Support BikePortland

Hotline helps maintain better bikeways

Posted by on August 21st, 2008 at 12:07 pm

bad spot for a sign-2.jpg

This sign placed in the bike lane
forced bikes into motor vehicle traffic.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Back in June, I was biking my normal route to the office (southbound on N. Interstate near the Rose Quarter), when I came across something appalling.

It was right out of a horror movie.

bad spot for a sign-1.jpg

The view looking south.
Note: The arrow points bikes up onto
the sidewalk, but no one actually takes
that route (not to mention it
too is littered with signs).

A huge traffic sign mounted on a tripod had been placed smack dab in the middle of the bike lane, forcing bike traffic out into the adjacent lane. The sign was not only blocking the safe flow of bike traffic, it was accompanied by a confusing array of other signs scattered about due to two construction projects. (TriMet’s closure of the Steel Bridge and the East Side Big Pipe Project).

I rode by it for a few days before I thought, “enough is enough!” and decided to call the city and tell them about it.

The number I called was 823 – SAFE (7233), the City of Portland’s Trasnportation Safety and Neighborhood Livability Hot Line”. If you’ve never heard of it (it’s been nearly three years since I last mentioned it), put it in your cell phone and don’t be afraid to dial.

After I left a message describing the situation, I received several phone calls and emails within a day or so asking for more information about the sign. A few days later the sign was moved up onto the sidewalk. Problem solved (see below)…

the city noticed and fixed it-1.jpg

Aaahhhh, that’s better.

This problem (traffic and construction signs in bikeways) is fairly common throughout the country. Check out this awesome example from Southern California.

Have you ever called 823-SAFE (or 823-CYCL)? If so, how was the response?

If you’re not in Portland, does your city have something like this?

Please support BikePortland.

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

40 Comments
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    Donald August 21, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    Good to see you received a good response and thanks for the number.

    But is the sign actually in the bike path? From my view, the sign is in a no-go area (similar to the area to the right of a handicapped parking spot) and the bike lane actually moves up onto the sidewalk to adjust the angle for the max tracks crossing. (although your pic does seem to suggest a sandwich board in or closely adjacent to the marked bike lane…)

    And did you have the same reaction to a similar sign at the top of the hill that\’s been in the been in the opposing (N/NW bound) bike lane for months? (just after you come out of the diagnacross.)

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    Icarus Falling August 21, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    Making a phone call to complain is nice, but stopping, and physically moving the sign yourself is the immediate fix.

    I have done this many times. It is especially effective when the workers see you doing so, then question why?

    After the explanation, the problem really doesn\’t exist anymore. They seem to get it.

    By the way, the city/police dept. should be on top of such violations, as in notice them, instead of driving blindly by. They should force the move of the sign, if not cite the company on the spot.

    But we are talking about Portland Police, so this is obviously not going to happen…

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    Jonathan Maus (Editor) August 21, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    \”But is the sign actually in the bike path?\”

    the sign was in the path taken by 99.9% of bikes.

    no one takes that recommended route because it\’s silly and unnecessary to think that bikes can\’t possibly cross MAX tracks at anything other than a perpendicular angle.

    But besides that, if you look at the photos, you\’ll see that the sidewalk route was blocked as well.

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    Jessica Roberts August 21, 2008 at 12:31 pm

    I have had pretty good, but not perfect, experiences with 823-SAFE. I have started tracking my calls, and I only receive a call back on about 50% of them. I also would estimate that about 50% of the time, the issue gets fixed. Some of the time, though, the engineer who calls me can explain factors that I didn\’t see that make it reasonable to not make the change I requested.

    Recent successes:

    – Extending the northbound green cycle timing at Wheeler just north of the Rose Quarter Transit Center (where it crosses the I-5 onramp). The green cycle used to be too short for even one bicycle to get through safely; now it is better.

    – Recalibrating loop detectors crossing Sandy to detect bicycles.

    I was told that PDOT is not interested in changing Vancouver/Williams singal timing so that slow bicyclists like me don\’t get a red at every single $@!*#! signal. That was a bummer. I now avoid Vancouver & Williams because of it.

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    Jonathan Maus (Editor) August 21, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    \”Making a phone call to complain is nice, but stopping, and physically moving the sign yourself is the immediate fix.\”

    You\’re right. Guess I could have done it myself.. But I think it\’s important for them to know when mistakes like this are made.

    on a related note… i\’ve often wondered if there\’s an official city code that outlines the proper placement of construction and temporary traffic signs. I\’ve come across many situations when they\’re placed in dangerous spots because the crews clearly don\’t understand, expect, or respect bike traffic.

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    toddistic August 21, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    FYI: i believe moving a traffic control device, temporary or otherwise is a fineable offense.

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    beth August 21, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    I\’ve used the hotline once and had good results. I called the 823-CYCL line about a signal loop on my commute that never seemed to detect my bike. I received a return call the same day and the problem was corrected within a few days.

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    Icarus Falling August 21, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    Toddistic,

    It is a violation to move a properly placed traffic control device.

    That is not the case if the traffic control device is improperly placed..

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    BURR August 21, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    when I find the county crews putting their construction signs in the bike lane on the Hawthorne viaduct, I just move them out of the bike lane myself.

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    Donald August 21, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    No goody two shoes am I: I take the illegal left just prior to this site every morning, which actually gives me a jump on the traffic to my six at this track crossing.

    I guess the point I was making is that the folks who placed both the sign in question and the sandwich board (which your photo, on closer examination, seems to show it well to the left of the marked bike lane and not in the lane at all) seem to have gone to pains to avoid hindering bike traffic, if the assumption is that bike traffic would use the marked bike lane.

    Actual useage is, as you state, about 99% taking the 45-degree crossing at the tracks.

    So I guess my question is if the argument is about a sign in an actual bike lane or the design of the bike lane. I feel that whomever placed the sign appears to have tried to place it out of the expected bike travel lane and shouldn\’t be held accountable for the real-life distraction and resulting safety issue.

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    BURR August 21, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    although I understand why it was designed that way, no one ever uses the sidewalk portion of that bike lane, it\’s a poor design and the angle you cross the tracks at if you stay in the street is not a problem.

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    Jonathan Maus (Editor) August 21, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    \”I feel that whomever placed the sign appears to have tried to place it out of the expected bike travel lane and shouldn’t be held accountable for the real-life distraction and resulting safety issue.\”

    donald,

    i\’m not trying to hold anyone accountable. I was just trying to get an obvious problem fixed. you\’re right that it\’s feasible the person might have thought they weren\’t doing anything to impede bike traffic. but again, the idea wasn\’t to bust anyone… it was to bring attention to a dangerous situation and get it fixed asap.

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    Refunk August 21, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    I\’ve had prompt, positive responses in the abandoned fur trading outpost of Vancouver, when I\’ve contacted \’em about things like trees down on the Burnt Bridge Creek trail (debris gone the following day). Don\’t remember the phone number, but it was easy to locate on a city website.

    If toddistic (#6) is right, then I\’ve been fineable in the past, and will be so again in the future. Agree with Icarus F, that crews on site respond pretty well.

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    jack August 21, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    this is a link off of oregonlive atm, thought it was appropriate for this thread:

    http://www.wendmag.com/blog/2008/08/21/why-staying-in-the-bike-lane-isnt-always-easy/

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    Lazlo August 21, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    \”No goody two shoes am I: I take the illegal left just prior to this site every morning, which actually gives me a jump on the traffic to my six at this track crossing.\”

    If obeying traffic laws at a busy, wide intersection where trains cross makes one a goody two shoes, then call me goody. I\’ve seen riders make the move you describe; I think it\’s foolish and reckless.

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    SG August 21, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    \”when I came across something appalling.\”

    \”It was right out of a horror movie.\”

    Don’t you think you\’re being a bit of drama queen? Check you left and go around it. I don’t see the big deal…unless you’re riding with your eyes closed.

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    Jonathan Maus (Editor) August 21, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    \”Don’t you think you\’re being a bit of drama queen? \”

    those lines weren\’t meant to be funny… sorry if that didn\’t come across.

    But no, I don\’t think it\’s overly dramatic.

    SG… put yourself in a newbies shoes. For you and i, a complete obstruction of the lane is no big deal… but for a newbie… it will either scare them from even riding, or they\’ll not be aware of the situation and end up being hit.

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    SG August 21, 2008 at 1:44 pm

    I think the hotline is great…I\’ve actually used a hotline up here in Vancouver and have had very quick responses.

    Putting myself in a newbies shoes…I\’d be more concerned about the tracks then the sign…do you really think that a sign would scare someone off the road? I really doubt it, but I could be wrong.

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    bahueh August 21, 2008 at 1:59 pm

    why ask someone else to do a job when you can simply do it yourself?

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    Jeff P August 21, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    I have always been told that it was a temporary construction sign and as such is official and they [contractors] have free reign on placement. Plus, I have been told that if they put them over on the sidewalk then they are \’ignored\’ by drivers being as they are so far from the lane of travel. Ultimately, they are for the public\’s safety and though we [as bicyclists] are public, we are considered less inconvenienced with such placement. Jonathon\’s issue was a bit different since at least one alternative route was blocked as well.

    Don\’t tell anyone but I\’ve moved them: onto the sidewalk, onto landscaped areas, into the car lane, and flat over on themselves. Funny but they usually end up right back in the bike lane. Plus, when you get caught they tell you it\’s messing with official signage and vandalism.

    My tact of late is to ride as best as possible and be reasonably considerate of others while doing what it takes to survive.

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    Refunk August 21, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    Road signs? I\’ll move \’em, if necessary.

    Fallen trees? I\’m grateful to the city for responding promptly and bringin\’ their chainsaw.

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    Jeff P August 21, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    #21: I have a story about that as wel – tree falls across Bvrtn-Hillsdale betwenn SW Terwilliger and SW Sunset; blocks the bike lane and 1.5 car lanes. PDX cop is there trying to move limbs while the cars keep driving by and honking at each other as they cross the double yellow line.

    I stop and assist the officer clear the car lane; start to ask about the bike lane and he says he has called a crew and they are on the way – don\’t worry about it. Little did he realize, Bvrtn-Hillsdale is a county maintained highway road and the crew did not respond for another 1.5 weeks.

    Same thing – I just took the lane and did what was necessary. Glad you had good City response. BTW, the officer was gracious and personable for the help.

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    McAngryPants August 21, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    typo. Trasnportation swap the S and N

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    Toby August 21, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    Lazlo #15
    Why is it foolish and reckless? (buses running red lights not withstanding [I see it all the time]) When you\’re on Multnomah making a left on a green light, you are the only one that can go anywhere. Cars can make the right onto Interstate and peds can cross interstate. That\’s why crossing Interstate in the crosswalk can be dangerous because cars turning right don\’t like to wait. I\’ve had people look right at me and still pull out to make the turn despite peds and bikes in crosswalk with the right of way.

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    Donald August 21, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    I guess the fear of opening the can containing the worms is having to deal with what\’s inside…

    Jeff said: \”Ultimately, they are for the public\’s safety and though we [as bicyclists] are public, we are considered less inconvenienced with such placement. Jonathon\’s issue was a bit different since at least one alternative route was blocked as well.\”

    We can argue about the design of the bike path here, but, as seen in the photo above, the marked bike lane is not blocked.

    Lazlo said: \”I think it\’s foolish and reckless.\” Fair enough. And it won\’t be a issue soon enough when the through lane is opened just east of this intersection. Although, I hope it\’s signaled because otherwise, I\’ll probably still take my left from Multnomah as I would feel that much less foolish and reckless than taking an unsignaled left from Wheeler. (or using the crosswalk to do the old take a right to make left at Mult.)

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    E August 21, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    Huh, I\’ve been using that intersection and I didn\’t notice the sign was in the way. I did notice that the marked bike lane was blocked. I usually use it because I\’m slow and don\’t want to make real pedalers miss the light, but with nothing crossing the bridge I don\’t much worry about the light.
    🙂
    Last night was the first time I\’ve had to go through the rose quarter – interstate to holladay – from that direction. Now I finally understand what everyone\’s been complaining about!
    😉

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    Lazlo August 21, 2008 at 4:56 pm

    Donald – OK, I retract my foolish and reckless comment. What I thought you meant was what I\’ve seen some riders do: turn left from Multnomah the wrong way onto Interstate, then cross the street in the middle of the block between Wheeler and Oregon.

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    Matthew Denton August 21, 2008 at 4:56 pm

    There is an ODOT document that says \”The placement of advance construction signs should obstruct neither the pedestrian’s nor the bicyclist’s path. Where this is not possible, placing signs half on the sidewalk and half on the roadway may be the best solution.\” (Page 197)

    http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/BIKEPED/docs/or_bicycle_ped_plan.pdf

    I doubt it has any teeth, (sometimes they just have to block the bicycle lane with a sign, and if there was no bicycle lane, they\’d just put the sign on the right edge of the car lane,) but ODOT has thought about it…

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    hickeymad August 21, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    I fume every time I see a roadsign placed in a bike lane. Most recently I\’ve noted this every time there is an event on the south waterfront. The Cirque du soleil for example….

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    Ed August 21, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    Last week I actually saw signs being placed absolutely in the middle of the bike lane I was riding southbound on SE 92nd Av. I caught up with the pickup truck at at red light at SE Johnson Creek and 92nd and talked to the guys. They said the had to put them where they did so that they could be seen by drivers. They wouldn\’t consider moving them just a bit to the right. Having read another story on this blog about this situation, I said that it was required by law (I was sort of bluffing) to keep the bike lane open. Since I thought that area was in Clackamas County–I\’m still not sure–I called Ellen Rogalin from Clackamas Cty Community Affairs, who\’s gotten glass cleaned up off the bike lane when I\’ve called before. Someone else called me back a day later who seemed both clueless and helpless about the issue. She said the guys in the pickup were probably working for a contractor, didn\’t know who\’d be in charge, etc. Anyway, the work crews and the signs were gone anyway this week. Is that 823-SAFE # going to be any good if it\’s not on a City of Portland street?

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    no one in particular August 21, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    Here\’s an even funnier/worse picture.

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    no one in particular August 21, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    Oh, whoops, you already linked to that at the bottom of the post. Oops!

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    Icarus Falling August 21, 2008 at 7:08 pm

    \”We can argue about the design of the bike path here, but, as seen in the photo above, the marked bike lane is not blocked.\”

    Donald,
    It is obvious in the picture and in real life that the space left for traveling by bicycle was blocked by the sign.

    It has already been pointed out that the path the bike path arrow directs you towards was also blocked. You can see the road blocks in the picture are blocking the crosswalk that the bike path arrow directs you to.
    So, the contractors were in the wrong entirely for placing it there.
    You keep arguing about it, when the sign was obviously where it was not supposed to be.
    You might want to get over it already…

    Thanks Matthew for the legal ODOT info regarding signage. I wanted to make that comment myself, but was too lazy to do the research to make sure I would be right in stating that blocking a bike or pedestrian path with signage is illegal. ( or frowned upon by those that are in charge of such things.)

    And truly, if questioned, most workers would not even know that it is not legal. They are just trying to do the job. I think it is up to the contractor, and the dept of transportation who would hand out the permits, to check these job sites to make sure signage is properly applied.

    Something that is obviously not done…

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    Donald August 21, 2008 at 7:57 pm

    @ Icarus.

    Respectfuly, I don\’t feel I have anything over which I need to get.

    the photo above (sign-1.jpg) clearly shows an open bike lane.

    The temp no right turn sign is in an \”island\” designating no traffic.

    the painted arrow directs bikes onto the intended and marked bike path.

    The \”crosswalk closed\” sandwich is on the inside of the left bike lane marker as is the \”street closed\” sign. (The crosswalk is not the intended or marked bike path).

    The barrier with the \”do not enter\” sign attached is on the outside of the right lane marker of the bike lane.

    There is some spatial compression due to the focal length of the equipment used to make the image, but the bike lane is certainly open.

    My initial reaction was simply that I felt it was ironic to call about a sign that wasn\’t actually in a bike lane when, just out of view about 50 yards ahead, in the opposite lane, there is a similar temp sign that has been in the bike lane for weeks.

    The contractors, in this case, seem to me only guilty of trying to accomodate riders and of not understanding the reality that most cyclists ignore the signage and bypass the marked bike path they have left open.

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    Aaron August 21, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    I agree with Icarus #2. The fastest way to resolve the issue is to simply move the sign. I\’ve done this in Sellwood, Beaverton, and Portland (though sometimes the signs are heavy). Construction crews routinely view bike lanes as equal to road shoulders which can be blocked at will. There was even a cyclist who was severely injured because he struck a construction sign. Once when I moved a sign, I then told the construction people that I\’d done it and they said, \”well can people see the sign?\” The sign was one of 4-5 warnings.
    (And if Jessica Roberts is considered a slow bicyclist, than most of us are real turtles. She\’s been on rides down to Lake O and Oregon City)

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    Scott Kocher August 22, 2008 at 8:15 am

    Two thoughts:

    (1) Instead of calling, I prefer to email the city at safe[at]pdxtrans.org. Email is easier to track and provides more accountability than a call.

    (2) Can we improve hazard reporting? In my experience folks at pdxtrans are doing their best, but there is poor coordination among departments, and anything more complicated than a pothole often requires multiple nudges over a period of months. It is hard to get serious attention for problems that need time, money or thought to solve. Even a vicious storm drain can fall through the cracks if you email pdxtrans but it turns out to be in Parks. How about a web-based system that allows everyone to add input and track responses? bikeportland.org/hazard?

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    peejay August 22, 2008 at 9:13 am

    Forget the specifics about the situation Jonathan pictured: we all have seen plenty of temporary signs placed in an official bike lane. It\’s usually to warn motorists that one of their precious lanes might be closed up ahead. And – at least in California – that means that some cars stay in the right lane and speed up to get around all the cars that move to the left lane early. So, what happens when you are forced to take the lane? You have to dodge impatient, aggressive drivers who are speeding in their desire to move several places up, like it was some kind of NASCAR event and they could get more points!

    That behavior is not so common here, but it happens!

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    G.A.R. August 22, 2008 at 7:21 pm

    The other bike lane hotline is parking enforcement at 503-823-5195. This doesn\’t work for signs, but it works for cars parked in bike lanes, which is another common problem. Afternoon calls need to be placed before 4:45. Later, for heinous cases, call police non-emergency at 503-823-3333. They don\’t tow immediately for run of the mill bike lane parking. You need to whip out your papier mache fire hydrant and set it on the sidewalk to get that kind of service.

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    I drink the line August 23, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    This is your idea of a horror movie? You either need to watch scarier movies, or chill out. It\’s a sign. Taking up a tiny bit of space. Life goes on.

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    portlandjimbo August 24, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    I don\’t see what all the fuss is about. The bikes don\’t have to take the lane at all. All they have to do is ride where the arrow directs them to in the first place. The sign is not in the bike lane at all. Sorry if these kind of rules make it difficult but if its that bad than how about getting it changed. Cars bikes and pedestrians all need to follow some rules……

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