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Postcard from Austin: curb extensions that don’t block bikes

Posted by on October 30th, 2015 at 8:52 am

curb extension bumps 1000

A quick, cheap crosswalk enhancement on 3rd Street in Austin, Tex.
(Photos: M.Andersen)

Austin, where I spent a few days this week, is not yet a great city to bike in. But some of the ideas it’s developed in its bid to become one are useful, and here’s one.

Crosswalk curb extensions are great. By visually narrowing intersections, they slow traffic, prevent high-speed turns, and shorten distances for people crossing on foot.

But for future bike infrastructure, they’re a problem, especially in cities like Portland that have built a lot of them. They stop it from being cheap and easy to create parking-protected bike lanes by swapping curbside parking with a door-zone bike lane. When Portland installed curb extensions this year on Northwest Broadway, many people who’ve been hoping for a protected bike lane there groaned — it seemed like a strong sign that the city was giving up on that possibility.

(For its part, the Portland Bureau of Transportation says curb extensions won’t be extremely expensive to tear back out if Broadway is selected for improvements.)

In any case, Austin has started using a quick and dirty trick to create curb extensions: five-inch-high concrete domes, arranged to create a pedestrian refuge area.

curb extension bumps 2 1000

The original mold had a humble origin, Austin bikeway engineer Nathan Wilkes said.

“One of our public works managers bought salad bowls at the dollar store,” he said.

They work. Stormwater flows easily around them. People biking can easily avoid them, assuming the placement is careful and the lighting is decent. They’re mountable, so a truck that really needs the space can drive over them, but big enough that people driving will usually avoid them. And (at least as the rules are being read in Austin) they don’t trigger a requirement for new building or stormwater permits, so they can be added quickly and cheaply.

They wouldn’t do well with snowplows. But in Austin (as in Portland) that’s very rarely a problem.

Seattle, another city that’s growing very fast and working hard to change its streets to match, has actually been using a similar trick with plastic posts and thermoplastic coating:

seattle curb extension post

Like Seattle’s flexible posts, Austin’s low bumps have a downside: they’re fragile.

broken curb extension bump

I’m told that Austin plans to address this by sinking bolts down the middle of the concrete domes, reinforcing the glue that is currently holding these in place.

Because installation is so simple and unobtrusive, these may also become Austin’s most common treatment for protecting bike lanes. City Transportation Planning and Policy Manager Art Pearce, who is also in Austin this week for a National Association of City Transportation Officials conference, mentioned that he was looking at 3rd Street for ideas about how people walking can be well-served by protected bike lanes. Sounds like a good idea.

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65 Comments
  • paikiala October 30, 2015 at 9:32 am

    It’s a good idea, but the bolts won’t make them less fragile. Concrete is rather weak in tension, so the impact that happens in the future is likely to split the concrete, leaving a bolt sticking out of the ground – a more dangerous condition. Keeping the current design seems much safer. Remember that objects placed in the roadway will be hit.

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    • Eric Leifsdad October 30, 2015 at 10:48 am

      Maybe wire mesh welded to a short bolt, bent rod, or plate with a rod welded to the bottom?

      But bumps like this could take down a bike very fast. I prefer plastic bollards or cones, but steel bollards would be safer. These seem to be more optimized for trucks.

      The bollards at SW Chestnut and Burlingame work well.

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    • 9watts October 30, 2015 at 11:35 am

      “Remember that objects placed in the roadway will be hit…”

      Why should the tax payer should fund this/keep funding this?
      Where’s our (real, worthy-of-the-name) gas tax?!

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      • BeavertonRider October 30, 2015 at 2:39 pm

        Dont need a gas tax. PBOT and the City have far more than sufficient funds to maintain streets and build new/improved safety elements and bike infrastructure. The City’s elected officials just have to do their jobs to prioritize it.

        Oh wait, are you talking about imposing taxes to punish people for driving?

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        • 9watts October 30, 2015 at 3:01 pm

          you do like hyperbole.

          You say PBOT has more than enough money. Well, maybe. But not if we keep having to spend nearly all of it on cars-only infrastructure. Have you read Whose Roads? by that clever fellow Todd Litman?
          http://www.vtpi.org/whoserd.pdf

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  • ethan October 30, 2015 at 9:40 am

    I really, really wish PBOT would have put these types of curb extensions in rather than the ones they have installed recently.

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    • paikiala October 30, 2015 at 9:56 am

      Such raised objects are a safety concern to PBOT.

      “…assuming the placement is careful and the lighting is decent.”

      Even these two caveats from the story don’t fully capture all the issues. As we’ve been recently reminded, some cyclists want to take corners ‘at speed’, and these objects are a true hazard in that respect. The low height means they are not seen early if in the shadow of a parked car, but they are rather high if struck by a cyclist. I could see them on a uphill bike lane, but on a downhill? There is also the issue of drunk riders, though I’m disinclined to design for intoxicated road users, it’s still in the back of my mind when designing anything in the roadway.

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      • ethan October 30, 2015 at 10:22 am

        “Such raised objects are a safety concern to PBOT.”

        Huh, I guess that explains why they have put in hundreds of very similar curb extensions. The only real difference is that the ones in Austin are designed for bikes to go through.

        The ones here are placed exactly where people ride, when they’re being passed by impatient drivers.

        So, the ones PBOT has installed are not any safer, and may in fact be more dangerous. I have personally run into a curb extension (that was not painted, not lighted and not marked correctly) and I ended up with quite a few injuries.

        I know that you love to defend PBOT so much, but the design they’re using is significantly worse than Austin’s.

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      • Adam Herstein
        Adam Herstein October 30, 2015 at 10:33 am

        I agree, imaging running your bike over one of these. Is much rather have a curb.

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      • Buzz October 30, 2015 at 10:38 am

        No more of a hazard than the hardscape curb extensions Portland is building. I’ve lost count of the number of cyclists who have told me they injured themselves and/or damaged their bike hitting one, and the same caveats apply regarding placement and lighting. There are some mid-block curb extensions on SE 11th and 12th that are almost impossible to see, and I’m sure that’s not the only location.

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        • John Liu
          John Liu October 30, 2015 at 11:02 am

          A continuous curb extension (bumpout) is a large area of light colored concrete, much easier to see than small raised bumps.

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          • Buzz October 30, 2015 at 11:19 am

            Until the concrete turns black from dirt, leaf tannins, mold and other environmental debris; that takes about one year or less in PDX.

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            • John Liu
              John Liu October 30, 2015 at 2:16 pm

              You don’t think a large (several feet long) area of raised concrete bordered by a continuous curb is more visible than a small (several inches) rounded bump, even if both are darkened by dirt etc?. Those little bumps can easily be hidden by leaf litter alone.

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              • Buzz October 30, 2015 at 3:39 pm

                I’m not arguing for the bumps, I would prefer neither.

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      • lop October 30, 2015 at 3:49 pm

        I’ve seen bike lanes protected by those concrete barriers that get used to keep cars from pulling in too far into a parking space, or at least something similar (Boulder I think).

        In NYC citibike used something like that at one of their docks, someone hit it, fell, and sued them for $15 million.

        http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/man-sues-nyc-citi-bike-15-million-article-1.1704829

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  • Ted Timmons (Contributor) October 30, 2015 at 10:06 am

    These are what I was saying should be used on 3rd. Ah well.

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  • maxD October 30, 2015 at 10:16 am

    This may be a good application for the use of fiber-reinforced concrete

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    • K'Tesh October 30, 2015 at 10:20 am

      Or some kind of resin/plastic product.

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  • El Biciclero October 30, 2015 at 10:19 am

    I’d almost think of applying this formula:

    Locate the apex of the curve and plant a steel/concrete bollard with yellow reflective stripes and a glowing orange light on top. Pedestrians and bicyclists can pass “behind” it in either direction. Only downside would be for long vehicles like buses or trucks—or for the occasional Very Inattentive bicyclist. It seems to work at “bike path” entrances…

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty October 30, 2015 at 11:51 am

      I have to say that not every street needs to be built to accommodate our largest trucks. If the streets can’t handle a huge truck, use a smaller one.

      I realize this is not a popular sentiment in the freight community, but making streets huge-truck-friendly is making them more dangerous for everyone else (with larger turn radii, longer crossing distances, wider travel lanes, bigger expanses of asphalt, etc.)

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      • Spiffy October 30, 2015 at 2:29 pm

        Wednesday I saw a huge truck making a turn at NW 25th and Thurman… it barely made it after many forward and back motions and every street stopped for a block in each direction for several minutes…

        I wondered how it could even be legal for a vehicle that huge to be on a small street in a dense urban area…

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  • KristenT October 30, 2015 at 10:40 am

    On Hall Blvd, heading Southbound from 99W towards the tracks at Burnham, there used to be a set of tall turtles like these along the bike lane on a right-hand corner that people in vehicles would cut and drive through the bike lane.

    The City of Tigard asked ODOT to take them out because they were dangerous to cyclists (preventing us from leaving the bike lane if needed at that corner, like for debris and glass and gravel, a common occurrence).

    These big turtles, painted yellow, used to be at the end of Ashford St where it intersects Hall– in place to prevent people cutting through the neighborhood from cutting the corner and hitting oncoming traffic. The turtles have been removed from there as well.

    I do like these as a temporary solution for pedestrians, it accomplishes the thing needed (visually narrowing and slowing vehicle traffic) while not blocking completely bicycle traffic.

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  • Adam Herstein
    Adam Herstein October 30, 2015 at 10:48 am

    These “armadillos” as they call them in Texas, are great as a temporary stopgap solution, but should not be used long-term. Just as with the flexible bollards, they will end up destroyed or removed over time as drivers drive into them continuously. A permanent solution could use a curb or bioswales, similar to the cycle track along Naito connecting Lincoln to Harrison.

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    • Eric Leifsdad October 30, 2015 at 12:52 pm

      I would say “s/cycle track/bikeway/”, except that’s a sidewalk.

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  • soren October 30, 2015 at 10:51 am

    I could not help noticing how narrow the protected bike lane is and how close the parked cars are to the intersection. I hope that Portland does a better job when it builds a facility downtown.

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    • Adam Herstein
      Adam Herstein October 30, 2015 at 11:15 am

      I think using bioswales as protection would look nicer than bollards and would give an extra Portland flair to our downtown cycle tracks.

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      • ethan October 30, 2015 at 6:01 pm

        Agreed. I’d love sidewalk level, bioswale-protected bike lanes, especially in areas like Vancouver / Williams and SE Hawthorne.

        Fully protect the intersections (with bike-specific lights) and see commute share break 10% in less than a year.

        There are some roads that have high bike volumes already. We need to recognize that, and design for more.

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    • B. Carfree October 30, 2015 at 12:33 pm

      Aw gee, there was almost a foot of space between the end of the door zone and the seam for the curb apron. Haven’t we been trained to think that a foot is fine by now?

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  • Carl October 30, 2015 at 11:36 am

    Yikes. No thanks. Those things are easy to not-see and brutal when you hit them (I’ve done both…in quick succession).

    What’s more: curb extensions should reduce the crossing distance and offer protection for people walking. Protection from what? Traffic! …and it is well established that WE ARE TRAFFIC.

    So: this helps some people who are walking and biking while also creating a hazard for people walking and biking. Bad deal.

    I’d be in favor of other creative curb extensions, though. In particular, I think that low planters could provide cheap, visible, meaningful protection without digging up the street.

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  • Bald One October 30, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    I”ve got issue with common PBOT install of center islands. Nice in practice for slowing cars, but when you add bicycles to the road, it just creates a conflict for the cyclists. Think SE Clinton, SE Gladstone.

    I know the idea of a center island is supposed to calm car speeds, and perhaps it does on average for the length of the whole street, but in my experience, most drivers just grip the steering wheel harder and practice their Nascar driving techniques as they rip around these islands – it’s fun for them. Not safe if a cyclist is going through them, also. Or the cars speed up to cut you off and get through first. And, with all the trees and shrubs in the island, visibility is reduced for actually seeing a pedestrian standing there waiting to cross.

    And, typically, the bike lane actually disappears or dips into the gutter storm drain going around the center island, so it creates some idea to the public that the cyclist should get the heck out of the way of the cars.

    PBOT just re-striped buffered bike lanes onto N. Smith St (from Roosevelt HS down to Portsmouth/St Louis), which is a street with islands on it. Of course, the buffer areas of the bike lane disappear for 100 feet around the traffic islands and disappear at a couple of intersections. This traffic island area is always the area where you feel like you are going to get creamed by a truck mirror as the cars zip around the island pinch point, and so it is where the bike lane buffer is needed the most, not the least! Just backwards!

    PBOT needs to rip out these islands and put the ped refuge between the bike lane and the main travel lane, and not do it with trees and excessive signage which reduce visibility. Just a couple of day-glo bollords stuck to the pavement. So, cars can go straight (and not play Nascar), bikes can go straight and not worry about the pinch points, and peds can have a refuge on both sides that is not a pavement bump in the middle of the road.

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    • Bald One October 30, 2015 at 12:07 pm

      New buffered bike lanes are on N Smith St from Columbia Way to St Louis (not Portsmouth).

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    • Ted Timmons (Contributor) October 30, 2015 at 12:13 pm

      I saw some interesting alternatives to center islands in rural France. At some small towns/T intersections they use chicanes. They shift the cars over by a lane width with short sections to make the transition, which mean the cars need to slow down to make the chicane. The alternative is hitting curbs and signage.

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    • Buzz October 30, 2015 at 12:54 pm

      What? You don’t like to be a human speed bump? Traffic calming, baby!

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    • paikiala October 30, 2015 at 1:03 pm

      Where to begin,

      Clinton was not a bike street when the neighborhood traffic circles went in (ditto for N Smith). The circles were put there because PBOT did not have bumps as an option back then. The bumps on Clinton are a later addition.
      The circles on Gladstone have bike lanes marked around them, so as autos are requirde to shift to go around the circles, so are people on bikes.

      I’ve not seen what’s been done to Smith, but it would be poor practice to drop bike lanes in favor of parking to go around the refuge islands.

      Refuge islands are constructed in the middle of busy roads to break the crossing into two halves. The two-phase crossing is safer for the youngest and oldest pedestrians because they only have to find a gap in one direction of auto traffic. Your suggestion would result in less safe pedestrian crossings.

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      • Bald One October 30, 2015 at 1:29 pm

        So you’re saying that Clinton, Gladstone, Smith are busy streets that require splitting the pedestrian crossing into 2 parts of the street in order to be safe? I don’t agree. These islands create more safety issues for cyclists than they solve for pedestrians. On these streets, the poor choices made in the past should be removed and upgraded to better ones. There seems to be plenty of money for curb changes in the PBOT budget, and this is not a big expense to improve/upgrade. Have you ever been passed on your bike by a speeding car while going around the island? These are pinch point bottle necks that create unsafe conditions for cyclists.

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        • paikiala October 30, 2015 at 4:31 pm

          Traffic circles are not refuge islands.
          Smith has refuge islands. Clinton and Gladstone have traffic circles. Gladstone also has one or two refuge islands. Circles were used to slow down cars before bumps were approved for that purpose.

          Consider the needs of a child walking to school.
          Smith near Oswego has about 2,500 trips per day.
          Gladstone has over 4,000.

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      • Spiffy October 30, 2015 at 2:58 pm

        I hate the SE Gladstone circles because they cause the bike lane to angle at them and people are always parked in the angled spots of those bike lanes which forces the bikes into the motor vehicle lane where space is already tight…

        enforcement!

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        • paikiala October 30, 2015 at 4:26 pm

          And, of course, you’ve called 823-SAFE when you see them, right?

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  • rain waters October 30, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    “Betcha nobody misses one twice” Welcome to Texas humor.

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  • SE October 30, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    there is a terrible one at ne122nd & Glisan (by Mcdonalds) … it forces bikes out into traffic for about 8-10 feet. many close calls there.

    Needs to be torn up and redone. 🙁

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    • paikiala October 30, 2015 at 1:06 pm

      Curious,
      the street view shows no such requirement.

      https://goo.gl/maps/QWqDbJ7YLAv

      There are no bike lanes on Glisan and the bike lane on 122nd clearly is next to the curb extension.

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      • DNP October 30, 2015 at 3:50 pm

        I’m looking right at it in the street view you provided. To the east on Glisan, the right lane allows lane sharing. As you cross the intersection (heading west on Glisan) the bulb out reduces the lane to substandard width for 8 – 12 feet and then goes right back to being a very shareable width lane.

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        • lop October 30, 2015 at 4:00 pm

          This, right?

          http://i.imgur.com/9I1BSoN.jpg

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        • paikiala October 30, 2015 at 4:36 pm

          D,
          The curb parking lane is not a bike lane. If you choose to ride in a parking lane, you might expect to find objects there from time to time.

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        • Chris I October 30, 2015 at 6:33 pm

          You’re riding in empty car parking space. Hardly anyone parks on Glisan because of the traffic speeds, which is also why it probably isn’t the best idea to ride on Glisan. I’m sure you’ve encountered parked cars, right?

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          • DNP October 31, 2015 at 9:55 am

            I’m not riding there at all nor have any experience with the intersection. I was simply pointing out what SE was describing. If paikiala chooses to play the ***personal insult deleted by moderator*** that’s his prerogative.

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  • mark October 30, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    I have come to the conclusion that Ptown cylists, at least a lot of them, have come to expect limo level bike infra and will accept nothing less. Need proof? Check the comments above.

    Compared to what is out there, the Austin improvements are impressive. PBOT’s asenine “safety” reasons aside for not doing something, the real reason is usually cost. The reality is, armadillos or really anything work well. I can navigate an armadillo just fine. They are all over the place up around Olympia and can be replaced in a few minutes.

    Curbs crack and fail requiring thousands in repair. One little armadillo, a few minutes and a few bucks.

    But..limo riders want the world. I’ll take my few feet of space protected by something just a bit more than paint.

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    • Adam Herstein
      Adam Herstein October 30, 2015 at 12:34 pm

      Why is it that car drivers and people walking get world-class facilities but people riding bikes get stuck with paint?

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      • mark October 30, 2015 at 12:37 pm

        Because that’s only method that most cyclists can agree on. See comment above “I hate diverters”.

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      • BeavertonRider October 30, 2015 at 2:54 pm

        Please identify the so-called world class road network or roadways here in Portland. Lets not overstate the case to arouse emotional support.

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      • lop October 30, 2015 at 4:10 pm

        http://i.imgur.com/4tHy7cT.jpg

        What does world class even mean?

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  • mark October 30, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    FYI, the picture in this article depicts *almost” a dutch style intersection. Almost.

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  • maccoinnich October 30, 2015 at 1:01 pm

    There are many good reasons to install curb extensions, but I feel like Portland is often too quick to install them without thinking about the long term consequences. I was browsing through the 100% Construction Document set for the Twenties Bikeway last night, and was struck by how many curb extensions or median islands they’re installing that will make building out the 2030 Bike Plan much more difficult and expensive. A few examples, from North to South:

    – The curb extension at NE Alberta / 32nd will block the obvious location for bike lanes on Alberta.
    – The curb extension at NE Wasco / 28th will block a future southbound bike lane on 28th.
    – The two way cycletrack on the south side of E Burnside and 30th doesn’t seem designed with the possibility of bike lanes along the rest of Burnside in mind
    – The median islands at SE Belmont and 29th creates a pinch point between cars and bikes, and will make it more difficult to add bike lanes on Belmont.

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    • Buzz October 30, 2015 at 2:01 pm

      ^^^^^This!^^^^^

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    • Buzz October 30, 2015 at 2:04 pm

      mac – do you have a link to those construction documents?

      thnx!

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        • Buzz October 30, 2015 at 3:29 pm

          Thanks! Probably a topic for a whole ‘nother story, but I am very, very puzzled by some of the route choices in this plan; the route follows streets I would never think of riding on due to either very steep topography or very poor pavement conditions, when there are better alternative routes just a few blocks over which are already designated as bike routes. In particular, I’m looking at the section between SE Powell and SE Belmont, but this also applies to other sections further north, including through the Burnside/28th business district.

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    • ethan October 30, 2015 at 2:18 pm

      PBOT doesn’t really seem to care at all about the 2030 bike plan.

      I’ve been trying for years to get PBOT to make real any of the bike infrastructure that was promised and they haven’t.

      And it’s not just funding that’s holding them back, either. They are too weak against “politically difficult” situations.

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      • paikiala October 30, 2015 at 3:38 pm

        Just because your list of preferences isn’t being constructed doesn’t mean PBOT is ignoring the 2030 plan:

        N Central Greenway
        N Wabash Greenway
        N Bryant Greenway
        NE Bryant Greenway
        N Michigan Greenway
        N Houghton Greenway
        N Concord Greenway
        NE 87th Greenway
        NE Holman Greenway
        NE Klickitat Greenway
        NE Sacramento/77th Greenway
        N Vancouver/Williams
        N Going Greenway
        NE Going Greenway
        SE Spokane Greenway
        SE Bush Greenway
        SE Center Greenway
        SE 19th Greenway
        SE 87th Greenway
        SE 100/101 Greenway
        SW Westwood Greenway
        SW Illinois Greenway
        SW Vermont Greenway
        SW Maplewood/Miles Greenway
        50’s bikeway
        20’s bikeway
        Clinton upgrade to NG standards

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        • Buzz October 30, 2015 at 5:35 pm

          ‘Greenways’ on low-traffic streets are the low-hanging fruit, but most of them are already perfectly safe to ride on without any of the so-called PBOT ‘improvements’.

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        • ethan October 30, 2015 at 6:11 pm

          How many of those are comfortable to ride down?

          Not only are many of them filled with bad pavement, many have high car volumes, high car speed and very little physical protection from distracted drivers.

          In many cases,, bike lanes end at intersections or in areas that have high volumes of car traffic.

          Most don’t have safe crossings of arterial streets and neighborhood collectors.

          Many have mixing zones that can be very dangerous.

          This is very different than what the plan called for. We have sharrows where there should be lanes, lanes where there should be cycle tracks and nonexistent infrastructure where there should be completely grade separated paths.

          And the “progress” that has been made has not been enough for the thousands of people who easily could and would ride. I know people who will drive 10 blocks instead of biking because the direct way is deadly, and the “official” route is 3 times longer.

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  • Captain Karma October 30, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    Right or wrong, “armadillos” look like lawsuits to me.

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  • Jeff Snavely October 30, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    I’m not sure that standing behind something that motorists “usually” avoid would bring me any sense of safety. As a pedestrian, these bumps are pointless.

    As for the bike lanes… every single problem that incomplete or poorly designed bike lanes create can be solved by riding in the traffic lane. You’re slowly but surely striping yourselves down from 2nd to 3rd class citizens.

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  • SE October 31, 2015 at 8:53 am

    and there’s an ADA (for lack of better term) curb at se 122nd & Stark that juts out far enough that the majority of right turning vehicles run over it.

    Pushes bikes out into traffic.

    Another poor implementation by PBOT

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