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ODOT proposes bike ban

Posted by on March 16th, 2006 at 10:07 am

Citing “safety” concerns, the Oregon Deparment of Transportation (ODOT) has proposed a ban on bicycles that would make it illegal for cyclists to ride on or next to certain sections of Metro area freeways.

This ban would prohibit bike access on existing bike routes including:

  • The Highway 217 corridor from Beaverton to Lake Oswego.
  • The freeway and shoulder of Highway 26 between the Oregon Zoo and Jefferson Street/Goose Hollow (the wide shoulders on this highway currently provide an important direct connection for cyclists to and from downtown).

To carry out this ban, ODOT wants to change the wording in an existing rule that governs the status of non-motorized vehicles on freeways. Here is a PDF of the existing rule with the proposed changes in underline and bold print and the language to be deleted in brackets. The proposed changes in the wording of this rule will be considered by the Oregon Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee (OBPAC) at a meeting on April 7, 2006, at 10:00 a.m. in Portland City Hall. If they decide to proceed with the rule change, then a formal notice and public hearings will be scheduled, perhaps as early as late Summer 2006.

The man behind this proposed ban is Rolland Arney. The only thing I know about him is that he is listed as a “Senior Right-of-Way Agent” for ODOT. If you would like to send him your thoughts, his email address is

Lawyer Ray Thomas says “Oregon’s bicycle leadership needs to step up in opposing this bad idea” and he’s leading the charge in opposition to this proposal. Here’s more from Ray taken from a 4-page statement he has just released (here is a PDF of his entire statement):

“Access to roads is the life blood of the freedom to ride where one wishes on a bicycle. Over the past two decades, bicyclists and pedestrians have been seen as an irritant by government officials who have reacted to legitimate concern about poorly designed and inadequate transportation facilities with attempts to prohibit user access instead of facility improvement.”

“ODOT’s consideration of a ban on bicycles on metro area freeways is legally unnecessary and a restriction on bicyclists’ legal rights.”

Apparently the impetus for all this came when ODOT was contacted by law enforcement officials who had received complaints from motorists. I want to find out more about ODOT’s reasoning and motivation for doing this and I will share the information when I do. Perhaps someone from ODOT is reading this and can tell us more (Michael Ronkin, are you out there?).

I really think ODOT should be working with the bike community to create more safe transportation corridors, instead of restricting our access without providing any alternatives. I am trying to give them the benefit of the doubt until more details surface, but given their track record I’m very skeptical.

Bicycle access to highways is essential when there is no other feasible alternative available. I hope this move by ODOT isn’t a harbinger of more bike access restrictions in the future. If they succeed in arguing that they’re doing this because of “safety concerns” than what’s to stop them from using the same logic on high-traffic city streets? If successful, this would set an ominous precedent for bicyclists rights to the road.

ODOT must start to realize that bicycles are a legitimate means of transportation that deserve the same respect and priority in our transportation system as semi-trucks and automobiles.

Stay tuned for more developments and make note of that April 7th meeting.

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    Curt Dewees March 16, 2006 at 10:32 am

    ODOT seems to be deeply imbedded in the hip pocket of the long-haul truckers’ lobbyist(s).
    Remember, these are the same folks who totally f**ked us on the St. John’s Bridge. There also, ODOT overruled its own consultant’s recommendations for better bike access because of complaints from the very well-funded truckers’ lobby. As far as ODOT is concerned, money talks and bicyclists … walk.

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    benschon March 16, 2006 at 10:43 am

    Where’s the evidence? ODOT is engineering-centric, so it surprises me that they haven’t offered any data to support the idea that some anonymous person’s “concern” is a genuine problem.

    Show us evidence of whose safety is at risk. Have any crashes been attributed to cyclist use of these freeways? What are the bicycle counts on these freeway segments, anyway? I suspect they don’t have any of this information.

    ODOT appears to be proposing a policy change, without having proven that there is a problem.

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    Jenni Simonis March 16, 2006 at 10:47 am

    When it comes to safety I’m a lot more worried about all the crazy drivers out there going 70+ mph in a 55 mph zone, going from lane to lane without a turn signal, in spaces too small, etc.

    Or those riding those stupid little “crotch rockets” who come up alongside you when you’re in a right-turn only lane and continue on straight– through a red light.

    The only problem I have with bike riders are those who fly down sidewalks in Portland and Gresham– especially when there are bike lanes that are free of debris. I’ve almost been hit by these while out walking. But I don’t blame all bike riders for that– just the idiots who don’t want to follow the rules. They’re the same type who run red lights in their car, speed, etc.

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    C3PNo March 16, 2006 at 10:52 am

    If government wants to take away our right to use roads that we helped pay for, they can pay for new ones for us. Mmm… Bike Tunnel!

    Wheelchairs are legally represented in federal/state law. What about bicyclists? Equal Access for Non-Polluters Now!

    What do truckers have against cyclists anyway?
    I, for one, enjoy their nitro as they pass me on the open road.

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    Evan March 16, 2006 at 11:02 am

    This letter was sent to Rolland Arney at ODOT, and also posted to Rep. Earl Blumenaur on his website. If anyone out there wishes to copy and send it or modify it, have at it. Keep the rubber side down!


    I am a cyclist who regularly uses US Hwy 26 to get from the Sylvan interchange and/or the Washington Park Zoo to downtown Portland. I used to live in the Sylvan area, and this connection was vital for my daily commute from home to Portland State University. The inbound trip time is cut in half (or maybe even by ¾) when taking this route over the alternatives (Council Crest to Broadway or Vista, or through the Washington Park Zoo). Additionally, I believe the inbound Hwy 26 route is actually SAFER than the other alternatives because the others have no bike lanes and force riders onto roads with high-speed turns and no wiggle room for either bikes or vehicular traffic. The Hwy 26 option is the safest, most direct option for cyclists to get into downtown Portland from Beaverton and beyond.

    To prohibit access to this valuable connection would be to the detriment of both cyclists and drivers. It would not benefit anybody, and I believe it would actually increase the potential for car/bike accidents. Portland is consistently ranked as one of the best cities in the United States for bicycling. Some of the major benefits of cycling to ODOT include LESS vehicular traffic rather than more on Hwy 26. While some cyclists may prefer to use a different route to get into town, knowing the option of using Hwy 26 exists means less travel time and the OPTION to ride instead of drive.

    Last but not least, let me remind you that ODOT is the Oregon Department of Transportation, not the Oregon Department of Cars.

    This message has also been sent to Representative Earl Blumenaur.

    Thank you for your time and consideration.


    Evan MacKenzie

    Hillsboro, OR

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    Stephen March 16, 2006 at 11:46 am

    I hate to lose right to ride on certain roads.
    But come on be realistic, both of those places are unsafe. They are some of the most congested roads for cars now. Riding down 26 is dumb. What would be better would be to convince ODOT to build a bike path in the gully down next to the freeway from Zoo to Jefferson/Goose Hollow.

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    Peter W March 16, 2006 at 12:23 pm

    >> Citing “safety” concerns, the Oregon Deparment of Transportation (ODOT) has proposed a ban on bicycles that would make it illegal for cyclists to ride on or next to certain sections of Metro area freeways.

    Lets assume bicycles on roads *do* cause safety problems. Well cars present even more safety problems. If ODOT applied the standards they’re using while attempting to ban bikes from roads, shouldn’t they ban cars from roads too?

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    bikefunnist March 16, 2006 at 12:35 pm

    surely we cyclists would be safer if stayed off the roads altogether. i applaud ODOT for taking an important leadership role in this cause.

    i shall go by an exercise bike and keep to the safety of my living room, where I can at least watch tv.

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    John S March 16, 2006 at 12:39 pm

    I agree with Stephen. Riding 26 is nuts. I’ve done it twice and both time had to make spit second adjustments to avoid large objects that had been ejected from cars. A bike path between the Zoo and Jefferson would be a better option.

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    nuada March 16, 2006 at 12:52 pm

    Whether or not the highway routes are considered safe is not exactly the central issue here. We need to focus on sustaining the rights of cyclists to the road and then work on improving the routes.

    As far as riding in East Portland/Gresham goes, the bike lanes there are chock-full of debris: piles of glass, pieces of sharp metal and other asorted obstacles. I have the misfortune of having to use them to commute to work. I keep calling the street cleaning number. It only seems to get cleared if someone complains so the more calls they get the better.

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    josh m March 16, 2006 at 1:16 pm

    I have ridden that length of 26 many times.
    At night… I’ve never had any problems.
    the shoulder is huge. My riding down burnside or hawthorne like I do everyday, is more dangerous.

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    Jonathan Maus March 16, 2006 at 2:31 pm

    Thanks for all the input so far.

    I like benschon’s point about evidence to back up the safety argument. I hope they’re not doing this because of few complaints by motorists. That would be absurd.

    Excluding a user group should be the option of absolute last resort…not the first response to a problem (if indeed one exists).

    Why don’t they look to make the existing conditions safer first? Clear more debris, add signage, do some outreach. ODOT loves buying up billboards and plastering them with car safety messages. Why not the same PR campaign for bike safety?

    I look forward to learning more about this as things develop.

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    Mike McCabe March 16, 2006 at 5:44 pm

    My suggestion is to send your comments to the Director of ODOT:

    Matthew Garrett, Director
    355 Capitol Street NE, Room 135
    Salem, OR 97301-3871
    Fax: (503) 986-3432


    Please be objective and rationale as possible and let him know that bicyclists pay taxes, including gas taxes, as well.

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    Jonathan Maus March 16, 2006 at 5:58 pm

    Another good contact would be Michael Ronkin. He’s the Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager for ODOT. His email:

    He has left comments on this site in the past and I’ve heard he’s a good guy.

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    Chris Harnish March 16, 2006 at 7:13 pm

    Jonathan makes a good point about the ad campaign, though it likely will not happen. It seems it’s easier to puch cyclists to the fringe. As a founding member of MassCBoke Cape Cod, we faced stiff opposition from the State engineers about making road changes. Here, it is all or nothing: either we get a 6 foot wide bikelane or nothing – towns usually opt out of state and federal funding to avoid the bike lane.

    As a future resident of OR, I’ll make a few contacts.

    Best of luck!

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    Dabby March 16, 2006 at 7:16 pm

    The first thing we need is a key to the ODOT office, so I may chain myself to this Rolland person’s desk, to put a stop to such an atrocious Idea as this.
    I ride the highways. I ride the to the coast on HWY 26. I ride into work from St John’s everyday, on the road on the St John’s bridge, and on the ugly, dirty, hellish Hwy 30.
    If I am in NE Portland, and need to get to the NW fast, I take the Fremont Bridge.Yes, On the Freeway.
    I am a strong willed aggressive cyclist. But, even with 8 feet of shoulder, logging trucks buzz me on purpose, about this I am not kidding.
    I believe the real treason may be a fear of liability on the part of big buisness, ie, trucking companies, oil companies, big buisness, and the ole dept. of Transpo.
    The huge increase in cycling in this town scares them, heck, it scares me.
    There are alot of inexperienced riders, forced to ride alongside angry, overworked truck driver, commutters who feel they are late, etc.
    The problem is not that these cyclists are there, the problem is that these truckers, drivers, corporations, and our own state run dept. of Transpo are not willing to share OUR road with US!!!!
    Simple solution.
    More cops enforcing infractions, including slow weaving cyclists, fast moving truck drivers, and irate commutters.
    Actually striping bike lanes into the 8 feet of shoulder on Hwys. like 30,and 26. Signage claiming bikes ahead, and Bikes on road ahead.
    There should be not one single piece of road in this city, or county, or state, that does not have a bike lane, or watch for bikes sign.
    I think the dept. of transpo.(yes, I quit capitalizing it, I am pissed off) is too cheap, too worried about the moving of their precious cargo, and too hung up on motorized transportation to even think of anything but closing these roads to cyclists.
    All this talk about a Platinum Status for Portland is muted by Ideas such as this, and ideas such as the bus mall plan.
    How could we ever be considered a real cycling city if we have a single road closed to cycling?
    How can we acheive Platinum status if our own dept. of transpo bans cycling on major arterials?
    I have a Krypto lock that will probably just fit around my neck, and around the leg of Rolland’s desk.
    I just need helping turning the key.
    Who’s with me?

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    Carolyn March 16, 2006 at 8:39 pm

    Since I’ve moved to the west side, Hwy 26 from the Zoo to the PGE exit has become one of my staples for getting downtown in a hurry (there’s no way I’d go up the hill on the Hwy). There are a whopping three viable options that I’ve found for going up and over the Tualatin Mountains (north of 26 =zoo/washington park, 26 itself, south of 26 = Montgomery). If they take away one of these options I as someone who wants to ride from the west side into town will be severely limited.

    Each of my routes for getting over the hill has its own set of quirks and hazards. I’ve actually been most threatened on the section you’d assume was the safest for cyclists.
    Just yesterday (Wednesday) I felt more scared for my life going downhill from the top of the Sylvan/Scholls Ferry to the zoo on the bike-laned service type road that parallels 26 than ever. I got a good case of road rage directed at me from a speeding FUV driver. He played chicken with my life, ending his little display of machismo by cutting in front of me while laying on the horn only to slam on the brakes to turn left into a neighborhood street. I maybe slowed him down 10 seconds by being in his lane just a bit. I was going 30 mph. When he came up on me he must have been nearing 45. I’m not sure what the posted limit is. I’m going to check that out tomorrow.

    That little piece of morning stress was gone once I got onto 26 itself and hit a glorious 44 mph [where hwy traffic was
    doing right around 50]. So fun. And so efficient. Downtown and in my office in just a few more minutes than it takes to drive and park.

    Again, my
    commute options would be cut by 50% (I rarely go down via Council Crest/Montgomery) if they took the Hwy 26 option away from west-siders.
    Already, I even wonder about how reliable the Zoo/Washington Park option is. There’s a sign (which I assume is there for bad weather days? the whim of some manager?) which reads something to the effect of: “Roadway may close without warning.” So I wonder if I’ll find myself halfway down or up the hill and then having to go back up to Sylvan or down into town / over to get where I need to go.

    No doubt about it. Hwy 26 has its safety issues for cyclists– but so do each of the whopping 3 options I have for going over the Tualatin Mtns. And it is certainly the Fastest Way in to town. I know there’s a good chance I’ll be on it tomorrow for when I’ll be running late to get in to work by 7AM. See you there?

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    Steve Long March 17, 2006 at 9:09 am

    Here’s a response I sent to Rolland:

    I have recently been apprised of the new rule change you proposed concerning banning cyclist from certain sections of freeways or next to them. I must say two things at least:
    1. The rule change seems short sighted given that we should be improving routes for cyclists as they actually improve traffic flow problems by reducing the number of cars that are on the road. Additionally, this helps us all because lighter traffic means better safer roads for drivers and cyclist. It also reduces air pollution and wear and tear on roadways reducing shared costs for all of us (more tax resources become available for other things).
    2. Where are the statistics that show these places are unsafe?

    Steve Long

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    Nick March 17, 2006 at 9:43 am

    I’m with Carolyn.

    I too take the HW26 to Jefferson exit to work each morning. However, when I have made time I will take the washington park route to downtown.

    I never go westboud on HW 26 in the afternoon. I’ll take the max to the zoo or trek-up through Washington Park. There are two “pinches” on the sholder that are just way too uncomfortable.

    You can see image maps of my route posted in the Forum ( )

    The HW26 route from the zoo, could easily be improved to include bike-only traffic near the west-bound sholder and on through the Jefferson Exit tunnel. I understand that the HW needs a sholder for broken cars, etc. However with a bit of digging I’m sure it could work without even closing lanes on the HW durring construciton.

    Until that happens HW 26 should remain open. It amazes me, that it has been open for 40+ years, and all of a sudden, when there are more bikes on the road they decide to close it.


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    Scott Bricker March 17, 2006 at 3:49 pm

    The Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee will discuss the issue of highway closure during their April meeting in Portland. This is not an opportunity for public testimony but the public is welcom. I will attend to gather more info.,.

    OBPAC Meeting
    Location: Lovejoy Room, Portland City Hall, 1221 SW 4th Ave., Portland
    Time: 10am – Highway Closure agenda item

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    Susan Otcenas March 20, 2006 at 11:29 am

    Whether or not YOU personally ride these roads, please help protect the rights of cyclists to continue to do so.

    ODOT is citing “safety concerns”. Yeah, maybe I personally wouldn’t want to ride on some of these roads, but that’s not the point. The point is that “safety concerns” is a slippery slope. What if “safety concerns” gradually brought about the banning of bikes on all sorts of roads we use all the time? Don’t laugh, or think it can’t happen – I was in Spokane last weekend and saw “NO BICYCLES” signs on major thoroughfares there – not freeways, just busy roads. A friend just had a conversation with a motorist this weekend, who told him he wasn’t “allowed” to ride on roads without shoulders. Is this the world we want to live in?

    We’d all (motorists, cyclists and pedestrians alike) be a lot safer if motorists slowed down, obeyed speed limits, banned cellphone usage by drivers, worked on reducing aggressive driving and tailgating, etc. But, banning bikes just gives motorists a free pass to continue to drive in an unsafe manner and gets those pesky bicyclists out of the way.

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    nuovorecord March 20, 2006 at 2:29 pm

    Frankly, putting pressure on ODOT to build a replacement bike lane for Sylvan to downtown seems like a better long-range solution. Get them to commit to the project in exchange for closing access to US 26…and don’t let them close access to US 26 before the bike lane is built.

    I know some of you are gonna flame me for this, but so be it. Bikes don’t belong on urban freeways, IMHO. Some of you have been to Amsterdam. Did you see bikes on the freeways over there? I doubt it. There is an entire bikeway network built in The Netherlands for connecting cities over long distances. We should be focusing on getting a similar network built here in Oregon.

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  • […] My previous post on this issue has sparked some good dialogue. Many riders use these routes because there is no safe and adequate alternative. One such rider is Susan Otcenas. Below is an excerpt from her comment that illustrates why it is important for us to keep a close eye on ODOT, regardless of if you use these routes or not: “ODOT is citing “safety concerns”. Yeah, maybe I personally wouldn’t want to ride on some of these roads, but that’s not the point. The point is that “safety concerns” is a slippery slope. What if “safety concerns” gradually brought about the banning of bikes on all sorts of roads we use all the time? Don’t laugh, or think it can’t happen – I was in Spokane last weekend and saw “NO BICYCLES” signs on major thoroughfares there – not freeways, just busy roads. A friend just had a conversation with a motorist this weekend, who told him he wasn’t “allowed” to ride on roads without shoulders. Is this the world we want to live in?” […]

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    J Price March 21, 2006 at 4:52 pm

    What I find interesting is that while ODOT attempts to restrict usage of some of the metro highways, local sheriff’s departments are advising roadway users that bicyclists, in order to legally ride on highways are supposed to be in the actual lane of travel. Case in point, a number of months ago The Oregonian ran a series of discussions in it’s Back Seat article quoting the Washington County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Sandy James as stating that according to the law [ORS] bicycles are vehicles and as such are not legally allowed to proceed along highway 26 on the shoulder – it is for emergency use only. She was further quoted as stating that bicycles needed to travel in the actual right lane of the highway. ODOT and local law enforcement need to figure out which “safety concern” they would like to create….

    I have ridden highway 26 east from Sylvan to the Jefferson Street exit numerous times and although it is not a preferred travel corridor it is by no means a safety hazard. There is plenty of room on that shoulder to ride. The metro highways become dangerous when the interchanges do not consider bicycle travel – crossing the new on and off ramps on the west side of Sylvan is something I agree that nobody should attempt. Multiple lanes of cars at highway speeds entering and leaving while a ‘slow’ traveling bicycle attempts to forge straight ahead is a recipe for pain; thankfully there are bikeways and pedestrian paths to bypass Canyon Road/Hwy 217 access points.

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    Scott Bricker March 21, 2006 at 5:27 pm

    FYI. The new law that the BTA helped pass in 2005 allows bicycles to pass on the right. There are still questions of whether bikes can leagally ride on a shoulder (it is weird) but allowing bikes to pass on the right also implied that we would stay right, on the shoulder or other spaces.

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    Dennis March 22, 2006 at 10:14 am

    I too use 26 on a regular basis to commute and find it the safest route into downtown from the west side. The only issue I have is with drivers that use the sholder to get to the PGE exit. I’ve been cut off several times this winter alone. And the reality is, there is little or no inforcement on 26 in the tunnel corridor. In the 4 years I’ve been riding it 3 or more days a week, I’ve not seen anyone stopped for speeding and in the 25 or so miles I ride a day, never seen anyone stopped for running a red light or stop sign. So who’s going to ticket a bike rider on the sholder of the hiway? The general conscience now days seems to be, rules are only for people stupid enough to follow them. And boy, am I stupid…

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  • […] This Friday the Oregon Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee (OPBAC) will meet in Portland (see agenda and location below). One of the topics on the agenda is a proposed bicycle ban on metro area freeways. This proposal came out of nowhere and quickly earned disapproval from the BTA and super-lawyer Ray Thomas. I’m concerned about this proposal because the proponents cite safety concerns but provide absolutely no evidence to back it up. I also realize that one segment they want to close (hwy 26 between the Zoo and Goose Hollow) is an important route for westside bike commuters into downtown and I vehemently oppose restricting bike access where no safe and viable alternative exists. But beyond that, I worry about the precedent that would be set if ODOT succeeds in banning bikes from roads just because of unfounded “safety concerns”. […]

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  • […] Karla Keller, ODOT’s Maintenance Manager for Portland, brought along all sorts of stuff for the presentation of her proposal to ban bicycles on metro area highways. She passed out 18 pages of impressive, full-color aerial photos, maps, and internal memos. But unfortunately she forgot the most important thing of all…sensible justification for her proposal. Due to a complete lack of evidence, logic, and public review, Keller’s presentation was met with serious skepticism by members of the Oregon Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee (OPBAC) and the public who packed a meeting room at City Hall last Friday. [They’re not buying it.] […]

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