A proposed policy before the city council Wednesday would withhold city permits from builders that block sidewalks or bike lanes around their work sites without first considering reuse of parking and travel lanes.
The action comes after a months-long social media campaign from Oregon Walks and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, which evolved out of a years-long behind-the-scenes effort by the BTA.
The city’s draft policy stops short of saying that walking, biking or traveling by mobility device are always higher priorities in work zones than traveling by car. Instead, it says that walking and biking routes should only be blocked if no other option is “practicable.” Here’s some other relevant language:
A temporary pedestrian route should be given priority over other facilities. A temporary pedestrian route should be given priority over vehicular traffic except when resulting in excessive delay to transit, excessive congestion in violation of mobility standards, or a pedestrian route that is less safe.
When sidewalks must be closed, the policy seems to recommend merging bike and foot traffic in a bike lane or bike and car traffic in a general travel lane before restricting auto access to a travel lane.
Here’s the ordered list of contingencies for a sidewalk closure:
There’s no indication here of what a “multi-use path” needs to consist of, other than trying to prompt people walking and biking to share space. And for whatever reason, there’s no explicit mention of narrowing lanes in that list.
When bike lanes are affected, though, narrowing lanes does come up as an option. Here’s the contingency list for bike lane closures:
In that list, there’s no discussion of repurposing a parking lane.
In their proposal to the city, Oregon Walks and the BTA had specified “on-street parking or additional vehicle lanes” as possible places to find the space for continuous walking and biking routes. (Their proposal was built on research by former BTA intern Ruben Montes.)
In separate clauses, the city’s proposed policy says that “pedestrians should be separated from motor vehicular traffic and cycles” and that “cyclists should be separated from motor vehicle traffic and pedestrians.”
Throughout the proposed city policy, the word “should” refers to actions builders would take under “normal conditions.” City transportation staff would interpret this standard. The transportation director would have the right to revoke a permit for a site that’s failing to comply with the new policy or with the traffic control plans that builders will have to provide in advance.
A few other significant sentences from the policy proposal:
• “Pedestrian detours should not last more than 3 days in Pedestrian Districts & Pedestrian Walkways, or 1 week on a local service street.”
• “Both sidewalks on a block should not be closed simultaneously.”
• “If the work zone affects an accessible and ADA compliant pedestrian route, the accessibility and ADA compliant features along a temporary route shall be provided in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.”
Seattle adopted a similar set of rules for pedestrian access last year, but hasn’t yet assembled its policy for bike access. Here’s a useful chart by Seattle Bike Blog’s Tom Fucoloro that shows a recommended order in which street space could be repurposed if necessary for walking space:
Even if the various ambiguities here aren’t clarified, Portland’s proposed policy would represent a significant victory for walking and biking advocates. Until now, there’s been no single point of reference for work zone plans that the city’s various bureaus, most of which report to different city commissioners, can consult. The result has been a range of designs from the excellent to the impassable.
In March, Oregon Walks and the BTA launched a campaign they called “WorkzoneWTF,” urging people to share terrible work zone designs on Instagram and Twitter. A few examples:
— Johanna Steinmetz (@tanguerapdx) June 10, 2016
— Brendon Haggerty (@haggerbpdx) May 21, 2016
— Brendon Haggerty (@haggerbpdx) May 21, 2016
— Carl Larson (@LilBikesBigFun) May 19, 2016
— Ms. Four (@msfour) June 2, 2016
But there have been good examples, too, which people sometimes labeled with the rearranged hashtag “WorkzoneFTW” — “for the win.”
— Nick Falbo (@nickfalbo) May 19, 2016
— Iain (@maccoinnich) June 12, 2016
— Oregon Walks (@OregonWalks) June 10, 2016
Some people also shared examples from other cities:
— Michael Andersen (@andersem) June 3, 2016
— Steve 911 (@Intersection911) June 23, 2016
Portland is growing up — that’s why most of these work zones are here, after all. As a city becomes denser and people don’t have to travel as far to reach things they need, traffic from walking (and, in some cases, biking) eventually reach the point where a sidewalk or bike lane closure will disrupt auto traffic with or without a plan. It’s good to see city leaders making efforts to force these conversations before the conflicts happen rather than afterward.
Thanks to Elliot Njus at The Oregonian for first reporting on Wednesday’s council action.
Update 6/29: The policy passed the city council unanimously.
— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.