Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Sellwood gets city’s first “next generation” bike boulevard

Posted by on December 22nd, 2009 at 10:58 am

New “channelizing islands” at SE 7th and Spokane.
(Photo: Alaya Wyndham-Price)

On Saturday, the City of Portland hosted a party and bike ride on SE Spokane Street in Sellwood to celebrate the opening of a new bike boulevard. The project’s significance goes way beyond the speed bumps, “channelizers”, and other infrastructure changes and marks what the Bureau of Transportation calls the “next generation” of bike boulevards in Portland.

PBOT unveiled plans for the Spokane Bike Boulevard nearly a year ago and we took a closer look at how the project was shaping up earlier this month.

Story continues below


There’s a lot riding on this boulevard for PBOT. Not only will they face the usual anti-bike sentiments from some (the Portland Mercury referred to comments about the project on a local TV station’s website as “the KATU Hillbilly Parade”), but they’ll have to meet expectations of those who ride on the existing bike boulevards.

Streets like Tillamook and Ankeny are technically bike boulevards according to PBOT, and they are nicer to ride on than the busy arterials they run adjacent too, but it’s not obvious to most people that they’re bike streets.

Adding pressure for success on this project (and others coming soon), are critics who feel that PBOT is focusing on these “backstreet solutions” at the expense of more separated bikeways like cycle tracks and off-street paths.

BikePortland intern Alaya Wyndham-Price rode the new bike boulevard over the weekend and says “the bike-centricity of it is palpable.” That’s a key litmus test for these new bike boulevards — Will they actually look and feel like a street made for bikes? Or will they be more subtle (and some say lacking) like the ones on NE Tillamook and SE Ankeny?

Here are a few more impressions from Alaya:

“When I rode on Spokane, it was a noticeable relief from the non-stop, often intimidating traffic of SE Tacoma and SE 13th. Sellwood to me is one of Portland’s hearts of traffic disobedience, and I don’t like navigating it by any mode. This alternative was sans stress, and still super convenient. I especially liked the bike parking on 13th right in the middle of everything, which made access to the businesses in the area easy. The boulevard was shared by a few cars and a few bikes, and felt calm, non-congested, and clearly marked in favor of bikes.”

PBOT is far from done with their big bike boulevard push. They’ve got 15 miles of bike boulevards planned and funded each year through 2013. This project cost the City an estimated $99,000 and a total of $800,000 is allocated through the 2010 Fiscal Year.

We’ll have a full report, more impressions, and detailed photos of this new bike boulevard after Christmas. For now, we’d love to hear from folks that have already ridden it. What did you think? How did this street feel (especially compared to existing bike boulevard streets)?

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  • la otra December 22, 2009 at 11:15 am


    Did you really say “palpable”? You’re just asking for the BikesnobNYC treatment!

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  • cyclist December 22, 2009 at 11:17 am

    Are they going to be installing something on 13th that prevents cars from driving straight through 13th on Spokane? The street will continue to be used as a shortcut around the traffic on Tacoma until they do that.

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  • Greg Haun December 22, 2009 at 11:39 am

    I really support PBOT experimenting with new designs. I was disappointed with Spokane, however. The channelizing islands are so far to the side and cars were (legally) parked so close to them that they felt like were forcing me to weave in and out of parked cars, exactly as I tell novice cyclists *not* to do.

    On the way home, at night in the rain, I rode on Milwaukie and nearly hit the horrible curb extension at Milwaukie and Kelly that juts almost a foot into the bike lane.


    These curbs out in the street terrify me. I would much prefer bollards, like the ones that keep cars off the Max tracks. A bollard requires less weaving, is more visible, and is a smaller target for collision. Those reflective panels on the channelizing islands will at some point get snapped off by drunken drivers, and then we’ll have invisible curbs right where we’d normally be biking.

    If not bollards, then how about those sand-filled plastic safety barriers? Anything but a curb in the roadway. Curbs are too dangerous.

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  • rekon December 22, 2009 at 11:54 am

    To my knowledge this project is NOT complete.

    To answer Cyclist’s question, yes, there is supposed to be a barrier installed on 13th to prevent motor vehicle traffic traveling in either direction on Spokane from crossing 13th. While sign(s) have been in place, for as long as I can recall, stating that you can only turn right onto 13th off of Spokane, it is rarely obeyed and never enforced.

    See point #2 in the following link in order to view what the barriers on 13th are supposed to look like.


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  • SE Cyclist December 22, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    I agree with Greg about the placement of the islands like the one in the photo. It is hard enough being seen by some motorists without being directed to the “slot” between the island and curb. I’m all for slowing and diverting thru autos, but I don’t understand the island placement. Expect me in the middle on Spokane.

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  • rekon December 22, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    My take on the channelizers is this, if there is little to no traffic present then a cyclist should feel absolutely free to ride right past the channelizers without using them.

    If traffic is present and in close enough proximity then I think it is up to the individual rider to decide whether or not to use the channelizer.

    My experience with the channelizers has been that they DO effectively slow cars down, and if you as a cyclist and a car are approaching the channelizers at roughly the same time you are likely to get through more quickly.

    Navigating the channels is easy at pretty much any speed. They are wider than most bike lanes. However, I do agree with #3 (Greg) that using the channel will cause a cyclist to weave in a manner that is typically bad practice.

    Alas, NO solution is ever going to be perfect, but this one seems pretty good for all modes of traffic (pedestrian, non-motorized, and motorized), while also accounting for the goals of the neighborhood.

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  • Bob_M December 22, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    It is nice to see that the infrastructure is accomodating cyclists. Still this seems an improvement that caters to the least informed about routes and safety. A cyclist riding on the east side who choses to ride Tacoma street when any number of quiet streets are nearby and parallel is oblivious to the nature of the grid street layout. And the Tillamook bike route works perfectly well to people who care enough to get a map and pay enough attention to notice signs. I do applaud bike routes, but they won’t change ignorant riders.

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  • BURR December 22, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    Thumbs up to #3 Greg’s comments. The obvious choice for me will no longer be SE Spokane, it will now be another parallel street like Nehalem that hasn’t been screwed up with curb extensions and bike ‘channelizers’.

    All this street really needed was a few traffic diverters that let cyclists through and prevents motorists from using the street as a through route.

    Please, please, please, don’t install any of this crap on SE Umatilla!

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  • jim December 22, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    wasn’t Spokane st allways available for bikes to ride on before? It may be the same for other future bike blvd’s, those rds are available to ride on now if you choose. Many people are just stubborn and choose to ride on the busy arterials just because “they have the right to”. Is there going to be a bicyle detour off of Tacoma st?

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  • spare_wheel December 22, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    I think the channelizers are a success because they emphasize the “bikeiness” of the blvd. Its also nice to see something a little more permanent than a few tiny faded paint markings too!

    Nevertheless, I think that many close-in blvds are ineffective due to rush hour car commuters taking advantage of the lack of stop signs. I think the best solution would be to develop “car only” stop signs for blvds.

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  • cyclist December 22, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    rekon #4: Thanks for the link, I’m glad this is still in the works. I’ve been confused by all of the hoopla about the Bike Boulevard because the barrier on 13th is the one piece of the project that will really make a difference, you and I (and anyone else who travels in Sellwood) know that people ignore the sign on 13th, and that people use Spokane as a shortcut around Tacoma. The barrier at 13th will remove a TON of unwanted traffic from that street, which is the reason why the folks in the neighborhood put their support behind the project in the first place.

    There’s no point in judging this project until the barrier on 13th is done.

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  • spare_wheel December 22, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    ‘Many people are just stubborn and choose to ride on the busy arterials just because “they have the right to”‘

    My response:

    ‘Many people are just stubborn and choose to drive on the busy arterials just because “they have the right to”‘

    I ride on busy arterials when they are the fastest way to get from point A to B period.

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  • rekon December 22, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    While living in Sellwood for the past 12 years I cannot think of a single time that I’ve seen a cyclist riding on Tacoma between SE 6th and SE 17th. If I have witnessed it, it is so infrequent that I have forgotten it. The vast, VAST majority of cyclists have already always used the streets paralleling Tacoma on their way to and from the bridge and the Springwater Corridor trail.

    What is at issue here is that the neighborhood saw an opportunity to turn Spokane into a “formal” bike boulevard as a means of addressing and trying to solve a very real motor vehicle cut-through traffic problem. During commuting hours, many motorists use Spokane to circumvent traffic on Tacoma on their way to, and sometimes from, the Sellwood bridge. As a result it lessens the quality of life for those living on Spokane, which is very much a neighborhood street, as well as making it fairly unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists alike.

    The issue wasn’t about getting bikes off of or even onto Tacoma, but rather, it was about getting cars to stop using Spokane as a thoroughfare in a very unsafe manner. The result of those efforts was to designate Spokane as a bike boulevard. Other efforts to curb cut through traffic have not worked. Designating and then refurbishing Spokane as a bike boulevard benefits cyclists, benefits pedestrians, benefits the people living on Spokane by quieting traffic on their residential street, and benefits local business interests as well.

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  • Andrew December 22, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    Look forward to heading south to ride this one.

    I especially appreciate the comments on the efficacy of the channelizers. It seems to me that might be a beneficial installation (and very easy to do with the existing infrastructure) on the bike route near my place.

    42nd a flat, straight road between Powell and Holgate, and cars tend to fly down it. When cyclists coming from Holgate turn to shift to Gladstone to head the rest of the way to downtown, etc., it can get a little hairy.


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  • Jeff P December 22, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    Hopefully they painted the bike lanes continuously through the intersections between the curbs so as to not lose the ‘protection’….thanks Mr Pro-Tem County judge!

    Rekon – I don’t venture over the bridge all that often but when I do I take Tacoma all the way out to and beyond the highway interchange. Not that big a deal in the past.

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  • Ryan December 22, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    I rode this route on 12/11 and was not impressed with the channelizers. My one (and only) objection is that it makes cyclists less visible at intersections by forcing them to the edge of the road. Cars waiting to cross Spokane at a stop sign have a better view of traffic coming from the left when the traffic is closer to the middle of the road.

    Car traffic or no car traffic, I don’t intend to use the channelizers when I ride this route again.

    I look forward to any other improvements that PBOT does to make this route more bike friendly though. It is a really important conncetion between the N/S section and E/W section of the Springwater Trail.

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  • Steve B December 22, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    I think bike boulevards are great, but I find the connections between them to be difficult. Using Tillamook or Ankeny, for instance, it can be difficult to find a relaxed, bike-centric route north and south.

    Again, referencing the BMP2030, this won’t get the curious-but-concerned crowd on the road, the poor connections between them are still a hindrance. In my view, these poor connections will continue to breed “vehicular cyclists” rather than the “sidepath cyclists” we are trying to grow and love.

    Of course, bike boulevards are low hanging fruit and Portland has ambitions for much bigger projects. Let’s get them funded!

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  • Max December 22, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    I rode this a week or two ago and also disliked the channelizers. I was heading straight down Spokane and I felt like the channelizer puled me out of the lane of traffic only to force me to merge back in a dozen feet later. I don’t really see the point of having to do this little dance. I would have felt safer simply by staying in the lane the entire time.

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  • Chris December 22, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    Agreed that the channelizers are counterproductive. I don’t see the benefit.

    With a tag-along bike the situation changes. I tried to ride through one and the turns are too sharp and the aperture too narrow. Some parent will misjudge and the kid goes into the curb.

    Overall maybe it will slow cars and that is good but they are more of a hazard to cyclists otherwise.

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  • Greg Raisman December 22, 2009 at 11:24 pm

    This is a Bike Boulevard project. So, it’s a shared space sort of project. We put in bike lanes on streets that have more than 3,000 cars a day. Most of our new boulevards will have less than 1,000 cars a day with operating speeds under 25 MPH.

    The 4 basic elements of a bike boulevards are:

    1) Reduce motorized residential cut-through trips while enhancing bicycle and pedestrian transportation. (The project at 13th and Spokane is an example of this)
    2) Reduce auto speeds
    3) Provide good crossing opportunities at larger streets
    4) Provide pavement markings and signs that show that you’re on the route and where the route will take you (these will be installed next summer on Spokane with federal stimulus money that will be used on all of our existing and new boulevards).

    Glad to answer your question. As with all of our new treatments, we have taken quite a bit of before speed and volume data and will follow-up with post data 6 months after the completion of the project.

    The only stop signs that will remain on Spokane will be at 13th and 17th Avenues. These are both collector streets. Outside of that, all the residential streets along the corridor will stop for Spokane.

    The channelizers were based on designs seen in Utrecht, The Netherlands and developed in conversation with traffic safety specialists from Utrecht. In addition, they are a very common traffic calming element in residential settings throughout the rest of The Netherlands.

    The basic answer is that they are a device that slows the speed of motor vehicle traffic by narrowing the travel lanes for cars. In general, motor vehicle speed is slowed in one of two ways. Either through “vertical deflection” where you send the vehicle over something like a speed bump. Or, through “horizontal deflection” where you introduce a curve in the travel line. In addition, “oppositional friction” can be used to slow speed as often happens on narrow residential streets in Portland (we often refer to the situation as courtesy queuing).

    In the past, we’ve had two basic devices to slow speed on a residential street. Speed bumps, which are the most effective tool available to slow speed and residential traffic circles.

    The residential traffic circles are often considered a popular device because they are pretty. However, they have not proven to be very effective at addressing the safety concern from speed. That’s why you will see some segments with traffic circles having speed bumps added (like on SE Lincoln or NE 53rd). Those new speed bumps are in place because the traffic circles did not bring the speed down to the desired travel speed.

    The other problem with traffic circles is that they cause a very uncomfortable pinch point when a person on a bicycle and a person driving a car arrive at the circle at the same time. They are designed to have one vehicle go through at a time. However, when you have a driver that tries to pass while traversing the circle, it creates a very uncomfortable condition that can compromise safety, particularly for children or seniors.

    On occasion, people who have not experienced this condition question whether it’s a real problem. My suggestion is always to take a bike ride on NE 7th from Broadway to Alberta. There are a series of traffic circles on that road and exposure to motor vehicle traffic is high enough that you are sure to experience the issue. When you do, imagine you’re traveling with an 8-year-old child or an adult who is a new, novice rider. This condition happens less often on successful boulevards because of the lower volumes of motor vehicle traffic. However, when it does happen, it’s a problem.

    In addition to not achieving desired speed reductions and causing pinch points, traffic circles are also quite expensive to install and have very high maintenance needs. Without proper maintenance, they can cause intersection visibility problems.

    The channelizer produces a similar speed reduction benefit to a traffic circle by both narrowing the roadway and creating a courtesy queuing situation for cars. However, they present a bicycle rider with an option if they arrive at the same time as a motor vehicle traveling down the street. The bicycle rider can travel through the middle of the device at any time. But, if there is a car approaching at the same time, they can take the channel and have physical separation between them and the car as they travel through the intersection. This is particularly useful for children and seniors who often react in less predictable ways when facing more stressful traffic conditions. In addition, they are lower cost to install and have maintenance needs that are many orders of mangnitude lower than a traffic circle.

    There are two of the channelizers in place. One at 7th and one at 15th. In addition to reducing speed, the one placed at 7th is to gently encourage motorists leaving Oaks Park to turn and continue their trip on Tacoma. A traffic barrier was not installed here because there was a need to allow motor traffic to continue eastward to 13th to be able to access the signal at 13th and Tacoma if they are heading eastbound. So, the soft-barrier approach with the channelizer was used to send the cue to turn. We do not expect all east bound travelers to turn because of this treatment. However, we believe there will be some increase in the turning movement in our after measurements.

    The channelizer at 15th is in place to pay particular focus on reducing speed at the Sellwood Community Center. The combination of the new speed bump in front of the Center with the channelizer on the east side of the intersection should make this location acheive the lowest travel speed of any location on the corridor. In addition, St. Agnes School is one block to the north at 15th and Miller. The islands help create a shorter crossing distance for children that are walking to that school.

    These are the only two channelizers that are currently slated to be installed. There are no additional examples on any of the remaining 7 bike boulevards that will be built by the end of June 2010.

    If they are successful at reducing speed and provide the desired operational effects, it’s possible they would be considered on future projects. All of these decisions would be discussed as part of open houses that are always held and publicized when new bike boulevards are in the design phase.

    Greg Raisman
    Community and School Traffic Safety Partnership
    Portland Bureau of Transportation

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  • Jimbo December 22, 2009 at 11:48 pm

    Car drivers will now just go one or two more blocks north to turn left on Nehalem or Miller, proceed up to 9th, turn left back south toward Tacoma, which means they will be intersecting Spokane. That just seems like more chances for accidents on 9th and Spokane. But I guess time will tell.

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  • bobcycle December 23, 2009 at 8:08 am

    Its been said many times in above comments and I agree. These islands force you to weave or narrow the lane available if you go around them.
    “Streets like Tillamook and Ankeny are technically bike boulevards according to PBOT”
    I ride both fairly often. while Ankeny is a bike blvd as a result of traffic diverter at 20th and long stretches w/o stops. Tillamook has 5 stops in 8 blocks in Hollywood neighborhood, circle pinch points by busy Grant H.S., a none responsive (or slow) traffic signal at 32nd. A blind corner stop at 21st and numerous stops in Lloyd district neighbor hood hardly qualifying it as an effective bike blvd. It does have a traffic diverter at NE 16th but the bike “pass thru” forces bikes up onto sidewalk rather than having a street level pass thru. I’m with #12 spare wheel and always looking for most effective route (often a trade off between safety, speed and distance) which may or may not be a designated bike blvd.

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  • bobcycle December 23, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    Just got back from morning ride. Decided to swing by Spokane bike blvd. If they would remove the channelizers and speed bumps it would be a nice bike blvd. at a much reduced cost. I like the turned stop signs. Can now ride from Willamette to 13th without a stop! Forget about crossing 13th safely though, parked cars limit visibility (at least they did this morning) and traffic is heavy. I turned right on 13th and rode in/with traffic and it worked out nice. Took 13th for a ways and then cut over to Springwater.

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  • are December 23, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    greg comment 20, the benefit of the traffic circle is that a motorist absolutely cannot pass me if i assert the lane. very effective calming device. similarly the center island diverters such as at NE 15th and Failing or at NE Williams and Graham, but in each of these cases PBoT has undermined the effectiveness of the island and created an affirmative danger for cyclists by striping bike lanes along the edge of the roadway in a space that is too narrow to share safely. of course, i simply assert the travel lane in these spots, but again because of the striping i have to put up with motorists leaning on their horns. have not yet been down to the new sellwood facility, but can readily imagine that i would be ignoring the channelizers.

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  • Greg Haun December 23, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    To clarify my early comment about channelizers and regarding Greg Raisman’s explanation, I support the *concept* of channelizers, but I think our implementation needs to be improved to avoid the feeling that they make us weave too much and create the same hazards (to novices and pros alike) that curb extensions do.

    That said, I feel even these initial ones are an improvement over traffic circles and curb extensions.

    My question is, why must we use curbs to direct traffic instead of barriers or bollards that are high and narrow like I’ve seen in Europe and even Baltimore?


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  • bobcycle December 23, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    3) Provide good crossing opportunities at larger streets

    So how do we get across 13th? Am I missing something here.

    Thanks Greg Raisman for understanding my frustration with traffic circles. Although “are” is correct about taking the lane I have found myself being “pinched” by cars in circles and it is very scary.

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  • Giant Hogweed December 23, 2009 at 9:08 pm


    Is it clear to motorists (and cyclists) that cyclists are permitted to use the wider lane rather than the bike channel? I see a bike symbol in the channel, but no sharrow in the wider line. Agreeing with “are” (#24), where bike infrastructure is present but unsafe, and an experienced cyclist refuses to use it, she is more likely to get harassed than when there’s no bike infrastructure present.

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  • BURR December 23, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    If it’s basically a neighborhood traffic calming project designed to reduce motorist’s speeds and cut down on traffic diversion through the neighborhood, the city should just call it that and not try to justify it as a bike boulevard, that’s just disingenuous.

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  • are December 24, 2009 at 7:38 am

    agreeing with burr 28 for a somewhat different reason. people need to be told, hey, we’re calming your traffic. if they are instead told that a special facility is being built for those g*dd*mn cyclists, and especially if a consequence is that they are diverted or slowed, then guess who gets the blame (and not really any benefit).

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  • Dominique Caliente December 24, 2009 at 10:21 am

    These channelizers are wonderful until you hit one at night and crash your bike and break your ribs. Like I did.
    What the hell are they supposed to do?
    I’ve been using this street for years and nobody warned me that someone would be pouring twenty tons of concrete in my path.

    Geez, go take your bike boulevard somewhere else.

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  • Rob December 24, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    I’ve been riding this route to and from work every day… Thumbs up on the bike blvd. effort/thumbs down on the channelizers for all of the reasons listed above (except maybe for comment 30… I just can’t fathom not being able to see these things. Maybe if all the reflective paint and signs are removed, but right now they’re very visible).

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  • wsbob December 24, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    “These channelizers are wonderful until you hit one at night and crash your bike and break your ribs.” Dominique Caliente

    Are they ‘wonderful’ even before a person has a catastrophic encounter with one? For the most part, I don’t like any of this kind of thing crapping up the street. It’s ugly and dangerous, even if it is so ‘european’.

    ‘traffic calming’ is right. People everywhere seem to feel the need to go fast, regardless of what kind of area they’re traveling through, so various types of ‘calming devices’ seem to be a called, and so traffic departments experiment.

    I hate speed bumps, but designs for them have gotten better; such as the variation that’s bisected by 2′ spaces between segments, allowing a bike to slip right between the segments while a car has to drive right over them.

    The mini traffic circle with lane division buttons are ugly and annoying, but usually there’s at least some physical barrier that lets them be seen easier than the painted curb of the concrete channnelizer in the top picture. Over on…I think it’s NW 25th, those big concrete Jersey barriers squeezing down the street width are significantly evil.

    They’re not aesthetically wonderful or ‘green’ particularly, but I kind of like those big orange plastic bollards filled with sand. At least those things can be seen and probably moved with a lift truck pretty easily.

    Lot less likely for a drunk (not saying you were drunk Dominique)on a bike to hit one, but if they or anyone else did, unless it was square on, they’d probably just glance off it without destroying anything.

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  • KWW December 29, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    Due to construction on the corridor south of Tacoma, I have to take Spokane to get to work. I have decided that I don’t like the channelizers.

    My issue with channelizers is that it really doesn’t force motor traffic queuing as stated, as Spokane is about 5-6 car widths wide before the modification. It may slow them down, but no queue.

    Furthermore, it makes motor traffic assume that bikes will go in that channel and possibly stop for a car making a right turn, thus being the victim of a right hook, which have a good chance of being lethal.

    Why would anyone take a channel if they were going straight? Spokane is wide enough to have a painted bike lanes instead.

    Please if you do anything on Umatilla, just paint in bike lanes!

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