(Photos © J. Maus)
It’s been just about one year since the City of Portland’s Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) laid down a new bikeway and opened the Rose Quarter Transit Center to bicycle access. Since then, there have been no high-profile collisions or rash of complaints, but TriMet operators say the area remains one of the most stressful in the system.
“In some ways it’s better, but in other ways you see things there that just take your breath away. One [train] operator calls it ‘The Death Pit'”.
— Dan Christensen, TriMet bus operator
The effort was years in the making and it required a collaborative approach between PBOT, TriMet, and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA). Previously, bicycles were prohibited from riding on NE Occident Ave (which is the direct route through the transit center between N Interstate and N Williams).
When plans surfaced to allow bicycles access to this area — which is a very busy corridor for TriMet buses and light rail trains — a group of TriMet employees sent a strongly worded letter and petition to local media outlets in opposition to the idea.
They said the bike access plans would “cost lives” and that there would be “fatal results” if they didn’t speak out and prevent the plans from moving forward.
Eventually, the plans moved forward. A new bikeway and signage were installed and opened for business on October 16th, 2008 (a day after PBOT, TriMet, the BTA and the Mayor’s office held a press conference and parade to mark the occasion).
Since then, TriMet and PBOT say the plans have worked out swimmingly.
TriMet planner Colin Maher says from what he’s seen and heard, everything has going according to plan. “Everyone has adjusted well to the changes.”
Maher told us that TriMet and PBOT took feedback from operators and other users to fine-tune the design. One example he gave was that they adjusted the traffic signals to give both buses and bikes time to make it through the intersections.
Maher also said that he’s not aware of any complaints or collisions.
PBOT bicycle coordinator Roger Geller echoes those sentiments, saying that it’s “good news” he hasn’t received any complaints. Geller also notes that the green thermoplastic has held up well, and, in his “anecdotal observation” most cyclists have been complying with the signal.
Southeast Portland resident Mike Tewfik works at Emanuel Hospital and rides through the Rose Quarter Transit Center every day. He says his commute has gotten “a lot better” since the bikeway improvements were made. Tewfik adds that one problem he’s noticed are people that walk through red lights “without looking” on their way to catch a transfer. “This morning in fact a man walked right in front of a bus and myself listening to his iPod and not even turning his head.”
Almost every rider I’ve heard from in preparing this story said they appreciate how the bikeway has made the area much more “predictable”. One of them acknowledged that it’s “A slightly chaotic space” but because it’s now well-marked, he’s never had a close call or “unpleasant confrontation”.
Bus operator Dan Christensen says despite the new bikeway markings, signage, and other changes to facilitate bike traffic, he finds that driving through the Rose Quarter is “a very stressful situation”.
Christensen is appreciative of the efforts to make the bike traffic predictable, but says he’s still concerned. “In some ways it’s better, but in other ways you see things there that just take your breath away. One [train] operator calls it ‘The Death Pit'”.
While PBOT and TriMet report no official collision numbers, Christensen says what they never track are “emergency stops”. He says he’s had about five instances where he’s had to make very sudden stops to avoid hitting a person on a bicycle. Christensen says people using the new bike traffic lanes aren’t what cause him the most stress. He’s more concerned with people riding outside the designated areas. “A lot of bikers still go around it… it’s not even as heavily used as I thought it would be.”
Christensen also points out that while bike riders won big in the plans, people with disabilities got the short end of the stick (in order to decrease bus/bike interactions, TriMet moved several bus stops further away from the light rail station). “When I have to let people out on a walker or a wheelchair and have them go a block uphill to get their connection, it’s hard to say ‘hey, those new bike lanes are great aren’t they!'”.
But TriMet’s Maher says the stop relocations and resulting longer transfer distances are an “unexpected benefit” of the project. “[With the relocated bus stops] pedestrian traffic was channeled to crosswalks, making these crossings safer.”
While some stressful interaction remain, on the whole it seems like this project has been a success. The design works likely due to the collaborative approach that included TriMet (planners and operators), advocates, and city engineers.
I use the bikeway very often. Yes, a few pedestrians seem to ignore red lights but that has never been a problem. I find it very convenient (Now, if I could just make it in time for the green light at Weidler!)
definitely, pedestrians are the biggest problem.
When there’s an event at the Rose Garden I try to avoid that area all together. It’s not fun ringing your bell at a mass of pedestrians who might not be aware that bikes can ride on the street.
Wow! It’s stressful for the bus drivers!
I, a bicycle rider, no nothing of stress on the road. When I’m in the bike lane I never worry that the loud diesel noise approaching from behind might be a belligerent bus driver. Bus drivers are always courteous and never crowd cyclists off the road or rush up in front of them and jam their brakes. Our bus drivers treat each individual cyclist as innocent until proven guilty and would never take out their frustrations on an un-involved cyclist in their way or who happen to board their bus.
Truly if the only place that bus drivers are encountering cyclists acting like idiots is in the Rose Garden area I can come to only come to one of two conclusions:
1> the drivers are sleeping through the rest of their route.
2> someone is releasing a chemical into the air that causes people act stupidly but is only doing it in the Rose Garden area.
Considering the amount of cyclists in Portland the distribution of moronic cyclists should correspond directly to population density.
#2 is a fun irrational conspiracy theory unless the chemical in question happens to be carbon monoxide inhalation by cyclist who are breathing more heavily, thus breathing in more CO causing them to act more stupidly. Still an irrational conspiracy theory; who ever heard of people getting sick from car exhaust?
I’ve been rambling through the Rose Quarter for a long time now. The one big improvement I can think of would be to install an ancillary bike crossing signal at Oregon and Lloyd. The one that allows you to cross coming away from the Steel Bridge is great, but when you’re heading into downtown from the Rose Quarter, you can’t tell when it’s illuminated.
I’m glad this route was legalized, I go through it often and think everything’s peachy. Glad to hear that Bus drivers worst fears haven’t been realized. The concerns about getting ticketed previously stressed me out so I’m happy with the tradeoff 🙂 Hopefully this area will keep its no incident record going
The driver’s concerns were legitimate (ever try to see a bike from the driver’s seat of a bus?, but it looks like the tweaking of the design has worked well.
This project showcases the success road projects can have with the proper input of all road users.
Mark me down as another cyclist who has always found the Rose Quarter bikeway to be pleasant, easy and convenient to use. I’m glad we have it and feel it’s an outstanding example of PBOT’s work.
Aye but thars the rub.
Trimet and PBOT say it’s working but the opinion portrayed as coming from the drivers can best be summed up as “no change to worse than before”.
While the Rose Quarter re-design has certainly made things easier for me as a bicyclist, it has made things harder for my brother-in-law who is a TriMet operator. He maintains that bicyclists should have been completely barred from the Rose Quarter, and that “giving bicyclists more of a green light (by expanding access there) only allows more of them to behave unpredictably.
Since that heated discussion we have tacitly agreed NOT to discuss transportation issues, in order to keep the peace.
I’m with Marcus #7. This change has greatly improved my commute. As for bikers continuing to run red lights, and biking where they aren’t allowed, I for one would endorse stepped up enforcement/education. I’ve had stressful encounters with bus drivers, but not once in the Rose Quarter.
Thanks for the update Jonathan. I was hoping you’d do a story on this route. It has substantially improved my commute overall. I appreciate the design and have had no problems whatsoever with the bus and trains.
It is too bad that it has increased the stress level of some operators.
My biggest issue is pedestrians who seem oblivious to the cross walk signals. I have had to come to a complete stop on more than one occasion, despite ringing my bell at an attempt to get a ped’s attention. I was even stopped at the red light one time while a train was crossing. There were 3 transit officers on the curb to my right. At least three people walked right across, while I was waiting there and got a lecture that the hand signal means don’t cross.
A small but significant percentage of bus drivers are mentally unstable. I ride trimet with my daughter a lot. I’ve seen a lot of bad behavior from trimet drivers towards customers, far more than the drivers receive.
It is no shock that a few drivers freak out over doing what is best for everyone in the rose quarter. Some of them are total freaks and I’m shocked they can keep their jobs.
Today I was on a bus and the bus driver was following way to close to a cyclist, both going at a good speet. Had the cyclist fallen, he’d be instantly dead. It was 8pm on a weekday, no other cars anywhere close.
The bus could have backed off about 50 feet and then pulled over to pick up the passengers with just a few extra seconds of a delay.
I’m pissed I did not speak to the driver. I should have said something in a calm tone when he came to a stop. I was too afraid that people would think I was a bad dad or crazy person. Even when I’m a diplomat, people hate having anything wrong pointed out.
The allowance of bike traffic through this area is a win for cyclists as it significantly aids the flow of bike traffic off / on the riverfront paths to / from North Portland. No doubt, it is a high traffic area for a lot of different modes of transportation. I believe more needs to be done to ensure the safety of pedestrians and cyclists is not being compromised for the sake of moving Trimet equipment through this corridor, especially during Rose Quarter events. I realize they tend to be moving at a low speed, but it is rather surprising that train traffic crossing arms are not installed to prevent buses, cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians from crossing in front of trains that arrive and depart the Blue/Red line platform.
I LOVE the Rose Quarter transit center! It is so much easier to navigate through there than to go around any other way and it is a vital link between the Esplanade and NoPo. It is awesome!
I understand that it might be stressful for transit operators, but that area is stressful with or without bicycles. I appreciate everyone making it work!
I do not ride through this area regularly, but when I do, I find it far more convenient than the former routes. In another year, these changes will seem less significant as we all adapt to them. I am very pleased with the route. I can echo other comments about pedestrians ignoring cross signals. I waited through an entire traffic light cycle as pedestrians streamed across the crosswalk, against the signal. However, I cannot complain too loudly: they were walking and they were on their way to another form of mass transit.
“A small but significant percentage of bus drivers are mentally unstable.”
I suspect the same statement can be applied to bicyclists as well.
Andrew (#5) said “but when you’re heading into downtown from the Rose Quarter, you can’t tell when it’s illuminated.”
Why would you need to? You go when the light is green, same as the other southbound traffic. You don’t want a reverse bike signal, because not all southbound bike traffic is going to the Steel Bridge.
Joe Rowe (#13) – agreed. Granted, it’s a minority of Tri-Met operators, but it’s definitely an issue. Not only rudeness towards cyclists, but pretty much everyone.
middle of the road guy (#17) – sure, but unstable cyclists aren’t operating 20 ton vehicles with up to 75 passengers. There is a significant difference in collateral damage if they “snap”.
Weighing in, based on my route from the Steel Bridge up through the Rose Quarter to Williams, I can’t see how bikes cause driver’s stress.
I have seen some sketchy situations created by careless/thoughtless peds. I say ban people from buses and the MAX and we will have solved operator stress in the Rose Quarter. 😉
I find Rose Quarter a very smooth and quiet ride. As Dan Christensen said, bikes in the designated lane “aren’t what cause him the most stress”. There is no conflict in the bike lane if you follow the signals. There is so much room that I hardly even notice that buses are using the same space. The Rose Quarter design is great. Stay within the design and there is no conflict.
I would echo the thoughts of some other folks in saying that this area of town is just confusing and stressful in general – all the freeways, curvy roads, and gigantic buildings (rose garden, convention center, etc) make moving around in this area confusing no matter what your mode of transportation is. I hate driving through there as well.
I never rode through this area before the bike lanes were added, but I still find it a little confusing with them. Of course, that would change with time if I continued riding through there regularly. I didn’t feel in danger riding through the area though, which is a plus.
I ride through there pretty regularly and have found it essentially problem-free. I do see plenty of pedestrians ignoring the signals, but I see plenty of cyclists ignoring them as well, so cyclists are hardly in a position to complain. I didn’t know, however, about the increased burden on those making transit transfers at this location, which sucks, especially for the disabled. Just another example of how too often improvements to cycling infrastructure in this city are coming without concurrent improvements to — and sometimes at the expense of — pedestrian infrastructure.
Just two days ago, a bus driver traveling west off the Steel Bridge started to proceed against the light as I was proceeding through the intersection with the bike signal. It startled me (I thought, crap, did I make a mistake?), but the bus stopped right away. Then the driver caught up to me in the Rose Quarter bikeway and apologized for his error, which I appreciated. So I get the stress of the whole area — it’s not a place where anyone wants to make an error. But it would be worse, and was worse, without the current design.
Exactly my point.
Buses coexist some what peacefully with bicycles, pedestrians and private autos all over the rest of Portland. Do these bus drivers believe that they should get the same sort of special treatment(segregated travel modes) that they otherwise bemoan cyclists getting?
Idiots are idiots. Some people have an excuse for not knowing or being functionally incapable of learning; what is the excuse of those that can behave in public but refuse to do so?
While I have no problem with mentally unstable people biking I think most would agree that the driver of a 10 ton mass transit vehicle should not be an “idiot” or “mentally unstable”.
The majority of my commuting near-death experiences in PDX involve trimet buses. Consequently, when I see a bus pulled over I *always* (exit the bike lane) and take the far left side of the traffic lane.
The biggest future problem I see is the southbound stop sign at the end of the mall where it intersects Interstate.
That will be the future Ladd’s Addition stop sign, as in, is completely worthless because you can see everything when you approach it, no one will stop at it because it will kill all your momentum before you go up the hill, and people will bitch about it resulting in police stings and $300 tickets.
I just can’t wait for the day that I ride through there in the morning and get a big ol’ honkin ticket.
Please change it to a yeild sign!
I have to agree with Dana, #25. There is no reason that should be a stop sign. A yield sign would be much more appropriate there. I blow that most days, for all the reasons Dana mentioned, though of course I stop if traffic makes it necessary. I’m sure I’ll get a ticket sooner or later but I won’t bitch about it because I know the risk I’m taking. It really should be a yield sign.
I like the new design.
I will add that when it comes time to refresh the green thermoplastic, I recommend modifying the huge swath of green heading N bound to allow the busses to arc through their left turn from W to S. They have rubbed the left area of the green off. If a cyclist waits for the light in the normal position towards the left, they are in the natural path of the bus.
One could argue that bus drivers need to just deal with this but this could become a non issue by slightly altering the shape of this huge bike box.
The layout of that area is much improved but I’ve been scared by more than a few buses heading W and turning S and cutting that corner, at speed too.
It is like some drivers try to gun it AND cut the corner; as if cutting the corner wasn’t enough. Others just cut the corner, which is a problem for riders approaching the light or, obviously stopped in the left of the box. Seems like if drivers are heading into an area that they have noted concerns about, they should back off.
#27, cites the cutting the corner issue and suggests repainting the box to facilitate it. I disagree, as it only encourages drivers to speed up and take the corner; if a corner is tight, then slow. An example of trying to setback the limit line was tried at the westbound lovejoy offramp, coming down and turning left (on 10th I think); wait at that limit line a few times and see what happens- cars coming S and up lovejoy hit the gas and try to smoothe out their turn, at risk to anyone stopped at the limit line.
A better solution is stick up a cone (or better a metal post), then drivers must go around it at a reasonable speed.
Oh, and I do like the huge width of those biker boxes, so that everyone lines up like a race and jockeys for position to settle back into the one bike lane (really, I do). Even better would be to have gates like at a horse race. 🙂
The path is good, especially since it’s making lemonade out of the lemon design of the whole transit area.
Traffic engineers: The yellow light changes way too fast to cross the intersection heading north bound. That’s a long distance from the crosswalk line to the traffic light.
If the light turns yellow as I’m riding half-way towards the light, it’s often red *before* I pass under the light!
Although I would like to add that they could do a better job of timing the light. Annoying to stand there at a red and there is ZERO train/bus traffic. However, I breath through it and have faith that it is on the list…it’s just that things happen sloooooooowly around there.