Since the outset of what has become an epic Storm of 2008 (stories, photos), we wondered how the Bureau of Transportation would handle the perennial problem of gravel on the roadways — and especially the gravel that inevitably ends up all over the bike lanes.
“Where sweepers could get to the curb, our first priority was bike lanes.”
— PBOT spokeswoman Cheryl Kuck
On December 16th, we reported that the City had their hands full with the storm, telling people who bike that they’d just have to wait until crews could clean it up.
Nearly two weeks went by before PBOT addressed the biking situation again. On the 29th, they issued a statement that cleanup efforts would begin “focusing on bike routes”.
On Monday of this week, I rolled down N. Interstate Ave., a key artery in the bike network, and to my chagrin I noticed a City maintenance worker blowing leaves and gravel off the sidewalk and into the bike lane.
The result was a very messy bikeway and Interstate Ave. (narrow and high speed) is not a road where the faint of heart should “take the lane” (the advice given by PBOT).
After taking a few photos, I decided to approach the crew member with the leaf-blower. He promised the mess would be temporary and that sweepers were coming immediately behind him to clean the bike lane mess. And they did. This morning I noticed both the sidewalk and the bike lane were clean.
As pleased as I was at the conditions on that sections of N. Interstate, bike lanes and shoulders all over the city remain full of gravel and debris. A reader from Vancouver, Seth Prince, sent me photos of gravel in bikeways on the Interstate Bridge and the Jantzen Beach/Hayden Island area.
(Photo: Seth Prince)
Yesterday, Prince notified Vancouver transportation officials about his concerns. In an email he wrote:
“From a safety and convenience standpoint, it’d be nice to see the situation addressed as soon as possible. I’ve seen several bike riders have trouble with the rough rides lately…I got a flat tire on the way home last night, in fact, because of a particularly sharp piece of gravel.”
Prince’s concerns have been logged by the Oregon Department of Transportation and regional bike and pedestrian coordinator Basil Christopher says the sweeping request has been put through to ODOT maintenance crews.
“We understand the hazards posed to bicyclists by sand, gravel, and other debris in bike lanes.”
— PBOT spokeswoman Cheryl Kuck
I contacted PBOT spokeswoman Cheryl Kuck for the latest on their gravel pick-up efforts. She said cleanup crews have been working hard since December 28th to pick up the 4,600 cubic yards of gravel that was laid down.
A total of 1,300 miles of streets were treated with sand and gravel and Kuck says it, “will likely take several weeks” before it’s all gone.
Here’s how she explained PBOT’s game plan (emphasis mine):
“The first phase of sand and gravel cleanup focused on major arterials with bike lanes, moving from North Portland southward to all districts in the city. Crews used a map that showed streets with bike lanes to plan their sweeper routes. During this first phase, however, some streets still had snow and ice from the storm and several cars parked on the street still had not been recovered from the storm, thereby prohibiting sweepers from getting to the curb.
Where sweepers could get to the curb, our first priority was bike lanes. We understand the hazards posed to bicyclists by sand, gravel, and other debris in bike lanes – often forcing cyclists into a dangerous travel lane where some motorists are not yet ready to share the road.”
When their efforts are complete, Kuck says the City will likely only recover about 60% of the gravel that was applied (the usual amount is 75%, but it’s lower this time due to high winds and rain).
I feel for the PBOT on this one. This weather has walloped their staff and their embattled budget, but they are still working hard to try and keep everything running smoothly.
Great article Jonaathn!
This courteously addresses a very contentious subject. Gravel is one of hte many areas in which providing safety for vehicle operators directly undermines the safety of cyclists. The issue comes from the fact that any debris which finds itself in a vehicle lane gets pushed to the side by the action of the car tires. Over time this sends lots of tire pieces, debris, and oil into the right side of the road where cyclists are required to travel. PBOT which was already in the red before the storm, is in an even tougher position now. There’s no easy solution (except of course fewer cars of course)
I watched them roll right by my house (NE 15th) and it requires two sweepers sequentially brushing to get it clean. It’s a bugger to see a single parked car create a gap in the smooth clean sections.
I appreciate the work that is being done.
I find that motorists continue to be courteous when I take the lane due to debris.
I emailed firstname.lastname@example.org with my concerns over Multnomah Blvd. I have been skirting the fog line along this stretch but it is very narrow. I also called Clint Meyers who is in charge of the night sweepers for arterial routes such as Multnomah Blvd. He returned my call and left a message explaining that they were getting to streets like Multnomah as quickly as possible. As Aaron said, there are no easy solutions, but the salt would be gone by now while the gravel lingers…
sorry I should have written email@example.com
I don’t live in Portland and I’m a little confused. Isn’t gravel on the bike path a good thing during the winter months? It makes ice and frost less of an issue. I would have thought the sweeping would start in March or so.
Erik- Gravel in the bike lanes is very dangerous. It is nearly impossible to stop or turn quickly without crashing. A few years ago I was turning at low speed and wiped out on some leftover gravel. Even with health insurance, it cost me over $3000 for my broken collarbone, not to mention the month and a half that I couldn’t work.
It seems to me that PBOT could make it easier on themselves if they were to announce in advance which streets they were cleaning. So many times I’ve seen my street cleaned around my car, when if I had known the schedule, I’d have moved it around the block. In NYC, they have alternate side of the street parking rules to help with just this kind of problem.
Erik- Ice an frost here are not particularly common. Avg. high throughout the winter is in the 40s.
besides the danger of gravel in the bike lanes, what really irks me is the symbolism.
bike lanes strewn with gravel and snow sends a clear signal to Portlanders about our city’s priorities.
it’s a status syndrome thing. People will tend to gravitate toward the transportation behavior choice that offers the most status. When bike traffic lanes are not maintained it tells people that if you are really important, you’d be driving a car. If not, you’ll have to fend for yourself with substandard travel facilities.
People that choose to bike should be able to expect the same comfort, safety and efficiency when using our roads as people who drive cars are given.
The Lovejoy/Broadway ramp approaches to the Broadway Bridge are still pretty lousy with gravel.
I flatted both tires on the commute home yesterday. The back tire was definitely from the gravel – it was still embedded in the tire when I change to my spare tube. It probably happened when I had to brake hard for the light at 11th & Hawthorne. After I got home and repaired the punctured tube, I noticed my front tire had lost its air, too. The object had fallen out, but I suspect it was gravel as well. That stuff is as sharp as glass.
I wonder if we would have the same problem with flats if PBOT changed to volcanic cinders like they use in the Cascades? Anyway, I’m going to upgrade to puncture-proof tires before riding again. I’m busing it until then.
peejay – me too. I have on-street parking only, and I rarely drive during the work week – so without notice it’s guaranteed my car will be one of those preventing a thorough job. I’d even settle for a calendar on portlandonline.com or something, but I’ve never been able to find any info.
Maus…wow…overanalyze simple situations much?
cars have to drive over the gravel too…
damned if they do, damned if they don’t, huh?
“Maus…wow…overanalyze simple situations much?”
thanks bahueh, but that’s sort of my job. also, I didn’t come up with the status syndrome. it’s a well-known psychological concept that I heard applied to transportation choices at a presentation given at the Carfree Cities Conference over the summer.
“cars have to drive over the gravel too…”
except they’re inside a steel box, with four suspension-enabled wheels and it’s not really an issue for them.
also, the speed of their wheels flicks all the gravel out of their path very quickly (and of course it ends up in bike lanes).
The past few days I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find my work route getting cleared of gravel (NW 143rd to Cornell to 153rd). The one exception is the overpass on Cornell that goes over Hwy 26. It’s a complete mess. What’s up with that? Why skip the overpass?
“Why skip the overpass?”
my guess is that the overpass is ODOT’s responsibility (since it’s over an ODOT-managed highway), not the city’s.
After riding again for the past two days. I had my first crash due to mud in the bike lane. Add to that a lot of close calls with losing traction. I am hanging the bike up until these lanes are cleared. I can suffer on trimet with less physical pain(hopefully).
PLEASE PLEASE keep this site updated about it. I hate not riding, and want to get back on the bike ASAP.
Thank you again for all you do.
We used to receive a flyer that would inform us of upcomming sweeping. We stopped getting these a couple years ago. Probably stopped due to budget shortages.
i for one welcome our gravel overlords in leui of being hit by a sliding car. granted most of bike commuting population dropped off during those snow / ice days but some of us still commuted.
Thanks for all the friendly replies to my question! Regarding safety, I try to adjust my riding style to the state of the pavement. Having said that, I agree that gravel is bad for comfort and efficiency. And the status is very important. I think many car drivers are so accustomed to being “important” that they don’t realise it.
I prefer gravel and ice to salt and slush though. Slush, yuck!
Anyone know who to contact in the various burbs (in my case Beaverton) about the gravel? Is it a county or city thing?
I’ve been pleased with the sweeping job PBOT is doing.
N Williams/Vancouver got swept the day after the melt. Almost every day some part of my route is getting cleaned.
Rosa Parks got swept today. SW 1st got swept yeterday. I think they’re doing a great job in the areas I ride.
Man I wish Vancouver would approach the gravel as aggressivly as Portland. Just reason #567 why I wanna move back.
Yesterday I was biking near Benson High school and saw a motorist taking a right turn almost skid on gravel into pedestrians and a student biker. It was really scary.
Williams and Vancouver could use another sweep. A lot of the gravel that had accumulated between the bike lane and the sidewalk, where the cars are parked, has been dragged back into the bike lane. It’s not that bad though, I’m grateful that it was done so quickly in the first place.
I mean the motorist did skid on the gravel and almost hit the pedestrians and biker.
Same old story different year. Guess we need to raise our taxes so the city and odot can remove the gravel 24 7 round the clock, with a bigger fleet of vehicles, and use more fuel, and higher employee city pay. FYI the vacuum trucks have two diesel engines on board, one to drive the truck, one to run the huge vacuum on board. I used to drive one. But hey its worth it, for the month or two a year gravel hits the roads. Move on already.
If you can’t ride in gravel, slow down, walk, or take the bus. I’ve recked in gravel, but i’ve also not recked in gravel, by slowing and not making sudden turns or breaking hard. Learn to ride in all conditions, it makes you a better rider. Use better tires if you all are getting flats, if your flatting because your tube got pinched, you’ve messed up putting your tire and tube in, or wrong air pressure. Oh, try nobbies in the winter rather than slicks, or cross tires. Sensibility went out the window on this one huh?
For Drew – please call in any street sweeping (along bike lanes) requests to the CoV operations maintenance line: 360.696.8177
Remember this and other bike contact numbers are found on the free City of Vancouver Bicycle Resource Card (available at Vancouver area bike shops).
They are generally pretty prompt about requested street sweeping when asked.
Re: Post #7
I think each street in the city should have a designated period each week where parking is not allowed, with permanent signs specifying the hours (e.g. “No Parking Thursdays 6PM to 12 AM”). This would allow the city to schedule gravel pickup, leaf removal, etc. and have a better chance of not having to work around parked cars. Maybe garbage pickup by the private haulers could be coordinated for these no parking periods as well. Just a thought.
On another topic, does anybody know who’s responsible for maintaining the I-205 bridge path since it spans two states? I rode it last Tuesday (12/30), and the gravel and other debris was pretty bad.
I’m very thankful to live in a city where we can spend our time lamenting how horrible it is to have gravel in our bike lanes… oh the charmed life of PDX. The gravel is awesome for making dramatic stops – lock up the rear brake plant a foot and spray gravel everywhere!!! Remember your first BMX bike – enjoy it while we have it!!!
Let me remind folks that this is a website called bikeportland, you will find articles about biking. Including biking conditions.
According to this, “the expense of notification – signage, mailings, barricading – to get vehicles parked on one side or the other of a street is cost prohibitive.”
I can sympathize with that, but I’d settle for a weekly (and heavily disclaimered) email of the planned sweeping schedule for the week. Even if that only successfully gets my heap out of the way a couple times a year, that’s still an improvement over the once a year I happen to be home to hear the water truck go by.
Re: #15/16 “why skip the overpass”
-When the sweeper / cleanup trucks go by to clean up the bike lanes, a portion of the gravel goes flying everywhere, so a lot of it would go over the edge and rain down onto traffic on Hwy 26. I noticed this next to NW 14th where it parallels the I-405 on ramp from 26 – there’s a bunch of gravel in the highway ramp today from when the sweeper went by on 14th.
Re: #21 in the burbs:
– Try contacting washington county road maintenance for the main roads – their email is on the website: http://www.wc-roads.com They do have a map of “winter response” priority routes that should get sanded & cleaned. Unfortunately, I emailed them a couple days ago and never received a response. you could try the phone # listed: 503-846-ROAD (503-846-7623)
My observations in washington county as of yesterday: a good portion of Walker Rd between 185th & Murray has been cleaned up quite a bit. Cornell road west of 185th is still horrible. I did see sweepers out and working this morning on 229th & Evergreen.
So far, I’ve managed to stay upright, so the impact of the gravel/debris so far has only been 1 flat & 1 broken spoke.
Its a warm zone in the bike lanes in Oregon! becareful.. i stopped getting flats.. yippppie.. running a 35c in the back and a 23c in front. good combo
The gravel doesn’t bother me so much, but I would appreciate it cleared quickly because the sweeping will remove the horrendous amount of debris in the bike lanes. I’ve got 3 flats in the past 4 days- sharp gravel, broken tire chain fragment, nail. None of my route options have been cleared- 92nd, 122nd, 181st.
With my next flat maybe I’ll try tire liners- 2.1″ knobby tires are good for traction but very much prone to flats in these conditions. I’d hardly be riding the roads at all if large sections of the i205 and i84 bike paths weren’t closed (for months!). I appreciate all the city is doing but I don’t feel like biking is being given priority from my perspective.
Portions of Baseline in Hillsboro have been swept as well as portions of Cornell.
Today I rode from Sunset TC to Hilssbor (Intel near the airport). It was not too bad. I had no falls nor flats (I do use Schwabble tires and I take it slow).
The gravel and sand are absolutely gross. My bike (and me) has gotten so much dirtier the past few weeks because of it. On Barbur Blvd as of today there is still a pretty good amount of it left in the bike lanes still. I have been taking a lane since the snow hit.
Man some of you are whiners. Fuuny how people will voluntarily participate in cyclocross, where conditions are way worse than a little gravel on the road, and rave how fun it was.
Bring on the gravel!!!
Riding around these days is like working in a cement plant … wherever you go, there’s a gritty dust adhering to you.
These are the sorts of things you take care of when you want to have a city that’s the most sustainable one on earth, like Our Mayor Sam. Making cyclists a transportation priority in the winter would encourage people to stay out of their cars and in the saddle in the most difficult time of the year to ride.
Keeping people on bikes year-round = sustainable transportation for PDX.
re comments 29 and 32. never thought I would compare St. Louis favorably to Portland on anything, but when I lived in St. Louis (not so long ago), there was signage saying no parking on alternate Thursdays, or whatever, and the streets got cleaned (and some people got ticketed). the link provided to the PDOT website shows that the city just has not thought this through. they even list “parked cars on both sides” as one of the obstacles, item 6. how it works is this: you prohibit parking on certain days, and the street cleaner either shows up or it doesn’t, no problem. they make it sound like, oh, we can’t set a schedule because we might not keep exactly to the schedule. make the schedule. keep it when you can, don’t worry about it when you can’t. simple. when I was in Chicago years ago and was not able to move my car before the snow plow came through, the plow simply took out the car, period. gettin’ things done.
In a real Platinum level bicycle friendly community it would still snow and the community might still put down gravel to help cars’ traction. But the gravel would get picked up just as fast as it took to put it down. We wouldn’t notice the gravel, except maybe to admire how quickly the city was picking it up.
That we’re having this conversation means that Portland still isn’t ready for its Platinum rating, and LAB was premature in granting that rating.
I switched to my mountain bike for yesterday’s commute. With 2 inch low pressure tires, I still flatted from what I think was a tire chain fragment. It was a small curved piece of metal with about an 1/8 inch radius. I have Kevlar tires for that bike, but they’re narrower. So while I might not flat with those, instead I’d lose control in the shoals of gravel along my route.
I almost wiped out coming off Terwilliger and Sam Jackson while crossing Broadway into 6th Ave. There was probably 5 inches of gravel and no bike lane. It was dark and pretty scary. It was one of the few times on my bike when I thought I was going to bail. Is there anyway of finding out which areas are being cleaned up without actually riding or driving by?
i was pulled over for taking the lane on the burnside bridge by PPD. a person was honking behind me (despite two car lanes) so they yelled from their window to get back in the lane. i yelled that there was gravel and they pulled me over.
their concern was the angry driver behind me, that my safety could be compromised. they did not seem to care when i explained to them that i could legally take the lane if the bike lane is dangerous.
to their credit they seemingly were concerned about my safety and were civil.
Barbur was still a mess as of 7am this morning…and there’s a huge bit of chain debris on the already dangerous 405 overpass. Despite several phone calls and emails to the appropirate parties.
I’m being patient, but it frustrating to deal with impatient and hostile drivers that just don’t get it.
you think the gravel is bad here, i was riding in gresham last night on division (thanks to an old man who gave me bad directions) and had to sit in a 12 – 18 inch “bike lane” 1 1/2″ full of gravel, tree branches, etc.
im thinking of taking my bike to the self service car wash so i can pressure wash it!
I hear ya, man. I ride Division from 148th to 75th at 6:00am when traffic is light, but I no longer ride back that way during my evening commute. Way scary in that narrow lane. And it needs to be repainted, cars wore off the stripe during the bad weather.
Try Mill/Market/Main about 1/2 mi. North of Division. You won’t fear for your life the whole way. Still dirty though.
Snowflake Seven, you may need to check the individual cities’ websites for their streets person.
Tigard’s street guy, Vance Walker, is a real great guy, very responsive. I noticed that Durham, McDonald, Gaarde, and the rest of 121st have all been swept to the curb (where possible).
Tualatin’s street guy, I forget his name, will call you back within an hour of sending him an email, and is also very responsive. He took care of some nasty glass in the bike lane over on Bridgeport Rd by The Village for me.
Of course, some of the roads that pass through the Southern Suburbs are state roads, and are the responsibility of ODOT. Hall, Upper Boones, Scholls– all state roads, all ODOT. If you do happen to convince them to sweep the bike lanes, I will bless you and kiss your feet. 🙂 Not literally with the kissing. 🙂
SW Multnomah Blvd has been swept! Thanks to Clint and crew for their great work. The reality is even with the sweeping there is still some gravel in the bike lane for a while. Sad but true.