#WorkzoneFTW? City may require walking and biking routes around building sites

brian rod

A proposed city policy would require builders to look for a way around.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

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:

priority list

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:

priority list for biking

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:

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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:

But there have been good examples, too, which people sometimes labeled with the rearranged hashtag “WorkzoneFTW” — “for the win.”

Some people also shared examples from other cities:

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 – michael@bikeportland.org

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rick
rick
6 years ago

The private companies do NOT own the sidewalk. It is public works / public transportation / walking space.

It is not space for private street furniture storage.

rick
rick
6 years ago

Check out SW Lombard in downtown Beaverton by new buildings. The signs sometimes block the south-bound bike lane.

https://www.google.com/maps/@45.4856075,-122.8003399,3a,75y,217.3h,83.3t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sO5Y-EWggHIdUwbX74r92Mg!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

Tom Hardy
Tom Hardy
6 years ago
Reply to  rick

rick

Check out SW Lombard in downtown Beaverton by new buildings. The signs sometimes block the south-bound bike lane. https://…
I use this 2 or three times a week. Going southbound, I just take the traffic lane as crossing Farmington I am about 50 foot ahead of the cars at the light. traffic gives way as half of the traffic turns at first 2 or 3 pass by fifth where I turn left at the light.

Dan A
Dan A
6 years ago
Reply to  Tom Hardy

Would you do that on foot? In a wheelchair?

Buzz
Buzz
6 years ago

‘Practicable’ is one of the most common weasel words engineers and bureaucrats use.

Dan A
Dan A
6 years ago
Reply to  Buzz

Sorry, not practicable to fit a bike lane here.

Be safe, wear a helmet!

nuovorecord
nuovorecord
6 years ago
Reply to  Buzz

“Practicable” = “we don’t wanna do it.”

Buzz
Buzz
6 years ago

Beyond the fencing off and blocking of sidewalks and bike lanes, many of these construction sites also use the adjacent streets for deliveries, crane setups and what not, often blocking even more of the right of way for long durations of time.

MaxD
MaxD
6 years ago

When I lived in Vancouver BC, it was basic, standard practice to build scaffolding over the sidewalk, usually with work trailers on top. This preserves sidewalks and allows people to watch construction: win-win

dan
dan
6 years ago

The goat blocks development made it ridiculously challenging to cross SE 11th for months and months due to zero visibility – I have no photos, but that site also belongs on the wall of shame.

Adam
Adam
6 years ago

We live in NW Portland, and a walk between the Pearl and Forest Park with our dog involves crossing the street back and forth about 25 times because of sidewalk closures because of construction.

A few times, fine. But every single block – ridiculous.

I notice they have zero problem maintaining on street parking though.

So much for a walkable neighborhood!

Adam
6 years ago
Reply to  Adam

I usually just walk in the middle of the street when the sidewalk is closed off.

Adam
Adam
6 years ago
Reply to  Adam

We would do that in SE, but here in NW, there are no “quiet” streets, because there is no traffic calming. NW Raleigh is just as busy as NW Pettygrove, which is just as busy as NW Overtones, etc etc.

Chris I
Chris I
6 years ago
Reply to  Adam

that section just east of Planet Granite is absurdly bad. It’s like a maze.

Adam
Adam
6 years ago

And as one photo above illustrated, if there’s construction on BOTH sides of the same block, like you’ll see on NW Quimby, or NW Pettygrove currently, you’re totally ******.

Eric Leifsdad
Eric Leifsdad
6 years ago

Note the plastic jersey barriers (water or sand filled.) Particularly, in the last shot from NYC. How about we get some in green and start making protected bikeways?

Adam
6 years ago

I’ve been noticing this issue has been getting better around town. Glad to see City Council finally addressing this no-brainer.

MaxD
MaxD
6 years ago

In addition to forcing developers to create safe routes for peds and bikes, they should VASTLY increase the fees to close sidewalks to encourage a speedier re-opening. Many of these projects really drag out re-opening sidewalks for minor convenience to contractors. If they had to pay more, they would choose to reopen sidewalks much sooner!

paikiala
paikiala
6 years ago
Reply to  MaxD

Max,
Do you even know what they pay now? Lack of context.

Ted Timmons (Contributor)
Reply to  paikiala

Took me a while to find it.

$50/week for a full sidewalk closure plus perhaps $200 in ‘square foot per week’ charges if it’s 24/7, for one side of a normal city block.

$100/week for a lane closure.

$263/week for a street closure.

Closing a street is cheap! The street on a bikeway in NW that has been closed is only $7000 for 6 months, it seems.

Dan A
Dan A
6 years ago

I wonder if bike lanes count as lanes for those fees.

q
q
6 years ago

Here is a link:
http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/536425

The fees do seem incredibly cheap.

Ted Timmons (Contributor)
Reply to  q

I easter-egged the link in my comment 🙂

Dan A
Dan A
6 years ago
Reply to  q

Yeah, wish we could pay that to close the streets around our elementary school for the first week of school. That would be sweet!

dan
dan
6 years ago
Reply to  Dan A

You should look into it, you maybe able to.

Social Engineer
Social Engineer
6 years ago

Michael,

If parking is already on the curbside, to the right of a bicycle lane, shouldn’t one presume it is ALREADY going to closed if the work zone is considering closing the bicycle lane?

The only situations I can see where closing parking should be considered for bike lane detours are when:

1) There’s a parking-protected bicycle lane like on SW Broadway.

2) Where it is feasible to close parking on the other side of the street in order to shift traffic leftward and maintain the dedicated cycle lane where there is currently a travel lane. This would mostly work on one-way streets where there isn’t too much interference from curb extensions, but could work on an undivided two-way street.

JeffS
JeffS
6 years ago

This is garbage legislation. it says nothing.

You should provide a sidewalk – except when you don’t have to.
And when you don’t provide a sidewalk, you should not keep it closed for more than 3/7 days, except when you don’t have to.

It’s a judgement call for each and every permit.

Chris I
Chris I
6 years ago
Reply to  JeffS

Exactly. They should have to apply for a variance and go through all of the bureaucratic hoops (and huge daily penalties) to close a sidewalk. Only in extreme cases should a sidewalk be closed during construction.

q
q
6 years ago
Reply to  Chris I

Actually, you could define almost any large new building or extensive alteration on an urban site as an “extreme case”. Just about any of those projects will require closing the existing sidewalk for at least some period. Many involve rebuilding the sidewalk itself.

I’m glad the rules allow discretion, since not every project is the same. I’m also less concerned with temporary situations than permanent ones. I don’t mind using the types of solutions proposed in the rules at all.

This sounds like a positive development.

Social Engineer
Social Engineer
6 years ago
Reply to  JeffS

Yes, I suppose the status quo is much better then. /s

This is a good start. We can strengthen this and should definitely try doing so. I’m sure we’ll see you at City Council tomorrow.

JeffS
JeffS
6 years ago

This IS the status quo, wrapped in language to make people say things like “good start” and “significant victory”.

maccoinnich
6 years ago
Reply to  JeffS

It is not the status quo, at all.

(I work in the construction industry).

Social Engineer
Social Engineer
6 years ago
Reply to  JeffS

So that’s a no then. Much easier to complain behind a keyboard instead. But thanks for contributing.

Gerik
6 years ago

Michael is right. This was a labyrinthine effort led largely by Carl Larson with a fantastic partnership with a team of volunteers and staff from Oregon Walks. The blame is partly to rest with the complexity of the issue. With so many different private and public actors tearing up and blocking the streets for different reasons and the fact that several (sometimes silo-ed) city agencies can issue permits, the whole thing was in disarray. I hope today’s new policy can make this a lot easier to understand, regulate, and improve in the years ahead.

Gary B
Gary B
6 years ago
Reply to  JeffS

I think you’re underestimating the power of discretion. Yes, a mandatory requirement is better, but as long as the city staff that implement this policy agree with it, then this gives them the hammer to make it so. Do we have indication that staff are inclined to ignore the “shoulds”? It seems to me that PBOT, who would approve the permits, will give it strong force.

Andy K
Andy K
6 years ago

Sadly, some large, local jurisdictions do not have requirements for bikes & peds through work zones, just suggestions like “accommodate when practical” or vague requirements on work zone signage only “if a significant volume of bicycles can be expected.” I hope changes are coming, there is room for improvement.

GlowBoy
GlowBoy
6 years ago

I thought there was already a (non-enforced) law on this already?

The situation is really bad in Minneapolis now too, with every other downtown block ripped up for construction. On one 15-block trip across downtown last year, I counted four separate blocks in which the Portland Avenue bike lane was closed. Fortunately most drivers seem pretty understanding about it (in some cases they’re losing lanes and merging over too), but I still don’t like being forced into the traffic lanes.

The one that really drives me crazy is when a construction project closes a bike lane, sidewalk or path, and then the construction workers park their personal vehicles on it all day. You don’t see this downtown, but not uncommon in suburban areas. Usually there’s ample parking within 100 yards too.

Ted Buehler
6 years ago

I think this is a great idea. Thanks to Oregon Walks, the BTA, and other people who have worked on this issue.

I’ve called in complaints about workzoneWTFs to safe@portlandoregon.gov and gotten a formal reply that nothing can be done. This was blocked sidewalks at Burnside and SE 12th, blocked by construction for about 15 months, with no detours posted, and no obvious alternative signalized intersections for people walking to get across Burnside. I’ve called them in about blocked bike lanes on NE Multnomah around 9th, with no response at all.

A city requirement to provide access for people will, I hope, make it so this doesn’t happen anymore. Or, at least make it so that something will happen if a citizen makes a complaint.

If you have feelings about this proposal, positive, negative or mixed, you might consider emailing city council members and letting them know your position.

Their contact info is here:
https://www.portlandoregon.gov/auditor/article/191877

Ted Buehler

Ted Buehler
6 years ago
Reply to  Ted Buehler

Digging around on the agenda, this is called “Resolution 737”
https://www.portlandoregon.gov/auditor/26997

I just sent in emails like this:

“Hi Mayor Hales,

“I support Resolution 737, pedestrian safety in work zones.

“I walk and I ride a bicycle in Portland for regular travel, and many
times a sidewalk or bike lane has been blocked by construction.
Repeated complaint calls to safe@portlandoregon.gov have had no
effect.

“This resolution will make it possible for people to travel safely on
city streets during construction.

“Please vote “yes”

“Thank you,
“Ted Buehler

daisy
daisy
6 years ago

With temporary closures, like for utility work, it seems like accommodations for pedestrians and bikes has much to do with having a thoughtful worker on site. I rode my bike from N Flint onto N Broadway a week or two ago and shouted a “thanks” to a worker there, as they had clearly thought about bike traffic, not just vehicle traffic. The guy said, “Thank her! She’s the one who told us to do this!” and pointed at a female coworker. So, I did!

I ride on NW and SW Broadway frequently and notice that some workers push out the lane closure over an entire line of parking and travel even when there’s plenty of space for a narrow bike lane.

So some of the problems might be that workers are forgetting about us. Perhaps if they’re not cyclists themselves, or if they live outside the denser parts of Portland, then other modes of travel are more likely to be neglected. Regulations like this might start to make that less common.

paikiala
paikiala
6 years ago
Reply to  daisy

The approved traffic control plan is often not implemented.
If you see something that looks off, report it to PBOT, so a street inspector can compare what exists to what was approved. PBOT gets these calls all the time and major developer contractors have had stop work orders enacted (that’s the hammer, time = $$$$)

dan
dan
6 years ago
Reply to  paikiala

By the same token, some of us do implement as approved, but the city has only required us to post “sidewalk closed” and not provide protected pedestrian paths.

I’m all for it, and do it when I can afford it, but it’s not cheap, and if the city doesn’t require it, it can be a hard sell to get the owner to pay for it.

None of this is cheap, and in order to build more housing (affordably) there’s going to be some inconveniences. Additional costs will be passed on to the renters. It’s all about priorities.

That being said, if it’s required by the city, it’s easier to get it in the budget as opposed to it being a case by case basis.

Roger Averbeck
Roger Averbeck
6 years ago

This is long overdue – thanks to all the advocates who worked hard on this issue.

tedder
6 years ago

I just stumbled on this sort of thing yesterday- Willamette Blvd has a one-way construction zone, they added a bike lane to it. Really cool. The end of the lane is a little problematic (the barrels block view, and it requires a sharp turn), but I’m happy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJ6G1RVxcbw

Carl
Carl
6 years ago
Reply to  tedder

That’s a great example. I’m not sure PBOT would’ve made that much effort to keep Willamette open to bikes five years ago. The increased pressure to design better, safer work zones is already paying off.

Ted Timmons (Contributor)

Also, inspired by this, I hit up the city about the long closure of Overton near NW 19th. Here’s the reply:

The current permit that [the company] has runs through 7/13/16. I’ve passed your note on to the traffic engineers who review such permit requests, in case [the company] requests to renew their permit beyond the current end date.

We’ll do our best to get the plan modified if they end up renewing to allow for bicycle access on NW Overton.

Pretty cool! Note part of the problem is that Pettygrove is closed for construction and Quimby terminates. In the other direction, Northrup has streetcars and cars, Marshall breaks at 22nd, Lovejoy has streetcars and cars. You get the point.

Eric Leifsdad
Eric Leifsdad
6 years ago

SW Chestnut/Vermont repaving project has signs blocking Terwilliger bike lanes for 1/4mi in each direction, and a giant message board on the parkway to alert drivers of the disruption to their cut-through route on this greenway. I would prefer they just sent some postcards or set out some A boards like it’s a neighborhood street. This feels like they’re catering to cut through traffic.

Forum Law Group LLC - Bicycle Law
6 years ago

Big shout out to Noel Mickelberry and volunteer advocates at Oregon Walks for their efforts on this. Stellar!

soren
6 years ago
Reply to  Scott Kocher

Oregon Walks FTW!

rubenfleur
rubenfleur
6 years ago

There it stood in the middle of SE Woodstock Boulevard, a 42-inch-tall orange breadcrumb surrounded by a bustling commercial district.