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ODOT will remove unauthorized bike signage near I-5 bridge – UPDATED

Posted by on October 27th, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Unauthorized and subject to removal.
(Photo: Todd Boulanger)

The new signage and markings on the paths leading up to the I-5 bridge have been hailed as a much-needed improvement. Unfortunately, since they are unauthorized, the Oregon Department of Transportation says they plan to remove them.

After getting a phone call from a reader this morning who claimed to have seen an ODOT employee in an orange vest removing the painted stencils from the paths, I called ODOT public information officer Don Hamilton for a confirmation.

“I understand why they’re there, the bike signage needs to be improved.”
— Don Hamilton, ODOT

Hamilton went out to the site this morning and said the markings and signs — which are laminated copies of the City of Vancouver’s “Cycling the Cities” maps — are still in place (except for one map that was already torn down). Turns out the person in the orange vest was simply a surveyor working on an unrelated project.

Even so, says Hamilton, “These are unauthorized signs and we ultimately plan to remove them. It just hasn’t happened yet.”

In a phone call, Hamilton acknowledged that the existing official signage “needs to be improved.” Hamilton also said ODOT has a plan to install new signage, but he couldn’t give me a timeline on when it would be done.

Why would ODOT remove something even they feel is needed and that seems to be working quite well?

“Any time we place signs on our structures we want to make sure they are as clear and unambiguous as possible” said Hamilton. “These have not been checked or vetted; they come from the public.”

Hamilton said he understands why someone would do it, but that it’s important that new signage goes through a process “to make sure we have as good and as strong of a sign system as possible.”

During our brief chat, Hamilton reminded me that the bike plans proposed in the Columbia River Crossing project “will be significantly better” than what exists now.

So, is ODOT stalling on the new signage plan because they think the CRC is imminent? No, said Hamilton.

“I think it’s fair to say we’re not just waiting for the CRC to happen. That could be many years off. Improving bike signage on the Oregon side of the bridge is a priority for us regardless of the CRC.”

Hopefully ODOT never gets around to removing these stencils. The confusing bike route across the bridge is clearly a problem that has existed for many years and — despite even official attempts at developing new signage — ODOT has blocked improvements from happening while failing to move forward on their own solution.

Perhaps the best outcome is that this rogue signage effort is what finally spurs ODOT to move forward.

Meanwhile, I like the suggestion of Vancouver resident (and former City of Vancouver transportation planner) Todd Boulanger: “I recommend a 2012 Alice B Toeclips award ‘in absentia’ for these stencil super heros. All in favor email: info@bta4bikes.org.”

UPDATE, 10/28 3:15pm: I’ve spoken with ODOT Region 1 Manager Jason Tell about this issue. He says they just so happen to have a plan for new signage already worked up. There are plans to place 31 new bikeway signs in this area. I’ll have a complete story soon.

UPDATE 10/31: Please read this follow-up story for details about the new signs coming soon from ODOT!

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  • A.K. October 27, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Hey ODOT, just leave it. If you won’t provide a solution, the citizens can provide one for themselves.

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    • K'Tesh October 27, 2011 at 11:07 pm

      There is a precedent for unauthorized markings not being removed… Hwy 26’s MUP comes to mind (but that was a safety issue, and not a navigation issue).


      again, remember marking paint is designed to fade (striping paint is designed not to).

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    • middle of the road guy October 28, 2011 at 1:43 pm

      Just wait until some private citizen has an accident on that path. They are going to sue ODOT for not maintaining accurate and official signage, which is their job.

      It goes from putting things up to having to police what others put up.

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  • 9watts October 27, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    “There must be order…

    …even if the order we (re-)establish is confusing.”

    ODOT Manual 03447., Ch. 2.b. Section 54.

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    • q`Tzal October 27, 2011 at 3:13 pm

      I’m too lazy to find this without a direct link 🙂
      or maybe the bureaucracy likes to bury these sorts of things where they are a PITA to find.

      It might be interesting reading for the geeky/aspie

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  • Andrew N October 27, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    Infuriating. ODOT is such a dinosaur.

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    • A.K. October 27, 2011 at 3:37 pm

      No kidding. I’m not generally anti-government, but seriously – if the freakin’ state agency is too inept to even provide adequate signage for a well-used bicycling route (one of only two ways within Portland proper to bike over to Vancouver), something is seriously wrong.

      This is when agency bloat and Government waste is quite evident.

      “Any time we place signs on our structures we want to make sure they are as clear and unambiguous as possible” said Hamilton. “These have not been checked or vetted; they come from the public.”

      Sorry – we are supposed to wait for ODOT to “check and vet” these routes, yet they can’t even be bothered to install route marking or wayfaring signs? Sorry. Again I’ll take the citizen-provided solution, thanks.

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    • sorebore October 27, 2011 at 9:29 pm

      to be sure! Hey Jonathan, Would there be any point of petition to move this issue forward? Since so many people seem interested, perhaps there is a way to create a viable solution hand in hand with ODOT support. It would be cool to see 50 ppl. working on it on a Sunday morning, like the tree planting that happens on what I assume is ODOT land all the time.

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  • rain bike October 27, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    Are the orange STP directional stencils near the Rose Quarter still visible, or were they removed after the event?

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    • Paul in the 'couve October 27, 2011 at 4:25 pm

      I know that last night on my ride down Vancouver Ave I notices at least 4 or 5 STP markers still plainly visible.

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  • Ed October 27, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    Utterly insane. There’s no money for better signage, but there’s money to tear useful signage down?

    This is how people end up riding on the shoulder of I-5 to get across the bridge.

    Get a grip, ODOT.

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    • Paul Johnson October 27, 2011 at 6:43 pm

      I commute across that bridge every day. I 5 doesn’t technically cross the bridge at all, it stops at the Jantzen Beach exit and doesn’t start again until the WA 14 interchange. Why? No shoulders, therefore doesn’t meet the criteria to be included in the system.

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  • q`Tzal October 27, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    An idea I proposed in the Hazardous Obstacles on the Sunset MUP would be really useful here:

    Post 16
    If I can work out precise transportation compliant engineering drawings I believe it is possible:
    have an officailly approved plan
    collect funding by donation
    and get it installed
    either by authorized contractors
    or by concerned citizens in an approval process that resembles local code approval of house plans and multi stage inspections.

    If ODOT can’t afford it can we at least have access to the ability pay for the proper signs ourselves as concerned citizens?

    Ask not what ODOT will do for you, ask what you can do for ODOT?

    There is a need and “because we say so” is not a good reason not to correct this issue.

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    • wsbob October 27, 2011 at 6:27 pm

      q`Tzal’s thread over at bikeportland forums is reading I’d very much recommend. The steps that thread describes him doing to address a problem on the Sunset MUP, and steps in support that other forum members contributed, led to a prompt, at least partial correction of the problem.

      q`Tzal snapped photos, and using the computer…altered them to show suggested signage and markings drawn from the MUTCD (manual for uniform traffic control devices). This was submitted to ODOT. Within a week or so, pavement markings appeared, very similar to the markings suggested.

      The pavement markings in the picture illustrating this story look helpful. Did the people that made them, attempt first to consult with ODOT before marking the pavement? If not, maybe they should have.

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  • karl d October 27, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    The stencils would be gone in 6 months anyway. No need to spend energy removing them.

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    • Roger Horner October 27, 2011 at 4:03 pm

      I agree. They are already starting to lose their detail in the last week or so.

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  • rootbeerguy October 27, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    If a car freeway sign is missing, they would replace it instantly. So, why do they take so long to place a much-needed signs for us bicycle users? I guess we just keep complainnnnnnnnnnnnnnnning. we are tired of being treated like second citizens.

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    • Mike October 28, 2011 at 7:39 am

      I am guessing that car sign would impact more users than a bike sign. Plus, in many instances, they have extra signs (merge, yield, etc.).

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    • middle of the road guy October 28, 2011 at 1:44 pm

      you are truly a persecuted soul.

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  • Argentius October 27, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Oh dear lord.

    Whoever posted those needs a MEDAL!

    Having only ridden THAT bridge a handful of times, I did an impromptu Seattle-to-Portland ride this summer, and used a different route than the famous ride. I did just fine until Kelso, WA when it got late and the old 99 dead-ended in I5…

    Anyhow, I got to Vancouver and it took me THREE times to figure out how to successfully get south — it was really confusing in my low-blood-sugar, failing light fatigue. These stencils would’ve been a lifesaver!

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  • Rob October 27, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    Take note, amateur signage proponents; make your installation look as much like this photo as possible!


    I believe the specs call for the edge of the sign to be 2 feet off the path, and the bottom of the sign at least 3 feet off the ground. 😀

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    • Paul Johnson October 27, 2011 at 6:46 pm

      There’s more modern trailblazers available now, use those if you’re going to do it. Also, go get a copy of the MUTCD from the USDOT, it’s a PDF the size of a phonebook when printed, and available online free.

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  • Greg October 27, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    “These have not been checked or vetted; they come from the public.”

    If there’s one thing that irks a bureaucracy, it’s citizens demonstrating that we can do things for ourselves.

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    • 9watts October 27, 2011 at 3:35 pm

      If there’s one thing that irks a bureaucracy, it’s citizens demonstrating that we can do things for ourselves.

      This is a much larger problem even than just bureaucracies. I think the chief reason some folks in pickups or expensively maintained cars like to pump the gas and make all sorts of audible fuss when passing me is that they feel similarly about me on a bike. His (the driver’s) identity is bound up with working to pay for and fuel and display his auto, while I can get where I’m going without all that/at a speed in traffic that is comparable. On some subconscious level that seems to irk some.

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    • A.K. October 27, 2011 at 3:42 pm

      Indeed, gotta justify all those Guv’ment jobs! Can’t have people doing things for themselves now!

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    • Toby October 28, 2011 at 10:43 am

      That’s how I see it, bureaucratic pride. they won’t stand idle and knowingly let the average Joe do their job better than they can do it. Instead of just leaving something useful and needed until they can actually do their own version, they have to remove it and return to the dark as if they’re turning off a non-approved night light so you’ll stub your toe in the dark.

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      • Tacoma October 28, 2011 at 2:40 pm

        While these statements may apply at some level, I expect there are probably legal issues involved as well.

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        • Toby October 28, 2011 at 4:23 pm

          Unfortunately you’re probably right. Something to the effect of as long as they don’t know about it, no worries but once they learn of it they’re obligated to ‘set it right’.

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          • tacoma October 28, 2011 at 9:16 pm

            true dat

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    • middle of the road guy October 28, 2011 at 1:46 pm

      and when some kind of accident occurs from one of those signs…..or someone thinks it did, who is going to have to fix it?

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      • Toby October 28, 2011 at 4:20 pm

        Like what, a laminated piece of paper falling on someone is not likely to hurt them, perhaps they might slip on it while it’s on the ground…oh wait, you didn’t mean the sign itself would actually cause the accident. Well then you’re bringing up a whole nuther issue of whatever actually caused the accident. People still have to watch where they are going whether on a bike or in a car so I don’t really see your point.

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  • Lenny Anderson
    Lenny Anderson October 27, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    Curious, but in the years since the hand wringing about freight movement and congestion on I-5 started, what has happened? The new southbound HOV lane was removed in Clark county, C-Tran took three years to connect their buses to the MAX Yellow line (and still do not run Limited service down the I-5 corridor), and the southbound add lane for trucks from Columbia Blvd was converted into an merge lane, and now this many years long failure to put up decent signage for bike commuters. I smell a rat.

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  • Nom de Plume October 27, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    This is a job for Harry Tuttle!

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  • Stretchy October 27, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    Why get something for free when we can pay a consulting firm run by the mayor’s brother’s cousin $100k to “study” the issue and then have a bunch of overpaid government workers do something half as good?

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  • Todd Boulanger October 27, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    Well once that ODOT actually removes the stencils (holding my breath), and by their action we can judge how well they improve this safety and wayfinding problem. [Many of us have tried to work with their staff over the last 10 years to make it more novice friendly – with signs, city funded maps, groups rides and tours.] Some things got better, but not this issue. Imagine if the I-5 wayfinding for drivers were this poor.

    If ODOT chooses to only replace a few existing signs at the old locations then we will really know what they think of this facility and it’s citizens who depend on it for mobility. (Hint – making and installing traffic and wayfinding signs is a great wet weather activity for highway crews.)

    Then I would ask Oregonians who read this blog or use the facility to contact the local ODOT office and your local state representative about the poor state of the situation. Washingtonians and Vancouverites/ Couverians have tried to push this as far as we can from our side of the Bridge.

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    • Machu Picchu October 30, 2011 at 8:08 pm

      “(Hint – making and installing traffic and wayfinding signs is a great wet weather activity for highway crews.)”

      Not sure what “highway crews” you have experience with, but for the record, ODOT’s sign operations are a full-time, all-weather gig. Separate even from pavement marking, which is decidedly not facilitated by wet weather. Just so no one’s thinking that crews that sweep and repair pavements and so on just say, “Hey, look, boys. It’s rainin’! What’s say we put away these here shovels and cook up some of them signs for the bridge?”

      And they don’t talk that way either, (at least not most of them) but I thought I would play it right into the stereotype.

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  • Todd Boulanger October 27, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    Oh…and this is perverse…but the CRC project has helped in one way…

    …to educate the BTA, local transportation bike engineers/planners, and Portland area elected officials as to how bad this multimodal route is…with the project planning and their cycling to the Vancouver CRC office (or the Bi-State Policy Makers Ride) they have experienced it first hand.

    Ten years ago it was a problem only a few* knew about or cared about.

    *Generally the lone bike commuters or the ‘invisible’ [low income] cyclists.

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  • BURR October 27, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    Maybe someone should ask Pat Egan and Bruce Warner how they would respond to this issue.

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  • dwainedibbly October 27, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    My thoughts:
    1. I wonder if ODOT reads this blog. If so, perhaps Jonathan should not post about guerrilla signwork like this.

    2. I hope they leave it alone until they put up official signage.

    3. It would be nice (but probably expecting too much) of ODOT to engage with the cycling community for comments about what we need in the way of signage.

    4. Kudos to the person(s) who did this.

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  • q`Tzal October 27, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    Ignoring the ODOT legality issue for a second:
    I’ve been wondering …
    … the sort of paint that was used here and is available to the general public …
    … isn’t it also going to create a surface slip hazard like common road striping or is store bought “muggle” paint of such low standards that doesn’t actually impair the surface because it is so thin?

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    • todd boulanger October 27, 2011 at 7:01 pm

      The paint is (was) not thick enough for the sort of problem you mention. It does happen, but typically when a much thicker and larger application is applied to a street surface (crosswalk, stop bar, spilled paint/ aka ‘paint crash’, etc.)

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  • Paul Johnson October 27, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    I’m just gonna say I called it. Feel free to call ODOT every day about the problem until it’s fixed, squeeky wheel, grease, something something.

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  • joe adamski October 27, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    Wait till spring. Re-stencil. Don’t post a story on it. Everything will be cool.
    If you need the marking paint, I have tons of it.

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  • Jose_N October 27, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    can we have signs in spanish too? oh also my few friends from nicaragua ask if we can have some chinese paint on the path or signs since they understand some chinese. it would be fabulous for us minority bike commuters.

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  • was carless October 27, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    I’ll just leave these here:


    And this.

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  • dmc October 27, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    It would be a shame if ODOT removed them without immediately offering a better solution.

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  • Mike October 28, 2011 at 7:42 am

    So I should go around spray painting signs wherever I think they need to be? How about my neighbor? What if I drive a car, can I do it then – or is this reserved only for cyclists?

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  • kgb October 28, 2011 at 8:07 am

    Sure Mike, as long as you first try to work with officials for say 10 years to get the problem solved through proper channels. After that go ahead.

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  • David Feldman October 28, 2011 at 8:14 am

    Remove them!? That’s so ********(inappropriate language deleted – JM)***** there’s no describing it. The broken, convoluted route for cycling through the Jantzen Beach area is the biggest bike route cluster**** in the Northwest; whoever painted the marks should be asked to come forward and be paid a consulting fee for their paint work!

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 28, 2011 at 8:30 am



    My thoughts:
    1. I wonder if ODOT reads this blog. If so, perhaps Jonathan should not post about guerrilla signwork like this.

    They absolutely do. First time I noticed was back in 2005 when I posted about them using wet paint on the road and how it was as slip hazard for people on bikes. I got a call and email from a manager saying they’d start putting up wet paint signs specifically to warn people on bikes!

    2. I hope they leave it alone until they put up official signage.

    My hunch is that they are in no hurry to remove it – especially after seeing the reaction to this story.

    3. It would be nice (but probably expecting too much) of ODOT to engage with the cycling community for comments about what we need in the way of signage.

    I don’t think a signage project would typically trigger a public process… But that’d be very cool of them. I’d love to host some feedback mechanism on the site… (ODOT, let me know if you’re interested in that)

    4. Kudos to the person(s) who did this.


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  • Dan V October 28, 2011 at 9:02 am

    I think they should leave the signage up while they are doing their own due diligence (as “guv’ment worker, I understand you have to follow your written process, however non-sensical). Even better, survey the impact of this signage to direct how the “official” signage needs to come out (use this as the Beta test, cut some time off the project). And a strong second to ODOT getting some free brownie points via community/public input; just expect the usual car-centric whack-jobs to show up…

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  • Linnea October 28, 2011 at 9:08 am

    Signage has been super useful.
    Who else do we need to write to in order to convince them to leave it alone!

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  • q`Tzal October 28, 2011 at 10:25 am

    Legally ODOT can not leave these markings and signs in place.
    I agree 100% that signs are needed here and most other places for signs.
    I also agree, with ODOT and Federal guidelines, that signs and markings need to conform to basic guideline in placement, format, content and material.

    A small innocent change in how these current “grassroots” markings and signs were installed could have easily lead to safety hazards for cyclists. Slip hazards, misplaced signs either in the travel path or directing cyclists and pedestrians in to more dangerous areas.

    The current process is SLOW and expensive.
    I propose that ODOT farm out as much labor to the volunteer community as is legally allowable.
    Installation: as long as it does not require access to restricted or unsafe areas, why not? Considering the current unemployment rate there ought to be some un- or under-employed licensed professionals that are legally allowed to work on electrical issues or any other highly skilled jobs.
    Design: maybe it’s just me but the MUTCD is easy reading; not like the tax code. It is indexed and referenced. It is available online FREE either in PDF or Html, in parts or in whole. There is no calculus or trigonometry, just simple equations and diagrams explaining how things need to be installed.
    Procurement/purchasing: As is evidenced by a quick perusing of the prior linked http://www.roadtrafficsigns.com/ it seems we can buy real road signs of the same quality as DOTs. That company has stencils too.

    It is not realistic to cut out the government as a guideline enforcer but we don’t let the government build houses and skyscrapers. Building plans are reviewed by professionals and approved by the state. The local building code enforcement authority sends inspectors to verify that construction meets guides and halts progress when it doesn’t.
    This is the type of process that needs to be accessible to the public.

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  • Case October 28, 2011 at 10:58 am

    The problem with guerilla signage is the opportunity for it to hinder rather than help. We’re asking ODOT to vet guerilla signs based on merit and truthfulness. I think this site has highlighted a number of signs designed to confuse cyclists. How would those be vetted? Would ODOT have to have someone on staff to vet civilian signage? It’s a little bigger of an issue when you put it in that perspective. The good thing is this sign will hopefully trigger action from ODOT. Their need for approved signage is likely as much or more a liability issue compared to a bloated bureaucracy issues. I’d like to thank CC for the conversation leading to this perspective.

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  • Lenny Anderson October 28, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    When I ran a little community rag in SF in the 70’s we put up a home made stop sign and painted a stop line at a corner that desparately needed them. SF DOT was out the next day to remove them, and we were there with a camera. Great photo with story…and it got the job done after we ran it. Yes, I know it was “bad” journalism.

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  • PorterStout October 28, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    Case I think you hit it on the head. If someone wrecks in this area and their lawyer says it was ODOT’s negligence in leaving these unofficial, confusing signs up, what is their defense? Or, what if the same jerks who put tacks on roadways start putting up signs designed for mischief or worse? Removing them isn’t someone’s plan for preserving bureaucracy.

    That said, hopefully this has raised their attention to the issue that it’s time for them to put the needed, approved signage up already. Seriously, how much would this really cost anyway?

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  • K'Tesh October 28, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    Isn’t he about 6′ 4″, 195 pounds, with Auburn hair and hazel eyes? Studied at Berlin Polytechnic and I believe he’s a Druid, reformed. (They’re allowed to pray at bushes).

    Oh, yeah, that’s Capt. Jonathan Tuttle…

    Harry’s from Brazil! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazil_(film)

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    • K'Tesh October 28, 2011 at 4:56 pm

      That was aimed at nom de plume…

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  • Dan Packard October 28, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    I just rode this yesterday from Vancouver. I was confused by the stencils, as I think one was pointing in the wrong direction.

    This area needs a few good clearly marked signs on how to get to Portland. For example, how to navigate the maze of Hayden island loops and then farther south riding the over, under, left, then right tangle at Marine drive.

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    • Lester October 29, 2011 at 4:54 am

      I’m pretty sure they all point the right way.

      There is a confusing element to the rogue signage,however. That is the arrow used to designate “to”. Ie: North -> Van.

      On the signs where the arrow is pointing counter to the directional sharrow style indicators one could easily take a wrong turn.

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  • Jazz October 28, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    ODOT, this is ridiculous. I am so irked because I just tried this route for only the second time last week in an unplanned attempt to get myself back to my home in PDX after being stranded in Washington without my car, bike lights or glasses (severely short sighted) late at night after the buses had stopped running.

    It was awful. took me about 40 minutes riding around the Jantzen beach area after I crossed the I-5 bridge to figure out the connection. The difficult crossings on this path had me in some pretty dangerous positions on the roads, esp without lights. I understand that my special predicament was entirely my responsibility, but I may never have found my way home were it not for these signs. Successful citizenship evident here was truly inspiring. THANK YOU, THE EFFORT DESERVES A REWARD; NOT PETTY COMPETITION BY ODOT.

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  • Pat Franz October 28, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    How about this for a more reasonable response: “While we don’t want to encourage such things, because of the obvious care that went into this, we have tested these markings for accuracy and have decided to leave them in place for 6 months as a test. We are collecting feedback at odot.gov/blah blah.”.

    I know, everyone is worried about setting a bad precedent, but what’s the real problem? It’s clear this was heartfelt, well considered, and reasonably executed. Not stupid, not vandalism, not unsafe. Why not leave it and learn?

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  • Deryl and Lucy October 30, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Leave them!!! Bikers shouldn’t have to fend for themselves like cowboys out west………. There needs to be a safe structured route if we expect to commute by bike. Damn Thomas Savery and his steam engine!,!,!,!,

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  • Bossi October 31, 2011 at 10:53 am

    Having worked as traffic engineer for a different state’s DOT (and yet I still manage to be an urbanist!), I can appreciate where ODOT is coming from. The general gist of it is that markings are formal traffic control devices (TCDs), and these are indeed unvetted, untested, and unauthorised.

    Once unauthorised TCDs have been brought to the knowledge of the state DOT, the gov has a duty to see that they be removed, regardless of whether they agree with them or not. They can face legal repercussions should they contribute to an injury (for example: does the paint reduce pavement friction? Does a confusing message district from reacting to a hazard?) and in some more extreme cases (I doubt this specific one would qualify) having unauthorised TCDs can put federal funding at risk for a project or certain programs.

    Now on the other hand, from ODOT’s response it sounds like they agree with the intent of the markings but are likely being forced to remove them based on those other obligations. So now comes the second step: replacing them with something that works. It seems they do have a short-term plan for addressing the issues that the markings address.

    Furthermore, it’s also worth noting that the markings haven’t been removed yet… while the agency may have a duty to remove them: they only need to prove that they have a schedule for doing so should an issue arise. They get quite a lot of flexibility on how that schedule is set… essentially, if they agree with their intent, there’s not much stopping them from dragging their heels on removal so that they have the replacement ready-to-go right away.

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