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BTA slams Burnside-Couch biking conditions

Posted by on May 5th, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Michael O’Leary of the BTA says
the Burnside Couch couplet
is unsafe to ride.
(File photo: Adams Carroll)

The City of Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) is coming under fire for biking conditions on their East Burnside Couch Couplet project. In a blog post published yesterday, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) wrote that the couplet is “not ready to ride” and last night KATU-TV put the story and on their 11 o’clock newscast.

BTA volunteer organizer and human resource manager Michael O’Leary has jumped on the issue in hopes of getting PBOT to make significant improvements to several aspects of the project’s design.

On the BTA blog, O’Leary wrote that the project falls short of “the world-class standards the city is known for,” and that, “Wide-ranging complaints… raise serious questions about safety.” He also spoke out about the project to KATU-TV in a segment that ran last night:

O’Leary happened upon a crash on the NE Couch s-curve last week that he photographed and sent to PBOT along with his concerns. That photo, along with a litany of concerns voiced in the comments of a story about the project we published on April 20th, got PBOT to visit the location.

Following their observations, PBOT project manager Chris Armes and bike coordinator Roger Geller acknowledged the problems and got to work on immediate fixes.

Bikes on Couch -2

Riding on NE Couch before
the bike lane begins.

In addition to concerns with the curvy lanes on NE Couch that’s causing a lot of the uproar, O’Leary also says the on-street parking on Couch east of NE 6th (where the bike lane starts) “Makes Couch feel crowded and uncomfortable.” Because “cyclists are forced to ride too close to the doors of parked cars or out into the auto lane in the middle of traffic,” O’Leary wants PBOT to remove on-street parking on one side of Couch during the morning rush-hour.

O’Leary also warns that congestion on Couch increases the risks of right hooks. He wants PBOT to add bike boxes at high-risk intersections.

To improve bike safety on Couch, O’Leary suggests that bike traffic should be directed to the left hand side prior to Martin Luther King Jr., Blvd. and he wants a bike-only traffic signal installed to get bike traffic onto the Burnside Bridge on-ramp.

On the portion of Couch that leads up to the bridge, O’Leary thinks the bike lane should ultimately be set back and elevated up onto the sidewalk to avoid conflicts.

O’Leary says these fixes shouldn’t require major design revisions “It’s no more a design failure than buying a pair of pants that don’t fit. It’s not that pants can’t work, it’s just that they need some tailoring.” He likens the situation to how PBOT, TriMet, and the BTA retro-fitted the Rose Quarter Transit Center with green dedicated bikeways. “I think we can make a Rose Quarter scale improvement on a much faster timeline.”

PBOT spokesperson Dan Anderson says crews have already begun restriping lanes on the Couch s-curve and they’ll also be widening the bike path and adding a three-foot painted buffer this week.

— For more on bikes and the East Burnside Couch Couplet project, read my in-depth report on the project or view all my past coverage (which dates back to 2007).

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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. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Nick V May 5, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    It seems like PDX puts WAY too much time and money into planning and “research” (REF: CRC, bike sharing, etc.) for this type of stuff to have a result like this.

    And, according to KATU, “crews accidentally painted one of those lanes 2 ½ feet too narrow”. Shouldn’t that have been corrected right off the bat?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) May 5, 2010 at 2:46 pm

      nick v,

      as i reported in my story last week, PBOT didn’t realize they had painted the lane stripes too narrow until they went out and observed the situation.

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  • Steve B May 5, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    Nicely done, Michael! We welcome more of this type of response from the BTA on other new projects. I like the example of the Rose Quarter transit mall.

    I learned last night that the Foster Rd plan was approved almost 10 years ago, has not been built yet, but will include almost no bike accommodations. Despite agreeing to the plan 10 years ago, we absolutely need bike lanes on Foster NOW. How can we break this culture of “build it now, fix it later.” ?

    I understand the planning process is long and beholden to community consensus that may have been achieved in the past — this goes for all DOTs — but here in Oregon, we should have enough courage to resist building old solutions that just don’t create the city we want to live in. If we had that sort of flexibility, bike facilities could have shown up at least on Burnside in the build out process.

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  • matt picio May 5, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    Kudos to Mike and the BTA – this is EXACTLY what we want to see from the BTA – going out, calling attention to hi-impact issues, and getting something done about them. Excellent job, BTA!

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  • jbiker May 5, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    PDOT needs to elevate the bike path to sidewalk height at the curves similar to the road/sidewalk transition on the east side of the Hawthorne bridge.

    That way no cars would veer into the path unless they were willing to jump a curb. Also, less road debris/rocks/glass would impede cyclists trying to navigate the curve.

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  • are May 5, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    as of october 2007 the agreement was to eliminate most parking on the north side of couch between 6th and MLK. this was changed in september 2008 without any apparent input from the public (though presumably some businesses along couch had something to say).

    but frankly it is only from 7th on down, where there is a striped bike lane, that cyclists face a serious threat from right hooks, etc. from 14th to 7th, where there is onstreet parking on both sides, the travel lanes are only 11 feet wide and there is no striped bike lane, which means (with the lights timed to about 20 mph) that cyclists simply take the lane and there are no conflicts. the real problem is at the “s” curve onto the bridge, and while some of the solutions mike proposes would also work, there is something to be said for getting rid of the striped bike lane altogether, dropping the speed limit to 15 mph, and putting down sharrows.

    the overarching concept here was supposed to be to make burnside/couch and environs walkable, from northeast 14th all the way over to northwest 24th. let’s get serious about this and quit catering to motorists who just wanna blow through.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) May 5, 2010 at 5:04 pm


      removing a big swath of parking is a non-starter for PBOT in this location. regardless of whatever benefit it might have for transportation humans in a healthy and efficient way, it’s simply too controversial and messy for them to wade in to. For more depth on this, check out the story I did last August when I spoke with the project manager from PBOT. You might also want to peruse my East Burnside Couch Couplet tag for more stories (including this Q&A about it with a former City Bike Advisory Committee member who sat on the project advisory committee).

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  • Babygorilla May 5, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    I’d take issue with the assertion that Couch feels crowded. Its actually the best part of my commute. I ride it during morning rush and keeping pace with traffic, while taking the right hand lane, is effortless given the downhill direction. Have had no bad vibes from drivers either.

    But I guess it would feel crowded to cyclists who unnecessarily endanger themselves by trying to squeeze by cars on the right in an imaginary third travel lane when two perfectly sized lanes exist that are more than adequate for the volume of traffic that that street sees. I actually used the left lane this morning to pass backed up traffic in the right hand lane!

    The right hand curve, however, was poorly designed and the fix has been poorly implemented. The fix actually caused the accident, not the poorly designed right hand curve, because the cyclist was suddenly confronted with traffic cones in the middle of the bike lane with no signage to indicate whether the bike lane was open or closed and in confusion, went down well before the narrow right hand turn. Its a little disingenious to link the crash and the narrowness of the right hand curve as the two had nothing to do with each other.

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  • are May 5, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    again, i am not talking about a big swath. i am talking about a few spaces west of 7th, north side only. this was in the original plans, and was changed in september 08 with no explanation.

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  • Caroline May 5, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    Rode this today. If you’re an aggressive rider and have an eye out, it’s almost alright.

    But I had a word with a teenage driver who was texting on a cell phone in her lap WHILE taking the S curve next to me on my bike. Well, more than a word… more like a yell. Scared the crap out of her. Now we’re even, I guess.

    Keep in mind that not only are people bewildered by major traffic changes, they’re still engaging in ridiculously unsafe, petty activities while driving. Be careful!

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  • BURR May 5, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    Jonathan, no matter how much PBOT tries to avoid it, preservation of curbside parking vs. installation of bike facilities has been an major issue in Portland since at least the mid 1980’s.

    It was done to make room for the first bike lanes ever installed in Portland, on SE 26th from SE Taggart to SE Gladstone, some time in the early 80s.

    It was proposed but never implemented on NE Knott circa 1988. As far as I’m aware, PDOT has treated the curb lane as the property of the adjacent property owner ever since.

    If PBOT doesn’t grow some cojones and address this issue sooner rather than later, all the pie-in-the-sky facilities in the Bike Master Plan will never amount to anything, because most of them will never get built without removal of curbside parking.

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  • BURR May 5, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    Even worse, PBOT is now actively working to preserve curb side parking at the expense of better bike facilities, through wholesale installation of curb extensions throughout the city, including those stupid greenstreets bioswales, or whatever they call them these days.

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  • the "other" steph May 5, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Way to go, Mike and BTA!

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  • brian May 5, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    I’m glad this has made some news, and was hoping to voice my concerns sooner to the BTA. Thankfully they are on this

    With regards to the bike lane only existing for two or three blocks, I was under the impression that if the bike lane was to start at 6th & Couch that cyclists would be able to take Ankeny west to 6th, turn right, and cross Burnside to get to Couch.
    As of yesterday there seems to be no indication of any additional lights being put into place. How would a cyclist cross Burnside without the aid of a traffic light?

    Riding west on Couch to the bridge is really not a very safe route for any cyclist, seasoned or not. It’s simply too tight and too new for drivers And I was amazed when I first rode down it and saw no bike box at Couch & MLK. If any intersection needs a bike box, that one surely does now.

    The whole situation with the new couplet and getting to the Burnside Bridge is nothing short of a joke in terms of cyclist safety and design. Hopefully PBOT can get this straightened out before any further accidents.

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  • Adam May 5, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    I second the other commenter – well done BTA for stepping up!

    On the issue of on-street parking, I would disagree with the sweeping statement that on-street parking couldn’t be removed during peak hours from one side of Couch.

    Burnside is set to GAIN on-street parking by the fricking bucketload when this project is completed. So, Couch can afford to lose some, no?

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  • BURR May 5, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    the whole couplet idea was stupid from the git-go

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  • BURR May 5, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    814.420 Failure to use bicycle lane or path; exceptions; penalty.

    (1) Except as provided in subsections (2) and (3) of this section, a person commits the offense of failure to use a bicycle lane or path if the person operates a bicycle on any portion of a roadway that is not a bicycle lane or bicycle path when a bicycle lane or bicycle path is adjacent to or near the roadway.
    (2) A person is not required to comply with this section unless the state or local authority with jurisdiction over the roadway finds, after public hearing, that the bicycle lane or bicycle path is suitable for safe bicycle use at reasonable rates of speed.
    (3) A person is not in violation of the offense under this section if the person is able to safely move out of the bicycle lane or path for the purpose of:
    (a) Overtaking and passing another bicycle, a vehicle or a pedestrian that is in the bicycle lane or path and passage cannot safely be made in the lane or path.
    (b) Preparing to execute a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
    (c) Avoiding debris or other hazardous conditions.
    (d) Preparing to execute a right turn where a right turn is authorized.
    (e) Continuing straight at an intersection where the bicycle lane or path is to the right of a lane from which a motor vehicle must turn right.
    (4) The offense described in this section, failure to use a bicycle lane or path, is a Class D traffic violation. [1983 c.338 §700; 1985 c.16 §338; 2005 c.316 §3]

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  • BURR May 5, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    oops, that last post was totally in the wrong thread, but enjoy anyway!

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  • Marcus Griffith May 6, 2010 at 2:20 am

    As much planning and cost that goes into transportation projects, one would think 2 1/2 foot”mistake” would be not be possible. Or at least if it was made it would be notice and corrected right away.

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  •! the other one May 6, 2010 at 9:05 am

    that’s great. Out on Holgate the bikelane is almost as wide as a car lane, so cars use it ALL THE TIME. Down on Couch and couplet it’s way to narrow. IT’S A SNAFU, cyclists again ajust and advocate for equality.

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  • Joe May 6, 2010 at 9:09 am

    I agree with Burr on the bioswales. Though I think it is a great idea to not have to process all the street runoff at the sewage treatment plant, the curb extensions that are being added are a real hazard for bicyclists. It forces them out right into the middle of traffic.

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  • Spiffy May 6, 2010 at 10:17 am

    thank you BTA and Michael O’Leary!

    BURR, that’s sort of relevant to the story, since the bake lanes aren’t safe and probably haven’t had a public hearing yet so legally bikes can just take the lane until they fix it or have a hearing…

    bioswales, I love them… they keep the area green and lush… I haven’t seen any that stick out into the bike lane… or if I did then they were easy to avoid… not sure which ones you all are talking about…

    david….no! the other one, the Holgate bike lane had a lot of cars in it the first couple weeks it was open but people now know it’s there so the only place I see them in it is right when the 2nd lane goes away by the AMPM/MAX and the crazies are passing those last few cars on the right before getting back into traffic…

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  • Ted Buehler May 6, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    Thanks, Micheal and BTA!

    This is a good challenge to the good bicyclists of Portland — for the future, how can we
    1) keep these “engineering errors” from happening, and
    2) get a fix from the city *before* ambulances are called.

    Ted Buehler

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  • J.R. May 6, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    I don’t know. I just rode this again tonight. If this facility existed in most other North American cities, people on bikes would be grateful.
    I do agree that losing the bike lane from 6th to the bridge would be an improvement as people would then use the travel lane, which they are already using to stay out of the door zone and away from bus stops on the way downhill. With cars and bikes going the same speed it’s no problem. Making it Mom/kid/chair/ped friendly will only happen if we stop allowing cars on the road…which I am entirely in favor of doing.

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  • Ted Buehler May 6, 2010 at 11:34 pm

    >> If this facility existed in most other North American cities, people on bikes would be grateful. <<

    This is probably true.

    But Portland has a policy of building new bicycle facilities so they are attractive to all bicyclists, not just the "strong and fearless."

    If we want to make Portland so bike-friendly and bike-happy that 25% of all trips are done by bike, we need to hold city staff to a higher standard of quality than bike lanes that get pinched off by high-speed traffic in S curves…

    My $0.02
    Ted Buehler

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  • Andrew May 7, 2010 at 11:04 am

    I ride down Ankeny and cut over to couch at 6th every day (used to just hop right onto burnside) on my way to work. The new setup is a huge improvement over what it was before (riding in burnside traffic). I completely agree about the sketchiness of the curves getting onto the bridge.

    But my question is why is everyone whining about couch above 6th? Who wants to ride on couch there anyway? Maybe it’s just me but I’ll take a low-traffic road over a high-traffic bike lane any day.

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  • SkidMark May 10, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    I rode this again today and I don’t see what is sketchy about it: lean left then lean right, oooooh that was tough.

    I’m more concerned about the uneven surface where they scraped off the first line, that could be just as slippery in the rain as the line that was there.

    High speed traffic? In Portland?

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  • 180mm_dan May 14, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    Jonathan– I appreciate Bike Portland’s coverage of this issue. One burning question for me, that I hope is already on your list, is: How did PBOT arrive at that curve design?

    I would like to hear even more about how PBOT arrives at their final design for these projects. I think citizens want to know how what happened in this case– Bike Portland could help us out here…

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