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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 welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. 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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alankessler
Subscriber
alankessler

In case you want to fund the revolution:

https://www.gofundme.com/PDXTransformation

Todd Hudson
Guest
Todd Hudson

#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.

John R
Guest
John R

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.

Jonathan Fertig
Guest
Jonathan Fertig

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

Joe
Guest
Joe

awesome and thanks!

Joe
Guest
Joe

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?

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

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

hopeful
Guest

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

peejay
Guest
peejay

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.

adam
Guest
adam

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

PdxMark
Guest
PdxMark

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.

Keegan
Guest
Keegan

Nice work! Much needed infra-provement.

Adam
Subscriber

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!

Dwaine Dibbly
Guest
Dwaine Dibbly

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!

Kristi Finney
Subscriber
Kristi Finney

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!

David
Guest
David

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

Forum Law Group LLC - Bicycle Law
Guest

+1 Kristi!

Adam
Guest
Adam

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.

Adam
Guest
Adam

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

Mike Sanders
Guest
Mike Sanders

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.

chasingbackon
Guest
chasingbackon

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

Gerald Fittipaldi
Guest
Gerald Fittipaldi

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.

Pete
Guest
Pete

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.

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

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

rick
Guest
rick

slow down while driving

emeeeeeeeeeeee
Subscriber

I love the cones.

Mark Smith
Guest
Mark Smith

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.

Sean
Guest
Sean

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.

spencer
Guest
spencer

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

spencer
Guest
spencer

Cones for City Counsel!

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd for Council!

Rob
Guest

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

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

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

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

Are the cones glued down?

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

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

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

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!!!

RushHourAlleycat
Guest

Still there for my commute home tonight

Opus the Poet
Guest

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