Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Gravel and other storm detritus: What’s it like out there?

Posted by on December 29th, 2008 at 9:53 am

Snow piled high in the bike lane on
SW Broadway on 12/26.
(Photo: Rex Burkholder)

I’m down in California, but judging from reader emails and a story this morning on KGW-TV, it looks like Portland’s bike lanes are in bad shape following an unprecedented storm that has left streets with mountains of snow, gravel, and other assorted hazards.

I left town just as The Big Thaw was about to begin and I can only imagine what it’s like out there now.

The day after Christmas, Metro Councilor and daily biker Rex Burkholder sent me photos of conditions on SW Broadway.

Snow in the bike lane on SW Broadway on 12/26.
(Photo: Rex Burkholder)

It looks like it’s not just the snow itself, but also how it’s forcing some cars to park in the bike lane.

Adding to that is the perennial issue of gravel. We reported about it just a few days after the first snow fell, after PBOT said people who bike would “just have to wait” until they could pick up it. This morning, KGW TV did a story about how gravel is making things tough — whether you bike or drive.

Here’s what KGW said about biking conditions:

“It was a tough weekend for bicyclists like Ortman, who had trouble avoiding the tiny rocks, since bike lanes were temporary holding zones for the stuff. To make matters worse, several bike lanes were still covered in heaps of snow pushed there by plows, temporarily pushing cyclists into traffic lanes.”

Snow scenes from 12-17

(Photo © J. Maus)

KGW also reminds us of the unfortunate reality that the storm will lead to even more (and larger) potholes throughout the city, in part because of the rain and snow, but also because of all the tire chains and snow tires that have been pounding the streets for several weeks.

When I posted an update about the KGW story to Twitter (and it also showed up on my Facebook page), Tony Pereira replied that the gravel isn’t too big of a deal, but there’s another storm byproduct he’s worried about:

“I don’t mind the gravel much myself, but those broken tire chains out there could do some damage! Barely missed a half dozen of them yesterday.”

In their latest storm update (published 12/26), the Bureau of Transportation said, “Sand and gravel cleanup will not start until streets are clear of snow and ice.”*

*UPDATE: PBOT has just posted a new statement about the storm.

What are conditions like where you’re riding? Share your experiences and photos in the comments below.

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  • Dave December 29, 2008 at 10:05 am

    I road into downtown this morning from NE 13th and Fremont. Aside from gravel in the bike lane it wasn’t bad at all. Traffic was light enough that I was able to take the lane when if I needed to. Road from NE to SE yesterday and it was the same thing, most of the snow seems to be gone.

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  • Tomas December 29, 2008 at 10:17 am

    Gravel is nothing… But shrapnel from broken tire chains have punctured two of my bombproof Marathon XR tires in two days.


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  • Zaphod December 29, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Riding in the bike lane full of gravel makes me feel like the loser who gets bullied around in high school. It’s like, “Here punk, ride in this &#($… have fun sucka!” It makes riders feel marginalized. Never mind the risks involved with riding on that stuff.

    Therefore, taking the lane feels more justified. Motorists seem to understand this as I’ve been in the lane much of the time with no honking or similar. When there are more than one lane going in the same direction I impede no one.

    I understand that PDOT has their hands full with the storm and aftermath. My only request/hope is that when cleanup occurs, the bike lane is given the same respect as any other section of roadway. Thick piles of gravel gives us cyclists a clear justification for not riding in it. When the gravel naturally thins out but isn’t yet gone, we’ll be in a trickier situation.

    The bike lane will be a drag and dangerous.

    Reasons for taking the lane will be unclear from the motorist’s perspective making that dangerous as well.

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  • KWW December 29, 2008 at 10:50 am

    I was also a victim of the tire chain shrapnel, albeit my VW, which resulted in a lost day at work, a tow and a new tire. Would of been cheaper on a bicycle!!!

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  • Albert Kaufman December 29, 2008 at 10:56 am

    I wonder in our society’s effort to keep the wheels of commerce going, if we’ve really screwed ourselves vis a vis road destruction. I’ve seen more massive potholes out there than ever – it’s dangerous to bike or drive right now. Had we not been pushed to shop and get to work, how much better would the roads be? And, the destruction to peoples’ vehicles has been pretty drastic, too. So, is there a way for us to stop when we need to as a society, so we don’t do more harm to our infrastructure than we can afford?

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  • K'Tesh December 29, 2008 at 10:59 am

    With the rain and huge amount of gravel in the bike lanes, as well as the edge of 217, I opted for a bus again 🙁

    The sidewalks in Beaverton and Tigard that I’ve seen are completly polluted with gravel.

    I’m going to go to the Tigard City Council 5th Tuesday meeting tomorrow (7pm at the public works building) to see if something can be done.

    If you’re tired of dealing with the lack of attention to the sidewalks and bike lanes, and you LIVE in Tigard, I’d recommend you come and add your voice too.

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  • davidio December 29, 2008 at 11:18 am

    I’ve been riding around the past couple of days (11-12 miles a day between NoPo and CEIA) and had no problems whatsoever with the road conditions. Seeing as that we’ve just had the largest accumulation of snow in Portland for 40 years, I’m amazed that things are as good as they are so soon after the storm.

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  • bahueh December 29, 2008 at 11:20 am

    Albert…potholes happen in PDX during the winter…storm or no storm. They occur after large rain events too…
    its all normal. call the hotline.
    society’s not doomed.

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  • Joel December 29, 2008 at 11:29 am

    From inner southeast to downtown was a piece of cake. It seems that they used significantly less gravel during this storm than the one that hit a few years back. Needless to say I am glad to be back on the bike.

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  • Dave December 29, 2008 at 11:30 am

    My commute in to work this morning down SE Clinton and through Ladd’s Addition over the Hawthorne Bridge was almost entirely clear today (though some of the sidewalks still have piles of snow on them). I think debris from trees on the side of the road seems like a bigger problem than gravel to me, though it is annoying to ride on gravel.

    I just posted some thoughts about the whole snow and ice business here, and have some pictures of a couple of places I ran into that were even nearly impassable on foot, not to mention on a bike.

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  • Albert Kaufman December 29, 2008 at 11:41 am

    additionally. I forgot to mention something that bike commuters might not be aware of – the wear and tear of the roads is incredible out there. you’ll see it on I-5, especially. the potholes (some of them huge on I-5) are just the obvious result of the chains, the wearing away of the road, all over the place, is the really bad part which will lead to millions of extra dollars in road repair down the road… this could have been prevented, IMHO, by more people staying off the roads, but instead we were encouraged to continue shopping…

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  • Nicholas December 29, 2008 at 11:58 am

    I’ve ridden every day and I have to say conditions are improving a whole lot. The gravel is annoying, especially when some asshole motorist doesn’t like the fact you’re taking the lane (I’m not ruining another tire or wrist buddy) and FORCES you into them.

    The snow on the sides of the roads where the bike lanes/far lanes should be is still quite annoying though. Luckily, the drivers around here are all still pretty cautious. I wish it was like that all the time.

    Words of advice to anyone, take the lane all the time.

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  • hanmade December 29, 2008 at 11:59 am

    The gravel is bad here in milwaukie, too, but the Sweetwater trail going east still had snow / slush this morning, which mad it pretty interesting on my street bike.

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  • MattD December 29, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    The bike lanes out in WashCo are still pretty much gravel covered, and in some places snow / slush covered.

    On another note, my wife and I went into Portland on Saturday from Hillsboro, and I was shocked by how bad the ruts had become on 26 in the space of a week.

    Ruts have always been an issue on Oregon Highways as long as I’ve been living here (I once drove a 5 mile section of I5 South of Salem with my ’83 Accord being piloted by the ruts,) and its fairly obvious they are caused by unnecessary studded tire and chain usage. ODOT should look into charging people a fee to help mitigate the cost of the damage.

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  • Anonymous December 29, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    The wear and tear on the roads isn’t going to happen because of one week of chain use during a snow situation.

    It is happening when people from the valley feel the need to run studded tires from October to March because they drive to Mt Hood Meadows once a month.

    Chains are a fact of life here. I’ll deal with that over replacing sand, with salt. The cost of new wheels when your spokes and nipples weld together due to salt water is pretty high.

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  • Jeremy Robillard December 29, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    I was happy to be on my bike this morning for my commute. After walking/running for shopping, commute, etc. last week I felt like a tired pack mule. Not to mention developing a bit of IT Band Syndrome. This morning’s commute from SE to the SW waterfront was not too bad. There is gravel which can be annoying and difficult in corners, but it could be worse.

    I was surprised the to see some distinct frost action lifting and/or spreading of cracks in the pavement. Although minor, I can see these being issues. Especially, when they are common routes which people are overly familiar with and take for granted. Such as with a parallel crack. All the sudden that crack is wide enough to swallow your tires, when earlier you could just glide right over it.

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  • ayresjk December 29, 2008 at 1:05 pm

    I am out here in Hillsboro and just ventured out today for the first time in a few. Almost all the snow is gone, except for the part of my ride which goes through a shady park, there is still a good 2 inches of snow on the ground in there and it is now slushy, icy snow. I had to take a detour today. The worst part is the gritty film that just gets all over everything. tires, underside of frame, inside the fenders, on brake surfaces. just a big mess. and the gravel is everywhere, in the middle of the lane. all over in the bike lanes. I a having to take the lane wherever I ride. I am dreaming of warm summer days with clean bike lanes!

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) December 29, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    “Reasons for taking the lane will be unclear from the motorist’s perspective making that dangerous as well.”

    yes, and PBOT had another big opportunity to educate our city about the role of bikes in traffic and they failed to do it effectively.

    Instead of saying clearly in their statements that cars should heed the lane to bikes and that we all have an equal right to use the roads, they consistently grouped bikes together with pedestrians (non-vehicles) and basically treated bikes like a marginalized, “other” use of the roadway… with the only real important uses being motor vehicles and mass transit.

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  • Joe December 29, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    wow this was some storm, i just left to norcal before this puppy hit! hope all is well. it was chasing us. Friday night..

    becareful out there!

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  • shanana December 29, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    I’m near the Portland/Beaverton border and there is so much gravel in the bike lane on my commute that they are unusable. Some areas are so thick you cannot see the white stripe to know a bike lane was ever there. Cars seemed okay with me taking the lane. No honking or yelling but in areas where there were two lanes and I was in the right lane, people still chose to pass close to me in the right lane instead of using the left lane that was completely empty. I want my bike lane back.

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  • Lester December 29, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    For my 4.x mile one way Vancouver, WA commute, I rode the MT. bike again today, still with my snow spikes in the front tire.

    Easy commute compared to Christmas Day! Lots of gravel, but no problem with 2.1″ tires. The spikes keep me down to 10mph on turns, so no sliding in the gravel problems at that speed. Most bike lanes were about 2/3 snow free.

    A big section of curbing that separates the NB HWY99 to WB 78th street left turn lane from SB HWY99 traffic is gone, either from people driving over it in the snow, or snowplow miscalculation. Plenty of Botts Dots scattered about as well.

    Didn’t encounter many tire chain remnants, but wouldn’t really worry about punctures from them with the Mr. Tuffies. It sure would suck to get one wrapped up in the spokes or rear derailer, however!

    Careful out there, all!

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  • JC December 29, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    On the upside – there was a street sweeper going down Broadway (westbound) around 8AM this morning – cleaning the bike lane.

    I figure the city has more street sweepers than snow plows (do we have any of those)…so hopefully things will be looking good soon.

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  • ND December 29, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    I live in the suburbs(Beaverton) and during a five mile ride today I found that the gravel in the bike lane is small enough that I is not too bad.

    However,I did get a flat tire – even with my Kevlar tires. I cannot wait ’til the gravel is gone!

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  • beth h December 29, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    The major streets that got the gravel treatment during the snowsotrm are of course littered with the stuff now.
    Taking the lane is sometimes difficult, especially when drivers won’t let you do so.

    Solution? Remember the side streets that were impassable during the snowstorm? Those streets, which were not treated with gravel, are now totally fine.

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  • Todd Boulanger December 29, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    VAN-PDX / PDX-VAN Bike Commuters – what is the condition of the Delta Park to Interstate Bridge section (free of snow / plow debris)… for road bikes?

    The snow on the south end of the Interstate Bridge looked pretty high late on Saturday when I rode the bus into Portland.

    (And how is the i-205 path too?)

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  • Matthew Denton December 29, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    And, don’t forget to report the potholes:

    If you report them, they’ll get filled, and normally within a day or two, and then we’ll all be a lot safer.

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  • Stig December 29, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    I’d recommend a mt. bike over a road bike if you’ve got one. There was still quite a bit of snow on the springwater this morning and many stretches of bike lanes were blocked completely. The gravel wasn’t too bad- I just took it easy. No honking from motorists at all when I took the lane, but I mainly kept to the right since there was room for passing most of the time.

    I nearly got right hooked (again) on SE 92nd Ave (again). I was coasting through the gravelly bike lane, passing slow moving traffic and a mini-van just pulled right to make a turn without signaling and only saw me when I was right along-side and mere inches away. Note to self: use a safer route. It’ll be nice when the i205 path finally reopens all the way.

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  • K'Tesh December 29, 2008 at 8:21 pm

    Sorry folks, just got word that the 12/30/08 5th Tuesday meeting with the Tigard City Council was canceled…

    Please forgive me… I wasn’t told until this afternoon.

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  • Tony H December 29, 2008 at 8:48 pm

    I ride up to the VA Hospital. Some stretches of the bike lane were completely packed with snow. It was packed in by the plows, thus leaving no choice but to take the lane. I took the tram down, because it’s dark by the time I leave work and the condition of Terwilliger was just too sketchy (IMHO)for night riding. Lots of gravel everywhere; fortunately I didn’t encounter any chain fragments.

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  • Tasha December 29, 2008 at 10:26 pm

    I took it VERY slowly today and took the lane a lot, as well as stuck to the side streets as much as possible, as there is hardly ant gravel there. But it was still annoying at times. I have very thin tires, and I tend to break bones easily (yes, I’m taking more Calcium), so I was a bit wary. I hope the rain and street sweepers clears it up soon. Snow was fun, but it’s good to be back on my bike and loving the rain!

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  • mark December 29, 2008 at 11:41 pm

    watch out there, apparently most drivers dont care if we cyclists are impeded from all the gravel out there in the bike lane. I took the lane with my 13 year old son behind me on his own bike and we got honked at. i caught up with him at the light and gave him a piece of my mind. his wife was driving and said i wasnt supposed to be on the road. i was really mad because it wasnt just me, but my son was with me. if i was alone i probably wouldnt have cared that much. they took off and just flipped me off. i guess some people still have a lot to learn.

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  • jim December 30, 2008 at 12:00 am

    The cities lack of preventetive maintenance is going to cost them a great deal of money now that potholes are poping up like mad all around town. It would hae ben much cheaper to seal the streets last summer. now water creaped into the cracks, froze, expanding ice broke up the blacktop leaving expensive repairs. They allready have a big deficit. Spending road money on other projects is now backfiring in their face. Look out for new taxes to take care of what they failed to do in the first place. Oh and lets just keep on paying $7.00 a gallon (the price they pay for bio) for all those city trucks to run the coffer dry.

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  • Kt December 30, 2008 at 8:39 am

    The bike lanes out here in Tigard on the main roads are nonexistent.

    They are completely covered with a thick layer of gravel, trash, car bits, chain pieces, and remnant snow from where the plows and people with shovels pushed it.

    As a driver, if you the cyclist want to take the lane, I will block traffic for you. 🙂

    I’m about ready to go out with my broom and sweep all the gravel in the bike lanes towards the center of the roadway. I know that the City and ODOT won’t even try to clean the gravel up until after the threat of a January or February snow storm fades– read “March” in that.

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  • shanana December 30, 2008 at 10:13 am

    The bike lanes on my way home had much less gravel than the route into work, but they were VERY littered with road reflectors that were knocked off by snow plows. Many were busted into sharp fragments and created more of a hazard than the gravel.

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  • El Biciclero December 31, 2008 at 10:10 am

    The bike lane gravel is spotty on my Beaverton route to work (mostly Murray Blvd.)–sometimes pretty clear, other times pretty thick. Murray is a tough road on which to take a lane (40 – 50 mph traffic), so I find myself moving into the lane if it is clear behind, but then having to move into the gravel and slow down when traffic is heavier.

    On my ride home Monday (12/29), I was cruising down 5th street (again, in Beaverton, for those trying to form a picture), heading west toward the 217 underpass. I was remarking to myself how clear the bike lane seemed, until I caught a glimpse in my flashing headlight of a 5-inch-high pile of gravel taking up the entire bike lane. Not wanting to swerve suddenly into the auto lane, all I could do was lighten up on the saddle and bounce/float over it. Thankfully I didn’t fall, but there’s the illustration of how variable the bike lane conditions are: anywhere from pretty clear to 5-inch-high gravel piles.

    I did see a sweeper clearing the section of Murray south of Jenkins today on my way in.

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  • Jen January 12, 2010 at 9:35 am

    Terwilliger is still has very thick areas od gravel in the bike lane. Going up hill/fighting gravel sucks.

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