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Safety concerns result in changes to new curves on Couch

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

Sweeping curves on NE Couch are
causing a lot of safety concerns.
(Photo © J. Maus)

The new segment of NE Couch Street that leads onto the Burnside Bridge from NE MLK Blvd. raised red flags as soon as it opened. Sweeping curves make it difficult for people on bikes to avoid riding on slippery bike lane striping and people operating cars and buses encroach dangerously into the bike lane.

Many people who ride on the street feel the curves are not safe for bike traffic and they worry that the constrained space will lead to serious crashes and collisions. When we asked for feedback on the East Burnside Couch Couplet Project (which this new street is a part of) many people said the curves on NE Couch were a major concern. Below are just some of the reader feedback we received:

Reader Helen McConnell wrote:

“…As I rode the too-curvy lane, I thought “This was obviously not designed by a cyclist, nor with cyclists in mind. I wonder if Jonathan will be reporting on this?” Two thumbs-down from me for this new lane.”

Reader John Lascurettes wrote:

“I too share the concerns for the sharp s-curve with it’s narrow bike lane in the curves, the flat-to-wrong-way-leaning bank and the accumulation of gravel that’s bound to happen.”

Reader Wil wrote:

“The new Couch ‘on-ramp’ curve for the Burnside bridge is a scythe, very efficiently designed to execute cyclists…”

Reader Beth Hamon wrote:

“I’ve seen too many cars that have tended to veer too close to the bike lane as we all negotiate the sharp curve onto the Burnside Bridge — and then turn hard right and sometimes almost cut me off as I am trying to turn onto the bike lane on the bridge proper.”

A crash this morning on NE Couch hastened
some safety changes.
(Photo: Michael O’Leary)

This morning, BTA staffer Michael O’ Leary sent in a photo of a crash that occurred at the location. Carissa Mylin went down after crashing on something in the bike lane. She says she’s not sure what caused her crash but it was either gravel, the slick bike lane striping material, or the base of a traffic pylon that had been placed in the bike lane as a cautionary measure.

Aware of the issues, PBOT’s bike coordinator Roger Geller and Burnside Couch Couplet project manager Chris Armes went out to the location this morning to observe the situation. They realized quickly that a problem existed and they’ve come up with an immediate, interim fix and a list of longer-term solutions they hope to have completed by next week.

Here’s the short-term solution they will implement today (taken directly form an email from Geller):

As of now we are shutting down the bicycle lane between Couch and the bridge proper, shifting cars to the outside travel lane and directing cyclists to use the other travel lane that is currently closed to motor vehicles. This will keep cyclists out of the bicycle lane for now.

When I spoke to Geller back in his office, he said the striping crews made a mistake on the outside motor vehicle lane (closest to bike lane) — striping it two-and-a-half feet narrower that it should have been. That means motor vehicles are forced too close to the bike lane. Geller says re-striping will be done to make the lane the appropriate width.

To combat the issue of people riding on the bike lane striping while leaning into a curve (meaning their center of gravity is not directly over the wheel), Geller says they will replace the standard thermoplastic striping from MLK Blvd to the bridge with a skid-resistant material (like what’s used on green bike boxes, except in white).

Geller says they also plan to widen the bike lane from five feet to six feet to “provide a bit more margin for operating conditions.”

In addition, Geller plans to stripe a four-foot buffer through the curve “to keep motorists from encroaching into the bicycle lane.”

Given the existing hazards on the road and the many concerns expressed about this, we hope to see fixes come as soon as possible. Of course, PBOT can only do so much to make bike lanes safe. What we really need are physically separated facilities like cycle tracks. Hopefully major projects like this in future will include them.

Thanks to Michael O’Leary and everyone else who expressed concerns, offered feedback, and corresponded with PBOT about this issue. We’ll keep you posted as fixes happen and please write in if you still have concerns.