About that gravel; City says we just have to wait

gravel in the bike lane-1

The gravel-strewn bike lane
on SE Madison.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Here in Portland, after the novelty of riding in the snow wears off and the fear of icy roads subsides, people that bike are faced with an unfortunate byproduct of severe weather — gravel.

The gravel is a more eco-friendly way to deal with slippery streets (Portland doesn’t use salt because of concerns over runoff into rivers), but it makes for an annoying ride.

Remember the big TriMet lawsuit saga back in January of 2006? That entire incident, according to the guy on the bike, was caused when he was forced to ride outside of the bike lane due to gravel accumulation.

Well, apparently the City has heard from Portlanders that gravel in the bike lane is a problem. In their latest press release about the current storm they include this paragraph (emphasis mine):

The City is aware that bicyclists, in particular, have expressed concerns about the sand and gravel on the streets and in the bike lanes. Unfortunately, crews will not be cleaning that material up any time soon. Street sweepers cannot effectively pick up sand and gravel until temperatures reach above 40 degrees. The combination of sand, gravel, and ice just tears up equipment. In addition, the sweeper brushes cannot get low enough to the variable road surface in these snow and ice conditions for an effective sweep.

This is how they do it in Copenhagen.
(Photo: Copenhagenize)

On my ride into the office this morning, I pedaled through not just gravel, but in some places the bike lane was covered in snow and ice while the other travel lanes were completely smooth and clean.

I wonder when PDOT will consider new equipment that is specifically made to sweep bike lanes (like they do in Copenhagen)? Or, maybe we should just suck it up and ride.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Hart
Hart
15 years ago

If there’s too much gravel just take the lane.

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
15 years ago

Hart,

that’s sort of the problem… not everyone is comfortable taking the lane…and not everyone (in cars) is ready/willing to safely relinquish the lane.

chuck
chuck
15 years ago

I’ve been taking the lane everywhere I ride when the bike lane is covered. anywhere there’s a clear patch of pavement, I’m on there. if that’s not possible, gravel over the ice is better than nothing.

I can understand how taking the lane would be scary, though. even with cars passing by slowly, it’s scary to think what would happen if either the bike or car had to make any quick changes in direction.

bahueh
bahueh
15 years ago

I would say suck it up and ride…the city cannot make everyone’s commute hassle free and completely safe. period.

to the city’s credit, I did witness a small PDOT work truck manually spraying the bike lane over the Hawthorne bridge today….literally, a guy leaning out the window with what looked like a small pesticide spray applicator putting down, what I assume to be, de-icer on only the bike lane…

they’re doing what they can with what they’ve got with the current weather conditions……complaining they’re not doing enough is not going to win anyone any friends…

or maybe someone should start advocating for heated bike lanes and a city employee with a broom at every intersection…..

PdxMark
PdxMark
15 years ago

I have to say that I still appreciated the gravel that was in the bike lane during my commute this morning. It helps with the ice that’s also still there if I can’t take a dry lane because of car traffic. As far as I’m concerned the city can take a little more time to clean up the gravel… particularly with the forecast of more snow for tomorrow.

Adam
Adam
15 years ago

I have taken the lane multiple times the past few days. This is something I am comfortable with but I also understand that it would not be to some others. Considering that most of my commute consists of SE Powell near Gresham it is not always the most comforting ride. I would love some sort of bike lane maintenance but I also understand that it is hard enough for the city to keep up with what they have on their plates right now.

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
15 years ago

Chris,

thanks for the link. i’ve added it and the photo to the story.

Anonymous
Anonymous
15 years ago

Ummm. The City has 100 sanders and 5 Street Sweepers. So the math…

tom
tom
15 years ago

I get hurt a lot more if I slide and fall in the gravel or ice, or combination, than does the driver of a car that slides and hits something. I think my emergency room bill could possibly be more than the repair bill of the car, and considering all cars HAVE to be insured and I don’t HAVE insurance, I will end up hurt more and paying more. Something should be done, it’s a priority.

Anonymous
Anonymous
15 years ago

Understand that this situation is not an annual event, nor an extended event when it occurs, and that purchase the equipment to handle the situation is just not fiscally responsible.

How many streets in Portland were plowed at all? Not many, because the city just can’t justify buying enough equipment for a four day, once every two year event.

Bob
Bob
15 years ago

I am willing to be patient with the gravel clean up. It is still messy out there on many roads and the gravel is helping. With another storm(s) on the way it doesn’t make sense to do clean up at this point. My patience will wear thin, however, if it takes months to clean up once the weather gets above freezing. I seem to recall it taking a couple of months for the roads to become clear of gravel after the ice storm in 2003/04. It was treacherous in some spots.

Zaphod
15 years ago

This is being responded to from an operations perspective. They provide a service and do great work with the equipment they have. If they’re overwhelmed in their core duties then they might request additional capital or technologies.

The question that needs to be worked out is what would it cost to be ready to clean the roads? How many pieces of specialized equipment, how many additional employees/shifts, what other materials, etc. If we had data from the Netherlands piece, one could put together a proposal. This seems like something our friends at BTA could head up. I’d be happy to do some legwork as needed.

Natty
Natty
15 years ago

You folks actually use gravel … as in the gravel road, crushed rock variety?

Here they use sand – both due to concerns with salt run-off in the spring and for the fact it’s too cold for salt much of the time.

spencer
spencer
15 years ago

tires roll over gravel, ice, sand, dirt, etc.

quit whining and ride. clear dry asphalt is nice, but its not necessary. why doesnt anyone complain about wet bike lanes too?

Natty
Natty
15 years ago

Our bike lanes don’t get plowed in the winter … that’s where they push the snow from the streets 😉 Not being a fan of segregated traffic flow, I’m not particularly troubled by it. I simply take the lane and find that, on the whole, motorists are more respectful of my space when there’s snow and ice

… that or they figure that crazy guy on the bike would slide into them on purpose.

patrick
15 years ago

You don’t even need to “take” the lane. You can just use it. It’s yours already. Use the lane!

andy
andy
15 years ago

Natty,
It’s more like 1/4″ angular crushed rock, fairly uniform size – not the 3/4″-minus gravel that you’re probably thinking of.

BikerinNE
BikerinNE
15 years ago

suck it up. I happens. i rather have gravel in the bike lane then a car sliding into me in the bike lane. Suck it up.

BikerinNE
BikerinNE
15 years ago

Oh and, We’re not Copenhagen, lets stick to being Portland.

Thanks.

Paul Cone
Paul Cone
15 years ago

A couple of points..

— the 100 sanding trucks are not just sanding trucks — they are dump trucks that are used for multiple purposes; a street sweeper is only used for one thing; also street sweepers, given their complexity, probably cost more

— ODOT is responsible for sanding roads that are state highways (like Lombard St, 82nd Ave, and Powell Blvd), but I don’t think ODOT has street sweepers, so it would fall to the city to clean up these streets

rev
15 years ago

hey jonathan, could you do some investigating about the effect of all this on the roads themselves? not the weather conditions, but how the surface itself is holding up.

in my travels i found that most places are not as smoothly paved as Oregon and I think the mild temperatures and less use of studded tires and snow chains is a big part.

somewhat relevant:
http://simpsonspavement.ytmnd.com/

Joe
Joe
15 years ago

I hope Oregon invests into some other ideas. wow the ice is crazy!

I worry about taking the lane, some that
dont understand, the law,zip you or run up the back of you. how will they stop when they hit the slick sections? be safe..

no salt or sand in Wilsonville yet.. or trucks? lotta people speeding thats forsure.

Donna
Donna
15 years ago

I got called a crude Anglo-Saxon term for a certain female anatomical region Monday morning by some guy in a van because I had the sheer gall to take the lane on SE 12th. What do they want – Ladd’s Addition was a skating rink. We all need to be able to use the main roads in weather like this.

I have noticed that if you reply to their insults with something along the lines of “God bless you, Jesus loves you”, they get really embarrassed and flustered and leave you alone. Certainly that guy had a mouth that only Jesus could love. Given what he called me, I doubt even his mother could.

As for the sand, I’m with Bob (#12). I’ll be patient until it gets above freezing. I’d love to see some bike lane-specific equipment, but I doubt that will be happening anytime soon given our economic conditions. I just don’t want to be threatened/intimidated by other people when I am just trying to get to work same as they are.

mayfly
mayfly
15 years ago

i tried to ride downtown today via the broadway bridge but quickly changed my mind a few blocks into my trip- broadway is still extremely icy. on a shorter trip tonight from ne broadway to se stark, i found that riding in the car lane worked pretty well, even in the traffic i saw. a few cars passed me on the left, crossing a huge icy patch between the lanes to do so, which was my main worry. i don’t want cars doing more dangerous things just so they don’t have to wait behind the super slow cyclist.

at least if you fall, you should be bundled up enough that you won’t even feel it, right?

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
15 years ago

I’m always interested when people respond to stories like this with things like, “just suck it up” and “it’s not that bad”.

I don’t think this is about the annoyance or inconvenience of the gravel.. it’s just interesting when the City makes a decision about priorities of road users that impacts one specific group much more than another.

This is why we need to start closing some streets to cars completely. If the city cannot take care of all its road users, then they are spread too thin and they should scale back their responsibilities to a more manageable level.

the reason they can’t afford bike-lane sweepers and/or don’t do it is because taking care of lanes used solely by motor vehicles takes all their time/effort.

let’s try to see the big picture here folks.. this isn’t about simply sucking it up.

a.O
a.O
15 years ago

Thanks Jonathan (#26): Priorities.

Keith
Keith
15 years ago

I have a great deal of sympathy for you all as I have some close friends in Portland who are not having a good time with this uncharacteristically bad weather.

I work and ride in far worse every day (messenger) but I am well prepared for this with studded tyres, cold weather gear, and some well practised skills when it comes to riding icy roads.

Our city has a 21 million dollar snow removal budget and when it snows the main travel routes and bike paths / MUTS get cleared first.

And because it could always be worse…

We were pushing -40 with the wind chills on Monday and it has been too cold for the road salt to work.

Icarus falling
Icarus falling
15 years ago

First of all, once again, I agree:

This is Portland, not The Netherlands or Europe.

If I see one more comparison to, or story about a extravagant political fact finding trip to Europe/ The Netherlands, I am going to crap my pants. And probably puke at the same time.

Life, and riding, is different here, is not going to be the same as there, and as a matter of fact, I hope it never is the same as over there.

I like Portland as Portland, not as some “Wish We Could Be Them ” town.

On another note, The City of Portland has never cleaned up the gravel before February, or even into March.

I am talking 22 years back to my knowledge.

I know it sucks, I hate it too.

But, it is how it is.

I have never believed the same old story about not being able to pick it up at low temps.

As written above, they are sticking to this story, and the bike lanes for quite while will not be very safe.

I have heard other reasons for why they are not cleaned sooner in the season,(mainly from speaking to those who do the actual cleaning) and they seemed to boil down to the true fact that the bike lanes are at the bottom of the priority list, especially when it comes to cleaning them up.

The traffic lanes are many times actually swept clean, with the debris going right into the bike lane.

I advise abandoning them if you cannot, or do not think, you can handle it.

Cause they certainly are not going to be cleaned anytime soon.

matchu
matchu
15 years ago

What was the result of that 2006 lawsuit involving Trimet?

Racer X
Racer X
15 years ago

Thanks Jonathan for covering this issue…as long after this grit is placed on the car lanes [and bike lanes] has piled up in the bike lanes it spends March through August in piles on many suburban sidewalks as a hazard to persons with walkers and wheelchairs (like the ODOT sidewalks on Hayden Is.] .

I am surprised that ‘no one’ has submitted a local ADA suit to one of the large cities for budgeted public efforts at clearing streets but lack of similar budgeted maintenance for public sidewalks and ramps (most communities reply on private property owners).

Is seems to be a related missing issue of transportation equity and perhaps ADA (blocked or slippery ramps).

Lisa G.
Lisa G.
15 years ago

I’m interested in the various cities all of you out-of-towners are writing from. Keith, are you in the midwest or a Rocky Mountain state?

rikthankless
rikthankless
15 years ago

I think that we should all just relax and realize that gravel isn’t a bad thing. For example:
1. It is not salt(not as corrosive.)

2. Adds traction.

3. Better than ice.

Give the boys at ODOT a break. There are tens of thousands of sidewalks and roads that they have to de-ice. Hey, if you have a problem get a shovel and find some salt(good luck), and help out. Stop whining. DEAL!

Matt
Matt
15 years ago

Question from a non-Portlander: What’s the hazard from gravel? Does it end up looking more sinister than what’s in the posted photo?

patrick
15 years ago

seems like a first step for the city would be to add a couple of bike-boulevardy-type streets to the plow map. that way we’d have non-icy neighborhood streets to travel on. it would seem to be a reasonable option.

http://www.portlandonline.com/transportation/index.cfm?c=47307

BikerinNE
BikerinNE
15 years ago

SALT vs. bicycle Drive Train.

No thanks, When Portland puts salt on the roads, i won’t put my bike on it. It’s the same lame story every year, gravel. You know it’s going to happen, yet the same gripes. Why? You want street sweepers, multi-use path sweepers, vacuum trucks for bike lanes, then take it to the voters. Other than that, deal with it. Or like has been said before, start sweeping and shoveling.

joel
15 years ago

what, sweep off all the gravel now, when theyre bound to put more down, say, today, or this weekend. why not just do the job once? 🙂

personally, as long as its cold and/or wet, im pro-gravel. its actually not bad traction. certainly better on days like monday.

but at the same time, yes, i do realize that it makes a substantial portion of the portland cycling populace nervous, just as the ice does. i will tell you to suck it up, perhaps even poke fun at you for being a bit chicken, but ill do it with love, i promise 🙂 and back you up on demanding better cleanup. because we deserve better than a gravel pile, and cause last night on the ride home, on streets that i would consider to be completely passable to most every cyclist (downtown, out nw 6th to hoyt, out broadway to n vancouver, to killingsworth, to mlk), i saw exactly ONE other cyclist the entire ride, on a commute during which i typically see about 457895734982579837489579, rain or shine, and that was kind of a bummer.

and jonathan, please do continue to compare us to cph or amsterdam – if nothing else, icarus will simultaneously puke and crap his pants, and that totally seems worth it. and, as a bonus, it gives us something awesome, even if currently somewhat unrealistic, to strive for. were NOT either of those cities, but both are certainly worth modeling portland after.

Oliver
Oliver
15 years ago

I’m okay with the fact that they weren’t out yesterday sweeping up the gravel. It’s gravel in the bike lanes in June that really annoys me.

Icarus falling
Icarus falling
15 years ago

LOL!

I love Joel…

Does that make me gay?

007
007
15 years ago

I am more concerned with my lungs. I skimmed through the comments and did not see any mention of breathing all the dust and particulates.

Last night I was reading some bike forums for info on masks and heard of a “Breathe Smog” mask that is available from Nashbar, in the U.K. apparently, but hard to find in the U.S.

Are their any environmental health experts here that know if a handkerchief over the face is as good as, say, one of those white 3M face masks for jobs around the house or a surgeon’s mask?

Thanks.

Joe
Joe
15 years ago

Well today i took the lane on booneferry,
some of wilsonville road.. how can some be reminded about thelaw? not too many understand cyclists have lane use.

AL M
15 years ago

Ride the bus.

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
15 years ago

“What’s the hazard from gravel? Does it end up looking more sinister than what’s in the posted photo?”

Hey Matt,

Oh yeah. I should have used a different photo. On my ride home yesterday after posting this I had to ride through several bike lanes that were in much worse shape… snow, ice, gravel, dirt. not very pretty.

JE
JE
15 years ago

They don’t need to pick it up.
I’d be happy if they would just sweep it to the curb.

Wondering
Wondering
15 years ago

Question Jonathan:

Who is going to manage the streets that are closed to cars? Seems to me it would still be Transportation.

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
15 years ago

“Question Jonathan:

Who is going to manage the streets that are closed to cars? Seems to me it would still be Transportation.”

good question Wondering,

Of course streets were motor vehicle are prohibited would still be managed by PDOT, but they would require much less maintenance.

I think the system currently allows motor vehicles in too many places. eliminating some of the unnecessary ones would save the city millions in lower maintenance costs, improved health of citizens (because more people would walk and bike), improved economy (because people would walk/bike to their local stores instead of driving across town and we would have far less injuries and deaths on our roads if fewer cars were on them), etc…

i think it’s way overdue for Portland to start a strategic process to decide on which streets are ready to go “carfree” for good. Commissioner Leonard has expressed interest in this. We know Mayor Adams might be open to it. Commissioner Fritz is all about n’hoods and health (she used to be an RN), Commissioner Fish rides a bike and counts Mia Birk (bicycle queen of Portland) as a close friend.

GLV
GLV
15 years ago

“it’s just interesting when the City makes a decision about priorities of road users that impacts one specific group much more than another.”

It is about priorities. If the city took it annual survey this week, how many people would report bicycles as their primary vehicle? Based on my observations and the comments on this site this week, I bet it’s less than 1%.

bahueh
bahueh
15 years ago

should this conversation stop until the temperature has actually climbed above 32 degress….ya know, the time at when the city actually stops putting down more and more gravel?

seems premature….

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
15 years ago

“It is about priorities. If the city took it annual survey this week, how many people would report bicycles as their primary vehicle? Based on my observations and the comments on this site this week, I bet it’s less than 1%.”

GLV,

that logic does not make complete sense to me.

Less than !% are riding in part because of PDOT’s priorities. That’s precisely my point.

I posit that if PDOT’s priorities/policies/spending were more balanced in favor of bikes, you would see more than 1% people biking right now… and if my same logic were followed during regular weather times, we could easily be up into 15-20% mode split citywide.

Oliver
Oliver
15 years ago

Exactly right.

There would be far fewer people driving if there was no snow/ice mitigation on the roads.

And likewise more people riding if there was more of it in the bike lanes.