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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!

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. 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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A.K.
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A.K.

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

9watts
Guest
9watts

“There must be order…

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

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

Andrew N
Guest
Andrew N

Infuriating. ODOT is such a dinosaur.

rain bike
Guest
rain bike

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

Ed
Guest
Ed

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.

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

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

Post 16
http://bikeportland.org/forum/showpost.php?p=27490&postcount=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.

karl d
Guest
karl d

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

rootbeerguy
Guest
rootbeerguy

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.

Argentius
Guest
Argentius

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!

Rob
Guest

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

http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-12883153/stock-photo-a-green-bike-route-sign-on-the-side-of-the-road.html

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. 😀

Greg
Guest
Greg

“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.

Lenny Anderson
Guest
Lenny Anderson

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.

Nom de Plume
Guest
Nom de Plume

This is a job for Harry Tuttle!

Stretchy
Guest
Stretchy

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?

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

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.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

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.

BURR
Guest
BURR

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

dwainedibbly
Guest
dwainedibbly

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.

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

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?

Paul Johnson
Guest
Paul Johnson

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.

joe adamski
Guest
joe adamski

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.
shhh!

Jose_N
Guest
Jose_N

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.

was carless
Guest
was carless
dmc
Guest
dmc

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

Mike
Guest
Mike

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?

kgb
Guest
kgb

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.

David Feldman
Guest
David Feldman

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!

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Guest

dwainedibby

dwainedibbly

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.

seconded.

Dan V
Guest
Dan V

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…

Linnea
Guest
Linnea

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

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

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.

Case
Guest
Case

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.

Lenny Anderson
Guest

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.

PorterStout
Guest
PorterStout

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?

K'Tesh
Guest
K'Tesh

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)

Dan Packard
Guest
Dan Packard

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.

Jazz
Guest
Jazz

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.

Pat Franz
Guest

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?

Deryl and Lucy
Guest
Deryl and Lucy

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!,!,!,!,

Bossi
Guest

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.