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ODOT in hot seat for dangerous Highway 101 repaving job

Posted by on August 23rd, 2013 at 10:30 am

ODOT failed to extend a new layer of pavement
into the bicycle riding area of a long
stretch of Highway 101.
(Photo: Jeff Smith)

A recent repaving job by the Oregon Department of Transportation on the popular Oregon Coast Bike Route on Highway 101 between Yachats and Florence has raised eyebrows among veteran bike tourers, transportation department staffers, and national bicycle advocacy organizations.

It all started with an email sent yesterday from Jeff Smith, a veteran Portland Bureau of Transportation employee and a bike touring enthusiast, to ODOT’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Sheila Lyons. Smith — who sent the message from his personal email account and not as a PBOT employee — included a photo and a detailed description of what he called an “extremely annoying at best and dangerous at worst” section of repaving.

According to Smith, a 25-mile section of the popular Oregon Coast Bike Route from Yachats south to Florence has been re-constructed with a new layer of pavement that abruptly ends just a few feet past the fog line. Here’s more from Smith’s email:

“This represents a condition that, I’m very sorry to say, was the rule rather than the exception. Where there was a 3′ to 4′ shoulder the new paving went to about 1.5′ to 2′ over the fog line, leaving an edge that was very inconveniently in the middle of the shoulder. To make matters worse the edge between the new and old asphalt often appeared to be abrupt enough that I didn’t want to ride over it, or anywhere near it. Again, this was not an isolated occurrence; it went on intermittently for many miles.”

Here’s a larger photo:

(Photo: Jeff Smith)

This is a huge issue because the Oregon Coast Bike Route is one of the premier bicycle touring destinations in the world. Last month the Adventure Cycling Association reported on a new bike-friendly camping area at the Port of Siuslaw campground in Florence. According to ACA, 5,000 people ride bicycles through Florence each year.

Smith’s email went on to express his extreme dismay that ODOT crews would so blatantly disregard bicycle safety during this project. “I am gobsmacked by how unutterably inept this paving work is on the part of ODoT,” he wrote, “This is not a low traffic, low cyclist use roadway. This is the Oregon Coast Highway; it has heavy summer traffic, and many people come from all around the U.S. and the world to bicycle along it. Travel Oregon promotes it a premier cycling destination. The Oregon State Parks are some of the finest anywhere, with excellent hiker/biker campsites. The magical reputation of bicycling the Oregon Coast Highway precedes it, but after experiencing this I wonder how many riders come away with the feeling that it’s been completely over-hyped and under-served.”

With decades of experience in the transportation field, Smith’s email went out to some key movers-and-shakers across the state, including ODOT personnel, and the response was almost immediate.

Ken Dennis, the Chairman of the Newport and Lincoln County Bicycle and Pedestrian Committees and President of the Yaquina Wheels Bike Club said what ODOT did with this paving project, “could almost be construed as illegal because it’s taken something away from an existing roadway and has indeed made it a very unsafe place to ride a bicycle.” “Imagine, if you will,” Dennis continued in a “reply all” email, “a bicycle tourist with a fully loaded bike having to negotiate this shoulder. I think it puts them in a perilous position that could easily cause a loss of control that could send them into approaching traffic.”

Andy Clarke, President of the League of American Bicyclists, was also cc’d on Smith’s email. He responded by writing, “Let me know if there is anything we need to be doing from a national level…this is a major [inter]national resource after all.”

A spokesperson from the Adventure Cycling Association also responded by saying she’d loop in the organization’s Travel Initiatives Director Ginny Sullivan.

Eight hours after Smith’s email was sent, ODOT’s Northwest Region Manager Sonny Chickering responded. “I want to thank you for bringing this paving issue to my attention so that it can be reviewed, discussed and addressed.” Chickering said he’s scheduled a conference call for today to discuss the issue with his district managers and said we can expect an update from ODOT about how they intend to address the situation by the middle of next week, “with further updates as warranted until the issue is resolved.”

We’re glad to see quick attention to this issue from ODOT — especially since hundreds of people will be riding on it in a few weeks as part of the Amgen People’s Coast Classic Ride. In a larger context, we’ve had the poor cycling conditions on the Coast Route on our radar for many years. For being such an important and famous road for bicycle touring, it’s shocking how many safety issues exist on it. This repaving work also comes from an agency that has attempted to paint itself as much more sensitive to biking and walking in recent years.

I was already planning to do the People’s Coast Classic Ride next month and I look forward to taking a first-hand look at these issues. Stay tuned.

——
Read our latest update to this story posted Monday August 26th.

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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Paul
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Paul

Wow. Even more shocking is that a major bike route uses only 3-4 feet of a shoulder on a highway!

LoveDoctor
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LoveDoctor

Unfortunately, the half-way asphalt treatment runs along most of the 101 coastline. I did a 4 day tour last summer from PDX to Coos Bay, and the photo above represents roughly half of what I experienced. It isn’t just a matter of smooth vs. rough, but rather a 2 inch lip, running jaggedly through the middle of an already narrow shoulder/bike lane. If your front wheel hits that lip at anything roughly resembling parallel, buh-bye to staying upright. This shows absolute disregard for non-motorized safety for what amounts to hundreds of miles of what should be great bike tourism routes, all to save a small percentage on asphalt material. I was ashamed of how my tax dollars were spent via ODOT on my bike vacation last summer.

Evan
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Evan

Let us consider how this most unfortunate event can be turned into a positive. Since the paving crew will most likely have to go over and add a foot or two of asphalt, how hard would it be to extend that asphalt out a little further? A bike lane doesn’t have to support a 20,000 pound axle load, so it doesn’t need to be constructed to the same standards underneath. Even if the shoulder can be extended only six inches or a foot, that would improve safety over the current road (old pavement) width.

9watts
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9watts

I’ll just point out wsbob’s comment yesterday in another thread about how anything ODOT does has to be approved by the public, to which I took exception. http://bikeportland.org/2013/08/19/barbur-hit-and-run-renews-calls-for-odot-action-92523#comment-4392039

wsbob
It’s the public’s money, not ODOT’s. ODOT is entrusted to spend the public’s money it has in its budget wisely, but the question is whether the public would consider such an expense to be wise.

Here’s an example of where the voters/us/everyone is going to get to pick up the tab not just for the original paving job that we didn’t specifically authorize, but now also for the rather expensive and completely unnecessary-had-it-been-done-right-in-the-first-place fix.

Amazing really when you think about it how frequently important stuff gets screwed up by those we’ve deputized to take care of our business (PPB and the evidence from the hit-and-run on Barbur; CRC cabal blowing $170M on studying a freeway expansion; cooking the books on traffic projections on which Salem’s third bridge proposals rest; now this repaving job.

Hats off to vigilant public servants, citizens, and Jonathan and Co. for holding everyone’s feet to the fire.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

“A bike lane doesn’t have to support a 20,000 pound axle load, so it doesn’t need to be constructed to the same standards underneath.”

That’s only true if 20,000-lb. vehicles physically cannot access the pavement. A couple of distracted drivers from now, that pavement would be destroyed and we’d be left with big chunks of broken asphalt floating around in the gravel at the edge of the roadway. Even (most) MUPs have to be designed to standards that allow emergency vehicles to drive on them.

Alan 1.0
Guest
Alan 1.0

Just out of curiosity, has ODOT made any improvements for bikes on Hwy 101 or OCBR this year? Widened any shoulders? Painted any buffer zones?

Spiffy
Guest

this looks like a great opportunity to take the lane…

AndyC of Linnton
Guest
AndyC of Linnton

They should use these photos in the bike tourism brochures.

Suburban
Guest
Suburban

Odd that blame for this s.n.a.f.u. currently rests on the “crew”. Those professionals lay the road and paint exactly where the engineers tell them to. The engineers make regular site visits. How long do you think it will take to review, discuss and address this situation? I hate taking the lane on state highways!

Jeff P
Guest
Jeff P

So my question is this an official bike lane/way? If not then it is only a shoulder? And if a should bikes should not be riding on it by Oregon law [nor should cars] as shoulders are officially break down lanes only.
Second question: is it truly illegal [per Ken Dennis’ comment] to not replace in kind what has been there previously? If so then Washington County has some issues with their maintenance work on SW 80th [Tigard Area off Oleson] as they are not planning on replacing the previously marked bike lane symbols – that is because in their words the ‘shoulder’ does not meet current standards.

But yes – crappy repair effort at best.

Jim Labbe
Guest
Jim Labbe

This is disappointing both in the result and in the lack of basic awareness of bicycling and economic development on the Oregon Coast it indicates within ODOT. They absolutely deserve to be in the hot seat. Let’s hope they fix this mistake and fix the organizational culture that caused it.

Thanks for covering this.

Alan 1.0
Guest
Alan 1.0

Jeff P
So my question is this an official bike lane/way? If not then it is only a shoulder? And if a should bikes should not be riding on it by Oregon law [nor should cars] as shoulders are officially break down lanes only.

I noticed you mention previously that it is illegal to ride on shoulders. That’s confusing to me; I thought it was OK, it is where I often ride and where I see many others ride. Can folks shed a little more light on Oregon’s laws, policies, interpretation, practices and enforcement on biking on the shoulder?

some refs that might or might not be relevant:

814.070 says peds should use shoulder or sidewalk

814.430 says bikes should ride as close as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway

“Roadway means the portion of a highway that is improved, designed or ordinarily used for vehicular travel, exclusive of the shoulder.”

Dwainedibbly
Guest
Dwainedibbly

Was this job done by an ODOT crew, or by a contractor? If a contractor, how was the contract written? If it was a contractor, I smell someone trying to skimp on a job. If it really was an ODOT crew, fire somebody, and get it fixed!

LoveDoctor
Guest
LoveDoctor

Spiffy
this looks like a great opportunity to take the lane…
Recommended 0

For the entire length of the Oregon Coast?

Chris Anderson
Guest

Close the road to cars until there’s adequate room for them to pass bikes safely. That’d get the budget issues cleared up.

Steve B
Guest
Steve B

To be honest, 101 is not very safe for any road users. It is a tricky mix of wild typography, narrow roadways & shoulders, historical charm and lots of traffic. More safety improvements are sorely needed for all road users.

kgb
Guest
kgb

Someone should lose their job over this. I would like to see a cost analysis of how much it would have cost to do it right the first time and how much it will cost to fix the problem.

Danny
Guest
Danny

I suggest that Oregon look at this situation as a great opportunity to assess the entire coastal bike route. My family and I rode a portion of Highway 101 a few years ago, and I came away from the experience convinced that I would never again venture out onto 101 on a bike. The fact that many people still ride there stands as testament to the coastal bike route’s economic importance — and potential. Just imagine the funds going into rural Oregon’s economy if people actually enjoyed — rather than merely survived — their ride on the Oregon Coast.

IanC
Guest
IanC

As a cyclist who lives in Oregon, I get asked all the time by people about cycling on the coast. Once I turn pale as Jack cheese, start twitching, and they hear my knees start knocking, most people rightfully surmise that the thought TERRIFIES me (And I bike all over Portland in any conditions). There is too much traffic, too many trucks and RVs, narrow shoulders, and now, thanks to ODOT, randomly occurring Death Ledges to contend with all along the route.

I don’t recommend the coast route to anyone who has family to come home to after the ride.

Mark
Guest
Mark

Death Ledges are too common in other roads as well from highways to country backroads. Why is this an acceptable method of repaving? There should be higher standards for Oregon Scenic Bike Routes that include no death ledges and no chip seal.

Cota
Guest
Cota

Funny. I just got back from riding Beaverton to Astoria to Florence. When I hit this stretch of road, I was cussing a blue streak at ODOT. “Cheap bastards can’t even pave all the way to the edge of the road.” I wasn’t about to ride on that 8 inch strip of rough and debris filled shoulder, so I rode to the left of the fog line. Not my first choice, but much of 101 is less than ideal. You just have to pucker up and ride.

There’s one long climb, on the northern half of the coast, several miles long, and steep enough that I have to stop and rest a few times to reach the summit. The shoulder is less than a foot wide on the south bound uphill side, but oddly, the north bound down hill side has a five or six foot wide shoulder. Why!?

I’ll also echo some of the other comments here. I’ve ridden the coast twice now, and people really do come from all the world to ride our coast. We’ve got the best State Parks, some absolutely gorgeous scenery, good food and drink, and then there’s Highway 101. Premier cycling destination? I’m not so sure it’s a deserved reputation.

-Cota

Zaphod
Guest

Taking the lane when the speed limit is 50 or higher on a twisty road? I’d like my name in the papers for something else than an obit. The road should be fixed. I vote for adding a few feet to turn the error into a positive outcome for everyone who might travel these roads or is affected by tourist income.

Ranger
Guest
Ranger

Like others have said, pavement and general riding conditions are pretty rough on 101. I rode the stretch between Lincoln City and Newport yesterday and just had to grit my teeth for the long 101 portions. More protection (a buffer, cycle track, etc. depending on context) is needed.

Ted Buehler
Guest
Ted Buehler

Paving job in clear violation of ODOT’s own standards on the Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, the AASHTO Bicycle Design book, and probably a bunch of higher-level standards as well.

Ted Buehler

Ted Buehler
Guest
Ted Buehler

Be sure to cc your BikePortland comments to askodot@odot.state.or.us

Ted Buehler

jim
Guest
jim

I would guess they did this because of the high cost of asphalt these days. After all the fuss they will probably go back and finish it out to the edge. From the picture that looks like a 4 inch stripe, is that right?
If it is considered just an edge of the road and not a bike path, I could see where someone could make the error here.

Maren
Guest

Perhaps this is a bit off-topic, but I had a similarly harrowing experience a few weeks ago when I biked from Portland to Salem using Googlemaps’ (otherwise generally good) bicycling directions. The stretch I had trouble with was Hwy 551 going past the Aurora airport. I had made this ride once two weeks prior, and it was scary to be riding on the shoulder of a two-lane road with high-speed traffic including many heavy trucks, sometimes passing each other in opposite directions while also passing me. But on the second occasion it was extremely dangerous because they had just repaved, and the entire shoulder was now made up of a dark, oily substance that looked just like pavement, but was actually fine, soft gravel – totally un-ride-able. So I had to ride directly on the white line as these semis barreled past. A few questions: 1) Is that also ODOT’s jurisdiction? 2) Anyone been there in the past 3-4 weeks, to see if it’s still like that? 3) Is Airport Rd or Boones Ferry a good alternative, in anyone’s experience here? The stretch of 551 I’m talking about is between Arndt Rd and Ehlen/Boones Ferry.

Ted Buehler
Guest
Ted Buehler

The Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Design Guide doesn’t seem to have anything specific on road repaving and shoulders. It’s probably in a “higher level” set of standards, like the Oregon Highway Design Manual.

I only have an iPhone this week, so it’s hard to dig around. Anyone else want to try?

http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/BIKEPED/docs/Appendix_N_BikePedDesignGuide_Web.pdf
P. 1-9 –1-10 is close, but its about widening shoulders when the road is repaved, not ensuring that the new surface is not *narrower* than the old surface.

Ted Buehler

Robert Burchett
Guest
Robert Burchett

With regard to engineers vs. construction crew, the engineers supervising the projects have to be there to check things like dimensions of the roadway, regularity of the surface, and I’m guessing also the density of the pavement (asphalt is rolled after being placed to compact it) so somebody working for ODOT was standing there watching this happen, and signing off on it. It’s on them, ultimately.

Having said that, from what I’ve seen on the street, if there is a group less bike-oriented than police officers, it’s construction workers. It’s standard operating procedure to put a temporary warning sign for car traffic in the bike lane. Bike lanes are the first thing to go away in a construction project, and sometimes come back–never! Of course that’s on the engineers as well.

I’ve ridden the coast route once, and I’d do it again. Nobody goes there for the sections on 101, it’s the cut-off loops of quiet older road that make it great. As a working bike messenger I’m no chicken, but I put ‘taking the lane’ on that road in the same general category as crucifixion. Not ready for that.

Ted Buehler
Guest
Ted Buehler

California has bike lane design incorporated into their state Highway Design Manual, and has much more strict standards than I’ve seen in any Oregon design standards. This gives clear guidance to CALTrans staff and contractors, and provides easy quantifiable procedures for determining if a bike lane is paved correctly or incorrectly.

See p. 1000-25 where it states that there can be no “steps” or “ledges” in the bike lane greater then 10 mm (about 2/5 inch) parallel to the direction of travel.

http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/oppd/hdm/pdf/chp1000.pdf

Ted Buehler

Rick Browning
Guest
Rick Browning

Guys, Hwy 101 is the tip of the iceberg. With no discussion, notice or concern for consequences – ODOT has adopted this “screw the bike” repaving strategy all over the whole state! The last couple of days of correspondence among the small group of ODOT staff and cycle activists that were copied on Jeff Smith’s original email makes it clear this compromised shoulder condition can be found all up and down Hwy 101, on other state scenic bikeways and on state highways in all ODOT regions. In an entirely backdoor fashion and motivated by a pittance in savings – Oregon roads have been made substantially less bike friendly and safe. Please do make your outrage known by emailing ODOT about this situation.

Jeff Smith
Guest
Jeff Smith

As Rick said above, it’s sounding like this may be occuring on many ODoT roads. I would suggest that we (the cycling public) need to begin assembling documentation of this sort of bike-unfriendly paving practice: highway, nearest milepost, lane direction, photos.

David Lewis
Guest
David Lewis

You’re all missing the point. The shoulder is a red herring.

http://www.cyclethere.com/pix/PATH2.JPG

Merritt
Guest
Merritt

The same thing happened when they repaved why 26 west of Government Camp 2 years ago. I sent email to ODOT. They sent someone out to look at it and confirmed the problem and said they would fix it. I have had periodic emails trying to followup but I rode that route yesterday and still it is not fixed. I hope they do better on 101 than they have done on 26.

Riding_on_the_Shoulder_of_Giants
Guest
Riding_on_the_Shoulder_of_Giants

Take the lane would work if we did a critical mass style ride down that section of the coast. Can you imagine a couple hundred riders rolling down 101 taking the lane. If I had my way it would coincide with the Carter Lake bike only weekend. One day on the coast to protest and one day to celebrate.

Hillsons
Guest
Hillsons

There must be some seriously toxic culture within ODOT for this kind of blatant ignorance and lack of communication to be possible, for ODOT to project outwards the idea of vulnerable road users being important while employees within would rather save a few pennies than increase safety.

Ginny Sullivan
Guest

Interestingly enough, I was just on Hwy 101/Pacific Coast Route in Florence after completing a bike tour on the TransAmerica Bicycle Route from Missoula, MT to Florence, OR. Unfortunately, this treatment isn’t isolated to Hwy 101 — I encountered it periodically across Eastern Oregon as well. Also unfortunate that I didn’t record the sections of highway where it occurred (alas, I was on “vacation” so forgive me).

I recently had a conversation with Alex Phillips from State Parks about this treatment as well. She noted she’d encountered it on sections of road on a recent ride.

That means this is a much broader problem than just Hwy 101, although I will concur that Hwy 101 is a “must fix” as is the TransAm route and any Scenic Bikeways that might be affected. On my ride, we encountered numerous cyclists on the TransAm and there were at least 20 cyclists in the hike/biker site at Honeyman State Park on August 16 when I was there. Add to this those that choose hotels instead of camping and the bike events that take place on that highway and you’ve got a lot of cyclists and a major safety concern.

Roads that are designated for bicycle use, and roads that aren’t should all be able to accommodate bicycle traffic safely.

Ginny Sullivan, Director of Travel Initiatives
Adventure Cycling Association

Tim Davis
Guest
Tim Davis

Let’s ALL help Jeff with his email campaign! I’ve written about 1000 emails to key officials about cycling, environmental, planning, housing and other issues over the past 10 years, and I’ve often received great, encouraging replies. It really makes a difference, as we’re seeing from Jeff’s original well-constructed email to people in powerful enough positions to be able to make a difference–especially if they hear from enough concerned citizens!!

Thanks so much, Jeff and everyone!!
–Tim

elle
Guest
elle

This road edge issue is an example of ODOT’s extreme cost-cutting at safety’s expense. Hwy 101 in Florence is a mess and is not even in line for repaving, yet projects have been proceding just south of it, repaving sections that were not in near as bad of shape. I use “repaving” loosely as instead of laying an even surface they are laying strips of pavement on the lanes were tires travel, leaving a shallow trench between them. Not so friendly if your riding a motorcycle or scooter. In recent years they used a patching substance that’s slippery to seal cracks on Hwy 101 in Florence. It is particularly hazardous to two wheel vehicles trying to turn, accelerate or stop on it, though it also affects autos to a lesser degree.
The substance spider-webs all of the Florence section of Hwy 101. This was done to try to extend the period between repaving this section of 101.
Florence is the heart Hwy 101 for people traveling the coast, camping, riding the dunes, motorcycle & auto touring etc yet it’s not being given the upkeep it requires. Drive down to Douglas county line to the south and you’ll have beautiful pavement all the way to the border. Same if you head east to the mackenzie river highway.
Nice, even and smooth.
Florence’s Hwy 101? Neglected.

KimJ
Guest
KimJ

After this flurry of activity a year ago, were any improvements actually made? I just rode from Lincoln City to Florence a week ago and the dangerous shoulder still exists south of Yachats.

Holly Barnett
Guest
Holly Barnett

The problem with the right-side of Highway 101 in 2 places is they need a expensice build-up erspecially after years of erosion.

Jo
Guest
Jo

I’m interested in cycling parts of the Route this year and next, and very concerned to read about these problems. Does anyone know where I can find updated information about where the trouble areas are for cyclists? Any update on this section, and updated information on other areas to avoid or approach very cautiously?
Thanks, in advance!
Jo

joe Fortino
Guest
joe Fortino

always wanted a bike buffer along the coast since most drive distracted and travel way to fast for the road/traffic.