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Color, legal issues remain for new bike boxes

Posted by on December 6th, 2007 at 11:57 am

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Goodbye blue…hello green?

Even though funding has now been approved and the political will exists to move forward, the Portland Office of Transportation (PDOT) still has a few wrinkles to iron out before installation begins on colored bike boxes and bike lanes that are slated for 14 dangerous intersections around the city.

PDOT is currently researching two issues: Whether these new intersection treatments should be blue or green; and what exactly is the legal standing of the bike box.

For some context on the issue of color, let’s go back just over ten years ago when Portland first installed their blue bike lanes.

Back in 1997, when PDOT initiated the country’s first experiment in colored bike lanes, they chose blue. A study issued by PDOT shortly after the lanes were installed noted that blue was chosen because of public support, federal restrictions against using red, and evidence from Montreal and Denmark, where blue lanes were already in use.

PDOT’s blue bike lane program was ahead of the curve and did not have official federal sanction (the treatment was so innovative no standards had been set). City traffic engineer Rob Burchfield says they chose blue because it was “a contrasting and visible color that put emphasis on areas of conflict.” While no federal standards existed for colored lanes, PDOT believed the paint itself didn’t have actual meaning as a traffic control device; the white stripes were what technically made it a bike lane.

“If it’s looking like green is the future, we’ll need to convert to that sooner rather than later.”
–City traffic engineer Rob Burchfield

So, with approval from ODOT and a partnership to evaluate the project from a (federally funded) University of North Carolina research team, PDOT became the first city in United States to install blue bike lanes.

However in years since then, Burchfield says revisions in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) have declared that blue paint should be used only for handicapped parking areas.

Now, with PDOT ready to go on these new intersection treatments, they face an important choice: What color should they use for these new bike boxes and bike lanes?

Based on what other cities are doing and new discussions taking place by federal traffic control regulators, all signs point to green.

In his initial research, Burchfield found that Burlington Vermont has already gotten federal approval for a green bike lane experiment and that San Francisco has submitted a request as well. In San Francisco, advocates have been pushing for green since their mayor called on that city’s transportation agency to approve them over a year ago.

A green bike lane in Chicago.
(Photo from TouringCyclist/Flickr)

Other cities that are going green include Chicago, whose federally sanctioned green bike lane pilot project got started back in June, and New York City, whose green bike lane in Brooklyn graced the front page of this site last July.

In the coming weeks, Burchfield plans to do more research into how green bike lanes are doing in those cities. He says, “If it’s looking like green is the future, we’ll need to convert to that sooner rather than later.”

Another issue that has come up for PDOT is the legal standing of the bike box. Current state law says that bikes must be ridden in the bike lane when it is present under normal conditions (bikes have the right to leave the bike lane for several reasons including hazards or unsafe conditions).

Burchfield and his staff wonder how bike boxes would be interpreted by the courts.

“It’s not a concern of enforcement,” says Burchfield, “but in a civil case, we need to make sure a driver could not make the assertion that a bicyclist [who had moved into the bike box] should be found partially at fault in a collision for not being in the bike lane.”

Since current law limits when a motor vehicle can cross into a bike lane, it doesn’t make sense to simply make bike boxes the legal equivalent of bike lanes. Burchfield see a different way they might approach the question; “Moving into a bike box is essentially being done to avoid a hazard [like a right hook situation] and therefore the existing law might just hold up”.

But Burchfield’s not taking any chances.

“While we don’t think this legal question is big enough to keep us from starting [to install bike boxes], it is something we are looking into and it might result in some proposed updates to the law in our legislative package next session.”

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. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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miguelaron
Guest

i vote green

Jeff P
Guest
Jeff P

Coworker says green means \”go\”. Perhaps not exactly what we\’re aiming for here?

Orange? White zig-zaggy lines [isn\’t that a slow/caution symbol in europe – makes sense for our touristy friends to keep things consistent].

Just some quick random thoughts.

Alex H
Guest

a mild yellow, with a white stroke. mmm. that might make it pop i bit more, especially on those rainy nights. I also think yellow is a fairly neutral color, as far as association goes. It slightly hints at \’caution\’, but to me it doesnt scream \’dangerous\’. Id go for blue over green, but i think we have far too much of these colors in this town.

Michelle
Guest
Michelle

Thanks for the good critical thinking, PDOT! This is a great opportunity to get something new and exciting down on the ground; I\’m glad they\’re taking the time to think through potential complications.

Bikealicious
Guest
Bikealicious

You want visible? HOT PINK. Seriously.

Jim
Guest
Jim

I\’m fully in favor of the bike box, and the color isn\’t really all that important. The problem is that any of the painted lanes are SLICK when wet. I slide a bit even when turning across the stripes of a cross walk. The blue bike lane on Terwilliger at Taylor\’s Ferry was incredibly \”slippery when wet\” when it first went in. Has this been discussed?

joel
Guest

ive always thought blue was too dark a color – or rather too close to the color of most blacktop – no matter how bright you make it. i say go with a nice bright kelly green or something, with that reflective powder dusting it.

to sound *really* fluffy and progressive, we could claim that the green symbolizes how ecofriendly the bike is! sheesh 🙂

im also a fan of making *all* bike lanes solid color, rather than just dangerous intersections – gets drivers used to seeing a green (or whatever color) lane all over the city, and not just some weird swath of color through a few intersections.

if other us cities are already going with green lanes, i say jump on that bandwagon – less chance of confusing tourists!

though the idea of hot pink bike lanes all over the city… well… its *awfully* tempting…

Stripes
Guest
Stripes

A quick search on Flickr brings up the following great photos of green bikelanes –

It seems green is super-visible when it\’s dry out…
http://www.flickr.com/photos/animalvegetable/829344934/

Not so visible when wet (but then neither is the color blue)…
http://www.flickr.com/photos/cbrunn/656337018/

Chicago recently installed a green bikelane! –
http://www.flickr.com/photos/touringcyclist/tags/coloredbikelane/

I kind of like the HOT PINK color too! I wonder if THAT color has already been taken in the MUTCD?!

will
Guest
will

the lime green from new york is visible in the rain as well. That photo in the rain is a different color of green.

That color green doesnt me go, it means get out of this lane if you arent supposed to be here.

Jonathan Maus (Editor)
Guest

thanks for the photo links Stripes. I added one of them to the story.

rgratzer
Guest
rgratzer

Jim,
Don\’t hold me to this, but I seem to remember Roger Geller mentioning something about a coating on the paint that prevents it from getting slick when wet.

Qwendolyn
Guest
Qwendolyn

I think hot pink is a color we can all agree on.

pdxrocket
Guest
pdxrocket

Pink stinks…and besides, when it wears and gets dull it looks shabby; like a 1950\’s house that hasn\’t been painted since grandma went to the retirement home.

a.O
Guest
a.O

Whatever the color, they should all say:

\”This bike lane is not a parking space, truck loading zone, or for travel by motor vehicle.\”

Bikealicious
Guest
Bikealicious

Sorry pdxrocket, you\’re off the island. Scoot.

matchu
Guest
matchu

I read a study where people watched a video of a car driving around the street and were asked to press a button when they noticed a variety of things including a cyclist. Response times were measurable shorter (i.e. faster) when the cyclist was a color that the participants were expecting or looking out for. When driving this is primarily green and red since those colors are the ones most drivers found the most persistent and pertinent. I believe having the bike lanes green just might cause reactions in drivers that fraction of a second quicker and possibly save lives as a result. Green is awesome.

Metal Cowboy
Guest

When I was in New York Vity recently the green lanes really stood out!! My two cents. I hope that whatever color they use they work out the slippery surface when wet issues. Since this is an concern part of the year in the Pacific Northwest.

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

Make it aqua and get the best of both worlds (the bike stencil could have the cyclist wearing scuba gear).

Bryan
Guest
Bryan

I don\’t think it\’s necessarily a good idea to make all bike lanes a solid color (post #7). If a driver sees something out of the ordinary they\’re more likely to notice it, but if they\’re seeing a blue or green stripe on the side of their lane all the time it\’ll start to become just another part of the road. Let\’s keep \’em on their toes.

BURR
Guest
BURR

BLUE is for bikes

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Per the history of the discussion of coloured bike lanes in the US…PINK was actually considered…not due to other bike friendly cities using it…but for the primary reason that it was one of the FEW colours NOT restricted/ claimed in the MUTCD. (Go Pink – Go Sprockets!)

As for aesthetics…that is another case…we do want it to be of high contrast (conspicuous) and not fade too quickly.

Professionally, I like the electric blue (as used in Copenhagen, Portland, and Vancouver WA) and our local drivers/ bicyclists have been using it for 10 years…but the electric green, as used in London can work too…if the ADA Access board puts a lock on \’blue\’.

If neither of these two colours technically pass for bike boxes in the future…perhaps we should step back and seek a design that is: high contrast, easy to maintain, accepted by the MUTCD, affordable: perhaps a white thermoplastic bike crosswalk like hatching (in pavement thermoplastic with 24\” lines and big bike stencils per lane) – similar to traditional Dutch use but with the DuraTherm product?

DURATHERM as crosswalk (this pretend it is a narrow bike box)
http://www.integratedpaving.com/project_gallery/index.php?project=48

DURATHERM as intersection treatment
http://www.integratedpaving.com/project_gallery/index.php?project=15

Perhaps a case can be made to keep BLUE for conflict points (intersection crossings) given the historical use here and use a \’white hatching\’/ DuraTherm with bike stencils for bike boxes.

BURR
Guest
BURR

Jonathan – Despite the PPB\’s interpretation, you are not required to be in a bike lane at all unless the following criteria is satisfied:

ORS 814.420(2) A person is not required to comply with this section unless the state or local authority with jurisdiction over the roadway finds, after public hearing, that the bicycle lane or bicycle path is suitable for safe bicycle use at reasonable rates of speed.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

More samples of bikes boxes with and without colour (the Dutch call bike boxes: Expanded Bicycle Streaming Lane, aka ‘EBSL’)

GREEN – London UK
http://www.flickr.com/photos/15235675@N07/1735751699/in/set-72157602682749747/

BLUE – Portland OR USA
http://www.flickr.com/photos/15235675@N07/2091755403/

RED – Vancouver BC
http://www.flickr.com/photos/15235675@N07/2092473454/in/set-72157602682749747/

WHITE – Delft NL
http://www.flickr.com/photos/15235675@N07/1735751615/in/set-72157602682749747/

janel
Guest
janel

I vote for chartreuse green with little lights embedded in the asphalt on each side that light up as you bike through, wouldn\’t that be awesome! But really, some more illumination on the colored lanes would help immensely in the dark and rain. How about neon glow in the dark or add some reflective paint or something.

gus
Guest
gus

While the MUTCD is a wonderful read, svelte and timely too there are cases where is is best used to prop up broken legs on furniture. This may be one of those times.

Hence, I propose that the bike boxes be designated by blaze orange overlain by bright yellow chevrons(indicating the direction of travel) with pink polka dots. All cyclists crossing through these areas should be issued a side-arm as well. That combination ought to get the attention of most drivers…..

Seriously though, as long as it is visible, doesn\’t turn squirrelly in damp condition and the PPB enforces the regulations it doesn\’t matter what color it is…The PPB being, of course, the weak link in the above scenario.

Scott
Guest

What a solid color, or even stripes, in bike lanes does is offer a clean field of color for the shape of a bike to be seen against. Considering what many cyclists wear, it\’s not surprising that they\’re often not seen. When the crosswalks on Alberta were marked, it became MUCH easier to see pedestrians.

Agent Bunny G
Guest
Agent Bunny G

I agree with Bikealicious- HOT PINK is totally the best choice. very visible, and fun, too!

Gibbo
Guest
Gibbo

Bike lanes / boxes in the UK are normally green although I am not sure why.
Remember Bike lanes etc are not always the solution to the problem.
See website below
http://www.warringtoncyclecampaign.co.uk/facility-of-the-month/

Vance
Guest
Vance

You people are priceless. \”Yippy, the government is going to tell me where I can and can\’t use my own body!\” \”I can\’t wait for the government to tell me what to do, I\’m too stupid, and weak to do it without dying! Hurray! More government control!\”

I bumped my finger on the window-sill the other day. I\’ve organized a citizen\’s/grassroots, dude! I\’m going to make window-sills safe for all! My range top actually gets hot enough to BURN me, I purpose a call for an investigation! I think we should make range tops more european! And, and, and women flushing their tampons down the toilet are causing a huge ecological disaster. Let\’s ban tampons! Hurray for government control! Every time I leave my house, that filthy air is getting into my lungs. I know, let\’s ban air!!! I won\’t make a decision on that, though, until the government tells me it\’s okay!

If you are so pathetic, so incredibly helpless, that you cannot even manage to get a bicycle to your destination, then all the paint in the world is not going to help you. You little fascists. You were raised in a world without men, where there are no losing teams, where no one ever faces a consequence for their actions. You went to schools where every inch of every wall was covered in rules. You are in Oregon now.

Who cares what, \’they\’, do in other cities? Portland used to be a national leader. The Fed used to look to us for answers to their questions about how to organize a city. You all make me sick to my stomach. THIS IS NOT CALIFORNIA. What gives you the right to come into a community, that was built by other people, and begin dictating to them what they will, and won\’t do? It doesn\’t even make any sense. You left whatever creep-hole you came from, probably looking for a change. Why then, do you insist upon making Portland just another place that California assimilated?

This is going to come to blows. Mark my words. You nazi brats are messing with a community that does not tolerate certain things. Fascism is one of them. Government control is another. All of you to the last are tiny, weak, fearful, little cowards. There is a growing number of people in this city who\’ve been disenfranchised by the exodus from California. A group of people who feel that Californians got what they asked for. Your liberal politics, your, \”Can\’t we all just get along?\”, mentality buried you up to the eyeballs in criminals and thugs. Now you want to come here and do it to MY hometown.

Paint your lines you fools. Drink your soy milk. Celebrate your gayness. Have your little party. When it\’s all over, it will still be raining. And that rain has a habit of washing the filth out of this city. The filth, that is, that isn\’t just drowned outright.

Toby
Guest
Toby

@Vance – Talk about flamebait. I\’m not sure what the black helicopters craziness and veiled threats bring to this conversation, but I guess that\’s freedom of speech for you. Luckily, bloodthirsty libertarians are in the minority, especially when it comes to decision making.

gus
Guest
gus

Ah…living proof that foolishness has no limits…it\’s also too bad all that potentially useful energy is wasted by formulating rambling diatribes that immediately undercut ANY credibility that might be present. I am happy to see that crying and throwing a fit makes it feel better though; how about a glass of warm milk before your nappy? There, there……

Garlynn -- undergroundscience.blogspot.com
Guest

In some states, green means 15-minute parking zone. Not quite the message we want to send, either.

I agree with Bikealicious — hot pink, or maybe a shade of purple, seem to be currently not taken by any other form of traffic control device!!

true
Guest
true

thanks lance. i was on the fence about more lane striping and traffic controls, but your irrefutable logic has pushed me squarely into the lane-painting gay nazi filth camp.

so i vote reflective non-slippery pink.

hot, hot, hot pink.

perhaps the recently removed memorial stencil could be the new bike lane symbol?

tonyt
Guest
tonyt

Vance, it\’s so wonderful that you even grace us with your presence here seeing that you have nothing but contempt for all opinions that aren\’t yours.

Why don\’t you hang out over at your \”blog\” with all of the people read it, contribute, and value your opinion. Oh wait. Never mind.

tonyt
Guest
tonyt

I said \”. . .all of the people read it . . .\”

Should be \” . . . all of the people WHO read it . . .\”

Nick
Guest
Nick

I\’m not sure, but I liked the blue.

Green ain\’t bad. I can live with it.

~n

Cøyøte
Guest
Cøyøte

Let\’s do a Nike Swoosh and see if we can get Phil Knight to pay for it? Microsoft Blue? John Deer Green and Yellow? Beer, cigarettes, booze? I bet GM, Toyota, Ford, et. al. would love the opportunity to pay big bucks for their logos to painted in front of intersections all over the city.

Once government folks started seeing it as a revenue stream we would have bike boxes everywhere. Maybe even separated lanes, if we allowed the right advertisements.

(Tongue in cheek.)

zilfondel
Guest
zilfondel

Bright pink.

But c\’mon, who is going to confuse a handicapped parking space with a bike lane?!

I hate the litigious nature of this country. Lawyers, go to hell!

Opus the Poet
Guest

I don\’t live in Portland or have any bike lanes in my city, but because somebody has to set the standards I say go with the pink (a color with a long and glorious history in Cycling)

Opus

Opus the Poet
Guest

Oh, yes I also ask has anyone actually made a road paint that isn\’t slippery when wet, wears well, and doesn\’t discolor over time? Sounds like a complicated spec, especially for a pink paint.

Opus

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Hi Opus,

Long term applications of coloured pavement usually trys to avoid paint…with pigment added to the pavement itself as a hotmix (coloured stone chips bound with tar) or just the top layer as a sealant. These usually are as skid resistant as traditional pavement.

http://www.asphacolor.com/

(I am not recommending the above vendor – it just came up first when using a search engine.)

The use of thermoplastic or paint are only used for retrofit type facilities (after the fact of original construction).

jake
Guest
jake

It\’s a shame we can\’t use red. I saw a photo of some red bike lanes (not sure what country it was) they looked pretty nice, and very eye catching.
As long as it has enough \”florescence\” to the colour to be seen at night and in the rain I\’ll be pleased though.