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First look at cycle track in-progress on NE Cully Blvd

Posted by on November 22nd, 2010 at 10:52 am

View of the cycle track (L) and the sidewalk (R) on the new NE Cully Blvd. Please note that the striping and signage is not complete.
(Photos © J. Maus)


The City of Portland Bureau of Transportation has made major progress toward completion of the city’s first cycle track* as part of their Cully Boulevard Improvement Project. On Friday, I took a closer look at how the bikeway is shaping up. (For an in-depth look at the project read our post from November 2008).

Cully Cycle Track spy photos-11

Cars are parking in the cycle track now,
but hopefully they won’t once the
project is completed.

The cycle track on NE Cully Blvd. is part of a $5.4 million project to completely rebuild the street from NE Prescott to Killingsworth (about .6 miles). With a clean slate to work with, City Traffic Engineer Rob Burchfield told us back in 2008 that they sought to build “a bike facility to a European standard.”

The thing that first stood out to me about the new cycle track on Cully is how curvy it is. At each corner, the bikeway bulges out to get around curb extensions. The width of the cycle track is 7.5 feet, with 1.5 feet that will be striped with hash marks as a door zone buffer. The surface is a nice, smooth concrete, without the bumpy cracks sidewalks have. The curb separating the cycle track from the other lanes is rollable and, once the final layer of asphalt is laid down, the cycle track will be nearly flush with the adjacent lanes. This will make it easy to exit the cycle track at intersections.

Cully Cycle Track spy photos-9

In the photos I took Friday, cars are parking in the cycle track. This is due to the site still being under construction. Once the project is done and has full signage and paint, I’d expect that parking in the cycle track will decrease (however, I will not be surprised if it takes a while for people to understand that the cycle track is a lane of travel where parking is prohibited). Project plans call for bike symbols to be painted on the cycle track.

According to PBOT project manager Winston Sandino, the project could be completed as soon as this April if the weather cooperates. If not, the end of June is the targeted completion date.

This is an important project for Portland. It will give PBOT a lot of lessons on how to build a dedicated bikeways (for instance, how will bikes leave the cycle track to make a left turn and access businesses and how will intersection crossings be managed?). The cycle track will also be closely watched to see how and/or if more of them should be built throughout the city.

[*Note: You might be wondering why I refer to this as Portland’s first cycle track. Yes, I’m aware that the bikeway on SW Broadway adjacent to Portland State University is also referred to as a cycle track. However, that facility is more like a bike lane than a true cycle track. In New York City, bikeways similar to the SW Broadway facility are (more accurately in my opinion) called “parking protected bike lanes”. Full-fledged cycle tracks — like the ones in the European countries we got the idea from — are bikeways placed at a separate grade from motor vehicle traffic. Cycle tracks are further defined by more than just paint striping and are built with a different material (like concrete, in the case of Cully Blvd, and not asphalt) than the other vehicle lanes.]

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will
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will

So, will it be marked “No Parking?”

Also, I love how it’s made of concrete. That thing is going to outlast the black-topped road a 100 times over!

Dave
Guest

The one thing I see immediately that differentiates these from the ones in Amsterdam, for instance, is that the road breaks up the cycle track and sidewalk at the intersections, whereas in Amsterdam, the cycle track and sidewalk continue smoothly, and cars have to go over a bump in order to cross them. That both slows down turning traffic, and sends the message that they are entering someone else’s right of way, which I think are both big positives.

In this case, are bicycles going to have to hop down off the small bump, and then back up on the other side of the intersection? Also, it kind of sucks that the cycle track narrows at the intersections to allow the widely curved corner.

Steve B
Guest

That’s a great point. The surface of the raised cycletrack should be continued over the roadway. Something to note as we look at options for Williams, which should be relatively soon I hope.

John Lascurettes
Guest

Ha. I noticed the cars parking on the track this weekend and meant to alert the [bikeportland] media. 😉

Jennifer
Guest
Jennifer

I’m looking forward to the completion of this cycle track, since it’s on my bike commute to my work out by the airport. However, there still isn’t a safe way to cross over Columbia Blvd. to get to the airport (no crosswalk, no light) – which is why I don’t commute by bike very often. I hate dodging the big trucks & broken glass.

timbo
Guest
timbo

Jennifer – I agree the crossing from Culley to Columbia Blvd. to the airport is horrible.

sw resident
Guest
sw resident

Not too long ago the rally cry was “share the road.” A bike was touted as a way to personal freedom and empowerment. Bikes were treated as vehicles and a modicum of competency was required to ride one. The approach signaled that cyclists were equals – subject to the same freedoms and tickets. Now there seems to be a very vocal, Europhile, and connected minority who view the street as a threat and want to diminish the personal responsibility of individuals to be versed in the laws of the road and skill level required to ride. Maybe licensing and testing as we do for other road users is part of the solution as well. When I see a 18-25 male with no helmet and a janky brakeless conversion fixie I steer clear because it is often the case that they do not have the experience and foresight to recognize that everyone eventually crashes, chains break and tires puncture, sometimes animals dart in front of you, and road conditions are unpredictable.

While these tracks are good for rookies they are setting a tone where cyclists are being relegated to the margins again and are not treated as equals. At some point the training wheels need to come off. Cycle tracks reinforce the (mistaken) view of some motorists that cyclists also get a disproportionate use of road funds. Also, cyclists who have no problem riding on the streets and using prudent judgment will face tickets – not for violating general traffic laws but for not using these segregated facilities.
I would hypothesize that there is a plateau of ridership that will not be determined by perceived safety issues and segregated facilities as it will be by rain, topography and age group (with the 18-35 male group representing the majority of riders).

Steve B
Guest

You’re welcome to hypothesize all you’d like, but the data is very clear — safer, separated facilities are what attract the interested but concerned crowd Portland is trying to get on a bicycle, at least some of the time.

We also don’t license and test “for all road users,” we have tests and registration for people operating motorized vehicles. More education is definitely needed for everyone, I agree.. but that takes serious reform at ODOT/Oregon DMV, and I don’t think that’s likely to happen anytime in the next decade, I’m afraid.

The reason we look to European cities for inspiration is because they have working models of systems that carry a significant mode share of bicycles. What you’ll also find over there is a majority go without helmets, because the infrastructure (and more importantly, the culture of driving) are much safer and more supportive than anything we have here in the United States.

Bicycling and motor vehicles are certainly NOT equal, and that’s the point. People don’t want to ride their bicycle at 10mph next to 40mph heavy machines. A small minority don’t mind (perhaps you fit in here?) and for those folks, besides the quaint, not often enforced ORS that forbids it, you’re welcome to take the lane on these streets. And not to worry, there are also many roads that won’t see cycle infrastructure for decades, like MLK, Sandy, Burnside.. enjoy them while they last!

People who bike have been and continue to be ‘relegated to the margins’, but with serious infrastructure like this, we’re actually seeing proper accommodations for cyclists on Cully. A cycletrack is serious investment, serious infrastructure, serious separation from SOV’s… and I’ll take that sort of marginalization anyday over what we have now.

Bob_M
Guest
Bob_M

It needs to be impressed on PDOT that the biofiltration bags at the swale curb cuts need to be removed prior to opening the route to traffic. Those things are invisible at night and just big enough to knock someone down.

John Lascurettes
Guest

Bob, it looks from the photos to me as though they’re using the bags to keep excess water OUT of the bioswales at the moment. Chances are when the project is complete, they’ll remove them so the excess water goes INTO the bioswales and the cycletrack will not be blocked.

peejay
Guest
peejay

Sorry, sw resident, but what you advocate for is called “vehicular cycling”, which has been an abject and shameless failure for getting all but the most fearless cyclists to use our roads. Please don’t ignore the overwhelming data that show properly well-designed separated infrastructure, coupled with a lack of prioritization of motor traffic, is what leads to the highest bicycle mode share. And it works in cities that have long, cold winters AND hilly terrain.

Let’s not keep having the same debate and expect a different outcome. We CAN debate whether Cully is a good implementation of separated infrastructure. The shortcomings that Dave brings up are real concerns.

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

Thanks for reporting this Jonathan! I’m super excited about this project and the design looks wonderful. (yes it could always be better, but compared to what we have elsewhere it’s fantastic)

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

“they are setting a tone where cyclists are being relegated to the margins again and are not treated as equals.”

imo, we should be fighting to overturn the mandatory sidepath law not discourage newbie-friendly cycling infrastructure. after all many newbies grow up to be vehicular cyclists…

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

this seems way too curvy. its hard to imagine that it would safe to ride at 15 mph.

cyc
Guest
cyc

Yeah, I’ll try to ride it at speed (15mph or so) and see how it works. But I, like the cars with the straight road, am trying to get where I need to go in the least amount of time, with the fewest stops. Why not add cures for the peds, not cyclists?

David Parsons
Guest

Swerving the cycletrack around the corner cutouts just shrieks “We’re not serious about this” — if you can ride directly ahead on the street , why would you subject yourself to the sinuous wiggle of the cyclepath unless you live along that street, are only going somewhere along that street, and are so terrified of mixing with traffic that the dodge and blind corner of each street crossing seems like a reasonable alternative (at least when people don’t simply park on the cycletrack at the swerveouts)?

Why didn’t the city put the bioswales on the other side of the cycletrack? That would have given a direct path along the cycletrack, plus provided a refuge for pedestrian traffic between the bicycle ROW and the general purpose ROW?

Steve B
Guest

You raise a vital point. I don’t like the zig-zagging either — I didn’t notice this in the original cross section of the plan.

My sense is that they are to help make the cross easier for people on foot, but this is a consistent theme for newer bioswales coupled with sidewalk bulbouts. What would be awesome is if the cycletrack cut THROUGH the bioswale in a straight line, but maintained the curb cut for pedestrians.

Dave
Guest

Again, looking at cycle track designs in Amsterdam, the cycle track follows a straight path between two sections of sidewalk, typically – a wider one closer to the buildings, and a smaller one closer to the street. That way, both the main part of the sidewalk and the cycle track can be basically straight, but the curb can follow any path you want, really. The person walking just crosses the cycle track to the small part of sidewalk, then crosses the street.

Michael M.
Guest

Steve B
What you’ll also find over there is a majority go without helmets, because the infrastructure (and more importantly, the culture of driving) are much safer and more supportive than anything we have here in the United States.

Really? I was under the impression that people were disinclined to wear helmets more because they tend to travel at lower speeds and are thus less likely to fall or sustain head injuries if they do fall.

I could ride on the safest infrastructure in the world, but I wouldn’t do so without a helmet unless I was prepared to ride more slowly than I typically do. It’s difficult to tell if the winding new facility on Cully is designed to slow cyclists’ speeds, and difficult to predict whether it will.

JJJ
Guest
JJJ

I have two major concerns with this design.

As mentioned above, the curves look bad. They should have copied NYC on this one: make the cycle track straight and give pedestrians the bulb-out via a small island. that means pedestrians can cross the cycle track and wait to cross the rest of the street.

I’d bet large bags of money that pedestrians will be standing in the concrete cycle path to cross.

I’d also bet large bags of money that whoever designed this bikes exclusively for leisure, so for the designer, curves are great when rolling at 6mph. They did not consider what happens at 20mph.

The second concern is that this design solidifies Oregon’s backwards law about car turns. It makes it very clear that cars should turn around the bike area and not merge into it. While this is good for the current law, it may hurt effort to remove the law and bring Oregon in line with the rest of the country.

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

does anyone know who was responsible for this design?

Robert H.
Guest

I love well-designed separated bicycle infrastructure. This ‘cycletrack’ doesn’t seem to fit the bill. Sorry. I know that is an unpopular view around here.

This is not “serious separation,” it is psuedo separation. Cyclists on this path will have to stay even more alert than they would riding on the street. This kind of facility sacrifices all kinds of positive things to ward off one favored bugaboo, sharing space with cars — then puts riders into that shared space anyway, repeatedly. I find the whole thing kind of maddening.

Also, a large number of cyclists will be injured after wrecking against that curb on a curvy path. It’s a certainty.

The choice is not between these ill-designed cycletracks and the hated ‘vehicular cycling.’ That is not a cage match we need to have, at all.

The interested and concerned — If they were really all that interested, they’d probably be out there already. If they’re really concerned, these ‘cycletracks’ provide no good reason for them to let down their guard while riding, quite the opposite. I know my personal level of concern ramps up every time one of these dubious sidepaths pops up.

jim
Guest
jim

I think Al Gore invented this design right after he invented the internet

Ray
Guest
Ray

* PBOT has actually referred to the one block on NE Hancock between 44th and 43rd where they have a sharrow on the north sidewalk as a “cycle track.”

kenny
Guest

this is kind of bizarre. it looks like a spilled over sidewalk. if I was a non biking pedestrian, that is all I would think strolling around this thing. there is nothing indicating this pavement spilling over is specifically for bikes. is there any kind of sharrows? signs?
how about no parking signs?
part of me thinks this would be fantastic for the 50’s bikeway, removing parking from SE Woodstock on 52nd following N. on 52nd to SE Division. However, I think it should either be brighter or have some kind of indication that makes it clear what it actually is.

kenny
Guest

oh! just read, “striping and signage not complete”
thanks Jonathan!
yes, this should be in the tool kit for the 50’s Bikeway for sure.

Stripes
Guest
Stripes

Love the idea of this!

But it seems a curious location. There’s not much bike traffic out that way. Is it out so far away from everything for “test purposes”?

I would have liked to have seen this constructed somewhere where there is already a concentration of bikes, cars, and conflict – like Broadway instead. Is that weird?

kenny
Guest

That is why I was thinking why not from Woodstock to Division on 52nd? It is high traffic volumes.

Dave
Guest

Another thing I was just thinking is – how is this considered a “separated biking facility” if it is going to be basically flush with the asphalt lane next to it? In that case, it’s just a different paving material, it’s not “separated”.

I have to say, I really appreciate the effort to try things, but there just seems to be so much wrong with this design that is really obvious to anyone who might think about using it… I’m afraid that this is going to be a nail in the coffin of better designed infrastructure.

New Biker Grrl
Guest
New Biker Grrl

“Outer” NePo represent!! 🙂

Memo
Guest
Memo

I was also concerned about the curves as I have been watching this for the last few weeks. However today after a closer look, the curves more gradual in person than how they appear in the photos. Also, to expand on Jonathan’s comment that cars parking on the track was related to construction, there currently is not enough room for a car to park in the actual parking spot even if they wanted too.

From Los Angeles
Guest
From Los Angeles

Disclaimer: I’m not from Portland.

If you look at the first picture, the curves do seem gradual though a more direct path would be favorable. If we try to see a positive of these curves it could be that it makes it easier for people on the side-streets to turn onto the cycle track on Cully.

Also, Portlanders must be very used to vehicular cycling, and content. Frankly I would love to slow down a little and not have to ‘keep up’ with motor traffic here in LA. And this is just speculation, but this destination may have been picked because there was sufficient room without angering motorists. It may not be connected and ‘out of the way’ at the moment but I think the hope is to have all of Portland connected in the future.

jim
Guest
jim

I still say it was a waste of money to use expensive concrete for this project. Those dollars could have been used for other bike improvements elsewhere.
This comment is not disrespectfull and should not be censured, you may disagree with it. Are you only posting comments that you agree with?

chris w
Guest
chris w

This is a rather half-assed implementation of the cycletrack scheme. Having visited the Nordic countries and having spent some time looking at cycletracks on Google Street View in Amsterdam, I can say that a street has to be considerably reengineered for them to work properly. I’ve never seen these ridiculous zig-zags in Europe. People have already mentioned continuing the path through crossings. Intersections are designed very differently, with the line at which cars are required to stop being set back 10-20 meters back behind the curb. Additionally, traffic laws and penalties are more strict. Right turns on red are banned. Fines are stiffer.

Building one or two substandard cycletracks here and here is not going to replicate the European experience, and I don’t believe that this is a case where “something is better than nothing”. All of the right elements have to be in place for cycletracks to work AT ALL. A partial reengineering is just going to give us the worst of both worlds. I use the cycle track on Broadway everyday, and I regard it as far more dangerous than before. Utility vehicles frequently turn right into the PSU campus, and the drivers can’t see you when you’re hidden behind a line of parked cars. The shuttle stops alongside the track, releasing a horde of students right into your path!

I’m not of the vehicular cyclist school of thought, but cycling tracks are an “all or nothing” sort of project. You have to do it exactly as the Dutch do, or not at all — otherwise, you’ll just end up with a piece of more infrastructure that’s more dangerous than what it replaced. And in ten years, the city is going to be littered with such feel-good projects, none of which will integrate with or connect to each other in a logical way.

Considering that we don’t have the budget or political will to do a complete Amsterdam-style reengineering of the city (combined with a change in traffic laws), we should stick with what we know to work well in North America, namely bike boulevards, MUPs, and specicalized crossings over barriers (e.g., bridges, tunnels, medians, etc).

From Los Angeles
Guest
From Los Angeles

I am a native Swede, from Malmo. I’ve seen Copenhagen and plenty of bike capital of sweden. I still think that for America, this cycle track is a push in the right direction. To say we should ‘stick’ to something and not try new innovations is limiting what we can achieve.

I do agree the broadyway type facility drastically need to improve visibility and physically protect from cars or buses stopping in the middle of the track. To think that a bus stops on the cycletrack is troublesome and doesn’t do the name cycletrack justice.

The Netherlands DOES have some of these curves, except they run into the sidestreet and not onto the major street as this example shows. This allows turning cars to stop mid turn without conflict with cyclist or cars on the major street. It allows turning cars to yield for cyclists, while cars on the major street can continue. This practice also increases visibility and in some cases it creates a shorter crossing for the cyclist though they have this dreaded ‘curving’.

I think these curves are so disliked because portlanders may want to go fast.