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Why Portland needs stronger design standards for construction zones

Posted by on October 20th, 2014 at 12:16 pm

Bike traffic on NW Broadway-9

A construction project is currently blocking that entire right lane where all the bicycle riders are, forcing people into a mixed-zone environment with only humans as traffic calming measures.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

What a difference a few days can make.

On October 8th I tweeted with glee at how a Portland Water Bureau crew maintained a dedicated bicycle lane on NW Broadway and Hoyt during a major sidewalk construction project.

Unfortunately, today that temporary bikeway is completely gone. Instead, there are two standard lanes with nothing more than “Bicycles in Roadway” and “Bike lane closed” signage a half-block prior to the intersection. Here’s the very unfortunate situation that exists now:

bikelane-no1

Heading south into downtown on Broadway through NW Hoyt intersection this morning.
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Not befitting of a great cycling city.

What happened?

As we pointed out last year, this section of Broadway sees some of the highest volumes of bicycle traffic anywhere in the city. In fact, there was so much bicycle congestion here that the Bureau of Transportation redesigned the bikeway to make it wider.

So, to have a city crew come in and create a situation where there’s zero dedicated space for bicycles is a bit troubling — especially after initially getting it right.

It seems clear that this is just another example of how the city needs more stringent standards for how construction crews sign their project zones. It should be spelled out clearly on all project permits that if a dedicated bicycle route exists, the project must maintain an equal or greater level of access, or a fully-signed and reasonable detour should be implemented. Failure to do this should result in fines and/or a revocation of the permit until bicycle access is restored. That seems like a reasonable approach from a city transportation department whose leader is committed to Vision Zero.

At last check, the BTA was looking into this issue. With all the construction going on in this town, hopefully it’s still on their radar, and hopefully PBOT and other agencies that work on our streets are paying attention.

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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dachines
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dachines

As bad as this is, I think it is equally as bad that the city allows sidewalks to be completely closed for construction. In most any other city that I have lived in or visited at least some form of pedestrian pathway is required to be maintained, typically in the form of a scaffolding protected walkway (protection afforded from the sides and from above).

TonyT
Guest
TonyT

I’m constantly amazed at how little effort is put into making accommodations for sidewalk closures as well. Elderly and handicapped pedestrians are often just left hanging, forced to backtrack and reroute, all with an implied “just deal with it.” There’s gotta be an ADA lawsuit just waiting to happen.

Sidewalks and bike lanes simply go away with a lack of alternative routing that would never be tolerated for motor vehicle traffic.

Jack
Guest
Jack

The detour that’s been in place on the Eastbank Esplanade for months where the new fire station is being built is pretty bad. It’s poorly lit, constantly changing and there are often construction vehicles driving or parked in the middle of the detour.

Weaving through the many turns on uneven terrain is oddly remnant of a cross race, though I wouldn’t recommend trying to pass anyone.

Champs
Guest
Champs

Too many gutter bunnies in that last photo.

The driver of that minivan cannot safely pass there. Take the lane to make sure they either switch or wait behind. It’s a short stretch of slow-moving Broadway traffic. Construction is the impediment. You are fantastic.

daisy
Guest
daisy

Yes, I agree! I also think the city allows large-scale construction projects to close off sidewalks, bike lanes, and roads for way too long.

A couple of examples:
SW Park Ave southbound (heading towards PSU) is a popular alternative for cyclists wanting to skip the chaos and hotel/door zone on Broadway. However, a one-block stretch, between Morrison and Yamhill, has been closed for months. This is also the part of town where it’s illegal for bikes to ride on the sidewalk, which is already busy with pedestrians going to and from nearby Max stops. Yet, it seems like the builders have enough room that they could have left open a narrow stretch for bikes on the road, even if it was still closed to car traffic. Or, the construction could have closed the block in front of Nordstroms, which isn’t as popular with cyclists (it’s downhill, so stopping every block on Park gets annoying).

On NE MLK and N Williams near Fremont, some construction projects have had sections of sidewalks closed for months. MLK in particular is busy enough that crossing the street isn’t always easy or convenient, and sometimes people try to sneak around in the busy roads, which is pretty dangerous. Yet, I see no urgency on the part of contractors to re-open these sidewalks.

I wonder if city transportation engineers are asked to look at these areas and encourage/require builders to come up with alternative or time-limited plans? Is there some incentive to re-open quickly, or penalty if they block sidewalks and roads for too long? I’d like to see builders pay a fee that goes to Vision Zero when they close public areas for their work.

Huey Lewis
Guest
Huey Lewis

I was coming in to say the exact same thing the few posts above me have said. We were in SF not too long ago and I was stoked that at all the construction we encountered we never once had to cross the street to continue our walking.

Again, Portland absolutely must do better.

RH
Guest
RH

Yeah, the Broadway construction is a mess especially when cars and bikes start moving from the green light. Everyone just crosses their fingers and hopes and no body gets hit and that the cars will respectfully allow the bikes to merge into their lane in a few feet. Second class.

jeg
Guest
jeg

I’m of two minds about this. I get it’s a safety issue, but I fear more regulations placed on developers will just prevent density that would make our city even more bikeable.

Andy K
Guest
Andy K

Outrage over temporarily closing bike lanes and forcing peds to cross the street?

Not only are these temporary traffic control measures not unacceptable, they’re the standard, when signed properly. At a minimum, there should be signage in the pictures above informing road users that the bike lane is ending, so cyclists know to merge into the car lane and claim it. (This helps drivers, too)

Peds and cyclists are still considered by many to be second class road users who aren’t in a hurry, so inconveniencing them is not a big deal.

Thanks for covering this, Jonathan.

Cairel
Guest
Cairel

PDX needs stronger design standards for bicycles. Period. ; )

Bald One
Guest
Bald One

Portland BDS just a front for developers and a mechanism to collect permit fees. No enforcement of active jobs and poor planning to reduce impact to area and inconvenience to locals. Convenience to contractors seems to be priority. Utility cuts of pavement for new hookups and construction on high volume bike lanes around town is a good example.

groovin101
Guest
groovin101

A few weeks back, I was commuting East on Halsey around 107th or so and it was under major construction. With no notice, the bike lane abruptly ended and I was forced to choose between taking the single lane with 35mph+ traffic or head up onto the sidewalk. I chose the sidewalk, but as it turns out, quite a few people actually *walk* there. I was riding gingerly, but I found myself pushed into the construction to avoid hitting a blind man. When I tried to get back out, the lip back up caught my tire and I bit it hard.

As I lay there, the blind man asked if I was ok. I thanked him before getting up, picking the gravel out of my skin, and tried to straighten out my derailleur. I used the rest of my ride to ponder vulnerable road users.

Portland, we can do better.

Mark
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Mark

This is a major issue, city-wide. Case in point, Williams/Vancouver.

Reza
Guest
Reza

I urge people to read this example from DC as a model for how pedestrian access can be handled better at construction sites. Only during a complete demolition does DDOT recommend completely closing the sidewalk.

http://ddot.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/ddot/publication/attachments/pedestrian_safety_and_work_zone_standards_covered_and_open_walkways_july_2010.pdf

Key paragraph: “It is general policy of DDOT that…traffic control plans should replicate the existing pedestrian pathway as nearly as practical and that the pedestrian pathway should not be severed or moved for non-construction activities such as parking for vehicles or the storage of materials or equipment.”

J_R
Guest
J_R

Construction of the Portland-Milwaukie LR line is another example of poor attention to bicyclist’s needs. There’s a new light rail station being constructed at the Bybee Street overcrossing that entails widening the structure. The eastbound bike lane was closed for about four months and was finally reopened, but now the westbound bike lane is closed.

There is no alternative route and the only option that would allow continuous bike lanes would involve flagging cars through the construction zone since there’s only a single auto lane in each direction. However, it is apparent that TriMet and the contractor consider the closure of the bike lane to be of no consequence. I think with some proper planning the closure of the bike lane could be limited to a few weeks rather than a few months.

I did complain to TriMet, but I’m sure what is allowable is already specified in the contract.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Yes this is such an important traffic safety and livability issue…now that we have spent all these decades and millions to make bike transportation viable.

There is NO logical reason to support closing one side of the street to ped and bike traffic when on-street parking is retained and protected – for planned development work. This should be the first work zone related policy that has to END if the City’s leadership is serious about Vision Zero [for ALL roadway users, the vulnerable ones especially!].

The planning for closures related to “emergency” street repairs will take longer due to these sections having a “carde blance” to get things done. Perhaps it will take a generation of cyclists working for these teams to get into leadership roles to fix it…

Support the BTAs effort to reform these dangerous practices!

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

A platinum level bike work zone practice might look a bit like this tool that the Dutch use frequently (I have ridden through many):

https://www.flickr.com/photos/cbrunn/4752990024/in/photolist-aZtDta-8f1jkS

Alex Reed - BikeLoudPDX
Guest

BikeLoud is interested in bringing more attention to this issue as part of the long-term follow-up to the Clinton construction diversion issue. Anyone with ideas on how to do that well is welcome to emails bikeloudpdx@gmail.com or join our google group, bikeloudpdx@googlegroups.com

Matti
Guest
Matti

Great article! For all of us: Be a squeaky wheel! I suggest writing PBOT. They are pretty responsive to email questions and comments. They need to be aware of the extent of this problem.

My daily route includes 3 locations of impediments due to construction and most could be easily solved with impacting the construction if someone actually thought and cared about it.

drew
Guest
drew

the Bybee bridge is now a construction zone that forces bicyclists out of the bike lane into the “take the entire lane- strong and fearless” category for a few hundred yards, up and over a hill. The people standing in the bike lane wearing safety vests (who are in charge of managing the traffic) are as confused about what bikes should do as most bicyclists are (you gotta take the lane). Motorists who feel entitled to the public space may bully you with their audible warning device. Where before parents may only have some concern about taking their kids over this important bridge, now they shouldn’t even try; just use the SUV instead. If you have one.

sd
Guest
sd

Yes, I have thought about this so much.

Do the construction workers have carte blanche to just make up whatever they feel like on any given day? I remember the “get off your bike and walk” treatment during the moody construction, or the police giving out tickets to bikers who didn’t know how to navigate the convoluted SE division and 11th cluster.

Sometimes their improvisations seem thoughtful; Sometimes they seem sadistic.

Speaking of making up things as we go along, do we pass each other on the right or on the left on Williams 2 (electric boogaloo) ?

Steve N
Guest
Steve N

I knew I should have taken a picture this morning to add to this discussion.

Story Time: I was riding West on NE Broadway this morning around 7:25 and just before the Williams intersection there was a line up of about 8 plastic drums positioned on the left hand bike stripe, which was followed up with a “Right Lane Closed Ahead” sign positioned in the middle of the bike lane. I looked ahead and there was no signage beyond the intersection and no one performing any work, so lacking any clear direction on how else to cross Williams I decided to push the sign aside. I then proceeded to the dedicated bike crossing and went on my merry way as usual.

I’d classify myself as the strong fearless-ish type, but a less advanced rider may have decided to move into the adjacent auto only lane, which as many know, would place a rider between TWO right turn only lanes – a very notorious right hook location.

Construction signage continues to be a real problem in this town for modes other than automobiles, and PBOT is really dropping the ball on education/monitoring.

Another issue I’ve encountered far too often lately is when the portable sign stands are positioned such that the diamond fabric portion of the sign is halfway in the bike lane – mostly an annoyance, but representative that the understanding of bicycling is not understood by the crews setting up these signs…or is it just a sign that bicycling is still very marginalized by construction crews outside of direct PBOT control??

Dwaine Dibbly
Guest
Dwaine Dibbly

It’s almost as though the City is encouraging people on bikes to take the lane, which is what I do. In a construction zone motorists expect “atypical” behavior, so why not? That said, I do agree with the premise of this article.

F.W. de Klerk
Guest
F.W. de Klerk

Well this further cements our “Plastic” status as a cycling city.

Carrie
Guest
Carrie

Last week, while running, I saw a “strong & fearless” rider take the lane on Bybee, with plenty of space between her and traffic, and she got COMPLETELY tailgated, flipped off, and cursed at by a car driving Way Too Fast on Bybee that came up behind her. I usually give most drivers the benefit of the doubt, but this guy was awful. And the cyclist did exactly what she was supposed to do, given that the bike lane (and sidewalk, even though I don’t consider that an option) was 100% blocked

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

I’ve been ranting about this issue a lot lately, as I’m sure some BP readers have noticed. With all the construction this year – for me, Multnomah Boulevard, Barbur Blvd, Beaverton-Hillsdale, Division and parts of downtown – I’ve really started to notice it more than in the past, both on foot and on a bike.

Seems to be standard practice to terminate pedestrian and bike facilities through a construction zone while cars get a free pass. I think it should be mandatory that if motor vehicle access is preserved, other modes’ access should be too. If for some reason access can’t be provided, detours should be reasonable and well-signed. Which is almost never the case today, especially out in SW Portland where I’ve been detoured like crazy this year, and where alternate routes can be nonexistent.

Lou Elllott
Guest
Lou Elllott

A disturbing example of the message in a great “Best Bicycle Infrastructure Cartoon” – if roads were like bike lanes.

http://media.treehugger.com/assets/images/2014/10/if-roads-were-like-bike-lanes1.jpg.662x0_q100_crop-scale.jpg

Clark in Vancouver
Guest
Clark in Vancouver

Here are some of David Hembrow’s blog posts about what they do in The Netherlands when there’s construction. Impressive. A lot of it is pretty simple really but of course originates from the position that cycling is a valid form of transportation.

http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2008/09/road-works.html

http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2010/08/road-works-vs-dutch-cyclist.html

http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2011/08/cycling-in-large-building-site.html

http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/search/label/road%20works%20vs.%20the%20dutch%20cyclist