Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick has responded to a volunteer advocate’s letter about the dangerous bicycling conditions on SW Barbur Blvd.
Last week we published a letter from Kiel Johnson, a man who has pushed for a road diet on Barbur through the grassroots Friends of Barbur group. The letter came after the Oregon Department of Transportation revealed results of their traffic study on the street that was conducted last fall during a construction project. While Novick had promised that PBOT would use the study to assess safety concerns, ODOT staff said safety wasn’t a priority of the study.
Commissioner Novick responded to Johnson via the email below (dated January 30th, emphases mine):
Thanks for your email following up on PBOT and ODOT’s exploration of possible safety improvements on SW Barbur Boulevard. I remain committed to using the valuable information gathered during construction to inform our work with ODOT, our elected leaders, the community, and other stakeholders to develop a path forward. I look forward to your continued participation in this process.
Last summer in advance of the construction work on the Vermont and Newberry Viaducts, ODOT and PBOT worked together to ensure that data collected during the construction project could help inform future safety work. This partnership included discussions regarding placement of counters and other data collection issues.
As you noted, traffic data from the construction projects provided real-life observations about the impacts of changing the cross section on SW Barbur. Specifically, the data help us understand the potential outcomes of having a single northbound motor vehicle lane reduction between SW Hamilton and SW Miles.
We have several years of data pointing to the safety problems in this section of Barbur. Under current conditions, the bike lanes disappear over the Vermont and Newberry viaducts, forcing bicycles to share a travel lane with motor vehicles. The safety problems are exacerbated by high travel speeds. Speed data collected near the bridges indicate that over 15% of drivers are traveling faster than 48mph. And of course, with nearly 19,000 daily vehicles traveling, these conditions are well outside of ideal conditions for a shared facility.
In addition to continuing to explore how to address the lack of bicycle infrastructure, I will be paying specific attention to how the data collected during the construction project can help us address excessive speeding in the corridor. Although additional analysis is needed, it is interesting that the initial data suggests that going to one lane in that segment significantly reduced vehicles traveling in excess of 55 miles per hour.
I share and applaud your commitment to resolving the safety problems on this roadway. As one of our high crash corridors, Barbur Boulevard is a priority for me and the entire bureau.
Commissioner Steve Novick
City of Portland, Oregon
And with that, it seems as though nearly everything is lined up for taking action on a redesign of Barbur. Everything, that is, except for the willingness of ODOT to allow it to happen.
Johnson told us via email today that he’s “very happy” with Novick’s response. “This is the first time I have heard a public official say that bikes and cars sharing a road over the bridges is not ideal. I hope the data used during the bridge construction can be used to find the solution.”
Stay tuned. See our past coverage of SW Barbur here.
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This is great. I like Steve Novick’s response quite a lot. I am, however, still a bit appalled at ODOT’s response, that safety wasn’t a priority of the study. Perhaps the clause “of the study” is the hook, but my question is this: why isn’t safety always the first priority of any study, design, etc.? Safety should be the first concern and any other issues should fall below it. Just my opinion. Apparently ODOT doesn’t agree.
talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words.
and actions require compromise on funding for transportation safety improvements. (not holding my breath.)
Safety is needed. There is often loads of debris on Barbur.
I heard that the bike lobby forced Russell Wilson to make that throw yesterday in response to nothing having changed on Barbur
> additional analysis is needed
good lip service ! now lets put feet to the ground and take over Barbur PBOT!
The Barbur bridges of Vermont and Newbury need separated bike and pedestrian bridges on the outside of the stone barriers. They should be on the other side of the current pedestrian sidewalks but anchored to the current wooden structures. Benches are needed to take in the views. On another serious note, suicide phone lines should posted on those separated bridges.
“The Barbur bridges of Vermont and Newbury need separated bike and pedestrian bridges on the outside of the stone barriers. They should be on the other side of the current pedestrian sidewalks but anchored to the current wooden structures. …” rick
Idea is good. Much more complicated and expensive than the road diet, to do. Makes it a remotely feasible option.
Novick notes in his response to Johnson, that the study indicates that “…over 15% of drivers are traveling faster than 48mph. …”. That’s too fast for the number of motor vehicles on Barbur, to be traveling, not just for shared use of the road with bikes, but for general area livability as well.
“Much more complicated and expensive than the road diet, to do. Makes it a remotely feasible option.”
I’m not so sure, wsbob. The problem with the road diet isn’t it’s complexity or expense but the intransigence of the fuddy duddys at ODOT. The problem with doing something about the sidewalks on the two bridges is less the cost, I think, than the need for some creativity. Also not something ODOT appears to deal in. ODOT seems to me to be the obstacle to either of these solutions, but I’m not sure we can say a priori which is less likely given who we’re dealing with.
That’s a fantastic long-term idea. In the meantime, we can re-stripe Barbur and make it safer now.
Or as a first step, perhaps the only necessary step to have the road be be better for biking, is that ‘we’, without reconfiguring for a road diet, could simply reduce posted speed limits on the road, and put measures into place to keep down maximum speeds traveled.
The road diet is a relatively drastic step, that doesn’t directly address the larger problems resulting from present type of use of this road with motor vehicles.
It’s great that Novick is willing to listen to concerns expressed by his constituents. He’s not going to make many points across the board, if he pushes for a road diet on Barbur, hoping that somehow, that main lane merge from two to one idea, will somehow stop Barbur from being “…one of our high crash corridors…”.
“The road diet is a relatively drastic step, that doesn’t directly address the larger problems resulting from present type of use of this road with motor vehicles. ”
It is clear from your comments here that you are extremely leery of a road diet for Barbur. But have you explained why you are opposed? Do you think it was a drastic step when the road diet was instituted on SE Division? Did the sky fall?
What “measures” do you have in mind? Just changing the posted speed limit will have little effect on average speed.
They could always do one two-hour enforcement action every month with signs posted in advance “Speed zone enforcement ahead.” That ought to do it.
In past, I’ve mentioned a number of times, the speed control vans in use on Canyon Rd between Hwy 26 and West Slope. One or two of those vans is in place somewhere on this road, nearly all of the time.
My observation driving the road at different times of the day, is that people driving generally do keep their vehicle’s speed from exceeding the posted speed limit by more than four or five miles per hour.
I’ve mentioned in earlier comments in past: Definitely reduce posted speed limits for starters. Enhance the effect of lower speed limit signs, with radar speed control vans, and if the technology is available and workable for the Barbur road situation, speed monitoring cameras. Digital speed reader boards that people driving can see as they drive along the road, may be effective also.
Some days back, bikeportland, someone posting her, paikaikula suggested there wasn’t room on the road to park the vans. Maybe, but I kind of doubt that. At any rate, that option ought to be looked into. My personal observation is that just the sight of speed control vans along a road tends to induce people driving to slow down, whether speed monitoring is actually in effect at any given moment.
Any or all of these things may be more readily obtainable than a road diet. At any rate, I think arguments for putting the two lanes into one to create space for a bike lane road diet across the bridges, are going to have be very good, and at present, it doesn’t seem they have been.
What people driving are going to see, likely much of the time, is that the road diet will be requiring them to merge from two lanes to one across the bridges, due to the bike lane upon which there will be no people biking. Highest daily number of bikes in use on this section of Barbur it seems has been reported, is 800-1200 trips a day. Very likely, much of that riding occurs during daytime business hours.
Even doubling that number, doesn’t amount to a very strong presence in the bike lane. Bottom line, I don’t think the road diet alone, will sufficiently bring down peak motor vehicle speeds traveled, to have Barbur across the bridges, and the road overall, be good for biking. May as well start with the easier measures first.
Reviewing the data and the roadway, it seems two auto lanes in each direction meet the defition of need on Barbur. Peak hour flows are in excess of 2,000 vehicles per hour, and road diets use the 1,000 vehicles per lane per hour rule of thumb. That’s how roads are designed.
Lowering speed limits without enforcement is likely to have little effect.
The State decides ‘appropriate’ speed on all Oregon roads, so until they move toward a vision zero paradigm, the 85th percentile rule will prevail as the strongest indicator of ‘safe’ speed.
As a principal arterial next to an NHS road, it would be more likely that funding to reconstruct the bridges, or modify them to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists, would occur, than reducing auto lanes on the bridges. Maybe resiliency or safety funds.
But the city has the legal right to appeal those ODOT-set speeds. IMO, this should happen far more often.
“…Lowering speed limits without enforcement is likely to have little effect. …” paikiala
Make the case to ODOT for posting and, by some of means I’ve suggested, or others, enforcement of a lower speed limit.
Whether any change for Barbur can be brought about, depends upon what range of road user and residents can be brought in to support changes to the road. To get the road diet, or even lower posted speed limits and enforcement of them, I have the feeling it’s going to take many more people in support, than those that want to bike on Barbur.
“…there will be no people biking. Highest daily number of bikes in use on this section of Barbur it seems has been reported, is 800-1200 trips a day.”
800-1200 trips a day seems a lot higher than no people biking – and that is with substandard infrastructure that scares people away.
You have mentioned many times now that the solution is to lower the speed limit. What speed would be safe for biking and walking in a shared lane?
I believe the maximum speed for a painted bike lane next to motor vehicle traffic that may include heavy trucks allowed in the CROW manual is 30 MPH, for shared lanes it is just 20 MPH. So there you have it. 20 MPH.
It will take an enormous amount of enforcement to keep drivers down to 20 mph on an open 4-lane road. It seems like a bike lane would be less drastic.
“…It seems like a bike lane would be less drastic.” Jeff M
A road diet, is what I suggested would be a relatively drastic step from the road’s current configuration.
30 mph, and just biking, not walking. People on foot have the sidewalk across the bridges.
I just stumbled upon this on ODOT’s website:
“Many people believe that lowering posted speeds will mean fewer accidents, but studies do not prove this. Unrealistically low speeds frustrate many drivers, resulting in numerous speeding violations and unsafe driving, actually causing more accidents. Some motorists may try to make up time by taking a shortcut through residential or other areas that are not suited to higher speeds and increased numbers of cars.”
Jeff M: http://bikeportland.org/2015/02/02/novick-says-pbot-will-use-state-study-address-speeding-lack-bikeway-barbur-132495#comment-6172226
There’s likely some validity to what the ODOT document you cite, says about the response of people driving, to unrealistically set speed limits. The discussion about Barbur, has to do with a specific situation, which among other things, is that use of the road with motor vehicles at present, creates somewhat unacceptable conditions for biking.
The question related to use of the road for travel by both motor vehicles and bikes, is what posted and maintained top motor vehicle speed will enable acceptable conditions for biking on the road. There has been the idea expressed, that motor vehicle speeds slower than they are now, at least across the bridges, have the potential to allow the road to have conditions more acceptable for biking.
If the community accepts this idea of lower, posted and maintained speed limits being necessary for allowing the road to have conditions that are more acceptable for biking, the community isn’t going to find a lower speed limit to be unrealistic.
What ODOT would say if they were responsible for other areas of life:
“Many people believe that queuing will mean you get through the line faster, but studies do not prove this. Unrealistic expectations about queuing frustrate many shoppers, resulting in numerous altercations and unsafe conditions, actually causing more delays. Some shoppers may try to make up time by shoving or cutting in line.”
Idea is good, although it would probably be cheaper to demo the concrete railing and extend the bridge a few more feet, and rebuild it with a dedicated bike lane and sidewalk, like they are doing with the new Sellwood bridge.
Just so we’re clear, the question in Kiel’s letter was: where is that road diet study you promised us? Novick’s response, while insightful, totally dodged that question.
That said, if I’m understanding correctly, I think the implication is that he’s convinced by the construction data alone that a road diet is a good idea(not that it’s up to him), that it validates the road diet approach.
that is what i’m hoping. it is a delicate line everyone is walking, I hope that with enough pressure the line will be moved to do the road diet asap. i hope that we do not have to wait another 16 months for another study
“it is a delicate line everyone is walking,”
Yeah, a little too delicate for my tastes. Maybe we could (also) use something less delicate, like a die-in.
Barbur also needs ped / bike access across it to get from Dickinson Park to Markham School, Holly Farm Park, and PCC for the urban trail system upgrades.
sorry, why do we need a study to tell us what’s already clear? A “study” will take a lot of time, cost and will do nothing to reduce the risks that people (on foot, on bikes and in cars) on Barbur face TODAY. The construction project last year gave us enough data on the impact of a road diet.
There is sufficient evidence already there on the nature of the problem. Let’s move to the issue of funding and a review of which design features are best to improve conditions on Barbur for everyone. That would include, lowering speed limits, increasing enforcement of speed limits (without notice, of course), improve safety features for cyclists and pedestrians, etc.
I wonder if it’d be possible to use a Bicycle Race Permit that stretched off into infinity to get this kind of change built?
If it should turn out eventually, that a road diet to provide continuous bike lanes across Barbur’s two bridges moves forward, here’s an idea: Increase the width of the sidewalk across the bridges by say by two and a half, making it an MUP, and have the bike lane rise up and down the sidewalk by way of ramps long enough to allow for a gentle transition at 15-20 mph on a road bike.
The width of such an MUP would be similar to what people riding the Hawthorne Bridge MUP are already familiar with. The grade differential between main lane and MUP would offer enhanced safety measure to people riding.