a busy road seems perfectly fine. And a small percentage of users are fine with that. It's just definitely not 8-to-80, 20% + modeshare infrastructure.

    As for physical issues to address with their implementation, I'm sure there are very real issues such as ADA compliance and the fact that they haven't been done in the US before (as far as I know) so the comforting aspect of precedence isn't there--but I'm confident these issues can be worked through.

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    • Adam H. December 20, 2013 at 12:49 pm

      Installing Dutch-style intersection treatments would be a great way to show the rest of the country that Portland is not stagnating. Instead, I see story after story applauding PBOT for installing door-zone bike lanes. It's time to move forward, not backward.

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  • Gezellig December 20, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    Adam H.
    Installing Dutch-style intersection treatments would be a great way to show the rest of the country that Portland is not stagnating.

    Absolutely! I cannot stress the importance of protected cycletracks at intersections in terms of convincing the average person to bike. I bike a lot and am relatively brave but even I find bike boxes and sharrows on busy streets to be on the unnerving side at very best. Bike boxes, sharrows and double-parking lanes on main roads are tolerable-enough solutions for the 1-6% or so of the population who've *already decided to bike* pretty much no matter what. Prevalent protected cycletracks (*including* at intersections) are what bump you up to 20% and beyond.

    Obviously these kinds of designs take time to implement, but wouldn't Portland be the perfect place to do a demo like the UK one I linked earlier in the thread (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-22347184) in some large open lot temporarily outfitted with a protected cycletrack intersection to show the public how it works? Has anyone ever proposed something like this?

    After all, if Reasonably Polite Seattlites (http://www.seattlebikeblog.com/2013/04/04/guerrilla-road-safety-group-politely-installs-illegal-bike-lane-protectors-on-cherry-street/) can organize the funding and materials enough to do a guerrilla "demo" on a real road, perhaps an analogous group elsewhere (and why not Portland?) could do the same on some parking lot somewhere and invite the public to try it? :)

    Instead, I see story after story applauding PBOT for installing door-zone bike lanes. It's time to move forward, not backward.

    Absolutely! Door-zone lanes and their only slightly less evil brethren double-parking lanes (where they conquer the dooring problem by widening the bike lane and/or moving it further to the left of the doorzone, thus inevitably creating enough space for a full 'nother car to double park there) are not infrastructure to be applauded, especially on even moderately busy roads.

    Sure, where they replace absolutely nothing it's nice for the 1-6% of us who've already decided to bike, but they don't coax almost any of the rest of the 94% out of their cars. And it's honestly hard to blame them.

    At least in California I know Caltrans calls double-parking/doorzone lanes Class II Bike Lanes which I find unintentionally hilarious in that--why yes, --they are indeed very much second-class-citizen lanes!

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  • Gezellig December 22, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    John Liu
    These treatments make safer roads that are better for pedestrian, cyclists, sidewalk businesses. But they reduce road capacity for cars - no question. Why would you want to apply these treatments to Cesar Chavez where that street is already over capacity and jammed with cars, as you point out?
    I think Cesar Chavez needs better crossing facilities, but otherwise that street's main purpose is to move as many cars as possible. That keeps cars off the other north-south routes, and allows those routes to be better for cycling.
    (I'm referring to Cesar Chavez from Sandy to south of Powell, by the way.)
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    There's a paradox in that, though, that increased capacity often seems to create its own demand (Braess's Paradox), conversely meaning that paradoxically traffic volume can decrease when road capacity decreases. Portland discovered this with the removal of Harbor Drive and other cities have followed suit to similar success.

    The thing is the designs of roads often become a self-fulfilling prophecy; if you travel along that corridor and it's an unpleasant or even dangerous place to walk or bike then you'll just drive by default.

    The data are pretty conclusive that when you provide better non-driving options and infrastructure to people, a lot of people will take up the offer. Sure, not everyone will, but enough to decrease car-traffic volume. And of course the better you design the non-car options, the more likely people will ditch the car more often. And of course it's not just about debating whether one street here or there should receive better bike/ped infra; it's about pervasively good, speedy and safe infrastructure.

    Let's say a city's bike modeshare is currently at 6%, but "waiting in the wings" could be, say, 15-20% of the population who aren't opposed to biking but are turned off by the perceived and/or real hassles or dangers with biking most places they want to go as things are in their current state. But then imagine if both roads such as Cesar Chavez and Glisan had protected cycletracks and they met at Coe Circle with this kind of design:

    http://youtu.be/wEXD0guLQY0

    And imagine this was the norm. *That's* how you get to 20% modeshare (and above) and *that's* how a bunch of those cars all around Portland start turning into bikes.

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