Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

PBOT looks to smooth out bike streets without breaking the bank

Posted by on August 17th, 2010 at 12:01 pm

BAC bike ride-7

Local streets like NE Going are in need
of pavement maintenance, but current
methods — developed for major arterials — are
(Photo © J. Maus)

The City of Portland is working hard to make the growing network of “next generation” bike boulevards (a.k.a. neighborhood greenway) streets as comfortable for people on bikes as possible. They’ve turned stop signs to make them more efficient and safer, they’ve added sharrows and wayfinding signs, they’ve added speed bumps to calm motor vehicle traffic, and they’ve added medians and other elements to make crossings safer and easier.

But there’s one major thing that PBOT hasn’t been able to do in their bike boulevard program — smooth out potholes, bumps, and cracks in old pavement. Re-paving is very expensive and the current City budget has focused all paving and maintenance resources onto major arterials. That leaves many of Portland’s local streets — the ones where bike boulevards are being built — in disrepair.

Poor pavement quality has a big impact on bicycling and it’s an issue that was raised repeatedly by residents at PBOT’s bike boulevard meetings. At one such meeting, after someone wondered why re-paving wasn’t in the plans, a PBOT staffer replied in jest (and I paraphrase), “We can either bring you this entire bike boulevard project [which people in the meeting were cheering for a few minutes prior], or we can repave one block.”

“There is a hope that this work can achieve real saving over routine maintenance designed for higher volume streets carrying heavier vehicles.”
— Mark Lear, PBOT

But now PBOT is considering a solution to this problem that might result in smoother bike boulevards by next spring. PBOT project manager Kyle Chisek confirms that this winter they’ll be working to develop a new process that will result in a more cost-effective way to smooth out local streets.

PBOT’s traffic safety manager Mark Lear, the agency’s lead staffer on the bike boulevard program, says, “This winter PBOT will be developing cost effective maintenance strategies for our neighborhood greenway projects.” It’s unclear what exactly they plan to do, but PBOT has already identified street sections that will be used to develop the process:

  • NE Going from 33rd to 35th
  • N Bryant from Oatman to Villard
  • SW Vermont from 30th to 33rd
  • SE Bush at 136th

The development of this process could reap huge benefits for local streets. It would allow PBOT to officially recognize the vast difference in maintenance and paving needs between major arterials with heavy truck and car traffic and bike boulevard streets where most of the vehicles are bicycles (or, at least that’s the goal).

Or, in the words of Lear, “There is a hope that this work can achieve real saving over routine maintenance designed for higher volume streets carrying heavier vehicles.” PBOT project manager Dan Layden says the idea behind the new process would be to “… go in and repair the local street enough so that there’s a good surface for bikes without completely rebuilding the street.” On a recent ride with the City’s Bike Advisory Committee, Lear mentioned that one possibility might be to add a strip of smooth pavement to a street about the width of a bike lane.

Better pavement quality on bike streets would make them more attractive, efficient, and safer — all of which are key to bringing out the families, kids, and “interested but concerned” crowd PBOT is so actively courting.

— See all our bike boulevard coverage here.

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

  • Coaster August 17, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    how about an all volunteer ‘RoadCrew’ bike squad?
    PBOT could just buy a cargo bike and a few bags of quickcrete and let people take it out for a spin on their normal routes… It would be cheaper than sending out a big truck and stopping traffic etc, and then it might actually get done…

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  • Dillon August 17, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    They just got done re-paving Clinton from 50th down to 39th, very nice.

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  • Ali August 17, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    I think Mark Lear’s name must have gotten mangled by your spell-checker.

    Thanks Ali. Fixed it. — Jonathan

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  • noah August 17, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    Would it be any more feasible to repave just bike-wide sections of these back roads?

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  • Anne Hawley August 17, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    Do I perceive a longer-term strategy here of eventually being able to show in hard numbers how much less expensive bike infrastructure is to maintain?

    Because that would be verrry clever of PBOT.

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  • Amos August 17, 2010 at 1:40 pm


    On the recent PBAC ride repaving a bike-wide portion of the road was mentioned as a possible solution to surface improvement. I wouldn’t be surprised if that has a lot to do with the plan.

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  • bikieboy August 17, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    Another section of bike blvd/ neighborhood greenway that would benefit hugely from resurfacing is SE Mill from approx. 80th to 84th…it’s been carpet-bombed.

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  • spare_wheel August 17, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    “Would it be any more feasible to repave just bike-wide sections of these back roads?”

    I would pay money to see the reaction of the boregonian crowd to that proposal.

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  • cyclist August 17, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    My problem with only paving a bike-wide portion of the road is the placement of that section. Is it right in the middle of the street? If so you’d regularly have to pull off of it in order to yield right of way to oncoming traffic.

    There are two advantages to paving the whole section of road: 1) On a bike you have the whole street to work with and 2) the neighbors view the repaving project as something that benefits them. There are already ancillary benefits to having a bike boulevard on your street (and some neighborhoods seem to recognize this), however if you pave a small portion of the street it’s possible it’ll engender some ill will. If the people on the bike boulevard get a freshly paved road as part of the deal I imagine they’re likely to feel more positively about the experience.

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  • noah August 17, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    I think there would be two bike-wide strips, one for each direction, on each side of the street.

    And I think the residents would prefer that. First, much of these bikeways pass through gentrified neighborhoods that would (by and large) only support bike infrastructure improvements. Second, paving the entire road could attract more motorized thru traffic, which the residents REALLY don’t want.

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  • cyclist August 17, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    noah: I agree that two strips would definitely be better than one.

    I’m not so sure about the pavement attracting new cars unless it’s just awful (big potholes, etc). Most cars are going to be attracted to bike boulevards because the turned stop signs mean long stretches w/o stopping. The way PBOT is supposed to mitigate that is by building in speed bumps and diverters so that cars can’t travel as fast or as far on the bike boulevard. That picture of NE Going shows a road that would be fine to drive a car on with or without repaving, other physical impediments need to be used to keep cars off of bike boulevards.

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  • IanO August 17, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    To spur repaving of bike boulevards, I think all the agencies which publish bike maps ought to color the unimproved sections some embarrassing color of orange. My pet peeve is the two block section of 42nd just south of Belmont. Several other sections of 42nd south of Hawthorne could also use work.

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  • John Lascurettes August 17, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    cyclist: since the time of that photo, speed humps have been put on that stretch of Going.

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  • John Lascurettes August 17, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    … strike that. You can actually make one out in the photo if you look at it large.

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  • Casey M. August 17, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    A few weeks ago, outside of Hood River, I came across the first buttery-smooth, chip-sealed road that I have ever ridden. They tarred it. I have no idea what the expense of tar is, but it appeared they just dribbled it out down the road and it filled in all the low spots and changed a horrible chip-sealed road texture into a beautiful ride.

    I know tar isn’t going to fill in legitimate potholes, but as far as rough textures I think it’s great. Assuming it’s not especially pricey in comparison.

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  • Dwainedibbly August 17, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    SW Moody north from the aerial tram is awful, with lots of uneven manhole covers, etc, in addition to badly done patches. It is not a bike boulevard, but there are a lot of bike commuters using it and the worst problems are in the bike lanes.

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  • cyclist August 17, 2010 at 6:08 pm

    John Lascurettes: Thanks for pointing them out, I missed the speed bump the first time.

    My main point was that the road conditions in that photo, which the caption says is in need of pavement maintenance, From what I can see (and I can see much better in the larger version of the photo) there are no big potholes, just uneven patches in blacktop. A road in that condition will be fine for a car with any sort of suspension system, but will be much more of an annoyance to cyclists, as such keeping the road in that condition won’t deter cars and that’s why speed bumps and diverters are necessary.

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  • John Lascurettes August 17, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    Cyclist: The pic in the shot is looking west on the blocks between 41st and 39th. I know I live right around the corner. Though it’s a rather bumpy section, it’s not the pothole and gravel-ridden section between 33rd and 34th. That block is horrible and I’ve complained to the city a few times about it. I’m happy to hear they’ll be trying to do something about it.

    Cars won’t be able to turn on to Going from 33rd anymore (heading east) so there’s one diversion for you. It’s a bummer personally because I do use that as a neighborhood street when I’m driving in the neighborhood. But it’s still a good net gain. I’ve already enjoyed the greenway status of Going a number of times since the change (though my usual commute takes me downtown starting via Skidmore).

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  • CaptainKarma August 17, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    Get thee glass eyes;
    And like a scurvy politician, seem
    To see the things thou dost not.

    quote from another Lear, King Lear, 4. 6

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  • david....no! the other one August 18, 2010 at 9:00 am

    I didn’t know any streets like this still existed in Portland. Look real close…these are old-time bio-swales. Rain comes down runs into street and soaks into grass, which cools area. They used to be all across the city, then people wanted smmmmooottthhh streets, then clean sewers and finally we get bio-swales costing big engineering dollars. The more things change….

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  • Tonya August 18, 2010 at 9:20 am

    I think the paved strip is a clever alternative. I already do that on a number of stretches of road on my commute (N Michigan between Killingsworth and Alberta, for example) where the road is horrible broken up concrete, but there was maybe some sewer or gas line work right down the middle. Nice smooth concrete right down the middle of the road. Sure, sometimes I have to get off to let a car pass, but that’s less than once a week.

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  • Lester August 18, 2010 at 10:19 am

    I’ve just one thing to say : Finish paving Delta Park!

    Someone spray painted white circles around most of the potholes. I guess that was someone’s idea of a safety measure, to make them easier to see? For a moment I thought they were circled because someone was gonna come back through and patch them, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

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  • vanessa August 18, 2010 at 10:38 am

    I know they were considering NE 11TH Avenue, but switched to NE 9TH avenue for a future bike blvd..
    NE 9TH is horrible to ride. A gigantic pockmarked mess. 11TH is sweet. They should keep 11TH and not have to worry about paving problems. Plus 11TH is halfway between 7TH and 15TH, seems to make sense. And you don’t have to ride through Irving Park.

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  • Doug Allen August 19, 2010 at 9:43 am

    How do they set priorities for paving bike boulevards? SE Clinton has been repaved as far west as 37th, and the crew out there say the repaving will continue to SE 20th. The lower part of Clinton was just repaved about a dozen years ago, and I thought it was still in pretty good shape.

    The saddest part is where Clinton crosses Chavez. A nice wide bicycle box is narrowed down by curb extensions to a substandard bike lane width on the opposite side. They should have removed those curb extensions as part of the project, but they didn’t.

    When Clinton was first “calmed” there was much less bicycle traffic, so the curb extension made sense to help motorists know to stay out, but now they are a safety hazard for bicyclists. What happens is bicyclists won’t fill up the bicycle box, so late arrivers are stuck back to the right of right-turning cars.

    At least they did finally paint the boxes green.

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  • Bob August 19, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    I like the idea of two strips. The Going Greenway is awesome. I can’t wait until Klickitat and Tillamook get their stop signs turned.

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  • jim August 19, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    can they coordinate the re-paving projects with the other projects so they don’t dig up the street to replace underground utilities right after thet pave it?

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  • jim August 20, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    They should not paint sharrows on a street if they know that it is bad condition and will need to be repaved.that would be a shamefull waste of money

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  • ChaseB August 21, 2010 at 11:44 pm

    >They should not paint sharrows on a street if they know that it is bad condition and will need to be repaved. That would be a shameful waste of money.

    Those sharrows are ridiculously inexpensive; As I recall they are only a few hundred dollars each, most of which is labor costs. Compared to the hundreds of thousands of dollars it costs to repave just a few blocks, the cost of the sharrows is irrelevant.

    I like the idea of repaving a bike width section of roadway, similar to what was done on NW Marshall. (http://bikeportland.org/2010/05/06/first-look-at-new-bike-lanes-through-cobblestones-on-nw-marshall-33121) However, where on the roadway to put the repaved stretch is an issue. On Marshall they put it to the side of each travel lane next to the parking (in the door zone) and that works because Marshall is wide enough for two way traffic with parking. But most of the Bike Blvds are narrower, so the choice is either curbside, which won’t work because cars will park on it, or in the middle of the road, which will force bikers into the middle of the road conflict with oncoming and overtaking traffic. The overall concept is promising, but the devil’s really going to be in the details on this one.

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