The Worst Day of the Year Ride is February 11th

Update on highway bike ban proposal

Posted by on April 5th, 2006 at 9:01 am

[This is sort of long so if you can attend the meeting on Friday please scroll down for time and location.]

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”.

And if you think ODOT is not capable of bad things, than you must have missed horribly unfair and unsafe decisions they made by completely excluding bike facilities on the St. Johns Bridge renovation. But whether you like ODOT or not, they control all the big federal money that trickles down to bike infrastructure so we need to work with them to establish an open and constructive dialogue based on respect and understanding. We need to work at educating them about bicycles one employee at a time.

I got started while down in Eugene for the Oregon Bicycle Tourism Summit where I met with a member of the OPBAC and several key ODOT bike people. I wanted to know who brought the proposal to the table and why they felt like they had the right to exclude bicycles from the road.

First off, it’s important to realize this proposal was brought to the table by people way down on the vast ODOT organizational flow-chart. ODOT’s bike facilities manager Sheila Lyons called it “more of a grassroots thing” and “not an offical proposal”. According to Michael Ronkin (ODOT’s bike and ped manager) this proposal was brought forth by ODOT’s Portland area district maintenance office.

So far, no one I’ve talked to seems to know the exact genesis of this proposal. One anonymous email I received said it emanated from State Police.

Sheila also expressed that the backers of the proposal might not quite understand how the Portland bike community works (that’s an understatement!). On that note, we agree that this whole episode can become a learning opportunity for both sides.

This is a great chance for the bike community to educate ODOT staffers who may not fully appreciate the role of and position of bicycles in the transportation mix. If this proposal concerns you or if you currently ride on highway 26 between the Zoo and Goose Hollow, I urge you to attend Friday’s meeting and let ODOT know where you stand.

Here are the meeting details:
Friday April 7
Lovejoy Room, Portland City Hall
1221 SW 4th Avenue, Portland

Bike ban proposal 11:30
Public comment period 12:15-12:45.

The committee will try to hear at least 10 people with a max of 5 minutes each. I will be there with print outs of comments made on my previous post. I hope to see some of you there as well.

I fully expect that some sections in this proposed ban will fall off the table and that if any sections do make it through this process to a public hearing in June, they will be sections that we all agree on and that have gone through a proper public and data-gathering process. At least, that’s what I hope happens.

[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.]

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Jonathan Maus April 5, 2006 at 9:10 am

    I just got off the phone with OPBAC member Jerry Norquist. Later today, he and I will visit the sections of highway in the proposal to learn more about them in advance of Friday’s meeting.

    Also, if you can’t make the meeting and would like to give a written testimony, you can leave a comment here or email me directly ( I will print everything out and bring it to the meeting.

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  • Scout April 5, 2006 at 1:29 pm

    In the wake of the excitement over being voted the best U.S. city for walking AND cycling, this is downright laughable.

    No, seriously. I’m cracking up over here!

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  • Jasun Wurster April 5, 2006 at 4:19 pm

    Hi All,

    Here is some information that I got about highways and accidents in regards
    to the proposed ban.

    I am very interested in the scientific data in which the “bicyclists on their
    owning choosing not to use the highways” was derived. I am sure that the
    results of the survey are public record … if one was conducted.


    >From: “KELLER Karla K”
    >To: “RONKIN Michael P” , “jasun”
    >CC: “HARRY Steven M”
    >Subject: RE: Bicycle vs. Auto collision data on Portland area freeways
    >Date: Wed, 5 Apr 2006 15:05:14 -0700
    >Michael and Jasun –
    >There have been two bicycle accidents on the Sunset Highway east of the
    >Vista Ridge Tunnel that I am aware of in the past few years. Both were
    >going up hill. The other locations do not have any tracked accidents.
    >Mainly due to bicycle riders opting not to ride on those highways.
    >Accident data is not a conclusive consideration….meaning that in
    >generally ODOT can say that there is a high or low accident rate for
    >vehicles because the data exists. However, since nearly all bicyclists
    >are opting on their own, for safety considerations, not to use these
    >facilities, there is no bicycle accident data.
    >Yes, it will be articulated in the presentation on Friday. The
    >information will include….There are two stretches of highway that now
    >have an adjacent bikepath and those areas led to the original decision
    >to have the non-motorized vehicle prohibition to provide the appropriate
    >signing. Those are portions of the Sunset Highway and portions of I-84.
    >The other areas were being proposed based on highway geometry, high
    >speed exits, highway accident rates, speed, congestion, increased
    >traffic, lane changes, increased use of the shoulders for break-down or
    >emergency stops by motorists and that there were no bicyclists on their
    >owning choosing not to use the highways.
    >Please let me know if you have any additional questions. I will be in
    >and out of meetings between now and Friday, but you can try to reach me
    >by phone or email.
    >Karla Keller
    >ODOT Region 1 Maintenance/Operations Manager

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  • Randy April 5, 2006 at 8:14 pm

    Unfortubately, Karla’s logic is faulty when she states that there is no accident data because no bicyclists use these routes. From previous posts here, it is clear that a significant number of bicyclists regularly ride the Sunset Highway between the Zoo and Goose Hollow in the eastbound direction without incident, and in fact consider this a safer and more direct route than the alternatives. I would hope that, in addition to crash data, ODOT also presents traffic count data which indicates how many bicyclists regularly use this route.

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  • Jonathan Maus April 5, 2006 at 8:46 pm

    The bigger question is what is ODOT doing to make bicycle travel safe, convenient, and efficient between these areas?

    Motorists have nice, flat, direct corridors to travel on and bicycles deserve the same respect and consideration.

    They need to see bicycles as a viable mode, not as a recreational tool and planning afterthought.

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  • AllanFolz April 5, 2006 at 9:53 pm

    >[There were no recorded accidents] mainly due to bicycle riders opting not to ride on those highways.
    >Accident data is not a conclusive consideration….meaning that in
    >generally ODOT can say that there is a high or low accident rate for
    >vehicles because the data exists. However, since nearly all bicyclists
    >are opting on their own, for safety considerations, not to use these
    >facilities, there is no bicycle accident data.

    It takes a special talent to fit so much wrongness into so few sentences. Such talent is not without worth. In doing so it often leaves anyone that might disagree speechless… where does one even begin?

    How about the underlying premise that we citizens are idiots incapable of taking care of ourselves without our government betters doing it for us? Most bicyclists opt not to use these routes (a dubious and admittedly unproven assertion), therefore it must be outlawed to all bicyclists.

    By ODOT’s logic, let us not allow each citizen to decide for him or herself. It is ODOT’s job to decide for us all. Trust ODOT, it is for our own good.

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  • Nick April 5, 2006 at 10:26 pm

    Wow, I took the 26 zoo to Jefferson exit this morning with a fellow rider following me just this morning.

    I didn’t know that I was a nobody. 😉


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  • Jonathan Maus April 5, 2006 at 10:34 pm

    The number of bikers using these routes is a red herring.

    Of course no cyclists want to use shoulders that are full of debris, are constantly impeded upon by road crews, and are routed through very unsafe merging situations.

    The irony is that this proposal would punish a user group for ODOT’s own lack of competence in upkeeping the roadways they are entrusted to maintain for all road users. It just doesn’t add up to me.

    I repeat, bicycles are not only recreational toys. People that choose to ride them deserve the same respect and consideration in our transporation system as other user groups.

    Only when bicycles are given consideration and respect equal to that of motorists will we ever see the type of ridership numbers that are imperative to our public safety and the health of our bodies and planet.

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  • Matthew Stovall April 6, 2006 at 5:26 am

    You know, there are far fewer accidents between cars and bikes than between cars and . . . other cars. It seems the common element is the cars. Maybe they should move to ban the cars from the highways — that would completely eliminate the possibility of accidents! 🙂

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  • Tiago April 6, 2006 at 6:14 pm

    I’ll try to get there tomorrow at the meeting, and everyone else who is concerned should do the same. This kind of safety rethoric is what authorities usually grab on to when they want to impose their will and have little to justify. There are, of course, many other ways to improve safety then just making the “unprotected” object illegal. I think it’s worthy trying to understand what would be the real motivations behind this suspicious ODOT’s proposal.

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  • Randy April 6, 2006 at 7:23 pm

    We can all speculate, but do you really think they will frankly and honestly explain their ‘real motivations?’ Cyclists are already getting a snow job from ODOT, that’s patently obvious from Ms. Keller’s double-speak.

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  • Bruce Werner April 7, 2006 at 1:18 pm

    Although the Sunset Highway Corridor is not the fastest way for me to commute by bike to downtown PDX I consider it the safest and when conditions warrant I go out of my way to use it. I usually get on the Sunset at Murray Road and get off at Cedar Hills Blvd. The shoulder is enormous, about 10 feet wide, and comparable in width to the bike path from Cedar Hills to Sylvan. On high volume days I am considerably faster than the highway traffic.

    At Cedar Hills I take the bike path to Sylvan and the Zoo and then drop onto the freeway exiting at Jefferson Street. Again, the shoulder is enormous, and comparable in width to the bike path. Traffic tends to back up from I-405 South through the tunnel and up towards the zoo, so on this section I am often passing the slow freeway traffic. The Jefferson street off ramp also has a huge shoulder.

    ODOT has spent millions buidling bicycle accomodations which has transformed the Sunset corridor from an automobile desert to a bike commuting oasis. The logic of spending large sums of money to create this optimal route and then substantially increasing the danger and difficulty of using it by banning bikes on critical sections escapes me. This is a very safe route and the section from the Zoo to Jefferson street would be even safer with signs noting that bikes could be on the shoulder and flexible pylons installed near the fog line that would let vehicles through for emergencies while indicating the shoulder is not a travel lane for cars.

    Cyclists have no desire to be in the freeway car lanes but should have a right to be on the shoulder. One final note – The shoulder of the road westbound from Jefferson street to the zoo is actually currently signed as a bike route. Banning bicycles would remove it as such.

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  • Russell April 7, 2006 at 1:27 pm

    It seems to me that this “draft proposal” is going nowhere, at least if they have to get it past the Oregon Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee to become law. At worst, we’ll see some short strips in the hinterlands restricted if ODoT makes this some kind of priority and follows up today’s meeting.

    My main issue is with the culture that must exist at ODoT where it’s perceived you can get a quick feather in the cap of your internal resume by going after bicyclists or facilities armed with anecdotal evidence. I’d say if Portland bicyclists have a common enemy in government right now, it’s this agency.

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  • Theo April 7, 2006 at 3:07 pm

    I can’t help but feel that this is a reaction from the PDX PD to the Sunday night Zoo Bomb crew. I have noticed that they will ride 26 from the Zoo to downtown in large numbers. Who this bothers, I don’t know but it just seems like the cops have a beef with those guys/girls. I ride to work from PDX to Beaverton and find that 26 is my best route althogh, the West bound bike lane from downtown to the Zoo is kind of sketchy. Instead of banning, how about working to make the lane more safe?

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