The Worst Day of the Year Ride is February 11th

First look at PBOT’s new ‘buffered bike lanes’ on SE Holgate

Posted by on August 24th, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Looking east on SE Holgate.
(Photos © J. Maus)

The City of Portland Bureau of Transportation unveiled their latest bikeway treatment over the weekend. On SE Holgate, from I-205 to SE 122nd, PBOT has removed a motor vehicle lane in each direction to make room for a 10-foot wide, bicycle only travel lane — a.k.a. a “buffered” or “enhanced” bike lane.

“I think if we can successfully discourage people from driving in it, it will make Holgate a nice street to ride on.”
— Jeff Smith, City of Portland Bureau of Transportation

I made my way out there this morning to get a first-hand look.

My first impression was, “Where’s the paint?” The new lane is nice and wide, but there isn’t much in the way of visual cues that the lane is meant for bicycle traffic only. According to PBOT’s Jeff Smith, in order to save money in maintenance costs, they put down only as much striping as they felt necessary.

Buffered bike lanes on SE Holgate-2

10 feet of space, just for bikes.

Initial designs (which you can see here) called for three, diagonal hash-marks, six-feet apart (every 50 feet) in addition to a longitudinal line to outline the 3.5-foot buffer zone between motor vehicle traffic and bicycle traffic. But the design painted on the road today (cross-section here) has far less paint. The hash marks are 15-feet apart and there is no outline to the buffer. Also, there is only one bike lane character per block.

In addition to concerns about maintenance costs, Smith said PBOT traffic engineers thought the initial design might give the cue that cars were not allowed to cross over the lines at all (legally, they can only cross into the bike lane to park).

Smith added that while his initial impressions are that the current amount of paint will be adequate, he also says they will monitor the project and add more paint later if necessary. “From my impression, the diagonal lines jump out pretty well.”

Buffered bike lanes on SE Holgate-3

It may take some time before
folks realize that this new
lane is just for bikes.

While I observed traffic for about 15 minutes this morning, I saw several people driving in the new bike lane. I also noticed two or three people who drove in it for almost an entire block prior to making a right turn. On a positive note, I observed two motor vehicle operators who began to drive in the bike lane, but then must have noticed the paint and stayed in their lane (or they noticed a guy with a helmet and a camera standing nearby!).

This is a new type of bike lane, and at 10 feet wide with a minimal amount of paint demarcating it as such, it’s hard to fault people for not knowing what it is. I asked Smith if PBOT has any special signage planned (like perhaps a “Bikes Only” marker) and he said currently the project does not call for any.

In addition to providing a place for bikes on Holgate, Smith hopes the new bike lanes will help bring motor vehicle speeds down. During a speed analysis performed last year, PBOT found that over half of the people drove over the posted 35 mph speed limit.

These high speeds make it imperative that the bike lane is respected by motor vehicle operators. Smith agrees: “I think if we can successfully discourage people from driving in it, it will make Holgate a nice street to ride on.”

— This $30,000 project was requested by the Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association and was paid for by TriMet (they have a park-and-ride facility at 92nd and Holgate for their new Green Line MAX).

— Note: The project is not complete. Diagonal lines still need to be painted on the north (westbound) side of the street.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Kathleen McDade August 24, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    Yeah, it doesn’t look like much of a buffer. Might be better w/ some colored paint, too.

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  • KruckyBoy August 24, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    This seems like another example of the City of Portland using traffic symbols that no one has seen before (or fully understands). With the bike lanes as wide as they are I can foresee a ton of vehicle drivers mistaking them for actual traffic lanes and the hash marks for ‘no lane changes’. Time will tell. I’m thrilled they are there, but I think there could be better markings all the way around.

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  • TTse
    TTse August 24, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    In the language of preexisting road markings, those diagonal lines are meaningless.

    They would have been better off simply adding another white line to deliniate the buffer. That third white line would have also made the lane NOT look so much like a normal lane of traffic.

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  • Kt August 24, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    That doesn’t look like it’s going to work as far as keeping cars separate from bikes.

    People are so used to having two lanes there to drive in, what sort of re-education is being done? Signs are good, but you’d have to have them at the beginning of every block. More paint is good, especially paint that says “Bikes Only” at the same one-per-block interval– maybe a third of the way into the block. Paint AND signs, that would be great.

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  • Joe August 24, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    This looks great! only concern is autos
    using it/passing lane.

    ride safe all!

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  • Aaron August 24, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    I agree with the comments that this is a great effort to improve cycling. I think that if drivers see cyclists in it, they will realize that it’s a bike lane. However it’s also absurd that the city has to skimp on paint, while massive funding is going on for expansion projects elsewhere. How much does paint cost anyway??
    If there were at least two bike symbols per block, that would make more difference.
    (no criticism of Jeff. I know he’s working hard)
    I look forward to seeing this myself soon

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  • lothar August 24, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    I think the only symbol a driver would recognize immediately would be concrete road barriers that they use for highway dividers and to divert traffic during construction. Place those every couple hundred feet for a few months and I think the autos will “get it”.

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  • Jessica Roberts August 24, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    Hm, when I heard “buffered bike lane” I pictured something more like the NYC 9th Ave Bike Lane (photo here). Now that’s a clear use of paint to differentiate between bike space and car space. I hope this works but it seems possible that there’s just not enough direction to clarify what’s supposed to happen.

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  • Bill Stites August 24, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    I’m all for minimalist design, but these lanes clearly need more paint.
    Please, PBOT don’t start thinking you should save paint to save money …

    The usual second solid line marking the border between the bike lane and the buffer zone would be most helpful in keeping cars out of the lane; and would serve to get these lanes to look like other bike lanes around the city. Consistency is paramount, no?

    What does the ‘big bad book’ have to say about this? [federal MTCwhateveritis]

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  • OnTheRoad August 24, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    Seems pretty minimalist and likely confusing, but I’m not sure full diagonal stripes would be much better.

    On the east-bound Hawthorne Bridge viaduct (just past the bus stop), there is a lane that has full diagonal stripes. Hardly a few days go by that I don’t see an auto using that lane. (It probably doesn’t help that the overhead green directional sign seems to indicate this is the lane to SE McLoughlin.)

    Once the Holgate markings start to get worn away (like bike lane markings all over town), drivers may see their lane and the bike lane as just one large car lane.

    On another score, I wish traffic engineers would stop using bicycle riders as traffic calming devices.

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  • Tom August 24, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    This project is a joke. To save money and meet some requirements concurrently, I am appalled, no disgusted is a more appropriate descriptive, at the decision to use this approach.

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  • BURR August 24, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    Wow, so PDOT thinks this is a safe and acceptable road treatment for cyclists but sharrows are not. I want some of what they are smoking!

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  • Roger Geller August 24, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    ummm, have any of you ridden in them yet?

    I did and I was impressed with how they felt and operated. I also recognize that my time actually riding it was quite limited and it will likely take weeks if not months to see how operations shake out (as it does with almost any significant new transportation project). But, in the time I did ride it I saw no incursions by automobiles and, perhaps more tellingly, I saw a father riding in the bike lane with his perhaps six-year old son. Somehow I doubt they would have been out there in the absence of the bike lane. They likely would not have even been out there in a 5-foot bike lane…

    I can tell you that after riding on Holgate, and then heading back west via Woodstock, the bike lanes on Woodstock seemed a bit puny.

    Stay tuned folks and keep those knees from jerking for just a bit because I’ve got a feeling that these bike lanes could be a game-changer…

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  • Bent Bloke August 24, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    Isn’t this something of a demonstration project? Let’s give it a chance and see how motorists and bikers react. As an Outer SE resident, I’m grateful for /any/ bike infrastructure.

    I’m going to take Holgate on the way home to see this in person.

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  • GLV August 24, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    If I’m not mistaken, it’s not paint. It’s some type of plastic compound that requires high levels of heat (think blow torch) to apply to the roadway. That drives up the cost considerably.

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  • John Milliken August 24, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    PDOT /TRIMET and neighborhood collaboration on the idea is excellent – execution is poor.
    1. Design consistency gets a “D”. Project needs to be consistent with marking already in use in downtown Portland; i.e., green boxes, arrows and striping. Goal: Safety and Motorist/bicyclist education
    2. Temporary Signs
    PDOT could have used or had made up in their sign shop a few of those orange construction temporary folding signs denoting “Bike Lane Only Ahead”. They already have those for “Bike Lane Ends” for road/curb construction projects.
    3. Funding
    PDOT should have discussed with and pre-arranged neighborhood, bike community or a sponsors to kick in money or volunteers. $30,000 doen’t get you much these days. A prudent project manager would have seen that and planned/sought partnering accordingly (PDOT gets a “C-” on planning / outreach.)
    4. Pre-construction / project execution planning
    Hold one (or more as I assume at least one was put together) to align project scope/funding with intended end result.

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  • Jeff Smith August 24, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    just to add a little bit to Jonathan’s story —

    “According to PBOT’s Jeff Smith, in order to save money in maintenance costs, they put down only as much striping as they felt necessary.”

    More is not always better, sometimes it can just be more…confusing.

    Installation costs and maintenance costs are certainly considerations (when are they not?) but the salient concern is to keep people from driving in the bike lane. I’m confident that the current iteration will work well, but if for some reason it doesn’t there are additional measures we can still take.

    “I asked Smith if PBOT has any special signage planned (like perhaps a “Bikes Only” marker) and he said currently the project does not call for any.”

    No, there’s no special signing — but the bike lane symbols are installed 3 or 4 times more frequently than usual for a bike lane. And certainly, a “Bikes Only” pavement marking could be added easily enough.

    Give it a ride for yourself and see what you think.

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  • Notorious Kelly August 24, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    I’m not a cyclist, but I’m all for accommodating our cyclists safely; I don’t believe this design accomplishes that goal.

    Whenever you have something new, you have to err on the side of caution that people won’t just understand what you’re trying to accomplish. You can’t skimp on the ‘bikes only’ signage if you want people to change their habits.

    Add to that out-of-town drivers (like the Boring woman who recently drove head-on into the train) and it’s a recipe for real problems.

    This lane needs ample clear markings and maybe even some of those bend-down lane markers or something.

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  • Meghan H August 24, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    Drivers have been used to having two lanes on this stretch of Holgate, if I’m not mistaken. Without signs indicating that something here has changed, it will take drivers some time before they figure it out. It may also help to have some police enforcement of the “bikes only” space.

    I will make an effort to go out and ride this area (near my home anyway) soon to see how it feels, and to show drivers where bikes will be on this street from now on.

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  • Brad August 24, 2009 at 3:01 pm


    Jonathan has a picture of a Ford Ranger pick-up using the buffered bike lane as a normal auto traffic lane.


    Roger Geller, who is in no way motivated to defend the work of his employer, sees a touching father/son moment, makes assumptions about their “concerned interest” being washed away by the new Sherwin-Williams stripes, and declares this project a huge success.

    Here’s hoping no bike riders get “game changed” into the afterlife on Holgate.

    Shouldn’t those little white slash marks be raised plastic bumps that discourage drivers from crossing into the lane? You know, an obvious “THIS IS FOR BIKES!” visual cue? (Doing a face palm right now.)

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  • Rollie August 24, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    If you’re going to do something, don’t do it all half-assed. Do it right or don’t do it at all! You’re telling me the city can’t afford some PAINT?

    I refer you again to the math. Assume a rather generous lane-striping cost of $0.25 per foot, using fancy long-lasting paint, and including labor. It’s 1.4 miles from I-205 to 122nd Ave. 1.4 miles x 5280 feet/mile x $0.25/foot x 2 lines = about $3,700. (If you use normal street paint that wears off quickly you can divide that number by about 4 to get about $1,000.)

    $4,000 divided by PBOT’s total 2009-2010 budget of $98 million, is 0.004 percent.

    Call me crazy but I bet they could dig up that kind of money.

    Especially considering that the per-foot cost of repaving a motor vehicle lane is at least a hundred times that amount. And repaving is an activity that seems to keep on proceeding freely without any particular budgetary hurdles, and produces a final product far in excess of what a cyclist would ever want or need, in terms of width and thickness of pavement, signalization requirements, etc.

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  • beth h August 24, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    My sister rode it and reported back that several cars tried to pass on the right of their lane, which required them to go partially into this new expanded lane. Kinda scary.

    She suggests (and I concur) that perhaps something much more garish is in order, at least in the beginning, to catch attention; and that this ought to be combined with a media campaign to inform folks better.

    A step in a better direction, though it needs some work.

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  • Blair August 24, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    This is really an inadequate job. Put the other line on there, PBOT.

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  • sabes August 24, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    Wow, that’s just horrible. Horrible. It would have been better not to paint anything. They gave cars no reason to stay out of that lane. Whoever approved that should be ashamed of themselves. And, perhaps, fired.

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  • ggw August 24, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    Looks like the lane could you a bunch of paint to seperate the bike lane from the auto lane or at least the cycling lane needs a load of “Bike Lane Only” or cycling symbols the entire length of the lane. It’s not very well marked as bike-only.

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  • Steve Bozz August 24, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    I’m interested in learning how much signage costs. To me, signs every other block noting that the right lane is for bikes only would be more effective than the street paintings.

    I have the same thought whenever I bike on the Historic Scenic Highway in the Gorge. I don’t think there are ANY signs that remind road users to watch for bicycles, and there are many hidden curves and small lanes to contend with. When I rode my bike to San Francisco, I noticed that most of the ‘Share the Road’ signs were put up by construction crews, however there were hardly any municipal yellow share the road signs. A little gentle reminder here and there goes a long way, especially when there’s no shoulder!

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  • Schrauf August 24, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    Relax a little. I’m all for experiments, and if they decide to add a lane to better outline the buffer, that will be easy to do later. And it seems like that extra line would clarify the right lane is a bike lane.

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  • Blah Blah Blah August 24, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    Umm…Is it really that big of a deal if cars drive in this lane if there are no bikes in it. I’m sure people will get the clue eventually when they see bikes in the lane.

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  • Jacob August 24, 2009 at 10:47 pm

    I’ve ridden in them twice so far.

    They seem nice, but I do believe there needs to be more signage, both on polls and on the bike path.

    Also the termination just before 92nd seems a bit messy, going west they just dump you out into a vehicle traffic lane (just before the 205 path crossing) going east, technically the bike lane doesn’t start for a few hundred feet from the 205 path, this doesn’t make sense to me, they should start/end at the path, better yet they should carry down holgate to the library and beyond to 82nd. Though that may be dreaming a bit.

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  • Jonathan August 25, 2009 at 1:02 am

    A customer of mine almost hit me today in the bike lane on Sw Broadway.
    A classic right hook, I’m in the bike lane, he zoomed past me, no blinker while he pulls in right.

    There are hundred of cyclists that use the very same bike lane everyday, all day but somehow $30,000 is spent on this Holgate project?

    Where will the motorcycle cops be tomorrow? Not on Holgate.


    P.S. I sensed sarcasm in post #13 so I decided to refresh my memory of who Roger Geller is.
    My roommate (who was also almost hit this morning with me) and I had a good chuckle when we googled him.

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  • BURR August 25, 2009 at 7:23 am

    #29 – exactly! When are these new wider bike lanes coming to NE Broadway and SE Hawthorne???

    IMO, they really won’t work as intended unless right turning vehicles are also allowed to use them or right turns across the bike lane are banned entirely.

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  • Bent Bloke August 25, 2009 at 7:35 am

    Well, I rode the new bike lane on Holgate yesterday, and I like it. Every car I saw seemed to ‘get it.’ And what a wonderfully wide lane! Plenty of room to avoid the door zone, or pass another cyclist without going out into the traffic lane.

    I did notice that the angled hash marks thin out between 112th and 122nd, which made the bike lane look more like a normal traffic lane. I think the number of hash marks in the buffer zone should be consistent with the section from I205 to 112th.

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  • Roger Geller August 25, 2009 at 9:06 am

    Jonathan #30:

    Glad I gave you a chuckle. Many on this site know who I am, which is why I use my name.

    “Sarcasm.” Perhaps. Mostly just a bit of frustration with the detailed criticism about a design that most of the commenters haven’t yet experienced first-hand.

    Many of the comments about this design are quite similar to comments we heard about the first time we used traffic diversion, the first time we used speed bumps, the first time we used curb extensions, the first time we striped bike lanes of any sort…So I guess it’s not that surprising. Those are probably the same comments heard the first time a traffic signal appeared…

    The intent of my comment was to communicate this message:

    Go ride the Holgate bike lanes and see for yourself how they feel.
    Recognize that this is a new design that we have every intention of modifying if it doesn’t perform as intended.
    Recognize also that it is going to take a little adjustment time for the people who have been using Holgate daily for the past years.

    Though I am admittedly not impartial I can tell you from first-hand experience that a 10-foot wide bike lane feels awfully nice…

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  • TTse
    TTse August 25, 2009 at 9:24 am

    blah, blah, blah #28,

    The big deal is two-fold.

    First, the fact that people were immediately driving in it is proof that it is a design failure. As someone who’s been in the design field, I’ve learned that trying to argue with users is the surest sign of failure. Sorry Roger Geller, if a bunch of them are doing something wrong, it’s NOT their fault. The fault is with your product. You have to take a breath, and not take it personally.

    Second, the problem with someone driving when “there are no bikes in it” is that that is exactly when someone is going to get killed. Not too hard to imagine a driver saying, “but I didn’t see them!” Sort of why it’s a good idea to signal a lane change even when no one is there. Because it’s when you think no one’s there that you most need to signal.

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  • KruckyBoy August 25, 2009 at 10:33 am

    There are hundred of cyclists that use the very same bike lane everyday, all day but somehow $30,000 is spent on this Holgate project?

    Because outer SE consistently gets ignored for bike oriented projects as opposed to inner Portland which seems to get ‘love’ several times a year. Thus, it is often a chore to get through while inner Portland offers a myriad of options.

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  • Brad August 25, 2009 at 11:10 am

    “Though I am admittedly not impartial I can tell you from first-hand experience that a 10-foot wide bike lane feels awfully nice…”

    Doesn’t Roger Geller sound like Kramer when he adopted the highway on “Seinfeld”? Many may remember episode where he re-striped the traffic lanes in the middle of the night to create a more luxurious driving experience only to create disasterous consequences.

    Life imitating art?

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  • Jonathan August 25, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    #36 The Seinfeld episode was the first thing I thought of when I read Roger’s reply. Imagining Elaine with that goofy grin swerving back and forth.

    I have ridden the new buffered bike lane and I used to ride that stretch before it was put in.

    Just saying, who isn’t a little worried about the plans the city has for these types of projects?
    Has anyone really looked at the horrible position the city is going to put cyclists in on SW Oak, and SW Pine starting in September?


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  • lothar August 25, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    I think PDOT was trying to make it look like this on the cheap.(minus the road block)

    At first glance those diagonal lines mad no sense to me. Had they done a “Platinum” worthy job it would have been more obvious.

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  • commuter August 25, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    I take Holgate every day (via car) and I can’t say I care for having traffic driven into one lane. People are stupid enough with their driving there, it just extends the amount of time I have to deal with them.

    However, I didn’t know anything about this project and it was very clear to me that I couldn’t drive in that lane. It’s a solid white line and the bike symbols are right there. People generally stayed in the left lane. I’m guessing the people who drove in the bike lane did it out of frustration/anger not confusion.

    Personally, I feel like if they wanted to pick an area to do this to it should be for the poor cyclists riding through the Hillsdale area onto Barbur. Now that feels like a total death trap. I’m always afraid I’m going to hit one. Thank goodnes they are pros!

    Or do it to Barbur itself where everyone’s going 45-55mph and the cyclists have a tiny lane to navigate.

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  • Jonathan August 25, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    Found the link for the upcoming project. Should be great for all of the out of town drivers during the Holidays to try and figure out while folks buzz by on bikes.

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  • Joe August 25, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    Though I haven’t ridden this new bike lane, I shudder to think of what a winter-time ride on it will be like with an unknowing driver, darkness at 4 pm and a drizzle. Car back ending a bicyclist perhaps?

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  • k. August 26, 2009 at 9:02 am

    To all the nay sayers: I’ve got experience with traffic engineering and while I tend to agree with many who think the striping on this project may not be quite up to snuff, I’m willing to wait and see how it works out. I know the budget and labor limitations the City is constrained with. I also know they’ve played a pretty big roll in making this City as bike friendly as it is, and with the reputations it’s gotten as such.

    I think many of you can’t see the forest for the trees, so to speak. If this bike lane striping turns out to be a problem, I have no doubt it will be rectified. At least the City is willing to experiment with new bike line options and designs and devote a significant number of staff to bike programs. Many other cities wouldn’t be paying any mind to cyclists at all.

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  • OnTheRoad August 26, 2009 at 10:18 am

    Here is KGW’s (of course you know they’ll emphasize conflict) take on the “chaos” of the Holgate buffered bike lane.

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  • kitty August 26, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    Agree with one of the others: this is just one more confusing pavement marking Portland is using. There are ways of telling drivers “hey, don’t drive here” already in existence. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time folks.

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  • swpdxbikecommuter August 27, 2009 at 9:03 am


    Commuter–thank you! I feel some degree of fear every time that I make that trip from Capitol to Barbur and in to Front/Naito. I try to be careful and constantly aware and I appreciate drivers who are, too.

    Barbur is ripe for some sort of revisions to accomodate bicycles from one end to the other.

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  • BURR August 27, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    @#42. The city of Portland has installed all kinds of unsafe bike facilities and to my knowledge has yet to remove any bike lanes that have proven to be unsafe to cyclists.

    Prime example: bike lane on SW 14th at Burnside, already responsible for one fatality, yet still there. Another example: Bike lane on SW Broadway, a right-hook door-prise bike lane almost its entire length, also still there despite numerous crashes and at least one cyclist fatality.

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  • Rachel August 30, 2009 at 11:18 am

    I wrote to PBOT asking whether they had considered rumble strips as an additional, physical buffer between cars and cyclists.

    The only complication I thought of would be bicyclists navigating the strips, though they could be installed so as to allow periodic crossover points for cyclists.


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  • Rick October 15, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    It might be a great idea for the two to three bikes I see riding down holgate each day. Of course, it’s no problem to try to squeeze all of that car traffic into two lanes instead of four.

    The silliness of this is this: There is really no bike destinations between 92nd and 122nd on holgate. Thus, hardly any riders. I think the funds could have been better spent where they would have made a bigger impact for bike riders.

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