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New bike lane markings at Benson Hotel

Posted by on August 15th, 2005 at 2:48 pm

Benson Hotel bike lane, Portland OR
Benson Hotel bike lane, Portland OR

[update: I have been notified of several incorrect facts in my account and have made appropriate changes.—Jonathan]

A few months ago, the bike lane in front of the Benson Hotel on SW Broadway was the scene of an ugly incident involving a delivery truck, a cyclist, and several cops, summoned by the Benson valet via cell phone. The truck was parked in the bike lane, the cyclist (participating in Critical Mass) tried to get around it without going into traffic, scratched the truck in doing so, and the cops took offense. Tickets were written An arrest was made, damage was done, and nerves were rattled. The incident has since been settled out of court.

The incident started a discussion in the bike community about the unsafe practice of motorists parking in bike lanes downtown. The problem is that when someone blocks a bike lane, bikers are forced into traffic. Not only does that make things more dangerous to the cyclist, it also finds them in a strange legal place according to the current law which isn’t kind to cyclists once they leave the bike lane (however, thanks to the BTA, as of Jan. 1, 2006 the law will explicitly grant legal protection to cyclists outside of the bike lane).

Recently, with groundwork by concerned cyclists and Sam Adams’ prodding, there have been new bike lane markings painted in that spot. They consist of four creatively decorated cyclists and four arrows. Hopefully, these new, and highly visible markings will discourage motorists from impeding on the bike lane and everyone will be safer.

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  • Jessica August 15, 2005 at 3:11 pm

    I think you mean the Heathman Hotel. You’re talking about the one at Salmon and Broadaway, down the block from the Schnitz, right? That’s the Heathman.

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  • Jonathan Maus August 15, 2005 at 3:38 pm

    Nope, definitely the Benson. Why, are there some cool, new bike lane markings at the Heathman too?

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  • colin August 15, 2005 at 4:18 pm

    saw an crime scene type outline of what appeared to a biker’s body by the new markings the other day and wondered about it. it said that someone was killed there. it appears to be gone now.

    i’m glad to see these new markers, that’s a particularly nasty part of downtown for riding, especially with all the valet traffic.

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  • Jessica August 15, 2005 at 4:33 pm

    Oh, yes, there are new bike lane markings outside the Heathman. I thought I uploaded them to flickr…they must be in my iPhoto at home. I’ll look for them tonight.

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  • Roger J August 15, 2005 at 4:46 pm

    I’ve read the comments and since I work 1 block away, I had to go check.

    There was a limo, van and town car all parked in the car lane, not the bike lane. Is this going to help? Now it seems like there is an opportunity to get doored from the left and right. Plus there are people crossing the bike lane more.

    I am really appreciative of the efforts at doing something there. It’s better than sitting around and complaining, but I’ll stick to my policy of not using the bike lanes on SW Broadway thank you very much

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  • Michael August 15, 2005 at 5:24 pm

    The bike lane on SW Broadway is a kill zone. The lane provides only a false and very dangerous illusion of safety and respect for cyclists.

    A bike works with different physics than a 4+ wheel vehicle. When undisturbed, its path is very narrow. When disturbed by road debris, mechanical malfunction, or emergency maneuvers it requires a recovery wobble zone that can be much wider than a bike lane permits.

    There is a good story here that relates to the bike lane/kill zone where one unfortunate cyclist “swerved to avoid the door, she was struck and instantly killed by an MBTA bus.”: http://www.bostonphoenix.com/boston/news_features/top/features/documents/02379848.htm

    “According to John Allen, a nationally recognized bicycling expert who helped found the Cambridge Bicycle Committee, in 1991, this design works best on wide streets with little parallel parking. He and other committee members have repeatedly warned officials not to build conventional bike lanes on streets like Mass Ave — i.e., narrow roadways lined with parked cars — because at any moment a motorist can open his or her car door and whack a cyclist flat. Installing a bike lane in the “door zone,” as it’s called, only sets up cyclists for injury — or, as demonstrated in Laird’s case, death. “When the city constructs a bike lane that instructs people to ride in the door zone,” Allen claims, “it is responsible for the dooring problem to some degree.”

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  • Pete August 15, 2005 at 5:26 pm


    the outline I believe you are thinking of, is in front of Jane’s Vanity along with a ghost bike on the sidewalk. I saw it yesterday.

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  • Michael August 15, 2005 at 5:28 pm

    I should have emphasized this quote for the city’s risk management bean counters: “When the city constructs a bike lane that instructs people to ride in the door zone, it is responsible for the dooring problem to some degree.”

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  • Michael August 15, 2005 at 5:39 pm

    Here is another good page with pictures and diagrams explaining why poor bike lanes are lethal traps.


    “The July 2 death of Texas native Dana Laird, who was “doored” while riding in a Cambridge, Massachusetts bike lane, has focused many people’s attention on a simple fact: bike lanes can lure bicyclists to their own injury or death.”

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  • Michael August 15, 2005 at 5:42 pm

    “Nowhere else in traffic engineering would someone dream of posting a traffic control device that road users would need to disobey to save their lives.”

    ok I will stop now…

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  • el timito August 15, 2005 at 6:47 pm

    Heathman? Benson? How about both! The drinky dude is in front of the Benson, the musicians make their way along the bike lane in front of the Heathman, perhaps for a date at the Schnitz. And yes, the outline for Kristine’s memorial is still in between, just north of Pioneer Courthouse Square. May it be the last memorial that has to be painted!

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  • Fritz August 15, 2005 at 11:23 pm

    I saw the bike lanes photos at Flickr and blogged them — and I’m just now noticing that these photos are yours!

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  • Jessica August 16, 2005 at 8:25 am

    Hm, looks like HTML isn’t emabled in comments? So here are the links to the new Heathman bike lane markings:


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  • Jonathan Maus August 16, 2005 at 8:37 am

    I think your HTML was just a bit off. Let’s see if this works. Yep. It does. I think you forgot the closing “>” after your URL the first time. No big whoop. Thanks for the links.

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  • Jessica August 16, 2005 at 9:12 am

    Hm, I wasn’t even being good and trying to make those links, but I should have…I had tried to paste in the pictures directly, and that’s what I was talking about, but it’s cool. People can click on links.

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  • Roger Geller August 16, 2005 at 10:38 am

    This is going to be kind of long…

    In response to the concern about “bicycle lane as kill zone,” I’d like to bring some additional information to the conversation. I’ll start with the news article–referenced in a previous post–about the cyclist’s death in Cambridge, MA. Following that horrific occurrence there was an immediate reaction from some in Cambridge to remove the bicycle lanes. The reasoning was that: “a cyclist has been killed riding in a bicycle lane, therefore the lane is clearly not working and must be removed.” Not bowing to the pressure of the moment the City of Cambridge undertook an in-depth study to determine if bicycle lanes provided any benefit to cyclists. Their study, recently accepted for publication by the National Academies (Transportation Research Board) demonstrated that most cyclists ride further away from parked cars in a bicycle lane than without a bicycle lane. While a minority of cyclists are comfortable “taking the lane,” most cyclists stay far right–in the door zone–without a bike lane. The study can be read at: http://www.cambridgema.gov/~CDD/et/bike/bike_hamp_study.pdf

    I recognize that bicycle lanes represent a trade-off for some cyclists. The “strong and the brave,” cyclists, i.e., those cyclists who will ride anywhere, anytime, under any conditions, certainly don’t need and probably don’t want bicycle lanes. But, as our experience in Portland has shown, many people will not ride bicycles in the absence of bicycle facilities, including lanes. The tripling of ridership in Portland in the past 12 years is due primarily to the network of lanes, boulevards, and off-street paths in which the city and region has invested. During this time, while ridership has increased, the number of reported crashes has remained relatively constant. From this, we’re confidant stating that the crash rate is falling. This phenomena has been described in a scholarly journal (Journal of Injury Prevention), which found that as ridership goes up, the crash rate goes down. So, in general, bicycles lanes do two things that benefit most people riding bicycles: they position them further from parked cars than they would be without the lanes, and they encourage more people to ride, which has an overall benefit on safety.

    But, let’s talk about the Broadway bicycle lane specifically. I am intimately familiar with it as it is part of my daily commute and generally my primary access into Portland’s downtown. Following the fatal crash on Broadway in June I took a look at crash data for SW Broadway between 1991 and 2002 (the last year for which data is available). Of the 23 crashes that included “Broadway”, only 11 actually occurred on Broadway (the other 12 were on side streets). Two of these involved cyclists either running a signal or a stop sign. Of the 9 remaining crashes there was no pattern: 2 were doorings, one a sideswipe, one an angle collision, one a backing collision; in one a motorist ran a signal; and three were “right-hooks.” Two of the “right-hooks” and the angle collision occured in the presence of a bicycle lane. The others occurred before it was striped. It’s true we don’t yet have data for the segment between Burnside and Jefferson, as it was striped in 2002, but we will have some data soon.

    One thing that occurs to me in riding through these areas on Broadway and observing others riding through them is that cyclists often ride too fast given the conditions. It’s analogous to a motorist traveling at 40 mph down a neighborhood street: they’re capable of going that fast; generally they can get away with it if there are no other cars, animals, kids, pedestrians, or cylcists, but it’s clearly not appropriate for the conditions. I think this is true for some of our bicycle lanes: their benefit is that they provide a space for people to ride where they don’t feel motorists breathing down their necks. They provide a space where an average citizen can comfortably ride in street clothes without having to break a sweat just to get where they’re going. On the other hand, cyclists can’t ride as fast as they’d like in some of these tight, busy areas because high speeds are not appropriate to the conditions.

    As we are constantly asking motorists to do, I think it’s essential that cyclists ride smart, safely, and respectfully of others. If that means slowing down to carefully detour around somebody visiting our city who is (legally!–ORS 811.560) stopped in a bicycle lane to load passengers into their car, then so be it. There’s only so much public space out there and sometimes we just have to share it.

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  • Cate August 16, 2005 at 11:06 am

    Thank you, Roger. My bicycling mantra this week will be: Ride safe, be kind… Ride safe, be kind… (Maybe if I run it through my brain enough, I’ll get it!)

    Btw, are there photos of the ghost bike and Kristine’s memorial?

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  • Jessica August 16, 2005 at 11:24 am

    Thanks, Roger. For those who don’t know, Roger is our City of Portland Bicycle Coordinator. Here are the studies he refers to:

    1. The study he cites that demonstrates that as ridership goes up, crash rates go down (or the “safety in numbers” principle) is here (full text PDF available from that link)

    2. PSU professor Dr. Jennifer Dill also recently released a study demonstrating that if you build bike lanes, people use them; full study downloadable here.

    Roger also has some interesting graphs showing how ridership has increased in Portland as we have built bike facilities, and how crash rates have declined during that time. If I can find them online, I will link to them; in the meantime, contact him or me if you want them as an attachment.

    Finally, there’s an aspect to bike lanes in downtown that I think goes overlooked by a lot of cyclists: bike lanes allow cyclists to bypass rush-hour traffic without having to squeeze by traffic on the right (“queue jumping”). Sure, passing on the right will be legal soon, but it’s still not always safe, and drivers aren’t expecting it. Bike lanes, on the other hand, both provide room for cyclists to cut to the front of the line and also alert drivers to expect that behavior to happen.

    I think that’s a real service, and one I’m interested in talking about more. I think there’s room for specific improvements, and maybe bike lanes as we know them won’t end up being the preferred solution for queue jumping in downtown–but I do want us to facilitate cyclists bypassing traffic…isn’t that one of the many reasons we all say biking is better than driving, after all?

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  • Lynn Ford August 16, 2005 at 1:03 pm

    Roger et al., while we’re citing documentation and all, 2 little items:
    1. What public participation does the City do when planning bike lanes, and specifically, when did it happen re SW B-way, and how can someone access any records of that process?
    2. How many tickets have the cops written for drivers abusing the bike lane? I have never seen it, and I go up Bway fairly often, including to the VA, which is far enough without the extra blocks to 11th.
    3. In fairness, most of that route is only striped on one side, so that it’s easy for a driver to not recognize it as a bike lane. Also, I know that the City historically kisses the hotels butts, and doubt the bike lobby has the clout to over-rule that.

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  • Roger Geller August 16, 2005 at 1:40 pm


    To answer your questions:

    1) The City undertook a 2.5 year public process beginning in 1994 to create the City’s Bicycle Master Plan. That plan was adopted by City Council in 1996 (with a minor update in 1998). One of the things that plan did was identify where the city should develop bikeways and the standards we would follow in developing them. A copy of the plan can be found on-line at: http://www.portlandonline.com/shared/cfm/image.cfm?id=40414 Within the appendices is an accounting of the public process we followed.

    When we go to stripe a bicycle lane we generally don’t follow much of a public process if we’re not doing something that dramatically changes traffic operations. In the case of the bike lane on Broadway we didn’t remove parking, didn’t remove a travel lane, and stayed within our accepted guidelines for striping a bike lane.

    We intend to update the Bicycle Master Plan in the near future, which will give us an opportunity to assess where we’ve been, what we’ve done, how well it’s working (or not) for different people, and where we go from here.

    2) You’d have to contact Multnomah County (County Court clerk’s office, I believe) to find out how many traffic tickets were written. Keep in mind that it’s legal to stop, park, or stand momentarily in a bicycle lane to pick up or discharge passengers (see ORS 811.560); so I’d be surprised if many tickets were written there.

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  • Michael August 16, 2005 at 5:12 pm

    Thank you, Roger, for responding so fully to my anxious comments. It honestly had not occurred to me that the bike lane is for slow bikes. I had thought it was more or less mandatory for all bikes, although I often don’t use them when I can keep up with motor traffic as I fear the doors and right hooks.

    Regardless of the statistics, I think bike lanes are less than satisfactory. Where ever possible I avoid them and use quieter streets where I can take the full lane. In my experience taking the lane encourages motorists to completely move to the next lane to pass me with much more space. When I hug the right whether it is a bike lane or not, motorists will squeeze me and I find that very scary (and that was the major factor in a accident where I hit a parked car out of fright of the very close van passing on my left).

    If bike lanes help improve bike user numbers, what would fully developed bike streets do where the motorists are the secondary users?

    I greatly appreciate your work in helping to improve Portland’s bicycling environment.

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  • Jessica August 16, 2005 at 5:39 pm

    Michael, right now it is still legally required that a cyclist use the bike lane if one exists, but the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (where I work) recently got a bill passed in Salem that will remove that limitation. The law will go into effect in January, 2006.

    The situation you describe is one of the main reasons we were concerned; some cyclists ride in a way that makes them safer while taking the lane, but that doesn’t offer much to, say, my mom, who wants to try biking when she visits but is a timid, inexperienced, sloooow cyclist. I go with her and model good behavior, but she would be in danger and clearly obstructing traffic if her only option were to take the lane.

    Once the new law passes, cyclists who have the experience and confidence to take the lane can do so, but bike lanes will still be an option for less-experienced, slower, or less-assertive riders.

    It also means that cyclists have legal protection when they leave the bike lane to, for example, avoid debris, move over to make a left turn, or pass a vehicle that’s unloading passengers.

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  • Joel September 5, 2006 at 11:14 am

    Jessica, doesn’t the law state that the bike lane be used only if it is safe to do so? Given that, wouldn’t one be allowed to take the lane when the bike lane has been striped in a door zone, there are many parked cars and a reasonable expectation that people may be getting out of them (at 5pm, e.g.)?

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  • […] Despite having more bike lane guys per foot than anywhere in the city last year, a cyclist was arrested for attempting to squeeze between a delivery truck and a parked car as he attempted to ride through without entering motor vehicle traffic lanes. […]

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  • Jim Wallace February 4, 2007 at 6:41 am

    If anyone in Gresham has been stopped by police officer durban for being in a bike lane please contact me at mcin777@aol.com

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