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Friends of Barbur asks for signatures to support fixing narrow bridges

Posted by on August 13th, 2013 at 2:30 pm

When are two auto lanes not two auto lanes?
(Image by Friends of Barbur)

If you want to understand how two key bridge crossings on Southwest Barbur Boulevard are working today, take a look at the screen capture to the right.

Or even better, see the stretch in action at 0:55 of the short video below. The shots show why Barbur Boulevard is arguably the most nerve-wracking of Portland’s major bike routes.

Due to the importance of this busy state highway as a bicycle connection — it’s a flat route linking the southwest neighborhoods to the rest of the city, mostly striped with bike lanes and designated as a major bike corridor in the city’s bike master plan — many bikes use Barbur. Cars and trucks are veering into the other lanes to avoid them. And it’s all happening at 45 mph or faster.

However, the effort to come up with a more reasonable system to get people across these two bridges isn’t moving very fast at all.

The video above is by Southwest Portland resident and bike advocate Kiel Johnson of Friends of Barbur. He said he captured it close to the morning traffic peak.

“There’s a pretty constant flow of people on bikes, and the cars were all having to move over one lane,” Johnson said in an interview. “It was pretty much functioning as a one-lane street.”

Johnson thinks that, instead of just installing flashing signs that say “bikes on bridge roadway,” the Oregon Department of Transportation (which owns Barbur) should collaborate with Metro and the City of Portland to consider removing a northbound lane across the narrow Vermont and Newbury bridges so they can be restriped to include a bike lane.

He’s gathering signatures for a new letter that makes this argument.

“The cars are all moving over already.”
— Kiel Johnson, Friends of Barbur

“The video is to sort of show that that’s already happening, that the cars are all moving over already,” Johnson explained. “They’re going to redo those two bridges and repave them. The goal is to have them sort of study this idea and determine whether or not it’s possible so they could maybe work that in when they repave.”

For its part, ODOT has said it wants to hold off any lane change decisions until they can be made as part of the Southwest Corridor Project in which eight cities are negotiating over possible bus or rail transit investments along Barbur. That process isn’t expected to wrap up until the mid-2020s at the soonest.

Portland’s Bicycle Transportation Alliance is among those calling for quicker action.

“Every day is dangerous out there and now is the time to fix it, not several years from now,” BTA Advocacy Director Gerik Kransky said Tuesday. “Also, legally, ODOT should be restriping the bridges to make bicycling safe as soon as they reconstruct the bridge decks. The bike bill is not ambiguous on this subject, it says bike paths shall be provided when state funds are used on a project of this type. If they are going to grind down the pavement to the support structure and rebuild the road bed and road surface, I call that a reconstruction, which triggers a state mandate for a bike path.”

The BTA made a Barbur fix one of the poster children of its recent Blueprint for World-class Bicycling priority list.

Johnson said he was glad to have the video shoot behind him.

“Just in filming the video, I probably rode over the bridge like six times,” Johnson said. “I was pretty stressed out. I had to go home and have a beer.”

Friends of Barbur is collecting signatures of people who want immediate attention to a possible restriping of Barbur. You can add your voice to their letter here.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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9watts
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9watts

We’ve learned here on bikeportland repeatedly that Jilayne Jordan (of ODOT) is convinced this isn’t important. How to persuade her and her colleagues otherwise? Who do they work for? Who pays their salaries? Is there any oversight over how ODOT conducts its business?

Pat
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Pat

I would like to see one bike lane and one traffic lane in each direction, with the middle lane alternating directions depending on the flow of rush hour traffic. I think that would be a good way to implement a road diet that minimizes the impact on car commuters and maximizing the safety of bike commuters.

Spiffy
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looks like a lot of 3-foot-rule violations…

Chris I
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Chris I

I think the video clearly shows that the northbound traffic does not warrant 2 full auto lanes. Those cars could have shared one lane without reducing throughput.

MaxD
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MaxD

This is the exact same situation that bikes face on the St John’s bridge. They have added some sharrows and signs, but cars still buzz by bikes. Dedicated bike facilities are the way to go!

Kevin Wagoner
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Kevin Wagoner

Mid 2020s at the earliest. Ouch

AndyC of Linnton
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AndyC of Linnton

Signed. God, that seems even worse than Dirty 30 out here.

dwainedibbly
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dwainedibbly

Signed it yesterday. Not sure if this will help, but I’ve seen action in this town where I thought none was possible, so I’ll stay an optimist. And if nothing else, signing makes me feel better.

LoveDoctor
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LoveDoctor

At least Northbound, which is slightly downhill, I take the lane whenever the opportunity presents itself, and often on the return trip as well. It may seem counter-intuitive that inconveniencing motorists is a good thing, but the general (driving) public needs to be behind a lane removal. If the project is sold as a way of reducing the need for drivers to slow down behind a person on a bike (e.g. St Johns bridge), taking the lane when biking is a good way to demonstrate the need.

Dmitriy Zasyatkin
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That video demonstrates exactly why its so important to take the whole lane.

Lowering the speed limit on the bridges could be a quick and cheap band-aid until a better solution has capital.

Sunny
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Sunny

As anyone who has ridden country roads without shoulders, the drivers in the video looked pretty courteous to me. A dashed bike lane should be painted on both sides of the bridges so that drivers know to delineate when cyclists are present. Outside of rush hour, there are a relative dearth of riders to justify eliminating a car lane.

Jonathan Gordon
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Jonathan Gordon

I ride the northbound stretch of Barbur in the exact same way I ride over the St. Johns Bridge: In the middle of the lane. While I used to get honked at going over the St. Johns Bridge it hasn’t happened once since they put the sharrows down on the bridge deck. And it hasn’t happened riding on Barbur, either.

The proposed northbound solution over the bridge — an unbuffered bike lane and a single lane of car traffic — would make me feel less safe than the current situation. If there’s glass or debris in the bike lane and I’m forced to move out of it, now I’m in the only lane available to cars. And even if I stay in the bike lane it’s still likely that I would get buzzed by the occasional right-side-of-the-lane driving car. Whereas if I take one of the two lanes, I have ample room to maneuver around road debris and cars are a whole lane away from me, which provides a much larger buffer.

I guess I’m confused as to why the sharrow solution that seems to work so well over the St. Johns Bridge isn’t being proposed here. I’m a huge fan of the work Kiel has done in Portland (Alice award-winning bike trains and owner of Go By Bike) and wish him the best in improving the situation on Barbur. I’m not convinced this is the way to go and would appreciate hearing more of the thinking behind the proposed solution.

Sunny
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Sunny

Is it possible to level the “sidewalk” altogether and make it an at-grade bike lane?

jim
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jim

From that picture it doesn’t look like a very good guardrail either

Nathan Gibson
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Nathan Gibson

I ride barbur twice a day, both directions through this area. It’s really not bad, especially if you’re going downhill, northbound. Plus Corbett offers the same route with much less traffic. Not much of an issue really, though it would be nice if you didn’t have to merge before crossing the bridges.

GlowBoy
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GlowBoy