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Bike lane blockage (and what you can do about it)

Posted by on October 21st, 2015 at 11:01 am

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We’ve all seen it. Probably dozens of times. A sign or other hazard placed in a bike lane by a construction crew doing official work in the public right-of-way.

On Monday, BikePortland subscriber Kim Isaacson saw a particularly egregious case of this. Kim was riding south in the bike lane on SW Broadway. As he rolled toward the I-405 overcrossing at SW Jackson he came across a large reader-board sign. The sign was completely blocking the bike lane.

Being the well-informed citizen that he is, Kim took a few photos and emailed the City of Portland as soon as possible. To help ensure her issue would get some attention, Kim emailed not only safe@portlandoregon.gov, but also the city’s permitting manager and PBOT spokesman Dylan Rivera. He also cc’d BikePortland.

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Here’s his email:

PBOT-

I am reporting a street hazard. This evening, as I was commuting home on the buffered bike facility on SW Broadway, I noticed something new at the corner of SW Jackson: a temporary reader board at the SW quadrant of the intersection (announcing some weekend traffic changes) that completely blocked the use of the bike facility, forcing bikes into the traffic lanes. See attached photos. Is this something that was approved by PBOT permit? Whether locating the reader board was the responsibility of PBOT or the contractor (a logo on the reader board suggests that Wilder Construction is the owner of the device), its placement belies poor judgement and lack of concern for bicycle safety.

But why block the bike lane? And for something as non-critical as an upcoming weekend traffic change. Notice that there are three south bound vehicle lanes adjacent to the bike lane. Why not park the sign in the adjacent vehicle lane and merge three lanes of traffic into two? Or, why not park the sign in one of the parking spaces just north of the intersection? I’m sure the contractor could pass along the cost of renting a parking space for a week and pass this along as a cost of doing business.

Riding a bike is hazardous enough without moves like this. Can you please see about correcting this problem?

Thank you.

Now that’s an effective way to share a concern with the city. Notice how Kim includes the exact location, clearly states the problem, offers a possible solution, and requests (nicely) that some action is taken.

And lo and behold, someone responded to her no more than 20 minutes later. It was City of Portland Development Permitting & Transit Manager Christine Leon.

Here’s her response:

Hello-

Thank you for alerting us to this. I will have someone check who was issued this permit and send an inspector to follow up.

—Christine Leon

It’s nice to see this quick and clear of a response from the City.

It appears that the contractor is in violation of at least one permit requirement. I’m not aware of any code that speficically prohibits putting signs like this in a bike lane, but according to PBOT, if a bike lane is blocked by construction the holder of the permit must provide signage that warns of the blockage.

The image below comes from PBOT’s Standard Traffic Control Plans website under the heading 6a: Bike Lane Closure:

pbotcodes

We’ve asked Leon and PBOT for updates on this situation and will update this post when we hear back.

Have you come across this type of bike lane blockage? If so, what did you do about it?

UPDATE, 11:52 am: The signs have been moved. Here’s what we’ve just heard from the City of Portland. The email below was forwarded to us from Christine Leon and it comes from PBOT’s Senior Traffic Engineering Associate John Wilson:

I walked by the location last night and saw that the sign had been moved from the bike lane. We had not permitted its placement. The contractor was working for ODOT, and was confused about where to place the sign, apparently. Thank you for reporting this hazard.

— Jonathan Maus
(503) 706-8804
jonathan@bikeportland.org
@BikePortland

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60 Comments
  • Avatar
    Buzz October 21, 2015 at 11:09 am

    Multnomah County puts signs in the bike lane on the Hawthorne viaduct all the time.

    Last week I encountered temporary construction signs in the northbound Interstate bike lanes in the narrow roadway segment under the Broadway Bridge, forcing cyclists into the motor vehicle lane with no warning and no ‘Bikes on Roadway’ signs, when there was plenty of space in the largely unused sidewalk there for the signs.

    I move these signs myself when I find them in the bike lane, but that large reader board is another story…

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      paikiala October 21, 2015 at 1:46 pm

      The bridge belongs to the county, not the city. Their bridge, their rules.

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        Buzz October 22, 2015 at 3:48 pm

        I said Multnomah County, and not the City of Portland. Feeling a bit defensive, are we?

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    Blake October 21, 2015 at 11:09 am

    A while back ODOT was using the bike lane on Greeley Ave where the I-5 ramp splits off to store some orange barrels that were used when the ramp was closed for construction. I sent them photos via Twitter and after a few attempts of reminding them, they fixed it and notably have since been storing the orange barrels and cones off the roadway entirely.

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  • Anne Hawley
    Anne Hawley October 21, 2015 at 11:18 am

    Kudos to Kim Isaacson for taking the time to get pictures and write that great letter to all the right people. She’s done for the other 95% of us who sigh, then either check left and take our chances in the car lane, ride on the sidewalk, or get off and walk.

    I’ve reported a bike lane hazard (a three-inch drop from pavement surface to a storm grate), complete with photos. PBOT responded that they’d take a look, then responded six weeks later that they’d lost track of my report but would take a look.

    Since the hazard was on a street that was being scraped down and repaved, it was finally half-corrected (the 3″ drop off was smoothed into more of a 3″ down-ramp) as part of the paving project.

    With this freeway sign, there’s a current contractor the City has leverage over. A phone call, a reminder of current contract terms, and bingo. But when a permanent hazard was signed off on by the City’s inspectors and left in place, apparently the fix will only come with the next round of construction on that street.

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  • Adam Herstein
    Adam Herstein October 21, 2015 at 11:30 am

    I see this problem as three-fold.

    One, there is a lack of management by PBOT on what their contractors are doing. There are many instances where PBOT was not aware of a contractor blocking a bike lane or sidewalk where they did not have the permits to do so. Whether this is due to lack of funding, I can’t say.

    Two, PBOT is usually responsive on Twitter or by email of these issues, but they don’t seem to follow though. Or they request that you use the PDX Reporter App, where your request will forever wait in a queue. Being responsive is great, but there needs to be the follow through, as well as a fine for the contractor to discourage this behavour in the future.

    And the third, of course, is to design bicycle infrastructure that makes it harder to drop equipment into the bike lane in the first place, or at least makes it more obvious that this is a bikeway. Paint on the ground is too easy and too tempting for people to park in and allow construction signs to encroach upon.

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    • Anne Hawley
      Anne Hawley October 21, 2015 at 12:27 pm

      To your second point, when I took the trouble to photograph the hazard I came across, and tweet it to @PBOTInfo, I was appalled that they then directed me to send it elsewhere. I mean, what? How bureaucratic can you get? It isn’t a piece of cake for me to turn a quick tweet while out and about into a coherent email. It meant waiting till I got home to a keyboard and a screen out of the sunlight. I did it because I was on a roll, but how many people don’t?

      I was always embarrassed by the City’s lack of ease with technology when I worked there. Looks like it’s improving only very, very slowly.

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      • Adam Herstein
        Adam Herstein October 21, 2015 at 12:34 pm

        I’m sure that it’s because the person running the social media accounts for PBOT and the people responding to traffic hazards are two separate teams. I feel this issue can easily be solved by training the social media person to fill out reports or to at least pass it along to the other team. Inter-departmental communication is key, here.

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        paikiala October 21, 2015 at 1:48 pm

        Tweets are the wrong way to communicate a traffic safety problem. Is it really a problem if you can’t be bothered to provide an email with a full and accurate description of the location and problem.

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        • Adam Herstein
          Adam Herstein October 21, 2015 at 1:54 pm

          IMO, the real problem here is a city bureau that can’t be bothered to fix known problems because of the way they are reported. Don’t blame the customers for not doing the job that we expect PBOT to be doing in the first place.

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        • Anne Hawley
          Anne Hawley October 21, 2015 at 8:34 pm

          And I say that a communication that includes three clear, descriptive photos and the exact location plus short verbal description of the problem should be enough for the City employee to fill out a form themselves. The email that I eventually took the trouble to go home and create contained no additional information (just some additional words). This “did you fill out the right form” business is unbelievably bureaucratic.

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            Paul Cone October 21, 2015 at 8:52 pm

            You’re assuming that City employees have nothing to do but retype data that citizens don’t report in an efficient format.

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            • Anne Hawley
              Anne Hawley October 22, 2015 at 12:35 pm

              I’m assuming, from 25 years as a City employee, that the City implemented an unnecessarily complex, paper-based, and inefficient system for something that they’re not all that comfortable with in the first place: taking direct input from the public.

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                Paul Cone October 22, 2015 at 12:40 pm

                Not sure when you left the City, but for at least the past ten years they have used a computer tracking system. The PDX Reporter app also feeds into that system.

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          LC October 22, 2015 at 2:02 pm

          Tweets are, on the other hand, a good way to point out that public officials are ignoring reported issues.

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        daisy October 21, 2015 at 4:00 pm

        I hear your frustration, but the PDX Reporter app asks you identify the location quite precisely and identify the category of problem, which I’m guessing isn’t always clear from a tweet (not your tweets in particular, but tweets in general).

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      John Lascurettes October 21, 2015 at 2:35 pm

      My experience with the PDX Reporter app is different than your. All but two of my reports (and I’ve made many) have been fixed within two to three weeks. I’m talking abandoned vehicles, bad storm grates, potholes and sidewalk tripping hazards on city property.

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        Jeff S October 22, 2015 at 7:31 am

        also my experience, John. I’ve gotten very good results, especially for pavement repairs – some of them fairly extensive that required major reconstruction work.

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    Paul Cone October 21, 2015 at 11:31 am

    @PBOTinfo on Twitter usually gets a pretty quick response, too. And include a photo of the offense in your tweet. I tweeted them a couple of weeks ago on my way into a meeting at Metro and two hours later I came out of the meeting and the problem was fixed.

    https://twitter.com/paulcone/status/648897147723603968

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    Pete October 21, 2015 at 11:39 am

    This is exactly the configuration I was complaining about at the new Apple construction here – the bicyclist is forced to merge/take the lane mid-intersection because no warning is given previous to the intersection itself. When an auto lane is closed, procedures dictate that the merge is moved to the forward side of the intersection, and in many states it’s actually illegal to change lanes mid-intersection (I think in Oregon but not California, but don’t quote me). I’m about to mount the GoPro to take some shots to send in…

    http://bikeportland.org/2015/10/19/monday-roundup-seattles-sidewalk-priority-brooklyns-guerrilla-parking-166136#comment-6574923

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      Spiffy October 21, 2015 at 12:33 pm

      in Oregon it’s legal to change lanes in the intersection… it’s illegal in California and Washington…

      but it’s a bad idea everywhere…

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    Todd Hudson October 21, 2015 at 11:40 am

    I emailed safe@portlandoregon.gov about a PBOT work truck blocking a bike lane (with picture) and the reply was “are you sure it was a city truck and not a contractor?” After that noncommittal response, I quit emailing them.

    If I see a temporary orange sign in the bike lane, I move it to the right of the curb.

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    • Anne Hawley
      Anne Hawley October 21, 2015 at 12:34 pm

      Annoying. How is it my responsibility to determine who the truck is registered to? If it’s working in or on a city street, PBOT or ODOT or TriMet or BES or Water is responsible for it. Their contracts all reference each other as needed. They can look this stuff up. They have contacts in the other agencies. Sort it out, people.

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        paikiala October 21, 2015 at 1:56 pm

        823-safe is a PBOT contact line not a city contact line. It is for roadway safety concerns, including speeding requests. There is no single map of all projects currently active throughout the City. Some contractors, like the gas company, have blanket annual permits, since their work is so random. There is one part time person and one full time person for intake at the 823-SAFE hotline, so if you get a call back the same day, count yourself lucky. There are maybe four full time traffic engineers working on such requests, and sometimes an intern, for the entire city. The current backlog is 16 weeks.

        And you can’t bother to look 5 seconds longer at the vehicle to see who’s name is on the side?

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        • Anne Hawley
          Anne Hawley October 22, 2015 at 12:41 pm

          Obviously we see customer/citizen service differently. We view on-street difficulties (including the time and ability to stop, access to a computer, ability to see and use a phone screen in high-stress and bright situations, the knowledge needed to distinguish service types, and English-speaking) and the City’s responsibilities from very different perspectives. We’ll just have to disagree.

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    peejay October 21, 2015 at 11:44 am

    I guess my avatar is quite apt for this story, huh?

    It is my belief that how a city deals with detours around construction and other temporary road blockages is a sign of how important they treat the various modes of travel. We have construction blocking some of the City’s bike facilities for as much as a year, with no proper detour.

    I use the Twitter account and PDXReporter app, and find the response rate fairly poor; maybe I should switch to email, but I wish that PBOT would view social media as a tool that allows the process to be fully open to the public. Their typical reply on Twitter is to use the app or call it in. Why not take the information they already have been given, and act on it, instead of asking someone who is probably in a hurry to duplicate their report? It seems so inefficient for all parties.

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      paikiala October 21, 2015 at 1:57 pm

      you can describe the location, direction of travel, time of day, hazard, and your contact information in 140 characters?

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        Eric Leifsdad October 21, 2015 at 2:54 pm

        A picture is worth 1000 words.

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    Peter R October 21, 2015 at 11:47 am

    I politely emailed Washington County about the construction near Cornelius Pass and Baseline about the signs/flags being in the bike lane heading west. By the time I rode home that night, they were moved, and have not returned in a week now. Very impressed with the customer service I got there.

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      Mark G October 22, 2015 at 8:40 am

      Victoria is very responsive for all things Washington County. I reported three signs in three separate areas and she quickly responded to all of them.

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    I see this happen all the time. The most annoying thing is that 90% of the time, there’s plenty of space in the median strip.

    I bike to the WES station in Wilsonville, and a couple weeks ago there was a multi-day construction project on my route which necessitated a lane closure. The flagging company had placed multiple warning signs right in the middle of the bike lane for a block in each direction. https://i.imgur.com/Wjio7lB.jpg

    I emailed the flagging company (their logo was on the back of the signs), asking them why the signs weren’t placed safely out of the right of way. It took a couple days to get a response, but their safety officer did email me back several times informing me that this was against their policies, that they conducted an investigation as to why the bike lane was blocked, and they reviewed the requirements for work zones with bike lanes with their employees. Not a bad response overall.

    The Oregon Temporary Traffic Control Handbook specifically mentions on page 52 the requirements for a work zone with bike lanes:

    If a significant volume of bicycles can be expected and work closes a marked bicycle facility, or requires bicycles to share a travel lane, install a “(Bicycle) ON ROADWAY” sign (CW11-1) or the Bicycle symbol (W11-1) sign with an “ON ROADWAY” (OBW1-5) rider, in advance of the work area.
    Install temporary signing off the paved shoulder, within the planter (buffer) strip, or share the width needed between the shoulder and the sidewalk, as available.

    The MUTCD also touches on this in section 6F.03:

    Neither portable nor permanent sign supports should be located on sidewalks, bicycle facilities, or areas designated for pedestrian or bicycle traffic. If the bottom of a secondary sign that is mounted below another sign is mounted lower than 7 feet above a pedestrian sidewalk or pathway (see Section 6D.02), the secondary sign should not project more than 4 inches into the pedestrian facility.

    I see this happen really often, and when workers are present and I’m not in too much of a hurry I’ll politely ask them to re-position the signs. If they push back, I just ask them which flagging company they work for, thank them for their time, and call or email the company later. If nobody’s around I’ll move the signs myself and contact the company if I can tell who it is.

    It’s really frustrating how often this occurs, and I think PBOT, ODOT, and other agencies issuing permits for road work need to review permit applications more carefully to ensure that a proper plan is in place to not obstruct bike lanes (and sidewalks, too). Maybe we can write a nice letter to the major flagging companies and transportation agencies in the area reiterating the requirements of the state guidelines and the MUTCD regarding work zones and bike lanes? Anybody interested?

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    Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 21, 2015 at 11:54 am

    Just added this to the post:

    UPDATE, 11:52 am: The signs have been moved. Here’s what we’ve just heard from the City of Portland. The email below was forwarded to us from Christine Leon and it comes from PBOT’s Senior Traffic Engineering Associate John Wilson:

    I walked by the location last night and saw that the sign had been moved from the bike lane. We had not permitted its placement. The contractor was working for ODOT, and was confused about where to place the sign, apparently. Thank you for reporting this hazard.

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    • Anne Hawley
      Anne Hawley October 21, 2015 at 12:29 pm

      Excellent.

      I wonder how ODOT would have responded if Kim had somehow magically known which agency held the contract and contacted them directly. PBOT certainly has more clout with ODOT than average citizen on the street has.

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      Spiffy October 21, 2015 at 12:30 pm

      lets hope that the contractor was fined so that they don’t do it again…

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    Geoff Grummon October 21, 2015 at 11:58 am

    For those situations where construction crews have closed the motor vehicle lane but not the bike lane (typical on N Vancouver Ave), I wish they would use a sign that said “CARS IN BIKEWAY”.

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      Pete October 21, 2015 at 12:38 pm

      In the last round of Apple closures we got that city to change the “Share the Road” signs they were using to the new “Bicycles May Use Full Lane.” (At tomorrow night’s BPAC meeting I’ll be proposing that our own city updates guidelines for this replacement within our policy as well).

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    Aixe Djelal October 21, 2015 at 12:23 pm

    The bike lane on SW 5th south of city hall is blocked by vehicles on a regular basis. Lately landscaping trucks have been blocking the lane. A few months ago the Shred-it truck seemed to park in front of the FedEx Kinkos on a weekly basis. The truck is too large for the vehicle parking, so it takes up part of the bike lane, and the workers stand in the lane and fill the truck with paper. I posted this on my blog, and before I could call Fed Ex or Shred-it, my mother (who lives on the east coast) saw my post, called Shred-it and I haven’t seen the truck parked there since. So if you need to get people out of the lane, my mother seems to have the magic touch. http://www.bicyclehead.com/2015/06/blocking-the-bike-lane-on-sw-5th/ In all seriousness, I am grateful to Kim Isaacson for taking thorough, polite, and effective action.

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      Spiffy October 21, 2015 at 12:36 pm

      I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the Shred-It truck parked legally… and I’ve seen it a lot…

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    AIC October 21, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    Yes, I encounter blockage all the time (abandoned shopping cart, mysterious cardboard box, construction, delivery van, disabled car, huge-ass puddle, etc). I check over my left shoulder and take the car lane, or I bunnyhop up onto the sidewalk and ride that until past the blockage. Never considered sending an Email to anyone.

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    ethan October 21, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    Speaking of things in the bike lanes, it looks like someone intentionally blocked the NE Multnomah bike lane with a planter today.

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      ethan October 21, 2015 at 12:45 pm

      Oh, and I should mention that I called PBOT maintenance and operations: 503-823-1700

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    mark October 21, 2015 at 12:48 pm

    I am usually very keen on trucks blocking the bike lane. I would probably give the shredit folks a pass. Their truck isn’t truly in the lane…even though they are . What are their options…really? I can maneuver around bodies.

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      Captain Karma October 21, 2015 at 1:53 pm

      I agree, but! They should carry at the minimum, several orange cones, maybe a flashing light or some such thing, and wear high vis if they are going to be in any lane, car or bike.

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    pdx2wheeler October 21, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    I encountered traffic barrels and/or traffic cones stored in the south end of the Greeley bike lane just where you have to cross the vehicle lane merging onto I-5. The cones forced people on bikes to take the lane and merge with 45+ mph freight traffic coming from Swan Island! This blockage occurred on 4 separate occasions. Each time I posted a picture of the problem to twitter and included PBOT (@PBOTinfo) and ODOT (@OregonDOT). Turns-out it was an ODOT contractor using the bike lane for storage. ODOT was extremely responsive, and very apologetic, especially after the 4 time it happened.

    I was told after the 4th time it occurred that ODOT had a serious sit down with the contractor to determine why this blockage kept occurring.

    It hasn’t happened again, but I’m waiting and will be ready to pounce if it does!

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    Brent Shultz October 21, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    Reaching out to PBOT via their Twitter has been very effective for handling these type of situations from my experience.

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    Scott Kocher October 21, 2015 at 1:43 pm

    Far better than requiring a “bikes in roadway” sign would be not blocking the bike lane at all except in the rare cases when it’s absolutely necessary. As with sidewalk closures, one tool to solve the “absolutely necessary” information problem would be to price closure permits at the public’s cost.

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    Sam October 21, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    There’s certainly a lot of this going in Salt Lake City, but the city won’t do anything about people parked in bike lanes – I’ve never even considered complaining about construction that forces me into an automobile lane.

    Seriously last week there were about 15 cars parked in a cycle track here. I knocked on the window of a nearby police officer and alerted him to the issue, which he saw, and promptly did nothing about.

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    rick October 21, 2015 at 2:36 pm

    It has gotten bad in many parts of Washington County. Even sidewalks are blocked in and around ODOT’s Canyon Road / TV Highway by cars.

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    Eric Leifsdad October 21, 2015 at 2:58 pm

    I guess the workers who placed this didn’t bike to work today or ever, or know anybody who bikes for transportation, or anything about traffic or have a license to drive. Sad.

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    daisy October 21, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    This drives me crazy! I take photos and use the reporter app and sometimes tweet these issues, too, especially if they’re on-going (ie not a one-time fix of a power pole or something like that).

    I also think contractors are too quick to use the Bikes in Road sign when it’d be easy enough to leave a space for bikes. Right now on NW Broadway & Couch, a contractor is installing a new traffic signal and closes it down to one lane of traffic. When I’ve ridden through, there was plenty of room to the right of the cones for bikes. It wouldn’t have taken a bit more work for the contractor, but it would have been much safer, to let bikes maintain a lane.

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    hotrodder October 21, 2015 at 4:27 pm

    Somebody must’ve complained about the Jersey barriers on Naito adjacent to the Mounted Patrol/Centennial Mills construction zone; Tuesday morning, the entire lane closest to the sidewalk had been closed off, but this morning, (Wednesday) the barriers had been moved 1/2 way towards the sidewalk, creating a much safer cycling experience.

    Whomever is responsible for fixing that, I say thank you, and to Jonathan, I say thank you for posting this thread giving me direction on how to reach out to the city when these sort of events occur!

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    B. Carfree October 21, 2015 at 4:57 pm

    Oh my goodness. That horrid city on the south end of the valley, the one that has lost 38% of its cyclists since 2009, Eugene, is actually ahead of the game here. They have an official policy that forbids the blocking of bike lanes by construction signs. Sadly, there’s no enforcement mechanism. PDX lacks the policy but seems to have some enforcement. Maybe we need a marriage.

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    Kevin Wagoner October 21, 2015 at 8:02 pm

    That is great! I rarely ride this area now but actually saw that sign this week and was concerned by it.

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    Electric Mayhem October 21, 2015 at 8:23 pm

    The portland water bureau was doing this on Barbur at the south end of forested section. Not just one sign, but three! This is the section of Barbur where the cars are at their fastest.

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    Zaphod October 21, 2015 at 8:58 pm

    I’ve seen signs that read, “bikes in roadway” centered in the bike lane with no other obstruction. Ponder that one.

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    Pitchfork October 21, 2015 at 9:52 pm

    My lane blockage pet peeve: garbage cans! If you can’t put them in auto lanes, why is it OK to leave them in the bike lane?

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    KristenT October 22, 2015 at 9:09 am

    In Tigard, the bike lane on McDonald St just before Omara is blocked very completely by a very similar set up as shown in the pictures associated with the story. It’s for the construction at the Gaarde/McDonald/99W intersection and I believe was placed by ODOT.

    Here in Tigard, ODOT doesn’t seem to care much about the state of the bicycling facilities associated with their own roads much less the ones on roads adjacent to their roads– but as this is at the end of an uphill grind, on a road where drivers routinely drive at least 10mph over the speed limit, it’s definitely a danger.

    There’s no other place to put the sign, unfortunately, and you can see it for quite a while. It’s hard enough to get ODOT and Tigard to appropriately sign things for peds and bikes, so I’ve let it go.

    The project should be wrapped up now so the sign should be moved soon, hopefully.

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    SE October 22, 2015 at 9:32 am

    I ride NE 122nd a lot. Many times there is a brown UPS truck parked in the bike lane just outside the Taco Bell at San Raphael. A number of car carriers park in the lane at various car dealerships on a regular basis too. 🙁

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    Joe Rowe October 22, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    Rich higher income SW location fixed in one day. Lower income streets blocked 5 days after city staff alerted.

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    Carrie October 25, 2015 at 4:32 pm

    I have been meaning to ask this — if a truck is parked in a roadway parking spot, but it is too wide and therefore spills over into the bike lane, is this legal? This happens on SE 17th frequently in the new redesign — it’s an industrial area and the big trucks just don’t fit in the parking strip. Is it still legal for them to park there?

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