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Left side bikeway, BTA stance, and more on Williams Ave project

Posted by on April 20th, 2011 at 4:50 pm

Conditions on Williams-4-3

A family navigates a parked car
and a cramped bike lane on Williams
north of Morris.
(Photo © J. Maus)

While you may have already read our recap of the recent open house, there are a few more things about the N Williams Ave Traffic Safety Operations Project I want to share. In the paragraphs below you’ll find a response from City Traffic Engineer Rob Burchfield about two solutions that haven’t gotten much attention and you’ll hear from Bicycle Transportation Alliance Executive Director Rob Sadowsky what he thinks about the project.

One of the big issues on Williams is how to handle bus/bike conflicts. This is because the street is a frequent service bus route and the stops are on the same side of the street as the bike lane. As you saw at the open house, one of the leading ideas to remedy the “leapfrogging” that occurs now is to create a new bus loading platform in the parking lane and put a cycle track curbside.

Bike traffic - N. Williams-7

A bike lane on the left side would remedy this.

Another solution many people have wondered about, but that seems to have been scuttled by the Stakeholder Advisory Committee, is to put the bike lane on the left side of the street (it’s a one-way) so as to avoid the conflicts altogether. Displays at the open house listed several disadvantages of the left-side bike lane including: motor vehicle operators who expect bike traffic on their right, conflicts with left-turning traffic, difficult right-turns for bike traffic, and safety concerns with bike traffic being next to the faster-moving travel lane.

But their are advantages too: no more right-hooks, no more bus/bike conflicts, fewer parked cars to open doors into bike riders, and so on.

Example of left-running bike lane.
(Photo: PBOT)

I asked PBOT City Traffic Engineer Rob Burchfield why the left-side bike lane option wasn’t being pursued further. Here’s what he said:

“The Stakeholder Advisory Committee discussed the option of a left side bike facility. They felt that a right side bike facility was a better option if there is a workable design solution that resolves the bus/bike conflict. One of the primary reasons for their preference is the belief that the majority of cyclists’ destinations are east of Williams. In addition, there is a design challenge with the ‘two-stage right turn’ from a left side cycle track. We sought additional input on the left/right question at the open house and we have not eliminated it from consideration.”

So, if you are a proponent of the left-side solution, get your comments into PBOT project manager Ellen Vanderslice (

The other issue I asked Burchfield about has to do with variable lane configurations in Segment 4 (between N Cook and Skidmore). This is the segment where PBOT is considering doing nothing to enhance the bikeway (other than some traffic signal which are unfunded) because of push-back from business owners and concerns about maintaining current motor vehicle trip volumes (I can’t believe I actually just wrote that, but it’s true).

I’ve heard from several people that, because the high traffic demand in this segment occurs only for two hours a day, perhaps PBOT could adjust lane usage for specific times of day. I asked Burchfield if that solution was feasible:

“The basic answer to your question is yes, but we haven’t developed nor vetted any concepts that include this idea. We will develop some concepts for this idea and and discuss them with the SAC. We do have a concern that the parking demand in segment 4 is high during the peak travel times, but we will research this further.”

And finally today, we hear from the BTA. The BTA has been quiet about this project thus far, so I called Executive Director Rob Sadowsky to hear what he thinks. Sadowsky said he has some concerns that certain options were discarded prematurely, “just because of fear or not understanding how it work.” He mentioned the left-side bike lane option and a shared bus/bike lane option as examples.

“We’re in a little bit of a wait and see mode to see how the final recommendations come out.”
— Rob Sadowsky, BTA

In terms of a public stance on the project, Sadowsky said, “We’re in a little bit of a wait and see mode to see how the final recommendations come out. We wanted to see how the open house went on Saturday to see what was trending.” (The BTA has a staff member of the Stakeholder Advisory Committee.)

When it comes to Segment 4, Sadowsky put his weight behind a one-lane option (reducing it from the current two motor vehicle lanes). “I think one lane would work, I generally think road diets work everywhere… I don’t think that two lanes is what’s neccessary to create a vibrant business district. In fact, I think it creates the opposite.”

PBOT’s Vanderslice says they’re still going through feedback from the open house last Saturday and they will present results at the May 3rd stakeholder committee meeting. The committee will guide the process in developing a recommended alternative and PBOT will share that alternative with the community at an open house in early June.

Stay tuned for more reporting on this project. Previous 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

  • Zach April 20, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    Eugene has a ton of left-side bike paths on one-way streets. They work just fine.

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  • are April 20, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    my comments are blogged here
    and here
    briefly, no to left hand bike lane, yes to shared bus/bike lane, but okay with boarding island to left of through cycletrack, take segment 4 down to one travel lane, absolutely no “advisory” striping, get the merchants to pay to preserve onstreet parking.

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  • aljee April 20, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    if the cyclists are more likely to make a right turn from Williams because of their destination, then it could also be argued that motorists are as well. if motorists are more likely to make a right turn, then there is a greater likeliness of a right hook with a right side bike lane. with a left side bike lane, one could argue a cyclist would be less likely to get hooked, right?

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    • Schrauf April 21, 2011 at 6:46 am

      True, except a large number (half?) of the people in cars at peak times are simply bypassing the I-5 backup, and their destination is Killingsworth or Lombard for their east/west segment, or in many cases, Vancouver.

      I agree with the comment below that it’s unbelievable the one-lane automobile option is not on the table for the entire stretch of Williams. The business owners should want to keep the parking much more than two lanes of traffic. With one lane for cars, everything works.

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  • BURR April 20, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    As is typical, PBOT remains a motorists first organization…

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    • Jeff April 20, 2011 at 7:47 pm

      BURR: That’s a pretty ridiculous accusation. I think PBOT is doing great things to design and implement cycling infrastructure throughout the city.

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    • are April 20, 2011 at 9:35 pm

      in every segment other than 4, the proposals are actually pretty heavily weighted toward cyclists, albeit with a separated facilities skew. it is only in segment 4 that PBoT and Alta are faltering here, and it remains to be seen how the SAC process will play out. i am somewhat concerned that the stakeholders have not yet taken ownership of the process, but have instead passively received what the planners have handed them. this may change.

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    • matt picio April 21, 2011 at 9:00 am

      Motorists are the largest segment of road users, even on Williams, and PBOT has to address *all* modes, not just cycling. I don’t see evidence that motorists are being given preferential treatment beyond what is warranted by their majority mode share.

      I’m disturbed that someone commented about maintaining car trip volume – Williams already serves more traffic than its “neighborhood collector” status warrants.

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  • Paul Cone April 20, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    Alberta Street seems to have a pretty vibrant business district, and it only has one motor vehicle lane in any given direction.

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    • maxadders April 20, 2011 at 8:51 pm

      What are you talking about? It’s pretty obviously a two-way street with two parking lanes. Put down the bong.

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      • noah April 20, 2011 at 10:58 pm

        Put down the rageahol, maxadders!

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  • katyjack April 20, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    I love the left-side idea in concept, but had so many issues on the left-side bike lane on SW 5th that I now go out of my way to avoid that route completely. Lots of “left hooks.” I think putting left-side bike lanes on just a few streets makes it that much more unpredictable for drivers.

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    • Spiffy April 21, 2011 at 7:00 am

      when things are unpredictable people pay attention and are more cautious…

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      • Andrew Seger April 21, 2011 at 12:54 pm

        I’m on board with the Hans Mondermans but the left side bike lane on fifth is not a good design. The combo of left hooks, various metal utilities covers, and the 15 minute parking means there’s a variety of obstacles to dodge. Now I just take the lane all the way to PSU (except the dodge around the streetcar stop).

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  • maxadders April 20, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    The left-side idea would present more headaches than it’s worth. When it’s rainy and busy on Williams, the last thing I want to do is try to cross both traffic lanes.

    Drivers are mostly aware of bikes in the right-hand lane as it exists now. Left-hooks don’t sound like something I want to worry about every night on my ride home. It’s not just locals on Williams: there’s an awful lot of unfamiliar ones coming and going from the Rose Quarter, the hospital and elsewhere.

    The left-hand lane is an interesting idea in theory, but it’s a pretty big safety variable to throw in the mix. Are us bicyclists sure we really want this? Waiting 30 seconds for a bus isn’t the end of the world.

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    • Charley April 21, 2011 at 12:44 pm

      I live West of Williams, and have to cross over two lanes of auto traffic to make my left onto Skidmore. I do this any time I ride home that way. It’s not like I’m the only one to have to do it, either. And I don’t like the leapfrog dance with the buses either.

      I wouldn’t like playing frogger with all the resulting pedestrian traffic if they put the bus stop in the middle of the street. That is by far the most complicated, expensive solution to this really simple problem!

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  • JJJ April 20, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    Left side = drivers side = more visible.

    Im sure every cyclist here has had an issue with a large vehicle that had some trouble realizing how wide they were, drifting into the bike lane. The driver, on the left, has an excellent view of the lane line on their left, so drifting into a left side bike lane is less common.

    Right turns are a problem? Um, arent left turns an issue from any right side bike lane?

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  • spare_wheel April 20, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    Waiting 30 seconds for a bus isn’t the end of the world.

    why wait…you have every right to take the lane if a bus is blocking the bike lane.

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    • maxadders April 21, 2011 at 8:47 am

      Then how come this is a such a “conflict”? I take the lane if I have to, but other people seem horrified by the idea.

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      • beth h April 21, 2011 at 11:03 am

        Other people are “horrified” at taking the lane for one of two reasons:
        a. They perceive the street in question as being unsafe for cyclists, based on volume and speed of car traffic and the amount of available “safe” space for cyclists to move into to avoid getting hit by a car;
        b. They have actually experienced collisions with motorists who were oblivious to the presence of a cyclist in the lane — or who were impatient and didn’t care about the cyclist in the lane.

        There’s a tension here between bicyclists who want to remain unregulated and still have protections on the roads; and motorists who must be regulated heavily and who therefore believe that unregulated cyclists don’t deserve half the protections PBOT and others are attempting to give them.
        Until we address the differeces in regulartions of road-users, bicycles will NEVER be seen as a real vehicle by motirists, or by most lawmakers.

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      • are April 22, 2011 at 12:01 am

        as long as the cycletrack remains experimental under MUTCD, it will still be legal for the intrepid cyclist to use the travel lane and pass the bus on the left. those who are “horrified” by the idea can use the cycletrack. but somewhere along the way, we need to repeal the mandatory sidepath law, or we will all eventually be relegated to the side.

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  • Jim April 20, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    I had kooks on bikes passing me on the LEFT and RIGHT this evening around 530 just north of the Fremont light. I’m not a slow cyclist, nor a racer…but can you freaks at least agree to both pass on the left and not race to pass me and others? Thanks…we need a remedy ASAP…

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    • kerry April 21, 2011 at 8:24 am

      Agreed. Down with right passing! I AM a slow cyclist and I carefully hug the right to give as much room as possible. I very much appreciate an audible signal that someone plans to pass and a polite left pass. Right passers (near 100% unsignalled, as well): You suck.

      Perhaps there was rageahol in my breakfast but that’s been bothering me for a while.

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      • matt picio April 21, 2011 at 9:03 am

        I’m waiting for someone to get hit when the cyclist they are passing on the right signals and makes a right hand turn. Cyclists right-hooking other cyclists are a real possibility on Williams.

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        • brian E. April 21, 2011 at 10:48 am

          I hit someone when passing on the left. They turned left without a signal and I bumped them and skidded/swerved into the oncoming traffic lane. It turned out OK for both of us, but I’m more careful now.

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    • Jessica Roberts April 21, 2011 at 3:00 pm

      I loathe the right-passing ethic on Williams, which most often happens south of Russell – and as you note, it’s worst when you get flanked on both sides. It’s clearly a sign that on-street parking is not needed south of Russell.

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  • David Haines April 20, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    A Williams cycletrack interrupted by a seven-block stretch of two car lanes, two car parking lanes, and a car door lane is no solution – it’s a new type of problem.

    It astounds me that with three major northbound car routes (I-5, MLK, Interstate) within a mile-wide swath, PBOT is fretting over two hours a day worth of peak SOV traffic on Portland’s second-busiest bike street.

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    • Gregg Woodlawn April 21, 2011 at 8:38 am

      Thanks David, I totally agree.

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    • Charley April 21, 2011 at 12:50 pm

      Hear Hear!

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    • was carless April 22, 2011 at 6:30 pm

      Don’t forget, theres also the MAX as a great transit alternative.

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  • Jacob April 21, 2011 at 6:31 am

    In NYC, the standard policy for decades has been to put bike lanes on the left side of one-way streets unless there is a good reason to do otherwise. This solves a several problems. It eliminates conflicts with buses, and it reduces the risk of dooring, by placing bikes alongside passenger doors, rather than driver doors. Drivers-side doors open far more often as every car has a driver, but not all cars have passengers. I think it’s weird that this is even an issue.

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    • Fronk April 21, 2011 at 8:45 am

      Makes sense in NYC though, because in a grid like Manhattan, all traffic, including bike traffic, is going every which way. On Williams, there is very little west-bound bike traffic; most cyclists peel off right and head east, as anyone who commutes on Williams will tell you.

      I feel for the west-bound cyclists; crossing Williams to make a left looks very dicey. But they are a small minority of the traffic. A left hand bike lane will create more problems (and accidents) than it solves.

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      • matt picio April 21, 2011 at 9:06 am

        Also makes sense since the majority of major streets in Manhattan are one-way.

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  • Anna April 21, 2011 at 8:40 am

    what about 2 smaller width, bike lanes on the right, so bikes have a passing lane, and, a buffer to avoid being doored etc.

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  • Andy B from Jersey April 21, 2011 at 8:52 am

    Yes Jacob but I still have no clue where to ride my bike in NYC where there are no bike lanes on one-way streets! Left or right side of the road, I have no clue! And I’m an LCI!

    I’ve been a vocal critic of the NYC’s cart-blanch left side bike lanes since I feel it violates some of the most basic rules of the road that one expects all across the US and most elsewhere in the world where traffic travels on the right (slow traffic a bikes are to stay to the right of traffic). Also, just one of the problems I have with this approach is that I find that cars are willing to come much closer to you while riding because of the fact that can see exactly where you are, which is often used as a reason is support of the lanes. I’ve been riding around Manhattan and have had drives pass me with two feet of clearance while they give 12 feet of clearance to the parked cars on the right!

    I’m no saying that there is never a reason to put a bike lane on the left side of the road but I’m no fan of NYC’s approach of putting them there on every one-way street as a matter of course.

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  • deborah April 21, 2011 at 9:19 am

    There’s a left-side bike lane on the single-direction stretch of SW 14th between Jefferson and Alder.
    I think it was supposed to be a solution to the merging traffic from the 405 off-ramp on the right side of the road right by Lincoln High. But it is not even usable for my commute because the high-schoolers getting dropped off in the morning throw open their passenger-side doors with very little regard for bikes. Furthermore, about a block after Alder, the left-hand bike lane goes away, and one appears on the right hand side of the road. I almost always feel safer in the car lane.

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  • birdsong April 21, 2011 at 9:41 am

    Does anyone know how the traffic volume of Williams compares to Vancouver in section 4? Vancouver works fine with 1 vehicle lane and a larger bike lane in this area. One wide vehicle lane seems like it would allow cars to go around someone trying to park more easily. With the two narrow lanes that are there now, people try to quickly jump from one lane to the other before trucks from the other lane speed by. I hate biking and driving in this section when there’s a lot of traffic as it is now.

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  • Mele April 21, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    I was just thinking about this while cycling on the left-side bike lane on SW 5th downtown. Works pretty well there in my opinion for separating modes between bikes, buses, cars, streetcars, MAX.

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  • David M April 21, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    Sort of typical Portland bike planning these days, to over complicate things with fancy high profile solutions. The problem is CARS, plain and simple. Give us a wider bike lane so we can maneuver, give cars one less lane with a lower speed limit and go from there. I will take my chances with the bus that I encounter maybe once a week, who is entirely predictable in behavior rather than a ton of impatient drivers racing down Williams to beat I5 traffic.

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  • David M April 21, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    Better yet, just make Rodney a Greenway, turn all the stop signs like they did on Going and then business can have all car traffic they want.

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    • are April 21, 2011 at 2:21 pm

      nothing you can do to rodney will make it an adequate replacement for williams.

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    • Steve B April 21, 2011 at 4:14 pm

      It’s not an either or.. we need to develop both routes. As is, Rodney already serves hundreds of daily bike trips. As ridership on Williams continues to grow, enhancing Rodney to be even more friendly for people on bikes will be a no-brainer. That said, there are other neighborhoods in the city that are without access to a nearby greenway, and my preference would be those neighborhoods get those important connections first.

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    • was carless April 22, 2011 at 6:37 pm

      Look at hawghorne east of 12th. No bikelanes. Plenty of people obviously still bike in SE.

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  • Josh Berezin April 21, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    Here’s the letter I just sent off to Mayor Adams, Catherine Ciarlo, and Ellen Vanderslice. Feel free to crib words or ideas if they’re useful to you.

    I want to congratulate everyone who’s helped create the North Williams Traffic Operation Safety Project. It’s a much-needed step forward for all users of North Williams. Thanks, also, for all your work on projects around the city that are making it easier and safer for all road users to get around.

    However, after attending the N Williams open house last weekend, I was surprised and disappointed to see that the city is considering leaving the lane configuration substantially as-is in Section 4, the section between N Cook and N Skidmore.

    I’ve been a daily bike rider in Portland since 2001, but as a relatively experienced cyclist, Section 4 is nerve-wracking when I ride my bike on it.

    The problems I encounter when I ride my bike in that stretch include:
    • The bike lane is in the door zone
    • Cars pull across the bike lane to enter or leave parking
    • Buses and bike riders play leapfrog
    • Bikes have to leave the bike lane into fast-moving traffic to pass

    If these challenges make me nervous as an experienced cyclist, I can’t imagine more vulnerable riders like kids and seniors ever feeling safe biking there.

    I’m sure there are several solutions that would alleviate these problems, but a cycletrack certainly seems to me like it would adequately address nearly all of them.

    Williams is an especially critical route for people on bikes, because there are no good alternatives nearby. In contrast, if we reduce automobile capacity in this section, there are many alternatives for people in cars. Martin Luther King is moments away for drivers, as are Interstate Avenue, and I-5.

    I understand that some members of the public feel that the lane capacity is needed for existing levels of car traffic. But it hardly seems fair that the mode currently responsible for 1/3rd of all traffic is shoehorned into a minimum-width bike lane among narrow traffic and parking lanes.

    If the city succeeds in its intention to increase bicycle mode share, this section is going to get more dangerous as bike traffic increases on this route. We have the opportunity to fix this right now, which is a whole lot better than waiting for a tragedy to spur action.

    Accepting the status quo — a street that’s designed to accomodate peak-capacity rush hour car traffic at the expense of people who walk, use bikes, and take transit — will inevitably limit the street’s capacity and safety for bike traffic. Creating a high-quality bikeway along the entire length of N Williams is critical to increasing mode share for bikes.

    Instead of being afraid to reduce car traffic or parking capacity on this section of Williams, I am asking that the City demonstrate the courage of its convictions and develop a plan that serves the large and growing number of people biking there. Thanks for your consideration.

    Josh Berezin

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    • Steve B April 21, 2011 at 4:11 pm

      Brilliant response, well done Josh!

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 21, 2011 at 4:14 pm

      Nice Josh.

      You sum it all up very well. If PBOT gets this wrong, it will be a mistake of historic proportions. With people like you speaking up, it’s much more likely they will do the right thing.

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  • I (heart) e-bikes April 21, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    road diets are the cheapest and most effective solution to many traffic problems.

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  • was carless April 22, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    Oh my god. I cannot believe the lack of leadership and idiocy that exists within community orgs and the city. The excuses against a left hand bike lane is tired and assinine. Turning across a lane of traffic is a problem no matter if its a right hand bikelane turning left, or a left hand bikelane turning right.

    I keep hearing the city’s bragging about “complete streets,” then they put in a 4 block bike lane. Which does squat.

    Portland is very good at allocating too little ROW for peds and bikes (outside of downtown) while convincing everyone how great we are. Ugh. I do not have any hope for this process.

    Lets take the right lane and make it bus only. Then take the left parking lane and make it a bike lane.

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  • Dude April 24, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    The person that was hit on Marine drive was hit from someone turning left.
    There are also cars parked on the left side of the road, so there is no change in getting doored.
    Buses need to learn to pull all the way over to the curb for their stops, not at an angle with their ass out in the lane that is a pain for everyone behind them

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