Several readers have written in complaining about gravel still left in many bike lanes throughout the city. It was initially spread to help with the ice and slick roads from our recent storm.
One reader says,
“I have noticed a number of places where the bike lanes and routes have enough gravel in them to present serious hazards. The city puts the gravel out in a timely fashion for motorists during a winter storm, and they should be cleaning it up for cyclists in an equally timely fashion after a storm.”
Another reader lists locations he has noticed being particularly dangerous:
- Eastbound bike lane on NW Everett between ~ NW 21st and I-405
- Eastbound SW Main between SW 4th and the Hawthorne Bridge
- SE Hawthorne Boulevard through the Hawthorne business district
- Eastbound SE Harrison between SE 23rd and SE 25th
I assume gravel clean-up is the responsibility of the city’s maintenance division. Unfortunately they’re not usually the most bike-friendly part of the team. In last year’s PDOT budget survey they consistently gave bike-related issues very low priority. Not sure if that has anything to do with it or not.
Have you had any problems with gravel? If so, where? Maybe a good idea is to call
823-SAFE (7233) (503) 823-1750 (thanks Dat!).
I feel it should be the city’s responsibly to get this stuff up as fast as they. Skinny road bike tires just don’t do that well on it and I would hate to see someone slip and then get run over… Clean It Up!
Here is the number numbers for street cleaning.
(503) 823-1750 or (503) 823-1778
The better number to call is 823-1750, as Dat mentions. 823-SAFE is not the right place to call in specific locations (though if you have a more general concern about street maintenance and how it affects bicycle safety then that is the right place for it).
If you are concerned about a spot outside of the City of Portland, check out the list of road maintenance contacts at
Gravel is bad on the westside. In the last 5 days, I’ve had 5 flats, 1 on my slick tired MTB, 2 on my cross bike and 1 on my road bike, all tires are in good shape and at max pressure. Before the gravel I had gone several months without a flat, maybe it is just karma?
Bad roads within Hillsboro and Beaverton:
Walker East from 158th to Koll PRK Way
Cornell west of 158th to 185th.(east and west)
Evergreen from 185th to Cornelious Pass (east and west)
Evergreen from Shutes RD to Jackson School.(east and west)
Glenco from Evergreen to Cory (North and south)
Connell from Cory to Main (really bad north bound where the road dips and curves below the RR tracks)gravel no shoulder and gravel is .5″ ti 1″ deep 12-24″ into roadway in a curve forceing you to ride will into the lane.
How is it that a City government that boasts of its bike friendly status, fails to clean up bike routes, fails to train police to deal fairly with bicyclists, fails to focus traffic enforcement where the most damage to life, limb and property occur, fails to post adequate signage, and fails to close dangerous gaps in the bicycle network.
The friendliness of Portland’s streets for bicyclists has more to do with geography, a pre auto street grid, and lots of determined two wheel riders than with programs and policies of the City.
Maybe we should start an effort to downgrade Portland from Gold to Bronze until some changes are made; forget Platinum.
I’ve noticed my routes along SE Stark and NE Irving have been cleaned. It seems the problem is that the on street parking gets in the way of the cleaning – so they sweepers don’t seem to get all the way to the curb or through the bike lane.
I actually emailed the City Transport folks on their seemingly timely start to clean-up this year – SW Terwilliger is clear between Hillsdale and DT. Usually it is late spring or summer before this happens.
Also, depending on the road a different jurisdiction may be responsible – Beaverton-Hillsdale is ‘still’ a highway so the city is not reponsible for it. Same with Barbur?
Also, if you have watched the cleanup process – it takes time….quite a bit as gravel is not easily swept and contained. My guess is they have a decreasing priority that is followed.
My route in was clear in a matter of days, I was actually quite impressed with the service this year. I do live right by the maintenance yard however, so I suppose that helps!
Thanks for a timely post – as I was riding home on Broadwat by PSU last night and in to work today on SE 28th/Bybee (esp. the stretch between Raymond and the Bybee Bridge), I was appalled at the amount of gravel in the bike lanes – very dangerous, esp. at night when it was harder to see.
As a native East-coaster, I still cannot understand why this state GRAVELS the roads and call it “sanding”. Where I grew up (Maine), they SAND the roads with sand, which adds traction in nearly all conditions. This coarse stuff is more slippery after the snow melts even for cars and presents a danger for everyone involved.
Anyone out there in-the-know have any idea why it’s gravel and not sand?
yeah everett/405 was brutal yesterday.
especially when you have a long line of motorists continuing to turn right (across the bike lane) onto the on ramp without ever checking over their shoulder or yielding.
last thing you need is to be forced to abruptly brake in the middle of all that gravel.
people may get pissed when i’m not using the bike lane…..but whatever, i’m gonna make sure i have the smallest chance of being hit.
angry drivers cutting across gravel filled bike lanes? no thanks, i’ll take the lane.
That much gravel can almost be more dangerous than the ice itself, whilst on a bike.
I am a daily, year-round bike commuter that travels from St. Johns to downtown Portland via Willamette/Greely/Interstate. I’d like to give some props to the fine folks that HAVE been taking care of my bike route year-round. I think they’ve been doing a fantastic job. I’m also an avid mtn. biker, so I don’t mind a little extra slop on the roadway, just makes the commute more fun. I’m more worried about folks on phones veering into MY bike lane. (Take the bus you jerk!)
“Anyone out there in-the-know have any idea why it’s gravel and not sand?”
Sand applied to roads is more likely to wash off into the watershed and lead to excessive sedimentation. Gravel, as we know, stays put until someone comes to clean it up.
Those crazy salmon.
Going all up stream…….
Gotta love the determination…..
I’ve actually been very impressed with the sweeping response when I’ve called 503-823-1700 (the 1705 number is a new one to me and I’m not familiar with it). In nearly every case the request has been fulfilled within 48 hours. Lenny, have you not been able to get that kind of service on Swan Island?
Also, more on the gravel: they collect it, clean it, and store it for re-use.
Note that you can also call in state and county roads that need maintenance, in most cases. Check the url I posted above for those numbers. Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy might be one of those.
It gets a little funny out in Washington County, but in general, start by calling Clean Water Services and see if they send you to another jurisdiction.
Thanks Jonathan. Way to go on the Alice nomination.
In your interview with KATU, this would have been a great example piece for illustrating the inequities between modal policies. Cars slipping? Work FAST! Bikes slipping? Work sloooow…
I’m suprised at how much gravel there is off of main arterials and in level neighborhood streets. If you can’t sweep a bike route timely, don’t gravel. Warn motorists appropriately, but don’t gravel.
It’s only been a week since they laid the gravel down…I’m not yet convinced that they’re dragging their feet on cleanup. If it’s all still there in a month (and cyclists have put in requests for specific bike lane cleanup), then I’ll complain. But it does take some time to do the cleanup, you know?
If you do call the City’s sweeping phone line, be as specific as possible. When the bike line problem was wet, slippery leaves (not gravel), I called to ask for Woodstock Blvd around Reed College to be swept. I came back a few days later, and it had been done, but they only swept Woodstock between 39th & 28th. Don’t assume they’ll look around in that general area for more trouble spots to sweep.
Also, you’ll probably get an answer similar to what I got then — we’re working as fast as we can, and we’ll get to your problem when we can.
Jessica, the city should routinely clean up the gravel as a matter of course, starting immediately after the snow is gone, and according to a prioritized plan that targets the most heavily used and/or most heavily graveled bike routes. I have yet to see any indication that the city has such a plan, or that such an approach to cleanup exists.
In January 2004, some bike routes still had gravel on them months after the storm. A lot less gravel was used this year, which is good, but it also means that cleanup should occur that much faster.
Cyclists should not have to actively lobby or solicit the City to get the bike lanes and bike routes cleaned after each winter storm, the motorists certainly aren’t required to do this to get the gravel laid down in the first place.
Gravel in the bike lane just plain sucks.
You know what sucks more, and is an all-year problem? Broken beer bottles and auto glass in the bike lane and on road shoulders. I didn’t make it more than ten blocks from my house the other day before I found myself with a deflated rear tire and a huge shard of glass poking out of my tire.
Convicted drunken drivers should be forced to sweep broken glass out of the bike lane as part of their community service.
I believe it is actually a sand and gravel mix that is applied, according to a news report I heard a few days ago about the clean up.
Here is an article about the cleanup from the ORegonian:
Burr, et al.
We do have a plan, and we have been implementing it. As soon as the need for gravel on the roads ended (i.e., once the snow/ice melted away) the Bureau of Maintenance went into full gravel recovery mode. They have a map showing all arterial streets with existing bicycle lanes and those are the streets they target first. They’ve been focusing primarily on such streets within a 4-mile radius of the Central City, as we believe that’s where concentrated recovery efforts will benefit the most people on bicycles.
The City places a high priority on recovering the gravel because we recycle it. It’s much less expensive for us to recover and reuse, then it is to keep purchasing new.
Just this morning, in coordination with our sweeping crews, I received this message from our nighttime sweeping supervisor:
“Roger, tonight we should get rid of most of the gravel in the bike lanes within the 4-mile radius. Not all of the gravel is picked up on the first pass; also gravel is picked up by car tires, and then comes loose someplace else so after about 3 days it migrates back to the bike lanes. This is one reason why we have to resweep.
That’s certainly what I’ve observed on my cycling around the city. It’s getting better each day.
“You know what sucks more, and is an all-year problem? Broken beer bottles and auto glass in the bike lane and on road shoulders.”
On that note, has anyone else noted what seems to me to be in inordinate amount of broken glass in heavily-biked areas, glass that appears to have been deliberately placed there as opposed to the result of the casual slob litterbug?
Thanks, Roger – I hope that means that as I ride up Broadway between Market and Harrison tonight I won’t have to ride in the traffic lane to avoid all the piled-up gravel in the bike lane like I did last night . . . now can they go clean up SE 28th? 🙂
I spoke with the folks at the Bureau of Maintenance yesterday afternoon, to check in on their timeline for sweeping the bike lanes free of the gravel and debris left by the recent snow storm. Specifically I spoke with Judy Brown at 503-823-1778.
Judy Brown told me that the crews are working 16-20 hours each day to sweep the streets. Apparently they do north of Broadway during the dayshift, south of Broadway on the nightshift, moving from the east side to the west side. They are prioritizing the bike lanes, it’s more the fact that they have lots of gravel-dumping trucks that can do it at 25 mph, and only a handful of street-sweeping trucks that can do it at 5 mph.
If you are noticing danger spots on your specific commute route, you can contact 823-1700 and leave the exact location of the hazard on their voicemail, or with whoever answers the phone. In my experience, this has gotten my route successfully cleaned within 24 hours.
My query is this: why not salt? With the relative lack of snow on the city floor in Portland, we probably wouldn’t use it enough each year to damage the roads and cars, which is one argument against salt that I’ve heard. The upside to salt is that the snow never would have stuck to the ground in the first place, and we all could have gone to work, school, etc. Not that I’m against a random snow-day every once in a while:)
Jonathan, I’ve got to take exception with your comment about the Bureau of Maintenance. While they may not be the most “bike friendly part of the team” as you say, I have never noticed any employee’s personal opinions about something like that get in the way of them doing their jobs in the most professional manner. My experience of their response to requests for sweeping, fixing potholes, etc. has always, always been that they are johhny-on-the-spot. They get to these requests quickly and resolve them quickly. Much, much, much better than in most jurisdictions around the country.
Implying that their personal opinions interferes with them doing their job is an unfortunate chracterization.
As many people on this site have noted, the routes are getting cleaned and quickly. Keep in mind that it’s a whole lot easier to spread the gravel than it is to pick it up. We only have so many sweeper trucks that can recover the gravel and we’re not likely to buy more for a once a year event.
I wrote a song about the gravel while riding in the bike lane the other night.
Is set to the tune of roll out the barrel.
I wanted to make it easy to dance too.
I’ve often wondered whether broken glass was placed intentionally by misanthropic bicycle haters. Sometimes it seems too conveniently placed *right* in the middle of the bike lane. I wouldn’t doubt that some people have done this, but whether it’s a widespread problem is something I’m not sure I want to guess about.
I would like to add that while everyone loves the snow, no one enjoys the aftermath.
But wasn’t it worth having a couple of days such as last week?
They will clean the gravel up.
Patience is a virtue….
Thanks for your comment and insights. It’s great to hear all the reports of good work by the maintenance crews.
I mean them no disrespect and perhaps I could have been more tactful. Perhaps my rabble rousing instincts got the best of me.
I think to make up for it, I should get to know the maintenance crews better. Do you think they’d be open to having me ride along on a bike-related service call?
p.s. my comment was made in regards to the 2005 PDOT budget priorities survey that clearly showed maintenance employees rated all the bike-related questions as very low priority.
what the ? i just posted but it didn’t show up-anyhow the moral of the story was that if you are riding to or from PCC Sylvania-there is plenty of gravel to make the ride that much more fun.
also, yeah,yeah,Dabby was right, the snow was fun. So, I’m sure y’all aren’t really griping. You love to ride, right?
Gotta watch out for that shit…just the other day I got to hear the story of how one of my friends lost her front teeth in an accident due to hitting gravel while going downhill. Ughh.
A few comments and opinion from a native New Englander (Vermont) and retired BOM employee with 25 years behind the wheel of a snow plow/sander and somewhat less experience picking up the gravel.
Yes, it is gravel, specifically, 1/4-10 crushed rock. It is more expensive than sand but is better suited to our unique situation here in Portland, OR. The ground doesn’t stay frozen all winter like it does down Maine. We don’t have that frozen sand/ ice coating that is common in New England for 4 or 5 months. We have tried both… the gravel works better in this climate. The gravel meters better in our expensive Swedish sanders which we have used since 1979. The BOM bought these sanders because they placed the material in the traffic lanes without throwing it against the sides of the taxpayers parked cars or scattering it in places where it does no good. They are durable, trouble free units and have given very good service… so much so that they have become the acknowledged standard of excellence in the industry. Portland was ahead of the curve when they purchased the first of these sanders in 1979.
Different agencies use other sorts of gravel and/or sand to fit their needs (take a look at the material ODOT uses at Gov’t Camp sometime) it is not a haphazard decision.
re #27 Salt
Clean Water Act… standards are not as forgiving of salt use in the Northwest due to increased runoff, terrain, et. And it damages the taxpayers property creating some liability.
re #28 exception
Me too. In the blue collar world, very little of your work is enjoyable. What does make you feel good is doing something for someone. Whether I am filling pothole A or pothole B doesn’t matter… all pays the same.
I sometimes wonder why folks don’t just call the numbers (823-1700,1750, 1758) and ask to have their problems addressed. The folks who answer the phone are there to do just that and, for the most part, are happy to do so. I don’t speak for the present-day BOM but when I was there, customer requests were always taken care of as soon as possible and before routine maintenance tasks. A call would generate a service request that would have priority over the day-to-day stuff.
All the way down Burnside east of 205 is really bad. It’s not good for me or the peds. One of these days one of my 115 PSI Panaracer sling shots is going to take one (or More ) of them out.
I’ve taken Barbur for the past two days from PCC to downtown. It’s the first time in my life I’ve had to ride on gravel with traffic and it scares the bejesum out of me.
As an aside, on Barbur there’s a strange little ramp that takes you up and back down safely in traffic at one point. Yesterday I noticed probably a dozen bike tires there. Stolen? Should this be reported in some way and to whom?
I just called 823-1750, and the machine told me the mailbox was full. (Possibly full of new requests for removing gravel from bike lanes.) The voice then directed me into a voicemail maze that I was unable to figure. Either the VM directions were hopelessly unclear or I just couldn’t figure them out.
It’s 8:55 a.m., so maybe the City employee responsible for picking up those messages hasn’t started his or her day yet.
I’d like to get the bike lanes along SE 7th Ave. cleared (north of Division and south of Madison). Guess I’ll try back later; hopefully reach a live person.
I’ve been riding in gravel, glass and over sticks for 4 months now with my mtn. bike. I had armadillo tires put on, and haven’t had a flat or even a slipping problem since. That’s one of the design strengths. Before, I was getting a flat a week on one year old town and countries. Seems that glass chips just keep building up over time with the smoother tire, so over time, flats just happen.
come on folks, I know it can be frustrating, but it’s only been a week and there is something like a kajillion miles of roads out there. They’re sweeping, they’re sick of people complaining, and they’re working as fast as they can…
Now let’s congratulate them for being salmon friendly by not using sand or salt.
Mailbox still full. I have never used 503-823-1750 in the past, I’ve always called 503-823-1700 (the 24-hour maintenance dispatch line). I just called it and they transferred me to someone’s voice mail, but in the past I always got an actual human who said they’d send a truck out. I don’t know if this is a policy change or if it’s just because of the increase in calls due to the gravel.
Oh, and in general if you can’t get a bike issue resolved you can always try Roger (Portland’s bike coordinator) at 503-823-7671.
Bill at post #35,
As a midwestern boy, I can attest to the effectiveness of salt of roads. Doesn’t the chemical de-icing agent also wash into watersheds? I also imagine that it costs loads more than rock salt.
As for runoffs to watersheds, can one or two applications of salt be any more destructive than the nearly daily sewage spills during periods of heavier rain?
Last Saturday night I noticed a large pile of gravel in in bike lane on the bridge over I-84 on NE 28th. It was a definate hazzard on the dark bridge (sort of like trying to ride though a sandbox). I called 823-1700 at 6:30pm and talked to a real person. By Monday morning the gravel pile was gone.
Scatted gravel in bike lanes along with frost on cold mornings continue to be an unfortunate hazzard associated with winter riding.
Peter, I ride over 28th almost everyday and had to deal with that pile too. I noticed it was gone a couple days ago. Thanks!
I for another think the city is doing a fine job. The one thing bicyclists seem to forget is that it takes money to do the job and since bicyclists aren’t licsened and registered we have little clout.
It’s also still January and winter may not be over just yet and if it snows again we’re going to be in the same boat. If the city spends all their allocated funds on just this storm it’s going to take longer to sweep up after the next one.
So, I say, don’t get your shorts in a bunch because it’s not happening as fast as you want. You’d think the end of the world is coming by all the complaining. Next thing I expect to hear is someone wanting the city to cut down all the hills so they don’t have to work so hard when they ride.
Ride aware and be safe….
Bill (#35), thanks for providing some insight on the details of how the City’s street mainmtenance folks approach there work.
As a PDOT employee who has had fairly regular contact with the different City Maintenance crews on bike issues, I would echo Roger’s comments (#28) that they’re very responsive & conscientious regarding bike matters, especially given that they have a lot of competing demands for their attention from other users of the street system (pedestrians, transit, & yes, drivers).
And, if their street sweeping request mailbox is still full, as Jessica has pointed out, it’s because they’re out there busily sweeping it up… 🙂
No one questions the effectiveness of rock salt. The de-icers that the city uses are supposed to be as effective but a little easier on the environment. Yes they are expensive. A balance has to be struck between the costs to society of making the roads safer in the short term and degrading the watershed in the long term. This balance has to have the approval of a host of regulatory bodies. There has been a lot of discussion among the various stakeholders and the regulatory agencies about what chemicals to use and how often they may be applied. It should be noted that for Portland, where a snow/ice event lasts for only a week or so, a different solution will be used than another part of the country where such events can last for months.
Peter, Chelsea #43, #44… piles
Those piles are formed when an operator is filling the sander from the dump truck. Since the bed has to be raised, this has to be done while the truck is stopped in a place where there are no overhead obstructions such as wires or branches. The usual procedure is to pull over out or traffic while filling the sander. If you overfill, the excess will flow out over the front of the sander and leave a pile a foot or so high and about 7 feet long. The operator is supposed to either shovel it up or report it to a service truck to have it picked up. Sometimes the operator won’t notice the pile since it is out of view of the mirrors. You are correct in your view that this is a more hazardous situation than a the light coating of gravel that is everywhere else. This is a well known problem and if it is described as a “pile” when you call it in, the dispatcher will give it a higher priority than”gravel in the bike lane”.
re full mailbox,
What I have to say here is not “official” policy… it’s just what I have observed.
These folks are supervisors. They have no receptionists. They will typically be in the office from 0630 to 0800 making assignments and getting the crews out for the day. They will probably listen to their messages (thus emptying the in box) just before going out into the field at about 0800. They will probably be back in the office for an hour or so at about noon. On a typical day, they will do some administrative work and check their messages again before going back out into the field. They are back in the office at about 1500 and will spend the rest of the day there checking messages, doing paperwork and answering the phone.
1, If you call when the supervisor is in the office, you have a better chance of talking to a real person.
2. Calls to dispatch during working hours will be routed to a supervisor or her/his voice mail.
3. Calls to dispatch after working hours will be prioritized and sent to a crew in the field via radio, if immediate attention is needed (see piles, above).
Ah, I see — I must have mainly called outside of working hours in the past.
Bill, it’s great to have your insight into how the BOM works.
Here’s a math problem on the relation between putting sand/gravel down, & then getting it back up:
“we (City Maintenance) have about 55 trucks putting sand down over two 12 hour shifts at 25 mph. We have 7 sweepers working 18 hours a day, but they can only pick up gravel at 3-5 mph.”
By my crude calculations, picking up sand/gravel takes around 50 times longer than putting it down.
It still amazes me the number of City employees of all kinds that are reading this forum and replying. Between this thread and posts from PoPo on the North Portland issue, it’s been great. It’s reassuring to me to get information straight from the source.
And since I know you’re reading: more traffic circles, bike boulevards and sharrows, please. = )