The Worst Day of the Year Ride is February 11th

City wraps up post-storm gravel pickup two weeks early (updated)

Posted by on March 12th, 2014 at 2:19 pm

City crews picking up gravel
in their trademark, two-sweeper formation.
(Photo: LiUNA Local 483)

The on-street gravel treatments that added traction to Portland’s streets during February’s snowstorm have been cleared from the bike lanes and shoulders two weeks earlier than expected, a city spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The city managed to clear 1,700 lane-miles of gravel from its streets in four weeks, rather than the six to eight weeks it first expected, by devoting additional crews to the task.

“In addition to the night crews, we had day crews,” spokeswoman Diane Dulken said. Related overtime cost the city about $100,000, she said, 14 percent of the total storm response. “Because it is a priority, we did these things to speed it up.”

The city said the gravel application was essential to keeping buses and emergency vehicles running during the snow event, Portland’s biggest in six years. But the leftover gravel drew criticism for being potentially unsafe to bikes.

Dulken said the city had made “quite a commitment” to gravel cleanup.

“Often they needed to treat a street twice, because gravel does migrate,” she said. “Because gravel is really hard on the machines, it meant additional repair as well.”

If you come across gravel still on the road, it’s best to notify the city’s street crews at 503-823-1700 (not the 503-823-SAFE number used for other street safety issues, Dulken said).

“We know there’s still stray gravel out there, so our regular cleaning crews are willing to pick up stray gravel,” Dulken said.

In all, the city calculated that storm cleanup cost taxpayers about $740,000. In a news release last week, city transportation finance executive Alissa Mahar said the city has until June 30 to “create savings where possible to cover the additional storm costs.”

Update 4:30 pm: In the comments below, reader Mork shares the following troubling story about calling the number the city recommended for gravel pickup:

I just called the phone number Michael included in the post and the woman who answered it said “We aren’t picking up any more gravel.” I tried to negotiate a bit with her and told her that it was my understanding that the city would continue to pick up gravel in trouble areas, so she put me into a voicemail of a daytime street cleaning supervisor.

I think the City needs to get the messaging straight–are you DONE or not? There are clearly some forgotten spots.

Update 5:10 pm: Dulken says she “can’t comment on that particular conversation” but calls it “curious” and asks people not to hesitate to call 823-1700 with gravel reports.

“We are taking calls from members of the public,” Dulken said. “The information should have been relayed to dispatch and that should have been enough. … We’re done with the overtime, we’re done with the extra crew, and we still have our night cleaning crew in addition to our other duties.”

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  • Todd Hudson March 12, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    No kidding. I saw it in three different places on my commute!

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    • David March 12, 2014 at 2:50 pm

      I saw literally dozens of pieces of gravel just today!

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      • Chris I March 13, 2014 at 9:14 pm

        This is going to be on Bike Snob next week…

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  • q`Tzal March 12, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    Too bad it isn’t economically practical to crowd source the removal of gravel by offering a bounty for clean gravel that ODOT would have to pay to replace anyways.
    Certainly it would cost more per ton than just buying the gravel new but you have to add in the O&M costs for the equipment and manpower needed to remove everything they lay down TIMES the amount of time gravel is causing potential for lawsuits the government might be responsible for on at least some part.

    At a certain point of worrying about salt, gravel, ice, deployment, emergency response, lives and business lost it seems reasonable to just heat the road surface to 33F°. I like the the idea of doing this with waste heat from commercial buildings and industrial processes.

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    • Spiffy March 13, 2014 at 9:00 am

      if they handed out dustpans the homeless would collect gravel on the cheap…

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    • Todd Hudson March 13, 2014 at 9:54 am

      This could all be avoided if Portland sparingly used road salt *during snow emergencies only* (“x” inches accumulation and below freezing temps). Using salt for two-three days, once every five years, won’t be any more harmful than the sodium chloride that sewage treatment puts into rivers every single day. In a few days, the rain will wash it away.

      Chronic use of road salt is bad. But like fluoride and the sales tax, Portlanders have to be irrational and purist when it comes to things like this…

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      • q`Tzal March 13, 2014 at 11:44 am

        During the 2004(2003?) ice storm that coated all of the metro area east of the west hills in between ½”-3″ of sheet/black ice the city was almost totally shut down for commercial activity and everything else.
        At a certain point the city started panicking over tax revenue not coming in in thr millions. I often wondered if the EPA fines for using road salt that one time would have been cheaper than waiting for the ice to melt over a week later.

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        • davemess March 13, 2014 at 12:13 pm

          EPA fines for road salt? Please describe.

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          • q`Tzal March 13, 2014 at 1:54 pm

            This is an assumption based me not knowing of a “can’t use road salt in Oregon” law AND the historical track record of every government ever not sticking to principles when the economically expedient choice is available.

            The main argument against using road salt is environmental damage. If there is no law there must be a direct monetary reason road salt is not kept in reserve to keep Oregon’s biggest economic engine chugging along producing tax revenue during a winter weather event.

            Simple logic.
            Probably too simple; I expect that I’m missing pertinent data.

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  • Mork March 12, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    I just called the phone number MIchael included in the post and the woman who answered it said “We aren’t picking up any more gravel.” I tried to negotiate a bit with her and told her that it was my understanding that the city would continue to pick up gravel in trouble areas, so she put me into a voicemail of a daytime street cleaning supervisor.

    I think the City needs to get the messaging straight–are you DONE or not? There are clearly some forgotten spots.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) March 12, 2014 at 4:45 pm

      Hm, not good. I’ve posted this in the story above and emailed Dulken to see what she thinks.

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    • q`Tzal March 12, 2014 at 4:46 pm

      Is this a PBOT vs ODOT issue? Jurisdiction and who did what might be at the center of the problem.

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      • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
        Michael Andersen (News Editor) March 12, 2014 at 5:30 pm

        Dulken said the city is taking calls on any streets inside city limits and will either have their night crew do it themselves or push it to ODOT if it’s a state-owned street.

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        • Mindful Cyclist March 13, 2014 at 2:00 pm

          I just called the number because the exit ramp off the Jefferson st/jeld wen (okay, Prov Park) exit still has a lot of gravel on the shoulder all the way through the tunnel. She was friendly, but told me to call ODOT.

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          • Nathan March 13, 2014 at 3:45 pm

            Today, I called the Portland area ODOT number for reporting road hazards about that exact stretch. The person on the phone was friendly and said they would push the information along.

            Here are the ODOT dispatch numbers:
            Portland metro – 503-283-5859
            NW Oregon – 503-362-0457
            Southern Oregon – 541-858-3103
            Central Oregon – 541-383-0121
            Eastern Oregon – 541-383-0121

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            • Mindful Cyclist March 13, 2014 at 4:30 pm

              Great! I got busy at work after I posted that and did not have time to call. She did give me the number.

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      • Poisonpony March 13, 2014 at 7:53 am

        And don’t forget Tri Met, OHSU, and PCC.. They all put out gravel also. We have already swept up the 1,000yds we put out and there is still a lot out tbere. Tri Met blasted their bus routes.

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    • Poisonpony March 13, 2014 at 1:49 am

      Mork We are still out there sweeping gravel. If you have problems with a City employee ask for the bureau directors voice mail and make a complaint, or call 503-823-4000 and ask for HR and make a complaint.
      I work for you, some forget that. We are required to be courteous to citizens.

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  • Shyla O. March 12, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    122nd and Fremont near the I-84 path entrance is still a mess. Biking under that overpass with traffic just coming off the freeway, and not bring able to safely take the lane…what a nightmare.

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    • Mossby Pomegranate March 12, 2014 at 9:14 pm

      Ha…biking in that area under the best of conditions is a nightmare.

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      • Shyla O. March 13, 2014 at 6:14 am

        Even the sidewalk on the west side going under the overpass is choked with gravel. No idea how it got there. Seems unlikely it will ever get removed since it’s not on the street. But ironically, that sidewalk really is the only truly “safe” option for any north or southbound cyclist trying to connect to or from NE Portland and East County. Suppose it’s time to call that friendly lady…:/

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  • davemess March 12, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    So who has jurisdiction for the I-5 bridge (and some of the approaching paths (like coming off of Marine DR)?

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    • Poisonpony March 13, 2014 at 1:52 am

      Ramps on, and off a freeway are ODOT’s. PBOT right of way is the corner of the ramp.

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    • Jessica Horning March 13, 2014 at 9:19 am

      The I-5 bridge and ramps are ODOT’s. You can report any issues on ODOT facilities by calling 1-888-Ask-ODOT or filling out a form online at:

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  • davemess March 12, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    $740,000 is pretty sobering. (Granted I know that is not THAT much in government money, but when bike projects are usually looking at only getting a few million a year that is a good chunk of it).

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  • John Lascurettes March 12, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    Kudos to the cleanup crew. I will fully acknowledge that they’ve done a much better and expeditious job of cleanup compared to snowpocalypses past – but as others pointed out, there’s still problem spots. Thanks for the phone number and the repotting – I’ll be calling for a couple of the spots I still see.

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  • Cold Worker March 12, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    The city could (should) get parked cars off the streets they want to sweep. It does no good to run down streets with the street cleaners where they bounce in and out from between parked cars. Move your car or it gets towed. Tough shit. The city has a job to do and it should get done quickly and efficiently. Get some folks from the city to figure out the street cleaning schedule is, send out notes in the mail and clean the goddamn streets right. The first time. Act like a city, do your work.

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    • Poisonpony March 13, 2014 at 1:58 am

      The street cleaning crews have wanted that on some heavy parked up streets for a long time. Like sweeping NW 18th, and 19th. They could make it that on the first Tuesday of the month no parking on right side. First Wednesday, no parking left.

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      • Chris I March 13, 2014 at 8:15 am

        This is just good policy. It makes it next to impossible for people to park semi-functioning cars long-term.

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        • Cold Worker March 13, 2014 at 10:22 am

          That too. If parking is so f’ing valuable and hard to find (I don’t think it is but whatever) then this should be supported not only because streets will be cleaner but your neighbor that collects junked cars, he’s gonna likely end up losing some to the tow yard.

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  • Susan Otcenas March 12, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    Meanwhile, out in Washington County, the bike lanes are still littered with gravel everywhere.

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  • GlowBoy March 12, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    I noticed the newly clean bike lane coming down Barbur yesterday. Still a lot of debris on walkways though. The sidepath on the 99E viaduct (over the UP tracks), which I ride regularly coming downtown from Brooklyn, is still slathered in pea gravel. (Not that I care that much, just pointing it out).

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  • John Stephens March 12, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    Given the enormous cost of clean up, I have to wonder if spreading the gravel as generously as the city did was really all that valuable to drivers in the first place. I’ve driven on snow and can’t say that gravel ever helped that much. Thoughts?

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    • Poisonpony March 13, 2014 at 2:04 am

      I think the same way, coming from areas with severe winters. Sand inclines, and declines where you have to start and stop, and bad corners.

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  • pdx_arch March 12, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    Sorry, they can’t say this is done. There’s still plenty of gravel on Williams, Willamette, west Marine Drive is terrible. The Vancouver Ave bridge over the Columbia Slough is worse.

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  • Eric March 12, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    Maybe everyone should just buy a gravel bike and it wouldn’t be a problem?

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  • Schrauf March 12, 2014 at 9:58 pm

    What a joke. Some of the most central, highly used routes are still full of thick gravel. Eastbound just past the Broadway Bridge near the Rose Quarter, for one.

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  • Champs March 13, 2014 at 1:51 am

    Dumb luck that I’d been off the bike for three weeks, but Tuesday’s return to the saddle featured plenty of pea gravel. If straight lines feel pretty safe now, I’m not taking corners at speed.

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  • Poisonpony March 13, 2014 at 8:13 am

    We know we’re not done sweeping up the gravel. Call the 503-823-1700 number and tell us where the bad spots are. We get the service requests in our work orders on night shift. There is gravel put out by other agencies we don’t even know is there. If you know of a bad spot please call. I filled dump truck with gravel in just a few miles last night.

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    • Lisa March 13, 2014 at 12:01 pm

      You are awesome. Thanks for doing what you do!

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  • JL March 13, 2014 at 8:25 am


    The City cleans only streets with curbs. This policy was initiated after a 1979 Street Cleaning Study presented to City Council found that 97% of street debris lies within 40 inches of the curb. The accumulation of debris at the curb is caused by the design of the street and vehicular movement. Streets are designed with a crown in the middle sloping toward the sides. Water and debris move toward the curb and gutter areas. Vehicle movement scatters debris to the edges of traffic lanes.

    Streets with no curbs are affected by the same factors as curbed streets, but with no curb the debris is dispersed onto areas adjacent to the paved surfaces. Uncurbed streets are, in effect, self-cleaning. The policy recommendation of the study was that “no residential or arterial blockface be swept with a street sweeper unless a minimum of 75 percent of its length is curbed.”

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    • Oliver March 13, 2014 at 9:52 am

      I remember reading that before. Similar to the gas tax mess (% per gallon instead of per dollar), they’ve used the wrong metric in the model.

      Debris accumulates 40 inches from the edge of the travel lane, and yes on roads where there is a curb, this is where you’ll find it. But when you have 4 ft of bike lane or hard shoulder between the travel lane and edge of the pavement then that is where the debris accumulates.

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      • q`Tzal March 13, 2014 at 2:02 pm

        That’s why I call’em “debris lanes”. The bicycle community everywhere in America has been “gifted” the part of a paved road that all their design and engineering specifications say never needs to be cleaned.

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  • Spiffy March 13, 2014 at 8:57 am

    “have been cleared from the bike lanes and shoulders”

    “We know there’s still stray gravel out there”

    so which is it? have they cleared it up, or is it still out there? you can’t have it both ways…

    judging by my commute home yesterday I’m saying it’s still out there…

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  • Paul Atkinson March 13, 2014 at 10:33 am

    My commute is more or less clean and gravel-free from door to door at this point. While the puncturephilic nature of the gravel used still doesn’t please me, it’s hard to be in a bad mood when riding on this beautiful morning.

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  • Bald One March 13, 2014 at 11:31 am

    I have some experience with this to relate. Several days ago I called the 823-1700 number to request gravel cleanup in bike lanes related to post snowstorm. I was also told by the person who answered that the city is done with that program and all crews have returned to normal duty. Arghhh! But, she did transfer me to the voicemail of the daytime street sweeping supervisor. When those folks called me back and explained that I needed to speak with someone else – specifically the “night shift supervisor”, I was beginning to suspect the run-around from city. But, day shift turned out to be very helpful and friendly. Apparently, the city arterials with painted bike lanes that I tend to ride and which some still have thick gravel in the bike lanes, are swept by night shift, and day shift only sweeps the residential streets. So, I called the nightshift number (823-1740) and left a voicemail listing several streets with thick gravel still in the bikelanes. I was so incredibly pleased to see that nearly the entire list had been cleared last night and the lanes were free of gravel this morning. Wow, it was a great response from the city street crews. (Thank you, you know who you are. It means a lot).

    City still needs to coordinate their response a little better (why do I have to make 3 calls and leave voicemails with various people to get the correct response when you call the 823-1700 number?) They need to consider an alternative to gravel. Also, the sidewalks are a big problem with the gravel – some designated bike routes the city puts you up on the sidewalk for 100 yards or so and clearly the gravel gets spewed onto the sidewalks after just a few hours in the travel lanes by the actions of car tires. Who will clean the sidewalks? In the Port of Portland, their crew blew all the gravel off the MUP and sidewalks within days after the storm so the sidewalks and bike path were clear (they also had the snow cleared off the MUP immediately after the big storm! ). So, it is possible. And I don’t think it costs $300 Million – City that Works 😉 Focus more money and effort on maintenance of the infrastructure we have.

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  • kittens March 13, 2014 at 12:09 pm


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  • m bodd March 13, 2014 at 5:56 pm

    122nd between NE Shaver and NE San Rafael still have gravel filled bike lanes on MAR 14 th

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  • K'Tesh March 13, 2014 at 11:36 pm

    The gravel in the cycle track in front of PSU (SW Broadway and SW Harrison, SW Broadway and SW Hall) is still there as of when I went through there today.

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  • K'Tesh March 13, 2014 at 11:38 pm

    I should add that I got a flat tire not long after riding through the gravel piles there last Friday

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  • GlowBoy March 15, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    Found two more bike lanes full of gravel on the way home last night: Spring Garden Street where it crosses I-5 by Capitol Hill Elementary, and Barbur Blvd northbound towards downtown, starting where Naito Parkway splits off.

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    • Robert Burchett March 16, 2014 at 8:28 am

      West Burnside on Friday

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  • Robert Burchett March 16, 2014 at 8:29 am

    Oh heck. East. East Burnside.

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