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TriMet confirms study of bike/MAX crossings

Posted by on September 27th, 2007 at 10:56 am

[Post updated: 9/27, 11:42am]

maxtracks.jpg

E. Burnside and 97th:
The tracks where Sharon fell.
Photo: Jim O’Horo

At a meeting last week of the Portland Bicycle Advisory Committee (PBAC), TriMet Communications Manager Josh Collins shared details of TriMet’s plans to review 32 locations where bike paths and bike lanes cross MAX tracks.

The review makes good on a promise made by TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen to Sharon Fekety. Fekety broke her arm in three places when she slipped and fell while riding across a MAX track at I-205 and Burnside last March.

Since the incident, Fekety has been persistently lobbying TriMet to take a closer look at improving safety at that, and similar crossings. She maintains her initial claim that a greasy lubricant on the tracks (applied by TriMet) was the cause of her fall. TriMet has confirmed they use a lubricant, but they deny it was ever applied on or near the location where Fekety went down.

According to Collins, TriMet plans to combine the study of bike crossings with a pedestrian crossing safety review they have been mandated to perform by the state legislature following a pedestrian accident in 2003.

Below is a Q&A between Fekety and Collins that took place at this month’s PBAC meeting:

Exactly where (address) are the crossings where MAX tracks come across bike crossings that will be studied?

The safety study will review the design and operation of a representative sample of MAX crossings for comparison to industry standards and best practices. The selection of specific crossings, including where bicycle paths cross MAX tracks (bike lanes, regional/local multi-use paths) will be made in cooperation with the professional safety consultant.

What is the timetable for studying these crossings and implementing changes?

We hope to execute a contract with a consultant within the next month and have the study conducted this fall. A timetable for implementing changes will not be available until we receive the results of the study and have an understanding of the consultant’s recommendations.

What type of signage is being studied?

The consultant will review crossings for comparison to industry standards and best practices, and identify additional, possible safety enhancements based on best industry practices. The sign that you mention (seen in photo above) is not a TriMet sign, and does not conform to the preferred standards of the federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). The consultant will review the sign that is used by Portland Streetcar and provide us with recommendations on how to best alert cyclists to an approaching crossing.

What criteria are being used for evaluating these crossings?

The assessment will include, at a minimum:

  • Identification of variations from industry standards including but not limited to gated crossings, un-gated crossings, platform crossings, crossings near schools, crossings near high pedestrian traffic areas, crossings with regional or local multi-use paths, and crossings with bicycle lanes.
  • Identification of areas that show evidence of risky pedestrian or cyclist behavior.
  • Identification of areas that show evidence of trespassing.
  • Identification of areas that need additional pedestrian channeling.
  • Identification of areas that need additional warnings.


Are there plans to change the bumpy plastic or rubber material on either side of the tracks, specifically the ones I fell on at E. Burnside and 97th Ave? I don’t know how many other crossings use that material (none in the Pearl or S. Waterfront) but it becomes very slippery when wet. It would be good to know how many other crossings use that material as I heard from many people who have fallen on this surface.

At this time TriMet does not plan to change the rubberized material at E. Burnside and 97th Ave. It is possible that if there were ever a need to rebuild the crossing and curved rail through the intersection that a different product may be used. However, it is impossible to predict if or when such an activity will be necessary, as it would be a significant construction project and service interruption.

______

I’ll update the progress and results of TriMet’s study as things develop.

I think we all owe Sharon Fekety a collective thanks for the time and effort she has put into this issue. Thank you Sharon! (and I hope your arm is fully healed!)

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Bob
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Bob

They seemed to be very focused on investigating user error rather than material choice.

I thought part of the original incident included the possibility of oil contamination (either from track oiling or maybe just what drips out of cars). A little oil on asphalt is usually not a big deal, but I imagine oil on that type of rubber surface could be very slippery. I hope they plan to test this as well & if true an appropriate response might be to evaluate new materials or at least have something like improved inspection policy, track oiling procedures, etc.

Doug
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Doug

I\’m not going to be particularly appreciative of this effort unless there\’s some sort of history of people falling at these intersections. Is there a general consensus that these intersections are a problem? I\’ve never noticed any trouble myself riding over MAX tracks during the wet season.

I\’d much rather TriMet put the money and effort into finding more room for bikes on MAX than look into this *unless* this is an issue that is affecting a large number of people.

jere
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jere

crossing tracks on a bike is innately dangerous…always has been..move alone, there\’s nothing to see here..

seems time and $$ could go to better places…

Another Doug
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Another Doug

Clearly not every intersection with MAX tracks is an issue. The problems occur in places where the tracks cross the lane at something other than a right angle, making perpendicular crossing of the tracks difficult, especially by more timid cyclists who are unwilling/unable to cut diagonally across the traffic lane in order to increase their angle of approach to the tracks. 97th and Burnside is a prime example of this. So too is the southbound lane of SW 18th at Morrison, along with the streetcar tracks at NW 10th and Lovejoy and both Lovejoy and Northrup and NW 23rd.

If a solution can be found, we should support the search for it. Most of the crashes that occur at these intersections doubtlessly go unreported, so the fact that little record of crashes exist does not mean these intersections are not a problem. Would Sharon be following up on this issue if her fall had not resulted in fractures?

However, from the wording of the above exchange, it does appear that Trimet is searching for some type of \’solution\’ that will require little to no change of policy on their part. Most likely, we\’ll get a series of signs advising cyclists to walk their bikes over these crossings. That would be unacceptable.

My suggestion: very clear markings indicating that cyclists should cross the traffic lane diagonally in order to approach the tracks at a right angle – something akin to the blue paint at freeway onramps – along with signs indicating that motorists must not pass cyclists until they are clear of the tracks.

jere
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jere

another doug-
I fell last February out on Sauvie\’s Island when my tires hit a wet pavement seam when I wasn\’t paying attention…fell off my bike at 20+mph in the pouring rain…LOTS of roadrash and some great contusions…
by your logic, do you think I should petition ODOT to put up signs at every pavement seam warning each cyclist to watch out for it? or maybe paint a large blue strip across it?
There is inherent danger in riding bicycles…one of those dangers is hitting the pavement at speed and the injuries that result from it due to any number of road conditions. Its the risk we all take by throwing a leg over a bicycle each morning. Asking a city organization to protect you from yourself by spending extra funds to post what would amount to bike crossing directions at each track crossing is really ridiculous…
things like this are part of the reason so many people out there think cyclists are asking for special treatment…
how bout promoting simple bike safety other than coating the streets with yet more signals/signs/markings…?

R. Dobbs
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R. Dobbs

@jere #5

how bout promoting simple bike safety other than coating the streets with yet more signals/signs/markings…?

Aw C\’mon, tell me you don\’t at least get a little chuckle out of those cyclist-going-head-first-into-the-max-tracks signs.

Seriously though, education is the way to go on this one. Plenty of road hazards out there which can be navigated safely with the help of a little training.

Resident
Guest
Resident

I\’ve found that training wheels work wonderfully for those who have trouble staying upright on their 2 wheelers… $9.95 at Target

jere
Guest
jere

R.Dobbs..

those signs are sort of humorous…but I think there are enough traffic sign/signals/and markings that the majority of local cyclists are already blattantly ignoring…why put more of them up?
sounds like this woman learned about train tracks the hard way…she\’s not the first…and won\’t be the last. I hardly find it to be Trimets problem however…

here, rail safety 101:

http://www.iup.edu/publicrelations/railroad-safety/rules.shtm

freddy
Guest
freddy

Wow, the bike community really is a bunch of whiners, aren\’t we? First we whine that TriMet isn\’t doing anything to make bike/MAX crossings safer, then we whine that they are. If I were a TriMet exec reading this, I might wonder why I bothered to make an effort.

jere
Guest
jere

Freddy-
thats just it…I don\’t think Trimet should be giving this any of their time..its a pointless pursuit of policy change that is brought about by inexperienced riders doing inexperienced things…such combinations OFTEN bring about injury. blaming some organization for spilling something near the tracks is a rather futile and silly waste of resources. If I were riding and hit a curb, I hardly think I\’d pursue ODOT into hiring a consultant to examine the matter and try to force their hand at removing all dangerous curbs from near bikelanes. ??? get my point?
tracks are visible…they\’re a known danger…is some sign really going to stop anyone from crossing them differently?

wsbob
Guest

It\’s too bad Sharon Fekety didn\’t get a chance to have someone go back to the track crossing and get a sample of whatever may have been on the surface related to the fall she took. That might have more easily helped determine the nature of this situation.

I remember when this subject came up some months ago. Out here in Beaverton, we had those same crossing panels on the rails at Western Ave/Griffith Pk. As I remember, before them, it was just asphalt. On the basis of tire to surface adhesion/grip, I\’d say the asphalt was better.

Of course the asphalt/rail crossing had plenty of its own problems; sinking and sometimes irregular, too big a spaces next to the rails. The rubber panels fit right up next to the rails, were flush with the top of the rails, and they were probably more cost efficient than the asphalt approach. Nevertheless, I didn\’t like them because it seemed like they could be slippery under some conditions (like oil or other slippery substances deliberately or coincidentally applied) despite the big waffle grooves.

The Western Ave/Griffith Pkwy crossing is where the commuter rail is coming through, so all those rubber panels were torn up, and replaced with some fancy concrete panels. that are better than either the asphalt or the rubber panels.

Making a railroad crossing that bicycles can safely negotiate isn\’t rocket science, and the means to make it happen probably isn\’t cost prohibitive either. It\’s really just a research and design process that a responsible public outfit like Tri-met should want to properly take care of.

Logan 5
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Logan 5

\”I think we all owe Sharon Fekety a collective thanks\”

I will not be thanking Sharon, or TriMet for that matter. They have wasted too much money because of her own inability to handle a bike. There\’s no lengthy track record of people falling at these intersections, just her. TriMet needs to pay attention to their increasing crime issues, not this trivial crap.

It would have been much easier and productive for Sharon to a) take bike handling classes and b) learn to fall properly. But that would require her to take responsibility for herself.

Scout
Guest

I used to think it was amazing anyone fell off their bike while crossing train tracks…until the day it happened to me. However, it was a stupid mistake, and almost entirely my fault. I\’ll be more careful next time, and avoid pain and injury. No need to conduct any studies!

I\’m not ashamed of the times I feel dumb. They allow me to feel even smarter the rest of the time. I think the sad thing about this story is the amount of time and energy which is about to go into studying something which could be summed up by, \”oops.\”

Another Doug
Guest
Another Doug

While I agree that this is a smaller issue in the large list of needs for the bike community, and that very little in the way of resources should be spent, I don\’t believe the topic should be written off entirely. Let me reiterate and try to strengthen some points I made above:

1) A distinction should be drawn between crossings at right angles to the direction of travel (the vast majority) and those where the angle of approach is less than 90 degrees. The perpendicular crossings should be ignored. Slathered in oil or not, crossing these requires only basic bike handling skills. Non-perpendicular crossings, on the other hand, require a rider to veer across the lane of traffic in order to adjust their angle of approach. Most drivers don\’t know this, and many riders are either unaware or too timid to do so. That brings me to the next point:

2) Markings at these (few) crossings would clarify matters, both for the riders and, more importantly, the drivers. The blue paint at freeway onramps exists not so much to show the bike riders where to go, but instead to demonstrate to drivers that bicycles may be there, and indeed, that they have every right to be there. Similar markings at non-perpendicular rail crossings would help to prevent drivers from crowding cyclists at these intersections, encouraging the riders to take the entire lane and cross the tracks safely.

But does Trimet need an expensive outside consulting firm to tell it these things? Of course not.

wsbob
Guest

The RR crossing in Beaverton on Western Ave is one of those that are at an angle to the roadway. Signs informing riders that they must veer across a lane of traffic to safely cross the tracks perpendicular to the roadway, and signs telling motorists that this is what they should anticipate cyclists doing at this point are not something I could support as a long term solution.

It\’s not safe or reasonable to expect drivers or cyclists to making those kinds of maneuvers and considerations on busy roadways.

Trimet shouldn\’t need an expensive outside consulting firm to tell it these things, but being the leviathan bureaucracy that it is, apparently this is the only way it can figure out a solution to this problem.

Trimet has made a big mistake installing these rubber crossing panels, when it\’s obvious that better alternatives exist. Somebody at Trimet didn\’t do their homework, so now, occasionally, people using the road have to pay with broken bones because of Trimet\’s failure in this respect. That\’s a heck of a way to design a modern, safe, efficient transportation system.

Bob
Guest
Bob

\”It would have been much easier and productive for Sharon to a) take bike handling classes and b) learn to fall properly. But that would require her to take responsibility for herself.\”

I will say your approach tries to be effective by being both pro-active \”take handling classes\” (to learn how to avoid falling) and reactive \”learn to fall properly\”.

I do agree that as a bike rider you should have basic competency in handling skills, dealing with pot holes, etc. However it is very lopsided to just presume it is all the end users responsibility.

You could further argue that we should save on the expense of traffic signals & just \”learn how to get hit by a car better\”?

How much money does it really cost for Trimet to complete their simple investigation? Not much I would guess. The result will be either there is a problem or not. The real fiscal risk is if there *is* a problem *and* either they choose an expensive solution or they choose not to respond (and assume the risk of lawsuit). Fortunately there are often small changes in procedure, etc can correct the root cause of an issue; however, even that will not occur if nobody is willing to think about it or is happy to live in denial that there even is the chance of a problem.

Ultimately Trimet is responsible for following up on the complaint & making a reasonable decision – it sounds like they are at least trying to do that. Hopefully if there is a problem they will make a better decision than Ford did when it determined it was cheaper to pay-off lawsuits to the families of incinerated Pinto drivers rather than spend the $0.25 per car cost of fixing a small gas tank bolt.
Or is it purely the Pinto driver\’s responsibility to avoid getting hit from behind?

007
Guest
007

pardon me for not reading all of the article or comments – i just want to say that my tires have slipped on the Max rails and ever since I wonder what will happen when i cross the tracks. downtown should be a real disaster once all the rails are installed and the construction is done. can\’t wait!

Jim O'Horo
Guest
Jim O'Horo

Jere referred to \”inexperienced riders doing inexperienced things…\”. No one who knows Sharon would ever refer to her as \”inexperienced\”. I\’ve known and ridden with Sharon for over 10 years. She\’s one of the most competent and considerate cyclists on the road, and for her to have a serious problem with this location should, by itself, be considered evidence of a design or maintenance issue. We should be focusing our comments on the issues, not taking cheap shots at people we don\’t even know.

The issue here is a crossing that was improperly designed from the start and is showing signs of lack of maintenance. Though it isn\’t obvious, careful inspection of the photo I took will reveal that in addition to the tracks being at a nearly impossible angle for safe crossing, the rubber pads and pavement have deteriorated to the point where they pose additional obstacles. Also there are several holes in the black rubber which have been partially filled with black asphalt leaving essentially invisible potholes scattered about to trap riders at night.

This crossing is what is referred to by highway engineers as a \”single point\” crossing. That is, the tracks cross the roadway rather than run with the roadway as in the downtown streetcar. There is an accepted method of designing a single point crossing for bicycles when the tracks are at other than a right angle. It\’s called a \”jughandle\”, and it is clearly described in the highway design manuals. All TriMet needed to do to get this right from the start was read the instructions. This installation could have been correctly built for no additional cost if they\’d simply given some consideration to cyclists during design.

Signs won\’t remove the hazard, but fortunately in this case correction need not cost a fortune. Others have talked about realigning tracks. That\’s not needed. A jughandle could be retrofitted here at relatively low cost using existing public property and would be almost as effective as one built as part of the original installation. If TriMet can\’t figure out how to do it, I\’d be happy to show them how, and I wouldn\’t ask for a fancy consultant\’s fee to do so.

wsbob
Guest

Jim O\’Horo, maybe you could describe a little more clearly what a jug handle is, or provide a link to a document that would provide a picture or diagram.

Jim O'Horo
Guest
Jim O'Horo

wsbob, I\’m away on a tour through southern OR and won\’t be back until mid-October. I\’ll be happy to discuss this stuff in depth then. In addition to the photo posted in the article, I gave Jonathan much more, including a photo of where the crossing should have been when originally constructed, but he chose not to publish most of it.