Support BikePortland - Journalism that Matters

Mix of snow, slush and ice make for tricky biking conditions

Posted by on February 11th, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Bad biking conditions made the evening news.

With the worst of the snow and ice storms behind us, the roads are slowly returning to normal. That is, unless you are trying to walk or bike.

As auto traffic volumes return to normal, people are finding that the conditions of bike lanes, neighborhood greenways, and off-street bike paths are full of a dangerous mix of slush, snow, and ice. This isn’t a surprise given that it’s the current policy of the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) to only plow major roads and arterials.

PBOT does not plow any bike-only areas including the paths across our major downtown bridges or facilities like the Springwater Corridor and Eastbank Esplanade. Separated bike paths — like NE Multnomah Street and the curbside bike lane on Broadway near Portland State University — are also left to fend for themselves. And on streets with bike lanes, plow trucks usually only clear the standard vehicles lanes while pushing the snow onto the area where people usually ride. (If you walk or roll your wheelchair, you’re at the mercy of adjacent property owners to shovel sidewalks.)

This lack of attention to key bicycle routes has resulted in poor riding conditions throughout the metro area. We reported about these concerns a bit yesterday and we’ve heard a lot more from readers since then. Before I share more from readers, I just noticed that KGW-TV featured a segment titled, Bicyclists have tough commute post-storm on their newscast last night.

Watch the video below:

Yesterday we asked folks to share their experience with the conditions. We got a lot of report in the comments to our story yesterday and via Twitter. We heard some reports of smooth sailing, but most people reported mountains of slush and snow and very difficult — if not impossible — conditions…

We also heard from several sources that the Springwater Corridor was nearly unpassable last night and into this morning.

For their part, PBOT has responded by referring folks to their snow plow map, telling people on bikes to be careful, and encouraging people to report specific hazard locations. Their responses on Twitter have included: “trying to make as much of a given road as passable as possible for all modes of transport” and “as we pick up sand, we’ll prioritize roads w/ dedicated bike lanes/ heavy bike traffic 4 safety”

This morning we were happy to see PBOT send out this tweet acknowledging reality:

It has become crystal clear in recent days that PBOT’s priority is to make sure the main roads are cleared first. That’s a reasonable policy, especially for a city (understandably) not fully equipped to handle snow and ice storms. But the abysmal condition of many key bikeways raises some important concerns. If Portland wants to be a place where bicycling is more attractive than driving (that’s the stated policy goal in adopted city plans), then bikeways should be given more attention during storm events.

One possible solution would be to simply add a few key bikeway connections to the city’s official Snow and Ice Priority Routes map (PDF). PBOT might also want to consider buying the snow removal attachment for their recently purchased bike lane sized street sweeper.

If there was at least one bike route through the central city and one route to each of the five quadrants that people could rely on — no matter what the weather — it would make a huge difference in safety and in the number of people who could safely travel during and after storms.

I realize there’s a tendency for PBOT and the public at large to say, “Come on bicyclists! The city is doing all it can. It’s just a few days. Deal with it!” I get that. But when it’s another few days in the fall when piles of leaves fill bike lanes and shoulders, and another few days when various festivals and events compromise important bikeways downtown, and another few days for inconvenient bike detours, and another few days for construction projects that spill into bike lanes, and another few days when debris and gravel make riding unsafe and unpleasant, it all adds up.

And it all adds up to people deciding they just don’t have the tolerance we require them to have in order to make bicycling their everyday mode of travel. It’s not just challenging weather that keeps people from biking, it’s how that weather exacerbates the already poor conditions that exist on far too many of our bikeways far too often.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

— Read all our 2014 winter storm coverage 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

64
Leave a Reply

avatar
27 Comment threads
37 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
36 Comment authors
FrizzleJohn LiuBarbara StedmanJoedavemess Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
maxadders
Guest
maxadders

I anticipated this storm– what with global warming becoming a reality– and decided to prepare for it by commissioning Sacha White to build me a custom ti fat bike in late 2008. Well I’m pleased to announce that the frame arrived just in time for Snowpocalypse 2014. Unfortunately PBOT failed to sufficiently groom the lanes for my 4.9″ Endomorphs, and my fun-mmute turned out to be a nightmare! So I have no recourse but to send the city of Portland a bill for my custom build. It’s not like I can just return the darn thing to Walmart! Thanks for nothing, bureaucracy!

John Lascurettes
Guest

I don’t get how PBOT can refer to that pea gravel as “sand” with a straight face. I had to take the lane the whole way from the Broadway Bridge into downtown because the bike lane was coated with a layer of it. I really hate that stuff. It only takes them a day or two to lay it down, but it sometimes takes them months (if at all) to sweep it up to recycle it.

Hanne
Guest
Hanne

Jonathan, do you know how/if the City coordinates with Multco on clearing roads/bridges? When it was snowing on Friday, I saw a county plow clearing the sidewalk/bike path on the south side of the Morrison Bridge. I only saw the plow come down off the bridge on the east side, and I didn’t go up to check whether they had cleared all the way across. But, it seems hat there are some bike/ped facilities that can be easily plowed (and perhaps were, based on what I saw on the Morrision). It would be great if the city/county figured out key routes to plow and publicized them.

Criss Cross Crusade
Guest
Criss Cross Crusade

two flats today on Barbur… that gravel is like diamond tipped glass… getting a ride home.

pdx2wheeler
Guest
pdx2wheeler

Regardless of the politics… My body has really enjoyed the bit of rest this storm has provided. I’ve really tried to take advantage of the down time to replenish myself by eating healthy, stretching, and just relaxing a bit…

Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
Guest
kiel johnson

how about a citizen led bike lane clearing group after the next storm like this? even if they just clear enough for a bike to get through? wouldn’t take that long/many people

David
Guest
David

I also agree that it makes sense for PBOT to prioritize main arterials for big storms like this.

What’s frustrating to me is that there doesn’t seem to be any plan for dealing with bike lanes and greenways besides, “Be careful out there guys!” and “It should all melt soon!”

Arterials first? Fine. But at least make an attempt to not create ice walls in the middle of bike lanes, and work on clearing major greenway connections in a timely manner.

kww
Guest
kww

I rode to work Monday, from Sellwood to downtown. I took 13th/17th/Milwaukie Ave in, and almost every car was patient while waiting to pass me – I could not leave the lane due to snow.

On the way home after dark, it was warm. I decided to chance the Springwater trail. I got about 1.5 mile in then had to walk the bike the rest of the way. Snow kept building up between the tires and fenders.
Not enough melt. Amazingly, all gone by now!

Patrick
Guest
Patrick

Riding in today the bikelane was plowed in Vancouver Ave.

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

with only one exception i was treated with patience and respect as i took the lane (wheel tracks). until the 2150 bike plan funds a network of steam pipe-warmed cycletracks, vehicular cycling is almost certainly our snowpocalypse reality.

kudos to the motorists who went out of their way to give me space as i cut through snow, ice, and slush!

Ciaran
Guest
Ciaran

I’m not terribly concerned about the lack of snow clearing. Yes, it’s annoying that bike lanes and greenways weren’t plowed or were blocked. Yes, this shows the amount of priority given to auto travel over other modes. But think – these storms come about less than once a year. I’d prefer that money that would otherwise be spent on a cycle-track plow attachment, or on overtime to plow greenways, got spent making other, longer-lasting improvements to our biking infrastructure.

That said, a policy of directing people on bikes to the plowed arterials–and raising awareness so that people driving on those arterials expect to see bikes in the plowed lanes–would be inexpensive and appreciated.

Oh and yes, let’s clean up the gravel asap. Getting rid of that is a much longer-lasting improvement than getting rid of slush.

Criss Cross Crusade
Guest
Criss Cross Crusade

also… lol.. up on Barbur there’s probably 15 or so cateyes in the bike lane that were just sheared off by the plows… wondering about the repair costs for all those…

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

Snowplows do not make a roadway free of snow or ice or slush. They only push away the deeper snow, leaving a layer of plowed snow on the the road.

From what I saw when PBOT was plowing, that plowed snow was one to two inches deep.

On traffic lanes, the cars do the rest, wearing ruts into the plowed snow and eventually creating bare strips and, as the snow melts, the road clears.

It wouldn’t work that way on a plowed bike lane. One to two inches of freshly plowed snow is rideable for the hardy and skilled folks who ventured out over the weekend on knobby-tired bikes, but is still not rideable for most commuter cyclists on the typical commuter bike. As it rots to slush, or re-freezes to rutted ice, that snow becomes even less rideable, even for the knobby tire experts. (The side streets that were still very hard to ride yesterday and this morning – they only have a couple inches of rotten slush.)

Therefore, plowing bike lanes of snow would not make them rideable for most cyclists unless they were laboriously cleared all the way down to bare pavement or close to it. With major snow events only happening a few times a decade, Portland doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have the budget, equipment and manpower to do that. If we did, those efforts should first be directed to sidewalks. Cyclists can ride in traffic lanes, pedestrians cannot be expected to walk there.

Add the difficulty of plowing standard bike lanes that border parked cars (the snow plow can’t get too close to parked cars), protected bike lanes (the snow plow truck can’t fit there), MUPs (the snow plow truck can’t get between the bollards and may be too wide to even drive on the narrower parts of a MUP).

That is why, as a practical matter, I don’t think we can expect PBOT to be clearing bike lanes and MUPs of snow after a city-stopping storm. Sure, after the freeways and main roads are cleared, the city could send crews with Bobcats, shovels, de-icer, bags of gravel to plow and scrape hundreds of miles of sidewalks and MUPs and bike lanes, but by the time they could even get started, the rain will have finished melting off the snow.

Reza
Guest
Reza

“On that website BikePortland.org…”

Why does that phrasing in the news story seem to perpetuate that tired “us vs. them” theme that we have to constantly endure from the local media?

Ty
Guest
Ty

Most of my normal route was under packed slush/ice, so I had to detour this morning. It doesn’t bother me, though. I got to see some neighborhoods i hadn’t seen in a while. I can’t see investing in the equipment needed to clear my bike path for a once every 5 years snow storm like this, especially when it only lasts a few days. If we got past, say, a 10% commute rate, we might have the beginnings of being able to justify such a cost, but I pretty well enjoyed the alternative of staying home playing in the snow, drinking hot chocolate with the kids.

AndyC of Linnton
Guest
AndyC of Linnton

How about we build MUPs with no motorized access on both sides of the Willamette and throw 4 or 5 in the East/West direction. When this occurs again in five or so years, we can either have volunteers shovel or plow the MUP, or if financially possible, have the city clear these lanes as our main bike/walk precedence.
It wouldn’t clear all routes, but it’d just be like the main plowed precedence: Sandy is cleared, but, say, SE16th is dicey.

Of course, we would have to actually build them.
Perhaps this is a better idea for the residents of Portland in the year 2075.

MaxD
Guest
MaxD

“If there was at least one bike route through the central city and one route to each of the five quadrants that people could rely on — no matter what the weather — it would make a huge difference in safety and in the number of people who could safely travel during and after storms.”

This is a good goal regardless of snow! I live in North Portland, and Interstate Ave is the Westernmost, and most direct bike connection to the rest of Portland except teh NE Quadrant. Regardless of plowing, Interstate has intermittent sidewalks, narrow bike lanes that get dangerously thin at overpasses w/out warning, and bike lanes that completely disappear between Killingsworth and Rosa Parks. I would love to see this, other primary routes through the 5 quadrants brought up to a safe condition, and then lets talk about plowing snow!

jocko
Guest
jocko

Today a super heavy bike is your friend.

Adam
Guest
Adam

Let’s not forget about the sidewalks either. A walk to the drugstore around the corner to grab a prescription that would normally take me ten minutes took me almost 25 on the ice.

For an agency that claims to prioritize bikes and peds, PBOT sure don’t put their money where their mouth is.

Home and business owners are left to shovel/plough the sidewalks outside their properties. I wonder how they would feel if PBOT told them they were responsible for shoveling done out of the entire ROADWAYS their homes/businesses front. Why do taxpayers fund road clearance, bug it’s left to volunteers to fund sidewalk and bikelane clearance where snow is concerned? It stinks!

Paul Souders
Guest

I’d like to see paths/greenways prioritized, tried to ride S. Waterfront path home last night and it was unpassable. Roads were just fine as long as I took the lane.

And the ice barriers across the cycletrack on SW Broadway: not cool.

I have other thoughts/complaints but I’m still feeling a little smug from my trouble-free homebound commute Thursday afternoon, when in 10 miles I passed thousands of cars at a near standstill.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

I don’t personally have the resources to do this for a once-in-five-years event, but maybe a handful of Portland cyclists with more money than me could invest in gas-powered snowblowers and do some guerrilla plowing on the MUPs when it snows.

It wouldn’t be a huge investment – most homeowners in my native Minneapolis seem to have them – and only a handful of people would have to buy into the idea for it to make a big difference.

Marv
Guest
Marv

I read Bike Portland daily, even tho I live in Billings, Montana. An excellent site, very interesting. I have to say I am envious of you folks there, even though the rain and wet looks like a real drag sometimes. I had determined to ride my 7 mile one way commute this winter when possible, no matter how cold, if the roads and bike lanes were clear of snow and ice. I work night shift, leave in the dark, come home in the morning. The last time I rode it was -5 below zero when I came home…wasn’t fun, but was proud I had did it. That was over 2 months ago. I haven’t been able to ride since. The ice would eventually dry up, I’d think I could ride the next day, and BAM, another snowstorm, which blocked the lanes and turned the roads into hard packed ice. We haven’t made it above freezing in the daytime for weeks here until yesterday. Do they plow the bike lanes here? No. Do they plow the MUP’s here? No. Not economically feasible here. I think it’s still shocking to most folks here to even see someone on a bike period in Nov. or Dec. Would that I could move my family to Portland, but that is not economically feasible either for us. So if Portland bike commuters have to put up with a few days here and there where you can’t bike, remember how fortunate you all really are. Would that eventually my area and other parts of the country could come close to what you have in Portland. My hat is off to your city!

John Lascurettes
Guest

It occurred to me post-thaw that I’m very happy that PBOT stays the hell off my neighborhood greenways, lest they be coated in a layer of gravel, I mean “sand”, now that would take months to go away. Now – I have smooth sailing until I get to an arterial street now covered in gravel.

Humongous Ed
Guest
Humongous Ed

Id like to know how northern european cities handle this. They have lits of snow, right? Do they have a huge inventory of snow plows to scrape the cyxle paths free, or do they just expect people to ride in the snow?

Joe
Guest
Joe

now that it gone we have gravel. lol

Barbara Stedman
Guest
Barbara Stedman

Yes, it makes you a bad citizen. It’s like saying why do we need bikelanes, if the “strong and fearless” can take the lane. There are different levels of disabled and elderly so why don’t you leave it them what their problem was?
As I said in another comment – if your street isn’t up to city standards (not paved, no curbs and sidewalks) then the city does not maintain it. It is up to the property owner to maintain the whole street up to the center line in front of the property. For example, we live on a cul-de-sac off a gravel road in SW Portland. All neighbors put in a couple of hundred bucks each every few years to have this gravel road regraded and potholes filled. I have seen streets where neighbors don’t do that – they are a mess. So if you have a sidewalk in front of your house – consider yourself lucky that you only have to shovel the sidewalk!

Frizzle
Guest
Frizzle

I think you have a great point, it all adds up- the couple days here, and a couple there mentality is awful. I think it places bikers as second tier priorities. I wonder if the city knows that many people don’t have other transportation options beside their bikes?
That being said, I ended up taking the bus all the days of the “storm” because I work a retail job requiring me to show up (whole another topic) instead of riding and I don’t know what would have been a better option: I waited over an hour & a half for the bus to show up and while waiting, saw many riders trekking up Sandy, many almost slipping & falling into traffic.
All being said, I’ve never lived anywhere else but was completely in shock out little snow shut down the whole city infrastructure.