When the Portland Mayor Sam Adams announced new buffered bike lanes coming to two downtown streets back in May of 2009 there was talk of “innovation” and making bikeways appealing to the “interested but concerned” demographic. Adams said at the time that, “The City wants Portlanders to be comfortable coming to downtown on a bicycle – whatever their skill level.”
In the nearly three years since, it’s very clear that more needs to be done for these buffered lanes live up to that promise.
In particular, one busy block of SW Stark between 3rd and 4th (which I can see from my desk as I type this) has become a joke. Many people driving cars illegally drive in the bike lane. In fact, the lane has become a de facto standard vehicle lane with many more people driving cars in it than bicycling in it.
When I first moved into my office in October 2011, I was shocked at what I saw. I emailed PBOT to ask if they 1) were aware of the law-breaking, non-compliance of many motor vehicle operators on this block and 2) if they had any plans to improve the design. I heard back that yes, they planned to consider “modified designs” for the lanes with the “intent… to improve vehicle compliance.”
That was nearly seven months ago. Today I decided to keep my camera at the ready on my desk and snap photos of people driving in the bike lane. Here are just a few of the images I snapped in less than 40 minutes…
Notice how the guy on the bike is looking back, sensing the person driving behind him…
And this one is especially egregious…
Part of the problem (described to me by a traffic engineer) is that the buffered bike lane is the same width as a standard lane. Also, much of the bike lane paint has eroded. Both of those factors mean people in cars lack strong visual cues to know that they should not drive in the lane. In addition, there is a high volume of right turns at the intersection of SW 3rd, so PBOT decided to make a right-turn pocket — which only exacerbates the problem because people start that movement way before they should (PBOT doesn’t usually allow right turns over the bike lane, but makes exceptions at intersections with heavy right turn volumes).
The way this street is being used by motor vehicle operators is illegal and it erodes the bicycling environment. We need a stronger design that does more to convey that automobiles are prohibited from using the bike lane (unless they are crossing it just prior to the intersection to turn right, or using it “momentarily” to prep for parking or loading/unloading). It would also be great to have the Portland Police Bureau do an enforcement action on this block to help folks remember the law.
For now, I’m pulling down my window shade because it’s too frustrating to watch.
What do you think? Do you have any ideas about how the City could make this better?