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Cars parking in bicycle travel lanes: What did we learn?

Posted by on February 2nd, 2011 at 9:01 pm

“Since July 1, 2010, our officers have issued 226 citations to motor vehicles parked illegally in bike lanes.”
— Cheryl Kuck, PBOT spokesperson

Last week I shared the problem of cars parking in vehicle lanes which are legally set aside for bicycles (a.k.a. bike lanes). That story generated a lot of helpful discussion. I’ve also gotten a response from the City of Portland about their towing and parking enforcement policies around this issue, so I felt a follow-up was in order.

First and foremost, if you see this annoying (and potentially dangerous) phenomenon taking place in a lane near you, please call the City of Portland parking enforcement hotline at (503) 823-5195. Put it in your phone’s speed dial right now. I have heard from many people that the City is very responsive to this line.

While hotlines are great, they are no substitute for solid policies to address recurring problems.

Speaking of the City and policies, I asked PBOT what their policy was for towing vehicles parked in a lane of travel. I was especially curious if their policy for cars parked in standard vehicle lanes was the same as it was for cars parked in vehicle lanes set aside for bicycle traffic.

Here’s what City spokesperson Cheryl Kuck said about the issue (emphasis mine):

“… our officers on routine patrol always cite vehicles parked in bike lanes. If an officer on patrol in their beat sees a vehicle parked in a bike lane, the officer issues a bike lane violation citation that carries a fine of $80.00.

Since July 1, 2010, our officers have issued 226 citations to motor vehicles parked illegally in bike lanes. In a review of photographs from bike lane citations, it appears that half the citations were issued to vehicles that were completely blocking a bike lane and half were issued to vehicles that were partially blocking a bike lane.

Our officers issue a tow based on a safety assessment*. If the street is a heavily traveled street and the vehicle has been blocking the lane completely, the officer can make the decision to have the vehicle towed.

[*This sounds to me like a reason to tow more frequently when bicycle vehicle lanes are blocked.]

Our officers use the same standard for bike lane violations that they use for travel lane violations. Our officers do not routinely issue tows unless they feel that the violation poses a safety hazard, impedes traffic flow, and creates unsafe congestion. The citations for blocking a bike lane and for blocking a travel lane are the same; the fine is $80.00.

If a motor vehicle is parked illegally in a travel lane, our officers cite the vehicle. In most circumstances, the officer does not call for a tow because the vehicle is not parked there long enough for a tow truck to get there. The most common vehicle that parks illegally in a travel lane is a delivery van; often the driver returns to the vehicle while our officer is citing it.”

I was happy to hear the City takes this issue seriously. Kuck also encouraged folks to bookmark the Parking Enforcement page on the PBOT website.

Looks like a nice place to park right?

More signs like these might help.

What has also become clear is that often, people simply aren’t aware that they are parking in a bike lane. As curbside bike lanes become wider, people will continue to mistake them for parking lanes. If you look at where the problem happens, there is little to no “bike lane” or “no parking” signage at all. PBOT can address this by simply laying down more frequent bike lane symbol pavement markings as well as installing “No Parking: Bike Lane” signage where it’s needed.

So, what did we learn?

We can take it upon ourselves to make sure parking offenders are ticketed; we are now more informed about the City’s parking enforcement policies; and hopefully PBOT will consider doing more to communicate to road users that parking is not allowed in vehicle lanes set aside for bicycles — no matter how tempting they appear.

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  • Jessica Roberts February 3, 2011 at 9:42 am

    Thanks for this follow-up, Jonathan. I think that when I call the parking enforcement hotline about vehicles parked in bike lanes, I’ll start adding that they’re creating a dangerous condition and request towing. Can’t hurt, right? Although 9 out of 10 of my parking enforcement calls are about cars parked on the sidewalk, which is far more endemic problem than cars parking in bike lanes.

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  • Alex Reed February 3, 2011 at 9:54 am

    Yeah, what’s with people parking on the sidewalk? I never saw that before I moved to Portland. Even in the L.A. area people didn’t see their side-view mirrors as so precious as to warrant creeping up onto the curb.

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    • Schrauf February 3, 2011 at 9:55 pm

      Try Spokane – it is ten times worse than Portland because the police ignore it. People will block 75% of the sidewalk simply to allow a little more cushion from passing traffic for their private vehicle. Never mind disabled and other pedestrians that may have trouble passing such obstacles. It’s unbelievable. Except maybe in a few neighborhoods, the problem is much smaller in Portland.

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      • cold worker February 4, 2011 at 12:21 am

        there is an undercover/unmarked police car, on my block, blocking the sidewalk. half in the driveway, half out. it’s late and all, but that’s not an out for parking like a dick.

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  • cold worker February 3, 2011 at 9:59 am

    the parking enforcement folks just need to start cruising side streets. start ticketing, show people you can’t park on the sidewalk, you can’t park facing the wrong direction, etc., and presumably they’ll stop doing these things. and if not, the city has a non stop revenue stream (where does this money go specifically?)

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    • Steve B February 3, 2011 at 2:43 pm

      I have never received an official answer as to why they don’t this. I think the revenue potential is outstanding, but all signs point to a local culture that frowns upon revenue-positive enforcement campaigns.

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  • Andrew N. February 3, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Jonathan, thanks for your work on this.

    This seems to confirm my suspicion that the person issuing citations on the night that the Williams bike lane was full of cars had a lapse in judgment. All those cars could have and should have been towed. (Because I don’t think the bike lane was used intentionally, part of me would have felt bad for the owners of the cars. But… safety trumps sympathy.) I do wonder: if someone on a bike had been injured that night, would the city potentially have been exposed to a lawsuit for negligence in failing to conduct an adequate safety assessment?

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  • dmc February 3, 2011 at 10:19 am

    “What has also become clear is that often, people simply aren’t aware that they are parking in a bike lane.”


    Great follow up Jonathan.

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  • jram February 3, 2011 at 10:24 am

    i have reported a few violations to the hotline, but i have no idea if they have been followed up on. is there usually some sort of feedback? or should i just assume they took care of the issue? also, is there an email address to send a photo of the violation? that would be nice.

    the violations i have reported have been at the edge of the city limits (SW garden home at 71st), but i would still expect them to get on that.

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  • Alexis February 3, 2011 at 10:38 am

    It’s interesting that she commented about delivery vehicles being the most common in “travel lanes”. Isn’t a bike lane a travel lane, or is it not defined that way in ORS?

    I also suspect that that’s exactly the relevant dichotomy — most general travel lane violations are deliveries, but most bike lane violations probably are not. So shouldn’t vehicles parked in bike lanes be more likely to need towing because otherwise they will just sit there for a while?

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    • El Biciclero February 3, 2011 at 10:56 am

      I don’t like most of the terms used to distinguish bike lanes from “real lanes”–because that is the implication in most of them: bike lanes are for playing, while other lanes are for traveling. Bike lanes=fluff, other lanes=serious business.

      I would like to suggest using the term “general purpose” lane, or “multi-use-lane”, or some such term to describe non-bike-specific travel lanes. We need to stop using “car lane”, “traffic lane”, “auto lane”, “travel lane”, etc. to describe non-bike-only lanes.

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      • cyclist February 3, 2011 at 11:14 am

        Your point would be apt if it wasn’t for the fact that the person being interviewed took great pains to show that their policy is to treat the two types of lanes equally. You’re trying to find an insult where there is none.

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        • matt picio February 3, 2011 at 12:49 pm

          It’s still apt – not all agencies or jurisdictions are similarly enlightened, and the point is a valid one.

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        • El Biciclero February 8, 2011 at 4:22 pm

          You’re trying to find an insult where there is none.

          Am I?

          I have a personal policy that demands I take great pains to treat worthless people and valuable people equally…

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  • Rico February 3, 2011 at 11:27 am

    Bike lanes aren’t special victims of parking scofflaws. Two times this week on the 15 bus on Morrison between 11th and Grand in the morning there were trucks loading in the “bus lane” with signs saying No Parking 6am-9am. I guess I should put that number in my phone.

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  • Esther February 3, 2011 at 11:28 am

    thanks for the solid advice on self-advocacy Jonathan. The only other thing I would add is try to talk to someone politely if you see them around their car. Often people downtown seem pretty responsive when I let them know they are parking or driving in the bike lane (same is also true of the bus lane on the mall), which happens a lot on Stark.

    Though once a family at some low income housing on Williams had parked in the bike lane and they were hanging out on their stoop. I politely let them know they were illegally parked and that it was quite dangerous. They brushed me off. I took out my phone to call a friend who I was supposed to meet, and they jumped up shouting not to call the police and went to move their car. I felt bad to make them think I was going to call Parking enforcement (given there were underlying gentrification etc. subtexts), but it worked.

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  • Joseph E February 3, 2011 at 11:37 am

    @Ester: “I felt bad to make them think I was going to call Parking enforcement (given there were underlying gentrification etc. subtexts), but it worked”

    That is hilarious! Being from Los Angeles, when you wrote “they jumped up shouting”, I assumed the next words would be something involving profanity and the threat of violence. I’ll be forwarding this to Bike Snob.

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    • Paul Johnson February 3, 2011 at 7:44 pm

      I’ll just leave this here: http://open.mapquest.com/link/9-w2zW345q

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    • Esther February 4, 2011 at 11:02 am

      Joseph, I admit, it was a bit of a digression from my original point about speaking directly to people who are blocking the bike lane. But given the way that people of color, who have mental illness, and/or who are indigent are routinely shot and killed by police in Portland, I was disconcerted by feeling responsible for people feeling threatened by calling “the officials.” It was a caveat about situations where direct discussion may not be productive.
      And yes, I grew up in Richmond, CA, so yes, I’m very familiar with violence. Sadly, violence still happens here in Portland, though some people like to pretend it doesn’t.

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  • Jay R. February 3, 2011 at 11:58 am

    But will they tow Trimet?

    The #19 still parks in the bike lane, also blocking 1/3 of the auto lane, at the bottom of Mt. Scott Blvd, approximately 500′ from the Flavel MAX stop which has *specifically designated* bus parking.

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    • Jay R. February 3, 2011 at 11:59 am

      I add, that this is after repeated complains to @trimet …

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    • Ted Buehler February 3, 2011 at 6:22 pm

      Jay — call it in next time you see it, let us know what happens. Better yet, email it in from a smartphone with a photo attached.

      Ted Buehler

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      • Jay R. February 10, 2011 at 6:59 pm

        I have pictures and details – who is it that I’m emailing them to? Trimet? PDX?

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  • beth h February 3, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Jonathan — thank you for following up on this with some specific and very useful information.

    Sometimes, just talking to the owner of the vehicle parked in the bike lane is all it takes. I was able to engage in very polite conversation with an elderly woman who habitually parked in the bike lane near Unthank Plaza because there was a shortage of on-street parking for handicapped drivers and parking in a “real” space around the corner made it too far for her to walk. I urged her to share her concerns with the staff at Unthank Plaza, and told her that while I saw that her situation was difficult, her car blocking the bike lane (and hanging out a bit into the car lane) could cause a serious hazard to her, her car and other roadway users. She promised to take it up with the Plaza staff and moved her car. I haven’t encountered it there since and that was over a month ago.

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  • Evan Manvel February 3, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    Yeah, I haven’t been able to see evidence of much success with calling Parking Enforcement. Do they have stats on how many calls lead to ticketing or towing?

    They don’t answer the phone when they’re “open” and I’ve called in a sidewalk blocker repeatedly and nothing appears to be done. Nor have a received a call back (not that one would be needed if the car moved, instead of being a permanent sidewalk blocker).

    I also had an impossible experience with a tree blocking the sidewalk. After leaving a nice note and having nothing happen, I tried to call the city. Urban forestry told me to call nuisance, nuisance told me to call urban forestry. Neither seemed to care about the sidewalk.

    I called back a week later to street maintenance about the part of it blocking street parking and the tree was soon trimmed back.

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  • sabernar February 3, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    I must be missing something. Where are people parking on the sidewalks?

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    • Toby February 3, 2011 at 2:10 pm

      I’m assuming what people are referring to is when someone parks in their driveway blocking the sidewalk, so that if you’re walking down the sidewalk you would run straight into the side of the car forcing you to go up on their lawn to go around. It’s illegal, inconsiderate, and almost without exception, easily avoidable.

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  • deborah February 3, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Jay R.
    But will they tow Trimet?
    The #19 still parks in the bike lane, also blocking 1/3 of the auto lane, at the bottom of Mt. Scott Blvd, approximately 500′ from the Flavel MAX stop which has *specifically designated* bus parking.

    This happens constantly at Jefferson and 10th too. Except at this location they take up the entire bike lane. This area also seems to be designated bus parking.

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  • Paul Johnson February 3, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    I’m not sure additional “no parking” signs would be much use. If they’re already ignoring official markings and signs indicating the presence of a bicycle lane, what’s the logic that suggests another sign will make a difference?

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    • jim February 8, 2011 at 1:00 am

      If there is no sign on the entire block and no stencils on the ground, then aditional no parking signs would be usefull. otherwise it looks like the white line on the edge of the road

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      • Paul Johnson February 8, 2011 at 8:45 pm

        Only if you have difficulties differentiating a fat line from a thin line, in which case, you shouldn’t be operating a vehicle, motorized or not…

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  • pdxpaul February 8, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    Thanks for the number and the info.

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  • Glenn February 9, 2014 at 7:03 pm

    I don’t suppose OMSI would care to give an I.E.D. construction workshop? (Yes, this is meant as crude humour, not a serious proposal.)

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