For people who ride bikes in Portland, those nasty winter storms are far from over. The weeks of rain, ice, snow, studded tires, chains, and plows have wreaked havoc on roads — especially in the space used for cycling.
It’s one thing to deal with it in a well-cushioned car, but another thing entirely when trying to navigate a bicycle: Ride in the gravel, mud and other hazards and you risk flats or losing control; ride in the lane and you risk interactions with motor vehicle users.
We hate to complain; but this situation is not new. It’s also dangerous and we haven’t seen significant steps taken to improve it even though it has been on the City’s radar for many years. We’ve documented hazardous post-storm cycling conditions (and PBOT’s response to it or lack thereof) in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2014.
During the snow, the City doesn’t plow bicycle routes. Then when the snow finally melts, people who ride bikes are left with spaces full of gravel and other hazards. This is unsafe and unfair — especially in a city with a committment to Vision Zero and a goal of 25 percent bicycle ridership by 2030.
And it’s not as if people stop riding in nasty weather. After our last record-breaking snowstorm in 2008, then-mayor Sam Adams conducted a bike-specific winter storm survey that found 70 percent of (450) respondents who bike actually attempted to ride in the snow. We reported that the city was, “in crisis mode for several weeks” dealing with cleanup and other storm-related issues. Even so, it doesn’t appear they’ve made substantive changes to how they respond.
Our social media timelines have been full of reports of gravel in bike lanes citywide. I’ve seen it myself from St. Johns to deep outer southeast and everywhere in between.
Dave Guettler, the owner of River City Bicycles and River City Bicycle Outlet on the central eastside (two shops that have a combined staff of 70 and account for more than 5,000 bicycle sales a year), has become so concerned about the issue he fired off a letter to Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and PBOT Commissioner Dan Saltzman yesterday. Here’s an excerpt:
“This winter, perhaps more than any other in recent memory, we have heard the concerns expressed by customers and staff alike about the safety of Portland’s roads due to snow and ice.
We have heard about and experienced the absence of safe, designated routes during snow storms, the prolonged timeline in making these designated routes accessible after the snow has receded, and the distinct lack of follow through with routes and access in certain neighborhoods. Our customers come to us with these concerns because we are are seen as stewards of cycling advocacy for this city, a city that trades on a shining bicycle-friendly reputation. What we hear resoundingly, though, is that they don’t feel safe.
… River City Bicycles asks on behalf of all road users that the City of Portland act quickly to clean the streets of hazardous debris.
For the sake of all Portland bicyclists, the significant business of bicycles in Portland, and the city’s Platinum reputation, we demand action toward safer roads in winter months. This will include the swift removal of the hazardous debris that remains after winter storms and a consistent message to all transportation users that bicycles have every right to to the road no matter the weather.”
After the big storm of 2008, it took the City of Portland about 6-8 weeks to clean up about 1,000 cubic yards of gravel (that’s about 1,000 truckloads). And they don’t typically get it all. City crews shoot for a 75 percent pick-up rate, but after that ’08 storm a spokesperson told us they were only able to pick up 60 percent of the gravel because of high winds and rain.
We need a substantive change in policy and practice from the City of Portland. Thankfully it appears they might be on the verge of doing just that.
To get the latest, we asked PBOT Director Leah Treat a few questions about the storms’ impact on bicycling (note that she refers to gravel as “sand”) and their plans to address it. Based on her answers it appears we finally might make some progress on this issue:
As an everyday bicycle rider yourself, how do you feel the City did in terms of managing bikeways during and after the storm?
No doubt about it, this was a challenging storm. Across the city, the packed snow and ice lingered on the roadways and the bikeways. This certainly made it hard for people riding bikes to get around. Once the storm passed, we were able to get the streets into a basic navigable condition so that our transit system could operate. This gave people, include people who would normally bike but who wanted an alternative to their usual mode of transportation, a viable option for getting around Portland.
The City’s current Snow & Ice Plan and the City’s plow routes map does not take cycling into account. Given that Commissioner Saltzman sounds like he’d like to do some sort of review/report of that plan, will you advocate for a specific City policy that addresses cycling routes (such as adding them to the plow route map, mandating post-storm sweeping of gravel and debris, and so on)?
Yes. We are specifically going to look at expanding our de-icing and plow routes to include neighborhood greenways. In terms of post-storm sweeping, it is already part of our standard operating procedure to sweep up the gravel from the streets and bikeways. See below for more detail about what we’re currently doing in this regard.
Did PBOT learn anything about preserving and maintaining key bikeways during/after these storms?
Yes, as I mentioned above, one of the key things we learned is that we need to seriously look at expanding our de-ice and plow routes to include neighborhood greenways. These are important travel routes, and we need to have a clear estimate of what it would cost in labor and equipment to de-ice and plow them.
Now that the snow has melted, bike lane striping looks pretty bad. Chains, gravel, ice, snow, and plow trucks have taken a toll. Is PBOT going to do anything to work with BOM on some sort of hastened restriping timeline to address this issue?
Yes, this is on our radar as well, and we have already started to address the degraded striping. The best striping weather is when it is dry and temperatures are above 50 degrees. Since it looks like we will have a string of dry days we will be out striping even though it’s a bit on the cold side.
Now that roads are clear of snow and ice… Do you plan to do anything to speed up the removal of all the gravel that is currently fouling up many bike lanes throughout the city?
Yes, in fact, this past weekend we focused our sweeping on getting gravel out of the bike lanes because we know from experience that this is a concern that people have. For the next few weeks we will be prioritizing gravel removal. We will have two crews working on both the day and night shifts for the next two weeks. Also, we will have a crew on Saturday and Sunday focusing on gravel pick up. The goal is to get the gravel up before it migrates over to the curb lane. Once it is in the curb lane, the work gets more complicated because of the parked cars. In terms of how long it can take to pick up gravel, here is the rule of thumb we use: for every day that we put sand/gravel down, it takes 3-5 days to pick the same amount up. It takes longer because the sweepers only travel up to 5 mph. Also, we have fewer sweepers than we do sand spreaders. With the length of this most recent storm, we estimate that it will take approximately three weeks to sweep up the gravel.
So there you have it. It could be mid-February before all the gravel is swept up. That’s about two months after the first storm hit. And note that Treat says PBOT is only “going to look at” de-icing and plowing neighborhood greenways. We must keep the pressure on.
Given that many major bike routes are the responsibility of the State of Oregon and Multnomah County, we hope they’ll complete their clean-up soon as well.
In the meantime, please keep documenting conditions so we can keep the pressure on these agencies. If there’s a particularly bad spot that you feel is urgent, please call the city street maintenance hotline at (503) 823-1700.
UPDATE: We’re getting lots of reports of sweeping! That’s great to hear. Please keep the reports coming.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and email@example.com
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1000 cubic yards is far fewer than 1000 truck loads. Truck loads tend to be around 12 – 18 cubic yards, not 1.
Actually 6 to 8 cubic yards is probably more accurate for the trucks the city uses. Gravel weighs up to 3000 pounds per cubic yard. It’s not about the volume of the bed but rather the weight limit.
It’s a good point. From my experience, private sector contractors are keens to fill their trucks to brim to minimize their labor costs on their lump sum bids. I’m less familiar with how the city operates their fleet.
Some bike lanes have been cleared of gravel and debris on SW Barnes Road near the Sunset Transit Center. Lots of missing paint for the bike lanes on SW Scholls Ferry Road by the Portland Golf Club.
Part of the problem with the gravel/sand is that they reuse it. Reuse is great from a cost point of view but for bikes reuse also means that the gravel/sand contains a significant amount of broken glass which is where some of those flats come from.
Oh yes the gravel flat, know it well. My next chore is to go finish a tire upgrade since the old one was worn down into the protective belt. A little dagger of brown glass did me in on Monday. Note: re-use also means less gravel mining.
Still amused that people will travel half a day to get to the gravel but when they bring it here–no mas! 😉
The accelerated wear on pavement and paint stripes points up the fallacy of bike lanes as opposed to, what, a complete network of first-class dedicated bikeways? (emoticon for fantasy) I’m glad the city is thinking of plowing greenways and as for people driving in them–diverters! I would really support clearing the footpaths on bridges early and often. I guess it’s up to us to clear the curb cuts on the approaches since there is apparently a Bureau of Plowing them full Of Snow.
Hm…wouldn’t be too hard to plow the snow into some temporary diverters, leaving plowed paths between, would it?
Ya, I thought gravel grinding was the new fad? Doesn’t everyone own gravel-specific road bikes now?
My LBS was impressed with, but not surprised by the size of the slash in my tyre.
I don’t doubt that there are glass bits mixed in with gravel cleanup. There’s no question in my mind though, that it’s the sharp bits of gravel that are the primary flat producing objects. That’s my first hand experience after years of riding with a number of flats following snow and ice storms.
This year, after the first big snow storm had melted away but the gravel was still there, I got a flat. Went ahead and searched for the puncture in the tube, and used that to find the puncture in the tire. Not difficult finding it, because the small, thin and sharp; shard of gravel was still stuck in the tire. The gravel shard wasn’t big enough of course, to puncture a car or truck tire, but pierced the bike tire easily enough. That’s a bike tire with a kevlar style band as part of the construction.
People biking have good reason to want the bike lanes kept free and clear of debris. Maybe the public can be persuaded to pony up money for equipment and labor to keep the bike lanes better swept. In the meantime…and I say so though knowing many people are adverse to doing so…select a line of travel away from the gravel, even if this is outside the bike lane. People disagree with me on this, but I feel Oregon law does allow biking out of the bike lane to avoid hazards such as sharp gravel presents.
Don’t hog the road…if someone behind really is showing signs they need to pass…show indication of moving over as close to the gravel area as possible without getting into it. Actually riding over the gravel field is terrible…I hate it, and won’t do so unless absolutely necessary.
If you are struggling with Walker Rd in Beaverton, here is the link to report it.
Here is what I wrote:
The gravel in the bike lanes is incredibly dangerous all along Walker Road, especially with the speed of automobiles along that route as well as the construction near 173rd. I have had multiple close encounters as the safest portion of the bike lane is always closest to auto traffic. Please remove the gravel ASAP so I can arrive safely to the school where I teach, and back home at night to my seven year old son.
Re-striping: I hope they look at striping car lane widths instead of bike lanes widths! ON many streets that would not be much of difference, but on Interstate Ave it would make a huge difference. Particularly the stretch of n’bound Interstate between Broadway and Russell, and between Greeley and Fremont (up the hill!)
This missing pavement markings/striping might be even worse than the gravel — and might take longer to get caught up on. Lack of striping is already a problem for PBOT to keep up with… now it’s been exacerbated by the storm. I was riding on SE 122nd yesterday and could not even see the bike lane striping for hundreds of yards. If these stripes continue to be all we have, we must demand that they are kept in better shape. No stripe = no infrastructure!
And the missing cyclist stick figures that tell us where to stand to activate lights. I just stand in the middle of the place where the road was dug up in hopes of getting it right.
Look for the detector loop set into the pavement and stand over that. Usually they are in the shape of rectangle though, not an actual “loop”.
Agreed! There were so many cars driving half in the bike lane last night!
PBOT swept Terwilliger AND painted curved and worn parts of the bike lanes this week. Thank you!
Honestly, I have real concerns about adding greenways to snow plow routes. There were plenty of macho jackasses driving around in the the snow, but for the most part, the neighborhood streets were car-free or cars drove really super slow. AS a result, the streets were full of kids, dogs, skiers, etc. Since Portland is so stingy with diversion, plowing greenways could just lead to a steady stream of cars driving too fast for the conditions through neighborhoods on streets shared with bikes, peds, skiers, sledders and ice; a dangerous mix. Maybe there is a creative solution to this like using plows to create frequent snowbank diverters to keep more cars out? Or using 5′ wide plows somehow to prevent cars from using?
I can see your point. But there are laws against running over people — and they apply to macho jackasses, as well. I think the cycling community needs to send a loud, clear message that cycling is transport and it can’t be done when there’s snow on the roads.
There may be LAWS against running over people, but there is virtually NO PENALTY for doing so. The bigger the macho jackass, the less that he thinks it applies to him.
Source? It seems to me that you can legally run somebody over accidentally, provided you aren’t breaking any laws.
Exactly… if you aren’t breaking any laws, what you are doing is not illegal.
oh yeah, stingy! Some things are over-studied. How about: we’re putting a diverter here because we want to have places where there aren’t so very many cars, as opposed to meeting several traffic flow criteria. Right now my transportation by bike is effectively taxed by the need to avoid hazards and heavy car traffic. It doesn’t bother me at all shunt cars into a crowded network of car-prone streets. Let them eat bus rapid transit.
Recent events have made me just a little more intolerant, sorry. So let me also say this: I saw less egregiously bad driving during the snowy epoch than I expected. Maybe it was because people actually saw the limitations of cars?
Really? You saw less bad driving?
Maybe there were fewer drivers driving badly, but the percentage was WAY UP where I was. Lots of driving way too fast for conditions, failing to slow down for pedestrians inching across icy intersections, purposeful high-reving to enhance fishtailing, parking cars so far from the curb that they blocked lanes, parking in the bike lanes, parking blocking sidewalks. Pretty much awful!
Less than I expected. Most people were willing to cut a little slack around the occasional bike rider. It’s not like there was a bike lane to be in.
It’s not just the drifts of gravel that pose post-storm hazards unfortunately.
As of yesterday, for example, you have to dodge around tree branches and trunks which were cut and piled up in the bike lane on Barbur Blvd. at about SW Hamilton yesterday. Dodging into 50 mph traffic to avoid “tree cleanup” is scary in the dark.
Obviously, using the bike lane as temporary rubbish storage isn’t ideal (and I wish this was the only location where I’ve encountered this.)
It’s a lot to clean – I know. I guess I’m just reminding everyone to look out for everyone until we get the city back to “normal.”
That one is pretty bad, I’ve just been taking the right half of the lane. There was a water main break in that area that was pretty bad, thus the new pavement just past the debris piles. This is ODOT controlled space so technically you should be able to report it to AskODOT (Ask.ODOT@odot.state.or.us) or just use the ORcycle app which does this automatically and has a decent history of getting a timely response.
Okay, so explain this to a Vancouverite–how does Oregon square the abstention from salting roads with the allowing of studded tires, which are one of the most destructive automotive technologies out there?
It’s a political decision, not one based in good policy? Les Schwab is headquartered in Prineville?
Yes, that isn’t mentioned at all in the article. Salt melts and disappears (yes there is some residue left, but that would have all been gone after a few days of rain that we got last week). Gravel just sticks around forever, until someone comes and picks it up or sweeps it away.
The idea of plowing greenways really doesn’t appeal to me as the city’s “plowing” actually made the arterials far worse to travel on than the side streets. At least on the the greenways I traveled their was something to grip on the road, as opposed to solid sheets of uneven ice on the arterials. Until the city decides to actually plow streets (and that means down to the pavement) and get serious about salt use I’d rather have them not make the greenways icy too.
Where does the salt “disappear” to?
Diluted in rain and runs off. I admit there are some consequences, but using it sparingly once every few years is not an ecological disaster that many are suggesting it would be. But Portland’s going to Portland.
Runs off into the river and other natural areas. Whether or not it is harmful probably depends on what exactly those consequences are. Perhaps it gets diluted to the point of harmlessness, but, on top of everything else we dump in the river, I wouldn’t be so sure.
“…but using it sparingly once every few years is not an ecological disaster that many are suggesting it would be. ..” se rider
The effect on the environment, of salt for road de-icing, might be referred to as ‘cumulative’. It’s another addition to all the nasty things human beings are inclined to do to make their modern lives more convenient. People using fertilizers and toxins on their lawns and gardens, is another modern phenomena of environmental abuse. All that stuff messes with the soil and runs down into natural systems. With population growth, the amount increases.
The road dept’s have been experimenting with a type of road defroster. Not sure what it is…but before a predicted snow or ice storm, on roads where it’s been applied, it’s visible as several lines in a lane, slightly darkening the asphalt. Hopefully, this isn’t some new environmentally toxic material.
You know how you feel when you’re climbing a steep hill and a diesel exhaust-spewing series of trucks is right ahead of you? I imagine that’s how salmon feel when they’re attempting to get over Bonneville Dam etc. with the added bonus of salt. And pollution. And heat. And and and. All our human rancid gifties! Little things mean a lot when your very species has been reduced to next to nothing and life is already hard. I think the salt mainly affects the salmon fry–the little ones. I’m always amazed we have any salmon left at all. Talk about survival challenges–! Poor little buggers.
Studded tires should also be banned.
If you think it’s bad on a bike try it on a skateboard! I’ve found myself pushing in the car lane a great deal because the bike lane is completely filled with rocks. I’m so grateful that the neighborhood greenways are clear.
Feel fortunate that most people do not ride on Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy. It it hands down one of the most dangerous place to ride a bike right now.
There is still, as of this morning, a snow bank completely blocking the Eastbound bike lane right next to the shiny new speed cameras due to the driveway next to it being cleared into the roadway combined with parked cars preventing plowing for over a week. Going Westbound there are several large potholes in the right-hand auto lane which is causing cars to swerve last minute into the bike lane to avoid driving through them. Of course this is in addition to the roadway not being swept of gravel (sand) from any of the storms in December or January so any paint that does remain is completely covered. I won’t bore anyone with the random road signs that have been abandoned, and half completed sidewalk ramp replacements from a “Vision Zero” project that is set to improve overall conditions but has been pushed back twice already and the real improvement is likely a few seasons away.
In other parts of the city they are cleaning up much faster than prior storms which is much appreciated. This time of year is why Gatorskins seem to be necessary for riding around town. Thanks for the great reporting and getting some answers on this cleanup!
As of last night the westbound flyover leading to the Hawthorne bridge is lousy with rocks.
“We hate to complain.”
We hate to have to complain.
Great reporting, great advocacy! As I write, my wife is still healing from a nasty crash she suffered on the Klickitat GreenWay — during the early days of the thaw. This was when long strips of ice and slush were still on the street. I reckon it would have been ice-free if the city had done any plowing at all on the Greenways.
SE 17th from Bybee to the Powell St. overpass was never swept after the December storm (they had 4 weeks to do so!) and is still a mess as of this morning. I take the lane, because I refuse to ride and have gravel thrown up inside my fenders. Luckily most of the car drivers get what I’m doing because it’s so obvious how bad the bike lane is. The intersection where 17th crosses Holgate actually has small hillocks of gravel where you cross going southbound.
And as I noted in twitter, the bike lane on SE Bybee/28th/Woodstock from the Bybee bridge to 39th Ave is full of downed tree limbs AND gravel. But even worse there is zero paint on the road to even indicate there’s a bike lane there. Cars drive in that all the time as it is, but now there’s nothing to even indicate cyclists should be there.
I flatted on that very stretch last night! I hadn’t ridden it since last year, and it was really bad. http://i.imgur.com/c0MHZEk.png
The gravel and debris really impacts the less adventurous riders. My wife was/is a daily bike commuter from Sellwood/Moreland. Usually she’s not deterred by just rain, or cold. But she’s hardly biked this January because the gravel and debris makes it almost impossible to safely bike out of the neighborhood (up and over Bybee, or out 17th), and get to a Greenway where the city never dumped gravel on the road.
If it’s possible, I highly recommend riding on SE Tolman through Eastmoreland from roughly 28th to 42nd. So much better than Woodstock. (I did that on my way TO Woodstock but unfortunately took Woodstock on the way back home). You still have to deal with Bybee bridge and all the debris, but then you can leave it.
I haven’t ridden in 3 weeks. Sometimes you get tired of feeling like a second class citizen. I’ve been riding the MAX and if feels good to have the right of way for once! In a few weeks, I’ll get back on the saddle.
[quiet voice] I’ve been on the trainer..
Man, I really enjoyed the MAX for a few weeks (any other office workers with laptops… get a wireless service with WiFi Hotspot allowed, work while you’re on the train, and never look back – Google Fi is the cheapest I found) but I got tired of the delays and unreliability when riding it day in and day out in the worst weather of the year. My bike commute is almost exactly the same amount of time each day, so glad to be back on the bike, woot woot! (Disclaimer: my bike commute is on the Springwater, so now that the snow and ice has all melted, I’m not endangered or stressed at all by the City’s slow-to-nonexistent bike-specific storm maintenance).
The point being… MAX is still a second-class citizen to driving as far as government allocation of funds, space, and priority go. It’s just that biking is a third-class citizen so going from biking to MAX is a step up.
I’ve lost track of my timing, but at some point I realized I had been on the bike once in ten days. I appreciate the existence of TriMet, and I appreciate how tough this all is for them, but damn it’s nice to be back on the bike with not much more than the usual paranoia.
The plus side of the city ignoring the neighborhood greenways during the storm is that now that the snow has melted, there’s no lingering gravel to deal with. Those routes are among the best in town right now.
A bad pothole on SE 26th was patched in the last 24 hours. It was in directly in line with the path of the right wheels for a motor vehicle, so naturally it was a priority. Vision Zero!
Meanwhile the streetlight on my corner has been broken for three months.
Have you notified the appropriate authority? I’ve found the City of Portland to be fairly responsive.
Yes, I have called PBOT at least four times about it. They came out to fix it six weeks after the initial call, but it was broken again a week later. I have since left a few more messages in the past two months and yet nothing has been fixed.
Riding north on N Interstate from the Moda Center last night was terrifying: gravel covered the right half of the road and no stripe separating the lanes meant a lot of cars were passing really close. Plus it was super dark. I’m a confident rider and it scared me thoroughly. When I got home I called PBOT and spoke to a nice rep; I encourage anyone who comes across similarly dangerous road conditions to do the same. They may not get to it quickly but it might help them understand which roads to prioritize.
Wear goggles. A few years ago a friend lost an eye when a vehicle threw up a piece of road gravel while he was crossing the Morrison bridge on the sidewalk.
For sure! It felt like someone shot me when I got hit by a piece of gravel riding up the Halsey/205 overpass sidewalk.
Wear goggles. A few years ago a friend lost an eye when a vehicle threw up a piece of road gravel while he was crossing the Morrison bridge on the sidewalk.
Thank you for documenting this. Every day I ride into work I’m shocked at the condition of the bike lanes. Here I am riding in a skinny bike lane on gravel only feet away from traffic passing me doing 30-40 mph. It is pretty near terrifying. I wonder if I was hit and killed, would PBOT be liable due to the gravel being unsafe and unavoidable?
Another example of transportation planners completely overlooking non-automobile users.
I think the fault lies largely with politicians, who, budget after budget, decline to allocate sufficient funding and priority to keeping biking approximately as (un)comfortable and (un)safe year-round as it is in the summer, despite the obvious need.
Couple reports from my route:
Bike lane on northbound N. Interstate from Larrabee to Tillamook and maybe beyond has been swept a second time now, but the bike lane stripes are completely worn off and the just-repaved 10-week old road surface looks about 10 years old now due to the high volume of vehicles with chains and studs.
One of the stronger levers would be to focus on ADA access (especially if this gravel has made the attached sidewalks impassible) and join forces with OregonWALKS.
After all the City does not have a federal legal requirement to clear its streets of snow…but it does have a federal law requiring ADA access (equity of operations and maintenance…and enforcement of snow clearance on sidewalks by property owners). Most city PW staff (nationwide) and managers are underawares (or quietly hoping it is not raised) of this evolving requirement…especially as it relates to not blocking ADA ramps and sidewalks with slowed snow etc.
The option of plotting to the centreline (turn lane used as snow storage zone) needs to be strongly evaluated for bike and transit priority routes…and arterials with attached sidewalks.
Two pieces of infrastructure not mentioned thus far: Tilikum crossing and the east / west Waterfront. I read that the city did not want to address the snow/ice on Tilikum crossing to prevent ice to come on the tracks, but that is a flimsy excuse. You can clear the bike and walk paths without affecting the tracks.
Regarding the waterfront, nothing was done there as well, and a couple of trees fell down, making these paths non-usable during and after the storm, until the ice melted. This is a high-traffic corridor for bicyclists and many people use this area to go on walks every day. Not clearing these ways showed to me (once again) where the city’s priorities are (and a same thing can be said about clearing sidewalks and enforcing existing law here). Biking and walking is all fine and good, but if things go bad, forget about it. Forget 2030 with that attitude.
Let’s be honest though. The city didn’t clear ANY road or path for car or bike.
The gravel would be a lot more manageable if they were using were a finer grit. It’s even worse over on the westside — the stuff in the bike lanes out by Hillsboro is extra coarse. Last Thursday I rode from Hillsboro to Portland via Beaverton-Hillsdale and Barbur, and my bike is absolutely slathered in grit.
But really, that’s riding in winter for you. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect road agencies to come back out and pick it all up right away, unless winter really is over. It isn’t over! Sure, SOME years there’s little or no snow in Portland, but other years see a bunch of storms. This is one of those years. You really think you’ve seen the last snow of the year? It’s still January. I predict at least one more significant snow event. Sorry if any of you moved to Portland to escape having to deal with winter, but this year you’re not living in That Portland. Gravel on the road is part of the package of living in snow country. Expecting the city to clear all the bike lanes of snow right away is reasonable; expecting them to clear the lanes of gravel right away is not. It’s going to snow again within the next couple of weeks … the city’s very limited winter maintenance resources are going to be needed for more plowing very soon – why waste them on premature gravel cleanup?
But still, use a finer grit, please. Cities here in Minnesota don’t use that coarse pea gravel when they sand.
“Gravel on the road is part of the package of living in snow country.”
Totally not true. You should spend some time in Colorado. Salt and plows do wonders.
I’d prefer not having to deal with the corrosion issues. No one wants to wash their bike after every ride.
Then you’re going to have to deal with the gravel issues.
I never washed my bike in Chicago. You do have to lube the chain more often in winter, though.
Then Colorado’s not doing it optimally either. There are situations where sand is the best solution, where rock salt is best, where brine is best and where other deicers are the best option.
If snow and ice is being managed properly you’re going to end up with sand on the roads. But it doesn’t have to be this pea gravel Portland-area road agencies are using. We have sand all over the place in Minneapolis right now, but it’s a finer grit and nowhere near as irritating to ride in.
They need to scoop it off the roads so they can use it again for the next storm. As much of it as they can reclaim, they reuse. I have no idea if their stockpile is huge, or if their supplier can provide infinite quantities infinitely quickly.
Are you talking about the gravel or the snow?
Full cover fenders? Portland design works some nice ones.
Plowing Greenways will be a nightmare that will not work for these reasons:
1) the surfaces on many of these are terrible, so the plows would not be able to get close enough.
2) de-icing plus sand would create poor environmental conditions on our Green Street network. The sand would fill the bioswales
3). How do you plow with SPEED BUMPS? Pbot would have to get serious about using diverters instead of speed bumps or the plows would decimate them. In fact, plowing a plowing a road with speed bumps seems dangerous to me.
I would suggest, as someone who come from the upper Midwestern tundra to focus on good plowing of main arterials and collectors, with immediate sand clean up.
How about they fix all of these problems with appropriate dreamworld policy?
*Remove speed bumps on greenways when major road maintenance occurs, replace with diversion every 2 blocks
*Place greenways on an equal footing for maintenance with collectors and arterials so that the road surface is smoother
*Just don’t gravel the greenways. I don’t think gravel helps people biking or walking anyway really.
The city swept water avenue by OMSI yesterday. It was nice to the have the bike lane back again this morning. I would often get passed by motorists when I took the lane.
Jonathan, I’m really confused by the tone of this article.
Last week you were defending PBOT when it was suggested (by me and others) that they had not done a sufficient job in snow and ice removal. And now you appear to be very critical of their clean up efforts, despite reports that they are operating night and day to clean up:
I don’t think you can have it both ways.
I too would love for them to have the gravel cleaned up much quicker, but it sounds like they’re doing so at capacity and there is just a lot to get to (thus taking 3 weeks).
That’s a fair critique SE rider. Getting the tone right is complicated and I can always do it better.
That being said, I think despite their efforts, they need to hear that this remains a major concern from me and many other road users. Until changes in policy and practice are made, I’m afraid “we’re doing all we can” isn’t good enough.
More to the point though. I remember there were a number of people, yourself included, arguing: “These are outlier weather events that don’t happen that often, therefore we should cut the city some slack and have low expectations for their response”. Shouldn’t that also apply to the clean up?
I think the City should implement a frequent street sweeping policy as is common many cities. No Parking dates are posted, and revenue is raised by ticketing/towing violators. This keeps our streets clean which keeps our rivers clean. It also improves biking conditions. The other bonus is that is gets rid of abandoned/disabled vehicles and discourages parking seldom-used cars/rv’s/trailers on the street.
Sure, but the city is has a decent street sweeping program already. They are so understaffed/backlogged for removing disabled/abandoned vehicles it’s not even funny.
It all comes back to more money.
Another complaint-driven thing. It doesn’t always work, but if nobody reports derelict vehicles they’re going nowhere.
People report them all the time. In our neighborhood, we’ve had people report them daily for months with no action.
Relying on the government is going to be increasingly more of a liability in the coming years. I would like to see a community-led effort to get people together to sweep the bike lanes ourselves. Like Bike Swarm, but with brooms.
I swept the bike lane in front of my house myself. Judging by your pictures, you may have even ridden by it, Jonathan.
I for one am much more concerned about conditions after the storm than during it. During the storm you just have to deal with it, and from someone that grew up in snow country, I can tell you that cycling isn’t pleasant in a winter storm even in places where the roads are actually well plowed and salted. Being able to ride virtually all year long in Portland is actually quite a luxury and I don’t think any cyclist should begrudge a week or so of winter weather.
However, having to deal with the aftermath in the form of loose gravel and missing infrastructure that lingers for weeks or months after the storm is over is another story, and the area in which I think the City needs the most improvement.
It helps me with walking on ice, but if the people responsible for clearing the sidewalks – homeowners and businesses, I’m pointing at you – would clear their sidewalks as soon as they can get out to them, maybe I’d only want gravel in crosswalks.
Sorry – that was meant to be a reply to Alex’s “dreamworld” post, but it burped a technical error, and when I tried again, it went elsewhere.
I think there should be a special place in hell for those who shoveled their driveways (to make it easier for them to get their cars into the street) but didn’t even bother to shovel a portion of the sidewalks in front of their homes/businesses!
Seriously. A few people on my block did this and it was infuriating. I for one shoveled a path on my sidewalk (neighbor’s too, since they were kind enough to lend me their shovel), and only needed to shovel my driveway enough to get my bikes out.
I work in the Central Eastside, near SE 6th/Ash. Wentworth Chevy operates business on several blocks, I estimate they are responsible for 21 block faces. However, they only shoveled one or two! The very busy sidewalk on SE Grand between Ash and Ankeny became a treacherous sheet of ice. I think the City should issue citations for businesses that fail to maintain their sidewalks, especially a business like Wentworth that controls such a huge amount of the land but contributes relatively little in terms of employment.
3 weeks is too long. No one commuting by car would accept that standard. Solution seems obvious: buy more bike lane sweepers.
Agree with Buzz above that post-ice clean-up is more urgent than striping or de-icing greenways during a storm. That would add gravel to some of the only roads that are clean and safe to ride post-storm.
I found myself riding busy streets, like the Prescott thruway, because the Going St. greenway a block away was churned loose snow. If it had been plowed even once, a few minutes of shoveling would have cleared a path through the hypothetical diverters, resulting in a passable street after the first day of sun or warm rain. Gravel can be sketchy but it doesn’t totally stop a person from moving forward. Greenways don’t really need gravel anyway. That’s more for hills and transit routes.
I’d be happy to walk a few blocks to get to a street designated for bike travel in bad weather. I’d be even happier if I _didn’t_ have to walk my bike across the Broadway Bridge 6 or 8 times.
As long as we lack the social infrastructure (traffic law enforcement, prioritizing human-powered facilities for snow/gravel removal over motorized facilities, driver training/education, liability reform) we’re not going to move the needle very far on freeing people of car dependence. Sadly, PBoT seems to still be stuck on cars first, last and always in spite of their nice words to the contrary.
PBOT staff are complete LIARS …. worse than Trump
1) Storm ends, ice melts
2) I send in photos of 55mph Greeley Ave bike lane covered in mud with covered storm drains
3) Days later PBOT sends quick sweeper to do one pass
4) I send new video with half swept Greely, bike lane still fully covered, drains 1/2 covered
5) PBOT staff reply “reported location has already been addressed” Mr. Gonzalez, Cevero
6) I send in 3rd round of photos and PBOT communication staff We “initiate improvements as we see fit”
7) I ask for the process by which they initiate work, they say I must pay for a Freedom of Information Request
8) Anyone have time to file a request?
see video as it stands over a week after all the ice melted. Meanwhile users report that rich white neighborhoods that don’t exceed 30mph have had their roads swept of all gravel and mud.
video URL above..
notice that the bike lane was never swept in last 2 weeks but the space for cars was swept
PHOTO URL above.
Whenever government says you need to.pay for info, they are hiding something or the lack of a process. This is why the rich neighborhoods were swept first.
Will they be putting the plow blades all the way down this time? Like everyone else? Ummmmmm
Regular snow plows cannot do that, as they rely on gravity alone. What can get down to the road surface are graders, which PBOT only has two — compared to 55 plows.
They were running the plows at least 15mph, maybe over 20. They probably wouldn’t safely scrape at that speed, but they had 2-3in shoes on.
Yes they can. we’re talking about snow here and not solid ice.
Given the limited number of plows, many areas had turned to ice by the time the plows got to them.
The snow hit at the perfect time (beginning of the evening) to get it plowed correctly. Most people stayed off the roads overnight. Working overnight with 55 plows, they could get a decent plowing of most of the major streets by the next morning.
The lanes in Southwest Portland are full of gravel in inverse proportion to the presence of alternative cycling routes. Capitol Hwy from SW Barber up to PCC and SW Barbur through the forest are especially bad. That said, I was pleased to see that PBOT swept SW Terwilliger early this past week.
Ummmm….Most states run their plows out speed on the highway scraping. What is this safety nonsense with the plowing and speed? The snow is not titanium. The plow has a built in spring so….Nevermind.
I hope Portland actually drops the blade on the ground at first snow and doesn’t do the whole float the blade above the snow like they did last time. Might as well do nothing at all if that’s the grand plan
Greeley is now gravel free! They also sprayed it down last night, nice and clean conditions.
Robert. I rode to work on bike at 7:30am today ( day you posted all clean)
I fully disagree. This bike lane still has significant gravel on the downhill section headed south as you cross going and have to stop for cars that cross the bike lane. See my video. The gravel is very evident in the bike lane at the curb, and I point to the gravel 15 feet away. PBOT staff denied this and laughed at me when I called Friday at noon. I will take a video Saturday and sweep up some of the gravel and hand deliver to Laughting Matt in Dan Saltzman’s office. He seemed to claim that PBOT is telling the truth.
video of gravel at 7:30am Friday https://youtu.be/qAdl3qzmwYs
Riding on Barbur up and down the hill to downtown was not fun yesterday, nor was riding in Sylvania. Tons of gravel messing up traction, and the downed trees blocking the lane were having me riding out into the busy streets. Luckily, the drivers were pretty accommodating.
Looking back at my riding logs, I get out on bike 85-90% of the days per year.
This January, first ride was on the 10th, then nothing till the 22nd.
5 years ago I went down on a frosty AM when crossing into a driveway. Instinctively put down my right arm to break the fall. Ended up rupturing the bicep and turning it into a monocep.
Now I find that riding on mixed ice/snow with clear pavement is just too risky.
It’s pretty shocking how all the bikes lanes are pretty much gone. The paint got grinded away from the gravel. That new wide bike lane that was put on NW 18 has vanished. Interstate Ave is just sad.
I’d like to add an observation I made during the recent melt down after the streets had cleared of snow. Along SW Barbur (I know Barbur’s a state issue) near SW 21st over Multnomah, the snow was plowed 3-4′ high in the shoulder and the on the narrow sidewalk overpass.
A male was walking southbound against traffic in the lane, while the female was scrambling atop the frozen ice piles, higher than the railing that keeps someone from falling onto SW Multnomah Blvd below.
This plowing throttled cars, bikes, and the pedestrians into the vehicle lane. Plowing operations had no consideration for creating an unsafe condition for user’s other than cars/buses. According to state codes, all uses have the right to accesses and pedestrian or cyclists can take the lane long enough to pass the conflict and return to a safer condition – regardless of slowing down traffic.
They were exercising a very risky right, and a bicycle happening by would have only compounded the issue.
Greeley Ave is constantly muddy and flooded. Why? Because PBOT never fully clears the storm drains. They said Wednesday this section of Greely was addressed, yet on Friday, today, I took this video on my 7:30am bike commute.
as soon as the next rain hits the bike lane will be a complete death trap again as all the mud from the 700 feet up the hill comes down and settles on the bike lane. Greely does not have a single drain in the south bound lanes between the drain in this video and the Addidas campus back up the road 3/4 mile. This whole road is designed for death.
I even made a map when the PBOT staff could not find the covered up storm drains
Hey Robert. This is a video taken at 7:30AM and at 9:05 you make a false claim that Greeley is clean. It is not clean. It is not gravel free. And the drains that never drain will cause an inch of mud on the next light rain.
video link above. From today at 7:30am…
Endangered species: In 8 yrs, yet to see a Street Sweeper in SE PDX.
There used to be some, back when PBOT actually swept the streets.
I rode the Banks-Vernonia trail this weekend… well, “rode” is generous. Mostly I portaged over and under fallen trees all the way through Stub Stewart, before I ended up bailing on the trail and getting to Vernonia on 47.
Next time bring a saw and clear the trail for me.
what a mess, are my ears playing tricks on me or do I still hear studded tires? its scary riding in some spots is total wash out… love how autos get the right to a clean lane..
Autos clear the lane themselves. We need to encourage more drivers to travel in the bike lanes to help sweep the gravel from those as well.
Yeah, see if we can get them to spew gravel onto the sidewalk!
It’s now Feb 10, and the bike lanes on the western off-ramp from the Hawthorne Bridge leading into downtown still haven’t been swept. This has to be one of the most traveled segments of bike lane in Portland, and is hardly remote or out-of-mind, and the gravel is thick and easily visible to anyone driving by. There are other bike lanes that remain covered in gravel a well. How about a followup with the city to see how they are progressing on their post-storm cleanup, and when they expect to be finished?
Agreed, that area is still treacherous, and the potholes on that block and 2nd Av seems to have grown. The SE Caruthers green lanes by OMSI are full of gravel as well, as are many sidewalks still. Is PBOT still in the process of sweeping, or have they given up?
Yes, and then those overloaded trucks with unsecured loads spill gravel all along the roadway, which is quickly swept (by auto traffic) onto the shoulders/into the bike lane. I’d love to see city and county police start enforcing laws about securing loads against dump truck drivers & the like. Riding past the quarry on Farmington is a nightmare. TV Highway is basically a gravel surface year round in the bike lanes.