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Checking up: PBOT mulls improvements on Stark/Oak buffered bike lanes

Posted by on July 24th, 2012 at 10:45 am

SW Stark buffered bike lane isn't working-14

The buffered bike lanes on SW Stark — which are supposed
to be bike-only — don’t work at all.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

It’s been about three months since I shared my photos and thoughts about the buffered bike lanes on SW Stark street, so I figured it was time for an update. Back then I was shocked at how poorly the design of the lanes was functioning. Driver after driver after driver rolled down them as if it was just another regular lane. I’d like to think everyone knows the lanes have the same legal standing as a bike lane (which means no cars allowed); but they don’t. And who can blame them? There’s little/no signage, the striping has all but worn off completely, and there’s no physical separation or medians to deter people from driving cars in the lane.

And in case you were wondering, from my vantage point as a daily user of this street, the problem has gotten even worse in the past three months.

Just 10 days after my original story, I was happy to report that PBOT said they’d install traffic cameras to monitor the location, do traffic counts, and then use the collected data to consider making changes.

Last week I confirmed with PBOT spokesman Dan Anderson that the cameras did go up. Unfortunately, Anderson also told me, “The cameras malfunctioned and were taken down.” PBOT is now set to put cameras back up in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, Anderson says PBOT is “Aware of the need to update the Stark and Oak lanes and are evaluating four alternatives.”

Those alternatives are:

  • maintain the lanes as-is (a strange, pseudo bikeway that only sometimes does what it’s supposed to do),
  • reconfigure striping for the buffered lanes (more and clearer striping could help),
  • reconfigure the bikeways as parking-protected cycle tracks (similar to the design on SW Broadway near PSU),
  • or remove the bikeways altogether (I think that would be politically risky for Mayor Adams, since these went in as part of his “First 100 days” promises).

Missing from that list is adding more signage. I’d like to see PBOT start to hang bike lane signs up on the wires that hold traffic signals. Often, the standard vehicle lanes are given overhead signs with arrows showing possible turning movements; but no such signs are ever placed above a bike lane. My belief is that if a bikeway is given the same engineering respect as other parts of the roadway, it will be given more respect by users.

Anderson says PBOT plans to do something by the end of summer and they’ll make a final decision in mid-August. I’ll keep tabs on this and share any developments. For now, any thoughts on how to make these buffered bike lanes work better?

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  • dan July 24, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Why don’t they install speed bumps positioned so that bikes can ride through, or reflectors on flexible posts to mark the bike lane? I commute on Oak/Stark, and the buffered bike lanes are pretty much ignored by motorists.

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    • Spiffy July 24, 2012 at 12:37 pm

      cars still need to cross the bike lane in order to park…

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      • Chris I July 24, 2012 at 1:03 pm

        Cars can drive over speed bumps.

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        • dwainedibbly July 24, 2012 at 3:29 pm

          Agreed. They don’t have to be huge, just somewhat bigger than Bot’s Dots.

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          • Bike-Max-Bike July 24, 2012 at 9:57 pm

            Get rid of the parking to protect cyclists ROW?

            Funny idea, huh.

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  • BURR July 24, 2012 at 11:08 am

    There has never been enough motor vehicle OR bike traffic on these two streets to justify the lanes here.

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    • patrick July 25, 2012 at 1:58 pm

      That was what I was thinking. Oak just doesn’t go anywhere. How a bike boulevard on Madison instead?

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  • Dave July 24, 2012 at 11:11 am

    If it becomes “parking protected” ala upper Broadway I’ll be looking for a new route to work.

    More signs, better pavement marking, and write some freaking tickets. I have yet to see a single driver pulled over for abusing lanes on Stark, Oak, 5th, or 6th – does PBOT/PPB think enforcement ops only work against cyclists? The only enforcement now seems to be an occasional stern honking from a bus driver on the mall.

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    • Alex Reed July 24, 2012 at 1:10 pm

      I would love parking protection! Different strokes for different folks, I guess 🙂

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  • Hart Noecker July 24, 2012 at 11:14 am

    Part of the problem, it would seem, is the lack of bikes actually using them. I go out of my way to utilize these lanes, and often I don’t see a single bike ahead of me or behind me for ten blocks at a time. Better signage should help keep cars out, but it just might draw more bikes in. Make these buffered lanes a destination and not just a route and we’re sure to see more usage.

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    • John Lascurettes July 24, 2012 at 6:30 pm

      Bikes use them constantly all day long west of Broadway, both of them. I see them from the office I work in. I use them, as do most of my co-workers that ride as well.

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    • Adam July 24, 2012 at 6:56 pm

      I agree this is not the prime location for this kind of facility. It seems PBOT put this in to test out a new traffic concept, perhaps??

      I wish they could have taken the funds, and dumped it somewhere where it was really needed – ie – a cycletrack that runs the whole length of NW & SW Broadway.

      I would like to see more money ploughed into dangerous streets that really need calming for cyclists’ safety. Broadway tops that bill for me.

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  • are July 24, 2012 at 11:22 am

    what are the speeds on these streets? what is the frequency with which cyclists using these streets need to make left turns? why would sharrows not be a fully sufficient treatment? why should “first hundred days” symbolism stand in the way of doing something sensible?

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    • dan July 24, 2012 at 11:28 am

      Truth. There’s no need for a dedicated lane here, and the current implementation just trains drivers to ignore bike lanes (wonder how many of them complain about scofflaw cyclists). Remove the lane or add some teeth.

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    • Mindful Cyclist July 24, 2012 at 11:29 am

      I take Stark on the commute home just about every day. Other than the 10th-12th which seem a bit off, the lights are set at 12 mph. That is the biggest safety feature on this street. And, when I turn on 2nd, I do have to need to pop out of the bike lane to make my left turn.

      I agree with you: slap some sharrows down there and call it good.

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    • wsbob July 24, 2012 at 1:05 pm

      It seems the number of people riding the sections of Stark equipped with these particular bike lanes, is very low. If that’s true, what’s the point in even having the bike lanes there? Motor vehicle traffic volume on this short section of Stark is also low, making it a low risk street to ride.

      It’s not a constructive effort to have bike lanes only for the purpose of seeing whether people that drive can be kept off the area of road the bike lane occupies. If there were a good number of people riding the Stark bike lanes, to whom the presence of motor vehicles illegally using the bike lanes posed a source of interference and a safety risk, that would be worth correcting.

      So far, there’s been no indication that any such interference or safety risk, or even of people that bike being discouraged from using Stark has occurred from people that drive using the area of roadway on Stark set aside for exclusive bike use.

      Adams isn’t running for another term in office, so there’s no great political risk for him if the bike lanes were eliminated.

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      • Dave July 24, 2012 at 1:13 pm

        Indeed. The whole thing always felt like a solution in search of a problem. And it wasn’t even a terrifically well thought out solution at that.

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  • Mindful Cyclist July 24, 2012 at 11:23 am

    I am not sure why in the possible “alternatives” was just to repaint it. It obviously has not been since it was installed.

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    • John Lascurettes July 24, 2012 at 6:32 pm

      It’s been repainted at least three times now already – just recently too at the most recent refreshing near 9th and 10th.

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      • Mindful Cyclist July 24, 2012 at 7:46 pm

        Yes, going down there today I noticed that there was new paint. I guess it seems to wear off so quickly and I seem to remember there was a buffer. I didn’t see that.

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        • John Lascurettes July 25, 2012 at 1:40 am

          last time they added the diagonal lines in the buffer area, it was about a week or so after they painted the straight lines.

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  • Terry D July 24, 2012 at 11:45 am

    The Broadway cycle -track option with parking near the travel lane would prevent most drivers from entering the lane, but it would hinder the passing of faster cyclists of slower ones. I think that would be the best choice though since it would eliminate the parking and un-parking cars from blocking the bike lanes plus it would obviously show that it is not a travel lane because of the parked cars. Those cyclists who feel the need to move faster because of passing worries can take the light-rail couplet east and west (which is what I use anyway) a few blocks to the south.

    Personally I think through traffic on the light rail couplet for cars should be eliminated…..turn the whole couplet into a “shared environment” like they are going to experiment with on those silly few blocks of Williams where cars are forced to turn off after a block….this would create a bike friendly route of two whole lanes without much parking conflict throughout the downtown. Connecting the Morrison bridge under used MUP with the downtown core all the way to Goose Hollow….but the cars would have to give up two under used through streets….

    It would also go somewhere….the current Stark/Oak couplet is fine, but Oak is basically useless since it dumps you off at the street car line with no clear way forward….except to stop and get pizza. Stark is also less useful since local business interests torpedoed the 12th street buffered bike lane that would have connected to it…..

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    • dwainedibbly July 24, 2012 at 3:33 pm

      So open it up as a 2nd vehicle lane but put down some concrete so that motor vehicles have to turn but bikes can continue ahead? I think that idea is worth consideration, if the money is available.

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    • Andrew Seger July 25, 2012 at 4:29 am

      Great suggestions. It’s silly they spent so much time and money on the Morrison bridge and then want you to get off at the west end onto Naito. Of course no one does because it isn’t where you want to go. Really wish we could get some more contraflow bike lanes downtown to make connections easier. Of course it’d require removing the sacred parking…

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  • Frank July 24, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Those plastic pole things they used on the Broadway bridge would do the trick until they were all mowed down after a week. Surely they could install metal versions with a spring at the base.

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    • Mindful Cyclist July 24, 2012 at 1:04 pm

      Yes, but cars are still allowed to cross into the bike lane to park a car or to make a right hand turn. Install these poles (bollards?) and a motorist would have no option but to drive in the bike lane.

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  • Indy July 24, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    Paint seems the very easiest obvious answer here. Paint the whole lane, so cars looking for parking will easily be able to tell. People turning might not see the paint as it is now (why would they be looking at the ground when turning onto that street?)

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  • Spiffy July 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    repaint it with diagonal stripes in the buffered area and some bike symbols on each block…

    and enforce it!!!

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    • John Lascurettes July 24, 2012 at 12:58 pm

      They did paint diagonal hashes last time they refreshed the paint. They came off in almost no time at all. They also need to paint “Bike Lane” and put a bike symbol on it in more places than at just the beginning of the block as most turning-onto-the-street drivers never even see that.

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      • John Lascurettes July 26, 2012 at 12:47 pm

        Looks like they’ve already added diagonal hashes on Stark on the first block at the west end (between 11th & 12th?). I don’t see any crews out though, so no expectations of when the rest will get the treatment. Meanwhile, nearly every car driver (and I mean damned near every driver) that uses the auto lane still straddles the buffer zone or drives in it (is it any wonder that the marks wear off?).

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  • Spiffy July 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    no more signs!

    less signs, more thinking…

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  • JL July 24, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    you should take note of the sign placed near the stop light on Oak and 6th where you can turn right. Its got an arrow of where a driver would be in the lane before turning but it doesn’t even show a “bike lane” to the right of the turn lane.

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  • Joe July 24, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    Ride daily -> Oak and Stark. today on Oak guy in truck pulled out into bike lane to over take me. weird… Stark ppl just don’t read or care.
    On Stark had car blow light on 6th to onlY run up in me in the bike lane.

    be safe downtown its summer seems it effects ppls judgements ;-P

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  • Brad July 24, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    I’m sure that Alta can design a solution for 6-7 figures! They have to be on PBOT’s speed dial.

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  • peejay July 24, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    If you need a sign, the infrastructure is not obvious enough.

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  • John Lascurettes July 24, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    Since everyone thinks it low volume for cars and bikes, let’s just make it one very wide lane (like the north park blocks).

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  • Adam July 24, 2012 at 6:51 pm

    There isn’t much to “mull” over here.

    Just get the cycletrack in already, stat! All it requires is some paint.

    We are supposed to be shooting here for Platinum, or at the very least, Gold.

    Not frickin’ Tin.

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  • Kittens July 24, 2012 at 7:00 pm

    I think Stark’s lines were just repainted. I went down today.

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  • jim July 24, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    The needs of the many outway the needs of the few -Spock

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  • Joseph E July 24, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    1. Parking, 2. car lane, 3. parking, 4. cycletrack. Done. Now, wasn’t that easy? http://www.portlandonline.com/mayor/index.cfm?c=52503

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  • hazel July 25, 2012 at 2:27 am

    I want to know why I have never seen traffic enforcement one for people driving in bike lanes? This might serve to ducate those unaware of the law and make everyone else think twice about doing it.

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    • Paulie July 25, 2012 at 9:33 am

      I don’t think PPB does much traffic enforcement of any kind anywhere. I can’t recall the last time I saw anyone pulled over for a traffic infraction by PPB. It’s been months, at least. I just don’t think PPB has many officers assigned to traffic detail.

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      • dan July 25, 2012 at 9:51 am

        Which is funny, if you think about it. Wouldn’t more traffic enforcement be revenue positive?

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  • Joe July 25, 2012 at 9:03 am

    I think Stark’s lines were just repainted. I went down today.
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    true, still ppl drving in lane yersterday. be safe

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  • Mikey July 25, 2012 at 9:14 am

    I have to admit – I am visiting from out of town for a few days on business (used to live in Portland), and I thought they were interesting, but there was little indication that these were meant to be car-free. From your description, when you pointed out that it was a bike lane that has a buffer, it makes sense.

    I suppose it’s my responsibility to check new signage rules, but I just thought they were meant for motorized vehicles to be extra vigilant due to presumably high bike traffic.

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    • jim July 25, 2012 at 7:37 pm

      About once a year we invent new markings to paint on the pavement for bikes, I don’t think most people know what half of those are.

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  • John R. July 25, 2012 at 9:15 am

    This is all sort of a road to nowhere. When PBOT gets serious about things that work instead of looking good, we won’t be having these conversations.

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  • RH July 25, 2012 at 10:31 am

    I road Stark St. before the striping went in and now after and it worked much better without the stripes. They tried to fix something that wasn’t broken. Everyone is confused about what they’re allowed or supposed to do in those lanes. Cars don’t know and certainly rarely stay out of the bike lanes and cyclists tend to relax in them letting their guard down. When the bikes and cars all used the same lanes everybody was more aware of what was going on around them. Now there’s this confusion and complacency that’s dangerous. Since cars and bikes basically travel at the same speed here let them mix. I see close calls on Stark and Naito everyday because cars are trying to turn right and bikes are trying to turn left and the crossover is very awkward. Go with option 4 and get rid of the striping. Who cares whether it a mayoral promise. It’s worse now and was a bad idea.

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  • BicycleDave July 26, 2012 at 12:02 am

    It is confusing to drivers. Was stopped on Stark just a couple of days ago when a nice driver asked me to clarify the rules for cars in the lane.

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  • Robin July 26, 2012 at 11:17 am

    We could share the lane with cars, but post a 10mph speed limit for motor vehicles within the bike lane. At any rate, it should be somehow expressed that bikes always have the right of way within the lane (just as peds always have the right of way on a sidewalk.)

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  • Joe July 26, 2012 at 11:36 am

    I still think Stark is a nightmare! not very hard to see bike lane and well hey look in you mirror.

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  • zefwagner July 27, 2012 at 10:21 am

    They should write the words “BIKES ONLY” on the pavement, rather than just putting the bike symbol. I think drivers interpret the bike symbol as a sharrow.

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