Harvest Century September 22nd

What are all these unauthorized orange traffic cones telling us?

Posted by on March 28th, 2016 at 1:53 pm

PDX Transformation does SW 3rd-1.jpg

Cones placed on 3rd by anonymous street activists.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

PDX Transformation has struck again.

The upstart and anonymous group of tactical urbanists that’s taking street safety into their own hands has deployed 14 large orange traffic cones on Southwest 3rd Avenue between Burnside and Stark. The cones have been placed inside the buffer zones of the bike lanes that were just striped back in October. It’s the largest single deployment of cones since the group began four months ago.

The new installation marks a new level of momentum for PDX Transformation. Over the weekend a series of “20s is Plenty” fake speed limit signs they posted in southeast Portland earned them coverage from KATU-TV and the Willamette Week.

What does this movement symbolize? I’ll get to that later. First let’s take a look at SW 3rd.

Based on my observations this morning, the cones are working very well. People are driving cautiously and they are making much safer right turns in the presence of the silent-but-mighty cones.

PDX Transformation does SW 3rd-7.jpg

Look at this beautiful and safe, slow, 90-degree turn across the bikeway at SW Oak.

And here’s a short video of another view:

PDX Transformation does SW 3rd-3.jpg

This cabbie patiently waited and the made a slow and predictable turn across the bikeway at Pine.
PDX Transformation does SW 3rd-4.jpg

The cones stop where the bike lane stops at Stark. Even though only a left-turn is permitted here, the cones prevent people from driving in the bike lane prior to the intersection — a common behavior from people who want a jump on the upcoming block.
PDX Transformation does SW 3rd-9.jpg

Looking south near Pine.
PDX Transformation does SW 3rd-8.jpg

Looking north at Burnside.

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What’s going on here? Why are people taking things into their own hands and what does the orange cone revolution tell us about the state of transportation advocacy in Portland? Here are three things that came to my mind as I stood out on 3rd Ave this morning…

People are frustrated with the status quo

This sort of guerrilla activism is about frustration. PDX Transformation is part of the same local transportation ecosystem that sprouted Bike Loud PDX. In both cases, people were sufficiently fed-up with the pace of change and the status quo when it comes to transportation reform. The success of both groups shows that our elected officials, planners, bureaucrats, and more established advocacy groups are not meeting the needs of a large number of constituents. It’s sort of like what’s happening with our national presidential politics. A huge swath of the public is so frustrated at the slow pace of change and lack of bold actions that they are eager to support outsiders who are willing to take immediate action.

Our streets can be transformed with very little infrastructure investment

The total cost of the 14 traffic cones out on SW 3rd was about $300. When it comes to designing streets that will encourage safe and sane behaviors by all users, we do not need to spend millions of dollars. When bureaucrats cite a lack of money to make safety changes, they are often simply exposing their own lack of willingness to be creative and have a more “can-do” attitude. This was made clear last week from former New York City DOT chief Janette Sadik-Khan. She and her crew accomplished the most amazing urban street transformation ever — the creation of a huge public plaza in Times Square — by using nothing more than large orange traffic barrels and a few dozen cheap plastic beach chairs.

Many of our bikeways are woefully under-designed

The cones on SW 3rd are particularly interesting because this is a new bikeway that was created by PBOT just five months ago. But even with everything they know about good bikeway design, the lack of physical separation and/or aggressive markings and signage to keep people from driving in them make the bikeway feel inadequate to many users. These cones work because — far too often — the design of our bikeways doesn’t.

PDX Transformation does SW 3rd-5.jpg

With PDX Transformation and their projects garnering more and more attention, it’ll be interesting to see how or if the City of Portland changes their tune — both about the cones and signs in general and the locations they highlight more specificallky. So far PBOT has taken a neutral stance. They’ve said the actions are illegal and they don’t condone them; but they also agree in the overall messages the cones are trying to convey.

What do you think?

You can keep up with the latest installations by following PBOTrans on Twitter.

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

BikePortland can’t survive without subscribers. It’s just $10 per month and you can sign up in a few minutes.

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

68 Comments
  • Avatar
    alankessler March 28, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    In case you want to fund the revolution:

    https://www.gofundme.com/PDXTransformation

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    Todd Hudson March 28, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    #PDXTrans, could you put some cones down on E Burnside, at the 74th and 87th Ave pinch points? If you could, that would be great.

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      Adam March 28, 2016 at 2:27 pm

      At least PBOT put in some buffer striping next to the west bound lanes at 74th. If we are lucky people driving will now cut the corner into the buffer instead of the bike lane. I made a safety request to add some armadillos that will be ignored I’m sure.

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        paikiala March 28, 2016 at 4:06 pm

        PBOT doesn’t like to put objects in the road that errant cyclists might hit. That and they are expensive little objects imported from the U.K.

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        Todd Hudson March 28, 2016 at 4:23 pm

        We are not lucky. People still cross over the buffer and into the bike lane.

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          Adam March 29, 2016 at 9:01 am

          Well that is just pathetic. It is probably a 5 foot buffer. There is no reason to be in the bike lane.

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    John R March 28, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    It’s so heartening to see these efforts to shake the platinum from our eyes and get things moving. Your insights seem spot on Jonathan.

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    Jonathan Fertig March 28, 2016 at 2:10 pm

    I can’t wait to see this spread to other activists and other cities.
    Right on @PBOTrans

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    Joe March 28, 2016 at 2:11 pm

    awesome and thanks!

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    Joe March 28, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    I need to do this in Wilsonville with few folks but be hard to find others, but lets just say what this developer is getting away with on Wilsonville RD is just unsafe, they closes a side was, also directing car traffic into bike lane :/ really?

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      Where on Wilsonville road? I live in Wilsonville, and am very frustrated with the poor quality of bike facilities. There’s not many people biking in Wilsonville. Shoot me an email if you want to chat – contact *at* nearlykilled.me.

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    Chris I March 28, 2016 at 2:19 pm

    I’m surprised “PDXTrans” wasn’t already taken.

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      rachel b March 28, 2016 at 9:20 pm

      🙂

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    hopeful March 28, 2016 at 2:34 pm

    I benefitted from these just south of I84 on E 20th. It was just 2 cones in the bend, but it FELT safer. Thanks!

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      Hopeful March 28, 2016 at 3:31 pm

      To clarify, I was very grateful. I think these make a difference and it begins a conversation of how can we easily make the streets a little safer in all of these pinch points in all of our neighborhoods. I’m glad some of you are doing this and I hope you consider looking at the space at NE Durham/ NE Oneonta/ NE Dekum.

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        paikiala March 28, 2016 at 4:08 pm

        People feel safer with signal controlled intersections, but that doesn’t mean they are safer. A cone in a buffer might be a deterrent, but it provides no more physical protection than paint on the road. Letting your guard down is a dangerous way to use the roadway.

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          MaxD March 29, 2016 at 10:29 am

          Paikala,
          I disagree! It is true that paint, signals, cones, traffic laws, traffic control signs, etc do not erase danger, but they all contribute to it. I believe this has been measured and demonstrated, though I cannot provide a citation. Physical narrowing and barriers also provide some safety, but do not erase danger. There will always be someone reckless, careless or intoxicated enough to overcome any safety measure. THat does not mean we should stop adding them.

          I agree with you that ALL road users should remain vigilant, though

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    peejay March 28, 2016 at 2:44 pm

    I’m glad the moratorium on criticizing inadequate but better-than-nothing PBOT infrastructure has been lifted in the advocacy community, because this is a really positive way to do just that: these people showed them how it could be better. Time to stop settling for substandard compromises and ask our city to build it right the first time.

    Here’s what needs to happen:
    1. Move the parking lane to the left of the bike lane, with floating bulb-outs at the ends of blocks to make for safe turn clearance and visibility.
    2. Actual hard barriers that will not let cars into the space. No plastic bollards that are glued on, no flimsy planters. Things that will break the cars trying to drive through are what’s required here.
    3. Go all the way to Market Street.

    That’s the minimum position. Compromise is not possible from those points. Get started, PBOT. Or we’ll find another PBOT to do the work.

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      David Hampsten, now in Greensboro NC March 28, 2016 at 2:59 pm

      I’ve always felt that PBOT & BPS were “make work” bureaus, where money was spent to employee people, however qualified, than to actually build anything or change the world, even when I worked there 2000-2008. I could never understand why PBOT changes cost so much, and involved so much design and engineering, especially compared to Gresham. Why not experiment? Try something new?

      But noooooo.

      Any error or mistakes by the PDXTrans group are no more grievous than those that PBOT has done, but they are much less expensive. If something goes wrong, there is no one to blame; if something works right, who’s going to take credit?

      I hope someone nominates PDXTrans for a “Spirit of Portland” award at the very least.

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      paikiala March 28, 2016 at 4:18 pm

      PJ,
      The (cobbled together) budget for SW 3rd was $20,000. Removing each curb extension in NW is at least $5,000 and I count 6 in NW plus the two festival street entrances and another 4 in SW. A single 40 foot island – your ‘floating bulb out’ (2 parking spaces length) is at least $8,000.
      I would also point out that many on this blog criticize the SW Broadway parking protected cycle track as inadequate.
      One thing you learn at PBOT is, no matter what you do, it will never be enough.

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        peejay March 28, 2016 at 4:38 pm

        I wish we could add up the cost of NOT doing it right. Included in that cost is the damage from the extra driving done by people who are not riding this inadequate and incomplete “bike lane”, the loss of business from people turned away by our car-clogged downtown, etc. im guessing it’s a bargain to put in the lanes then. Only, they COULD have saved the money they spent so far, and done it right from the beginning.

        “No matter what you do, it’ll never be enough” is an unproven argument. It assumes PBOT has actually tried to do something more than the absolute minimum.

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. March 28, 2016 at 5:53 pm

        Moody Avenue is adequate. That’s what we need downtown. Painted lanes won’t cut it. The prices you listed are phenomenally cheap compared to the cost of car-specific infra; not to mention the societal cost of injury and loss of life. PBOT can’t afford NOT to design people-first infra,

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          paikiala March 29, 2016 at 9:27 am

          I agree the holistic cost-benefit analysis (something PBOT still doesn’t seem to do) works in favor of better infrastructure for cyclists. Public entities will be the only ones even able to consider such math, since it’s ‘shareholders’ are also the beneficiaries of the public works projects. But that still leaves us where we are now, great ideas and no money to build them.

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          • Adam H.
            Adam H. March 29, 2016 at 10:14 am

            Why not just build the great idea in a more temporary (i.e. cheaper) manner, as JSK did in NYC? Build the buffered bike lane along the curb and put some flexible bollards or even barrels or garbage cans (like the Clinton/32nd diverter) in the buffer area. Protected intersections can even be created with paint and a couple strategically-placed bollards. Then, when we have more funding, make it permanent.

            At the absolute minimum this buffered bike should have been along the curb. even if just paint.

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        maccoinnich March 28, 2016 at 5:58 pm

        While I don’t think any of the curb extension on NW/SW 3rd Ave are new, there are many other locations in the city where curb extension have been built very recently in locations where there would have been the opportunity to build a bike lane. PBOT could do themselves a favor and stop building (or requiring developers to build) curb extensions in locations where they are likely to be removed in the future.

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          el_timito March 28, 2016 at 9:23 pm

          There is the small issue that people walking have different needs than people biking. The curb extensions are there to help people who walk have a shorter crossing (i.e., be exposed to the hazard of motor vehicles for less time).
          There may be other solutions that help both people walking and people biking, but we shouldn’t throw pedestrians under the bus while striving for best cycling conditions.

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            maccoinnich March 29, 2016 at 12:12 am

            I understand what the purpose of curb extensions is. My frustration is that PBOT installs them with apparently little thought for the fact they make installing bike infrastructure more difficult and expensive. On some streets they’re fine, and I have no objection to them. But on other streets they’re not. Every time a curb extension is built on a street recommended for bike lanes in the 2030 bike plan it makes it more difficult to realize that plan. Every time one a curb extension is built on a street that has a door zone bike lane it makes it more difficult to create a protected bike lane on that street.

            A successful streetscape can work well for people walking and for people cycling. Reflexively putting down curb extension doesn’t get us there.

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              David Hampsten, now in Greensboro NC March 29, 2016 at 6:07 am

              The curb extensions that Portland (PBOT, BES, & BDS) requires are so expensive because the design they typically use requires that the storm sewer intake be re-routed. However, if PBOT followed a standard-operating-procedure design of having the bike lane follow the gutter, and shifting all curbside parking 6-7 feet away from the curb (a protected bike lane, in other words), with the pedestrian curb extension shifting even further out into the intersection, then I think that not only would costs decline, as the sewers would be left alone, but safety would increase for all users, particularly pedestrians. Similar to Nick Falbo’s designs on Burnside, except city-wide.

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              paikiala March 29, 2016 at 9:31 am

              Mac,
              Except that the space you want for bike lane is the space pedestrians want for curb extension until the bike lane is installed.
              How long should pedestrians wait for their safety improvements? PBOT has no more a crystal ball than you do to predict when funding for projects will come in.
              The dysfunction of building piecemeal is a justified complaint.

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                maccoinnich March 29, 2016 at 9:44 am

                How long should cyclists wait for their safety improvements?

                We’re more than a quarter of the way through the timeframe of a 20 year bike plan but have made nowhere near a quarter of progress needed to achieve it.

                And for what it’s worth, I walk far more than I cycle. in general I’m not in the slightest bit against making pedestrian improvements. I’m just against making ill considered pedestrian improvements that actively harm the chances of improvements for cyclists.

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                soren March 29, 2016 at 12:37 pm

                1% increase in mode share (maybe) in 6 years.

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          • Adam H.
            Adam H. March 29, 2016 at 10:20 am

            Just cut a channel through the curb extension for a future bike lane. Similar to this.

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            • John Liu
              John Liu March 29, 2016 at 11:17 am

              That’s my thought as well. The curb extension will still be protection for pedestrians, because no driver wants to slam his car into an 8″ curb.

              The only downside for cyclists is that some pedestrians will stand in the “channel”, so the cyclist will sometimes have to slow down there. But that’s not a big deal, and anyway a cyclist riding 20-25 mph should be able to pop out into the traffic lane at intersections. Unless, of course, we wall off the bike lane. Then faster riders will be stuck behind slow riders in the bike lane all the time.

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              • Adam H.
                Adam H. March 29, 2016 at 11:28 am

                Absolutely. We are going to have to come to terms with the fact that increasing safety for people cycling will almost certainly result in slower speeds. This is certainly more than an acceptable trade-off for society, but I imagine some people will have an issue with having to ride slower.

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    adam March 28, 2016 at 2:51 pm

    this is excellent. glad they used large new cones – small ones just get run over. keep up the great work.

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    PdxMark March 28, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    This treatment on SW 3rd seems to solve problems with the cone treatment at the south end of the NE 21st overpass over I84, namely, that (1) there’s plenty enough room for cones, cars and bikes and (2) straight passages might be better suited for cones than inside curves.

    The intent of the cones at the curve at the south end of the NE 21st overpass is to keep cars from encroaching on the narrow pinch point of the curve. The main problem is that the pinch is quite narrow and includes water drainage problems. The result is that (1) some bikes go further left to get around the cones and the puddle caused by the drainage problem than they’d go to just avoid the puddle, (2) the narrowness results in the cones being hit and broken by cars after just a few days, (3) the broken cone pieces pose a hazard in the narrow bike lane.

    So, ironically, in my view, the cones at this particular pinch point seem to create too many cycling hazards for the temporary benefit provided before the cones are destroyed.

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      Opus the Poet March 30, 2016 at 12:45 am

      Exactly, what is needed here is steel bollards, not plastic cones.

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    Keegan March 28, 2016 at 3:46 pm

    Nice work! Much needed infra-provement.

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. March 28, 2016 at 4:10 pm

    This bike lane should have been a protected cycleway in the first place and PDX Transformation is doing a fantastic job at pointing this out. Hopefully PBOT is paying attention!

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    Dwaine Dibbly March 28, 2016 at 5:13 pm

    We will know that this is having a transformative effect when the City sits down with this group to ask for ideas. Great work so far!

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    Kristi Finney March 28, 2016 at 6:00 pm

    This is going to be added to the agenda of Oregon and SW Washington Families For Safe Streets next meeting. For some of us, particularly those of us not in the transportation world and not on bikes, these actions and the resulting conversations are really learning opportunities. I try to imagine what we could accomplish all together!

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    David March 28, 2016 at 7:10 pm

    NW 14th is an absolute joke and needs to be Transformed!!

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  • Scott Kocher
    Scott Kocher March 28, 2016 at 7:13 pm

    +1 Kristi!

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    Adam March 28, 2016 at 7:18 pm

    I LOVE the fact the cones force motorists to take the corners more slowly, because they create tighter corners.

    You might think that’s a minus, but as a pedestrian and bicyclist, that is a huge deal.

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    Adam March 28, 2016 at 7:19 pm

    What is a cheapest place (in Portland, not online) to buy traffic cones? I want to get some and do some of this too!! 😉

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      gutterbunnybikes March 29, 2016 at 8:08 am

      Not sure if it’s the cheapest, but Sanderson Safety Supply on SE 3rd sell them, ACME which is across the street might as well.

      Personally I’d sick with cones and not go with the candlesticks even though the candlesticks are taller, the candlesticks are more expensive and bases are a separate component and they can and will fall apart if hit.

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    Mike Sanders March 28, 2016 at 7:25 pm

    Worth noting that these cones were placed at the beginning, middle, and the end of each block. A couple of ideas:

    Signs on each side with a bike icon and arrows pointing down at the lane, like those you see in CA at freeway onramps. Blue with white icons stand out, that’s the color scheme widely used in Europe.

    In Europe, they use large paddles with orange and white stripes to mark lanes thru construction zones. Seems to me they could be used in place of the cones. Customize them with bike icons and arrows on each side.

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    chasingbackon March 28, 2016 at 7:36 pm

    Hi PDXTransformation,
    I love this type of work. Keep it up. Please consider a couple of cones at 69th and woodstock, westbound, coming out of the curves. thanks

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    Gerald Fittipaldi March 28, 2016 at 8:00 pm

    A few months ago I biked on SW 3rd during the PM rush hour. It was raining and there was gridlock traffic. About a dozen motorists brazenly sat in the middle of the buffered bike lane for a block and a half stretch. It was such a slap in the face.

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    Pete March 28, 2016 at 8:18 pm

    This is interesting to watch from where I sit, because I left Portland around the time you started experimenting with bike boxes and other infrastructure ‘improvements’, and achieved platinum. To this day I’m able to point to Portland’s neighborhood greenways and other ‘innovations’ to educate city planners in silicon valley; meanwhile your readership grows increasingly frustrated with the status quo and fights for more and better there. I know I’m not the only out-of-towner who watches this blog to see what can be applied effectively, but also understand where we’re coming from, in that everywhere else is not Portland, and commenters here sometimes take for granted what you’ve got. But personally it’s good to see people taking initiative and pushing boundaries, because without that we don’t evolve – and that includes when things get screwed up, because that’s when people learn. I still love BP because there are those willing to speak out against the “echo chamber” (which I’m sure I’m often a part of) – criticism is also valuable.

    The last (cone treatment) was a learning experience for me, basically because I didn’t have the opportunity to ride that corner, so I had to take commenters’ words for it, and the people who spoke out against it made some really good points. In this one, pictures speak volumes. We’ve had some paint-based changes in silicon valley that have made a noticeable impact on driver behavior (anecdotally), and having the cones is an even more visible and physical enforcement, forcing drivers to slow for corners, thus giving them opportunity to more fully check to see what’s around them.

    “The total cost of the 14 traffic cones out on SW 3rd was about $300.”

    Just don’t confuse capex with opex here, and understand that your ‘rogue resources’ can spend their capital on this without having to do a study, submit an impact report, etc. There are checks and balances that transportation agencies are accountable for, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Further, note that any transportation agency has to predict spending to replace cones when they’re driven over, and even include planning to check on status and perform proactive (or reactive) maintenance (such as on Lovejoy). I think these are a good treatment here, but as we know, ‘engineering’ is only one aspect.

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      Pete March 28, 2016 at 8:18 pm

      “your readership”… and ridership. 🙂

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    rachel b March 28, 2016 at 9:25 pm

    “…silent-but-mighty cones.” 🙂 Magnificent cones! Glorious cones!

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    rick March 28, 2016 at 9:34 pm

    slow down while driving

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    emeeeeeeeeeeee March 28, 2016 at 10:43 pm

    I love the cones.

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    Mark Smith March 28, 2016 at 11:07 pm

    What’s going on here? Well, there are one ways all over the city that encourage speeding and bad behavior. That’s what’s going on.

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    Sean March 29, 2016 at 7:19 am

    Sweet! Great activism! Now send some over to the northbound lane of Interstate approaching Willamette and also Lombard among many other fixes we could think of to that bike lane. Those driveways scare me even as an experienced cyclist approaching as safely as I can.

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    spencer March 29, 2016 at 8:01 am

    We need more of these cones. They’re great!

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    spencer March 29, 2016 at 8:02 am

    Cones for City Counsel!

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      spencer March 29, 2016 at 8:02 am

      dang, council

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    Jim Lee March 29, 2016 at 8:38 am

    Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd for Council!

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    Rob March 29, 2016 at 8:45 am

    Did you guys special order those cones, or get generic ones and brand them yourselves?

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    Jim Lee March 29, 2016 at 8:49 am

    For comparison, “Vision Zero” has 70 politicians, bureaucrats, “activists” sitting around tables talking, making flip-charts, watching Power Point presentations.

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  • John Liu
    John Liu March 29, 2016 at 11:18 am

    Are the cones glued down?

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    Matt S. March 29, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    This is awesome, I’d love to buy a cone to donate!

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    Matt S. March 29, 2016 at 1:23 pm

    I wonder what the cost would be if you could buy in lots of 1000, maybe get the price down to like 15 dollars a cone? Can you imagine a single night of activity where a 1000 cones are deployed!!!

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    RushHourAlleycat March 29, 2016 at 11:59 pm

    Still there for my commute home tonight

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    Opus the Poet March 30, 2016 at 12:50 am

    TL;DR The cones are telling us that buffered bike lanes are incomplete without something sticking up to show driver where to drive.

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