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TriMet considers ‘sonic bike path’ idea for new bridge

Posted by on February 16th, 2011 at 1:55 pm

TriMet architect Bob Hastings presented
the idea last night.
(Photos © J. Maus)

As part of the public art planned along their Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail project, TriMet is considering something quite interesting for the new Willamette River Bridge — a “sonic bike path.”

TriMet architect Bob Hastings and Public Art Program Manager Mary Priester presented the idea to the City of Portland Bicycle Advisory Committee (PBAC) last night.

The “sonic bike path” concept is still in its early stages, but at this point, the idea is to create a series of grooves on a 150 foot section of the bikeway on each end of the bridge. The grooves would be placed in such a frequency and depth that a melody would be emitted as bicycle tires rolled over them. As for the song, the artists are considering Simon and Garfunkel’s “Feelin’ Groovy.”

Another image from TriMet presentation.

If the idea sounds familiar, you might recall that Honda did something similar for a commercial back in 2008 (their road played “The Lone Ranger” tune).

Priester and Hastings were at the meeting to determine whether or not the concept had enough merit to warrant further exploration by the artists. If it does, they’ll ask the artists to create a working model to prove it could work. “We’re aware there are some hurdles in demonstrating that it could work… We’d have to figure out how to construct it so it doesn’t prevent a slipping hazard and so it isn’t too jarring,” said Priester.

Priester also added that they’re aware some people would want to opt-out of the bumps, hence the idea to only install it on a portion of the 7-foot wide bridge bikeway. The bumps are also being considered as a way to slow down bike traffic as it exits the bridge on a downhill slope (about a 4.5% grade by TriMet estimates). In addition to a safety application, Hastings (the architect who was behind the bike racks on the downtown transit mall) says the bumps could help with the mental transition from riding over the river to being dropped into a more crowded, urban environment.

“Our thought was, how to inform folks that you’re making that transition… To subtly inform them that they’re headed back into an urban zone,” is how Hastings put it.

Below is a slide titled, “Sonic Bike Path Score” that was shown at last night’s meeting. The lines are grooves of the path that, when rolled over, would play a melody:

The majority of Bike Advisory Committee members were supportive of the concept last night, giving the TriMet reps a recommendation to move forward on it. One member wondered how the melody would work if there were multiple riders. Others wondered if the noise would be a distraction or whether it would be annoying to folks nearby.

“We’re kind of excited about it,” Priester said last night, but she made it clear that they are prepared to not move forward unless the community supported it. “You’re the audience,” she said, “it’s for you.”

This idea is far from a sure thing; but given that the PBAC was supportive, my hunch is that TriMet will move forward. As for cost, TriMet doesn’t have an estimate yet, but the project would be fully funded and managed through the Percent for Art Program (meaning the cash is already set aside and can only be used for art, not for buying new buses or other expenditures).

What I’d like to know is, what do you think?

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

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K'Tesh
Guest
K'Tesh

“Sounds”? Fun!

suburban
Guest
suburban

Are Preister and Hastings refered to as the “artists”?: The artists?Feeling artsy? go proof it with your own money. Given it’s cute and direct nature, public funding, and simple engineering this concept will become wildly popular with adults I hope to never meet and some children.
Article may have intended to cite 2 musical pieces: William Tell Overture and 59th St. Bridge Song.

pdxmike
Guest
pdxmike

TriMet: FAIL.

Andrew Kreps
Guest
Andrew Kreps

I’d love to see a working prototype. The noise is caused by harmonic vibrations that start at your tire and will undoubtedly transmit through the wheel to the frame. I’m wondering how violent the vibrations will be, and whether or not they’ll shake things loose, like headset nuts and spoke nipples?

Also, I wonder how good the song will sound when the bicycles are slowing due to the increased friction? It works well for cars since their mass and engine keep them running at a relatively constant speed.

I’d enjoy seeing us at least try this, since I’ll use every ounce of help I can get in alerting foot traffic to my presence.

As I recall, the Honda experiment was frowned upon by neighbors due to the increased noise.

Steve B
Guest

I really, really like this idea. There is some creative thinking going into this, and it helps create a sense of place for folks on their daily commute or a sunday joyride. Way to go, Trimet!

9watts
Guest
9watts

Clever, yes. But how does TriMet justify the effort to these folks whose service has recently been cut?
OPAL and the Bus Riders Union are organizing an even to demand that transfers be good for 3 hrs (see below)
from their website: http://www.opalpdx.org/

“TriMet riders who depend on the bus and MAX are facing greater hardships. Many
transit riders, especially working-class families and people of color, rely on
single-trip fares to meet basic needs and can’t afford to invest in transit
passes. TriMet has cut bus service by over 170,000 hours leading to longer wait
times between buses, overcrowded buses that pass us by, and missed transfers.
Service cuts have decimated evening and weekend service. TriMet’s transfer
policy is unequal and insufficient to give bus riders the time required to take
care of our daily needs.

OPAL Bus Riders Unite! has a Solution:

1. EXTEND ALL TRIMET TRANSFERS TO 3 HOURS FOR BUS AND MAX
2. SUPPORT EVENING RIDERS WITH UNLIMITED TRANSFER TIME AFTER 7PM

Join us on Monday, February 21st for our Community Kick-off to have your voice
heard and to get involved!

Kickoff Campaign for a Fair Transfer
Monday, February 21st
6:00 PM
St Francis Parish 11th and SE Oak (Bus #70)

Nagmay
Guest

I believe that this type of art is funded by the Oregon’s Percent for Art Program – which is mandated for all major construction.

CaptainKarma
Guest
CaptainKarma

Also! get rid of that damn nickel extra on the fare, and have at least some buses run through bar-closing, might save some biker/ped lives, giving drunks an option to not drive.

sabernar
Guest
sabernar

how about being responsible enough to just not drink and drive. Don’t blame TriMet for your shortcomings. Here’s another far out idea: take a taxi.

cold worker
Guest
cold worker

i support not drinking and driving. however portland is a city of what, like 580,000 people? that’s a lot of people! portland can start acting like a big city by having things like 24 hour grocery access, late night bus service, 24 hour cafes, etc. not everyone works 9 to 5 and is in bed by 10.

not every bus line needs to run all night, just some of the bigger ones, and they don’t need frequent service, even twice an hour would be great.

Chris
Guest
Chris

Here’s my post to their article that has been “pending moderation” since the 9th:

The solution to service cuts is to fight for longer transfers?! A longer transfer doesn’t solve the problem of the 47 bus no longer running at all on weekends or the 48 bus on Sundays… Nope, I get to walk for about 1.5 miles to MAX or 2 miles to the 57 bus.

I appreciate the enthusiasm of OPAL, but must say the energy is being misdirected here.

Allan
Guest
Allan

I am all for this. If most folks need convincing, a test could be built (on the waterfront or esplanade perhaps?) Has this been done anywhere else?

michael downes
Guest
michael downes

Aah! The tuneful sound of tax dollars at work……

toddistic
Guest
toddistic

Sounds like govt. waste – maybe Trimet should get back to focusing on moving people, not stupid jingles on a bike path. For real…

Carl
Guest
Carl

Count me as firmly supportive.

My only stipulation: first they need to provide grade separation for the safety of pedestrians on that bridge. We don’t need another dangerous Hawthorne stressfest.

Allan
Guest
Allan

We’re going to have an iconic bridge. Why not put in nice design features? Don’t be such a downer. This thing will last for generations and we should care about good design

Ryan Marquardt
Guest
Ryan Marquardt

In Portlandia’s fifth season, we’ll be able to hear Fred Armisen utter: “Ugh…’Feelin’ Groovy’….WHY?!”
awesome.

Brad
Guest
Brad

Nice! That made me chuckle loudly.

MeghanH
Guest
MeghanH

I would expect the funding for this (since it’s through the Public Art Program) stems from the Regional Arts & Culture Council (not from TriMet’s budget specifically.) The comments about TriMet “wasting” their money on a public art project like this (although I don’t think the project is a waste) may be blunted somewhat by the actual funding source.

Ben Waterhouse
Guest

Before you get behind this project, give a listen to what Honda did with it’s “musical road” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30StTQAUPtg&feature=related) and imagine having to listen to that noise twice a day, every day.

J P
Guest
J P
Josh G
Guest
Josh G

I remember hearing about this a while ago, but seeing this post made me think a
Sonic burgers n shakes drive-in on the bridge
was the new proposal!

Michael
Guest
Michael

How about Iron Man, or is that over?

michweek
Guest
michweek

“Part of the public art” would indicate that this is the voter approved 1% of government funded projects being spent on public art. So before you go accusing this project of being wasteful, the bridge is government funded so 1% of what we get has to be spent on public art. I believe this qualifys, not so keen on the concept (it would invariably be designed for only one kind of tire and one length of wheelbase).

Michael Andersen (Contributor)
Guest

I’m told it’s 1.5 percent of civil construction costs for all TriMet projects over $100,000. (The city and county have 2% standards for their own projects.)

matt picio
Guest

I’m waiting to see the line item on the budget: “Sonic bike lane licensing expense”. OTOH, Simon & Garfunkel get paid?

Maybe we could do “Feelin’ Groovy” on the way into Portland and “The Sound of Silence” on the way out?

k
Guest
k

yeah does the city have to pay a nickel to them every time someone rides over it? 🙂

h
Guest
h

some bridges have grilled steel surfaces that make nice vibration feeling… just saying

Steve-O
Guest
Steve-O

A very silly move for two reasons:

1) Economic – designing and building a musical bikepath will siphon money away from more worthwhile projects such as green bike boxes, corrals, and bike lanes. Would you rather be safe on a bike or listen to a jingle for 150 feet?

2) Public Relations – TriMet is already the largest punching bag in Oregon for conservatives. I can’t wait for them to start complaining about frivolous expenses in the comment section of the Oregonian.

cyclist
Guest
cyclist

There were several comments just above yours mentioning the fact that art money is mandated for projects such as these, the money literally cannot be used for any other purpose, and has to be spent. Here’s one such comment:

“I believe that this type of art is funded by the Oregon’s Percent for Art Program – which is mandated for all major construction.”

Art Fuldodger
Guest
Art Fuldodger

Jonathan, could you highlight that this is funded out of the mandated “Percent for Art” program? Because no one seems to understand that. This money could only be spent on other art projects; it will not buy more buses, or bus service, or bike boxes, etc. If you don’t happen like the “Percent for Art” program, that’s fine, but at least understand the parameters that are placed on this funding stream.

CaptainKarma
Guest
CaptainKarma

Maybe too obvious, but I nominate Queen’s “Bicycle Races”.

Perry Hunter
Guest
Perry Hunter

I thought the whole idea silly and wasteful – right up to this suggestion. Now, I’m all for it.

Michael Andersen (Contributor)
Guest

I think this is the coolest idea Ever.

beelnite
Guest
beelnite

Art is priceless. All this talk about economics, tax dollars… sigh… yeah, let’s not do ANYTHING cool, cuz we don’t want to risk criticism. What a boring, regressive and narrow way to look at life. This is Portland – we should do things because we can and they bring us joy.

To deny oneself artistic expression – to deny a community the joy of artistic expression just to placate curmudgeons who will always, always find something wrong with higher thinking… it’s like…

Really not healthy. And really sad.

Rol
Guest

Hear hear. I was about to complain that I don’t like that song, but you talked me out of it. Anyway there’s always “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. WOCKA WOCKA!

John Landolfe
Guest

Dammit. You got to that joke before me.

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

sounds fun, as long as I have the option of avoiding them…

Bob_M
Guest
Bob_M

I recall an advertisement for Honda where a car was driven over a sonic roadway. The ad was just an ad, but the singing roadway was very cool. Having an idea made real that prompts happy thought is worth pursuing. The bicycle becomes a musical instrument when riding over the grooves. The rider becomes both artist and art. It has my support, especially when compared to the Dr. Seuss art that is normally associated with Tri-Met projects. Note that art is commonly associated with big Tri-Met projects. This is a thing that is independent of bus schedules or driver salaries.
Bike Portland contributors are uncharacteristically dour this PM. Worried about conservatives pooh-poohing the project? Conservatives will criticize the project regardless if it has art or not. Do you think that if you capitulate to naysayers about the art that they will embrace the rest of the project? Nope, they will perceive this as a victory and gain momentum from it to quash other forward thinking ideas.
Big yes from me

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

How much of a song are you going to fit in just 150 feet? 10 seconds of music at 10MPH.

are
Guest

i think the point is that the lyric to the opening bars is “slow down, you move too fast.” the idea is to alert you that the separated experience is ending and you are about to merge back into street traffic.

Rol
Guest

I thought it was about the “grooves” in the pavement.

kww
Guest
kww

god no, NO

Dude
Guest
Dude

Is it real or Portlandia? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. Nevertheless, I love it.

Aaronf
Guest
Aaronf

I think this is super cool.

As said above, it is at least as cool as most of the mandated 1% art around town. Like that awful tree bolted to a building downtown, or the tripod scrotum thing across from Powells Books.

I agree that it would be helpful if it is avoidable…

jram
Guest
jram

i think this is awesome.

one thought: would it be possible to set this up so the song could be changed from time to time? maybe interchangeable sections so you could mix it up a bit? not sure how possible that is, but it would be pretty sweet.

Aaronf
Guest
Aaronf

Is there a good Portland band we could showcase?

Louie Louie!

Whyat
Guest
Whyat

People are starving in this city and state. To spend money on something like this is borderline offensive.

DK
Guest
DK

I’d rather something visually appealling to compliment the city and the river, itself.

It’s a novel idea and I commend them for thinking outside the box. The reality for me is that if I want music, there are far better venues available for the music of my choosing.

I don’t happen to think there’s a single song worthy of representing all of us Portlanders. …Nor should there be.

Nick V
Guest

I agree with those who say that there are better ways to spend money. The bike bridge will be widely used but some cutesy tacked-on gimmick just to “keep Portland weird” is not a good idea.

cyclist
Guest
cyclist

There were several comments just above yours mentioning the fact that art money is mandated for projects such as these, the money literally cannot be used for any other purpose, and has to be spent on art. Here’s one such comment:

“I believe that this type of art is funded by the Oregon’s Percent for Art Program – which is mandated for all major construction.”

Nick V
Guest

Then how about something more visual and timeless (a plaque, sculpture, or statue?) instead of a pop song that will most likely become annoying, especially if it’s heard incessantly?

Nagmay
Guest

Yes, please give us the same old thing thing that we are used to.

Unlike the installation of another plaque – which I would probably ignore on my commute – this is the type of interactive piece that I would go out of my way to check out!

Nick V
Guest

And maybe “Feeling Groovy” will cheer up the homeless people who will probably congregate on both sides of the bridge. Sorry but I still think it’s in bad taste.

dwainedibbly
Guest
dwainedibbly

Awesome idea! Well worth further study.

How about “Rubber Ducky”? Or maybe “The Dream of the 90s”.

Hart Noecker
Guest

If you do a track stand on it and wiggle back and forth will it sound like the record is scratching?

michweek
Guest
michweek

No, but if you ride over it backwards while watching “alice in woderland”…

Marcus Griffith
Guest
Marcus Griffith

Isn’t there enough noises a cyclist should be listen to, i.e. other traffic? Have the engineers considered resonance frequency issues, esp during rush house?

That be being said, it sounds like a cool concept

AR
Guest
AR

Isn’t it going to sound like crap (or at least nothing recognizable) if more than one bicycle goes over it at a time? No thank you.

buglas
Guest
buglas

I’m thinking of the gap in the middle for the bike bell solo. :^)

joe adamski
Guest
joe adamski

another thing for the haters to hate. when it comes to public art, it needs to be accessible by all. This project is aimed at cyclists only. hence, it is not truely ‘public art’.

Hart Noecker
Guest

That’s like saying fireworks discriminate against the blind.

Greg
Guest
Greg

Something about Trimet spending money seems to bring out the Oregonian in the BikePortland crowd.

Anyway, I’d be curious how the song will sound at different speeds. The speed of cyclists can easily differ by a factor of 2. What speed will it be designed for, and what will it sound like at other speeds? Is there a minimum speed for it to work?

mmann
Guest

I like the idea of a Portland-based song. OTOH, how cool would it be to hear “Ride of the Valkyries” or the 1812 overture under your wheels?

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

Reminds me of the piano staircase: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lXh2n0aPyw

shirtsoff
Guest
shirtsoff

I’m cautiously excited!

Spencer Boomhower
Guest
Spencer Boomhower

It was mentioned above, but it’s reeeeally worth stressing that the first line of “Feeling Groovy” is “slow down, you move too fast.” Being that this is a spot where they’re trying to create a little traffic calming, that’s pretty dang clever.

I think it’s pretty cool. It’s art you experience by moving through it, only in this one place in the world. It could become a real destination.

Of course if you have to ride it every day you might get a little sick of it :). But that’s what the opt-out is all about.

cold worker
Guest
cold worker

i hate everything, all the time!

resopmok
Guest
resopmok

Does anyone know if the concept even works for bikes? The rumble strips which line the shoulder of some highways are effective for cars, but two things strike me as a big difference here. If you were to ride on an actual rumble strip at speed you’d probably destroy your wheels along with getting your teeth knocked out. Also, due to their low profile and generally low speed, bicycle tires hardly make any noise at all on pavement – unlike cars, which get louder the higher their speed is, exceeding engine noise at (I’m guessing here) around 30 mph.

It’s a novel idea and kudos to the creative, but it would really be a disappointment to have it cast in concrete and then be useless. I agree with art, but something that doesn’t work really is a waste of money.

Kirsty
Guest
Kirsty

I didn’t read all the comments above, so sincere apologies if this has already been posted. But… how serendipitous!…

http://www.greendiary.com/entry/seoul-s-xylophone-bridge-plays-music-when-bikers-glide-over-it/

Rol
Guest

As of reading these comments, I’m in favor of this idea, but I have mixed feelings about the specific song.

pro:
It’s a cute pun on the “grooves” in the pavement.
It says “slow down, you move too fast” as some have pointed out.
It’s about a bridge.
It’s happy.

con:
The bridge it’s about, is in New York.
The song is kinda smug. (All those people who are “moving too fast” probably have bills and jobs and stuff, and don’t have the luxury of wake-and-baking and having a leisurely stroll across the 59th St. Bridge… or heck, maybe they just like to move through life with a sense of purpose.)
The song is 44 years old.

I’m not saying let’s have “Let The Bodies Hit The Floor” or something, but how do you even choose a specific song? I think it would be fun to have a simple Luther Perkins-style “boom chicka boom” rhythm like in a Johnny Cash song (but no specific melody)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOvCcuflmiI

Elliot
Guest
Elliot

I’m cynical of the concept, but if the project goes forward I want to second the importance of song choice.

On age of the song, “Louie Louie” is a similar vintage (54 years old) but has a Portland connection. (Random Wikipedia fact of the day: “Bodies” was released ten years ago, in 2001). I think the song being old is a good thing – you’d rather choose something timeless than have it become dated, right? Maybe the song should be something really old – maybe from a classical composer?

I think a song without lyrics would be appropriate. It would leave the meaning more open to interpretation, and would be less vulnerable to criticism than a hippie throwback like “Feelin’ Groovy”.