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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.

But.

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
Guest
r

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.

R.

(arriving Portland 06.03.08)

Marion rice
Guest
Marion rice

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.
Thanks

Andy
Guest
Andy

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.

a.O
Guest
a.O

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.

kg
Guest
kg

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.

Moo
Guest
Moo

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.

Tonya
Guest
Tonya

+1 Andy!

cyclist
Guest
cyclist

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.

Jessica Roberts
Guest
Jessica Roberts

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.

Jessica Roberts
Guest
Jessica Roberts

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?

Jonathan Maus (Editor)
Guest

\”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.

Bob_M
Guest
Bob_M

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.

jason
Guest
jason

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.

Pete
Guest
Pete

\”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!!

k.
Guest
k.

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.

Stacy Westbrook
Guest

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?

Mmann
Guest

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.

Schrauf
Guest
Schrauf

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.

BURR
Guest
BURR

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.

el timito
Guest

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.

Lenny Anderson
Guest

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.\”

Jason
Guest
Jason

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.

k.
Guest
k.

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

BURR
Guest
BURR

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….

Matt Picio
Guest

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%

Dave Thomson
Guest
Dave Thomson

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.\”

Another Doug
Guest
Another Doug

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?

poser
Guest
poser

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.

Pete
Guest
Pete

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.

a.O
Guest
a.O

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.

Stripes
Guest
Stripes

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

joeb
Guest
joeb

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.

AB
Guest
AB

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.

Pete
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Pete

FYI, Ray Thomas currently has relevant comments on his site: http://www.stc-law.com/bicycle.html

Tankagnolo Bob
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Tankagnolo Bob

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, BikePortland.org 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

john
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john

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.

Jessica Roberts
Guest
Jessica Roberts

Just sent this to the editor at mdeme@adventurecycling.com

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.

Sincerely,
Jessica Roberts

Jessica Roberts
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Jessica Roberts
PdxMark
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PdxMark

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.

Diogo
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Diogo

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.

Dag
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Dag

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.

joel
Guest

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.

Marion rice
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Marion rice

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?

Carl B
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Carl B

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.

Todd B
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Todd B

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.

Todd B
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Todd B

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).

brettoo
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brettoo

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.

Tourbiker
Guest
Tourbiker

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
messenger.
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?

Vance
Guest

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?

Nathan
Guest
Nathan

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.