Whatever happened to the Mississippi hill bike lane?

Posted by on April 10th, 2009 at 10:56 am

Temporary markings were painted back in June…

but now they’re gone and the plans are in flux.

Back in June we reported that the City of Portland Bureau of Transportation had put down preliminary pavement markings on the uphill portion of N. Mississippi Avenue (Google Map here). After a bit of investigation, we found out that they planned to adjust the existing lane configuration in order to create more space for uphill bike traffic.

But now plans are on hold because the Bureau of Transportation’s Maintenance Operations Group (formerly the Bureau of Maintenance), which manages a busy truck and equipment yard mid-way up the hill, says they have concerns.

The road is steep and has several sharp corners that constrain sight lines. The uphill direction is particularly dangerous for bike traffic because of the vast speed differential between a climbing biker and a speedy car. PBOT wanted to give a bit of breathing room for bike traffic.

The plan, as we reported back in June, was to narrow a painted center median that currently exists on the street and move the motor vehicle lanes over to make room for a new, 6 foot uphill bike lane (which would increase to 7 feet wide in corners).

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The new bike lane showed no signs of progress through the summer. Then, when Portland was hit with several major snowstorms over the winter, the markings — which were only made with temporary spray paint — wore completely off.

A few weeks ago, BikePortland reader and North Portland resident Jessica Roberts emailed the Bureau of Transportation inquiring about the status of the new bike lane. Roberts, who is several months pregnant, rides the hill daily and wrote that, “my growing belly and I use this every day and I’d really love to have a little more definition between car space and bike space.”

The PBOT staffer working on the project is Jeff Smith. Smith says the project hasn’t materialized yet because the Maintenance Operations Group opposes the plans. “When they saw it laid out there,” Smith told me via telephone this week, “they were concerned about the safety of downhill cyclists.”

The blue SUV is in the downhill (southbound)
lane. The driveway to the maintenance yard
is in the background.

Since the plan would narrow the downhill (southbound) lane, Maintenance staff was worried that when their trucks had to slow to enter the yard, there wouldn’t be enough room for people on bikes to get by them. (Currently, there’s a full center turn lane solely for use by Maintenance trucks. The new plans would mean trucks would not have a full center lane and would therefore be in the traffic lane). Smith says they took this concern and came up with a revised design. But even after an attempt to revise the design, Smith says the Maintenance folks remain “leery” of the plans.

“They don’t like the idea of mixing bikes and trucks,” said Smith.

Smith estimates that about 350 people bike on the hill every day and he says he’ll continue to work internally to come to an agreement on the plans. As of Wednesday of this week, no decision had been made about how to move forward.

PBOT Director Sue Keil has been briefed about the project and she is expected to meet with Maintenance Operations Group staff to make a final decision by next week.

In the meantime, riders like Roberts will just have to wait, and hope people in cars and trucks give her plenty of room when they pass.

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sue
Guest
sue

This is dumb. Do they think people will stop riding that hill if there is no bike lane? People are going to ride that hill regardless. So, why the opposition to the bike lane? Are the maintenance people bad drivers and don’t want to deal with the possible legal backlash that could happen if they can’t maneuver their vehicles in a way that doesn’t impinge on the bike lane?

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
Guest

Do they think people will stop riding that hill if there is no bike lane?

that’s kind of what struck me as strange to their opposition as well. Bikes will be on this hill no matter what… so it seems smart to find a way to engineer/re-configure the roadway to make it work better/safer for all modes.

we also shouldn’t forget that the deaths of Tracey Sparling and Brett Jarolimek still weigh heavily on the minds of all city truck drivers.

ash...housewares
Guest
ash...housewares

Case of upsidedown chaulk paint: $40
Handy paint-in-a-straight-line-roller thingy: $15
Making your own bike lane: Priceless

Jessica Roberts
Guest
Jessica Roberts

Well, not that I think this is a good enough reason, but the logic is that today there’s a center two-way turn lane, so left-turning trucks are not in the downhill through lane at present. In the proposed arrangement, they will be. But still! I want me a lane!!

DJ Hurricane
Guest
DJ Hurricane

Obviously, the Maintenance logic does not hold water. But this begs the question of whether a bike lane really improves safety.

I don’t think the bike lane will help much unless the State starts educating Oregon drivers of their obligation to yield to bicyclists in a bike lane under ORS 811.050.

Jimmy
Guest
Jimmy

On a similar note…

Whatever happened with the plan to remove the stop signs on SE Caruthers?

http://bikeportland.org/2008/11/25/city-will-remove-stop-signs-on-se-caruthers/

Everyday when I approach this intersection, I think to myself, will this be the day the signs are gone?

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
Guest

Whatever happened with the plan to remove the stop signs on SE Caruthers?

Good question.

last I heard there was someone who opposed the plan. I have been trying to f/u on the story. stay tuned.

cyclist
Guest
cyclist

Jimmy: I’ve been curious about that too. I know these things don’t happen overnight, but it’s four and a half months, I really wish they’d come in and do the job.

joe
Guest
joe

f/u is a funny way to describe the process of getting information from city governments.

Dave
Guest

Also seems to me like some kind of separation there would be better than nothing – and just trust that bikers coming down the hill will be responsible enough to look up and see if there’s a big truck stopped in front of them. (Unless there’s something I’m not quite understanding about the location, as I’m not super familiar with it)

Babygorilla
Guest
Babygorilla

Seems to me that a dedicated turn lane into a city truck maintainence facility is not something that should be eliminated if the goal is to move all traffic efficiently. How many city trucks enter and leave the yard every day?

Spencer Boomhower
Guest
Spencer Boomhower

“we also shouldn’t forget that the deaths of Tracey Sparling and Brett Jarolimek still weigh heavily on the minds of all city truck drivers.”

That was the first thing I thought of, and I could see how the fact that both of those deaths occurred in bike lanes probably doesn’t fill them with confidence about adding one here, however dissimilar the situation.

A bike lane here seems like a really good idea nonetheless. It’s just always worth emphasizing with opponents in cases like this.

They probably also think bike lane = more bikes. What they might not realize is that this road is designated a biking road on bike maps already; e.g. it’s a “low traffic through street” on bycycle.org. So a bike lane may not increase the bike traffic as much as they fear.

I could see them having a problem with the loss of the center turn lane, if that’s the planned design… Would a bike lane fit without removing the turn lane? Could a narrower turn lane work? Basically not a turn lane, just a reeeeally wide yellow strip in the middle, just enough to keep them from swinging into oncoming traffic when they turn. Does such traffic control striping even exist?

Would sharrows work in a situation like this? Like, if we actually used sharrows and if drivers knew what they meant.

Schrauf
Guest

It seems clear to me the concern is not bikes in the proposed bike lane traveling uphill, but the fact trucks turning left, facing downhill, will no longer have a center turn lane. They fear some stupid cyclists will occasionally pass left turning trucks on the left, if there is no room to pass on the right, rather than simply wait behind the truck like most responsible road users do. I can understand their concern given I have seen cyclists attempt such a move more than once. I figure anyone doing that, bike, car or otherwise, deserves what they get.

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

The Bureau of Maintenance opposition is ridiculous. They should train their drivers better first. A couple years ago my brother and I were riding down the hill, taking the lane of course, when an impatient BofM driver lost his cool and tried to pass us at a high speed while honking. At the same time a car rounded the corner in the middle of the road in front of him and in the ensuing chaos I very nearly lost my life. We followed the driver into the parking lot and confronted him, nonviolently, and he unleashed a string of epithets including the homophobic ‘f’ word. Amazed, I went up to the office and filed a complaint with the clearly-unconcerned clerk… and never heard a thing. They don’t give a sh*t about cyclists — even PBOT administrators readily admit in PSU classes that it is a “different culture” over there.

ash…housewares, I am with you. It may soon be time to take the D.I.Y. route.

nuovorecord
Guest
nuovorecord

@Andrew #11

I agree. This is primarily a driver training issue. I had to leap back onto the sidewalk just yesterday when a B of M truck blew through a just-turned red light. Just because they work for the City doesn’t mean that they have the same mindset as those who work in the Bike Planning department.

nuovorecord
Guest
nuovorecord

Ooops, was replying to post #14, not #11.

99th Monkey
Guest
99th Monkey

I used to bike up and down this section on road daily, working at the custom cabinet shop at the top. I used to NOT use the downhill bike lane on the way home as I was easily at the posted speed limit and felt it safer to be seen by uphill traffic if I took the lane. In my opinion, this is a great case to have no downhill bike lane but instead have bike sharrows in the road. If I every came up on a slower vehicle going downhill I would slow and keep a 2-second gap. Same if I saw a DOT veh in the turn lane. In other words, I used to ride this 5 or so block section of Mississippi like any other experienced Portland bicyclist does. I expect at least one, “but, but, you break the law leaving the bike lane.” chuckles.

xorbit
Guest
xorbit

ok, lets see. strategic connection between two heavily-used bike areas. lots of public land on adjacent to roadway (under freeway).

hmmm… how about *a separated bike path up the hill* that runs next to the road.

oh, ok, its true, i just came back from the netherlands and am still in shock at the infrastructure there. i know its just a pipedream even in the most “bike-friend” u.s. city.

Jeff Smith
Guest
Jeff Smith

Schrauf (#13) “They fear some stupid cyclists will occasionally pass left turning trucks on the left, if there is no room to pass on the right”.

The downhill travel lane would be 18 feet wide in the proposed design. For comparison, 10 feet is a pretty typical lane width for lower volume collector streets throughout Portland.

99th Monkey (#17): “In my opinion, this is a great case to have no downhill bike lane but instead have bike sharrows in the road.”

see above – the proposed design does not include a downhill bike lane for the reason you cite, as bicyclists are moving at speed not too different from motorized traffic.

Jim F
Guest
Jim F

Got to admit I was really looking forward to the bike lane for uphill travel. I take that road every day. It is a bit scary as you are grinding up the hill to hear cars flying up on you from behind. Hopefull they will get it all figured out soon.

driveslow
Guest
driveslow

++ sorry for going off topic ++

jessica roberts is pregnant – congrats!!!

I think the pregnancy rate for bike advocates has surpassed the increase in ridership

I am a little concerned that we have made biking too sexy in Portland

In all seriousness, Jessica is an all-star – congratulations

Lenny Anderson
Guest
Lenny Anderson

Striping an uphill bike lane on this steep extra wide street is a no-brainer. BOM needs to get yanked into the 21st Portland is Platinum century.
Speaking of gaps…can we get a bike lane from Tillamook Bikeway down 7th to Weidler? There is plenty of width with most of the way no parking or excess fast food parking.
And finally it looks like the Multnomah gap between Grand and MLK will get paint soon. Thanks PDOT…no more playing tag with buses.

carless in pdx
Guest
carless in pdx

I don’t know. It makes sense to have a bike lane going uphill, but perhaps we should just have mixed traffic going downhill, since any cyclist could easily surpass the speed limit by gravity alone.

I thought the death of Jarolimek taught us that bike lanes aren’t always safe?

I live on SE 28th which sees a HELL of a lot more bike traffic, and we don’t have bike lanes at all. We get to bike in the door zone and share the road with cars and huge Fred Meyer semi trucks.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

I used to ride that route everyday two and from work, and I never had a truck use the center lane when turning. I had to slam my brakes on to avoid hitting them, as they regularly pull out in front of bike traffic only to make a left turn 50 yards down the hill. The bureau’s reason for opposing the plan doesn’t hold up if their driver’s are blocking the entire lane of traffic either way. That being said, on the way back up Miss, I never felt uncomfortable with the proximity of other vehicles- as most drivers give plenty of room.

Jessica Roberts
Guest
Jessica Roberts

Hey driveslow #21 – thanks for the props, whoever you are! I wish my doctor were as enthusiastic as you about pregnant ladies biking…if she had her way I would have ditched the bike for a car long since now. If I thought I was slow up that hill before, it’s getting worse every day…

Jeff Smith
Guest
Jeff Smith

carless (#23) – “I don’t know. It makes sense to have a bike lane going uphill, but perhaps we should just have mixed traffic going downhill, since any cyclist could easily surpass the speed limit by gravity alone.”

No downhill bike lane is proposed, for the reason you state.

Steve Hoyt-McBeth
Guest

I am sorry to hear that some BikePortland readers have had negative experiences with Maintenance drivers, but I encourage everyone not to lump all of the drivers together.

Roger Geller, our City Bike Coordinator, regularly notes in national presentations that one of the things that elevates Portland over other US bike cities is that our Maintenance crews have an ethic toward maintaining biking facilities.

When I’ve visited colleagues with other major city bike departments, I hear horror stories of maintenance crews that leave big piles of asphalt in the bike lane, a closed door to coordinating re-striped with re-paving projects (which is how Jeff Smith/PBOT has managed to create over 40 miles of bike lanes for pennies), and an indifference to keeping bike lanes free of gravel and detritus.

It was PBOT Maintenance drivers that initiated a safety awareness campaign between cyclists and trucks.

metal cowboy
Guest

Steve – thanks for that education about specific things the Main staff does for cyclists in Portland. Having biked in cities all over the country, I’ve always felt like our lanes and shoulders were much cleaner than other cities our size. It’s good to get specifics though. FYI, bring spare tubes and nerves of steel in places like Tampa, Kansas City, Houston Tucson.. I could go on but Portland streets really are visibly cleaner than almost any urban area I’ve biked.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

@ #3 Ash —

Best idea I’ve heard yet. Instead of lamenting the world we don’t have, why aren’t we taking more positive ACTION to create the world we envision?

Every year I get get older, I grow more and more impatient with the workings of political machinery.
I long for more of us to brainstorm ways to implement that better reality so many of us dream of.

are
Guest
are

I really do not see where there is room for a striped bike lane here, and I do not think you want to get rid of the center turn lane for maintenance trucks. If the problem with taking the lane uphill is overtaking cars, maybe what is needed is a much lower posted speed limit and some enforcement.

bikey Mama carie
Guest
bikey Mama carie

I tried to bike uphill on the sidewalk Thursday night, yuck! I thought i’d be at a snail’s pace and didn’t want to slow other cyclists going up, so I took the sidewalk. The sidewalk is crazy narrow, a few signs and those evergreen tree limbs were too much!
Please figure out the sharrows/lane!! I’m going to keep riding up and down Mississippi.

are
Guest
are

re 3 and 29. the problem with a diy approach here is that a bike “lane” as such is probably not appropriate to the situation, see my comment at 30. what is needed is for motorists to be made to wait to pass. this can be accomplished by taking the lane. if you need “infrastructure,” it should be in the form of sharrows and lower speed limits. the sharrows you can do diy, but a lane would be a mistake.

DJ Hurricane
Guest
DJ Hurricane

Lower speed limits don’t work because virtually every motorist violates that law (and then complains about cyclists breaking trafic laws), and the police don’t enforce them. Speed limit laws would address the problem if they were either observed by motorists or enforced. But I don’t see either of those things happening any time soon.

RyNO Dan
Guest
RyNO Dan

The stop signs at Caruthers and SE Water are gone. Happy biking.