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What the heck is going on with the 26th Avenue bike lanes?

Posted by on January 7th, 2016 at 2:46 pm

26thbikelanesstreetview

SE 26th Avenue looking south toward Powell.

Is the City of Portland, newly anointed “Biketown”, really going to remove a bike lane because our state department of transportation said it would improve safety?

That story we reported yesterday has sparked outrage, confusion, and frustration — all completely reasonable reactions to the idea of removing a bike lane in order to make biking safer. While we work to clarify the details and get to the bottom of what’s really going on (weaving the different communications from city officials and state officials together into one coherent whole is proving more complicated than expected), I thought I’d share what two notable Portland bike advocates think about the idea.

“If we have a safety problem, why would you take the victims of that problem and force them to go to a different place?”
— Ray Thomas, lawyer and veteran bike advocate

I called lawyer Ray Thomas yesterday to ask him about the legal implications that might arise if the bike lanes were removed and someone riding a bike was subsequently hit and injured or killed. A lawsuit that settled in California just a few months ago ordered the City of Indian Wells to pay $5.8 million to a man’s family after he was killed while biking on a street where bike lanes were removed.

When it comes to the possibility of removing the bike lanes on SE 26th Avenue, Thomas said he was more curious about the political liabilities of the decision. Here are his comments:

“If we have a safety problem, why would you take the victims of that problem and force them to go to a different place? Why would you take an existing facility out on a corridor where people ride and force them into what is essentially a detour? It’s sort of like adding insult to injury. You’re punishing the victim. I’d rather see them spend money to improve the intersection or restrict traffic on 26th so it could be a pedestrian and bicycle non-motorized corridor.

This is a solution that doesn’t take into account the nature of the wrong, which is, that people are driving dangerously. A solution that sends the bicyclists on a detour, even with a nice signal, doesn’t make sense to me.

If someone was hit trying to follow the bike map on 26th that shows it as a bike route, or trying to follow the new the detour, then I could see it resulting in some liability; but mostly I see it as just a bad idea.”

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The next person I talked to was the Executive Director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, Rob Sadowsky. He said he and staffer Gerik Kransky met with ODOT Region 1 Director Rian Windsheimer and ODOT’s Region 1 Public Policy and Community Affairs Manager Shelli Romero several months ago when the issue first bubbled up with a big rally at the site back in May. Sadowsky expressed some confusion about the removal of the bike lane because he has heard different things from ODOT and the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT). “I’m hearing different things from different people at both agencies,” he said.

“Over our dead bodies. I made that clear. We will look at legal options if necessary.”
— Rob Sadowsky, BTA

At issue (and we’ll be reported more on this later today) is the timeline. If ODOT got an agreement from PBOT to take out the 26th Avenue bike lane in exchange for putting in a signal across Powell at 28th, when would the bike lane on 26th get removed? Sadowsky said he’s asked PBOT to keep the bike lane as long as possible, well after any construction on the signal.

In general, Sadowsky said, “This is a really clear example of how ODOT’s priorities are very different than local prioriries. It’s the same battle we’re having on Barbur.”

So, what does the BTA plan to do if the bike lane gets ripped out? Sadowsky didn’t mince words:

“We went to ODOT, and we said, ‘Over our dead bodies.’ I made that clear. We will look at legal options if necessary.

We’re not going to let this bike lane go away. We believe very strongly that you need arterial and neighborhood greenway treatments at the same time. And they picked the wrong street. Our Board Member Leslie Carlson has kids at (adjacent) Cleveland High and my stepdaughter goes to Cleveland. We will look at every option we have including legal options. We also want to partner with PBOT and ODOT and use this as a case study to do more planning as a group. We see this as a sympton of other challenges around the way DOT policy and implemntaiton lines up around bicycle planning.”

Stay tuned. Michael is working on a story today that should clarify exactly where things stand with this bike lane.

UPDATE, 3:#9 pm: Here’s the latest update with clarifications from PBOT and ODOT about the future of the 26th Avenue bike lanes.

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

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Adam
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26th is easily the worst bike facility in the city. It’s under a mile long, less than four feet wide, doesn’t have any buffers, nor does it connect to anything.

Perhaps PBOT just agreed to remove it, but will keep it anyway since bike volumes are not likely to drop after the facility on 28th is installed. Then they can use it as an excuse to upgrade it to a protected bike lane.

realworld
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realworld

Well said Ray! and Go get them Rob!

J_R
Guest
J_R

I think that this is an ODOT strategy to get the City of Portland to take over Powell Boulevard without any commitment by ODOT to either upgrade the street or to make any payments to the city for taking it over.

The sticking point on road transfers between agencies is that the receiving agency wants control of a street but won’t accept anything that needs lots of work (costs money to upgrade or fix).

I’m so frustrated with ODOT, I’d accept the damn street from them without any funding. Admittedly it’s not a good negotiating strategy on my part to reveal that now, but thankfully, I’m not the city’s negotiator.

Todd Boulanger
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Todd Boulanger

Yes stay tuned…in my past internal experience on these types of issues (as I am not involved in this case)…if two agencies are saying different things about the removal of a roadway safety feature/ active transportation facility or even phasing of the changes then there may be no real good engineering reason to do it at best … that the need or alternatives evaluation process may have been minimal or incomplete.

soren
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soren

This is not coming out of nowhere.
There are planners and long-time advocates in Portland who favor removal of arterial/commercial bike lanes.

“Separate routes (such as cycletracks or paths) and low-speed routes (such as bicycle boulevards) should be prioritized over alternatives, even if it means eliminating bicycle lanes on high-speed or high-capacity streets.

“Separated bicycle routes (cycletracks, paths, bike boulevards) should be prioritized over shared routes between bicycles and automobiles…
This may include eliminating some bicycle lanes on high-congestion streets and designing safer options that incentivize alternative bicycle routes.

http://www.pdxcityclub.org/files/Reports/No%20Turning%20Back_%20A%20City%20Club%20Report%20on%20Bicycle%20Transportation%20in%20Portland_0.pdf

Attempts to discourage use of arterial/commercial routes by people cycling has been a recurring theme in Portland. The infamous Alberta PBOT sign and Mia Birk’s Tribune rant about people cycling on Hawthorne are just a few examples.

Granpa
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Granpa

I contacted Cleveland High and City of Portland Parks and Recreation. both are stakeholders in the planned revision. Users of both their facilities would be negatively impacted by removal of the bike path and associated work on Powell that would facilitate higher traffic speeds.

Oh, the original article and associated links lead me to think that the ODOT/PBOT cabal was making changes to 26th (a residential street) to make it a freight route

9watts
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9watts

“Sadowsky said he’s asked PBOT to keep the bike lane as long as possible, well after any construction on the signal.”

But I thought it was dangerous! Why would ODOT agree to keep any facility that would pose a danger to cyclists?! 😉

PDXO
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PDXO

Complaint:
“Hey, second gear in my 5speed car doesn’t work!”
Response:
“We’ll install a 6speed transmission for you, just don’t use second gear.”

wsbob
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wsbob

I found this part of Ray Thomas’s remarks to be interesting:

““If we have a safety problem, why would you take the victims of that problem and force them to go to a different place? Why would you take an existing facility out on a corridor where people ride and force them into what is essentially a detour? It’s sort of like adding insult to injury. You’re punishing the victim. I’d rather see them spend money to improve the intersection or restrict traffic on 26th so it could be a pedestrian and bicycle non-motorized corridor. …”

The transportation departments’ planned action, doesn’t seem to deliberately force people to bike elsewhere, but the department’s do seem to hope that removal of the bike lanes will encourage some of the types of riding…slower riding, it would seem…occurring on 26th now, to be done on the alternative route encouraged on 28th Ave.

I think the departments may be hoping for an increase in Powell’s and 26th’s motor vehicle capacity. Is bike use on 26th, slowing the potential hourly and daily capacity of 26th’s motor vehicle carrying capacity? Will removal of the bike lanes on 26th, help to increase 26th’s motor vehicle capacity, and help the Powell/26th intersection flow more efficiently?

Ovid Boyd
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Ovid Boyd

Hello ODOT,

Being born and raised in Oregon, I have long taken pride in our state’s relatively excellent work to make sure road users of all types can get where they need to go, safely.

I have recently heard you are concerned about accidents on 26th Avenue in Portland, Oregon. Sadly, cars have hit bikers on this stretch of road.

Your creative response to this real and serious problem is fascinating. Apparently you determined that the best way to prevent cars from running into bikes on this stretch of road is to remove the bike lanes from it. You see, that will make biking on this road more difficult, and discourage many bikers from doing it.

I’ve noticed, however, that many accidents involve cars hitting other cars. So, I wanted to propose a solution to this problem. We can remove the car lanes from the highways and interstates throughout the state. This should make it much more dangerous for car drivers, thereby discouraging many of them from driving.

Yes, you may point out that this makes it much more dangerous for people who still need to drive cars even after the lanes have been removed. But, it will make things make safer for those who remain in their homes and do not need to do silly things like go to work or school.

I was hoping you could identify the most dangerous roadways in the state for car-on-car accidents and work with local governments to remove the lanes in the areas. I look forward to hearing more about your creative safety proposals in the news in the future.

Rob Sadowsky
Guest
Bald One
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Bald One

Can anyone clarify how far (number of feet) from the SE Powell-US26 roadway the ODOT state has control and where the PBOT control begins?