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New fire bureau policy could allow speed bumps on more commercial streets

Posted by on March 21st, 2014 at 11:33 am

BAC bike ride-8

Speed bumps used to calm traffic on neighborhood greenways could be used on more streets under a new city policy — potentially with slices cut from them to allow emergency trucks to cruise through.
(Photos by J.Maus/BikePortland)

For years, as Portland has looked for ways to calm auto traffic in commercial districts like N Denver Avenue, SE Stark Street or NE 28th Avenue, the biggest tool in its shed — the speed bump — has been off limits.

“PBOT and Fire are in the middle of a conversation about the city’s emergency response network.”
— Diane Dulken, PBOT spokeswoman

The reason: Portland Fire and Rescue says major streets need to be flat and smooth enough for emergency trucks to rush down them, when necessary, without losing critical time when responding to emergencies.

But a new Fire and Rescue policy in the early stages of discussion would soften this rule by designating some major streets as being of secondary importance to emergency response routes. City officials say this might allow speed bumps on some such streets. But it’s not clear whether the decision by the city’s fire chief could be completed in time to affect the design of one street where the option might matter most: 28th Avenue.

“PBOT and Fire are in the middle of a conversation about the city’s emergency response network,” Portland Bureau of Transportation spokeswoman Diane Dulken wrote in an email Thursday. “As for 28th Avenue – it is way too soon to tell if traffic calming would be an option for any portion of that street.”

Bike corral on SE 28th at Ankeny-12

28th Avenue, looking north from SE Ankeny toward Burnside, in 2009.

Rich Newlands, project manager for the ongoing 20s Bikeway project, said Tuesday that he’d seen a map indicating that 28th between NE Sandy and SE Stark might be one of the streets that could be allowed to get speed bumps under a revised fire bureau policy. If the city were in fact able to add speed bumps on 28th and/or 26th, that’d be important because it’s a way to improve the street for biking somewhat without removing auto parking.

“Speed bumps alone… won’t make the route comfortable enough for the interested but concerned.”
— Carl Larson, BTA

A professional biking advocate who’s following the 20s Bikeway project said he didn’t think that adding speed bumps would be enough to make 28th truly welcoming to most Portlanders if they wanted to ride a bicycle there.

“Speed bumps alone (absent extreme woonerf-style traffic calming AND traffic diversion) won’t make the route comfortable enough for the interested but concerned,” Bicycle Transportation Alliance Advocate Carl Larson wrote Thursday. “It’ll only improve things for bolder users. That’s not in keeping with the city’s goals.”

If the city were to install a traffic diverter on 28th, forcing auto traffic to turn east or west at some point, Larson said that might reduce traffic volumes on 28th enough to make most people willing to ride on the street. But he said the city has resisted such a big change.

“I pushed for calming and diversion and was flat-out denied,” Larson said. “PBOT does not seem interested in changing the road’s functional designation.”

The city’s current plan for 28th, as well as for other two commercial districts along the 20s Bikeway, is a so-called “couplet” that would include buffered bike lanes in one direction along the corridor, green-backed sharrow markings in the other, and a nearby parallel neighborhood greenway for bikers who prefer not to use the shared lane.

One shared lane and one buffered bike lane is the city’s lead option for several stretches of the 20s Bikeway. But under current fire bureau policies, the city isn’t allowed to include speed bumps in either direction.

But the need to remove parking from 28th to make way for the buffered bike lane has some businesses and landlords worried that it’d make the district less convenient to visit, and some nearby residents worried that commercial parking would fill up neighborhood streets.

Even some bicycling advocates say traffic calming might actually be preferable to a one-direction bike lane. Kirk Paulsen, a professional traffic analyst and advocate for better biking who sits on the 20s Bikeway advisory committee, said that the combination of green-backed sharrows, slightly raised crosswalks and speed bumps might be enough to make most Portlanders feel comfortable biking on 28th.

“If all three of those treatments would be used in combination, I honestly believe that the street layout could be left with on-street parking on both sides AND attract a portion of the interested but concerned demographic of bike riders that is highly sought after,” Paulson wrote Thursday. “Personally, I’d be more in favor of that design that keeps the roadway symmetrical (to all users) and focuses most of its attention on calming traffic as opposed to fighting the political battle to remove parking on one side for a design that only works well in one direction. It’d be much easier for all users to know what is expected of them with that very simple but effective design of calming traffic.”

Dulken, the city spokeswoman, downplayed the importance of speed bumps to the city’s decision about the best design for 28th and other commercial districts along the 20s bikeway.

“Even if they would be an option on a portion of 28th, they would be a component in a larger street design and by themselves would not change the overall conversation of whether bike lanes belong on any portion of 28th,” Dulken said.

Larson, meanwhile, welcomed the fire bureau proposal and said it’d be “good news for other projects” if it comes together. Stay tuned — we’ll definitely be covering its progress.

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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Nick Falbo
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Nick Falbo

If traffic speeds can be brought down to a natural 10 mph (and I think they can with the right design, maybe even *without* speedbumps), then I’m with Kirk. A shared road can be comfortable for the interested but concerned.

PorterStout
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PorterStout

Is that what those slices in the speed bumps on NW Cornell are for? Emergency vehicles? I always assumed it was so bicycles could come down the hill at speed. That’s what I’ve used them for. 🙂 Interesting that PBOT’s emphasis is on preserving vehicle speed in case there is a future emergency situation, rather than reducing speed the rest of the time and thus perhaps preventing an emergency in the first place.

Todd Boulanger
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Todd Boulanger

This is an important and often forgotten discussion to have internally in a City…We in Vancouver (WA) had this internal discussion back in 2000-1 and it was very important as it allowed us to add traffic calming to arterials that had once been “hands off”.

There were two critical factors in adopting this policy change: (1) both public works and fire departments’ end goals were pubic safety/ injury prevention [in Vancouver <25% of all fire truck responses are for fires…as most of them were traffic related injuries] and (2) the adoption of speed cushions instead of speed humps was also critical (raised crosswalks were still allowed.)

Plus the Fire Department leadership realized over time that slower streets with traffic calming allowed more drivers to effectively yield to their operators and by requiring a 5 minute response window be maintained they would be more able to protect stations from closure…you may need more smaller dispersed stations or substations to keep the response time window low.

Todd Boulanger
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Todd Boulanger

PS. And perversely the addition of bike lanes and road diets along many major arterials also helped improve response times by giving yielding drivers more space to pull over in less time thus improving response times.

spare_wheel
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“Speed bumps alone (absent extreme woonerf-style traffic calming AND traffic diversion) won’t make the route comfortable enough for the interested but concerned,”

Uhmmm…my “interested but concerned” partner rides 28th. While it’s one of her least favorite places to ride in Sunnyside she is still willing to tackle it when we are in too much of a hurry to walk (always our first active transport choice).

“It’ll only improve things for bolder users. That’s not in keeping with the city’s goals.”

Jennifer Dill conducted research and reported numbers that contrasted starkly with the ones Geller pulled out of nowhere:

Strong and Experienced (most are not fearless):6%
Enthused and Confident: 9%
Interested but concerned who are comfortable riding in a bike lane: ~28%!

http://ppms.otrec.us/media/1343164608500f10c0b01a0.pdf

I personally have argued for the buffered bike lane option but I would certainly take speed bumps, less severe traffic calming, and super sharrows over nothing and I think that at least 25% of portland would be willing to ride 28th.

Sho
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Sho

This is ridiculous, how could you want to install speed bumps to slow traffic in order to protect pedestrians? Oh wait this is for cars, then we good.
http://bikeportland.org/2013/11/08/county-installs-speed-bumps-to-slow-down-riders-on-hawthorne-bridge-viaduct-96860

But in seriousness if money permits there are some much better options that don’t tempt cars to race around a cyclist between speed bumps on a narrow street only to have the cyclist catch up by the next speed bump and also allow for emergency traffic flow.

Adam
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Adam

Has it ever occurred to the Fire Bureau, that the easiest way to speed up their response time, would be to cut motor traffic congestion in half?

Perhaps by, say, oh, I don’t know! Traffic calming our streets, and making them more appealing to people walking, biking, and taking transit, so that motorists aren’t clogging up our arterials when the fire trucks need to get through?

I know. What a crazy idea! Motor traffic backed up six blocks on Burnside doesn’t impede emergency response times at ALL I’m sure. But a two-inch high speed table – OH MY GOD. The victims will be dead before the truck reaches them because of THAT.

Adam
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Adam

And let’s not even get started on the topic of how almost a third of all emergency responses are to MOTOR VEHICLE CRASHES.

Yes folks. Yet again, those pesky motorists sticking a wrench in the works of our public services.

dwainedibbly
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dwainedibbly

If PBOT is going to allow speed bumps/humps/tables, they better specify some sort of cuts in them so that bikes can avoid the obstacle.

jim
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jim

There is nothing like cruising down the road at speed in the back of an ambulance with an IV in your arm and the driver hitting speed bumps every couple of blocks.

Scott H
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Scott H

I hate speed bumps almost as much as I hate gravel.

Barbara Stedman
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Barbara Stedman

At some point there was a discussion about adding (Cornell like) speed bumps with gaps to SW Vermont as part of making this into a bike route (PBOT just started working on the sidewalk and bikelane construction between 30th and 35th). In one of the first community meetings PBOT said that Vermont could be the second road in Portland to get the divided speed bumps that they tested on Cornell. So I wonder if that’s still discussed for Vermont. After all it’s a steep hill so it’s easy to go beyond the speed limit downhill.

pennyfarthing
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pennyfarthing

In my experience speed bumps are a poor solution for traffic calming…they don’t even work for the most aggressive drivers…once those clowns figure out they can run them at well above the legal speed without damaging their cars those speed bumps just become a fun obstacle course where they get to launch their car. Motorcyclists really love them I have noticed…great fun!

In my unscientific assessment the only effective means of slowing ALL the cars is the implementation of roundabouts. Roundabouts also have the added benefit of reducing the severity of collisions at that intersection when they inevitably occur because instead of getting struck at 90 degrees broadside most collisions are angling sideswipes that are far less violent. The whole emergency response time is a red herring with regards to speed bumps anyhow…I live on N Alberta and the cops haul ass at 50+ mph over the speed bumps…no slower than they did before the bumps were installed. Roundabouts with through cuts for the emergency vehicles are the best long term traffic calming solution…but it will never happen do to the higher cost.

Something that is never discussed about speed bumps is the jarring noise they generate…every delivery truck with a loose loading platform, every landscaper’s trailer, every low front spoiler, every creaky suspension…CRASH!, K-BOOM!, SCRAPE!, CREAK!…all day and night…it is VERY noticeable and unavoidably intrusive…for the first month after the bumps were installed I was rushing to the front door daily thinking there were cars crashing in front of my house!

jim
Guest
jim

My favorite story was about a coast town where the state put in some bumps and the city came out with their bulldozer and took them out.

John Landolfe
Guest

I was at a friend’s house on Stark & 38th across from the playground full of children yesterday and (having not read this story yet) said to my friend, “how the hell are there no stop signs or speed bumps on this street?” Did I mention there was a playground of children? There was a playground of children.

paikikala
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paikikala

pennyfarthing
The whole emergency response time is a red herring with regards to speed bumps anyhow…I live on N Alberta and the cops haul ass at 50+ mph over the speed bumps…no slower than they did before the bumps were installed.

Police cars are like fire trucks the same way walking is like biking. Police vehicles have lots of added extras so they can safely operate at high speeds. Fire trucks only started getting shocks in the last 10 years. The horsepower to weight ratio is significantly different as well. Thanks for at least alerting us that you’re unscientific.