The Worst Day of the Year Ride is February 11th

How is Hawthorne/Madison construction treating you?

Posted by on July 26th, 2010 at 9:54 am

Looking east on SE Hawthorne Blvd, just before Grand Avenue. Not exactly a place you’d want your kids or your mom to ride through is it?
(Photo © J. Maus)

The City of Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) is into their second week of a three week project to grind down and repave SE Hawthorne Boulevard and SE Madison Street from Grand to 12th. The project is part of the same $4.3 million, federal stimulus-funded project that brought a new street surface to NW 23rd.

After receiving a few emails about the riding conditions in the construction zone I decided to roll over myself and have a look. Keep in mind, these stretches of Hawthorne and Madison are two of the busiest bike streets in the entire city.

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As expected at around 5:30 pm on a weekday, there was a high volume of bike traffic coming east off the Hawthorne Bridge viaduct. Coming up to Grand Ave, I noticed the familiar bright orange cones and flags of a construction site. I was a bit surprised at how abruptly the bike lane ended and joined with the outer-most vehicle lane. There were no transitional markings leading up to the lane closure and people had to rely on their wits to merge safely over and hope that people in cars noticed them. Another issue was TriMet buses getting over to service a stop situated just beyond the orange cones.

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For most people, this isn’t a dire safety situation. But I wonder, why must bike traffic be subjected to these conditions, even if it’s just temporary? This is a major bike artery. We must make sure it is safe and comfortable to travel through — by all modes — even during a construction project.

The HB 2001 transportation funding bill passed in 2009 combined with federal stimulus-funded project, we are seeing historic amounts of road projects. Perhaps it’s time for our region to adopt a formal ordinance regarding how to treat bikeways during construction projects. I also think it might be a good idea to educate contractors about bikeway continuity as part of the permitting process.

On a different note, since these two streets are getting repaved, any chance the lanes could be re-striped to give more room to non-motorized traffic (like PBOT did on Williams)? The current configuration is parking lanes on both sides, a 5-foot non-motorized vehicle lane (a.k.a. bike lane), and three vehicle lanes. This street definitely warrants more space for bikes.

Please use this post to share your comments about how the bikeways are being treated as this project continues in the coming weeks. Construction is expected to be completed by August 6th. Check out for updates on this and other projects.

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

  • Matthew July 26, 2010 at 10:00 am

    I’ve found it annoying and jarring, but not terrifying. And I’m easily terrified! Only really tricky part is the end of the construction, where the Hawthorne bike lane curves into Ladd’s Addition. The pavement there is pretty uneven.

    Wider bike lanes — or bike lanes on both sides of the street — would be spectacular.

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  • andy July 26, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Easier said than implemented but remove the car parking on the South side of Hawthorne from Grand to 50th. 12-15 feet seems appropriate.

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  • Rithy July 26, 2010 at 10:20 am

    Yet one more reason Portland isn’t Copenhagen. I never understood why the signs take more precedence than bikes. Why not move the signs on the sidewalk (of course unless they are blocking peds). Or better yet remove parking and move the signs so they create a buffer for bikes between the cars?

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  • Rob July 26, 2010 at 10:20 am

    I rolled through the construction zone from Ladd’s towards the Hawthorne on Wednesday evening. The pavement dropped off pretty severely at the end of Ladd’s at Hawthorne, and there weren’t any signs at all warning me ahead of time that the construction was in-progress. Pretty big bump there, which was kind of a shock, but no damage done!

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  • Malex July 26, 2010 at 10:21 am

    It’s not a dire safety situation, but I still prefer to avoid it—I take Clay instead, all the way to/from the river.

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  • Dave July 26, 2010 at 10:24 am

    That would be AWESOME if they made wider bike lanes on Hawthorne, it’s well needed with the amount of traffic Hawthorne gets.

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  • pat h July 26, 2010 at 10:25 am

    The turn onto SE Ladd was pretty bad, since there was a sharp turn and a big bump that was at a different angle.

    The rest of it was just rough. SE Clay is an easy alternative route for eastbound traffic.

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  • Nik July 26, 2010 at 10:26 am

    I’ve only been on it once during the construction so far, during the morning commute, and I avoided it by following some others onto Clay and traversing to Madison on 7th. The traffic before 7am is pretty light so it wasn’t an issue, but the grooved surface is rather annoying.

    That evening I didn’t ride back over it because I met my wife over by Lloyd Center and we rode up Ankeny instead.

    My solution is to avoid riding on those streets as much as possible until the construction is over.

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  • poncho July 26, 2010 at 10:34 am

    if there was ever a single place for major bike infrastructure in portland, this is most definitely the stretch. i would think with the wide one way there would be ample space for a protected cycle track with bicycle traffic signals like those in the netherlands. put the bus stops and parking between the traffic and cycle track to reduce bus-bike conflict… something like that dunsmuir separated bike lane in vancouver bc.

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  • Paulie July 26, 2010 at 10:38 am

    My thoughts after my first ride through the construction zone? Free foot massage! The ground-down pavement made my feet buzz after a few blocks. ;o)

    The rough pavement and sloped bump in the middle of a turn (from Hawthorne onto Ladd) convinced me to use Clay during the construction phase. Inconvenient, but a minor one.

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  • Dave July 26, 2010 at 10:43 am

    I concur that the bump turning right from Hawthorne onto Ladd is a bit nasty, I can see it being pretty scary for someone who isn’t very sure of themselves on a bike. I’ve been turning right on 6th and then either taking Clay to Ladd to go South, or just turning around and crossing Hawthorne on 6th to go North.

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  • valkraider July 26, 2010 at 10:46 am

    Everyone wants better roads and paths but then complain when construction happens.

    I will never understand it.

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  • commuter July 26, 2010 at 10:47 am

    I take the first right after getting off the Hawthorne bridge and ride down Clay to Ladds. This stretch of Hawthorne is probably the most sketch part of my commute as you have to watch for cars pulling out, cars turning right, doors and cyclists passing you on the left and sometimes on the right. Not to mention the speeds that can be achieved on this downhill. Wider bike lanes would definitely be a plus on this very important route.

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  • Elliot July 26, 2010 at 10:51 am

    I’ve been avoiding this area since they first started grading work a week or two ago. (I use Madison to get to Grand Avenue, but don’t cross the river).

    Then this morning I found Clinton closed at 49th for more road work and had to detour to Lincoln, which means more than half of my commute has shifted in order to avoid construction. Not too much of an issue since there are plenty of parallel facilities in the area, but it’s never really a welcome surprise to see a street closed without warning.

    Whatever happened to PBOT’s ‘Bicycle Traffic Advisory’ Jonathan reported on last October? I’m disappointed they haven’t continued it. Seems to be needed now more than ever. A bikeway construction advisory system seems like a good idea for a new CivicApp.

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  • Esther July 26, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Agreed about the abrupt transition. I actually was driving this stretch in a zipcar last week, and I checked and double-checked my mirrors & blind spots for anyone on a bike remotely near my vehicle as I prepared to cross MLK. (E.g. anywhere between my “12 and 6 oclock”) The only person I saw was at the top of the hill behind me. Apparently bikes come down that hill a lot faster than even I (a daily rider) anticipate, because as I crossed Grand, she suddenly passed me on my right then quickly dodged in front of my car where the construction zone began. Though, I would chalk that up to foolish/inexperienced riding as much as the infrastructure (if I had been riding I think I would have been braking, and taking the lane BEHIND the car ahead of me…)

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  • Bob_M July 26, 2010 at 11:36 am

    The bus/rider/bike interaction seems poorly designed. The busses can’t get all the way to the curb.

    To their credit the bus drivers I have seen seem very aware of cyclists and patient in crossing the bike path to stop for riders.

    Out of courtesy and for safety, when you see a bus with his signal, take the lane and pass on the left.

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  • Geezer Guy July 26, 2010 at 11:44 am

    I have kind of been waiting for a car to push me off the road seeing how there are no lines indicating where I should be and where they should be BUT so far so good. . .

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  • sabernar July 26, 2010 at 11:50 am

    John, I fixed the last line of your article:

    “Please use this post to bitch and moan about how feel as this project continues in the coming weeks. “

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) July 26, 2010 at 11:55 am

    thanks sabernar, but I’ll do with my version for now.

    and just for the record, I think how ODOT/PBOT/County, etc, handle bike traffic during construction projects is a very important and necessary thing to keep in the news. Call it bitching and moaning all you want… but if they think no one cares or is watching, than bike traffic will not be respected or considered during these projects like it should be.

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  • tony July 26, 2010 at 11:57 am

    It’s more annoying than a problem now, but I did have two incidents which were quite jarring to me during this process.

    The first was about two weeks ago coming eastbound on Hawthorne. As I was in the left hand lane to turn onto Seventh heading north I almost wiped out when I hit an intentional pot hole. They hade removed the manhole covers and filled them temporarily with blacktop, but not flush to the street. These were all over the lane, without warning.

    The second was on the first day post-grind down. They “helpfully laid some cones down along the bike lane, but it was not clear where you should ride (similar to the scene on Broadway) ont he left or right of the cones. Additionally some cones were down, blocking the lane, so when I went to the left of the cones to avoid the downed ones, I realized why the cones were there, to warn me of the abrupt edge.

    Luckily I didn’t fall in either of these spots, but I certainly think we should have a bit more respect to the bike traffic during construction, especially on such a traveled route.

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  • Jim Lee July 26, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    Checked it out headed to the Ironclad crit in Hillsboro on Sunday.

    The carbon fork and Al-Sc frame on my new ORANGE Wabi Lightning handled SE Madison with aplomb.

    Thanks for the fine reporting on the Holgate issue, JM. Hope that GIGANTIC sub went down ok!

    Did I mention, “ORANGE?”

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  • are July 26, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    re the abrupt transition. the situation is quite visible from a long way off, coming down from the bridge heading east. the time to merge left is before you get to grand, not at (or after) the intersection. this was already true if you wanted to prepare for a left at 7th (or even 12th) before construction began, but now it is true for everyone. signage advising cyclists to merge left and telling motorists to expect cyclists in the lane might be placed on the descent from the bridge, but that would further limit available travel space there. of course, there is that huge unused area of cross-hatching they have created around the exit ramp onto MLK (which is where i make the transition, not at the little bike lane marked across the mouth of the ramp itself). maybe they could put something there. in any event, if this is a route you use regularly, you need not make the same mistake twice. do not attempt an abrupt merge coming out of the light at grand.

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  • Bob_M July 26, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    A confused masochists crashed on MLK

    He thought is was Grand

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  • dan July 26, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Bumpy, jarring, kind of sketchy both because of the surface conditions and the need to merge into the auto lane. OK on my commuter, which is an MTB with slicks, but really unpleasant on my roadbike.

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  • MeghanH July 26, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    I’m using Clay, and going over the Morrison Bridge instead of the Hawthorne all summer. I seem to have the bridge path all to myself most days…

    On the downside, Water Ave is an obstacle course of potholes, old railroad/streetcar tracks and broken glass. And the entrance to the Morrison on the east side is dangerous for bicycles. So, it’s a tradeoff…

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  • Ben July 26, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Jarring is definitely the right word. A few weeks ago I was in a small unrelated crash and slammed my wrist pretty hard. Every time I ride section I feel like I’m using a jackhammer. I just hold my bars gingerly with my sore hand. I’ve also started using salmon and 2nd so that I only have to spend a block being bucked around.
    It would be nice if they could have done this in stages. Shut down maybe two lanes at a time. I guess that would really slow traffic down.

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  • Wally July 26, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    We all complaint about the poor road conditions. Now that the road is getting fixed, we complain about the construction. Clay or Salmon are both great alternatives during the construction. Also, I think I counted at least 12 BUMP or GROOVED SURFACE signs on Hawthorne and Madison, so its not like they are not warning us.

    Cant wait to ride on the fresh new asphalt.

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  • spare_wheel July 26, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    ” but really unpleasant on my roadbike”

    Its more than unpleasant — its downright dangerous for a road bike with 140 psi skinnies. I’ve been detouring to clay.

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  • jv July 26, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    I feel like there is plenty of warning on that stretch – I mean there really don’t need to be separate signs indicating that there are hazards and uneven roadway for bikes . If there are bumps and uneven pavement transitions that require cars to slow down, then logic would dictate that bikes should use caution too… As mentioned before – we want nice smooth roads and paths, but then we all wring our hands when we are slightly inconvenienced by it actually happening. The solution is to avoid construction areas and just divert to Clay as soon as you are across MLK/Grand. Only people who are stubborn creatures of habit continue using the same routes during road construction…let’s just evolve a bit, and recognize that temporary inconvenience is necessary.

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  • Paulie July 26, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    I think it would have been helpful to have detour signs to Clay on the bridge where the exit to go down to the Esplanade is located. Waiting until you are across the viaduct before you get any notice of construction means you have to navigate at least a couple of blocks of torn up street.

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  • BURR July 26, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    the eastbound detour signs could even be at the west end of the viaduct directing people to the off-ramp to the Esplanade, where you can make connections to SE Clay, SE Salmon and other parallel streets without having to ride on any of that portion of Hawthorne currently under construction.

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  • The Biking Viking July 26, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    I’ve been getting familiar with the new Morrison bridge crossing during the construction. It’s been pretty empty most the time, so I would assume most people are either sticking with the Hawthorne or not biking (hopefully the former).

    Side note- heading eastbound, I’ve noticed the potential for bike/bike head on collisions. First when crossing the crosswalk (bikes streaming westward/downhill), then having to exit on the left side of the path. Haven’t had any close calls yet, but wanted to tell everyone to beware these dangers.

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  • Jen July 26, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    I take Hawthorne every day and haven’t had too much of a problem with the construction. It is unpleasant, but at least all the car drivers seem to recognize the need to go a little slower and be more cautious.
    I usually merge to the left lane during the end of the down slope of the bridge because I need to take a left on 7th to connect with Salmon. With the construction, I would love to see them do some thing that would help people who are trying to make this connection. While I feel confident making the merge (even in high traffic), I worry when I am with either my son or my husband as they are both not as comfortable on their bikes.
    Sometimes, when I am with them, if the traffic level is too high I will lead them to 8th and we will ride around the block so we are then heading east on 7th, but that is really inconvienient and a round about way of getting there.
    It just seems to me to have two “bike arteries” with so llittle easy connection is silly. Particularly when there are so many people who say (read the posts on the “kill this bicyclist” post)that we SHOULD be riding on Salmon or Lincoln. I agree, we should, just give me a safe way to get from here to there.

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  • Red Five July 26, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    My Subaru Forester glides over these rough roads with no problems!

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  • are July 26, 2010 at 7:59 pm

    detouring cyclists to the esplanade would put additional pressure on the pedestrian use of that exit, and signage might suggest to motorists that cyclists “do not belong” on hawthorne beyond that point. it seems to me that most users of this route are sufficiently familiar with the situation that they should be able to make sensible decisions . . .

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  • sabernar July 26, 2010 at 10:34 pm

    I don’t understand why they don’t have construction works assigned to hold our hands while we ride our bikes in the construction zone. That’s the only safe thing to do, right?!?! Either that or take a different route. But if i took a different route then how would be able to complain! And all those orange warning signs, they hurt my eyes when the sun reflects off of them! Can’t they take them down so they don’t reflect into cyclists eyes?!?! Jeez!

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  • Spiffy July 27, 2010 at 7:08 am

    I went through on the 14th with kids in trailers and it wasn’t horrible… the kids enjoyed the bumps…

    westbound was pretty easy, seems cars are staying away from the right lanes… and bikes are queuing in the turn lane and using the double bike lane pretty well going up the bridge…

    eastbound is pretty constricting coming down the bridge into the construction zone… I was worried about the bus hooking me but they sped up quickly to get to their stop and we passed them on the left…

    I don’t remember any transition problems turning into Ladds so either they hadn’t tore it up yet or my fat tires didn’t care…

    either way the presence of orange cones everywhere was a dead giveaway that you should be slow and cautious due to construction…

    but I agree with tony #20 that the cones were a little confusing since it almost seemed like they were creating a buffer for bikes, but then towards the bridge it seemed maybe we should be on the left side of them…

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  • ADJPDX July 27, 2010 at 8:22 am

    Glad that road improvement is happening – it’s worth the minor annoyance of a grooved road. The bus/bike interaction, though, is a bit harrowing as designation of who goes where is unclear. Wider bike lanes would be a great outcome!

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  • Paul July 27, 2010 at 9:20 am

    I just discovered that SE Clinton has also been ground down and is receiving a new surface. They were laying new blacktop down last night – but its still rough and has not been cleaned up yet.

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  • spare_wheel July 27, 2010 at 9:52 am

    “Either that or take a different route.”

    The route is like riding a gravel road. IMO, they should have detoured the route entirely.

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  • Rebecca C July 27, 2010 at 10:13 am

    I am an experienced cyclist who comes through Ladds on my way to PSU every day and ride 40+ miles/week. I ride a hardtail with pretty wide tires. Even with front shocks and big old tires, the transition W out of SE Ladd is gruesome right now and coming home isn’t much better. I almost wiped out coming E off the Hawthorne Bridge last week and would have bought it yesterday coming off SE Ladd with a car behind me if I had not slowed to a crawl to get to Madison (which did not make the car’s driver the happiest bear in the forest).

    I agree that taking Clay is the smarter option–especially if you don’t dig having to stop every block or two to pick rocks out of your eyes. Be careful out there, folks! We’ve had too many cyclists injured in the past couple of years.

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  • BURR July 27, 2010 at 11:14 am

    The two things I don’t understand are (1) why don’t they clean up all the loose gravel immediately after they do the grinding? and(2)why the long delay between grinding and repaving?

    This also happened when they repaved SE Ladd two or three years ago, and it took a lot of complaints to get PDOT to move up the paving schedule so the road wouldn’t remain in the deconstructed state for a period of several months.

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  • MIndful Cyclist July 27, 2010 at 11:36 am

    This is not one of my regular routes, but did have to deal with it while taking a jaunt down the Springwater. Plenty of signs and notice and just had to be careful.

    I agree with the people that recommend using Clay or Salmon. For a couple weeks, get out of the rut of taking the same way everyday and get out and see more of the city.

    Funny thing happened to me with the Broadway Bridge closure. I was out of town when it happened and had to figure out another way to get downtown. I decided it may be easiest just to use the Burnside bridge. What I found was that it was not only an easier and safer ride, it trimmed a couple minutes off the trip.

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  • you_are_a_traffic_calming_device July 27, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    I guess it’s worth the hassle if it means a smoother ride in the future. My kevlar-belted tires seem to do just fine on this stretch.

    +1 for poncho’s comment (#9). love how the new buffered bike lanes look in BC.

    +1 for comment #16 too, that’s just good judgment.

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  • Wil July 30, 2010 at 8:44 am

    I’ve been away for a couple of weeks and was surprised to encounter this mess on my way home. Took a left onto 7th from Hawthorne at about 25MPH and went airborne sideways from the steep ramp/rise between the grades. Held it upright, but damn. The construction standards are clearly not appropriate for bikes.

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  • emily July 31, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    I understand that Hawthorne needed construction, but understanding the necessity of this construction does not make it suddenly more pleasant to bike over grooved pavement on skinny road bike tires, have buses/car tires shoot gravel and construction dust in your face and eyes, and have to completely reroute my trusty morning commute so that I feel safer on my bike. Early morning commutes suck, and they suck even more when there’s gravel in your mouth. Since PBOT gave little to no warning on this project, I biked onto this construction zone completely unprepared for the mess that was now my early morning commute. I know there are alternate routes to take, but I don’t think much thought was directed toward how this construction would affect bicyclists, no “suggested bike detour routes” for non-masochists, absolutely no cleanup of gravel, confusing signs and unmarked lanes. Also, really abrupt edges that are unmarked, almost threw me off my bike. I’m sure someone will just respond to my comment pointing out what a hypocrite I am, but everyone’s a hypocrite in some fashion. It’s simply an annoying situation that I think could have been handled better. I didn’t see any “bike merging” signs until at least the second week of construction, after I had found alternate routes.

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  • Ed August 3, 2010 at 10:11 am

    We need to work on signage/education. I got some serious road rage when I merged over to the center lane prior to a red light at Grand.

    The driver whipped around me, cut me off, and then yelled at me to use the bike lane. I pointed out that the bike lane ended but he kept yelling at me that “the bike lane is over there”.

    When car lanes end on the freeway due to construction there are signs far back letting you know everyone know they need to merge. We need something similar on these high traffic bike routes.

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  • Chris Eykamp
    Chris Eykamp August 4, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    I have long thought that this stretch of Hawthorne would be perfect for a cycletrack. It is a very popular cycling street, and with its downhill slope, riders often travel fast. The parking adjacent to the bike lane is heavily used, frequently by patrons of the bars along the street, creating a constant hazard of being doored. In fact, I often avoid cycling this part of Hawthorne, taking a longer way around, because I feel it is too dangerous in certain traffic conditions. A cycletrack would significantly reduce these hazards.
    > It seems space is available: the Hawthorne Bridge has only two lanes, and Hawthorne again becomes two lanes after 11th, and there are not a lot of vehicles feeding into Hawthrone that would justify that short stretch having a third lane. The only significant potential source of vehicles is Grand itself, and the way the street is configured, there are only a very limited number of potential turners during the times when Hawthorne traffic would fill two travel lanes.

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