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.