Splendid Cycles Big Sale

City’s new Sunday Parkways traffic plan: fewer police, more volunteers, lower costs

Posted by on August 20th, 2015 at 11:15 am

voepel

PPB Sgt. Robert Voepel and Sunday Parkways
Manager Linda Ginenthal.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

NOTE: Since posting this story I have learned more from PBOT. Please see the extended note at the end of the post. — Jonathan

In an ongoing effort to make Sunday Parkways as efficient and cost-effective as possible, the Portland Bureau of Transportation will unveil a new traffic plan at their southeast event this Sunday.

Under the new plan, modeled after open streets events in other cities like Bogota, Los Angeles, and Atlanta, PBOT will use fewer uniformed police officers and more citizen volunteers to control traffic at intersections. This reduced police presence will save PBOT thousands of dollars while freeing up police resources for higher priority assignments.

PBOT’s Sunday Parkways Manager Linda Ginenthal shared in an interview this morning that they’re looking to be “more creative” with their traffic control.

When Sunday Parkways first started in 2008 the events cost about $150,000 each. For the past several years however, as the city has found efficiencies in how they deliver the events, the current budget for each one is about $85,000 — with about $8,000 of that going to pay for police. Using fewer police, Ginenthal says, is likely to save the city another several thousand dollars.

Will the new plan still keep Parkways participants safe?

Typically the event requires about 20 police officers and 25 certified traffic flaggers taken from PBOT’s maintenance bureau. These trained employees are used at multi-lane and other complicated intersections. The new plan will cut the number of officers to around five and will require about 30-40 additional volunteers in their place. PBOT will also increase the number of certified flaggers at certain intersections.

Here’s how the new plan will work at two signalized intersections* where PBOT will use volunteers instead of police officers (taken directly from an email by Ginenthal):

When the light is red along the Sunday Parkways route, volunteers wearing bright gloves [I hear they’ll be pink] will hold caution tape across the street keeping participants from crossing. This allows traffic to flow across the route with the green light.

When the light turns green along the route, volunteers will move the ribbon out of the way for happy riders, walker s and skaters to continue along the route.

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It’s what’s known as a “soft-closed intersection” as seen in the video below (from the 8-80 Cities Open Streets Healthiest Practice Toolkit). (Note that citizen volunteers will not be holding up cross-traffic against the signal. Oregon law dictates that only uniformed police officers have that power.)

Ginenthal says this technique has been used successfully in “dozens and dozens of cities.”

“We already ask a lot of our Traffic Division officers for other things like Vision Zero work. And we think that’s a better use of that resource than having them stand at intersections.”
— Linda Ginenthal, PBOT

While the move will save the city money, that wasn’t the only motivation for the change. “We already ask a lot of our Traffic Division officers for other things like Vision Zero work,” Ginenthal said. “And we think that’s a better use of that resource than having them stand at intersections. And we want our flaggers doing paving and street maintenance work, so finding creative ways to do our traffic control just makes sense.”

The caveat with the new plan is that it requires even more volunteers — which event organizers say is already one of the most difficult aspects of Sunday Parkways. The 180 or so volunteer shifts each event takes is “our heaviest lift,” Ginenthal said.

Using fewer police and city staff could be key to expanding Sunday Parkways in the future in order to satisfy the public demand for more frequent and/or larger events. But Ginenthal warns that, “We can’t expand anything unless we have more volunteers. And they are tough to get.”

There’s one other aspect of this change that bodes well for Sunday Parkways: At its core the event is about community-building. And, while it’s a constant battle to find enough volunteers, having even more of the event run by the public — instead of police and city staff — is much more in line with the values of the event and will make our city stronger in the end.

If you’ve ever considered volunteering for Sunday Parkways, now would be a perfect time to do it. You can pick your intersection, sign-up for a shift, and learn more about volunteering on the City’s website.

*NOTE: After seeing reader reactions to this story, I too began to wonder more about the impetus for the new traffic plan. I was initially told by PBOT that this was their idea and that it was simply a way to cut costs and be more “creative” with traffic control. A PPB spokesperson also said it was a PBOT plan. However, after making more inquiries after the post was published I have since been told that the plan emanated first from the PPB. Traffic Division Capt. Kelli Sheffer approached PBOT about it due to extremely low staffing levels. There are a lot of events in August and many Traffic Division officers want to be on vacation like everyone else. I get that. That makes sense. The low staff levels at Traffic Division are a huge issue that have implications far beyond Sunday Parkways (like, how will they fully embrace Vision Zero work if they don’t have the capacity?). So, just to clarify, this new traffic plan is being done as a test to see how/if PBOT can do a Sunday Parkways with a reduced police presence because the Police Bureau voiced concerns to them about the amount of officer resources it requires. A PBOT spokesperson now tells me that they will watch this pilot closely to see how it works and that it’s not likely to become standard operating procedure. If anything, it might be standard procedure for each August event from now on, given how strained the PPB at this time of the year. — Jonathan

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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Nathan Hinkle (nearlykilled.me, The Bike Light Database)
Guest

This looks like a great improvement. As a many-time Sunday Parkways volunteer and participant I’m really happy to see them moving towards using more volunteers for intersections, because it opens up the opportunity for longer routes if not as many police and PBOT resources are needed to make it happen.

My biggest concern with the new method is that Parkways participants are used to just going right through red lights on the route as police wave them through. People tend not to be tuned into the lights at all really, so if a large crowd is already going through an intersection when the light changes, I don’t know how well the volunteers will be able to stop them. Hopefully the volunteers at these intersections will be loud and outspoken people! And I’m sure the pink gloves will help 😉

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

why does the caution tape not rotate to block the cars? are pedestrians and cyclists really the big problem that requires a road-block while motor vehicles are expected to play nice?

why do we have to be 2nd class citizens in every aspect of planning, even at events aimed specifically at us?

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

a lot more people will disobey the closures if there’s no cop nearby…

will volunteers be able to radio police when there’s an incident?

will the routes finally be completely car-free?

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

this change was not PBOT’s idea.
Vision Zero includes better enforcement. IMO, better means more and targeted to behaviors most likely to result in serious injury and death.
The traffic division needs to be doubled or tripled. Perhaps a new classification of enforcement personnel for traffic infractions and moving violations?

TonyJ
Guest
TonyJ

I don’t like that the flow of bike and pedestrian traffic will be stopped at regular light intervals. It’s already obnoxious enough the amount of people who are still determined to drive on the route. Police presence allows groups to stay together and to keep people moving on their bikes, which is how it’s most fun to be.

If the issue is a couple thousand dollars, can we raise it? I wonder if any of this is really to appease drivers who are upset about missing traffic light cycles during the event.

Nathan Hinkle (nearlykilled.me, The Bike Light Database)
Guest

I wonder if PBOT could reprogram the lights to give a much longer cycle to bike/ped traffic on the Parkways route?

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

For major streets like SE 39th, this makes sense. The light cycles are long enough to get the Parkways crowd through, and it allows cars to quickly cross the course. If you create a traffic jam on major streets, people are going to try and divert to get around the event.

middle of the road guy
Guest
middle of the road guy

They are legally allowed on the route if they live there.

9watts
Guest
9watts

Do the Bogotans do this? Or do they just close enough roads to do an end run around this need for hundreds of volunteers?

It is curious to me (hi paikiala) that PBOT always starts something new in such a wasteful manner. The first on street bike corrals approved here in town were very material intensive. The first Sunday Parkways cost vast sums. Bike corrals and regular street closures already existed before PBOT got involved. Why not cut to the chase and adopt the cheap, simple, no-frills version that other jurisdications already figured out?

I like the direction this is taking but don’t understand why we have to waste all this money reinventing expensive wheels every time.

Oh, and I LOVE the fact that the SUBSCRIBE TO COMMENTS BUTTON IS BACK. Thanks Jonathan.

Adam H.
Guest
Adam H.

We’re still second-class citizens, even at events directed to get more people out of their cars. Why not close off the streets to people driving a block before the route so that there is no need to hold people at the intersection?

J_R
Guest
J_R

I agree. This is critical. Without added time for the side street there will be massive queues of bikes who will be unable to cross on the green. They will become frustrated and surge into the intersection.

J_R
Guest
J_R

This was posted in response to Nathan Hinkle’s call for retiming the lights.

drew
Guest
drew

As a previous volunteer, I spent several hours dealing with motorists who did not like a guy who lacked a uniform and a badge to tell them what they needed to do. A couple of times it turned into an experience I would rather forget. I imagine there are other volunteers like myself who are less than enthusiastic about doing it again after being confronted with angry motorists.

Bald One
Guest
Bald One

BP positive spin on what is bad turn of events for Sunday Parkways….

Oregon law dictates that only uniformed police officers can shut a signalized intersection. So, why not move the route to cross major streets where this is NO signalized intersection? This avoids the problem and allows the multitude of bike traffic to maintain a right of way across the major streets. Citizen volunteers could close the street to bikers on occasion to let the cars pass through, without having to keep the street open during every full red light cycle.

Can we make a Sunday Parkway route that avoids any signalized intersection? Seems easy.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

I like the idea of using unsignalized intersections, ideally ones with marked crosswalks.

Two thoughts… first, to claim the right-of-way, you’d need to cross in the crosswalk, no? Second, why would it be more acceptable to have volunteers blocking the bike and foot traffic than to block motor vehicle traffic? It seems the same legal issues would apply.

I suspect PBOT would object, as the idea seems somewhat dangerous.

9watts
Guest
9watts

Hawthorne & 32nd is not a signalized intersection.

Alan 1.0
Guest
Alan 1.0

How about just turning off the signals? Then can volunteers direct traffic?

Bald One
Guest
Bald One

Maybe Sunday Parkways should become a pay-to-play, for-profit event? That way the cops can keep getting the overtime gravy and the city can remove it from their budget. We can have one of the bike-centric event promoters take these over, also, and let this become fully monetized.

Adam H.
Guest
Adam H.

A paid Sunday Parkways would cease to be an all-inclusive event – which defeats the purpose of holding such events.

9watts
Guest
9watts

Again… why keep reinventing the wheel?
What Bogota does seems to (a) work, (b) not cost very much, and (c) is done EVERY SUNDAY of the year!! If there are still tweaks they employ that we haven’t, let’s figure out how to get them to work here, not head off in some untested, expensive new direction as soon as we hit a snag.

Bald One
Guest
Bald One

I agree with you completely. I’m sorry, I was being sarcastic with my suggestion to turn SP into a “bridge pedal” style payed event.

I truly enjoy Sunday Parkways and would like to see them grow and continue to be awesome.

Obviously, this type of event should not cost much to host, and with so many people involved and on a sunday morning, this should just be a non-issue.

Of course, City always trying to over-engineer the most simple of things for an abundance of caution. I think with a take to the streets type event like this, they can just let things happen a little more informally and it will be just fine. We have seen a lot of these events, every year, now.

Maybe the crossing volunteers can be effectively recruited from a ready pool of people who can be given the opportunity to “interact with angry motorists at a take back the streets event”.

peejay
Guest
peejay

When these evens are EVERY SUNDAY, people will be so used to them that traffic will adjust to the disruption. Fewer people will attempt to drive in the area, and enforcement requirements will go down. It’s a social adjustment.

middle of the road guy
Guest
middle of the road guy

Yeah – good luck getting volunteers for every sunday.

Bill Stites
Guest

I greatly appreciate all the work that Linda and crew do, but I would have to say allowing motorists to interrupt the flow of Sunday Parkways at EVERY green light for the given intersections really does, once again, place motorists as a priority.
And on a Sunday … and for 5 hours … it’s just moving policy in the wrong direction.

Bringing back traffic lights as superceding citizen flaggers seems like a very bad idea. Will they be instructed to hold participants at every red light, even with no motorists present?
Compromising the fundamentals of the event in the name of saving money? and safety? No way. What is safer than a closed intersection?
This does not embody Vision Zero as I understand it, and certainly not the spirit of Sunday Parkways.

[Hmmmm, I’m getting worked up here …]

On another note – from day 1, I’ve been disappointed at the number of parked cars on the route – in places like NYC, they are towed without apology. Here, it’s just about STORAGE in the ROW of what could be a beautiful, open, clear street for people.

Great event though!

ethan
Guest
ethan

This morning, someone on a bike was hit by a car at 30th and Ankeny. I don’t have any other details, but this is not only a bike route, but one that is on the route of Sunday Parkways.

I have been spending much more time in this area lately, but I hardly ever bike there. There’s nowhere to park my bike and the sight lines are very bad with all of the parked cars taking up every inch of available room on the street.

It would be nice if our greenways (as indirect, short, and disconnected as they are) would have some sort of infrastructure upgrade that would eliminate parking near all of the corners.

I ride on Going pretty frequently, and many drivers pull up so far that they would hit anyone who’s biking in the door zone, due to lack of visibility.

Sure, these events are nice, but we need something better the rest of the year. Or, maybe we could permanently close streets to cars to truly “be like Sunday Parkways every day.”

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

This section of Ankeny always makes me nervous, as you can really get moving going west, and car operators are hurrying across, not stopping at stop signs, and struggling to see bikes on Ankeny with all of the parked cars blocking the sight lines. Not surprised at all to hear this.

ethan
Guest
ethan

Those are exactly my thoughts. Although, even Eastbound it’s no walk in the park. Those parked cars could potentially be a huge issue (and probably had a lot to do with the colission today).

Psyfalcon
Guest
Psyfalcon

State law needs to be changed so you can’t park that close to an intersection. 20 feet is a common number, but its way too close. Only one car length isn’t enough for proper sight lines.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

It already is state law…

ethan
Guest
ethan

Unfortunately, it’s completely unenforced. PBOT will not enforce this law, only the city law that requires vehicles more than 6 feet tall to park further than 50 feet from a crosswalk at an intersection.

Source: I called parking enforcement a bunch of times for this and even after sending the police out, they said they didn’t find any violations. When I pointed out that they were breaking state law, the person I spoke to on the phone said that it was not illegal in the city. When I tried to debate with her, she started accusing me of trying to seek legal advice and directed me to a lawyer.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

The 6′ restriction within 50′ of the intersection is a city law. The state law prohibits any vehicle from parking within 20′ (?) of an intersection.

ethan
Guest
ethan

Since the police won’t enforce state laws, does that mean I can murder someone? Murdering people isn’t explicitly against the law in Portland, as far as I can tell.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

I don’t think so… are you suggesting the city shouldn’t be able to set enforcement priorities?

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

Refer them to this next time: 16.20.130 Prohibited in Specified Places

http://www.portlandonline.com/auditor/index.cfm?cce_28591_print=1&c=28591

AndyC of Linnton
Guest
AndyC of Linnton

Can we have a BP article about this issue? It is dreadful in many places around town. I would like to know more about this issue and the state law about it, the non-compliance, and the city’s reluctance to enforce. Thanks.

Alan 1.0
Guest
Alan 1.0

Maybe related, at SE Sunday Parkways I saw many instances of plantings encroaching on sidewalks and even street space. For example, on a corner somewhere near SE 14th & Madison there’s a gorgeous chestnut tree, but its branches drape down within about four feet of the ground in the middle of the lane, obscuring vision and forcing people to ride/drive around it.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

More volunteer involvement is great, but this choice really seems like the opposite of what we want. Police are less than 10% of the budget, and that’s what we’re cutting, at the cost of participants needing to stop more? What do you really have to do for such an event besides close streets? If we had more participation, say 100%, cross-traffic wouldn’t matter at all — so doesn’t prioritizing non-participation (cross-traffic) discourage participation? If there are volunteers blocking intersections, shouldn’t they be getting non-participants out of the way instead?

For further “improvements” in this direction, let’s build a tire fire at the finish line?

Or, we could about-face and head toward a “Car Free Sunday”, city-wide, at least monthly. Which direction most closely resembles Portland’s goals?

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

I just looked at the map. There are 17 route crossings!? This is only a 1.5 sq mile box. This many crossings aren’t required for people living or working inside the route to go about their Sunday, it just looks like our leaders being too spineless to tell drivers to go around, so instead we cut 8 paths of through traffic across this event. Because Burnside, Powell, and 60th somehow can’t handle that much Sunday traffic? Please, tell me where the other $70k went.

Amy Subach
Guest

I had a blast volunteering at the NE Sunday Parkways this year! It was a great way to meet neighbors and I ran into lots of my friends. I only ran into a few people driving who were not thrilled about my traffic directing, but I loved being firm and pleasant and helping out a great cause!

Amy Subach
Guest

Which is my way of saying that if you can volunteer, you should! 5 stars would volunteer again!

Paul Wilkins
Guest
Paul Wilkins

Come volunteer with us! That’s the best way to make it a better party!

Joseph E
Guest

I had previously assumed that police officer salaries were a large percentage, even the majority of the cost, for these events. What are the other costs? If we could cut the cost down to $20,000 per event they could be held every weekend for 4 or 5 months for the same total price!

Joseph E
Guest

Well that was easy to find: http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/507236

Sunday Parkways 2014 Budget
Materials and Services Per event / Actual cost for all 5 events
Logistics & Traffic Control $18,640 / $93,000
Volunteer Organizing $21,800 / $103,683
Community Outreach $11,564 / $36,276
Day of Event $8,800 / $34,728
Subtotal: $60,804 / $267,687

Staffing:
Program Manager $9,561 / $47,053
Senior Planner $9,397 / $52,437
TDM II $9,123 / $25,166
TDM Assistant $2,305 / $11,757
Organizer $4,080 / $30,200
TDM Staff Overtime $400 / $592
Total Staffing Costs $34,866 / $167,205

Costs Grand Total $95,670 / $434,892

If the events were expended to be every week for 4.5 months a year, that would be 15 events instead of 5. However, Community Outreach and Staffing take up almost $200,000, and I believe it would be reasonable to do more events with the same staff if each event was slightly simpler.

$150k comes from the city, $60k total for the 5 events comes from vendors and individual donations, so with 3 times as many events we could expect the vendor revenue to double to $120k.

This means PBOT needs to reduce the marginal costs per event from $60k to $20k to make it possible to triple the number of events in the year. So it looks like we do need to cut down on policing costs to make this possible in the current budget, since Logistics and Traffic control are almost at $19k per event right now, leaving no money for other necessary expenses (buying signs, tents, volunteer t-shirts and prizes, etc).

Joseph E
Guest

OK, here is a published article with costs of open street events in other cities. The events in South America are much cheaper but might not be directly comparable. However, San Francisco (not a low cost city!) manages to put on 8 to 9 open streets events a year, each on a different route in a different neighborhood, for $32k a year. The events averaged about 8 km (5 miles) each during the year of this study, so they cost $6000 per mile ($4000 per km): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3284592/table/Tab2/

It seems possible that Portland, a much lower-cost city than San Francisco, could get the cost of events down to $20,000 k a piece by using more efficient routes, and holding events more frequently. This would be only 1/3 less than the price per event in San Francisco. By comparison, Bogota has 150 miles of Ciclovia every Sunday and holiday for only $8000 per event, and only $250 per kilometer!

9watts
Guest
9watts

Thanks, Joseph E, for those figures and extrapolations.
Perhaps we could get someone from PBOT to explain their thinking here, their perspective on why we can’t do this, or whether they’ve even tried. This is the best kind of bikeportland forensics. Thanks!

middle of the road guy
Guest
middle of the road guy

Look at all the experts!

Beth
Guest

If Parkways will depend more than ever on a larger number of volunteers, and getting enough volunteers is already a real challenge, how does the city propose to atract more volunteers? I’ve volunteered every year at Parkways in a roving capacity, and have lost count of the number of intersections that were obviously meant to be staffed. but which were notThis year, I had to dismount more than once to become an intersection monitor so. driver could move their car through or across the designated path.
If Parkways is to succeed with more volunteers, something will need to change.

tedder
Guest

I’m excited. Making the events cheaper to run means they are going to happen much more often, right? Thanks PBOT!

9watts
Guest
9watts

Well, budgetary concerns aside, I thought the absence of cops where the route crossed busier streets was a HUGE improvement. It always irked me that in the middle of a colorful, cheerful, carfree event you’d come upon a bunch of black-clad, engines-idling cops at these intersections. Having cheerful, pink-clad intersection superheroes instead was such a welcome change. I only saw one black clad motorcycle cop the whole time! I think the 32nd & Hawthorne traffic people may have been cops but they were wearing fluorescent vests rather than the black armor.

Thanks everyone who volunteered. It was so nice.

WD
Guest

I’ve never understood why we need so many Police at Sunday Parkways. Unlike other open-street events, Sunday Parkways sticks mostly to neighborhood streets that are, ostensibly, safe for families to begin with. What message does it send to families when they see so many armed officers guarding intersections during Sunday Parkways, ones that they are normally expected to traverse without support?