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Bike lanes coming to outer SE Powell: A missed opportunity?

Posted by on February 14th, 2013 at 8:35 am

ODOT’s cross-section for a $5.5 million repaving and “safety” project on SE Powell Blvd.

Well, our hopes for a protected bikeway on SE Powell Blvd have been dashed. At least for now.

Back in October we shared news that ODOT wanted feedback on how to make SE Powell between SE 111th and SE 174th (map) safer for all users. Their $5.5 million Outer Powell Safety Improvements project is focused “on strategic safety improvements” as well as repaving.

Powell today.
(Photo: ODOT)

We hoped there would be a possibility to push for something more than standard five-foot bike lanes with no separation between motorized traffic. Prior to their October open house on the project, ODOT wanted input on, “How to modify and better delineate the road shoulder and roadway striping to reduce conflicts between vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists.” We thought that might have meant some sort of protected bikeway; but unfortunately it turns out they just wanted to know what type of striping to use. The actual width and design of the lanes themselves was not on the table.

ODOT Community Affairs staffer Shelli Romero said people at the open house were shown a few different types of bike lane striping — yellow or white stripes with bumps or without bumps. “People said they wanted the most durable and visible striping possible… And they like louder treatments. The louder the better so cars don’t cross over.”

ODOT showed the image below as an example…

As you can see in the cross-section graphic above, ODOT plans to have two 12-foot wide standard lanes next to a five-foot bike lane and a three-foot shoulder for people to walk on. There are no sidewalks on this stretch of Powell, and Romero says unfortunately this project’s budget and scope don’t allow for putting them in (Romero also said ODOT is mindful of Metro’s forthcoming high-capacity transit corridor planning process on Powell which might lead to a larger investment and/or widening, etc…).

So instead of crosswalks, the eight-foot outer lanes will be shared by people biking and walking. While common on rural roads around the state, this biking/walking mix is new for urban areas, Romero said.

Left with just a five-foot wide travel lane for bicycling, I asked Romero why they insist on keeping the other travel lane 12 feet wide. There are many 10-foot wide lanes throughout the city. Romero said Powell is classified as a “major truck street” and it’s also a highly used transit line. TriMet bus mirrors, she said, make the vehicles 10.5 feet wide and “They need those 12-foot lanes to avoid wavering into that bike lane,” Romero said. “For that reason, we don’t consider narrowing the lane to give another foot or so to bikes.”

Even the warm-fuzzy logo for this project makes it clear where ODOT’s priorities are.

The graphic below is from the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide. It’s a good visual of bike lane widths:

I understand trucks and bus operators need space and I know the policy/bureaucratic constraints ODOT operates under; but since we know five-foot bike lanes on arterials barely move the needle for better biking, I wonder if there’s not a better solution. Our adopted policy goals (remember the “green hierarchy”?) make it clear that non-motorized transportation should be given a high priority; but these conversations always assume that people operating bicycles have no width requirements. Every time I see ODOT invest in a road design that doesn’t create conditions that are appealing for the “interested but concerned” I can’t help but think it’s a missed opportunity.

What do you think?

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  • Nick Falbo February 14, 2013 at 8:56 am

    Check this out. One of their proposed improvements is to install “red light extension loops.” What this does is makes it safer to run red lights. It might be safer, but it’s not better. Why isn’t their solution focused on reducing red-light running in the first place?

    Although ODOT loves 12′ lanes, an “easy” modification to their current proposal would be to narrow the 12′ travel lanes to 10′, and use the remaining space for a painted buffer. It’s no Cycle Track, but every foot helps. Since this is supposedly a safety project, it seems like something they should at lease consider.

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    • Carl February 14, 2013 at 10:14 am

      Exactly. Their justification for these wide lanes could just as easily justify a buffer. The assumption that 12′ lanes are safer on a road like this has been discredited: http://bit.ly/YgVwT0

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      • matt picio February 14, 2013 at 10:45 am

        I’m not convinced – I don’t see where in the study that they took traffic volume into account – all 2U / 4U roads are not equal. One of the study areas was Oakland County, Michigan, which sees far higher traffic volumes than Oregon, has different weather, much better visibility, and nearly all of the roads in the study are uniformly straight with no sightline impingements. I can’t speak as to the Minnesota half of the study.

        A 10′ lane leaves only 18″ of maneuver room for a standard semi. Powell is a major freight route, and that area sees a fair amount of commercial traffic. It’s completely reasonable for ODOT to leave the general traffic lane width at 12′, and while that’s not ideal for cyclists, as the primary freight route through that corridor, it was a good decision, and there really isn’t a lot of room for criticism here.

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        • Nick Falbo February 14, 2013 at 10:55 am

          But Matt, we’re just talking paint here. Sure, the 10′ is narrow for the 10% of the traffic that is wide freight vehicles, but the 2′ buffer would be for their use too. Functionally, it’s the same as their non-buffered 12′ lane. For the remaining 90% of traffic, the 10′ lanes would be more appropriate.

          Powell is essentially an orphaned highway. ODOT doesn’t control it once it hits Gresham, and really, they shouldn’t have control of it in Portland either.

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          • matt picio February 14, 2013 at 11:06 am

            Powell is US-26. It’s under ODOT jurisdiction for its entire length. They *do* control it, both in Portland and Gresham.

            The lane width isn’t just important for the trucks – cyclists are going to ride pretty close to the demarcation line between the general traffic lane and the bike lane. It’s important to keep that full lane width to avoid conflicts. Find me a study that shows a straight road with the same traffic volume as that stretch, with either a bike lane or a paved shoulder, and show me that bike/ped fatalities/serious injuries are no higher with 10′ widths at that traffic volume than with 12′ widths, and I’ll accept it.

            Powell is the only major freight route through that corridor, and the main non-Interstate route to the east. Yes, we need bike access, but this is not the road to reduce widths to 10′ on – there are other legitimate users of that road besides bike/ped which need to be accommodated. As much as we’d like all roads to be bike/ped friendly, and bike-ped desirable, this is one case where the existing ROW doesn’t support all the options we’d like. This is a case where education and enforcement need to take the forefront, and engineering the supporting role.

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            • Nick Falbo February 14, 2013 at 11:20 am

              Are you saying you think bicyclists will hug the buffer line closer than they would a conventional 8″ bike lane lane? Assuming the bicyclist rides in the center of the bike lane portion (excluding buffer) their positioning, and risk from passing trucks, should be identical.

              Personally, I expect the bicyclist to ride as far away from the lane line as possible, buffered or otherwise.

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              • Robert Burchett February 14, 2013 at 11:42 am

                Nick F. wrote:

                . . .Personally, I expect the bicyclist to ride as far away from the lane line as possible, buffered or otherwise.

                Is that how you choose to ride, or what you expect of other people? In this case, as far from the car lane as possible means crowding the designated pedestrian space. And in another situation, as close to parked cars as possible. It also puts the cyclist in the maximum amount of debris. In a situation where sight lines are restricted, a cyclist out on the right is much more prone to being hooked or crossed. No, thanks.

                In a buffered lane of sufficient width a cyclist who keeps to the right allows free passing of a faster cyclist, but that’s not the case here.

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              • Nick Falbo February 14, 2013 at 12:40 pm

                Well, I only proposed the buffer design as an easy adjustment to the ODOT proposal, not as a preferred design in any general sense.

                I’m not suggesting that bicyclists would ride far to the right regardless of context. Of course, they’ll avoid debris, of course they’ll ride respectfully among the presence of pedestrians.

                All I’m saying is that I think the 10′ Lane + 2′ buffer + 5′ Bike Lane is better than 12′ lane + 5′ Bike Lane.

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            • 9watts February 14, 2013 at 2:06 pm

              “As much as we’d like all roads to be bike/ped friendly, and bike-ped desirable, this is one case where the existing ROW doesn’t support all the options we’d like.”

              I hear you, Matt, but I’m curious if you could articulate why all roads don’t need to be bike/ped friendly? I guess I’d turn it around and ask why any road or street should be bike/ped unfriendly? If they’re spending millions already, why not do a little to right the century of pro-car/truck bias (even on Powell Blvd)? I guess I just don’t share the deferential stance toward (truck) freight. Where am I to ride when hauling freight with my bike trailer? Heading out now to grab some sheets of plywood.

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            • Unit February 14, 2013 at 4:12 pm

              You wrote:
              “Powell is US-26. It’s under ODOT jurisdiction for its entire length. They *do* control it, both in Portland and Gresham.”

              *Actually*, Gresham controls their stretch of Powell, thanks to a jurisdictional transfer passed some years back. That’s why their section has new planted medians, pedestrian crossings, and 11′ lanes. Somehow, trucks manage to squeeze through.

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  • Blake February 14, 2013 at 8:59 am

    Would it make sense/be possible for them to have 10.5′ lanes with a small buffer between the bike lane and the travel lanes, like on N Wheeler? It’s not much of a buffer, but that road has frequent bus use and the small buffer makes a huge difference versus, say, N Interstate where getting passed by the 35 bus at relatively high speed can be intimidating (particularly in narrow spots where there are drains to be managed/avoided), although that doesn’t seem to be a potential problem since the drains are in the parking area–http://goo.gl/maps/YV1kF — (although it does nothing to help with the potential for car door hits)

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  • 9watts February 14, 2013 at 9:18 am

    Trimet mirrors are unlikely to be any wider than that ghastly rumble strip. So I don’t see why they need both the twelve feet and the rumble strip.
    “Every time I see ODOT invest in a road design that doesn’t create conditions that are appealing…” When have we seen ODOT do anything different? I can’t recall the last time I heard anything I liked coming out of that operation.

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  • Elliot February 14, 2013 at 10:09 am

    No buffer or other protection means the 5′ bike lane plus 3′ shoulder will look like a nice 8′ parking lane. It’s already common for drivers to pass on the right using the bike lane when another vehicle in front of them is waiting to make a left turn. Without an improved physical or visual buffer, this dangerous practice will probably continue unabated.

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  • peejay February 14, 2013 at 10:09 am

    Five foot wide bike lanes on a busy street where the average speed is substantially higher than the posted speed limit? ODOT would claim that it’s better than nothing.

    Meanwhile, another fatality hit and run on Holgate today.

    In other news, the mayor I didn’t vote for says we should get back to basics.

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    • matt picio February 14, 2013 at 10:47 am

      Sounds like the focus should be on PBOT and Holgate, then.

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      • Terry D February 14, 2013 at 12:18 pm

        Once the 17th street bike lanes are built as part of the Light rail project Holgate could become the premier connection from outer SE for commuters. The buffered bike lanes can easily be added straight through from their ending at the I 205 MUP to the viaduct over the Brooklyn rail yards. Put that bridge on a road diet with two travel lanes and a center turn lane with bike lanes, then you have a direct connection all the way from DT fom Powell Butte.

        Powell does need nicer and wider bike lanes, but yes…this is the major truck route. Improving the bike lanes on Division and the connection to Holgate would be safer long term and much cheaper to boot. Once the long term funding for the BIG redo for Powel comes with added ROW and sidewalks, then a better buffer can be part of the plan..until then, rumble strips with a double line would seem to provide the most safety for the money in this context.

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  • Alan 1.0 February 14, 2013 at 10:15 am

    re: “the warm-fuzzy logo,” are those ghost bikes and peds?

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    • dmc February 14, 2013 at 10:23 am


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  • was carless February 14, 2013 at 10:15 am

    Lip service in their “planning” to prioritize non-motorized transpo, but in reality its all focused “back to the basics” for automobiles. And of course, Trimet, which has received more money than probably any other infrastructural investment in the city of Portland for MAX.

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  • Spiffy February 14, 2013 at 10:36 am

    biking and walking conditions are horrible out there…

    * there’s always glass in the bike lane every few blocks…
    * people are always walking in the bike lane because the shoulder is mostly dirt…
    * motor-vehicles are always passing people on the right in the bike lane because they can’t be bothered to wait behind left-turning vehicles…

    they need physical separation between the motorists and bicycle riders to keep the motorists in their lanes… rumple-strips won’t work because people are doing it intentionally for a short distance…

    they need to drop a couple of those K-Rail/Jersey barriers between the bike lane and motor-vehicle lane at every T intersection in order to prevent it… otherwise they’re going to need to put in a sloped curb like on Cully…

    paint is not going to help…

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    • CaptainKarma February 14, 2013 at 2:14 pm

      Absolutely true. I could write hundreds of tickets for intentional bike lane incursions all day long. Where are the Robo-Cops?

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    • Paulie February 14, 2013 at 9:35 pm

      I live a block from SE Powell around 148th, and I have seen all of your bullet points (but you forgot parking in the bike lane). However, I feel the lanes on Powell should not be any narrower. There is a lot of truck traffic and no center turn lane for the most part, and I think reducing the lane width would make the street more dangerous.

      In my opinion the best approach is to discourage cycling along arterials. I avoid Powell except where I have no choice (like between 102nd and the I-205 path). It would be better to have signs directing cyclists to the Bush Street Bike Boulevard, and to extend that from 148th East as far as possible.

      Actually, the most dangerous sections of my commute are bike lanes (Hawthorne from the bridge to Ladd’s, and Division from 78th to the I-205 path). Haven’t nearly all of the cycling deaths in Portland happened in bike lanes? I don’t think they make you safer, they just give you an illusion of safety.

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      • Jack February 14, 2013 at 10:19 pm

        I’ll second that danger in bike lanes, being a downtown – Ladds- Division or Powell bike commuter. Moreso in the dark & rain of course, particularly at 11th & Hawthorne. I appreciate the attempt, I just prefer to be off high-traffic streets. I always feel better when I angle off Hawthorne into Ladds and onto Clinton (no bike lane), where there’s no heavy traffic. I’m out of their way, and the cell-phone talking/texting/baby throwing up in the back seat driver isn’t coming up behind me.

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      • Terry D February 15, 2013 at 8:27 am

        Due to the cul-de-sac and suburbanized nature of the street “grid” that far out (and Powell Butte), there are no residential streets to connect the Bush greenway further east. Your best choice for non-arterial routes heading into downtown is Main-Mill-Market bikeway (which is next slated for greenway construction in east Portland) and will directly connect Gresham with Harrison-Lincoln greenway (yes it means going up the hill on the south slopes of Mount Tabor, but then…..).

        Here is Pbot’s Greenway route map: http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/391056

        Once East Portland in Motion construction gets started (the funding is there and will trickle in route by route over the next few years) there will be major improvements.

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        • Paulie February 15, 2013 at 9:15 am

          You can get a bit further East from SE 148th & Bush by going South on 148th to Gladstone, then taking that East to 155th. But from there you have to get back on Powell. Yeah, it’s a pretty convoluted route …

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  • Mabsf February 14, 2013 at 10:54 am

    …and this changes the street conditions how?

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  • Robert Burchett February 14, 2013 at 11:01 am

    I’m ambivalent to skeptical about bike lanes, but on that part of Powell, 5 ft. of pavement outside the fog line or whatchacallit–I’ve ridden in much worse places. I actually kind of resent the ‘rumble strip’ for the obvious reasons. Basically they’re telling bikes to make a Copenhagen turn, it’s ghetto-izing. As to the lane width–I’d support giving big motor vehicles a swath of pavement they can stay in, if only they stay within it! And why give the rogue driver an excuse, even the lamest excuse, to slap somebody with a mirror?

    Would this article be more a news piece or an opinion piece? The two don’t have to be entire separate, but–some kind of labeling might be good. Even within the text.

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    • spare_wheel February 14, 2013 at 12:51 pm

      i am certain that there is very little overlap between cyclists who would support a rumble strip and cyclists who would be willing to cycle 5 feet away from trucks going 50 mph.

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  • BURR February 14, 2013 at 11:02 am

    Rumble strips are a hazard for cyclists, they need to figure something else out.

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  • grimm February 14, 2013 at 11:43 am

    Maybe it’s entirely a mental thing, but I enjoy the double stripe on Barbur. The buffer is nice. Maybe throw a rumble strip on the one closer to traffic in area not around intersections. Im not the biggest fan of the rumbles, but in an area like Powell with fast traffic it would help the nerves.

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  • GlowBoy February 14, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    My biggest concern on a street like that is a distracted driver (texting, watching videos, etc), or one who’s simply lazy, drifting over the line into the bike lane. I see this kind of sloppiness all the time. Rumble strips DO deter this, even if they won’t stop people from deliberately entering the bike lane to go around a left-turning driver.

    I just don’t get why rumble strips are considered such a hazard to biking (except perhaps on fast downhills). Maybe if you run 23c tires, but that’s not what the Interested but Concerned are riding. I’d sure rather see rumble strips than a physical barrier that makes it difficult for cyclists to leave the bike lane and make a normal left turn.

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    • BURR February 14, 2013 at 1:51 pm

      It’s not just about tire width. It’s also about the fact that bicycle tires of any width generally operate at higher pressures than motor vehicle tires, most bicycles don’t have suspensions, and there are inherently more stability issues riding over hazards and obstructions with a two wheeled vehicle as opposed to a four wheeled vehicle.

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    • spare_wheel February 14, 2013 at 9:57 pm

      the proposed facility is not an “interested but concerned” facility. its users will largely be people like me. experienced, confident, and not-fearless cyclists who for the most part f$#*ing hate rumble strips.

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      • Alan 1.0 February 15, 2013 at 11:17 am

        Re: rumble strips. I agree that the ones carved out of the asphalt are beyond obnoxious and are actually dangerous to bike riders and their vehicles. They also seem to cause breakdown of the asphalt, maybe due to holding water during freeze/thaw cycles, as evidenced by increased potholes and paving breakdown where they are used. The only place I consider them tolerable is down the centerline of a highway (and that still leaves the paving damage problem unsolved).

        But those thermoplastic (?) braille dots as shown in the ODOT phot above…anyone have experience riding across those? They look easy enough to cross with a bike, even on skinny tires. Has anyone actually tried it out? Might there be some room for compromise?

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        • GlowBoy February 15, 2013 at 10:16 pm

          Deliberately rode on some thermoplastic rumble strips today (on my 35mm, 90psi tires) in an effort to see why some people hate them so much. I honestly can’t figure out what the big deal is. Guess I’m not a princess, because I couldn’t feel the pea. They were less of a hazard than the broken-up pavement of a MUP I found myself on earlier in the afternoon, and they deter texting idiots from drifting outside their lane. Someone still needs to explain to me exactly what is so horrible about them.

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  • Syzlak February 14, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    How about a 13ft wide bi-directional shared-use path on one side with a 3ft buffer between the bike/ped traffic and the motorized traffic?

    That way motorists don’t intentionally weave into the bike lane and should someone crash there’s actually a barrier. I don’t know what the bike/ped volumes are like but given the constraints and high speeds traffic tends to go when given a 12ft lane, it may be an improvement to simply have a 13ft bi-directional path with a 2 or 3ft wide buffer.

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  • Opus the Poet February 14, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    Bollards separating the bike lane from the motor vehicle lanes with random bollards replaced with the same size steel pipe set in concrete with the plastic bollard base dropped over the pipe. Not big enough to actually destroy a car, but big enough to do a few thousand$ in damages. The steel “bollards” would also inflict serious damages to a semi drifting into the bike lane even though it wouldn’t actually slow it down much. Increase the density of the steel bollards near intersections where incursions would be more likely as people try to get around left turning vehicles that are “in the way” (it isn’t just people on bicycles, it’s anyone that isn’t moving as fast as the idiots want to go). Give lots of publicity to people that wreck on the steel bollards with heaps of scorn and ridicule for not being able to keep their vehicle inside a 12 foot lane when most cars are less than 7 feet wide (what, 5 feet of wander room isn’t enough? you need another lane full of soft and squishy humans to drive in, too?). Do this every time someone hits a bollard and can’t drive away. Include a banner on the bit that says “Idiot Driver of the Day”. There will be rare times when someone will do something stupid that forces another driver into the bollards, make that driver the “Idiot” under the banner. Also with most of the bollards actually being plastic, most of the time when someone goes off the road it will just be a scare and not property damage other than some scratched paint.

    And yes I’m serious about this. I don’t want people hurt either riding a bike or in a car. I want the people in the deadly weapons of transportation to fear endangering cyclists and pedestrians as much as we fear one of them hitting us. It took me a long time to recover what I lost when I was hit, and I’m still not where I was before I got hit, and never will be. I want to spare as many people that fate as possible and if it takes making some drivers look like out-takes from “Dumbest Stuff on Wheels” (great show) then that’s a small price to pay. Hurt feelings are trumped by broken bones and brain injuries.

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  • Jack February 14, 2013 at 10:25 pm

    If you live out here, you know the HUGE problem with Powell east from I-205 through 148th: light. You and I have driven by seeing the people dressed in black who are invisible until you’re right next to them. I almost always switch to Division after 92nd when I’m driving. The fog line is a nice touch and improvements would be nice, but if I had the billions, I’d put Xenon lights overhead along the south side so pedestians and cyclists could be seen, before I put it into knobby striping. If it’s possible to go from I-205 to 148th without using Powell, so much the better though. I haven’t looked for that – I’ll give it a try.

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  • Dave Cary February 15, 2013 at 8:11 am

    If we could get a commitment from the City to regularly sweep the bike lanes (straight thru an intersection without leaving the debris triangles), it would make it easier for a biker to stay to the right of whatever width lane we finally get. Bike lanes without regular maintenance are like cars with regular maintenance: they don’t work.

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