Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

The buffered bike lanes on SW Stark are not working

Posted by on April 20th, 2012 at 2:12 pm

SW Stark buffered bike lane isn't working-19

The entry to SW Stark east of 4th Ave as
seen from my office window.
(Photos © J. Maus)

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…

SW Stark buffered bike lane isn't working-7

SW Stark buffered bike lane isn't working-6

SW Stark buffered bike lane isn't working-8

SW Stark buffered bike lane isn't working-9

SW Stark buffered bike lane isn't working-10

SW Stark buffered bike lane isn't working-11>

SW Stark buffered bike lane isn't working-12

SW Stark buffered bike lane isn't working-14

Notice how the guy on the bike is looking back, sensing the person driving behind him…

SW Stark buffered bike lane isn't working-15

And this one is especially egregious…

SW Stark buffered bike lane isn't working-18

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?

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  • Gerik April 20, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    I wonder if we can get planter boxes installed as diverters at each intersection? The cars can’t enter but bikes can just roll right through…

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 20, 2012 at 2:17 pm

      Like we’re planning to do on Williams in the “Mixed zone”? Sounds interesting to me… but if it means any loss of parking, downtown is a whole different ballgame politically than a nopo n’hood.

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      • craig harlow April 20, 2012 at 3:00 pm

        Also consider people pulling trailers with cargo or kids. They don’t need as much clearance abreast as a car, but much more than a solo bike, in order to safely pass through any narrowed opening.

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  • Esther April 20, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    I love gerik’s suggestion! It seems there would be some pretty easy diversion fixes along here. I too have noticed huge problems with driving and double-parking in the bike lane here.

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    • El Biciclero April 20, 2012 at 6:06 pm


      That would seem to be the trouble that diverters would create: they would either block access to legitimate parking, or create the idea that the diverters were there to separate [double-]parking spaces.

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  • Dave April 20, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    Funny that the paint being gone is both a cause and a result of so many cars driving in the bike lane 🙂

    Seems to me if they just put planters in front of the bike lane at the intersection, you could still access the corner parking spot from the intersection, and the other parking spots from past the planters. Seems it would be a pretty cheap fix, too.

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  • Dave April 20, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    Of course, you’d have to do it at each intersection, or people would just go 5 feet past the planters, and then move over into the bike lane and keep going.

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    • El Biciclero April 20, 2012 at 6:09 pm

      And if they were using the bike lane to get around other traffic in the “real” (non-bike) lane, they would have to really gun it to get around whatever they were trying to get around before the next planter came up. Not the most vulnerable-road-user-conscious behavior.

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  • John R. April 20, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    Thanks for this. It’s a frustration in much of downtown. I find that delivery drivers routinely park in bike lanes.

    We don’t need innovation- there are well designed solutions for this out in the world. What we do need is for our politicians to walk their warm and fuzzy bike talk with actions that prioritize safety and all modes. As Jonathan notes, this means infringing on parking.

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    • spare_wheel April 20, 2012 at 2:49 pm

      unfortunately this is legal.

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      • matt picio April 22, 2012 at 11:46 am

        Only when *actively* loading or unloading. Many delivery drivers are illegally parked in the bike lane for extended periods.

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    • Paul April 20, 2012 at 2:52 pm

      This is true. Unfortunately due to the small “grid” design of much of the inner city we suffer from having a billion intersections to deal with. My vote is to deconstruct much of this grid by eliminating straight-thru and left turns on all but major street intersections, while maintaining bike and ped crossing, and lay down grade separated lanes which maintain grade separation where the feeder streets join the main streets. So, downtown would essentially have a series of major parallel streets going north/south, and east/west streets would only have a very few major streets, the rest feeding into the major north/south streets that you can only turn right onto (except turning from a major onto a major). Just an idea.

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  • SilkySlim April 20, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    On the bright side, maybe these cars are totally used to sharrows all over town and feel like they can responsibly share a lane with bike traffic?

    I think I would prefer to share a lane with considerate, properly paced cars over having a dedicated lane that forces them to make the dreaded right-hook turn in front of me.

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  • Mork April 20, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    Jonathan, this is essentially the same view I have from my office in the Board of Trade building. I’ve rotated the way I sit at my desk because I was getting too fired up watching every other car turning from 4th onto Stark pull into the buffered bike lane and just cruise in it.

    Closing the blinds or moving the desk works for us, but I’m really looking forward to the city taking steps to allow these buffered lanes meet their potential.

    Planters? Bollards? Cops writing tickets? I’m not sure of the answer, but I just hope that part of city’s goal regarding 10% mode share includes taking a close look at the Oak/Stark lanes and making the changes necessary to make them work.

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  • Chris I April 20, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    Why not just move the bike lane to the curb side of the parked cars?


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    • Chris I April 20, 2012 at 2:48 pm

      I should add: with removal of at least two parking spots at each potential conflict intersection, to improve site lines and add a turn buffer.

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    • Dave April 20, 2012 at 2:51 pm

      We’ve asked this many, many times all over Portland. Though I think your caveat is probably the biggest reason why – loss of car parking (especially downtown).

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    • NF April 20, 2012 at 2:55 pm

      This would be a good test case for street-level cycle tracks on regular streets. The PSU demonstration was a good start, but because of the lack of right turning cars makes it difficult to learn from for applications in other areas of the city.

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    • Will Vanlue (Contributor) April 20, 2012 at 4:21 pm

      This would seem to be a safer situation and an easier configuration for everyone to figure out. The only tricky part would be ensuring people driving cars didn’t run over people on bikes at intersections as they try to turn.

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    • Jacob April 20, 2012 at 10:07 pm

      This is the logical and obvious solution. You’d need to have separate signal phases at the intersection for bikes and cars, but that is not complicated to do. You could also do a mixing zone, but with heavy turn volumes, it wouldn’t work very well.

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    • Andrew VanVlack April 22, 2012 at 3:57 pm

      While the would be a top solution a good start would be to at least use the diagonal lines in the buffer zone like shown in that photo. Making it more obvious that a car cant fit to be in the lane. The current setup is a bit odd with just to lines down the road. There also needs to be more research into colored lanes. Something that is cheap and long lasting. I slight color differentiation from car traffic would be noticeable.

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    • Alan 1.0 April 23, 2012 at 5:47 pm

      In that image, with a bike lane on the far left buffered by parking, making a right turn is complicated for bicyclists…crossing two lanes of car traffic! Do bikes have a seperate traffic signal from cars? Do they turn into the right lane on the cross street or is there a bike lane on the left? If there’s room to get through the parking lane into a car lane, how is the Mandatory Sidepath Law interpretted? How well will left-turning cars respect bikes going straight?

      In my experience, downtown Portland is reaching (actually has reached or even passed) functional limits on complexity for different traffic modes. Instead I’d propose making all of the “no bikes on sidewalks” downtown zone ALSO be a zone designated to expect bikes in any vehicle lane at any time, and eliminate specific (mandatory) bike lanes. Remove as much special-mode paint striping and signage as possible, probably leaving the transit mall and Broadway bike lane as exceptions. Reduce the speed limit to 15mph and provide enforcement and physical devices to implement it. I’d also make all the area between 405 and the Willamette part of that zone, and possibly double-up white lines with green ones as a visual cue to the special zone.

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      • El Biciclero April 24, 2012 at 10:57 am

        Yeah, see? This makes sense. I recall a quote from Benjamin Franklin–

        “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

        Seems we have two camps around here (and everywhere, I guess): Those cyclists who do not want to give up their right to the road (which, in Oregon anyway, we do every time a bike lane gets painted) and who do not want to be “trapped” by separated infrastructure, and those cyclists (and the majority of non-cyclists, IMO) who cannot conceive of cycling being “safe” unless motor vehicles are physically impeded from crossing paths with bicycles. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to meet both the goal of unrestricted bicycle travel and physically protected bicycle travel.

        So many times we (cyclists) sound like birds who are begging to be put in a cage so the cat can’t get us.

        There are indeed some places in any city where roadway configuration makes things virtually impossible to navigate on a bike; for those situations, a little “infrastructure” help might be needed. I also find that, yes, stripes on the street tend to help people drive in more of a straight line, so I appreciate a bike lane in many cases–but I hate being perceived (and literally being) a scofflaw many times when I choose to leave the bike lane.

        I have now begun to ramble, but my original point was to agree with Alan 1.0: a good solution for downtown would indeed be removing restrictions by either removing bike lanes or making them optional, establishing a uniform speed limit (“enforced” to some degree by light timing), and adjust motorist expectations to see bikes in any lane that works for them–just like every other non-rail vehicle they see. I would be curious to know which makes drivers more crazy: having cyclists “delay” them by riding in any and every lane, or trying to navigate overly-complicated hit-and-miss “infrastructure” designed to keep cyclists out of their way.

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  • Kevin Nettleship April 20, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    It’s not just unfamiliarity that leads cars into the bike lane. I’m sure the cab driver knows he isn’t supposed to be in the lane.

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  • Kimberlee April 20, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    Thanks for posting this. I have been frustrated by this for months.

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  • egropp April 20, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    I have mixed feelings about the bike lanes on SW Oak and Stark. I often would rather ride in the car lane when I have a left turn coming up.

    The timing of the lights, which slow down the traffic, is most useful to me.

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  • Ely April 20, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    I have used this lane since it first went in, as my office is located at its western end. It’s a nice idea but it practice it doesn’t work at all. It might as well not even be there. Those bicyclists in your pictures above might as well be me, it happens all the time.
    As far as enforcement, I don’t think there’s much value in enforcing compliance here, as it’s the only lane of its kind in the city. I would much rather lose these lanes and have safer behavior around bikes EVERYWHERE enforced.

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    • Dave April 20, 2012 at 4:18 pm

      I work near big pink, and have ridden Oak & Stark regularly for about six years. I rolled my eyes when they went in, because it was painfully obvious that they were only going to confuse drivers, and I’d never once had an issue just taking the lane on either street without them. I’d say they actually work a little better than I expected, but all you have to do is hang out between Stark & Oak and 5th & 6th to see more baffled drivers making bizarre maneuvers than ever before. Nothing scares me more when I’m riding downtown than a confused tourist/suburbanite diving across lanes trying to figure out how to get to the valet line at Ruths Chris.

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      • Machu Picchu April 22, 2012 at 8:17 am

        Tourists and suburbanites should be able to interpret this, too, if it was a workable design. I’ve been on it many times, and it looks like wackiness each time, as if I’d never been there before.

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  • o/o April 20, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    when i first drove on that street, it confused me like hell. Then later I rode my bike there, i finally understood it. weird outlay… i cant blame on cagers.

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  • daniel miles April 20, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    I have to admit it’s been a while, since I don’t work downtown anymore, but I used to bike on Stark every day for about a year, and while I often saw cars in it, I never experienced any driver-behavior that made me feel threatened. My sense was that people were driving in it, but that they were happy to share it with me.

    If that buffered bike lane were converted back to a regular traffic lane and heavily marked with sharrows, I think it would be a way to simply mark the road for what’s currently happening, and I think it would be OK.

    Does anybody have experience that differs from mine?

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  • Devin April 20, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    I’ve seen this happen in Seattle too, but not nearly to this extent. This is incredible.

    One person suggested swapping the bike lane and the parking lane and that is definitely a good first step. One think that’s cheap and effective that SF does downtown is to put up reflective plastic poles in the buffer area too. It’s just as effective as a cycle track and much much cheaper.

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    • Dave April 20, 2012 at 3:34 pm

      We’ve tried the light plastic bollards in other places, and they just get driven over. The ones on the Broadway Bridge off-ramp lasted what, maybe 3 days or something 🙂 Apparently if we’re going to go that route, we need something that will damage a car in order for people to not just drive over it.

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  • Mike Meade April 20, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    Cars have driven in the bike lane since the day this was opened. I haven’t noticed it getting worse as the paint wore away, mostly because it has always been bad. (Guess what wore that paint away? it wasn’t bike use.)
    It always seems worst to me during the evening commute hour, when Stark will fill up with cars completely. Cars then pull out of the parking structures mid block and just drive the length of the block in the bike lane. I have been almost hit more here in the bike lane than anywhere else on my commute.

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  • Todd K April 20, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    I ride this stretch every evening and after a brief honeymoon, I’m not particularly enamored with it anymore. Reasons:

    1. Conscientious drivers have a tough time weaving through bike traffic (and pedestrians).
    2. Out-of-towners become even more flustered and erratic.
    3. Bikes still get stuck behind jerk/confused cars, so it’s not any better for me than other streets.

    It’s not particularly better for bikes, and it’s worse for cars (at least those who follow the rules). Might as well be sharrows & bike boxes, functionally, and at least that set-up is seen elsewhere.

    I’m optimistic, though, when I think about this as a small part of a grand experiment. So what if this portion didn’t work? Hopefully the city is taking good notes and when it comes time to try again the next iteration will be better.

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    • Paul Souders April 22, 2012 at 8:45 pm

      “It’s not particularly better for bikes, and it’s worse for cars (at least those who follow the rules). Might as well be sharrows & bike boxes, functionally, and at least that set-up is seen elsewhere.”

      I ride these streets every day and this is pretty much my assessment too. This lane offers no clear advantage for bikes, a disadvantage for cars, and ambiguity for everyone. Todd K’s sharrows + bike boxes solution would work great here (and in most of downtown, in fact)

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  • Charley April 20, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    I got stuck behind a cab driver parked in the bike lane here. When I told her she was breaking the law, she told me to “get used to it”. Don’t worry, honey, I’m used to it. Just because I’m used to it doesn’t mean I have to shut up and take it.

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  • Elliot April 20, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    I’ve also been frustrated by people driving in the Stark and Oak buffered bike lanes, but we should take a step back and look at the larger context:

    – The Stark and Oak buffered bike lanes were branded as “demonstration projects” in 2009.
    – Stark and Oak were selected for because of light vehicle volumes rather than heavy bike demand.

    (Source: http://www.portlandonline.com/transportation/index.cfm?c=50346&a=262801)

    As demonstration projects, Stark and Oak are teaching us that the current pavement markings are not obvious or intimidating enough to drivers, and that the pavement markings need more frequent maintenance. I haven’t looked, but I expect that PBOT has conducted annual bike counts that could measure the impact of these buffered bike lanes. User comfort and convenience is also an issue. I would be curious to see how much benefit these buffered bike lanes providing compared to a sharrow in this context. Capturing this would probably require a user intercept survey.

    Non-compliance isn’t a sufficient argument for a cycle track. Let’s be honest: these streets are just not high-priority routes. If you found a magic lamp, rubbed it, and Robin Williams came out to three grant wishes for downtown cycle tracks, would Stark and Oak make your list? Priority east-west streets downtown are streets connecting directly to bridges. Non-compliance is frustrating but it doesn’t justify building a low-impact, (relatively) high cost facility.

    It’s great to have buffered bike lanes on Stark and Oak, but they only provide a fraction of the benefit buffered bike lanes or a cycle track would create on a true high-priority downtown route.

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    • Joseph E April 20, 2012 at 5:31 pm

      Switching the parking and the bike lanes isn’t a high cost solution. It can be done with paint, just like on Broadway. A better solution is paint, plus a 6 foot curb, to physically prevent double-parking, as done in Long Beach CA.

      Cycletracks are expensive if they require new traffic signals or new pavement/concrete. Switch the parking to make a cycletrack does not need to be more expensive than the initial buffered bike lane.

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      • Elliot April 20, 2012 at 11:01 pm

        The PSU mega-block on the west side of Broadway nullifies potential right turn conflicts. This natural advantage was one of the strongest reasons why the location was chosen for Portland’s first cycle track project. A cycle track on Stark or Oak would require new signalization or a combination of other treatments to address right turn conflicts.

        Cycle tracks are great, but they’re almost never simple (with some exceptions, such as Broadway). Complexity brings cost. Sure, we could implement a cycle track here… but I’d rather spend our limited resources on a street where they’d have a larger impact.

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        • spare_wheel April 22, 2012 at 9:25 pm

          and the psu “cycletrack” is constantly blocked by oblivious pedestrians, drop offs, construction vehicles, and shuttle buses. if you build a facility on the cheap…you get what you pay for.

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  • JAT in Seattle April 20, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    At first I was going to post a snarky reply to the effect that this post doesn’t make any sense, since dedicated bike infrastructure is always a good thing, but that doesn’t help and sarcasm can be hard to read on the webs.

    so my straight forward reply is: super special case by case infrastructure is counter productive – be it for out-of-towners or new driver/riders or older folks, people get confused by non-standard things, and that leads to mis-use and other problems. I cannot believe that all these drivers are confused, though – particularly in Portland; I think many/most of them don’t care. It looks and feels like a lane (or parking space) so they’re going to use it as one.

    If we could effect a cultural shift among then entire population such that all road users make way for and do not endanger each other we might not need special bike lanes (and if bike lanes were permissive-use lanes, as HOV lanes are, rather than mandatory-use it might help…).

    The fact that this problem is so pervasive that the very paint designating the lanes is worn away suggests to me that it’s not the lanes which aren’t working, it’s motorists’ training and more to the point the police enforcement which isn’t working.

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  • lyle April 20, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    I don’t know how much of it is intentional and a direct result of disrespect for bikes versus just not having the energy to pay attention or focus. Anybody that also rides the bus and has spent time waiting on the bus mall is familiar with the clueless driver materializing every 20 seconds that seems to be at a completely loss over the concept of bus lanes… who will just casually drive the length of broadway all the while having whatever bus driver is within the vicinity lay on the horn.

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  • Steve April 20, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    What about speed humps/bumps with a center clearance wide enough for a bike with a trailer? It wouldn’t be as good as a parking buffered bike lane, but it would discourage people from driving the length of it it yet not prevent people from parking.

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  • wsbob April 20, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    What might help more than anything else, is if there were more people riding bikes on the street in the bike lane.

    Anyone having watched this street from their offices for substantial periods of time, as some commenting here apparently have, probably has a fairly good general idea of the number of bikes using the bike lane at any given time, and how that number compares percentage wise to total vehicle on the street at any given time.

    I think one of the things that may be happening on Stark, is that people driving, backed up in a line of vehicles are probably looking over at a bike lane wide enough for car travel, that’s regularly empty and thinking ‘Hey, that’s a waste of space I could be driving on.’. Apparently, many of them decide to do exactly that.

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  • Mike April 20, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    If you look closely at the last picture, there is a cop (or security guard) standing on the sidewalk.

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  • BURR April 20, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    There never was enough car or bike traffic on SW Stark or Oak streets to justify the buffered lanes in the first place.

    Besides, they used two or three different design treatments for right turning vehicles, so I don’t blame the motorists for being confused.

    On top of that, the pavement in them generally sucks for cyclists.

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    • matt picio April 22, 2012 at 11:51 am

      BURR, that’s why they chose it as the location for a demonstration project. (see above) I think the important thing is to realize that the project has demonstrated that motorists won’t respect the lanes in their current form. Time to try something else, or remove them entirely.

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      • wsbob April 22, 2012 at 4:53 pm

        What the project may also have demonstrated, is that there’s not a need for a main lane width bike lane on Stark. I’d say BURR is correct that there never was enough car or bike traffic on the street to justify this size bike lane.

        Check out Maus’s photos accompanying this story at the time I posted my comment; He posts 11 pictures. In how many of those pictures are there bikes? How many bikes total can be seen, moving or parked? How many cars total can be seen, moving or parked? In a little version of ‘Where’s Waldo?’, bikeportland style, I count two bikes total, both moving, one each in two pictures. Notice the bike rack: no bikes parked at it or anywhere in any of the pictures.

        If I recall correctly from past bikeportland stories and discussion about the reconfiguration of Stark street, one of the hoped for objectives was that making a super wide bike lane might entice a great increase in the number of people biking to use the street. Has anything like that happened since the full lane width bike lane was installed?

        Probably not, so what seems to have happened instead, is that the majority of the time, people driving look over, perplexed by an entirely empty lane, leading them to logically conclude the lane they’re looking at must be a lane for driving. Legally they’re wrong to proceed to use the lane for driving, but if markings and signs are not adequate to help them realize the lane they’re looking at is not for driving, is their using it drive, a demonstration of disrespect for that designation?

        If Maus or anyone else similarly upset by people driving in this special bike lane feel strongly enough that people driving there do so out of disrespect that should be corrected, they could call up the city and the police dept and maybe get an enforcement detail assigned to issue warnings and citations to violators.

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        • Nathan April 23, 2012 at 11:25 am

          Anecdotally, I ride on Stark since it has this bike lane rather than cruising down, oh, say, Alder with its tight lanes busy with heavy, speeding, machines and operators frustrated with my presence. So, I’ll just disagree with you on there not needing to be a bike lane here. Especially since you can count the eastbound downtown bike lanes on one finger.

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          • wsbob April 23, 2012 at 12:33 pm

            The issue being discussed here, is whether the bike lane on Stark needs to be the width, probably 11′-12’… of an entire main travel lane, rather than the 4′-6′ width common to many bike lanes. Also, the rate of traffic Stark is subject to is also at issue; a street such as Alder sees far more traffic than does the section of Stark where this bike lane was installed.

            Could be Alder between 13th and say…Broadway, would have been a more worthy, bolder selection for the experiment of dedicating an entire lane primarily for bike travel.

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          • BURR April 25, 2012 at 12:08 pm

            east bound bike lanes really aren’t necessary in this area since all of the eastbound streets are downhill and it’s relatively easy to keep up with traffic on these streets given the downhill grade and the light timing.

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            • wsbob April 26, 2012 at 12:34 am

              True, Alder, being eastbound, is downhill, allowing bike traffic to more easily keep up with car traffic. I believe one of the key points though, of the main lane width bike lane experiment, was to create a street riding environment that’s more hospitable to less swift riders than a main lane or a 4′-5′ bike lane along a busy street.

              If I remember correctly, Alder tends to be a street where motor vehicles travel quite swiftly when lights turn green in close succession, especially those coming from across I-405. I’m presuming there are a lot of people potentially prepared to ride bikes, that may be dissuaded from doing so if they’re subject to pressure from fast moving motor vehicles. A big wide bike lane on a number of key streets into and and out of Downtown, which of course Stark isn’t, could do a lot to support relatively slower traveling people willing to bike in Portland.

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      • BURR April 25, 2012 at 12:05 pm

        The city has a really poor track record on removing poorly planned and designed bike lanes. Once the paint is down, it usually stays down no matter how bad the design.

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  • naomi April 20, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    I always get excited when you cover a route I ride often! This particular stretch of Stark I’m on multiple times each weekday and the problem is so bad that I don’t even consider it a bike lane anymore, to me that stretch of Stark is just the same as any other two-lane downtown street. But your average/casual rider won’t know that and will have a false sense of security by assuming they’re in a legitimate bike lane, which I don’t consider it to be.

    They need to paint ALL bike lanes green. Not just bike boxes but every single bike lane in this city should be green.. I’m still unsure why this is considered such a radical idea.

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    • craig harlow April 20, 2012 at 4:55 pm

      And not just paint–I wish they’d establish a standard of colored concrete or pavers, and slightly raised grade.


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      • mh April 21, 2012 at 10:50 pm

        Dunno how much more expensive that would be than paint, but it would be A COMMITMENT and probably that’s even more difficult.

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    • wsbob April 20, 2012 at 8:02 pm

      “…I’m still unsure why this is considered such a radical idea.” naomi

      Roads painted green a radical idea? Maybe. Expensive, labor intensive, doesn’t last long? Yes. Main disadvantage of entire bike lanes covered in paint is that it probably just isn’t a very good idea, except maybe in Disneyland. Any surface, painted or not, is going to accumulate dirt. Particularly in Oregon, dark and wet much of the year, various types of growing things accumulate on almost every conceivable type surface.

      In short, unless that accumulation is blasted out with a pressure washer, paint is going to darken and wear away whether or not cars drive on it or not. Studded car tires probably make paint on roads wear away much faster than bike tires do. Imagine how many gallons of paint would be involved in keeping fully painted bike lanes in top form for years on end.

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    • Michael Miller April 21, 2012 at 11:35 pm

      I don’t think it’s considered a radical idea – it just costs a lot more than the two 4″ wide stripes required to mark a typical bike lane.

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  • BURR April 20, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    the paint is eroded thanks to studded tires.

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  • Skis April 20, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    Just another “game changer” gone awry like the buffered bike lanes on Holgate. Paint is a start but it isn’t a substitute for real infrastructure and real educational outreach to both people in cars and on bikes.

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  • Rol April 20, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    I think this particular facility is a bit superfluous anyway, in the context of an entire downtown grid that famously features traffic signals carefully timed for 12 MPH. That eliminates the speed differential between cars & bikes and allows the two modes to coexist easily. Hence I’ve always found it pretty stress-free to ride downtown “vehicular style” in the lane with the cars. No small achievement, that.

    But, if it’s separation you want, then separation you should provide, not just paint. Some have mentioned planters. Sounds nice, or you can do decorative bollards (pretend these are in the street): http://benaka.co.in/automation/prod_pics/Bollards.gif

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  • dwainedibbly April 20, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    If you’re riding in this lane and see a car behind you, slowly come to a stop. And just sit there.

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    • Tha C-Dawg April 21, 2012 at 9:47 am

      Agree. This does seem ripe for a weekday afternoon group ride at about 5-8 mph, and plenty of stopping. Not exactly “critical mass”, but somewhat similar. “Just some slow, legal, sight-seeing in the bike lane officer, I’m sure you have no problem with that”.

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  • Editz April 20, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    Come to Eugene, bud. I see cars trying to squeeze into bikes lanes as if they were right-hand turn only car lanes at least once a week.

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    • El Biciclero April 23, 2012 at 9:22 am

      I think that happens everywhere in Oregon, since we’re the only state (I think) that doesn’t require merging into the bike lane prior to making a right turn. It’s annoying, but this post is about drivers using a bike lane to drive the entire length of the block and beyond.

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  • Todd Mobley April 20, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    Good write up. People driving cars (check the terminology) have been driving that way on the buffered bike lanes since they opened. It’s been a point of frustration for me all along, but my desk doesn’t face the window!

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  • tonyt
    tonyt April 20, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    They need to do those angled has marks in the buffer area like out on Division (if I recall).

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  • Andy K April 20, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    I didn’t read all the comments above but I suggest a black on white lane channelization sign for 4th to Stark right-turners letting people know they need to make a wide right (like when you’re entering a street with max tracks on it). In addition to that I suggest the width of the buffered bike area.

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    • Andy K April 20, 2012 at 8:44 pm

      *reduce the width of the buffered bike area

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  • Livellie April 20, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    I ride that section of SW Stark daily. There’s no way those “buffered” lanes are going to make a rider of any skill level feel more comfortable coming downtown on a bicycle. I applaud the effort but at best they’re about as effective as sharrows and at worse they set up a false sense of safety and segregation between bikes and cars that doesn’t exist. Now if both SW Stark and Oak were bike/pedestrian only streets…that’d be exciting! And safe and comfortable too.

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    • eli bishop April 22, 2012 at 7:58 pm

      actually, they made -me- feel more comfortable downtown on a bicycle. 🙂

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  • Syzlak April 20, 2012 at 9:08 pm

    In LA our solution is to reduce the width of the bike lane to discourage motorists from using it( and to “reduce confusion”). I can’t stand this solution– so the law breaking motorists get to design bike facilities AND set our speed limits (85% percentile)? No wonder cyclists are screwed here!

    I sincerely hope Portland goes ahead and makes this part of the “Green Lane Project”, seems like a no-brainer. The benefits of encouraging cycling, reducing auto dependence outweighs the loss of parking spaces. It’s absurd to suggest you can’t encourage one mode because it takes away from an other. Well with limited space you have to allocate it fairly. Bikes and Peds take priority because these are most accessible modes of transport, then if space transit and then motorists.

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  • John Lascurettes April 20, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    Jonathan, it’s not just down by 3rd and 4th. I work on the block between these buffered bike lane streets between 9th and 10th and I can see both Stark and Oak from the offices. In fact, I can see all the way up to the western end of Stark and all the way down to Broadway where I am in one office. What you show going on at 3rd and 4th happens on the whole length of the lanes.

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  • Spencer April 21, 2012 at 12:01 am

    As someone who has only been using a bike for transportation for a month now. I had no idea that the cars zooming up behind me on this street were not suppose to be in the bike lane. If this is what they are going to do to williams it will make my daily riding way less enjoyable. I think that it is easy for the city to sweep cyclist’s concerns away. They rationalize that it is only the deeply entrenched want radical changes to bike infrastructure. Sadly it doesn’t take very long for the flaws of our current systems to be exposed. Too many motorist don’t want to share the road yet we continue to reward them for their behavior.

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  • JJJ April 21, 2012 at 2:59 am

    The main problem, to me, is that the marking are non standard. The buffer should have striped white lines. The way its currently painted just looks like at one point a line was painted, but it was done wrong, so they painted a new line without erasing the old one. IE: Looks like the half-assed jobs construction crews do, when some roads have a bunch of “lanes”.

    RE diverters removing parking spots. Whats the oregon law on parking by a crosswalk or intersection? Is it 10 feet, 20 feet? In the last photo it looks like the SUV is parked closer to the intersection than is legal in most states….ie, not really a parking spot.

    So a couple easy solutions: Expand the green space after intersections by 5-10 feet, and make the buffer more recognizable with striping. Also, writing “bike lane” (as well as the bike image) at more frequent intervals would help.

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    • John Lascurettes April 22, 2012 at 2:03 am

      The buffers have had diagonal hash marks in the past, but they seem to wear out.

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    • MindfulCyclist April 22, 2012 at 10:54 am

      “RE diverters removing parking spots. Whats the oregon law on parking by a crosswalk or intersection? Is it 10 feet, 20 feet?”

      This is a constant gripe of mine. While I am sure one cannot park in a striped crosswalk, one can park basically as close to it as possible. The only thing I have ever found was that a vehicle over 6′ needs to park 50′ away from the intersection. The problem is that most minivans and mid-sized SUV’s come in at right under that. Yet, they still make it very difficult to see when a motorist is trying to cross an intersection.

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  • resopmok April 21, 2012 at 6:14 am

    In reality this is a people problem not a paint problem, and the solution isn’t in buffers, repaints, separation, bollards, diverters, planters or any other physical thing. We are losing the war for “hearts and minds” despite rising gas prices, and institutions like the Oregonian are certainly not helping. We need to stop looking to the city to spend $$ on pavement and paint to help and come up with a gameplan that will actually earn respect for cyclists on the street. Once most people can really share the road, we won’t need a bunch of paint and extra facilities. Until then, let’s just keep whining.

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    • matt picio April 22, 2012 at 11:56 am

      How should we go about doing that? People haven’t been sharing the road ever since there were roads. Nothing has actually worked, what seems to work is change. Put something unexpected in front of a driver or cyclist and they will slow down and pay attention while trying to figure it out. Once they get used to it, they adapt and lazy habits, min-maxing and shortcutting take over as folks learn how to work the system again to their benefit.

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      • resopmok April 23, 2012 at 6:18 am

        We could start by having driving tests which are actually meaningful and test the skills of the driver in question. And, if they are not skilled or knowledgeable enough, they should be denied a driver’s license. Call me un-American for saying that it is not a right to drive on the public right of way, but the anecdotal evidence certainly exists to back my point. More European countries than just the Netherlands have stricter driving requirements than the USA, and the drivers there are, in my opinion, far more cautious and courteous than what you find here. Accidents are the result of errors in vigilance, not complete disregard for the rules of the road (like we see in this case). Will this politically unpopular suggestion ever come to fruition? Probably not, but we should try to remember that more paint on the roads and whining about cars doesn’t really do anything either.

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        • matt picio April 23, 2012 at 11:59 am

          That would be a great start, but I have a feeling that the quid pro quo required to implement it would be for cyclists to likewise be tested and licensed to operate on the roadway. (and honestly, I don’t think that’s a bad thing – provided the costs aren’t too onerous)

          Education is only part of the problem, what really needs to change is the culture of entitlement, and that’s a far larger issue, but when everyone out there feels they have a “right” to the road without acknowledging the attendent responsibilities, we get what we have today. (“everyone” should not be taken literally – but if it’s not a majority, it’s still a strong percentage)

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      • BURR April 25, 2012 at 12:17 pm

        How should we go about doing this?

        Lay off some engineers and hire some educators in their place, and start a concerted motorist reeducation campaign.

        The engineers seem to think that once they incorporate a new experimental design, the motorists will just learn by osmosis or something, which ain’t gonna happen in this lifetime.

        Plus, these experimental designs place cyclists (and motorists) in a sort of legal limbo if they are involved in a crash, since I don’t think it’s very clear legally whether experimental designs are covered by the Oregon laws which require motorists to stay out of the bike lane and require cyclists to use the bike lane if one is present.

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  • Tbird April 21, 2012 at 7:10 am

    The solution is fairly simple. Switch the alignment of the parked cars with the bike track and put some sort of divider between them. I’m still baffled as to why we keep trying to ‘reinvent the wheel.’ This is a proven model that exists and works in many places.
    Just sayin…

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  • shirtsoff April 21, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    I was bicycling in the buffered lane on Stark a couple months back when I sensed a car behind me. I couldn’t believe it but yep they were right behind me for a number of blocks despite much green paint being visible each block. My reaction was to slow down so as to help promote awareness of the lane as being bicycle exclusive. It certainly was not the most constructive way to illuminate the issue but being winter with their car windows closed and insistence on continuing down the lane despite many nervous glances over my shoulder, it seemed appropriate enough.

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  • MindfulCyclist April 21, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    I say slap some sharrows down there and call it good. It is confusing for cars and there have been numerous times a car has made a right hand turn in front of me from the left had lane.

    Stark was fine the way it was and, like others have pointed out, the 12 mph lights do a good job at slowing traffic.

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  • Machu Picchu April 22, 2012 at 8:51 am

    If Portland really wants world-class cycling status, all of downtown should be posted at the same speed limit that the lights are timed for, and bikes should be encouraged to use the center of any lane that works for them. An occasional sign would read “Drive Like We Bike.” It seems like the most omnipurpose response to transit inequality is to challenge the rule that says you have to get out of the way so the most dangerous, wasteful mode can carry on as if you weren’t there. Downtown Portland, with its bike-paced light-timing seems like the perfect starting point.

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    • John Lascurettes April 23, 2012 at 12:09 am

      Somehow, I think the “drive like we bike” would bite us in the ass (justified or not).

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      • BURR April 25, 2012 at 12:20 pm

        Sharrows plus signage that says “Cyclists Allowed Full Lane” should be sufficient. California and a lot of other places are way ahead of us in this regard.

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  • Spiffy April 22, 2012 at 8:59 am

    just like the “buffered” lanes on SE Holgate drivers won’t respect these until there are at least diagonal stripes in the buffer area… right now it just looks like the city messed up and left an extra line on the road in a standard vehicle lane… if I were just turning onto the street I wouldn’t even notice the green bike lane marking because I’d be too busy making sure I didn’t hit anything… you can NEVER count on people seeing things at the beginning of the street because when you’re making a turn there are more important things to look out for than pavement markings and signs…


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  • Mark April 22, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Car parking on the inside + segregated bike lanes on the curbside + physical barrier against parking or dooring + bike signals works reasonable well on 15th St in DC. I would add bike boxes in some cases. The bike signals in DC are usually just ped signals that are timed to start while cars have all red.

    Start with the assumption that average road users are idiots and it gets easy from there. Remember the old Portland Bus Mall with the bus only lanes that were constantly ignored by cars, leading to constantly pissed bus drivers honking all the time? I’m still amazed by the complexity of the new Bus/MAX lanes, but even a train doesn’t deter some idiot drivers from driving where they don’t belong such as on the Steel Bridge…

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  • Stripes April 22, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    I agree they’re not working. They don’t even look like bikelanes.

    What’s needed is to flip the bikelane and parking, so that the parked cars act as a buffer for the bikelane. No driver is going to drive between a row of parked cars, and a sidewalk.

    All that would be needed to implement this change, is a few tins of paint.

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  • gumby April 23, 2012 at 9:07 am

    There are quite a few problems with this design. If you want to make a left turn on a bike, the left lane is often so busy that that you have to cue up and travel in the left lane a block or two ahead of time to make a left hand turn. The bike lane is usually a lot less crowded than the vehicle lane though, so it’s still a decent corridor for bikes. I don’t like the bike path to the right of parking. A better solution would be to move all the parking to the left side of the street and make it angle parking to make up for the lost spaces.

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  • Zaphod April 23, 2012 at 9:12 am

    Thanks Machu Picchu for the following eloquent and brilliant quote,

    “It seems like the most omnipurpose response to transit inequality is to challenge the rule that says you have to get out of the way so the most dangerous, wasteful mode can carry on as if you weren’t there. “

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  • Justin April 23, 2012 at 10:20 am

    Having worked along these streets in the past, I can say that they’re pretty much extraneous for drivers. They’re just not useful. It wouldn’t be a big loss to partially close them to cars so you can’t travel more than a couple blocks. Drivers would figure it out and use parallel streets.

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  • Joe April 23, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    It’s the hour glass effect maybe? road narrows ppl get confused. I ride it everyday.

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  • rex burkholder April 24, 2012 at 10:24 am

    My thoughts are that these are in the wrong place to begin with as the two streets chosen for this experiment don’t really connect any destinations, therefore there is just not enough bicycle traffic to communicate to motorists that this is bicycle space. Unfortunately, picking the wrong place to experiment can give false results. Now, a buffered lane on SW Broadway might show quite different results.

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    • Ian Stude April 24, 2012 at 1:38 pm

      I appreciate your thoughts on this, Rex. I’m not sure that I would go so far as to say they’re in the wrong place, but I would definitely agree with the potential benefits of a buffered bike lane (or cycle track) on all of SW Broadway. PSU alone contributes at least 1500 bike trips to SW Broadway on a daily basis.

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  • Jake Cummings April 24, 2012 at 11:22 am

    Some of the roadways in NE are greatly improved with the addition of the big white bicycle. Cars react with patience because they recognize a simple indicator and they usually accept the purpose.

    Adding green paint and white lines in ways that can’t be found anywhere else in the world has introduced plenty of opportunity for interpretation.
    Once understood correctly, these boulevards impose limited options for both bicycles and motors.

    Coming from a Portland native who rides the streets 100+ miles a week, I never asked to be segregated.

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  • r April 24, 2012 at 10:48 pm

    Remove the pavement and make it singletrack!

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  • BURR April 25, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    for everybody that wants to ‘flip’ the parking and the bike lanes, consider that this will vastly increase the right hook hazard turning motorists will pose to cyclists they can’t see coming because their view is blocked by parked cars.

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  • Tom in Portland April 25, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    Well I use Stark every evening during rush hour. My experience with the lane is mostly positive. Only the rare occurrence of an auto or pedestrian intruding into the bike lane.

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