(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)
Looks like the weather is set to go from bad to worse. The near freezing (and below it at times) cold we’ve been experiencing has tested our resolve for weeks. Tomorrow, weather watchers are forecasting freezing rain. The Bureau of Transportation is nervous about how icy conditions will impact roads. And they should be. Earlier this month, when the morning commute was marked by extremely icy conditions, we heard of dozens of people who slipped and crashed while riding into work. Here’s more from PBOT about what might be in store:
The National Weather Service in Portland has issued a freezing rain advisory for light icing in effect from 4 a.m. to noon on Wednesday, January 23. The public is advised to be alert for limited visibility, freezing temperatures and ice accumulations on roadways, bridges, overpasses and sidewalks Wednesday morning.
According to the National Weather Service, the “main threat of freezing rain will be between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m., with the threat of freezing rain lasting until noon in areas closer to the Columbia River.”
The traveling public is advised to be prepared for localized icy conditions and make a plan now for their Wednesday morning commute. People should avoid driving on icy streets, take transit if possible or delay their trip until conditions improve. Motorists should be ready to use chains if conditions are icy in the morning, slow down, use headlights and leave plenty of distance ahead of you.
If you intend to ride in these conditions, keep the following tips in mind.
- Lower your tire pressure to increase traction.
- Lower your saddle to make it easier to quickly dismount.
- Slow down.
- Bridges are highly susceptible to freezing/ice/frost. Use extreme caution when riding over them.
- Take your feet off your inside pedal (like a dirt motorcycle rider) when going around sharp and/or potentially icy corner.
- Consider using platform pedals (not cleats) if you don’t already.
- When in doubt, walk.
- Keep your head up and watch for other vehicles that might lose traction and slide into you.
- Ride as upright as possible and distribute your weight evenly over both wheels.
If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at email@example.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.
Boo hoo, it’s 40°F in Portland. I live in Chicago and it was ZERO degrees Fahrenheit this morning, and I still rode in.
Adam. I wrote “sub-40s.” (now changed to avoid confusion). It’s been low to mid 30s. Not as cold as Chicago of course, but still uncomfortable for many (including me!).
While I can certainly see how rainy weather plus sub-freezing temps can cause trouble, these problems can easily be solved with more salt. 🙂
Btw, I visited Portland last summer and the weather was fantastic.
Not my preferred solution. Deicing salt (NaCl) is increasingly recognized as a source of stormwater pollution which we already have plenty of in Portland:
What is the de-icer they’ve been using on hills, overpasses, and bridges in Portland this winter? I see stripes of it all the time as I ride around. I get a whiff of something that smells like vinegar when I ride through it.
Having grown up in Minneapolis (and just drove in the snow there a couple weeks ago), I’ve still learned to respect Portland’s frozen precip. Snow or ice at 10 degrees is NOTHING compared to a coating of ice with rain falling on it. Also, the twin cities have HUNDREDS of snowplows and deicing trucks. Portland has FIVE deicing trucks, and not many more plows than that. The Twin Cities has a maximum elevation relief of maybe 400′ (and maybe 200′ on the freeways), and steep hills are mostly found only along river bluffs. Portland has 1100′ of elevation relief overall (700′ on freeways alone), and steep hills all over the place.
Then factor in the fact that upper midwesterners are generally used to driving in the snow, whereas 90-95% of Portlanders have minimal if any skill driving in snow and ice, and even those of us with the skills don’t get much practice to stay on top of our game.
As for deicers, PBOT uses calcium magnesium chloride, adding magnesium chloride to the mix when temps below 17F are expected:
ODOT uses magnesium chloride in most situations, but is experimenting with sodium chloride in two places bordering other states that use sodium chloride (I-5 over Siskiyou Summit to CA, and US 95 in SE Oregon from NV to ID).
ODOT approving Salt was a bit of a boon-doggle. They gave into pressure from the trucking industry and approved it without consultation with DEQ or any sort of public comment process or environmental evaluation. In many states that have historically used salt have changed to the ecology around their roadways to a Salt-tolerant one and really impacted the water quality. Some are now trying to undo decades of damage. That is why it is crazy that ODOT is permitting it in Oregon.
I forgot to mention the linked PBOT also says that they use calcium magnesium acetate as an anti-icing (as opposed to de-icing) agent to prevent ice from forming in the first place. I think that’s what you see sprayed in strips along the pavement in places where ice is common.
I thought de-icing salt was usually Calcium Chroride (CaCl2)?
We hear this sentiment from midwesterners all of the time. It doesn’t matter where you are from, freezing rain and hills combine for truly awful driving conditions.
And salt is out of the question. With the limited frozen precipitation we get here, the negative ecological effects far outweigh the benefit.
The Midwest doesn’t really have this option, but in Oregon we do, and choose not to use salt.
It harms everything it touches, from poisoning the environment it runs off into to corroding the steel used in roads and motor vehicles. In Minneapolis, this means surprise bridge collapses like 35W, and Craigslist shows just how much shorter cars last there, vis-a-vis Portland.
The 35W collapse was due to a combination of design flaw (undersized gusset plates) and overload (dead and live loads). Corrosion wasn’t a significant factor. Agreed about salt on roads in general, though.
Adam, you don’t get it. We have no salt trucks and we have only a couple of plows for the whole city. Ice or snow here = ice rink for sometimes days until the temp goes far enough up. I lived in Chicago for four winters, so I know where you’re coming from—but it ain’t like that here.
No salt allowed in the state of Oregon, Adam. It kills salmon, among other things. We also don’t have the kind of infrastructure to deal with ice & snow as they do in the Midwest. (I grew up in Detroit.) Oregon could never afford it for the few days per year we’d actually need it. Kind of like why we don’t have air conditioning in most homes in this region of the country.
I’m from Cleveland and now live in Portland–freezing rain is freezing rain. So boo-hoo to you Chicago…Cleveland gets way more snow and lake effect snow then Chicago:)
I ride from Neptune to your land of Portlandia. It gets -201° C.
Why do you trifle with where you have been instead of where you are located?
It matters not. A bike is a bike, and this is where you ride your ride.
Think not of where you have been, but where you are going.
I grew up in Nebraska and it isn’t the cold, it’s the magical combination of liquid precipitation and temps hovering near freezing that creates the danger. You other mid-westerners with your mocking “Boo Hoos!” aren’t nearly as tough as you think you are.
I really appreciate the heads up on these types of things. Often times it’s 7am in the morning and I’m struggling to figure out the conditions of the streets to decide whether I ride my bike (yay) or take the MAX (boo).
Anyone have an opinion on which is better for these conditions, cyclocross tires or 28mm road tires?
Adam H, we don’t have the nice luxury of salted roads here in PDX. You guys in Chicago just have it easier than we do 😉
On ice it is all about the number of edges in contact with the ground. A slick 28mm road tire is pretty much useless. A cyclocross tire with a few knobbies is a bit better. A wide low pressure touring tire with lots of cuts will work much better.
Tread is only useful in softer surfaces like gravel, dirt, and snow. So unless your knobby tire has more surface area contacting the ice its not necessarily better than a slick tread tire.
ice has lots of small surfaces for knobby tires to grab onto… tread helps on ice…
it’s the foundation of the studded-tire ban…
I call fiction on this. Is is smooth and slick for the most part, and cross tires versus “slick” tires makes little difference. You try to turn too fast on ice and you’re going down. Throw snow into the mix and you have a completely different debate though. I commuted in CO for years before moving to Portland, as it was only worth riding the cross bike in to work if it had snowed at least a few inches or more.
I would think that cyclocross tires would be best because they’ve got a lot more traction areas to grab into the edges of the ice… they would also more easily shed the snow/ice that they pick up… regular road tires would basically be slicks…
Wider is better, because you can run a wider tire at lower pressures without it giving you a pinch flat and/or rim dent over bumps. And lower pressure = better grip, up to a point.
Zero degree temperatures without freezing rain could in fact be less risky for cycling than the mid-30s with the freezing rain we often get in Portland due to the wet climate. The frequency of freezing rain in Portland makes our “milder” winters less ideal for cycling than many presume.
Portland is no weather Utopia, but it is a city where I can take my road bike out in any month of the year, it’s never so cold that it hurts to breathe, snow banks don’t pile up to pinch streets, swallowing bike lanes whole, and you’re not forced to ride through rutted ice and snowpack for months out of the year.
Minneapolis, on the other hand…
it was when I first tried cycling to work… now that I’m in better shape and used to it I haven’t had a problem…
The weekend before last, getting over a cold and going out for a ride when my computer registered it at 32 degrees out… that hurt a little on every inhale!
Thanks for the heads-up, Jonathan! Now that my commute takes me across the Broadway Bridge regularly, I think I opt for public transit tomorrow.
I lived in North Florida for many years (in a city that is now in the same USDA Plant Hardiness Zone as downtown Portland). It snowed 3 times in ~25 years. (The difference was that there was no precipitation when it got cold, so it was rare, and the afternoons usually warmed up.) People there were about as good at driving in it as people here. 🙂
The cold lately has actually been refreshing. I rode about 25 miles yesterday and had a great time…..made me feel almost home sick for Madison when I was a year round commuter. Almost…but no, I still hate the cold generally.
That said, I live here and have escaped the frozen prison that usually is the upper Midwest. Ice here is a very different beast than in the Midwest since no one can drive in it and we just have to wait for it to melt off. It IS fun, however, to watch the California drivers TRY to make it up the hill in front of my house during snow events…and it is not even that steep.
California isn’t all warm beaches… it has a mountain range almost its entire length, and it gets a lot of snow…
Obviously, but most of the 30+ million do not live in the mountains and find snow to be a novelty.
Clear and smooth commute this morning. I’m not disappointed that we didn’t get freezing rain as predicted.
So much for the icepocolypse.
Local news personalities are inconsolable.
In fairness to the NWS, they didn’t “predict” freezing rain, they issued a Freezing Rain Advisory, predicting a possibility of freezing rain. I don’t recall them predicting freezing rain as a 100% probability. They know it’s impossible to predict with certainty whether freezing precip will occur around here; all they can say is that conditions make for a significant potential for it to happen.
And any prudent person at least would be prepared for the possibility.
It was the idiots in the local media who hyped it up into icepocalypse.
Not terribly sorry that we didn’t get freezing rain as advised then either.
I agree that the NWS would be remiss if it didn’t tell us there was a possibility, and to be ready. (I checked 4 or 5 times after getting up to see if rain had started to fall, which is admittedly more than I usually do).
foiled again. thankfully.
Question for you morning-commute folks —
Do you ever have problems with ice on the “Couch Squiggle?” Where westbound Couch does the S-curve to go onto the Burnside Bridge?
PBOT took a shortcut in their engineering in the squiggle and drained the gutter water across the street, rather than installing a storm sewer entrance on the side of the street with the bike lane. This isn’t up to code, and leaves a debris trail as the water flows across the street, but the big safety hazard is if there’s a strip of ice.
It’s at the lowest point on the squiggle, where you’re going due south, and there’s a small debris buildup in the concrete part of the bike lane (right hand edge).
If there is an ice problem there, it’s a major safety hazard, and can be fixed by calling them out on this design deficiency.
the sky is falling….. THE SKY IS FALLING!!!!!!!!!