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Safety advocates uneasy about striping bike lane across Steel Bridge onramp

Posted by on July 8th, 2016 at 11:36 am

naito davis couch

New striping near the Steel Bridge at Naito will be done in the next few days.
(Image: Portland Bureau of Transportation)

Safety advocates are trying to balance enthusiasm for the city’s newly announced Naito bike lanes with concern over one key detail.

After nine years of delay, the plan to close the “Naito Gap” in the next few days drew joy from people like Reza Farhoodi, planning and transportation committee co-chair at the Pearl District Neighborhood Association and a member of the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee. But Farhoodi said it would be a “terrible mistake” for the city not to use a right-turn arrow signal to protect bikes from right-turning autos as the bikes head north across the Steel Bridge onramp.

Today, Naito’s northbound bike lane ends immediately south of the onramp. It starts up again 1,500 feet to the northwest. As we reported yesterday, converting a passing lane to a wide buffered bike lane in each direction will create a major new bike route between northwest Portland, the Willamette River and downtown. It could easily carry 1,000 bikes a day within a few years.

But Naito’s onramp to the Steel Bridge at Davis carries 450 to 500 cars during the peak hour alone, all of them making a shallow-angle turn across a bike lane in which people will mostly be heading straight.

“Putting an unprotected right turn lane to the left of a bicycle lane is substandard practice and just puts cyclists at risk of right hook collisions,” Farhoodi said in an email Thursday morning. “There is a reason why practitioners almost never use this design.”

(Farhoodi, whose day job is with an active transportation planning firm that often competes for city contracts, softened his judgment somewhat in later emails, after continuing to learn about the situation — see below.)

A signal would at least triple project cost, city says

The high-traffic right-turn on N Broadway at Williams, installed in 2010, uses red arrows and a bike signal phase.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Each of the two northbound lanes on Naito already has its own hanging signal here, and the city’s plan would convert the rightmost lane to a right-turn-only lane. So why not create a bike-specific signal phase, like the one that prevents right hooks across the river at NE Williams and Broadway?

Portland Bureau of Transportation staff said Thursday that though delay from a new signal phase might risk causing southbound traffic to back up across the railroad tracks, the “major” obstacle to a protected signal phase here is money.

The Naito project, PBOT spokeswoman Hannah Schafer said, is funded through the bureau’s “Missing Links” program, which has an annual budget of $75,000. Most “Missing Links” projects cost $5,000 to $10,000; Shafer said restriping the newly repaved roadway will cost $15,000 (with Missing Links covering the full expense). A signal would bring the total cost to $45,000 or so in a “best case” scenario, she said.

The additional $30,000 would include “a bike signal and right turn only signal including all labor, materials, engineering, traffic control, and a structural analysis of the existing mast arm pole on the north side of the intersection,” she said.

“Missing Links never pays for signals,” PBOT project manager Scott Cohen said. “It just doesn’t happen.”

A mixing zone is possible but would have problems too

perceived intersection safety annotated

A 2013 study by Portland State University found that many people riding in protected bike lanes feel unsafe mixing with autos at turn lanes.
(Image: PeopleForBikes)

Portland Bureau of Transportation engineer Mark Haines argued that the striping proposed for Naito wouldn’t make the situation worse. He noted that there is an uphill grade to Naito at this point, making it less likely that people biking will overtake people in turning cars.

“I this case I think cyclists and drivers can work together at lower speeds,” he said. “And ultimately I think it’s the driver’s responsibility to yield.”

Though turning vehicles must always yield to vehicles that are moving straight, many Oregon drivers don’t realize that this applies to bike lanes, too. The city’s Naito plan calls for a zebra-striped green crossbike across the intersection, plus a new sign reminding people to yield to bikes before turning.

Another complication: this project is only happening at all because Naito has just been repaved north of Davis.

“We saw the fresh pavement, decided this was the moment,” Schafer said.

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The new asphalt starts immediately north of the onramp — meaning that any striping changes next to or south of the onramp would require costly stripe removal work.

Despite that, Haines said the city considered a green bike box, a mixing zone that would prompt bikes and turning cars to negotiate their way into the same lane, or markings to move the bike lane to the left of the right-turn lane, like the one at Naito and Morrison.

But because any variety of mixing zone would be so busy with right-turning cars, Haines said, “that would be very unhelpful for some people too.”

If people feel the new bike crossing is unsafe, Haines said, they can choose to move into the center of a general travel lane with their bike and go straight across the intersection. (There’s an exemption for this situation in the Oregon law that requires people biking to use a bike lane if present.)

Haines also noted that thanks to the new right-turn lane, people biking will at least have more certainty that any car in the right lane is going to turn.

City and advocates hope for more funding soon

steel onramp

Looking north on Naito at Davis.
(Image: Google Street View)

Biking advocates said Thursday that though they understand the city’s position, they would like to see more changes as soon as possible. Here’s how Farhoodi put it later Thursday, after learning more about the city’s reasoning:

I trust the professional judgment of PBOT staff, but think that they will receive a lot of negative feedback about a design that many people perceive to be unsafe because it manufactures conflict. For me, my major concern is that this could give cyclists a false sense of security compared to a design that drops the bicycle lane in favor of a shared turning/bike lane for a short stretch. Neither of these are preferable to a protected turn signal, but that’s the reality of the funding situation right now.

But we’ve waited too long to close the Naito Gap to rethink it now, and there is also the “safety in numbers” argument that closing the gap will increase bicycle volumes on Naito as a result of improved connectivity. In any case, I sincerely hope that PBOT’s proposed design will be safe for all users, and that they will revisit this location soon when more funding is available, perhaps with the upcoming Central City Multimodal Safety Project.

Here’s Sarah Newsum, a spokeswoman for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance:

In a confusing intersection, such as the one at NW Davis and Naito, we will always advocate for physical separation and signal differentiation. Ideally coupled with a bike box and “No right turn on red” signs. We’d like to see this intersection mirror that of NE Broadway and N Williams, with a separate advanced signal for people riding bikes. Signs telling people driving to watch out for bikes do not provide the necessary clarity or safety for any road user. …

The striping plan isn’t necessarily making that intersection less safe than its current design, however, additional traffic on the street will bring a potential increase in conflicts.

And Ian Stude, chair of the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, in response to a question about a red-turn arrow:

• Very excited to see this gap completed!
• Red turn arrow you suggest would provide some added protection for riders, but a red turn arrow does not prohibit a turn on red, so it would need to accompanied by a “no turn on red” designation as well.
• My suggestion for reducing potential right hook conflicts would be to use the space between Couch and Davis to create a merge point, moving the bike lane to the left of the turn lane prior to the intersection at Davis.

Schafer, Cohen and Haines said they expect the work to go ahead as planned in the next few days. They hope the street can be further improved in the future.

“We’ve actually been able to make some pretty big impacts for people,” Schafer said. “I think this is the first phase of what we hope to be additional improvements to come. … As always, we will be monitoring this area closely after the striping is complete. The safety of Portland’s road users is the bureau’s highest priority.”

“Maybe with the permanent Better Naito, if that ever gets budgeted again,” Haines added. “We’re hopeful that it will.”

Correction 12:35 pm: An earlier version of this post gave the wrong estimated cost for a combined restriping/signalization project.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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i wear many hats
Guest
i wear many hats

The city should put in bollards and more paint like the SW 405 on ramp on 13th. Require a 90 degree turn @ 5-10 mph to get on the Steele bridge.

Adam
Subscriber

We’re creating bad design because of 500 cars during peak hour? Just close the on-ramp entirely. Problem solved.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

We would never allow this design for cars, putting a right-turn lane to the left of a go-straight lane. Never. Ever. Why is it ok to do this for bikes?

BB
Guest
BB

Where is the cost-benefit analysis of the loss of a human life? In particular in regards to a preventable situation made dangerous by claims that creating a safe bicycling environment is not cost effective? I would like to see how the dollars stack, since that is apparently all we care about..

Jason H
Guest
Jason H

At the very least a short mixing zone to move the bike lane to the left of the right turn lane right after Couch would be 10x better in the meantime with a bike phase light/no right on red the ultimate goal.

Spiffy
Subscriber

If people feel the new bike crossing is unsafe, Haines said, they can choose to move into the center of the turn lane with their bike and go straight across the intersection. (This is ambiguously legal, due to the Oregon law that requires people biking to use a bike lane if present … unless it’s unsafe.)

it’s not ambiguous, it’s illegal… you’re not allowed to go forward in a turn-only lane… that said, I think every right-turn only lane should have an “except bicycles” status because sometimes it’s just easier to be out of the way in that turn lane when you’re proceeding forward…

it’s perfectly legal, not ambiguous at all, to not ride in a bike lane that’s to the right of a right-turn only lane… it’s written into the law as an exception…

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

I don’t understand why they are precluded from creating a mixing zone. I know that the repaving stops at the intersection, but it would take very little work to remove and re-stripe the section just to the south. This intersection is worse than a typical right hook intersection because drivers are not turning a full 90* to the ramp. This leads many to take it nearly at full speed, which greatly heightens the right-hook risk.

Mark S
Guest
Mark S

At the N Interstate Ave northbound intersection with N Larrabee Ave, next to the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the bike lane moves to the left for bike traffic continuing north & the right turn only lane begins at this point. Since the City already addresses this same issue at this intersection, I am sure they can use this experience to design the intersection on Naito Parkway to be more accomodating for cyclists.

Adam
Guest
Adam

This is a key concern of mine too, and was actually the first thought that came into my head when I read abut it. People absolutely FLY up into those on ramps from Naito, since they are slip road ramps and not 90 degree turns.

Flashing “Yield to bikes when turning” lights, like the one at MLK & NE Couch will be essential.

Ted Timmons (Contributor)
Editor

Why does restriping come from the Missing Links budget? Wouldn’t it be part of the actual project’s budget?

And why can’t I get a response from anyone at the city about my concerns on this project? It doesn’t even appear there’s a way to give (one-way) feedback.

“And ultimately I think it’s the driver’s responsibility to yield.”

That’s going to be awkward when we requote it after a fatality at that location.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

Bike lanes – of any sort – should NEVER be placed to the right of a right-turn-only lane. End. Of. Story.

JeffS
Guest
JeffS

“And ultimately I think it’s the driver’s responsibility to yield.”

We don’t have police enforcement. We don’t have any criminal penalties for running over cyclists, but at least we have a traffic engineer with an exceptional (some might say delusional) level of optimism.

Can someone remind me again why I’m supposed to want to increase my chance of a right hook. Just so we can trick others into riding more? No thanks. You know who doesn’t turn over the top of you? The car that’s still behind you.

Reza
Guest

Standard disclaimer that I was speaking as a concerned citizen and neighborhood advocate, and NOT on behalf of my employer or any other professional affiliation.

Zaphod
Guest

The amount of funds we are talking about are rather small. Just find the money and get this done. It’s an on-ramp. Motorists will be accelerating with far more speed than a typical right hook. I really do not want to see a ghost bike here.

Peejay
Guest
Peejay

$30k holds us back from putting in a light? This is pocket change to all the corporations benefitting from the great business environment and increasing pool of talented labor supply in PDX right now. Maybe one of them would be willing to step up and fund it. Think of the publicity.

Andy K
Guest

Great comments by Nick. I support this design, especially for the cost! Its understandable that people are nervous about a new design that has right hook written all over it, but this highly visible project will increase the number of cyclists (safety in numbers) and reduce motor vehicle speeds. If a few tuff curb bollards are added without impacting EB Davis traffic it could be even better.

ethan
Guest
ethan

Here’s a REALLY cheap solution: block the on-ramp until there’s enough money to put in a signal.

It would be much safer for people biking, and the people driving onto the bridge can just take another route.

rick
Guest
rick

It looks safer than most 4 lane roads, but it could be better.

Dan A
Subscriber
Dan A

Sounds like the plan is to wait for someone to be killed. Then the additional expense to make improvements can be justified.

Eric Leaming
Guest
Eric Leaming

A bike lane to the right of a right turn lane is not discouraged in engineering practice – it’s *prohibited* unless there is a bike signal to separate the conflict in time (see Oregon Supplement to the MUTCD, Section 9C.04). I’m not sure the city’s engineer has a defendable case for this layout without signalizing; not enough $ is a weak argument.

http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/TRAFFIC-ROADWAY/docs/pdf/oregon_supplement_mutcd_2009_edition.pdf (last page)

BIKELEPTIC
Subscriber

Just shuffle some money around from East Portland projects back downtown.

manwithnoname
Guest
manwithnoname

so THIS is why this section all the way up to 9th has remained unstriped???? at this rate, it will be a year until any sort of “bike lane striping” will be installed.
it sure has made it super fun for me, riding it twice a day. the cars do not know where i should be, so they tend to cut in pretty close, not to mention parking like complete shite, making the “bike lane area” even more narrow and dangerous. i opt to take the sidewalk these days.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest
Kyle Banerjee

Ted Timmons (Contributor)
I prefer to be to the left of a right-turn lane, or at least very far left in the right-turn lane. I fear a car overtaking to do a fast right hook.

As someone who rides this section regularly, this is the easiest and best way to handle the ramp.

How many people who want a protected space actually ride here? If a protected zone or a light is installed, I’ll take the lane and ride with the cars rather than messing around with a protected zone/light that slows things down so much that you may as well be on the path. I suspect many other people who ride here will do the same.

Mixing bikes with cars is desirable in situations like this. First of all, it slows traffic down. If you’re in the far left of the right turn only lane, you won’t get hooked. Everyone gets where they’re going faster. It helps remind drivers that we are traffic and belong on the roads as much as they do. Bikes should not be relegated to specific areas.

It’s a lot easier to get support for bike infrastructure if it doesn’t hose drivers. We all get where we’re going faster and safer if everyone looks out for each other.

rubenfleur
Guest
rubenfleur

AND THEN THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER.
THE END.

Ted Buehler
Guest

I think the PBOT design can be reconfigured without much trouble.

Like this.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/11599639@N03/28063657062/in/dateposted/

I sent it in to PBOT and got a non-response, will try again.

What does anyone else think?

Ted Buehler

paul g
Guest
paul g

Ted Buehler
I think the PBOT design can be reconfigured without much trouble.
Like this.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/11599639@N03/28063657062/in/dateposted/
I sent it in to PBOT and got a non-response, will try again.
What does anyone else think?
Ted Buehler
Recommended 0

I like this design, it feels very much to me like what happens going north on Terwilliger as you approach the I-5 entrance ramp.

It also makes the whole intersection much more visible to motorists, addressing “Hello, Kitty” points above. By extending the whole thing backwards, and asking cars to move left FIRST before actually encountering the ramp (and accelerating), I think you’d slow everything down to a point where everyone can navigate the intersection safely.