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Why would anyone ride on that scary stretch of Lombard?

Posted by on December 17th, 2015 at 8:50 am

martin-fullmap-lead

Martin Greenough’s commute on the City of Portland bike map.
(Note: The dotted red line (which denotes a high-caution area) near the crash site is for 42nd Avenue, which is on an overpass above Lombard.)

I don’t ride on Lombard. You probably don’t ride on Lombard. Heck, why would anyone ride on Lombard?

It’s a state highway, a freight route, and people drive about 50 mph on average! In many sections — especially around NE 42nd where 38-year-old Martin Greenough was killed on Saturday — Lombard is essentially an urban freeway. Biking is legally allowed, but practically prohibited by design.

“He was just getting to know the city. He might have just wanted to give it a shot and see.”
— Monica Maggio, Martin Greenough’s housemate

But you wouldn’t know that by looking at a city bike map.

In the past few days I’ve noticed a familiar thread of conversation around this tragic crash: Why was Martin even riding on that section of Lombard when everyone knows to avoid it like the plague? Some people, on a website that shall not be named, even go so far as blaming Martin for being in a place not meant for bike riders.

But what if Martin had no idea just how dangerous Lombard was until it was too late?

For the past few days I’ve been trying to track down people who knew Martin. I want to share more about who he is so we can all remember him as something more than just “that bicyclist.” One thing I’ve learned is that he moved to Portland only two weeks ago.

I’ve spoken with one of Martin’s housemates, Monica Maggio, who shared some touching memories of him. I’ll share more of our conversation in a separate post (I’m still waiting/hoping to hear from his family); but one thing she told me was that Martin had just gotten a new job and was riding home from work when he was hit.

“He had just bought his bike… Saturday night might have been the first time he commuted to that location and back,” Monica said.

He very likely had no idea there was a dangerous gap in the bikeway on his way home.

Martin worked around NE 11th and Columbia and he lived near NE Alberta and Cully — a nice bike commute distance of about 3.6 miles with a direct east-west connection via Lombard.

If not for the admonitions from Monica and the other two housemates Martin was living with, he might have tried to get home via Columbia. “But we told him,” Monica said, “Please don’t ride on Columbia. Find another route. Columbia is too fast, too crazy.”

As many of us know, as dangerous as the biking conditions are on Lombard, Columbia is even worse.

So Martin chose Lombard, which was actually the lesser of two evils.

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Monica said Martin was using one of the city bike maps of Portland to orient himself and find his route. It’s very likely that he simply opened up the map, saw that Lombard was listed as a bikeway and figured he’d take it to Cully, then up to Alberta. Straight and direct. Easy-peasy.

Unfortunately the bike map doesn’t point out that Lombard is a state highway where people drive 50+ mph. Or that the bike lane is often full of debris and gravel or that people often park their cars in the bike lane, forcing bike riders to contend with fast-moving auto traffic. (Stay tuned for our next post which takes a closer look at the riding conditions in this area.)

And inexplicably, the City of Portland bike map doesn’t list the notorious bike lane gap at 42nd as a caution area (it’s a wonderful map and the city staff who work on it are top-notch quality folks, so I’m sure they’ll address this in the next printing).

On the city bike map, the hostile and dangerous bikeway on Lombard is depicted in the exact same way as the relatively serene and safe bikeway on N Vancouver, or the civilized and respectable, grade-separated cycle tracks on Cully.

In other words, to someone new to town there’d be no reason to avoid Lombard. He wasn’t familiar with the neighborhood sidestreets and his map said Lombard would take him directly to Cully with a bike lane the whole way. And of course, Martin probably realized how bad it was once he got on it. But we’ve all done that. We ride on a street and think, ‘Dang, that was scary, I won’t ride here again.’ But we do. Because we might be in a hurry, or we might not have any other choice. Or, like in Martin’s case, we might simply not know of a safer place to ride.

“He was just getting to know the city,” said Monica. “He might have just wanted to give it a shot and see.”

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

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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Alex Reed
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Alex Reed

I’d say that any substandard bike lanes should either be omitted from the map or marked in a different (and light or cautionary) color.

Substandard defined as:
*Anything less than six feet, on any street
*Anything less than 9 feet (six feet + 3 feet door zone shy) in the door zone
*Any bike lane with sunken storm grates & bad pavement (e.g. the newly striped SE 52nd northbound bike lane between Woodstock and Foster)
*Any bike lane with no separation or buffer on a street with an 85th percentile speed of 35 mph or more

Yes, this would mean the City admitting that part of their vaunted X hundred miles is not really good infrastructure. But it’s what necessary in order to serve their citizens well and therefore should be done.

Terry D-M
Guest
Terry D-M

That is how, now that I can make maps, I draw them. This blue lines for these old scary lanes, wider for minimally NACTO Compliant (6 feet) then much wider for modern buffered. Protected gets a bolder blue.

soren
Guest

“Yes, this would mean the City admitting that part of their vaunted X hundred miles is not really good infrastructure.”

People are dying due to deferred construction of safe pedestrian and cycling infrastructure but our elected officials fret about deferred paving.

Priorities.

Ray Atkinson
Guest

I believe a Level of Traffic Stress map for Portland would help to accomplish what you are describing. Does anyone know if PBOT has already created a Level of Traffic Stress map for Portland?

Here are some resources on Level of Traffic Stress.
http://www.bikeleague.org/content/summit-big-idea-low-stress-bicycling-networks
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTYkqUBDvik
http://104.236.213.156/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/SSE_Bicycle-Stress-Level-Mapping-022715.pdf

9watts
Guest
9watts

OR better yet, get out ahead of this depressing situation and take the steps we already know how to take to reduce/eliminate the stress from the routes that could use it. Vision Zero, Platinum, and all that.

Like the attention SE Clinton is getting right now, just everywhere.

It wouldn’t even be that hard. Just skip the autos only; autos first projects around the city for a few years while we catch up with the biking-must-not-involve-outrageous-conditions backlog.

Alex Reed
Guest
Alex Reed

Yeah, honestly, pretty much all our bike facilities are substandard in one way or another (legacy greenways = cut-through routes with bad major-street crossings; bike lanes = discussed above; MUPs = tree-root-ridden, too narrow for current volumes and/or having weird badly-signed gaps e.g. I-205 path @ Flavel). But at least not guiding people (who are likely new to Portland and/or new to biking) onto the very most stressful/most dangerous ones would be a start.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

Colors, red and yellow denote caution…maybe use those colors to indicate dangerous for biking routes.

Looking at the map segment, top of this picture, and considering Greenough’s home to work route, I’m wondering how Ainsworth, Holman, 8th, 9th and 11th streets, all marked in green, are for biking: traffic volume, any bike lanes, etc.

Often, the straightest line to destination, isn’t the best route for biking. Heading off the beaten path may be far better even though it may involve a little extra riding time. People with experience riding in the Beaverton area, for example, may know well that Beav-Hillsdale Hwy from Raleigh Hills to Downtown Beaverton, can be faster than going roundabout on Scholls Ferry Rd, Jameson, Elm, to 5th to Downtown is, but the latter is a far less traveled route, quieter, and most likely safer for biking.

dwk
Guest
dwk

“(it’s a wonderful map and the city staff who work on it are top-notch quality folks, so I’m sure they’ll address this in the next printing).”

What are you talking about?

James
Guest
James

In the 8 or so years since I ditched my car, I’ve lost count of the number of times that city- or state-provided bike route maps have lead me to terrifying road conditions. I absolutely do not trust them anymore. And I don’t blame anyone who has tried to follow such maps and decided that driving was probably in their best interest.

It’s absolutely heartbreaking, the possibility that Martin died because he thought he had moved to “America’s Bike Capitol”, only to be betrayed by sub-standard, car-centric road design.

Tom Martin
Guest
Tom Martin

Yet, Portland IS better than most cities. WAAAAY better. It’s true that there are significant gaps and maintenance issues, but yall have never tried to be bike free in Annapolis or Baltimore, MD. Still, I understand the issues. We should be better, and the investment is minimal as compared to car centric building.

B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

Back in the early part of this century, my wife was driving a van on highway 126 (between Eugene and Florence, at the coast). It’s a state bike route, largely so that ODOT can more easily secure funding for it, but in many years of riding it I only saw one other cyclist on it, and for good reason.

My wife encountered a group of young riders and their adult escorts at the dreaded “Mapleton Tunnel”. They had routed themselves there based on the state bike map, but knew that attempting to pass through that tunnel was ill-advised, at best. My wife offered to drive behind them with her four-ways going so they could proceed on their trip, an offer they were only too happy to take her up on.

I don’t understand why the bike maps put out by cities, counties and the state aren’t better checked prior to publication. Not only are there roads listed as fine to ride on that are anything but safe, there are often superior alternatives that are not put on the map simply because the silly staff haven’t designated them as bike routes in their not-the-real-world models.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

“‘He had just bought his bike… Saturday night might have been the first time he commuted to that location and back,’ Monica said.

He very likely had no idea there was a dangerous gap in the bikeway on his way home.”

This is what rankles me. Martin didn’t study hard enough before attempting to get from A to B on a bike. As a bicyclist, I can’t trust maps, Google, GPS—anything—to point me to a “safe” route. And really, why aren’t all routes “safe”? Why can I expect to drive my car anywhere, traveling any route I want, but if I want to travel by bike, I must study carefully, make trial runs, review video, check maps and street views, cross-referencing multiple sources to see whether the bike lane drops or there is a left turn signal, or a way around that doesn’t involve left turns or two-way stops, find out what the de facto speed is on a street that is signed for 30 mph, hope the shoulder or bike lane is as wide as it looks online and there aren’t huge drainage pits in it and the stripes haven’t worn off since the last time the Google photo car drove by (I have started looking at the “image capture” dates on Google street view to get some notion of whether the picture is still accurate for places I haven’t been). If I don’t do all of the above I could DIE.

If I hop in my car and follow my nose, the worst I can expect is getting lost.

We should never, ever have to ask “why would anyone ride their bike on that route?”

9watts
Guest
9watts

comment of the week (my vote).
Thanks for hammering on this point, El Biciclero.

axoplasm
Subscriber

This exactly. Thank you.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

“…And really, why aren’t all routes “safe”? …” bic

Easy: It would cost tons of money to make all of them safe, and people don’t have it.

If you or anyone else reading here, has any ideas about how to get people living in Oregon and paying taxes, to be prepared to shell out the money needed to make superior bike infrastructure that would prevent the type of collision Matin Greenough succumbed to, let’s here them. People aren’t willing to pay for protected bike lanes everywhere, and that type of bike infrastructure is the only thing that may be able to keep motor vehicles out of the bike lane.

9watts
Subscriber

“Easy: It would cost tons of money to make all of them safe, and people don’t have it.”

Poppycock. We have plenty of money; those we’ve elected or who have been appointed by those we elect just happen to habitually drive (suffer from Car Head) and so prefer to prioritize in a way that does not help the Martin Greenoughs of this world. $200 million that no citizen asked to be spent studying the CRC (just as an example) would have gone a long way toward the ends you say are impossible.

And what is this talk of ‘people don’t want’? What is the process by which you determine this? And don’t say ODOT’s priorities perfectly reflect the true wishes of the people, because I think is very easy to show this not to be the case.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

Are any substantial numbers of people, such as a majority…outside of bike advocates, and people commenting to bike weblogs somewhat like this one, asking that far more than is now, of their tax dollars, be spent on superior bike lane infrastructure (such as a system of main lane separated ‘protected bike lanes’, or ‘cycle tracks’.) rather than on expansion and improvement to roads for motor vehicle use?

I’m fairly sure they’re not making any such request. If they were, it most likely would be covered extensively by the media, because that would be big time news. I’d be delighted to hear that a majority of Oregonians are upset that elected officials and transportation personnel are devoting road budgets to travel improvement for motor vehicle use rather than the same for bike use.

9watts
Guest
9watts

“Are any substantial numbers of people, such as a majority…outside of bike advocates, and people commenting to bike weblogs somewhat like this one, asking that far more than is now, of their tax dollars, be spent on superior bike lane infrastructure”
The funny thing is, wsbob, this litmus test (that there must be a sustained request from enough people) is never expected much less required of cars-only projects. I’ve been pointing this out to you every time you say the above. Are you hearing me?

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

Silence is consent.

B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

And here I always thought silence indicated apathy more than consent.

shirtsoff
Guest
shirtsoff

Thank you, 9watts! When we discuss active transportation infrastructure, inevitably the idea of “well, someone has to pay for it.. tell me who!” always enters the discussion. It’s apologetic nonesense that misdirects the discussion away from safety and the worth of human lives and frames it instead as an “inevitable consequence” of motorized traffic..

There is *plenty* of money in the interstate and DOT budgets for active transportation if only it were prioritized. Even back country roads with low usage find a way to be funded. Motorized traffic always wins thanks to decades of successful lobbying from the auto industry. Why is it that we never ask who will pay for those rural roadways which sometimes have no shoulders, horrible line of sight and other issues yet when we discuss building safe pathways for active transportation *that* question of “who will pay” is always thrown into the mix? Why isn’t it asked in every instance if it is a fair question?

We bend over backwards to pay for routes that benefit only a few users out of the conditioning to support motorized traffic at any cost. If we channeled that willingness into bicycles and other modes we would have an interstate system in place for active transportation before another year passed.

Pete
Guest
Pete

++COTW;

These were my first thoughts reading this. I’ve scouted bike routes using my car in the past, in the Portland and Beav/Hells areas, and especially when I moved to silicon valley in 2009. When I got my LCI there was dedicated discussion on the topic of ‘route selection.’ I can’t remember any time in my life when had to I use a bicycle to scout a route to see if it was safe to drive on though.

Angel
Guest
Angel

It would also be nice if Google would default to biking/walking/kayaking/etc for shorter distances.

Lester Burnham
Guest
Lester Burnham

Don’t forget being hit by impaired drivers and left for dead.

Duncan Watson
Guest
Duncan Watson

I am in Seattle nowadays but I know that I rode a lot of roads that others would say “Why would you ride that?” when I encountered them in the wild. There is no reliable pathfinding method to avoid these kind of issues and there are often no alternatives. It needs to be a priority to make sure that this kind of gap doesn’t exist. You covered the underpass/highway merge issue previously. This needs to be our standard.

Bb
Guest
Bb

Cyclist Second class citizen.

One who must plan out a feasible route and if not approved by motorists. They will be subject to ridicule, harresment, and blame.

Peejay
Guest
Peejay

While the fault for this specific tragedy rests with the criminally negligent ODOT, Portland must own up to its responsibilities here. The city has been using “America’s Bike City” in its boosterism and promotions without doing the work necessary to make it so. For every Tilicum Crossing, there is a SE 52nd (or for that matter, the eastside approaches to Tilicum itself) in the network. We put up with it because we are motivated and want to ride. So we ride on substandard junk routes, and cheer the city on for trying really hard, but are they?

What if the bike riders of this city went on strike? If every trip made with a bike were suddenly made with an SOV? Or not made at all, and businesses had to close down during the strike? Then what, Portland? Would the mayor and city council take us seriously then?

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

PJ,

Where does the city promote itself as ‘America’s Bike City’?

Alex Reed
Guest
Alex Reed

Hard to dig that up (if indeed the City has ever used those words), but Travel Portland certainly paints an in my opinion unjustifiably rosy picture.

http://www.travelportland.com/article/bike-tours-rentals/

“Portland has more than 300 miles (483 km) of bike lanes, paths and low-traffic streets designated as “bike boulevards,” making cycling one of the best ways to see the city. Many of these bikeways run right through the heart of downtown and past popular attractions, shops and restaurants.”

A) A good number of the 300 miles are bike lanes on Lombard, Barbur, and similar streets that very few tourists are going to have any interest in – and as we’ve seen, could easily get in over their head on.

B) “Many of these bikeways run right through the heart of downtown and past popular attractions, shops, and restaurants” – Shops and restaurants, sure, but “right through the heart of downtown” is one of the bigger mismatches of biking demand (for tourists especially) and bike infrastructure supply. There is the waterfront path at downtown’s edge, the Broadway bike lanes which for much of their length are 5-foot door-zone hotel-zone facilities, and the stark/Oak heavily-motor-vehicle-encroached bike lanes to nowhere. That’s it.

Alex Reed
Guest
Alex Reed

Actually, even the “shops and restaurants” part is misleading. A high percentage of the bike infrastructure that’s going to be widely appealing to tourists is greenways, which in fact go past very few shops, restaurants, or attraction. Unless they mean “past” as in “2-6 blocks away from” which is – still misleading.

Alex Reed
Guest
Alex Reed

I know Travel Portland is not a City bureau, but it is funded through a City Tourism Improvement District and thus City Council should have an oversight role.

Alex Reed
Guest
rick
Guest
rick

Why ride ODOT’s Lombard or TV Highway or SW BH Highway? Because many side streets are dead-ends or because the thru-streets are littered with trailers without license plates.

Alan 1.0
Subscriber

Because it goes where you want to go with the shortest distance and least grade.

JF
Guest
JF

Very helpful perspective. Answers the questions we’ve all been asking. And, yes, we have all found ourselves on a road we regretted. But unlike Martin, we were lucky enough to survive it.

Tony H
Guest
Tony H

There have been a few times I have found myself on a road and promised myself that I would never do that again. Perhaps (and we will never know) Martin was thinking that exact same thing before he was killed. This is so tragic. And reading that he was new to Portland, and was just beginning to get out and about by bike makes it even worse, if that’s possible. If the driver gets life in prison, or gets released on a technicality next Tuesday, that doesn’t change the underlying problems here. As Chuck Marohn (the Strong Towns Blog) says repeatedly, if you have to constantly tell people to slow down, you’ve designed your street wrong.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

El Biciclero
As a bicyclist, I can’t trust maps, Google, GPS—anything—to point me to a “safe” route.

This.

Some routes listed as highly dangerous (and are regarded as such by the cycling community) are quite safe because the environment is such that motorists pay attention and sight lines are good. Other times, routes might be described as safe when the reality is quite the opposite. There are other times where the designated routes are plenty safe, but they’re so crazy slow that I’d rather take a busy road.

Pinch points are highly undesirable and need to be eliminated over time, but there are ways to ride them. I’ve ridden that particular stretch, and in all honesty I don’t think it’s that bad even if it’s far from optimal.

We need to keep pushing for proper facilities and encouraging motorists to do what they should. But cyclists who choose more problematic environments do need to be more prepared than most.

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

What a sad story. Thanks for looking into it, JM.

Asher Atkinson
Guest
Asher Atkinson

Thanks for providing more background to this tragedy. This make me so sad and forces me to take a new look at the cycling advocacy I generally support.

My initial reaction, like many posting on Bike Portland, was to ‘fix’ it ASAP by creative striping or routing the bike lane to the right of the bridge pillars. My reaction now is to fix it by redirecting cyclists off most of sections of Lombard, and other roads where, as you say, biking is legally allowed, but practically prohibited by design. It’s inexcusable to direct a cyclist down dangerous roads before they understand what they are dealing with.

Another reaction is to effectively burn the maps and replace with real time, crowd sourced route information. Strava heat maps are an example. Where you can ride and where you should ride are very different. I happen to know the roads well between Martin’s commute and wish there were better mechanisms to share information based on rider experience. I turn to strava all the time to learn about routes, but it is more in the context of recreationally riding. Identifying and drawing attention to similar tools specifically designed for commuters is likely more effective and expedient than fighting with ODOT over lanes and signage.

9watts
Guest
9watts

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that hundreds (thousands?) of people have biked on Lombard for decades and not been killed.
This is both a simple and a complex problem.

+ Simple in that the idiot who ran over Martin was not paying attention and probably also driving faster than his lack of attention warranted.

+ Simple in that this was a shitty piece of infrastructure as highlighted by Hazel/bp on the day before.

Complex in that we have created and many are working hard to perpetuate a society that is profoundly unequal when it comes to infrastructure parity, safety, prioritization (thanks Matt Garrett and Oregonlive and Car Head and David Evans & Associates and Charlie-asphalt-Hales who only rode his bike when he was up for reelection). Backing out of this mess is not simple or straightforward or quick, but it will work a lot better, more people will get home alive in the future if we start yesterday and stop dilly-dallying (Matt Garrett, are you listening, or just saddened?).

Asher Atkinson
Guest
Asher Atkinson

To clarify, I should have suggested directing cyclists off NE Lombard, specifically from 11th to where it becomes Killingsworth, just past Cully.

Yes, hundreds may have navigated that section in the past without issue, but why not strongly encourage safer routes through nicer streets and focus on building up that infrastructure, as it will likely serve more cyclists over the years.

I’ve lived off NE Going for years and seen the bike boulevard subtly, yet significantly, change the character of the neighborhood. The same is happening on Holman and Dekum. I’m convinced building out safe and largely separated routes through neighborhoods brings value to both cyclists and the surrounding community. If we accept resources are limited, then isn’t it better to invest them in neighborhoods, rather than under a highway bridge? Yes, a few intrepid and hurried cyclist, my self included, may find occasional value in blazing down NE Lombard. But most, and probably Martin based on what we’ve come to learn of him, will prefer calmer routes for commutes once they know about them.

Kathleen Parker
Guest
Kathleen Parker

I have ridden near this crash site in fear several times to get to Whitaker Ponds, a Metro Natural Area on NE 47th across Columbia Blvd. while I enjoy the solitude of Whitaker Ponds, access to this public space for walkers, bikers, and transit riders is terribly dangerous. A very sad death. Many people are biking and walking around this area with no support from city infrastructure.

Branden S.
Guest
Branden S.

I personally avoid riding Lombard at all costs, but at the same time I’m comfortable riding MLK from Russell all the way down to Division on a regular basis.

TonyT
Subscriber
TonyT

While I can empathize with Jonathan’s desire to preemptively defend the makers of the map, let’s not underestimate the likely role that the map played in this.

“On the city bike map, the hostile and dangerous bikeway on Lombard is depicted in the exact same way as the relatively serene and safe bikeway on N Vancouver, or the civilized and respectable, grade-separated cycle tracks on Cully.”

THAT right there is huge. Somewhere along the line, politics played a role in this map. It HAD to. There’s no way any informed person intent on informing others could describe these two stretches of road as even remotely similar.

The city should scrap their existing map and start over. It should be made for people like Martin (obviously), not as a boosterism bauble intended to impress people with our “infrastructure” which in most instances is PAINT on the side of the road.

This isn’t the first time that Portland’s maps have failed us in politically convenient ways.

Head to this story and check out the “auto speeds” and “auto volumes” maps. http://bikeportland.org/2015/08/26/council-vote-today-allow-diverters-neighborhood-greenways-156319

As I commented then, “They combine ‘low speed’ and ‘no data’ on the speed map and ‘low volume’ and ‘no data’ on the volume map. This is terrible map making at best, and purposely misleading at worst.”

“Ask yourself why they chose to combine low speeds/volumes with no data, rather than high speeds/volume and no data. The no data areas could JUST as easily be suffering from high speed/volume.

This was a conscious choice with an obvious flaw in regards to predictable interpretation error. At a glance it makes the thin green lines seem like success, when they may very well be a gap in data obscuring speed/volume failure.”

The city wants to look good and they’re hiding and obscuring data to make it happen.

End rant.

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

Good rant, TonyT. Bad (and self-serving) map!

Kris
Guest
Kris

TonyT hits the nail on the head.

This map is clearly erroneous and misleading by showing all of N Lombard in blue (“Bike lane – painted lane on higher traffic street”), while there is a key section that features no shoulder and forces bikes onto a high-speed roadway. With 20/20 hindsight, it is obvious that they should have left out the middle section of N Lombard (i.e. apply no color, like they did with other problematic roads like Sandy Boulevard) or mark it with red dots (“Difficult connection – use caution, use sidewalk, or find a different route”), so users like Martin Greenough could plan to go around via NE Dekum and NE Killingsworth.

BTW: some great investigative journalism on your end, Jonathan. I hope you follow up with PBOT Transportation Options to get a better understanding on how this erroneous marking made it onto their print maps, despite all the expert staffers and GIS tech at their disposal. I hope it will result in some soul-searching on what the primary goal of these maps should be: providing new cyclists a realistic picture of where it is safe to ride and where it is unsafe; or just a promotional tool to make the case that Portland has a world-class, fully connected bike network with hardly any gaps or dangerous connections.

m
Guest
m

Excellent analysis. Thanks for sharing. Such at tragedy.

Hazel
Guest
Hazel

I was thinking about this same thing on my morning rode. When I complained to ODOT about this issue, part of their response was that I should just ride elsewhere. While I am connected socially through bikes by being involved in the community, living here for twenty years and owning a smart phone that can help me way find. There are many people who bike in Portland, especially those that are low income or minority that don’t have that priveldge. They become more vulnerable when an entity say “just ride somewhere else” since those people may never be aware of options or that a road with a bike lane isn’t actually safe.

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

Good point, Hazel. And a lot of us still have (if anything) dumbphones.

9watts
Subscriber

Yep, just a corded one at home.

Alan 1.0
Subscriber

Hazel, given that you have those privileges, what route have you chosen through this area? If you don’t use Lombard, is it just because of this pinch point, or are there more factors?

Hazel
Guest
Hazel

Alan, I am the person that reported this issue to ODOT. I ride on Lombard sometimes. I also take Holman. I am also what would be considered am expert/confident rider. At the pinch point, I stop and wait until there are no vehicles coming to travel under the 42nd overpass.

Alan 1.0
Subscriber

Thanks, Hazel, I recognized your name. The fact that you have all that knowledge (or/& “privilege”) and still consider Lombard a viable bike route says to me that it is.

Hazel
Guest
Hazel

As someone else stated, most of this route provides a huge shoulder along with the bike lane so it doesn’t seem any worse than biking on 30. Beyond the issue at 42nd, there are always cars parked in the bike lane since there’s no parking enforcement and the exit entrance to 33rd is a little dicey too. As I also mentioned, this route is super fast and I don’t see why cyclists can’t have that option sometimes too! I’ve never timed it but the route up Holman is much slower. There are a lot of major crossings and stop signs. My guess is Lombard saves me 15-20 minutes.

John Stephens
Guest
John Stephens

I often see cyclists on Ainsworth and Killingsworth, sometimes even Prescott, and I want to let them know there are much safer streets to ride on, such as Going, but that’s not an easy conversation when I’m in a vehicle and they are navigating a tight and busy street. It’s also their right to be on those streets, so I’m not trying to tell them to do something they don’t want to do. However, the city could place more signage on busy streets that indicate where a better cycling option is located.

AndyC of Linnton
Guest
AndyC of Linnton

On the city bike map, heading east from N. Willamette, Ainsworth is marked as a bike boulevard/ neighborhood greenway,until you reach NE 18th. Past MLK I would not consider it to be anything close to this, but there it is on the map.

AndyC of Linnton
Guest
AndyC of Linnton

I haven’t been to that stretch of Ainsworth in a while, so maybe there are speed bumps/ neighborhood greenway signs, and sharrows, but you know, I assume not.

dwk
Guest
dwk

If I were King, I would make the bike greenways/blvds. in this city car free (except those who live on them), and I would outlaw bikes on busy streets as the exchange for public support.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

How would you do that? (details matter)

soren
Subscriber

“However, the city could place more signage on busy streets that indicate where a better cycling option is located.”

The city could start building bike facilities on busy streets because these streets are often the most direct route and/or the destination of people biking.

dwk
Guest
dwk

Sorry Soren, streets like Fremont in NE, Broadway, Weidler, Sandy, etc. will never be bike friendly streets, ever.
I will give up riding on those in exchange for making Tillamook, etc. car free.
Until there are car free routes there will never be wide spread cycling transportation….

soren
Subscriber

A road diet and protected bike lane is planned for the Broadway-Weidler couplet. I’m optimistic. (Sandy as well at some point in the future.)

maxD
Guest
maxD

Going is considered a greenway/bike route, but between 7th and Interstate it has exactly ZERO safe crossings of busy arterial/commercial streets. Skidmore provides controlled intersections at 7th, MLK, Williams, Vancouver, Mississippi and Interstate. If you were following and trusting the bike map, you would attempt to cross the quadruple threat on MLK without a signal despite a signal being one block away!

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

maxD, Define ‘safe’. It’s not easy, and people usually say something very subjective, but I’ve said too much already.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

BTW,
Few, if any, traffic engineers would call a signal ‘safe’.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

You’re right. Waiting at the curb forever is definitely safer than attempting to cross an unsignaled intersection.

Bald One
Guest
Bald One

I ride Ainsworth a fair amount, and I think it’s a great street for biking. The only problem with it are the very few/occasional a-hole drivers who feel they have a right to go really fast and all bikers should get out of their way so they don’t have to slow down.

Angel
Guest
Angel

I used to ride Ainsworth when I was new to town. Coming from the famous-for-bikes small city of Davis, riding bikes in Portland was quite the culture shock. It was SO SCARY! I walk a lot more in Portland than I would if the streets felt more safe, and Ainsworth, for me, is one very clear example of that.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

“…the city could place more signage on busy streets that indicate where a better cycling option is located.”

CYCLISTS: PLEASE GO MILES OUT OF YOUR WAY AND USE STREETS FULL OF STOP SIGNS THAT DO NOT LEAD TO YOUR DESTINATION –Thanks, The City.

Oh, and while you’re on those STOP sign-filled routes, watch out for “enforcement actions”—just a friendly reminder.

Mike
Guest
Mike

I rode Lombard between 27th & MLK for about 5-6 years on a daily commute from Alberta & 28th up to Vancouver, WA (this was 9 years ago).
It was crappy, traffic was mostly fast, and the road debris rivaled Dirty 30. However, the shoulder was generally wide enough that I didn’t feel any more at risk than other high volume roads with a bike lane. I’ll call myself an Adventurous Commuter so my tolerance of potentially risky conditions is probably higher than most.

It’s been mentioned above but I’ll echo the thought that the PBOT bike map utterly fails users in that area because of the pinch-point under the bypass. If that doesn’t qualify as a Difficult Connection (their definition), I don’t know what is. Taking cyclists from a fairly wide shoulder to *sharing the lane* with drivers going 55+ with no warning is grossly negligent. Why it wasn’t marked as a Difficult Connection is beyond me.

Naturally, their disclaimer “While we have made every effort to provide a high quality, accurate and useable map, the information is advisory only. Map users assume all risks as to the quality and accuracy of the map information, and agree that their use is at their own risk” absolves them of responsibility.

I’d think there should be something a little more obvious other than a dashed red line. Solid black line? A “Very Dangerous – Do Not Ride Here” call-out? But I can easily see why PBOT would avoid putting something on a bike map that hints that a portion of the city is essentially unrideable or life-threatening. Sadly, it would require some honesty by them to admit that, despite their efforts, there are a number of locations around the city that are substandard for cyclists and carry a higher risk than normal of injury or death if used.

I get that they can’t fix everything overnight. I also get that there are certain things that can never be fixed. But being upfront with us on dangerous areas is the least they can do.

fourknees
Guest
fourknees

Tony H
There have been a few times I have found myself on a road and promised myself that I would never do that again.

This. I’ve ridden on SW Barbur Blvd once and only once shortly after I moved to Portland. I promised my family I would never ride it again. Barbur is also a “blue” for bike lanes road, but it does have the red dots at the bridges and some other gaps. The “bicycles in roadway” sign with blinky lights has not changed my mindset on riding this road.

Joe
Guest
Joe

RIP 🙁 such a sad story, think everyone who rides wants to find that “safe route”.

AndyC of Linnton
Guest
AndyC of Linnton

I’ve always taken these maps with a huge grain of salt. I think I’ve said this before, but calling a thing doesn’t make it that thing. Imagine the parks department put out a parks map and included the median to I-5 as urban green space. Technically, sure. Realistically, no. I’m not trying to get down on those that put out the map too much, but who are you putting this map out for? If I hadn’t been riding in this city for about a decade before I saw one of these, I would have no way to know that much of the information is not accurate.

Scott H
Guest
Scott H

“He was just getting to know the city”

This makes me so angry. Portland deserves better than this.

Weiwen Ng
Guest
Weiwen Ng

FYI, while there was nothing quite this bad in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, Maryland (at least nothing I actually rode), the city had several designated bike lanes or bike-friendly roads that were less than bike-friendly.

Bald One
Guest
Bald One

Jonathan – nice piece of journalism. I look forward to hearing more on this story.

Chris Balduc
Guest
Chris Balduc

I would like to see an app developed that would allow us to outline bike routes through Portland. The app would contain a map of Portland and a draw function to highlight street bike routes throughout the city. Registered users could add their own layer of routes they find trustworthy or not, and the routes could be rated on a scale and compared to other rider’s routes. If an app like that saw wide use, it would be much more reliable and expansive than a printed city map with standard bike routes that must be revised regularly, or even Google maps.

Also, if PDOT doesn’t step in and create warning signs for riders on bike-hell streets. We could do it ourselves.

Carrie
Subscriber

Wow Jonathan. Thank you for the analysis. I don’t have anything substantive to add, except this is scary to me, as my teen is out riding around Portland armed with one of these maps to help her navigate parts of town she’s not familiar with. And I did trust them — not to be perfect, but to also not put her in direct danger like riding on Lombard would be.

Bald One
Guest
Bald One

“Bike lane full of debris and gravel”

this is a constant problem that I wish the city would fix by scheduling more frequent sweeps of bike lanes that are in gutters on busier streets. seems like they should have a priority schedule of street sweeping for major arterials with bike lanes, but I think their current schedule just fits these into an annual calendar. They should get on these more often, and they should know where the bad spots are and take care of them with more regular sweeping and special sweeping after big storms dump extra debris in them (bottom of the hill on N Greeley).

I have a couple of spots that I call the city on for sweeping whenever the bike lane is overflowing with garbage and rocks – but, it doesn’t usually seem to get them to move any faster on it than their regular schedule. The 823-safe number usually gives you a fun excercise in goverment outreach – “this might be an ODOT maintained section”; “this is handled by the night shift, can you call them?”; “it’s hard to believe there is that much debris in the road – are you talking about the bike lanes?” These are some typical responses I get at 823-SAFE on my regular call about the same section of N. Lombard street. With patience, I can usually get through to the point where they recognize it is a PBOT section of Lombard, and they will contact the night shift for me in order to schedule the sweeping. Sweeping usually takes 2-3 weeks to happen after the call. One section of N Lombard is part of the so-called “40 mile loop”.

40-mile loop has a nice gap in the bike lane at N Lombard/N Columbia intersection – the bike lane just ends for about a mile before there is a chance to get into the greenways in ST John’s. The new $1M bridge in the N-Portland Greenway over UPRR tracks to Chimney park unceremoniously dumps any cyclist right onto N Columbia, where it is a desparate 1/2 mile (of 50+mph auto/truck traffic) to get to the bike lanes (if you can see them under the dirt/debris there).

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

Immediate maintenance needs are better directed to 823-1700 – Maintenance Operations, staffed 24/7.

Anne Hawley
Subscriber
Anne Hawley

I can’t guess the number of hours I’ve spent (had the leisure and privilege to spend) poring over Google Maps and Streetview to find a safe-feeling route to some new destination. I’m a native, I’ve been biking here for several years now, I don’t usually have to go to super-unfamiliar places, and these days I have all the time in the world.

Even while I was still working, I had the kind of job in front of a computer every day where I could take the time to research my after-work route if I wasn’t going straight home.

I learned very early in my scaredy-cat bike commuting life that the maps (and nav systems based on them) would route me to places that were way too dangerous for me.

It shouldn’t require my level of privilege, leisure, luck, and fear to get home alive on a bike in this town. It really shouldn’t.

Brendan Treacy
Guest
Brendan Treacy

Such a sad story. I feel bad so bad about this. It’s so easy to imagine that being me. That’s not the Portland we want to be, not at all.

BLINKY
Subscriber

Good article! I’m not a map nerd but I enjoy a well designed hiking map and carry around a bunch of the neighborhood maps in my pack for handing out to new riders I encounter. I generally dig em.

Reading this got me wondering, would it be a good/bad/ or even possible to put fatality count markers on the neighborhood maps or have an overlay with this info? I was biking around SF on a vacation last summer and a few intersections I passed jogged my memory of collisions I’d read about and elevated my alert level.

todd boulanger
Guest
todd boulanger

Back to the question: ‘Why bike on NE Lombard / NE Portland Highway’…in general there is bike traffic and ODOT/ City / drivers should expect bike traffic here since:
– people live and work on this arterial highway;
– people bike to where they typically would drive to (to buy things, etc.);
– novice cyclists (or cyclists riding in a district for the first time) typically bike along routes they have driven on (until they know the ‘good-cuts’ and bike friendly connections, since our bike network is not perfect) – thinking like a driver in route selection [vs. those of use who drive like we bike – in route selection];
– bike map/ guideway signs (?) guides them there;
– the district’s poor roadway network and access control (dike and railroad over crossings) naturally funnels traffic to the routes of least resistance like Lombard;
– the green neighbourhood bikeways are sometimes best to avoid for commute trips since they often have lots of stops signs and long delays crossing unsignalized intersections with major cross town arterials; and
– ditto

todd boulanger
Guest
todd boulanger

This situation and the issue of successfully implementing (not just adopting) Vision Zero will cause more of this type of discussion and professional soul searching.

The critical discussion should be is re-looking at legacy bikeways design upgrades – routes designs that may not always be ideal now (‘make it fit the best you can’ for a few ‘Strong But Fearless’ riders attending meetings) and have aged poorly as they are used more (bike traffic volume) and used by more novice commuters (was Martin a ‘Enthused and Confident’ rider). Portland and ODOT has changed a lot since 1998/1999…but some of its facilities have not.

Gerald Fittipaldi
Guest
Gerald Fittipaldi

When I was new to Portland I did the same thing as Martin, only on Killingsworth. I needed to get from Alberta Park to somewhere in East Portland. I looked at the Portland Bike Map and thought, “Sweet. I can take back roads until I get to 42nd where the bike lane on Killingsworth starts. Then I’ll head straight to the I-205 path.” … Never. Again. Now if I have time I go through the hassle of looking on Google’s Street View before getting on my bike to see what I’m getting myself into.

I’ve learned to avoid streets with the blue bike lane lines in general, as most of them are door-zone-bike-lanes on high-volume, often high-speed streets (NE 47th, NE 57th, Lombard, Killingsworth, NE 42nd, NE 7th/Sandy, NE Weidler, SE 26th, NW & SW Broadway, etc.). ALL. DEATH. TRAPS. To be avoided whenever possible.

Gerald Fittipaldi
Guest
Gerald Fittipaldi

Didn’t mean to bash the City’s Bike Map, as overall it’s a very well done map. Good scale and readable. Seeing where the Neighborhood Greenways are is very helpful. I also like that many of the dangerous intersections are highlighted. My gripe is with 5-ft wide bike lanes squeezed between parking and narrow (10-ft or 11-ft) travel lanes, on high-volume streets. That would never fly in places that Portland is supposedly trying to emulate, such as Holland.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

Change takes time.

Stephen Keller
Guest
Stephen Keller

Just for grins I asked Google how to get by bike from Martin’s work place to his home (based on the map shown above). Here are the alternates Google proposed:

https://goo.gl/maps/rZdR2CtCymL2

None put a cyclist on Lombard. Columbia features in both (one takes the cyclist through the 33rd exchange (tricky at night) and another puts the cyclist on Columbia from 33rd to 60th (not a good choice at all).

todd boulanger
Guest
todd boulanger

Dusting off my 1993* Sign Up For the Bike, Design Manual for a Cycle-Friendly Infrastructure, #10, CROW, Netherlands…the question to ODoT & PBoT would be do the bikeway facilities in this district adhere to the Programme of Requirements set forth (below) by one of the world’s top cycle infrastructure groups:

1) COHERENCE:
The cycling-infrastructure forms a coherent unit and links with all departure points and destinations of cyclists.

2) DIRECTNESS:
The cycling-infrastructure continually offers the cyclist as direct a route as possible (so detours are kept to a minimum).

3) ATTRACTIVENESS:
The cycling-infrastructure is designed and fitted in the surroundings in such a way that cycling is attractive.

4) SAFETY: and
The cycling-infrastructure guarantees the road safety of cyclists and other road-users.

5) COMFORT:
The cycling-infrastructure enables a quick and comfortable flow of bicycle-traffic.

*I remember picking up this guide when new. It still rings true today after almost a quarter of a century.

http://trid.trb.org/view.aspx?id=385473
http://www.crow.nl/english-summary

kittens
Guest
kittens

I’ve ridden Lombard on this stretch before and will in the future because it is by far the shortest and fastest route if you are starting in Cully and going to Delta.

Racer X
Guest
Racer X

No one would dare to run over a big cat like you ‘kittens’.

How do you fit into the bike lanes without Trimet buses brushing up too much fur, I gotta ask.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Oh…and PBoT, please remember to rush in a map update for your electronic versions too. This may be the quickest what to address not having a big red “X” on this bike lane drop zone.

Alan 1.0
Subscriber

I just checked and the online NE Portland Bike/Walk Map has not been updated for Lombard at 42nd. I dropped a note about it to ‘Active.Transportation’ and ‘SAFE’ at portlandoregon.gov. The auto-reply message says, “Due to the current high-volume of requests, PBOT Traffic Engineering staff have an investigation response time of 16 weeks from now for an engineering review.” Here’s hoping they expedite this small but important item.

eddie
Guest
eddie

I’m going to use this as a textbook case when people insist that the existence of a bike lane means a safer – for – biking street. I hope they change the damn map. That’s just dumb. Lombard should be red, just based on how fast the cars go there.

Scott Kocher
Guest

Another needed map fix: Hwy 30 west of town.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

Can we bring back the law about stopping at the bar / sign / crosswalk instead of 8ft later? And maybe that thing with driving the posted speed or under if conditions aren’t perfect? I know asking for turn signals is too much, so I’ll stop there.

David Lewis
Guest

I came to Portland to go to United Bicycle Institute, and I now I own a bicycle business here. When I first got here and opened a cycling map, I thought it was some kind of sick joke map I had accidentally opened. It was painfully obvious that Portland bike routes are a combination of the following:

1) Activists’ routes to work
2) Routes to nowhere
3) Full of side streets and turns

It doesn’t help that street signs here are often only painted on one side, so it’s often impossible to know what street you’re on if you didn’t already know. It makes exploration less enjoyable.

We live in one of the most progressive cities in our country, the richest most powerful in the world. It does not have to be this way.

NikBike
Guest
NikBike

I remember when we moved to Portland 10 years we biked on all the streets because we came from the east coast where there were no bike lanes, maps or bike routes. I remembering biking up 39th completely unfazed because that’s exactly what biking everywhere was like where we came from. When we found the bike maps it was awesome. I’d probably never bike on 39th now.