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Thoughts on “passing chaos” on new Williams Ave bike lane

Posted by on November 6th, 2014 at 11:32 am

Williams Avenue-7

No reason to panic.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

The new lane configuration is very different than the old one. And that seems to be causing some discomfort among those who use it.

Given that the project is not 100% complete, I have been holding my breath and deferring final judgment about how it’s working until everything is done. However, given that thousands of people are already using the street everyday, it’s probably a good time to chime in. Oh, and our fellow transportation reporter Joseph Rose also just posted a story (and video) about what has become the most talked-about issue of the project: In the new left-side bike lane should you pass other bicycle riders on the left or right?

Here’s the video from The Oregonian story:

We’ve gotten lots of comments and emails about this. Reader Joe L. emailed us last night to say that he’s so upset at the changes that he has vowed to never ride on Williams again.

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“I don’t know what everyone else’s experience is with N. Williams, but I, for one, am done,” Joe wrote. He added that he just “doesn’t get” the left hand bike lane: “Riders don’t know whether the slower riders should keep right or keep left.”

The reason this is even an issue is because most bike lanes are on the right side of the street and people have always been taught to “pass on the left.” So, now that the bike lane is on the left, does that still apply?

There’s no existing Oregon law that answers the question*, but we do have some guidance from PBOT. According to Rose, the City’s official recommendation is to pass on the right (and they’ll be adding pavement markings to help educate folks about this). The thinking is that slower, more cautious riders, should stay to the left — away from moving traffic and the onus for getting closer to harm’s way should be on the overtaking rider.

(*UPDATE: The BTA’s Carl Larson correctly points out that Oregon law does indeed answer the question. In his post “Keep left on Williams,” he explains how ORS 814.430 dictates that the proper riding behavior is to ride to the left except when you want to pass.)

In the several times I’ve been on Williams, I’ve gotten passed on both sides. The new lane is so wide (in most sections) that it seems as though as long as people warn you that they’re coming and pass courteously, there shouldn’t be any problems. It’s sort of strange to me that people need to know, definitively, which side they should pass on. I think the best answer to that question is: Stay calm and pass on whatever side makes sense and is safest given the situation that presents itself on the road.

Passing used to be a big problem with the old, narrow bike lane design. Hopefully we can move past this issue now that we’ve got about three times the space on most sections…

williamslane

And regardless of laws or how you’re “supposed to” do it, remember to have some class when you pass.

And as we discuss this passing issue, let’s keep in mind what real chaos looks like (photo taken just three months ago)…

Policymakers Ride 2014-62

— Stay tuned for more coverage of the changes on Williams.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. 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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zuckerdog
Guest
zuckerdog

Seems as easy as having a pavement marking in the bike lane:
“Pass on the Right” or “Slower Riders Stay Left”

browse
Guest
browse

MarioKart mushrooms stenciled on the tarmac on one side or the other would convey the message sufficiently for my tastes. 🙂

Adam H.
Guest
Adam H.

I could use a few spinning red shells to protect me from cars. 🙂

Edwards
Guest
Edwards

I see a Much worse issue when riding on Williams now, and the video even shows it! Cars encroaching into the bike lane to pass a bus… WTF?

Now when a bus stops I have to watch for the drivers to dart into the bike lane instead of wait patiently for the bus to start again?!

Arghhh!

ktmhz
Guest
ktmhz

This issue isn’t really unique to left hand bike lanes on one way streets — it’s just that everywhere else, the encroachment is due to impatience with a left-turning vehicle, not a stopped bus. I ride 52nd daily, and haven’t seen a day that this didn’t occur.

Maybe some of those half-sphere bump things along the white line would give at least folks in smaller cars the idea that they shouldn’t be doing that.
OR some real enforcement/education/punishment might also encourage folks in cars to stop doing whatever they feel like to shave off a few seconds.

Josh G
Guest
Josh G

Joe Rose’s video does show a lot of that. Even when they are encroaching less, they are still on top of the new buffer lines. We know how quickly they will be worn off by car traffic. I guess we will see the goat trails of facilities at every bus stop.

KristenT
Guest
KristenT

I see that a lot, down here in Tigard. People passing in the bike lane because they can’t wait for the turning car to make their turn, usually, as we don’t have left-side bike lanes.

Here’s in interesting tidbit I learned: It’s illegal to pass a bus that’s stopped to pick up/drop off passengers. However, people pass buses all the time with no repercussions, so you’d need to get the police to start targeting that as apparently, no one else knows that it’s illegal.

Alan 1.0
Guest
Alan 1.0

It’s illegal to pass a bus that’s stopped to pick up/drop off passengers.

Got an ORS number on that? I’m not finding it in the codes. There’s 811.155 “Failure to stop for bus safety lights,” but that’s about school and religious buses carrying children (818.260), and transit buses like Metro don’t have those lights.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

“It’s illegal to pass a bus that’s stopped to pick up/drop off passengers.”

A city bus? Really? What ORS/City ordinance/Administrative rule is that? I always knew school buses and “worker transport” buses, but thought city buses weren’t in that “do not pass” category. I passed a city bus twice today on my way in, on the left of course; had no idea it’s one more way I could be considered a scofflaw.

Gary
Guest
Gary

That’s clearly not right. If it were, Trimet busses wouldn’t bother to remind us the law requires you to yield to them–they’d just tell us you can’t go around at all!

Tyler Milhem
Guest
Tyler Milhem

I have noticed that too. I ride the bus every day up North Williams and the reduction of traffic lanes has moved the conflict from the bikers and Tri Met to the autos and Tri Met. The cars no longer have a lane to pass the bus when pulled over. The reduction in lanes has also seemed to increase my commute time by a substantial amount.
That being said, I hope this project improved safety for bikers at least marginally. It was very dangerous prior to the change.I would gladly take the increase in my commute time if the change resulted in even a small increase in safety for Portland’s bikers.

stasia:)
Guest

Thanks for the reminder to pass with class. I’m with you on this: as long as we can all be courteous adults, it seems like there’s plenty of room. The key there is the courtesy, and remembering that whether you’re passing or being passed, you’re not the only important person on the road. 🙂

Dave
Guest
Dave

I’ve been riding it home every night right around 5:15 and I haven’t experience any “chaos’ at all. I’ve found it to be so much better than the old design. Sure some people have passed me on both sides but it’s hardly been an issue as the lane is so wide. I’ve been passing on the right with a ring of the bell and a “on your right’ most riders seems to be sticking to the middle of the lane anyway so their’s plenty of room to pass safely. Maybe I’m just not there when there’s a ton of riders and it gets worse at different times. But I can’t imagine being done with it and never riding Williams before because of this slight issue. It seems odd to me how quickly people have forgotten just how terrible the old lane was! narrow, no room to pass safely without jumping into the lane, buses in and out of it all the time, cars turning right all the time. That was real chaos… this is just very mild growing pains.

davemess
Guest
davemess

Come on Dave, admit it, nobody ever passes you……

Phil
Guest
Phil

I just pass in the auto lane. Easier, safer, and I don’t have to announce myself to anyone.

SJ
Guest
SJ

I’ll never ride Williams again–don’t trust drivers to understand what’s going on. Bike lanes are on the right. Putting this one on the left is confusing and doesn’t solve the problem it set out to solve. Lots of other ways to go, all safer.

Reza
Guest
Reza

In order to avoid a huge hill from downtown to N/NE Portland, you have Williams, Rodney, MLK and 7th, and one of those is a non-starter and another is a busy two-lane street with almost no bike facilities. That constitutes “lots of other options”?

SJ
Guest
SJ

Let’s talk routes. I work downtown, live in NE (20th and Fremont). I also work in SE on 50th and Belmont. I hardly ever take the same way home from either office. If a street is poorly designed, poorly marked or just plain dangerous, I take another way.

Which huge hill?

oliver
Guest
oliver

That door zone buffer looks confusing. Current buffers (appear, at least to me to) function as defacto “fast” lanes. Normal riders ride in the bike lane, and stronger more confident (impatient) riders can ride closer to the traffic, passing on the left in the narrow, buffer lane. I can’t see why this shouldn’t work in reverse on left hand bike lane.

The door zone line is out of place, parked cars (generally) don’t need a buffer lane to help to keep them from being hit by cyclists.

John Lascurettes
Guest

I wish they’d put crash hashes in the buffer zones. All those parallel lines are on the verge of op-art. There really should be a more clear demarkation of “this is a no drive, no park zone”

John Lascurettes
Guest

* cross hashes

Champs
Guest
Champs

“Pass with class” is the best advice, but I’d still prefer conventional arrangements.

Take this imbroglio how you like, but at least PBOT will have learned a few things about unconventional designs before going too far into the deep end. Just imagine the chorus of too-much (“The water house all over again!”) and not-enough (“Not first-class enough!”) cranks were this a botched two-way cycle track.

Gregg
Guest
Gregg

I for one, love the new change. I was not in favor of making the change, but now, given the absence of the risk of getting doored, and the extra room, I suspect many more people will ride this corridor and I love it.. A big thumbs up for me. I have ridden it through the transition and think in time, that people will be safer on Williams. Well done planners.

Paul Wilkins
Guest
Paul Wilkins

I ride this cooridor year-round, from end to end (except when it’s icy, I’m too old for that nonsense). I, for one, think the changes are mostly positive. I weave in and out of the slowbies to make the lights and don’t have a problem with any of it. Except that gaping chasm at Cook. I don’t like that at all.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

I’ve ridden Williams multiple times with the new bike lane in varying states of completion, and I’ve passed and been passed on either side. Users’ practices aren’t consistent yet, but there is so much room in the new lane that it doesn’t matter.

If you can manage to walk down a sidewalk without stressing out about how the crazy pedestrians are willy-nilly passing each other on both the right and the left, you can probably ride Williams without drama.

And if you want to be told exactly what to do, it appears that pavement instructions are coming soon.

The problem with the “conventional arrangement” of right-side bike lane was that the whole laneful of cyclists got squeezed to a halt whenever a bus pulled over to its stop. And that the driver’s door of a parked car is more likely to swing open than the passenger’s door, because most cars are single-occupancy. I think the left-side bike lane might well become the conventional arrangement for one-way streets.

are
Guest

i do realize that the conversation on bus hopping on williams has long since closed, and i did participate in the conversation when it was happening. but i will just footnote once again that it was never a good idea to ride to the right of a bus, bike lanes be d*mned, and whenever a bus would pull over to a stop the straightforward maneuver was to pass the stopped bus on the left. i managed williams in this manner for years and never had any difficulty.

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

i personally have absolutely no need for bike infrastructure on a relatively safe and low-speed road like williams. but the new bike lane is not for me, it’s for people who are not comfortable passing “the stopped bus on the left”.

Carina
Guest
Carina

> It’s sort of strange to me that people need to know, definitively, which side they should pass on.

Really? It’s strange to want some guidelines to help traffic feel predictable? I want to know because: 1. I’m afraid to pass multiple people at a time. When Williams is at its busiest, passing multiple people means weaving in and out, which feels less safe than simply staying to the left or right of the slower riders. 2. When I’m not passing, I want to know which side to ride on to make it easiest for people who wish to pass me. 3. A lot of people still ring bells to pass, but this only adds to the confusion if there’s no consensus about which side to pass on. Announcing “on your (left/right)” is now the ONLY way to pass. This may be a minor complaint, but I find it frustrating.

gutterbunnybikes
Guest
gutterbunnybikes

Usually when I use my bell I want you to stay the course you’re on. If you do that, then I’ll find my way around. The only other time I use it is if you’re part of a group taking the whole lane then it’s a request for someone to make a gap.

Most the time I try not to use the bell or vocal warnings, people are usually too unpredictable in their responses to them. Some move left, some move right, some stop, some turn around to look, some jump in surprise.

Typically I just slow down till I see my opening then I take it. Seems to work, haven’t hit anyone yet.

joel
Guest

frankly, ive found the car drivers to be handling the change better than the bikes. bikes passing on the curb/gutter side, bikes using the narrow buffer lane as the bike lane etc etc. a bit more chaos than the old arrangement, especially as people get used to things, and just as many riders falling into the spectrum of unobservant to just plain rude. ive found the cars to be doing pretty well with it, considering how erratic the bikes are. the passing issue seems simple to me. if the bike lane is on the right (gutter on the right), pass on the left. if the bike lane is on the right, pass on the right. NEVER pass in the gutter. passing on the non-traffic side can cause an unaware rider (the vast majority of riders on n williams) to move towards traffic. this is *bad*. dont do it. grow a pair of whatever you feel like growing, and pass on the traffic side. the new bike lane appears to be wider, so its more acceptable to pass in the bike lane (whereas in the old bike lane on the right side, this almost always resulted in crowding the passed rider), but im still a firm believer in leaving your lane to pass. i move to the left (in the case of this left-side lane), into the car lane, to pass a rider in the bike lane. if i cant do this safely, i wait to pass. patience, also not a strong point of the n williams bike commute.

Joseph Rose
Guest
Joseph Rose

Edwards
I see a Much worse issue when riding on Williams now, and the video even shows it! Cars encroaching into the bike lane to pass a bus… WTF?
Now when a bus stops I have to watch for the drivers to dart into the bike lane instead of wait patiently for the bus to start again?!
Arghhh!
Recommended 3

I agree. I saw that problem (cars using the bike lane) at least five times while shooting that video on Wednesday night.

John Lascurettes
Guest

I stated it elsewhere. If there were just a few diagonal hash marks in the buffer zones per block (seriously, how much cost does that add), it would be immensely clear that it is a (relatively) narrow lane for bikes and not cars. As it stands right now, there’s just a weird mix of a ton of closely spaced parallel white lines.

Kirk
Guest

THIS!

Adam H.
Guest
Adam H.

PBOT should really add some hash marks in the bike lane to designate the buffer zone. The three parallel lines are visually confusing.

John Lascurettes
Guest

Four parallel lines in some parts.

KVC
Guest
KVC

I stopped riding Williams when the construction started, but have just tried it out again this week. In my opinion, it’s working pretty well- definitely better than I expected. I expect it will be even better in another few weeks once the construction is over, people have gotten more used to it and some of the traffic re-routes to I5, Interstate, MLK, etc. I think the sketchiest part is right by the New Seasons parking lot entrance. People are trying to turn in, pull out and move over to turn left on Fremont. I don’t know how to design it safer, but it seems like a hazardous area.

Mark P.
Guest
Mark P.

I’m trying to hold off on judgement until it is finished as well. One thing I have noticed is that a lot of people take a right on Going from Williams and the left hand turn lane makes this maneuver more difficult, especially since the road is at a slight incline in this area.

Joe
Guest
Joe

I’m Joe from the article. The “which side to pass on” was the least of my concerns when I wrote to Jonathan. My point was that I don’t see the logic behind the left hand lane, in that it is out of the ordinary and drivers and cyclist don’t know what to do with it. I was mostly concerned that, and witnessed, drivers are not accustomed to looking left for bikes. In much the same way that, if people in parked cars look for bikes before they open their doors, it’s the driver not the passenger.

John Lascurettes
Guest

I ride Williams for exactly two and a half blocks, from Page to Knott. That means I rapidly have to jump over two car lanes to make my right at Knott (or sometimes I’ll turn right at Russell if the light is red there). So, it’s a bit higher pressure for me for that reason – but I haven’t had any cars giving me any gruff for doing so yet. One of these days, I’ll ride further up Williams just to see how it is on a bike. Driving it so far is not as disastrous as I expected. I have noticed from a car that it is just as hard to spot bike ninjas that don’t have good-working front lights.

shooffee
Guest
shooffee

Yeah not a big fan of these right hand turns from the left hand bike lane, Knott or Russell. My options are: looking over my right shoulder which feels weird and then attempting to cut over to the right or making a Copenhagen Right. Neither is as safe or easy as the right hand turn from the right hand lane. Sorry taking the lane the whole way to my turn is a non-option for this cat. I kinda like the old Williams better.

Gumby
Guest
Gumby

The problem I’m having on Williams is that it is much harder to pass other bikes now. Some people ride down the center, some down the right and some down the left so that there is no way to get through all of that. I used to be able to pull out into the vehicle lane to pass, but with the road diet, the vehicle lane is always full. I would like to see a lane divider down the bike lane to make fast and slow lanes. The only positive out of it for me so far is not having to play leap-frog with the bus.

Dwaine Dibbly
Guest
Dwaine Dibbly

I’d like to see PBOT put signs every couple of blocks, and do the same thing anywhere else they put in a left-side bike lane. We’re establishing a precedent here and proper behavior needs to be absolutely clear to everyone.

Tophermcgarry
Guest
Tophermcgarry

Totally awesome! Thanks PBOT.

velogusto
Guest
velogusto

I rode this recently, and found it challenging due to construction activity. That being said, it still “made sense” to me and just felt like a bike lane on the other side of the street.

Making a right turn was just as challenging as making a left previously.

IMO, hitting the intersection perpendicularly always feels safer if the flow of traffic is fast and/or there are multiple lanes.

Then again, I’m just commuting and not racing ;D

Tim Roth
Guest

Does anyone else feel incredibly awkward at the intersection with Alberta? The striping and angles are so busted that the left turn lane traffic is basically all on my ass while I’m trying not to ride into the car lane that is going straight through the intersection. The angle is really weird and seems to need hash marks going through the intersection.

Joebybike
Guest
Joebybike

I commute a short distance on Williams every day as well and agree with others that it has been better than anticipated, with some notable exceptions- mostly related to folks being confused about the markings or just being rude.

I turn right onto Tillamook and that is my one complaint of the configuration. I make sure I signal very clearly to the bikes zooming up behind me while looking over my shoulder to find a break in the auto traffic. I’ve ended up turning one block early or one block late in order to make the turn with minimal disruption to those around me. I agree with John who called this “high pressure”.

Eric
Guest
Eric

I don’t ride much on Williams but I cross it where the Going greenway jogs to Blandena. The left bike lane makes this a much easier transition.

Andy K
Guest
Andy K

This facility has a lot of confusion right now, but it also has a ton of potential – low vehicle speeds and lots of bikeable space to work with. I think they’ll figure it out eventually:

1. Signage, stenciling, education, and slogans to reinforce slower riders should keep left and passing should be done on the right.

2. All cyclists should hold their line and signal when passing, stopping, or turning.

3. Diagonal or Chevron stripes in the buffered areas. ALWAYS keep the paint fresh.

4. Major education and/or enforcement for drivers who use the bike lane to pass buses.

^ Number 4 really scares me because cyclists are not typically looking right for cars and drivers aren’t looking left for bikes, as others have already mentioned. Fast cyclists need to be super aware because they could be overtaking several cyclists at the same time (even passing a passing cyclist) while traveling at a greater speed than the adjacent motor vehicles.

Steve D
Guest
Steve D

Having the bike lane on the left seems safer as far as avoiding mixing with buses. However, since most people have their bicycle mirror mounted to the left side, it’s not possible to see cars or bicycles approaching from the right side without turning your head which causes for surprises from people passing on the right.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

Hmm. How did we ride before helmet mirrors?

Jacob Mason
Guest
Jacob Mason

If Williams actually gets 4,000 bike per hour, then it likely moves significantly more people on bikes than in private cars during those hours.

Joe
Guest
Joe

I really hope this project works out the way everyone wants it to. The reason I said I was done riding N. Williams is because, now, it’s sensory overload. I used to like it when I got to N. Williams on my commute. I’d shoot up the bike lane and only have to look out for doors and pedestrians. I never experienced the bus issues that seem to be a common complaint. Either there was enough auto traffic that the bus never caught up to me, or there was so little auto traffic that I would just take the lane and pass it. I’m glad that most people seem to like the changes. Maybe I just don’t like change. It does seem like always having the bike lane on the same side of the street would reduce confusion and accidents. Hopefully, when presented with a different situation, everyone slows down and thinks a little more about what they’re doing. If they aren’t busy texting.

Lizzie
Guest
Lizzie

I love the bike lane space and double lines. My only question is – how do you safely leave Williams to get onto another street?

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

Turn left – easy, signal left turn, turn your head to check for another cyclist on your left, move to the left side of the bike lane, and turn.

Turn right – about 1/2 block before your desired street, start signaling right turn, check for cars and cyclists, move to the right side of the bike lane, and when it is clear, merge into the car lane and then turn from there. If car traffic is just too thick, I personally would stop on the right edge of the bike lane at the intersection and watch behind you for an opening in traffic, while signaling right turn. Maybe some would prefer to turn left on the street then u-turn and wait at the intersection, as if you were crossing Williams.

Basically turning right is like turning left used to be, and vice versa. There’s no way to avoid having to turn your head and merge into the car lane, sometimes. It’s all part of riding a bike in the city, which is as much a learned skill as driving a car in the city. But there is effectively no formal training for most bike riders, so we learn on the job, so to speak.

Vanessa
Guest

I rather like being to the left of the cars in a much wider space, and I am sure that once all the construction is done, it will be even better. One thing I noticed while driving it was that it gets real confusing when two car lanes open up at Williams and Russell, but then a few blocks in one of them turns into a left turn only lane with no previous announcement until you are right on top of the turn arrow on the pavement. If you think you are going straight, all of a sudden you either have to merge right quickly, if a car is not there, or stop, as a bike lane appears right in front of you. More signage needed earlier on about that being a left turn only lane for cars please.

Joey
Guest
Joey

I find the new design to be convoluted and in a way more dangerous. Cars still have to cut through the bike lane to park, and now share one lane with buses which markedly slows down traffic and causes impatience in drivers. And now bicycling the route I have to keep 360 degree vigilance for left turning cars on the right and people pulling out on the left. The whole thing seems to be predicated on people knowing and obeying the rules, which is naive city planning. The design should be self enforced.
I don’t see why left hand parking couldn’t be eliminated, the two lanes moved all the way left and street parking on the right acting as a buffer for a widened bike lane all the way right. Seems a no-brainer to me but maybe I’m missing something that stopped the planners from doing this?

Lenny Anderson
Guest
Lenny Anderson

Joey,
What you are missing is that Williams is a major transit street, hence the left side bike lanes. I was up there the other night in my motor vehicle, and its slow (thank God!), and there are motorists who flunked kindergarten using the left lanes to gain a few feet.
But signage will get better…warning that the left lane ends, and when all the construction is over, things should settle down. But I still saw a 30mph speed limit sign! What’s up PBOT? Between Cook and Skidmore, at least, they need to get those 20 mph signs up and flagged!!