Joe Bike

Magazine editor blames bike lanes for Portland fatalities

Posted by on April 30th, 2008 at 9:05 am

Download article here (115 kb PDF)
Copyright 2008 by John Schubert and
reprinted with permission from
Adventure Cyclist magazine

In the April issue of Adventure Cyclist magazine, technical editor John Schubert writes that “poorly designed” bike lanes were to blame for the recent deaths of Tracey Sparling and Brett Jarolimek.

In, Portland’s Agony: Two cyclists died as a result of poorly designed traffic-control devices, Schubert uses his monthly Cyclesense column as a pulpit to slam PDOT bicycle coordinator Roger Geller and find fault with the current direction of bikeway design in the most bike-friendly city in America (the article is not available online, but you can download a PDF here — posted with permission from Adventure Cyclist Magazine.)

Schubert is opposed to Portland’s bikeway design philosophies in general (more on that later). But specfically, in this article, he claims that Oregon law (which requires you to ride in a bike lane when one is present), Portland’s bike lane designs (striping them solid all the way to the intersection), and his own preferred riding style (leaving the bike lane at intersections to get on the left of right-turning cars) are at odds with each other.

In the same issue, Geller counters Schubert’s piece by pointing out that Portland is “on the right track” and that “our numbers speak for themselves” (when he wrote his response, Geller didn’t know that Portland would be the first major U.S. city to earn the League of American Bicyclists’ “Platinum” designation).

With his article, Schubert is doing a disservice to his readers by oversimplifying the situation and by stretching reality to help further his fight in an idealogical battle on the future of how bikeways are designed in America.

Yes, some Portland bike lanes are striped solid all the way to the intersection; and yes, Oregon law requires that you use a bike lane when it is present (but with exceptions); and yes, being on the right of a right-turning vehicle is a bad place to be.


Portland engineers and bike planners have made a conscious decision to keep motor vehicles out of bike lanes whenever possible — instead of allowing them to merge into the bike lane prior to making a right turn. Striping a bike lane all the way to the intersection and making it illegal for cars to enter the bike lane means that, according to PDOT, there is only one conflict area to manage and educate around, versus an unpredictable, “conflict zone” that occurs if you allow cars to swoop over any time they’d like.

Another, more practical reason Portland approaches this problem differently than other cities is due to short block faces. If cars could merge into the bike lane prior to an intersection, cars would form a long queue directly in the bike lane in some situations.

[Note: This bike lane debate was first brought up in Portland by former Traffic Division Lieutenant Mark Kruger in November of 2006 and was brought up again immediately following the death of Tracey Sparling.]

As for Oregon law, what Schubert fails to mention is that there is ample language that allows bicyclists to leave the bike lane if they feel unsafe. Mark Ginsberg, a Portland attorney who has worked on hundreds of bike/car collision cases says Schubert’s argument is a “red herring” and that he’s “over-reading the law to reach his desired outcome.”

Ginsberg also points out that if someone on a bike is approaching an intersection and sees a car they think might turn right, the person on the bike can simply adjust their speed accordingly until the potential conflict passes.

Schubert makes it seem like Oregon law requires bicyclists to pass on the right of a right-turning car — but that is simply not an accurate characterization of the law (although it does make for a sensational soundbite).

To say that the design of Portland’s bike lanes caused the deaths of Tracey Sparling and Brett Jarolimek is a grossly irresponsible conclusion and an oversimplification of a complicated situation.

So what’s really going on here? Why such a strongly worded column in a magazine that’s usually devoted to extolling the pleasures of bike touring? Even the editor of the magazine, Mike Deme — writing in his letter to readers at the beginning of the issue — said he was “uncomfortable” printing the article but only did so after “many conversations” with Schubert.

So why was Schubert so intent on publishing this article? Is he genuinely concerned for the safety of Adventure Cyclists’ readers and intent on warning them about the imminent peril they’ll face if one of their bike tours comes through Portland? I don’t think so.

Entirely more likely is that Schubert — with Portland gaining national attention for “Platinum status” and innovative bike facilities — saw an opportunity to promote his vehicular cycling (a.k.a. VC) philosophies and he used two tragedies and his editorial position to push his agenda (more on VC below).

In addition to being technical editor at Adventure Cyclist, Schubert is a well-known stalwart of the vehicular cycling philosophy of bikeway design and riding practice.

He’s also part of a coalition called LAB Reform which is pushing to reverse the current direction of the League of American Bicyclists (the most visible and largest national bicycle advocacy organization in the country) and change the way bikeway design and planning is headed in the U.S..

Schubert’s column is just the tip of the sword in a prolonged duel for the hearts and minds of American cyclists, bike planners and traffic engineers. It’s being waged by a persistent and vocal group (commonly referred to as vehicular cyclists) who favor equal integration of cars and bikes (instead of finding ways to separate the two modes) and think anyone who throws a leg over a bike should be highly trained to play on a level playing field with motor vehicles.

On the other side of the battlefield are bike planners and traffic engineers who use successes seen in cities like Portland, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen as their guide and see a direct correlation between building bike-specific infrastructure (like bike lanes, traffic-calming, bike-only signals, bike boxes) and increased ridership. On this side of the battle, the thinking is that, “if you build it, they will come” and to acknowledge the differences between bikes and cars while trying to make the experience for both as comfortable, safe, and efficient as possible.

Bike boxes provide a perfect allegory to compare and contrast these two fields of thoughts.

Vehicular cyclists despise bike boxes. When it became clear Portland would embark on the most ambitious bike box program to date, one vocal VC supporter, Bob Shanteau, wrote a letter to the FHWA in opposition to Portland’s plans. He even threatened to sue PDOT on grounds that the treatment was illegal because it was not yet official approved by the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (the standards guide used by traffic engineers).

Like in Schubert’s piece, VC supporters tend to consider outdated and car-centric federal guidelines (which have helped contribute a national bike commute mode share of less than 1%) as rigid commands of engineering practice that should not be veered from.

On the other hand, you’ve got planners (like Roger Geller) and engineers (like PDOT’s head honcho Rob Burchfield) who have repeatedly pushed the boundaries of federal guidelines (with blue bike lanes, sharrows, and most recently with bike boxes), and have even gone over them at times. However, they do so only after careful consideration and with thoughtful execution of these innovative design treatments.

The result is that Portland has become the most bicycle-friendly city in the country. By contrast, in places where vehicular cyclists have run amok — like Boston for instance — the conditions for biking are deplorable and the mode share (the percent of people who bike to work) hovers near 1%.

Boston was recently named one of the worst places to bike by Bicycling Magazine (although of late, with new leadership, Boston is looking to improve — using cities like Portland as an example no less).

On the surface VC doesn’t seem like such a bad concept. Learn the rules of the road (even though most of them are written for motor vehicles, not bikes), ride defensively, take extensive training courses on how to ride in traffic, never rely on paint to keep you safe. All good ideas that I think we can all agree on.

But VC advocates are not happy to just share their knowledge with others. Instead, they are intent on challenging other ideas to the extent of writing misleading editorials, threatening lawsuits, and conspiring against efforts that are showing clear success in getting more people on bikes.

This entire scenario will be argued over incessantly (much like the debate around helmets, fixed gears, etc…), but the reality is that there is no silver bullet to ensure we have zero conflicts between bikes and cars. No system of laws, design policies, or riding practices will ever prevent crashes from happening.

Debates are healthy. We need them. But one thing we shouldn’t argue about is that we need as many people as possible to ride bikes. More numbers give us the essential political and social clout we need to finally begin to tip the scales toward more human-powered traffic in this country (not mention saving our planet, making everyone healthier, etc…).

I’m open to any and all ideas on how to make that happen, but I’m much more likely to listen (and agree with) those ideas that have shown clear results and are put forward by recognized leaders in the traffic engineering bike planning professions who are passionate about the safety of all types of bicyclists — whether they are highly skilled at negotiating traffic, or just out for their first trip to the market because they’re fed up with the high cost of fuel.

Personal agendas, power struggles, business-as-usual, and idealogical battles will only serve to distract us from the huge task before us.

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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    r April 30, 2008 at 9:24 am

    I am an LCI and I have at least sipped the koolaid of vehicular or \”effective\” cycling. That said, my own practices are sufficiently at odds with some of the more rigid precepts of vehicular cycling that I have not felt comfortable actually teaching a formal Road 1 course, because I would inevitably be giving out information that does not completely adhere to the dogma.

    On the other, other hand, I have been increasingly disappointed with the League\’s focus on recreational cycling and offroad trails and its failure to take the politically inconvenient stance where it matters.

    Schubert is not \”wrong\” when he says that striping the lane all the way to the intersection is poor design, and that a law requiring a cyclist to put herself into a right hook situation is a bad law, but (a) I very much doubt that either of these factors actually caused any of the recent deaths and (b) obviously the bike box is a worthwhile experiment.


    (arriving Portland 06.03.08)

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    Marion rice April 30, 2008 at 9:28 am

    Wow, interesting articles. I thought Roger\’s response was really thoughtful and right on. He definitely seems in touch with my experience of cycle commuting in Portland. Not sure about the out of town guys ideas.. but it\’s nice to have dissenting ideas thrown out on the table as food for thought.

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    Andy April 30, 2008 at 9:36 am

    Having read the article in question I can say this, Well said Mr. Maus.

    And as for Roger Gellers response, again Well said sir. Especially the part about every American city already being VC ready and how few people ride. If this was a debate and I where the moderator I\’d declare Mr. Geller the winner.

    One odd part about the article is that Schubert never mentions the \”bike lane in the door zone\” conflict. An odd omission.

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    a.O April 30, 2008 at 9:43 am

    Very interesting and thoughtful piece, Jonathan.

    One critical provision of Oregon law that I think you should mention here is ORS 811.050, which requires motorists to yield to bicyclists in a bike lane.

    The tragedies sparking this editorial and heating up this debate would never have happened if the motorists involved had simply followed Oregon law.

    And motorists might be more likely to follow the law if it were consistently enforced by the Portland police.

    Given that such a basic violation of the traffic code is responsible for deaths and severe injuries for people using a mode of transportation the City claims it wants to promote, enforcement of this law would seem to warrant a high priority in our fair city.

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    kg April 30, 2008 at 9:45 am

    If these folks don\’t like the way we are doing things here in Portland they are certainly welcome to stay away. Where does Bob Shanteau get off suing Portland, mind your own business bro! We did VC here in Portland right up to the early 90\’s. It was lonely being a cyclist on the streets back then.

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    Moo April 30, 2008 at 9:51 am

    I can just picture VC\’s running amok and screwing everything up for all the recreational cyclists and commuters in the unfortunate cities that they operate out of. If anything, the article may just shed a positive light on our biking philosophies and strong advocacy groups, and with it, the reasons we are the friendliest bike commuter city in the nation.

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    Tonya April 30, 2008 at 9:52 am

    +1 Andy!

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    cyclist April 30, 2008 at 9:54 am

    Geller\’s strongest point by far is that bike fatalities in the region have remained level while the number of cyclists has skyrocketed. With yearly 20% increases in the number of cyclists you\’d expect *some* increase in the number of fatalities just based on sheer numbers, especially when you consider that at least some portion of the increase is probably coming from new and/or inexperienced cyclists.

    Schubert\’s argument with regard to bike boxes is also fairly weak. While a bike box wouldn\’t have saved Jarolimek, it most certainly would have saved Starling, who would have been out in front of the truck, rather than in a blind spot on its side when the light turned green.

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    Jessica Roberts April 30, 2008 at 9:55 am

    I believe that all bicycle facilities and laws should pass the \”8 to 80\” test. Would I feel comfortable letting a child bike on them? Would a child be able to navigate this facility properly? Same with my grandparents.

    I believe that the VC philosophy makes sense for very strong and confident riders who are in their physical prime and who don\’t mind (or even enjoy) proving to cars that they are equals. But it simply makes NO sense to claim that we should do away with bike lanes and teach all bicyclists to take the lane and merge as cars do when you apply the \”8 to 80\” rule. No 8-year-old child could be expected to take the lane and merge across three lanes of fast-moving vehicle traffic to get in the left turn lane.

    We must do better if we want to attract bicyclists who aren\’t just 30-something athletic men. Our laws and facilities owe these vulnerable users a comfortable place to be.

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    Jessica Roberts April 30, 2008 at 9:59 am

    p.s. Did they have the nerve to use one of your lovely photos to illustrate how abysmal Portland is?

    p.p.s. Has John Schubert ever been to Portland?

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    Jonathan Maus (Editor) April 30, 2008 at 10:02 am

    \”Did they have the nerve to use one of your lovely photos to illustrate how abysmal Portland is?\”

    Yes, I sold them one of my photos for this story. I initially refused their request because they didn\’t plan on posting any response in that same issue… but they decided to post a response from Geller I decided to sell them the photo.

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    Bob_M April 30, 2008 at 10:12 am

    To speak bluntly
    Schubert sounds a bit like an attention whore trying to get attention to his point of view. (a point of view that excludes less serious cyclists)

    And right or wrong, cyclists are ultimately responsible for their own safety. We can\’t count on stripes to protect us, or drivers to respect us. We have to anticipate the worst behavior from those who we share the road with. If a driver kills a rider who was right, the driver wins (even in the unlikely event that he were to be sent to jail)and the rider loses.

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    jason April 30, 2008 at 10:28 am

    I think it was poor judgment of Adventure Cycling to include this article in their magazine. Does Schubert have any background or professional knowledge of traffic engineering? Not only are his vehicular cycling thoughts dated, but all too often his product reviews are as well. Its a shame that curmudgeons like this are given such space to rant.

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    Pete April 30, 2008 at 10:29 am

    \”Striping a bike lane all the way to the intersection and making it illegal for cars to enter the bike lane…\”

    It\’s my understanding (after a legal course with Ray Thomas) that it is NOT illegal for cars to enter the bike lane (though I\’ve told many an aggressive driver that it is ;). The law states they may not enter a bike lane with a bicyclist \”present\”. The law also states that a right-turning vehicle must be as close to the right curb as possible (and may state a max approach distance I can\’t readily recall). This is somewhat contradictory and makes lane blocking – which is frequent here in Beaverton at rush hours – not necessarily illegal.

    California law states the distance a right-turning car may enter a bike lane (and dashes lines accordingly), which essentially makes lane blocking perfectly legal there. I commuted in Silicon Valley for nearly five years and would testify that the Oregon approach is safer and less intimidating.

    I understand Schubert\’s philosophy and have argued it with many a driver telling me to get on the sidewalk while I\’m taking a lane. But the power and acceleration of a modern car, coupled with prevalent heavy acceleration and deceleration between lights and into merges (and wondering why gas is $4?? ;), make VC a less safe (and easily more intimidating) approach than separation. Try riding from Murray to Hall on Allen sometime. I won\’t argue against VC where conditions allow or warrant, but I would argue that Oregon\’s policy of separation has been a prominent factor in increased ridership.

    The irony of this article singling out Mr. Geller, in my mind, is that he \”cut his teeth commuting from Somerville to Boston from \’77 to \’92…\” Now if that\’s not expert experience in Vehicular Cycling then I don\’t know what is!!

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    k. April 30, 2008 at 10:32 am

    VC is a great concept…..for a minority of cyclists. It\’s great if you are a strong and confident cyclist and capable of the speeds necessary to blend with auto traffic. But if you are on an upright bike, are not as quick and maneuverable as a messenger, are not that confidant and self aware, it\’s unworkable. I use tenants of it whenever I ride but to think that any one philosophy of cycling has all the answers is just wrong.

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    Stacy Westbrook April 30, 2008 at 10:36 am

    While I may be perfectly comfortable with following the \”rules of the road\” and using common sense while biking, not everyone is. Riding in the car lane is fine until someone passes you on the left a little too closely because they got impatient. When you get down to it, a car can crush you even if you have the right to be in the lane—especially when that car driver decides they don\’t feel like following the rules of the road.

    I appreciate the bike lanes and green boxes for giving cyclists a safe place to be when traffic whips by us. Everyone has the right to bike and drive safely, whether they\’re a bike pro or just a Sunday cyclist. In the end, don\’t we want more people to bike rather than just a hardcore few?

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    Mmann April 30, 2008 at 10:40 am

    I read the article and Mr. Geller\’s response and, honestly, I don\’t think the criticism of Mr. Schubert in the above comments is warranted. To me, his central point is that at intersections where the bike lane continues through and there is the potential that a vehicle on your left could right-hook you, that\’s a bad design. I agree. ALL cyclist, regardless of ability and experience level, can and should have the right to \”take the lane\” in that situation. I do. I\’ll choose safety over the law, but I shouldn\’t have to. I also think Mr. Geller\’s comments that Mr. Schubert paints a picture of Portland cycling as \”scary\”, \”dangerous,\” and \”awful\” smack of too much hyperbole. I respect Mr. Geller and the work he\’s done, but I also think it should be legal for cyclist to take the lane at intersections.

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    Schrauf April 30, 2008 at 10:48 am

    Fantastic articles and blog post.

    What it comes down to is that VC is great for some cyclists, but not the majority, and with VC as the primary philosophy, many potential cyclists will never become cyclists.

    And the more cyclists on the road, the safer we all become.

    The important thing is that VC is legal in the vast majority of instances, and anyone wanting to do it is allowed to. Even with the requirement to use a bike lane, you can leave the lane any time it is necessary for safety. That is a fairly broad pass for VC.

    There is no reason VC cannot be compatible with the existence of bike lanes, boxes etc. We only need to worry if laws are passed that do restrict VC on more occasions – that is when all cyclists will begin losing their rights.

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    BURR April 30, 2008 at 11:19 am

    Schubert\’s article is right on the money. Portland is using some really crappy designs for bike lanes these days.

    Portland has more cyclists on the road these days in spite of the bad bike lane designs, not because of them.

    If there is one thing bicycle advocates should focus on in the next legislative session in Salem, it is the repeal of the ridiculous \’mandatory use\’ statute (ORS 814.420), which requires cyclists to use the bike lane if one is provided.

    Cyclists should have the freedom to choose not to use a poorly designed bike lane.

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    el timito April 30, 2008 at 11:21 am

    Thanks Jonathan for a comprehensive and thoughtful look at this debate. Thanks too, commenters, for reasonable and well-balanced perspectives on using the road.

    Schubert makes some good points about the need for riders to take responsibility for their safety (although I think Robert Hurst makes these points better – and entertainingly – in his book, The Art of Cycling).

    After reading Roger\’s reply, though, I had to say, Shazam! Testify, brother!

    At the heart of this discussion and, I would hazard, at the heart of most road user conflict is the awful beast, Change.

    We are in the midst of a tremendous change away from a streetscape designed for and used almost entirely by motor vehicles. We are heading toward an urban environment filled with bicycles, skateboarders, pedicabs, pedestrians, the occasional Segway, electric scooters for those who can\’t walk easily, and folks enjoying the public right-of-way as a commons (read: parties in the street). I wouldn\’t be surprised if horses come back into vogue, once the prices of gasoline and hay stand in stark-enough contrast.

    Folks who grew up in a car-oriented environment, which is to say all of us, learned specific rules for roadway behavior. We may not follow those rules consistently, but our outrage at folks who break the rules underscores how deeply embedded they are in our minds.

    We all have to relearn how we should interact with each other on the roads, sidewalks, and off-street paths. Bikers have to learn that just because you *can* go 20 mph on the Esplanade, when pedestrians are present you really shouldn\’t. Drivers have to learn to watch for bikes, & pedestrians. Pedestrians have to learn to get out of our way. (Just checking if you were paying attention.)

    It\’s a new world coming at us each morning, even though we want to believe it\’s the same one we said goodnight to. I hope we can remember that everyone learns at a different pace, and recognize that some aren\’t ready to admit they have to learn anything new at all. I suggest slowing down, paying attention, and smiling at each other more.

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    Lenny Anderson April 30, 2008 at 11:24 am

    We just have to remember to ride illegally when our safety depends on it.
    Both recents victims would have been OK, if they had not followed the law. PDOT has to make legal riding safe.
    That said, there is some truth that bike lanes, bikeways and even the Flanders Bridge, which I support, are really for motor vehicle drivers…i.e. they get us damn bikers off the busy roads.
    When a Portland bike lane ends…which they do with unpleasant frequency…and I am back in the traffic lane (on days I feel brave), I always prepare a little speech for any rude motorists…\”Hey call City Hall and get me a f**king bike lane, and I\’ll use it.\”

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    Jason April 30, 2008 at 11:25 am

    Wow, Jonathan. What a well thought out response.

    I too am with \”r\” #1, I\’ve also at least sipped the VC kool-aid, and I could tell just from your title that VC would enter into this discussion.

    I have mixed feelings about bike lanes. My biggest complaint is that they allow motorists to adopt a mind-set where they think they can ignore cyclists, since they are, at some level \”off of the road.\” To this very limited extend I think we should acknowledge Mr. Schubert and the VC cadre\’s concerns.

    If you look beyond this one reservation, I still argue that bike lanes do more good than harm. They encourage beginner and even intermediate cyclists to ride more. When motorists pass, they tend to do so at a safer distance. Since motorists are not in the same lane of traffic, it actually reduces the number of potential conflict zones during a cyclist\’s commute.

    Like most things in life, bike lanes are not perfect. I concur with you, Jonathan, that Mr. Schubert does a disservice by not acknowledging the strengths as well as the weaknesses of bike lanes. Especially in such a well read magazine, I would rather see constructive criticisms instead of an outright rejection of bike lanes.

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    k. April 30, 2008 at 11:35 am

    Schrauf (#18) hit the nail on the head.

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    BURR April 30, 2008 at 11:37 am

    I see from reading all the responses in support of bad bike lane designs that there must have been a sale on rose colored glasses recently….

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    Matt Picio April 30, 2008 at 11:40 am

    Pete (#11) said \”the law also states that a right-turning vehicle must be as close to the right curb as possible \”

    No, the law (ORS 811.355) states \”as close to the curb as PRACTICABLE\”, which is totally different. It\’s not contradictory, since cars are only permitted in the bike lane under specific circumstances, and making a turn ACROSS a bike lane is one of them. Lane blocking is still not legal if the lane is striped all the way to the stop line, since the car does not have to be in the bike lane in order to make a safe turn.

    Mmann (#17) – I disagree, I think the criticisms are well-warranted, especially since Mr. Schubert did not do basic research as to the particulars of the accidents in question, nor did he acknowledge the other significant factors, because they didn\’t support his point. His arguments are much weaker because he didn\’t address those issues. In the Sparling case, there is evidence to suggest that the driver did not have his turn signal on at the time of the collision. In the Jarolimek case, the motorist is a historically unsafe driver, whose driving record shows strong indications of not paying attention to the road. Also, there is evidence that the mirrors on the truck may have been improperly adjusted, increasing the truck\’s blind spot. Jarolimek MAY have been speeding – in all those cases, the design of the road is not a factor.

    (I\’m not trying to put the blame on Brett Jarolimek with the speeding comment, merely pointing out that if he was, that is not a \”bad design\” factor)

    As others have mentioned previously, the best way to increase cyclist safety is to put more cyclists on the road, so motorists become used to seeing them there again. Bike lanes create an illusion of safety, and in Portland at least, biking is becoming safer for cyclists for whatever reason – if bike lanes aren\’t the cause, they\’re certainly not preventing safety. But by creating the illusion of safety, they get more people out on the road, which increases ACTUAL safety. I can\’t see why that\’s a bad thing. They also serve as a constant reminder to motorists that there *could* be a bike there, even if there isn\’t one now. I don\’t think the psychological value of that can be overstated.

    Really, the fact that we\’re having this discussion at all proves that they have value – if Portland wasn\’t enormously successful for cycling, we wouldn\’t be such a target for criticism.

    BURR (#19) – Schubert\’s article is inflammatory, poorly-researched, and self-serving. Your point about removing the \”mandatory use\” law in Oregon, however, *IS* right on the money, and I agree with that 100%

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    Dave Thomson April 30, 2008 at 11:52 am

    Burr #19 – I\’d love to see some documented facts to back up your assertion that \”Portland has more cyclists on the road these days in spite of the bad bike lane designs, not because of them.\”

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    Another Doug April 30, 2008 at 11:52 am

    Lenny #21 says, \”We just have to remember to ride illegally when our safety depends on it. Both recents victims would have been OK, if they had not followed the law.\”

    Perhaps others have a different perspective, but my understanding of the law is that cyclists are permitted to leave the bike lane and to go to the left of a right-turning vehicle. Where is the illegality in that maneuver? Has anybody been cited for this?

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    poser April 30, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    BURR #19 & #24 – thank you for your very articulate definition of a \”bad bike lane design\” as well as the myriad of great examples that you provided of those terrible bike lane designs here in Portland. I\’ve heard folks use that phrase (bad bike lane design) so many times and I never know what they\’re talking about. Heck, sometime I think they\’re not so sure either.

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    Pete April 30, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    I don\’t understand where the impression that it\’s illegal to pass a right-turning car on the left comes from; I get that impression from both the article and a few of the comments. The way I interpret ORS 814.420 – 3a (copied below) is that we have the right to take the lane and pass the right-turning vehicle on the left and then move back when it\’s safe to do so (always looking for right-turning perpendicular cars to jump out using the right-turning car we\’re passing as an opportunity). Of course, the laws of self-preservation and physics apply more readily than ORS, but I doubt highly I\’m breaking the \”mandatory use\” law in this case as the article leads me to believe. The right-turning vehicle could readily be interpreted as \”in the bicycle lane.\”

    And I respectfully disagree that ridership is up \”in spite\” of bike lanes. Several people who started riding at two of my clients, both companies being active in the WTA and promoting ridership via incentives and conveniences, have told me they\’ll only ride on roads with bike lanes. I\’m inclined to generalize that to a broader population (with an aging, presumably more conservative demographic, who I observe as about half the commuters here in Beaverton and west \’burbs). If advocating VC meant removing bike lanes entirely and relying upon drivers to be fully aware and acceptant of whatever laws have us sharing lanes, then I\’m willing to bet ridership would be down and fatalities up.

    814.420 Failure to use bicycle lane or path; exceptions; penalty. (1) Except as provided in subsections (2) and (3) of this section, a person commits the offense of failure to use a bicycle lane or path if the person operates a bicycle on any portion of a roadway that is not a bicycle lane or bicycle path when a bicycle lane or bicycle path is adjacent to or near the roadway.

    (3) A person is not in violation of the offense under this section if the person is able to safely move out of the bicycle lane or path for the purpose of:

    (a) Overtaking and passing another bicycle, a vehicle or a pedestrian that is in the bicycle lane or path and passage cannot safely be made in the lane or path.

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    a.O April 30, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    BURR, you said (@ #19) said that ORS 814.420 \”requires cyclists to use the bike lane if one is provided.\” But that\’s not true and perhaps a bit disingenuous on your part.

    ORS 414.420(3) sets forth a broad set of exceptions to the requirement:

    \”(3) A person is not in violation of the offense under this section if the person is able to safely move out of the bicycle lane or path for the purpose of:

    (a) Overtaking and passing another bicycle, a vehicle or a pedestrian that is in the bicycle lane or path and passage cannot safely be made in the lane or path.

    (b) Preparing to execute a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.

    (c) Avoiding debris or other hazardous conditions.

    (d) Preparing to execute a right turn where a right turn is authorized.

    (e) Continuing straight at an intersection where the bicycle lane or path is to the right of a lane from which a motor vehicle must turn right.\”

    So, (a) passing, (b) turning left, (c) avoiding hazards such as getting doored, (d) turning right, and (e) avoiding a right-hook – pretty much every reason you\’d want to not use the lane. Did they miss any?

    Now, the two flaws with bike lanes I see are the propensity for either (1) the right-hook or (2) dooring. As I understand it, problem (1) is the whole reason for this article and the editorial.

    Although the bike lane design may be like all other designs in that it is not perfect, it does not require one to be susceptible to the right-hook. Cyclists, like all other road users, are expected to read the law (RTFM!) in conjunction with their use of the road. Doing so shows that bike lanes need not set you up for a right hook.

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    Stripes April 30, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    That\’s why we need bike bouldvards & accompanying facilities like the Flanders crossing, peoples!

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    joeb April 30, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    I love joining 15 bikes crossing Grand off the Hawthorne Bridge at 20+ mph changing lanes all over the road with a car or two mixed in. VC correctness. If VC could produce the kind of riding conditions all over that it does in areas along the East Bank, that would be awesome!

    As it is… I take the lane for short stretches at intersections and to get around obstacles and yes I’ll safely cut in on cars with ‘give me a frickin lane’, but I try to do it in a way that communicates to drivers that bikes are part of the solution by causing as little obstruction as possible and diving back into the bike lane when it is safe. Then I catch my breath.

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    AB April 30, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    I agree with Mark Ginsberg; Schubert\’s entire premise is a red herring. In reality, many VCs are fearful that bike lanes and separated paths are a slippery slope that will eventually lead to bicycles being completely outlawed from our streets. Of course, the opposite is true; as more safe and inviting facilities are built, bicycle usage will increase, and as usage increase, so will the cycling lobby.

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    Pete April 30, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    FYI, Ray Thomas currently has relevant comments on his site:

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    Tankagnolo Bob April 30, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    FROM: Bob Crispin
    Portland, OR

    TO: Adventure Cyclist Newsletter

    Hello – Regarding the story “Portland’s Agony”, I agree that there needs to be continues improvements on our system for cyclists, but I will just say “NO” to the idea of “truckfuls of paint remover”. We have had a 500% increase in cycling over the last few years while the accident rate has remained the same.

    I have been an avid cyclist since the late 1950s. I have lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and now Portland. I have cycled across the U.S. and the length of the West Coast, thus cycling in many environments. I moved to Portland in 1981 before this bicycle revolution began. Bottom line, every year it is safer, not totally safe, but much safer.

    I respond almost weekly to our great local BLOG, discussion group, saying “It is safer, but not safe”. It never will be totally safe, two kinds of vehicles traveling at different speeds, the bicycle with great visibility, the car with less visibility. I think new cyclists need to be educated to the fact that the laws of physics apply before all written laws. But I do feel much safer with that line between me and cars. When I first moved here the chances of being sideswiped were much greater. Many inexperienced cyclists didn’t take their lane at intersections before the lines were painted. They stayed to the right and got the right hook anyway.

    So I tell cyclists to try to move with the traffic, look back before going through an intersection to be sure you are BETWEEN cars, just as a driver would do entering a freeway. Stop if necessary, and when really crowded, walk the intersection if necessary. Remember that cars do have blind spots.

    Want to critique a city where you do not want to cycle, go to Hollywood Florida. If I had to move there, I would sell my bikes outright. Saw few cyclists there, maybe one a day. Saw one get hit by a car in the one month I had to be there. Never saw that happen during my 26 years in Portland with cyclists in view every block.

    My biggest concern now, a new learning curve for me, is to not crash with another cyclist. I am just getting used to the fact I can’t just stop in the bike lane and answer a cell call, or check something on my bike. There is a good chance there are two or three cyclists right behind me who have to slam on their brakes to not rear end me.

    Never seen a bike – car wreck here, and have never been close to being in one. I would NOT trade this city for any other.

    In closing, we are not safe, but we are the safest, in the U.S. anyway !!! – Tankagnolo Bob

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    john April 30, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    So they put those bike boxes in on Broadway… and now i have almost been nailed two times. The Cars still have to turn Right sooner or later! Now with the bike box i feel a little sheepish leaving the bike lane and going around on the left. I could stop and wait but that usually makes everyone confused and everything worse.

    Once again, I think people driving or riding should mainly be responsible for that which is in front of them, not coming up behind them. Besides, looking behind you or studying the mirrors is akin to fiddling with the radio or dialing the cell, your eyes aren\’t where they should be, which is in a scan in the direction you are going.

    Do you trust that quick glance in the mirror spotted you ?? Ahh russian roulette, seen in the movies, and now on the green paint of Portland streets.

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    Jessica Roberts April 30, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    Just sent this to the editor at

    Dear Editor,

    I have always respected Adventure Cycling\’s mission and high-quality work, so I was especially disappointed to see that you chose to publish John Schubert\’s hit piece on Portland. I note that he failed to cite any crash statistics, ridership trends, or other statistics, and he seems also to have failed to interview any of our many local engineers, planners, city officials, advocates, and industry members. In fact, my impression is that he had to cast far and wide to find a single disgruntled cyclist whose personal impressions are the only thing he can find to support his position.

    Since 2003, we have seen the number of bicyclists on our streets increase by 170%. Bikes make up one vehicle in five on one of our downtown bridges. Crash rates have plummeted, bike shops are thriving, and families and children are joining the two-wheeled revolution in droves. Can Schubert point to any city that eschews bike lanes, as he suggests, and yet enjoys a census bicycle mode split of 6%? No, he cannot — no city that was planned by vehicular cyclists has capture more than one or two percent of work trips. Whatever we\’re doing, it\’s working.

    I hope that, in the future, you will require contributors to research articles robustly and present a balanced point of view. Publishing pieces with so transparent and inflammatory an agenda discredits Adventure Cycling.

    Jessica Roberts

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    Jessica Roberts April 30, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    Correction: mdeme@adventurecycling.ORG

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    PdxMark April 30, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    So when does someone get John Schubert to drop by here & defend his piece. Let\’s see what he has to say in the face of an informed response.

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    Diogo April 30, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    I never heard about VC before, but part of what I just learned does resonate with my own opinion. I would never, however, agree with fighting against bike infrastructure. And I don’t see the 2 positions as diametrically opposed – so I make my own ideological view of this debate: you should take advantage of the rules of the road that benefit you, but never count or rely on them. Or, in other words, you should ride with a VC mentality but fight for a segregated cycling infrastructure.

    Perhaps because I’m not familiar with this ideological battle, I could not find a reason for alarm in Schubert’s article. I can sense his ideological motivation, but that does not sound offensive to me because I don’t ever expect anyone to be neutral and feel that I am capable of making up my own mind when witnessing a conflict of ideas.

    I do wonder though (without any basis, I must admit) if the strong rejection of his article is not motivated by resentment towards a party pupper who is raising uncomfortable points when everybody rather just celebrate “the successes” of Portland as the great bike city. I have to say that, in the past, I sensed that all the hype and pride for Portland Bike was suppressing some much needed debate/critique.

    After all, is it really that misleading to say that the current bike lanes design is deficient? Is Schubert really that wrong when he says that bike boxes do not address intersection collisions?

    I, myself, while not siding with anyone, think its better if there was no consensus around “how comfortable and safe it truly is to ride a bicycle here.” Sure, Portland is better than most places. But I don’t think that changes the fact that, when you are out there riding your bike in traffic, you are taking risks on your own – 1000 bike boxes will not change the fact that traffic rules do not protect bikers. And this fact is my moral prerogative to not obey all the other stupid traffic laws that only prevent biking from being a more efficient and fun mode of transportation – like red lights, stop signs, etc. And, unfortunately, the idea of “recognized leaders in the traffic engineering bike planning professions” delivering safety to bikers does give legitimacy to a very unfair state of affairs, namely that bikers are subject to traffic laws and tickets just like cars.

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    Dag April 30, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    For the most part, I don\’t like bike lanes. I\’d much rather have a cycle track of the same width next to the sidewalk instead of in the crazy location between car traffic and car parking.

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    joel April 30, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    a.O. – kudos for bringing up the choice specifics of ORS 414.420(3). even without (c) Avoiding debris or other hazardous conditions., which is a freaking get-out-of-jail-free card (on paper), the exceptions provided more than excuse just about any possible reasonable hazard avoidance.

    its getting the drivers (and cops!) to accept this that is the problem, not bike lanes, which, as someone who rides far more like a vc cyclist than not (but one who thinks the idea that you can teach someone the nuances of aggressive traffic rafting in a class, no matter how intensive, is ridiculous) , i wholeheartedly support.

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    Marion rice April 30, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    Hey, have folks been to the Old Mill District in Bend.. what do you think about the raised bike paths they have there? Is there any research about safety for this design?

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    Carl B April 30, 2008 at 8:08 pm

    I am one of those who bikes every day in Portland despite bike lanes, not because of them. Bike lanes on busy arterials are a really bad idea. Almost as bad an idea as trying to be a vehicular cyclist on a busy arterial. (VC works great downtown, though.)

    Bike boulevards work much better for everyone and are a lot safer. Arterials are attractive because they go where people want to go and they don\’t dead end. That\’s why there are so many cars on them. The City should focus on finding or making routes that are parallel and near to major arterials and modifying them to allow bikes to go through unimpeded, but prevent cars from staying on more than a few blocks.

    When we can go anywhere in the city without having to use a busy arterial, there will be even more people using bikes and fewer accidents. And there will be no need for inherently dangerous bike lanes.

    Separate bike paths are fine for Sunday afternoon rides, but almost always are useless for getting to where you want to go. And you still have to get to them somehow. I think their proponents usually drive to them, or would if they had a bike.

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    Todd B April 30, 2008 at 10:22 pm

    It is too bad some \’rabid\’ VC/ Forresterites focus too narrowerly on the concepts of VC riding.

    If their concepts of bicycle riding are to be better adopted safely by novice riders then they should work harder on lowering speed limits of the streets they are fighting bike lanes on…lower speed limits closer to bike travel speeds (10 to 20 mph).

    It is best to have bikeways that allow all riders a choice of route type (dependent on their skills and riding style) and the understanding of VC skills.

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    Todd B April 30, 2008 at 10:33 pm

    And Portland is entering a more mature phase of bikeway facilities development that focuses on improved intersections for bicyclists.

    Traditionally many US traffic engineers designing bikeways dropped the bike lanes at the intersections – a critical point with lots of conflicts – thus reducing the value of the bikelane vs. reducing conflicts with separate lanes/ signal phases for bikes and cars (Dutch model) per movement direction.

    Thus the US practice supports the VC argument that bike lanes are dangerous – since they are usually only implemented as a half measure.

    Perhaps if one were to take VC concepts to an extreme and apply them to cars…then on multilane arterials separate car lanes would be combined into one and there would be only a single cycle for the signal phase (no right or left turn arrow phases).

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    brettoo April 30, 2008 at 11:19 pm

    Although I still think that truly separated bike paths are the ultimate route to drastically increased ridership, Portland\’s bike lane strategy has inarguably increased the number of riders, and as noted above, that tends to produce a self-reinforcing cycle: the more people biking, the more drivers adjust their driving behavior because they\’re more aware that cyclists are or might be present. But there\’s another advantage to increasing ridership: many of those new riders will continue to drive (though not as often), and there\’s nothing that increases bike safety so much as drivers who are also riders — and are therefore much more aware of how bike riders behave and the dangers we face from inattentive drivers. So in a choice between fewer but more highly trained VC riders vs. vastly more bike lane riders (including casual users), the latter choice seems like to produce both greater safety and greater numbers of people on bikes.

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    Tourbiker May 1, 2008 at 2:00 am

    Both make good points.

    If everyone could ride at prime levels
    the VC concept could prove more efficient.

    however not everyone rides like a banshe
    state motor vehicles divisions teaching
    is nearly non existent, and the state views things that distract drivers with the same consistency as a lawyer DWI.
    In a perfect world, both systems should be embraced, slower riders could use designated lanes, while faster (able to keep up) riders blend with motorists.

    Portland\’s on a path the right direction though.
    Any Cubans out there remember the Oil embargo, and how they adapted to bikes?

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    Vance May 1, 2008 at 6:35 am

    Hopefully, by now, I don\’t have to reiterate my trepidation regarding bike-lanes. You may read the editorial on my own inferior blog if you\’d like to know more about my position. This is also my offering that there are local critics, and that this is not some new thing. Criticizing bike-lanes that is.

    So, I won\’t even comment on bike-lanes. After reading this article though, I do see a contradictory sentiment coming now from the supporters of bike-lane installations, and especially Geller himself. All I\’ve heard from Geller and the city is, \”Oh, it\’s sooo dangerous for cyclists out there!\” But in response to some fairly reasonable criticism of the policy, and solutions, being deployed to create this zero-sum, absolutely safe utopia, the language changes. Now Geller, at least, seems to think Portland is perfectly safe for cyclists.

    Well, which is it? Is it so dangerous out there that the city needs to literally throw money at the problem, or is it perfectly fine, and all this money that is being spent is really being wasted instead? I mean which is it guys? Why does this blatant flip-flopping on Geller\’s part not raise any eyebrows, while just a little criticism of some of his ideas has you\’all hounding Schubert with pitch-forks, and barking dogs?

    I\’m really trying hard here to best love my cycling brethren. I mean no disrespect toward anyone. But this is serious business, especially when a city steps in, removes my own ability to judge for myself what is the best way to operate my bike in traffic, and replaces that hard-earned judgment with some paint on the asphalt.

    For the record, many, many, local cyclists have left blood and tears all over these Portland streets, paving the way for those who follow. I, more than a little, resent Geller failing to acknowledge the sacrifices made by long-time cyclists in this city; and feel that it is not entirely these new safety measures that should get all the credit for Portland\’s burgeoning cycling numbers.

    Take away the mandate in the language of the Revised Statute, if you ask me. Bike-lanes can be a tremendous tool for all cyclists. It\’s only too bad that their use is intended to be mandatory, because there are simply times when bike-lanes cause more problems than they solve. Furthermore, I\’d like to see a separation of two agendas I see being lumped together more, and more often. Getting cars off the road to protect the environment, and deploying safety features that are there to help save lives. Designing safety infrastructure shouldn\’t be viewed as a chance to inflict punitive, often petty, inconveniences upon motorists. Safety first perhaps, Green agenda second. For now, just for now?

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    Nathan May 1, 2008 at 6:56 am

    There are two kinds of bikers: Those who are comfortable in traffic and those who are not. Those who are comfortable are probably safer, have good points about changing bike lanes, and are probably the overwhelming majority here, but those who are less comfortable in traffic, the bike lane provides some feeling of security–\”if everyone does what they are supposed to do, I\’ll be fine\” –it doesn\’t mean we\’re not hyper-aware of what\’s going on around us, but it provides some parameters for us to focus on.

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    Jim Sayer May 1, 2008 at 8:21 am

    Greetings from Missoula (headquarters of Adventure Cycling),

    I am an avid reader of so have been following the debate over John Schubert’s column with great interest.

    First, let me note that John doesn’t represent Adventure Cycling on bike infrastructure issues – in fact, we have no set position on bike lanes (and haven’t been too engaged on urban bike issues), although we are a long-time participant in America Bikes, the national coalition to get more federal resources and better federal policies for cycling. For those of you who don’t read our entire magazine, at the end of this post is an excerpt from editor Mike Deme’s intro to John’s column (and you can also see Roger Geller’s reply on this blog, so you know we’re not printing John’s views alone).

    On balance, I think Portland is a great place to ride, and I think Portlanders are doing an awesome job of setting a standard for (American) cycling. I ride in your town once or twice a year (last time was Oct. 07) and love going over your many bridges and even rode last fall from a friend’s home in Irvington to Vancouver, WA for a conference (that was interesting – I know you’re working on that bridge crossing over the Columbia). I’ve also enjoyed doing Critical Mass, with Jonathan (and my daughter), and your county-wide bike fest plus journeys into Forest Park and more.

    Personally, I tend to agree with the people in this debate taking the middle ground – there are merits to vehicular cycling (for those who are good at it – I count myself among them) but it is worth fighting for infrastructure, both lanes and trails, along with parking, signage and everything else. Last year, I helped launch a new non-profit here in Missoula ( that is starting to get some traction – and yes, earlier this week we even helped get our local Public Works agency and state DOT (the latter still trying to figure out the value of cycling) to stripe some lanes for the first time on a key north-south choke point road. Perfect? No. Positive? In my view (and the view of just about every cycling advocate here), yes. Will it create more ridership? Will it create more visible cycling activity in the community? Almost certainly yes. Will we need to keep educating and working on car-cycle interaction? Yes.

    So thanks for the discussion and keep up your efforts. We all have a LOT more to do. Missoula just got a BFC designation from the League (Silver level — we have about 6% bike-to-work and 8% walk-to-work – with lots to improve on our bike network) and we will be doing everything we can to bump up that rating in the coming years. As for Adventure Cycling, I can say with confidence that we salute Portland’s official and citizen efforts to create the bike-friendliest metro region in the U.S.

    Warm regards,

    Jim Sayer
    Executive Director
    Adventure Cycling Association

    Excerpt from Mike Deme’s column in Adventure Cyclist (April ’08)

    When I first read John Schubert’s “Cyclesense” column slated for this issue, I was a bit uncomfortable with it. In “Portland’s Agony,” John reviews Portland’s approach to bike lanes and writes about two particular bike/car collisions which resulted in the deaths of the cyclists involved. I won’t go into further detail as you can read the column for yourselves on pages 40-41 and 46.

    One reason I was uncomfortable with Schubert’s column is that I’d rather keep Adventure Cyclist out of these kinds of debates. I’m not downplaying the importance of designated bike lanes and their design but I’m dead set on keeping the focus of this magazine on recreational bicycle travel.

    Though some may disagree, I consider myself a fairly reasonable man, and, after many conversations with Schubert, I can perceive the connection between the two subjects. Bike-lane debates are essentially about cyclists’ rights and those rights are a subject I don’t think Adventure Cyclist should shy away from, as they are pertinent to touring cyclists as well.

    The other reason I was uncomfortable is that Portland has an excellent reputation as a terrific city for cyclists — a reputation that is well deserved. They have been in the forefront of the movement to improve conditions for cyclists and are on the record that they will continue this effort. Even though Schubert spoke with Portland Bicycle Coordinator Roger Geller when writing his column, the Adventure Cyclist team thought it would be the fair thing to do to allow Geller space for a reply in this issue. He gladly accepted our invitation and you can read his retort on page 46.

    Because of the complexity of this issue, we didn’t have the space for Geller to explain Portland’s position completely, so I would recommend that you also read the very thorough blog at After you get all riled up by this topic, go back and read the rest of this issue. It’ll bring you back to the notion that bicycle travel is just plain old fun for everyone — and I think that’s something we can all agree on.

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    El Biciclero May 1, 2008 at 9:15 am

    As I understand it, one of the overarching principles of VC can be summed up in two words: *visi* *bility*.
    If a cyclist cannot be seen, he/she is at much greater risk of having deleterious interactions with motor vehicles. If a striped bike lane serves as an awareness tool for motorists to be alert for cyclists, then such bike lanes promote visibility and are a Good Thing. If mandatory use laws are interpreted in such a way that forces cyclists to remain in the door/trash/right-hook zone and causes them to remain hidden from oncoming, left-turning traffic, then they are a Bad Thing. I know that bike lanes increase my comfort level as both a driver and a cyclist, because they demarcate which part of the road is \”mine\”, with the understanding that I may carefully encroach into other lanes if need be–I cross the bike lane to make (not to approach) turns in my car, and I merge left to turn/avoid hazards while on my bike. I think the problem is, as has been already mentioned, everyone\’s attitude toward *use* of bike lanes, not their existence, per se. I think there are many cyclists and drivers who seem to believe that the white line is magical: \”I can drive my car with the tires on the line and I won\’t hit any cyclists because I\’m on MY side of the line\”, versus, \”I can pass cars willy nilly on the right in intersections while riding my bike because I\’m on MY side of the line\”. Both of the above are wrong and dangerous attitudes. As long as both cyclists and drivers exercise due caution and have an understanding of each other\’s rights and point of view, riding or driving anywhere–bike lanes or not–will be much improved. As long as half the world thinks cyclists are pedestrians (don\’t get me started on sensor-driven signals that don\’t trip for bikes: how many motorists would accept having to pull over to the right and roll down and reach through the passenger side window to push a button to get their light to change? Grrrr!) and the other half thinks they are vehicles, there will be problems.

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    Troy May 1, 2008 at 9:32 am

    I have a question… If you are in support of VC, and you are approaching an intersection, do you take over the lane EVERY TIME? To me, and yes, I do commute to work every day, this seems dangerous. If you commute, you approach an intersection every 15-30 seconds, and with cars going 35-40 mph behind you, this seems very dangerous to pull out in the lane, casing many cars to slow down for you… one possibly not noticing you and running into you. Not to mention people getting mad and having road rage.

    This to me seems more dangerous than riding in the bike lane and being cautious of the cars around you.

    Any responses from the VC? I am just curious, not trying to be an ass.

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    PJ May 1, 2008 at 10:07 am

    I refuse to use bike lanes. All they are is a death trap.

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    BURR May 1, 2008 at 11:03 am

    I know the folks at PDOT have good intentions, but the bike lanes they are designing and installing these days are mostly pure crap.

    We already have a bumper crop of:

    Door Zone Bike Lanes
    Right Hook Bike Lanes
    Bus Zone Bike Lanes
    Double-Wide Drainage Grate Bike Lanes
    Substandard Width Bike Lanes
    Manhole Cover and Utility Cut Bike Lanes
    Fast Downhill Descent Bike Lanes

    Did I miss anything?

    The bike lane on Interstate that Brett J. was killed in last fall was was a Substandard-Width-Fast-Downhill-Descent-Double-Wide-Drainage-Grate-Right-Hook Bike Lane. PDOT gets an \’F\’ for engineering on this segment of bike lane.

    Just the other day I saw a one block long segment of brand new bike lane on SE Hawthorne between 11th and 12th that is a right-hook-parking-lot-entrance-bus-zone-dead-ends-at-a-curb-extension bike lane. Throw in a substandard-width beginning, a double-wide drainage grate and a pot-holed pavement failure zone, and the city gets another big fat \’F\’ for this lame one-block long segment of bike lane.

    Despite the rhetoric, these bike lanes really aren\’t safe for cyclists of any age or experience level, they are just crashes waiting to happen, the only question is when?

    The difference between experienced and inexperienced cyclists is that experienced cyclists recognize the safety hazards posed by these bike lanes and avoid them whereas inexperienced cyclists often do not.

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    steve May 1, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    You know things are amiss when Vance is one of the most sensible and thoughtful posters.

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    One Less :( May 2, 2008 at 9:59 am

    I always enjoy my work breaks so I can read this wonderful website. I sometimes agree with you and sometimes disagree. I do not know much about Vehicular Cycling, although I have a friend that is really into it. I do not dig a lot of the philosophies they put out, but I listen to him to try and see if there is anything that I can add to my mind set to advance my ability as a cyclist to \”See and Be Seen\”.

    I wonder when you say….
    \”Learn the rules of the road (even though most of them are written for motor vehicles, not bikes), ride defensively, take extensive training courses on how to ride in traffic, never rely on paint to keep you safe. All good ideas that I think we can all agree on.\”

    Sure I understand that WE (cyclists) need to do this, but when do we start educating THEM (motorists)? When will Sam Adams, Roger Geller, PDOT/ODOT, Engineers , etc come forward and get some education on the books for motorists. Why the hell is this a one sided affair? Why does it rest on us getting knowledgeable about everything?

    Please don\’t tell me the billboards are what is going to educate motorists on how to drive. We need more enforcement of the RULES OF THE ROAD! People, not only cyclists, need to be educated, they need to read the drivers manual, and should be required to take a written and driving test every 8 to 10. People should not just be given a drivers license and set loose on the road.

    Driving a vehicle is a not a right, it is a privilege that can be taken away. None of the drivers that have been involved in the recent accidents probably had the education to know how to interact with a bike lane or cared to educate themselves.

    I just don\’t understand when this discussion keeps going on and on, that the only group anyone keeps talking about educating is the group of people that are dying! When are we going to talk about educating the people who kill?

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    Jessica Roberts May 2, 2008 at 10:15 am

    One Less 🙁 (#57): I know that a major legislative and policy priority for the BTA is to get more bike info into drivers\’ ed courses and DMV testing. I hope they will be successful, and their legislative track record is promising. Start mentioning that it\’s a priority to all those State House candidates who keep knocking on our doors, so they\’re prepped to support such a bill once they\’re in office!

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    EasyRider May 2, 2008 at 12:43 pm

    John Schubert is right. The tragic result of overemphasis on infrastructure leads to cyclists who don\’t know how to protect themselves. Educated cyclists do not descend at high speed on the far right edge of a road, nor do they pull up in the blind spot of trucks. Any law or facility which mandates or stimulates such dangerous practices should be abolished!

    Road design is about creating safe and predictable traffic movements. It\’s not about creating illusions of safety or enticement to increase ridership.

    It is possible to create a cycling culture with education and public awareness. It is just pure laziness on the part of bike advocates to look to infrastructure first. Educate first, then look to infrastructure solutions which increase safety or facilitate and enhance cycling without causing more conflicts.

    Bike lanes were invented to get cyclists out of the way and make them unequal road users. And they will never do more than that, no matter how joyfully you all accept marginalization as special treatment.

    Vehicular cycling does not require elite skill or athleticism. I\’m a gym-class reject and I handle myself just fine in traffic. I\’ve taught cyclists to easily negotiate commercial arterials at slow speed. It doesn\’t take extensive training. I was self-taught. I have taught cyclists the basic foundations in just a few hours.

    I have learned that novice cyclists are far more receptive to learning to ride properly because they haven\’t been indoctrinated into the preconceptions and superstitions perpetuated by misdirected bike advocates.

    Bike advocates have their priorities mixed up. Cyclist advocacy is the promotion and safeguarding of cyclists\’ rights and safety. It is not the promotion of cycling to reduce motoring, save the environment, end obesity or sell bicycles. However, creating confident cyclists is the best, most ethical way to promote cycling.

    The Motorcycle industry has figured this out. We could learn a lot from them.

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    Antonio Gramsci May 2, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    So in Oregon, when a queue of cars is moving through an intersection after the light changes, and some of those cars may or may not have turn signals on, and may or may not be turning, then I have the following lovely set of options:

    1) Slowing down, sitting in the bike lane, and waiting until they\’ve all passed…

    2) Merging into the through-traffic lane and risking a ticket from a cop for violating ORS 814.420, since the cop may or may not accept clause 3a as applicable in this case…


    3) Putting myself in the \”suicide slot\” and hoping that any and all right turning motorists are highly skilled drivers capable of avoiding hazards moving at them from multiple simultaneous directions (the very thing that controlled intersections are supposed to mitigate, and the reason for \”righthook\” collisions in the first place)

    (Note that the much heralded \”bike boxes\” do nothing to solve this problem, since in order to enter these boxes, I STILL have to pass to the right of potentially right turning vehicles within mere feet of the intersection.)

    I guess that for now, in order to provide unskilled cyclists the illusionary comfort of \”safety\” in a bike lane, I have to accept the hazard of option 2) above.

    We NEED TO GET RID of all mandatory sidepath laws. They are a big safety hazard for everyone — even including vehicular cyclists who are not cowed into respecting them. Because they have the practical effect of further emboldening dangerous drivers who are already disinclined to respect our right of way into acts of outright aggression and harassment.

    The trouble is that bike lanes ARE mandatory precisely because they are seen as some kind of quid pro quo: \”We give you \’your\’ bike lanes, you stay the f*** off \’our\’ roads.\” This is precisely why they are such a bad idea. Our foremost need is to firmly establish the principle that SAFE ROADS ARE FOR ALL MODES, rather than resigning ourselves to segregated and inferior facilities that will never be sufficient to reach more than a tiny fraction of all the destinations accessible to motor vehicles.

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    Antonio Gramsci May 2, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    One Less (no. 57):
    The answer to your question is that marginalized minorities ALWAYS need knowledge to protect themselves from the tyranny of the majority. And with both sufficient KNOWLEDGE and POLITICAL ACTION resulting in LEGAL CHANGES, we can force even the most heedless members of that tyrannical majority to respect our right of way.

    This won\’t happen by painting lines that give us narrow, segregated and inferior strips of the roadway to which we are legally restricted (as is currently the vogue among \”cycling advocates\”). It WILL happen by enforcing tough new penalties for willfully distracted motorists who injure or kill bystanders, impaired motorists, or motorists who simply can\’t be bothered to follow the laws and principles of safe driving meticulously enough to avoid deadly collisions.

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    Metal Cowboy May 2, 2008 at 5:46 pm

    Easy rider #59 \”It is not the promotion of cycling to reduce motoring, save the environment, end obesity\”

    It is for me… in addition to creating educated, confident riders.

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    EasyRider May 2, 2008 at 6:29 pm

    Metal Cowboy,

    I support those ideals. The problem is when advocates for other things place more emphasis their end goal than they do on the safety and rights of cyclists. For example, the bicycle industry promotes the hell out of bikeways because bikeways are like taxpayer-funded billboards to sell bicycles. They don\’t trouble themselves about suicide slots and coffin corners.

    OTOH, the motorcycle industry has recognized that creating safe, competent riders sells motorcycles.

    Even if our cause is noble, sometimes we have to detach from the end to find the most ethical means.

    Think about it – if the problem is that our traffic culture has devolved into ignorant, inattentive motorists who won\’t share the road, maybe the solution is to require more attentive driving. Integrating road users does that – as has been proven with Shared Space concepts. All bike lanes do is keep cyclists out of the way of inattentive motorists until they reach a conflict area where 95% of crashes occur.

    It is absurd to fix a problem by creating more problems. From blue bike lanes to green boxes to flashing warning lights, pyrotechnics or whatever… it will end at the beginning when everyone figures out that learning to integrate and cooperate was the best solution after all.

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    Helen Wheels May 2, 2008 at 10:36 pm

    One simple rule – motorized vehicles not allowed in bike lanes – and drivers can not fricking abide by it.

    What part of NO don\’t they understand?

    I wish I had the time to stand on SW Broadway every morning with a sign that says, \”What part of \”cars not allowed in bike lanes\” don\’t you understand!?\”

    It\’s a battlefield. And we need the green markings at every right turn on Broadway in NW and SW. I recently had a vehicle try to turn into me on the first one-way west intersection north of the current green intersection on SW Broadway.

    I think right turns on red lights should probably be banned in the city or wherever there are bike lanes, for all motorized vehicles, because their occupants can not be counted on paying attention.

    BTW, just about 3 weeks ago on NW Broadway one morning, I was in the bike lane and followed behind a Rose City Moving truck – far enough behind him so he could see me in his mirror – for two blocks. As we approached the light at W. Burnside, I cautiously rode up next to the truck to stop at the light when he started to make a right hook across the bike lane into me. I yelled out and the driver said, \”I didn\’t see you!\” and I pointed at his little round mirror and said, \”what\’s this?\” He then said, \”you\’re in my blind spot!\” and I said, \”I\’ve been riding behind you for two blocks!\”
    As I had followed him, I watched him and saw that he never did look in the side mirror, nor did he put on his blinker at any time I was behind him.

    This is something that irks me. You can be behind a car that does not have its blinker on, then AFTER you pass it, the driver turns it on and yells at you for not seeing their blinker when they try to turn into you as you go forward.

    Tracey Sparling might have been in the situation I was in with the Rose City Moving truck. It\’s so unfair, because we do everything we can to let drivers know we are there, but they are hello! CLUELESS! and the cyclist gets blamed for not riding cautiously. If only the truth were known.

    Until these lemmings start driving while driving and get their heads out of their a**es there\’s not a traffic improvement that will save our lives. And it seems like the so-called professional drivers out there, cab drivers, commercial bus drivers and truck drivers of all kinds are the worst!

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    EasyRider May 3, 2008 at 11:45 am

    Once, on a street with a properly marked bike lane to the left of right-turn-only lanes, I was behind a tractor trailer for 2 blocks. Approaching a major intersection, I decided it was better to merge into the traffic lane than to ride up next to the truck (even though he was in a straight-only lane). As the truck got to the intersection, the light turned green, the driver turned on his signal and made a right turn across the bike lane and the right-turn-only lane. I casually rode around him to the left.

    He made an illegal turn. He didn\’t signal until he reached the intersection. He was totally in the wrong. But I would still have been dead if I had ridden next to him in the bike lane.

    The point is, it doesn\’t matter what the law is. You can scream and cry and gnash your teeth all day long about motorists being required to yield to you and use their turn signal and whatever. Or you just learn how to drive your bike according to time-tested best practices and avoid all those conflicts.

    Bike lanes defy 100 years of traffic principles. They create counter-intuitive movements. They force other drivers to pay too much attention to what is behind them when 95% of all crashes happen in front of them. By requiring that truck driver to spend too much time looking in his rear-view mirror for you, you\’re creating a greater danger that he will miss something happening ahead of him – a pedestrian, stopped traffic, red light, etc.

    The entire system of traffic rules is designed to keep driver attention forward for a reason.

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    Ryan Conrad May 4, 2008 at 7:16 pm

    I too would like to see the cycling industry go the way of the motorcycle industry with safety promotion. Confident riders will ride more and more places. Motorcyclists also face similar accident patterns and roadway hazards, an alliance of some sort could prove beneficial.

    To those that have cited the exceptions to Oregon\’s mandatory bike lane law, I have to disagree on any benefits they provide. Sure they \”allow\” cyclists to avoid right-hooks and take other actions to ensure their safety, but the existence of the law puts cyclists in the legal position of having to proof their use of the roadway. This can be crucial in an accident case where the motorist would otherwise be found at fault. I\’ve read enough court case summaries to be convinced that so long as the discriminatory laws exist, cyclists will be in an inferior legal position, further complicated by the fact that judges, juries and police almost overwhelmingly have a bias against cyclists to some degree.

    It can be argued that had the exceptions not been inserted into the MBL law, it could be challenged successfully in the court. Before 2005, the law had no exceptions, thus technically requiring cyclists to turn left from the bike lane, for example. A prosecuted cyclist, with a good lawyer and the right judge may have been able to show how the city/state/jurisdiction required him/her to ride in a very dangerous manner. Since traffic laws are supposed to promote safe operation, this one could be argued as being the opposite, and it would presumably be possible to invalidate it on these grounds. So I\’ve heard…

    There certainly isn\’t an explicit exception for me to not ride in a \”door-zone\” bike lane. Every time I decide to take Broadway home, I look both ways for police cars, then ride in the left traffic lane. While riding I think up an excuse (I was making a left turn!) for not riding in that 3 foot door-zone bike lane. It\’s a little aggravating.

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    nice May 5, 2008 at 7:53 am

    How many cyclists have been pulled over for not being in a bike lane? I have never been pulled over, and I routinely leave the lane as I see fit. I would not worry about it so much.

    It is not insanity.

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    CyclingLover May 5, 2008 at 1:21 pm


    \”Schubert is doing a disservice to his readers by oversimplifying the situation and by stretching reality to help further his fight in an idealogical battle on the future of how bikeways are designed in America.\”

    This sounds pretty biased, and the rest of the piece does not substantiate it.

    \”Striping a bike lane all the way to the intersection and making it illegal for cars to enter the bike lane means that, according to PDOT, there is only one conflict area to manage and educate around, versus an unpredictable, “conflict zone” that occurs if you allow cars to swoop over any time they’d like.\”

    Indeed there are two approaches in traffic engineering. Between pedestrians and drivers they try to reduce the conflict area to one point. But that\’s largely because pedestrians can stop in much less than one second and in a minimal amount of space. With respect to same direction merging vehicular traffic, the goal is usually to make that \”zone\” relatively long. The recent deaths show the problem with having a single conflict point. Yes, the long zone may seem like more work and be more scary, but the fact is that cyclists and motorists with crossing paths should be given time and space to work out how they are going to merge across each other\’s paths. Forcing it all to one point, at the intersection, is creating a death trap. Road designs/laws that give people the time, space and opportunity to \”work it out\” makes everyone pay attention to each other. Road design and laws that \”spell it all out\” turn people into inattentive automatons. The Portland approach is contrary to the principles of traffic calming.

    \”If cars could merge into the bike lane prior to an intersection, cars would form a long queue directly in the bike lane in some situations.\”

    Yes, and the long queues encourage through cyclists to pass the right turners on the left…, and allow the right turners to flow (turning right on red) while the through traffic on their left waits for a green. How is this a problem?

    \”there is ample language that allows bicyclists to leave the bike lane if they feel unsafe.\”

    There is nothing in 814.420 about whether bicyclists \”feel\” safe or not. 814.420(3)(e) does allow cyclists to leave the bike lane when it is to the right of a right only lane, which implies that simply being to the right of a right-or-straight lane is not sufficient reason to leave the bike lane.

    \”Is [Schubert] genuinely concerned for the safety of Adventure Cyclists’ readers and intent on warning them about the imminent peril they’ll face if one of their bike tours comes through Portland? I don’t think so.\”

    You make it seem like the pro-vc position is simply ideological. To what end? What you don\’t seem to understand is that the reason cyclists like Schubert promote vehicular cycling is because they genuinely believe it\’s a style of riding that makes cyclists significantly safer than the style in which cyclists try to stay separated as much as possible from same direction motorists.

    \”[vehicular cyclists] favor equal integration of cars and bikes (instead of finding ways to separate the two modes) and think anyone who throws a leg over a bike should be highly trained to play on a level playing field with motor vehicles.\”

    Highly trained? I don\’t want to sound rude, but that\’s just ridiculous. You don\’t have to be \”highly trained\” to learn the value of knowing and following the rules of the road for drivers while riding a bicycle. Eight year olds are capable of learning this.

    \”On the surface VC doesn’t seem like such a bad concept. Learn the rules of the road (even though most of them are written for motor vehicles, not bikes), ride defensively, take extensive training courses on how to ride in traffic, never rely on paint to keep you safe. All good ideas that I think we can all agree on.\”

    Very good, though, again, I\’m not sure where you get the idea that VC requires \”extensive\” training. A Road 1 course is nine hours long, total, much less than a driver training course, and most of it is review for most cyclists.

    \”Instead, they are intent on challenging other ideas to the extent of writing misleading editorials, threatening lawsuits, and conspiring against efforts that are showing clear success in getting more people on bikes.\”

    Whether these efforts are showing clear success in getting more people on bikes, or whether they\’re just coincidental with other efforts/factors that actually have that effect, is debatable. But the reason these ideas are challenged is certainly not because they get more people on bikes, but because they are believed to make cycling significantly less safe, and integrated cycling on roadways less accepted. For video examples of VC, see:

    \”This entire scenario will be argued over incessantly (much like the debate around helmets, fixed gears, etc…), but the reality is that there is no silver bullet to ensure we have zero conflicts between bikes and cars. No system of laws, design policies, or riding practices will ever prevent crashes from happening.\”

    No one disputes this. There is no safety nirvana. The issue is about what methods/approaches significantly reduce the likelihood of being in a crash for a given cyclist, and whether bike lanes striped all the way to the intersection (not to mention across midblock junctions with driveways. alleys, etc.), coupled with laws that essentially require right turning motorists and through cyclist to meet at one particular point of conflict, and give the cyclists the right of way (and thus a false sense of security), make cycling more or less safe.

    \”… whether they are highly skilled at negotiating traffic,\”

    Learning to negotiate traffic effectively requires less skill than riding a wheelie or doing a bunny hop. The only \”skills\” are being able to maintain a straight line while looking back briefly, and issue a turn signal with your left arm. Again, something any 8 year old can learn.

    If you pay attention when you\’re driving, cycling, or walking in traffic, and follow the rules, you\’re almost certain to be able to avoid crashing.


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    pete rosenfeld May 5, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    I\’m sorry, but this article seems to be a form of \”behind covering\”. You can argue that the law allows one to leave the bike lane before the right turn lane, but the lane is surely designed to encourage bicycles to stay to the right.

    Where were the studies to show that this approach is safer for bicyclists?
    It appears that someone just decided this is the way to go, putting bicyclists\’ lives at risks.

    You can try to argue your way out of this, but it is very apparent that these lanes contributed to the cyclists\’ deaths and that the designers never tried to prove that these designs were safe.

    Now they are trying to layer additional changes on the road to make up for this unsafe design.

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    Ryan Conrad May 5, 2008 at 11:50 pm

    \”Striping a bike lane all the way to the intersection and making it illegal for cars to enter the bike lane means that, according to PDOT, there is only one conflict area to manage and educate around, versus an unpredictable, “conflict zone” that occurs if you allow cars to swoop over any time they’d like.\”

    Not all conflicts are created equal. This \”single conflict\” PDOT talks about is a right-angle conflict not appropriate for interactions between wheeled vehicles. Right-angle conflicts are a consequence of segregating traffic types, like pedestrians on sidewalks. The difference with pedestrians is that they move much slower than vehicular traffic, can stop in a stride, side-step and go backwards. Segregating pedestrians is a compromise that creates some dangerous conflicts with turning and crossing traffic, but it\’s mostly mitigated by their greater maneuverability and slower speed.

    Creating right-angle conflicts between wheeled vehicles is very bad. Traffic law and engineering eliminated this decades ago. Drivers of wheeled vehicles interact with merging movements. If there\’s confusion over right-of-way, one driver can merely adjust their speed. When one driver has to cross another\’s path for a turning movement (such as a motorist crossing a bike lane), confusion over right of way is much more likely to result in a collision. Not only is it more difficult for a motorist to yield the right of way to a cyclist in their biggest blind spot overtaking on the right, but when they begin their turn they exchange forward momentum for sideways motion, essentially stopping in the cyclist\’s path. If the cyclist doesn\’t have enough stopping distance, bam….right-hook. This why overtaking on the right in a bike lane where motorists can turn right can be very dangerous.

    Why PDOT does not recognize this is beyond me, it\’s pretty basic stuff. The \”unpredictable conflict zone\” is BS, it\’s just garbled nonsense that is supposed to mean the areas where cyclists and motorists would normally negotiate with merging movements. It\’s not \”predictable\” because it depends on the traffic situation and is easily handled by normal traffic negotiation that anyone who has driven a car should know how to do. It has never been demonstrated that bicycles somehow transcend normal vehicular operating characteristics.

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    peteathome May 6, 2008 at 6:08 am

    I posted earlier, but after reading the mischaracterizations of vehicular cycling, I have to respond.

    VC is extremely easy. I could write everything you need to know in about 3 statements. Most of the VC instruction is to help bicyclists understand the actual risks of the road and why these techniques help to moderate them, followed by road instructions to demonstrate that they can actually be quire comfortable following these rules.

    The primary reason nine whole hours are needed in the standard VC instruction is to help the bicyclists overcome a lifetime of being told that roads belong to cars and bicycles are only allowed on them if they cower on the curb or in special facilities so that they don\’t get hit from behind as punishment for being so insolent in assuming they have a right to the roads.

    Frankly, for an adult bicyclist who also drives, they already know EVERYTHING they need to know, other than some details about proper lane sharing.

    The idea that you have to be a fast, high trained cyclist to use VC is ridiculous. I do most of my transportation by bicycle. But I have a progressive disorder that at times keeps me moving on my bike at speeds of 8 miles an hour or so. Yet I have absolutely no trouble with VC.

    Someone earlier said we need facilities that allow the 8 to 80 group to use bikes. Do you really think that the bike lanes described by Mr. Maus would actually be safe for an untrained 8 year old? Ridiculous.

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    Bobcycle May 6, 2008 at 8:36 pm

    Wow! Quite the heated debate. Just my opinion… but what I find from 30 years of cycling is regardless of how the roadway is designated or designed 3% of auto Drivers will go out of their way to give a bicyclist a break regardless of who has the right of way and 2% of auto drivers will go out of their way to intentionally harass a bicyclist. The rest of us/them are just trying to get where we\’re going with the least hassle. Bike lanes are at least a visual reminder to us that some people are out to make the planet a little better. Personally, I would no more ride the Broadway bike lane than run with the bulls in Spain, but that’s just me. Give all cars a healthy respect, maybe even a bit of fear, some are nice some are not, the problem is they all look the same. Peace.

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  • Streetsblog » Today’s Headlines May 13, 2008 at 4:39 am

    […] Islanders Talk Cycling Safety (SI Advance) Vehicular Cycling Advocate Blames Lanes for Fatalities (BikePortland) Bloomberg and Schumer Spar Over West Side Development (Crain\’s, AMNY) Far Rockaway-Lower […]

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    Cpingenot May 13, 2008 at 10:46 am

    I\’m just curious, what are the arguments for making bike lane usage mandatory? They\’re not in Massachusetts where I ride, and it seems like a decent compromise- allowing people to use their judgment when crossing into a vehicle lane is prudent, while providing extra space and \”territory\” for bikers.

    After cycling in Houston, Milan, Boston and Amsterdam, I\’d gladly sacrifice all my \”rights as a vehicle\” in traffic for a nice separated bike lane with its own little stoplight!

    Great blog- wish Boston had as much bike community!

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    david w. pinkston May 19, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    this battle was fought back in the \’70\’s. don\’t jump on schubert – read john forester. the \”winner\” is borne out in the fatality/injury studies.

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    Duncan May 19, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    Leave it to a VC-junkie to write a post so oblique that only people who agree with him would understand it.

    I don\’t entirely understand it, but then I don\’t entirely agree with it either. That is because I think that John Forrester is wrong, that is statistics avoid issues he doesnt like to look at and that his approach to biking only works if you are a strong dedicated cyclist. I am and I ride in traffic but that is not for everyone.

    I think that bike lanes are an excellent way of getting more people to ride and decreasing the number of car trips in the city… That being said I do not always use them when they are available if I feel they are unsafe

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    Nola Wilken June 4, 2008 at 8:55 am

    I have bike commuted in Portland for 30 years now. I grew up in Southern Oregon riding my bike literally everywhere. There were no bike lanes or green boxes to protect me or give me the illusion of safety. Instead, I learned, along with my friends, to ride safely and defensively. Car drivers did the same. After all, nobody wanted to kill little Johnny or Jane down the street.

    Fast forward to this urban environment where traffic woes, construction, high speed cars and cyclists all vie to get where they are going as quickly as possible. Now, there are bike lanes on busy streets, buses weaving in and out, cars turning into your path, and pedestrians walking their dogs in front of you.

    Now, there are scores of people who want to commute by bike but are terrified to do so.

    Those who do ride often do so under many, many misconceptions about safety, myself included.

    A bike lane is not a safe place to be, nor is a bike box. It\’s no safer there than it is anywhere else, and my concern is that cyclists are lulled into believing otherwise. I think misconceptions about what a bike lane is led directly to the right hook deaths which we recently and sadly experienced. If a bike lane was really a true traffic lane, as some cyclist may mistakenly assume, then it would be impossible to get right-hooked.

    A bike lane, while reassuring to some, is nothing but a nightmare to me. It\’s a place where I am passed on the left by other speeding cyclists, where buses violate my right of way by pulling out in front of me, where car doors are a danger, and where drivers edge too close. The bike lane puts me in a dangerous spot at every intersection. I violate the law routinely by leaving the bike lane and placing myself in traffic at most intersections. In my opinion, this is the only safe thing to do.

    Bike boxes put you in front of cars at an intersection. However, I routinely see drivers pull right over the bike box, whether a cyclist is there or not. I am concerned that cyclists might be even more vulnerable to cars running through red and yellow lights at such intersections.

    Only through education and bicycle/driver training and outreach can these problems be solved. Green paint isn\’t much of an answer, as far as I am concerned.

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    Brad June 4, 2008 at 9:25 am

    Simple solutions: replace bike lanes with sharrows, educate drivers that bikes are fully protected and legal traffic, and educate bike riders about their rights and obligations as road users.

    Anytime I\’ve used sharrow lanes I have found drivers to be more patient and aware that similar traffic roads with the traditional bike lanes. I believe the big sharrow markings and signs indicating shared lanes make the difference.

    There will be more bikes on the roads in the coming years. Drivers need to become more patient and less hurried. Cyclists of all stripes need to become fitter (faster), better bike handlers, and more confident. Both sides need to be better educated about traffic laws and road awareness.

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    Duncan June 4, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    Brad- Not everyone is going to become faster.

    Nola- If you can educate drivers to respect bikes in the land you can educate them to respect bike lanes as well. I think that both are important.

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    Rex Mammel June 5, 2008 at 9:59 am

    A lot of emphasis is being placed on the mandatory use of bike lanes. This is a ridiculous arguement. The first obligation under the law is to take reasonable action given the circumstances. I think bike lanes are useful, but won\’t endanger myself in order to follow a law.

    People should use rearview mirrors and visibility clothing or devices, and that would improve safety.

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    khal spencer January 21, 2010 at 8:35 am

    Readers following this discussion should read Mr. Schubert’s article and decide for themselves whether he makes valid criticisms of some of the bike-specific designs discussed here. I read it and think it is a very thoughtful piece.

    Further, its not just Schubert that points out the complications these bike lanes introduce, but also the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO): ““Bike lanes sometimes complicate
    bicycle and motor-vehicle turning movements at intersections. Because they
    encourage bicyclists to keep to the right
    and motorists to keep to the left, both
    operators are somewhat discouraged
    from merging in advance of turns. Thus,
    some bicyclists may begin left turns
    from the right-side bike lane and some
    motorists may begin right turns from
    the left of the bike lane. Both maneuvers
    are contrary to established rules of the
    road and may result in conflicts; however, these can be lessened by signing
    and striping.”

    Note that AASHTO thinks these conflicts can be “lessened” but not eliminated. The onus for dealing safely with these conflicts and complications falls to both the cyclist and the motorist. It also falls to LCIs to teach how to use these facilities safely when they are present.

    The basic traffic engineering problems introduced are that a thru cyclist to the right of a right turning motorist is in the motorist’s blind spot and is riding in a thru lane to the right of a right-turn-allowed lane. These create hazards (invisibility, two sets of traffic rules, crossing hazards) that cannot be completely eliminated, which is why traffic engineers do not put thru lanes to the right of right turn lanes.

    So if anything, the addition of these bike-specific facilities requires more, not less cyclist awareness training than if the cyclist simply followed established traffic patterns with traditional traffic lanes.

    As far as Mr. Maus’assertion that Schubert and others think cyclist’s should be “highly trained”, that is a gross misstatement. Cyclists need to be as well trained as motorists or any other roadway user for their own safety’s sake since bike boxes or not, we are still “sharing the road”. Certainly anyone who has obtained a driver’s license or observed your average motorist knows better than to assert that we require motorists to be “highly trained”. Perhaps that is part of the problem. But the bottom line is that Traffic Skills 101 and similar courses do not make one “highly trained” but simply competent. You can’t create experts in ten hours.

    There is a legitimate debate going on between the two different points of view regarding cyclist-specific facilities and laws. Regardless of where an individual cyclist stands on these issues, he or she would be well advised to be aware of the arguments behind the disagreements. Many potential cyclists or traffic-adverse cyclists will not ride in traffic and think that these facilities increase their comfort zone and safety. I agree that in many cases, a bike lane increases my comfort. But the safety argument is misleading if cyclists are not aware of the how traffic works both with and without these facilities, and rides with the knowledge and awareness needed to mitigate any added hazards through alert and defensive riding.

    I would further challenge anyone to assert that adding bicycling specific designs to roads either reduces cyclists needs to be educated on roadway rules nor allows them to be less competent riders or less aware of the traffic around them. The two fatalities mentioned by Schubert, and glossed over by this article, prove that regardless of stripes, colors, or bike boxes, cyclists are part of traffic and must act accordingly or risk becoming a statistic. That had better be something we all agree on, regardless of our “bike lane” politics.

    and of course, keep the rubber side down,

    Khal Spencer

    Bicycle commuter, 1979 to present
    League Cycling Instructor
    Chair, Los Alamos County Transportation Board

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  • […] This debate has divided and distracted bicycle advocates for decades. I won’t give it any more air time here, and at any rate there is nothing new to say, but if you’re interested in exploring the one cycling topic more tediously and verbosely discussed than helmets, maybe start here. […]

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    Ben Berto June 7, 2018 at 5:40 pm

    I agree with John Schubert that being in the far right lane at an intersection is a dangerous place, regardless of whether you are an experienced or inexperienced rider. The two recent deaths unfortunately demonstrate why. If I am in a driver’s blind spot I assume they could turn without signalling (hey, how about the police starting to enforce that law?), and get behind them until their path of travel (straight or right) is clear. If I am first to the intersection I get in the driving lane. Any law that states I have to stay in the bike lane is counterproductive to safety.

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