Esplanade closure begins February 1st

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.

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. 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

  • 9watts August 13, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    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?

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    • Pliny August 13, 2013 at 3:37 pm

      Hang up a sign with her (office!!!) number at each end of the bridge and encourage people to pull over and call whenever something unsafe happens?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) August 14, 2013 at 10:43 am


      Please be careful making this a personal thing against one (and now former according to sources) ODOT employee. Folks like Jilayne Jordan are just trying to implement policy that comes from way above them on the org chart. Thanks.

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      • q`Tzal August 14, 2013 at 2:09 pm

        Agreed ~99%
        Sometimes in cases of extreme intransigence it can help to take a more diplomatic approach in person or personally.
        So it might be nice to have names up this org chart.
        If you had access to said info would you release it or would that be too much like doxing and “burn your sources?

        Sorry, too many On the Media podcasts while driving.

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      • 9watts August 14, 2013 at 5:54 pm

        Well, on the one hand I’ll agree that Jilayne Jordan is/was but one employee at a vast bureaucracy that generates unhelpful, tone-deaf messages about topics such as these.
        On the other hand, she is/was the Region 1 Community Affairs Coordinator, someone designated to communicate these autos-first views. Having a name is, I think, helpful, not to demonize the individual, but to provide a sliver of accountability when it comes to a situation like this; a node through which to communicate or push back. In the January 17th story on this topic you even included her contact information.
        ODOT as such is faceless, monolithic, and too often appears unresponsive. But when we get a person’s name and a quote, I feel we have a bit more to go by. Criticizing Matt Garrett gets old, and he talk so slick it’s hard to know if he even means what he says. I apologize for overdoing the Jilayne Jordan citations but I get so frustrated with this particular bureaucracy’s head-in-the-sand/Cold War mindset.

        from that Jan. 17th story:
        “In response to an inquiry about a road diet by Keith Liden in 2011, ODOT said (among other things) that their 2035 traffic projections show they need all four auto lanes in order to handle future traffic demand. But Smith pointed out that the City’s planning goals foresee an opposite future. ‘The City’s Climate Action Plan and the Portland Plan aspire to a dramatic lowering of vehicle miles traveled,’ he said, ‘And the regional vehicle miles traveled is already declining. I’d like us to build what we aspire to, not to what we’re afraid of.'”

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  • Pat August 13, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    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.

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    • Chris I August 13, 2013 at 3:30 pm

      That can be expensive and difficult to implement. Do you pay a crew to switch it back and forth each day?

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      • Reza August 13, 2013 at 4:56 pm

        You don’t need a crew; you just use overhead traffic signals that reverse the direction of the center lane depending on time of day. It can lead to motorist confusion, but on long stretches of Barbur with no cross-streets it shouldn’t be that difficult to implement.

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        • MaxD August 13, 2013 at 5:52 pm

          they do that succesfully on Georgia St to get into/out of Vancouver BC connectuing to North Vancouver over the Lions gate Bridge. I think it is a great idea!

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        • Chris I August 14, 2013 at 1:03 pm

          That could work. And we could even make the center lane HOV/Bus only in the peak direction. Encourage a little carpooling and transit usage at the same time.

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    • Joseph E August 13, 2013 at 5:13 pm

      This isn’t needed. There is not enough northbound traffic, even in the morning rush hour, to require two lanes in that direction. Even in the southbound direction, 1 lane would work 95% of the day, but 2 lanes does allow faster cars to pass trucks up the hill. Northbound is all downhill and the morning rush hour is still not busy enough to need 2 lanes.

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  • Spiffy August 13, 2013 at 3:09 pm

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

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    • davemess August 15, 2013 at 12:21 pm

      Isn’t it a “recommendation” and not actually a rule?

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      • Alan 1.0 August 15, 2013 at 2:46 pm

        “…a distance that is sufficient to prevent contact with the person operating the bicycle if the person were to fall into the drivers lane of traffic.”

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  • Chris I August 13, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    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.

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  • MaxD August 13, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    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!

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  • Kevin Wagoner August 13, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    Mid 2020s at the earliest. Ouch

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    • Alan 1.0 August 14, 2013 at 11:18 am

      With that sort of timeframe some bicyclists are going to die, albeit mostly by old age.

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    • q`Tzal August 14, 2013 at 9:17 pm

      Aren’t we supposed to have flying cars by then?

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  • AndyC of Linnton August 14, 2013 at 12:10 am

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

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  • dwainedibbly August 14, 2013 at 5:15 am

    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.

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  • LoveDoctor August 14, 2013 at 9:16 am

    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.

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  • Dmitriy Zasyatkin August 14, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    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.

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    • davemess August 14, 2013 at 12:12 pm

      I don’t think that will work. People already speed 5-25 mph over the limit on the entire stretch. It’s rarely policed as well.

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    • Chris I August 14, 2013 at 1:14 pm

      The whole stretch needs a lower speed limit.

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  • Sunny August 14, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    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.

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    • davemess August 15, 2013 at 12:23 pm

      Yet there also seem to be a dearth of cars to eliminate adding a bike lane…..

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  • Jonathan Gordon August 14, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    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.

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    • Sunny August 14, 2013 at 2:12 pm

      I’ve never been honked at either(on Barbur) though I ride about 1/3rd into the lane. Most drivers seem to understand the obvious lack of bridge width and straddle or change lanes to pass — which in the video and experience seems confusing and haphazard at the last minute. I’d like the sharrows to be to the left of the right lane to clarify that bikes have the obligation to assert full lane use for everyone’s safety — maybe 100 feet on approach to prevent the chaos of switching lanes at speed in a car.

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  • Sunny August 14, 2013 at 2:22 pm

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

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    • Peter W August 14, 2013 at 2:36 pm

      No, that concrete is part of the support structure and ODOT has said it isn’t possible to level it.

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  • jim August 15, 2013 at 9:35 pm

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

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  • Nathan Gibson August 15, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    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.

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  • GlowBoy August 18, 2013 at 8:10 pm

    Latest Barbur victim: Henry Schmidt. Eight broken bones:

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    • 9watts August 18, 2013 at 8:47 pm

      from the linked article:
      “a TriMet bus found him lying in the middle of the road and stopped. The vehicle that hit him did not.”

      …lots of inanimate objects doing/failing to do things out there.

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