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City’s new snow and ice plan still doesn’t include greenway plowing

Posted by on February 1st, 2017 at 4:18 pm

Whose streets?

No plows coming soon.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

After severe storms unleashed havoc on our roads and heaps of criticism on the City of Portland’s response, Bureau of Transportation Commissioner Dan Saltzman laid out a new plan at a city hall press conference a few hours ago.

PBOT Director Leah Treat told us last week the City was, “Specifically going to look at expanding our de-icing and plow routes to include neighborhood greenways.”

Unfortunately, this new plan doesn’t do that. Instead of plowing residential streets that are the backbone of our biking network, Commissioner Saltzman announced two other changes to the City’s storm response plan. After resisting the use of salt due to environmental concerns, PBOT now says they plan to use up to 100 tons of it on at least three major roads during upcoming storms. This “largest use of road salt in the modern history of Portland,” will be a test to see how effective salt is at keeping roads free of ice and snow. In addition, they’ve announced an 30 percent expansion in the number of lane miles that will be plowed.

We knew the salt decision was coming; but it’s the plow route we were most curious about going into today’s press conference. As we reported last week, not only were bike lanes and bikeways left piled with snow during the storm, they’ve been covered in gravel for weeks.

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After not hearing any mention of bike routes or neighborhood greenways in today’s announcement, we followed up with PBOT Communications Director John Brady. Brady confirmed that the expanded plow route — an estimated 340 additional lane miles on top of the 1,120 miles currently on the map — will focus on school bus routes and won’t include neighborhood greenways.

The only hope of plowing neighborhood greenways in the future lies in a new budget request. Today PBOT filed a $2.8 million 2017-2018 General Fund budget request that would “expand the bureau’s ability to clear roads during winter storms.” The request includes $1.2 million to purchase and set-up equipment. Brady says PBOT wants to work with the Portland Water Bureau to retrofit some of their existing trucks with six new snow plow blades. The blades would cost about $150,000.

“With the additional funding we asked for, especially for the money that would allow us to outfit water bureau trucks with plow blades,” Brady told me via email this afternoon, “We would have additional capacity and could add [neighborhood] greenways [to the plow route map].” If approved, the money would be available for use starting next fiscal year (July 1, 2017,

With another storm on its way tomorrow night, PBOT won’t have to wait long to put their new plan into motion. We’ll have to wait and see how and if it impacts cycling. And if we want the City to plow neighborhood greenways next winter we’ll need to lobby city council to pass that budget request.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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dan de Vriend
Guest
dan de Vriend

It seems to me if they just limited auto traffic on bikeway/greenways to local traffic ONLY, the conditions would be fine for cycling. I only ran into trouble on Going after cars had rutted it up thoroughly, like 3 days into the snowpocalypse.

m
Guest
m

Before we start spending millions of more dollars on buying more equipment, I would still love to see a report about how many of our existing 55 plows (plus the ones we borrowed from Seattle) were actually used and for how long during the entire week the city was mostly shut down. Seems to me they mostly just gave up after the first day.

Adam
Subscriber

PBOT is not serious about making cycling a priority. In Copenhagen, the city plows the cycleways first. PBOT does nothing for cycling in a snowstorm.

SE Rider
Guest
SE Rider

The real question, is are they actually going to plow now or just do the mostly ineffective skimming they did last time?

Tim
Guest
Tim

People can’t use their cars because they can’t get to a plowed street, so they walk. Great, except one they get to the plowed street there is 4 feet of ice on the sidewalk from the plows. This just doesn’t make any sense at all. But, I did enjoy riding down the middle of typically busy street.

I wear many hats
Guest
I wear many hats

If those roads get plowed they will fill with anxious motorists trying to escape gridlock, making the bike route ineffective for providing a safe, low car route.

MaxD
Guest
MaxD

People were already driving EVERYWHERE in the snow- in bike lanes, ignoring “no right on red”, driving around other cars in left turn only lanes, etc. The snow really brought out the worst in some drivers. I think they should make an effort to plow bike lanes and avoid filling bike lanes/sidewalk with snow piles. On the other hand, I hope they do not plow greenways because they will attract dangerous driving into residential neighborhoods. I would prefer they simply used plowing to keep cars off greenways and let people fend for themselves without the risk of cars. They could do this on tons of residential street (create a pre-defined network of snowbank diverters) to keep cars out of neighborhoods and on arterials.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

Expecting to be able to continue to ride your bike during severe winter weather is ridiculous, even in cities that do a lot better job of snow removal than Portland. Relax and take a few days off the bike, you should be glad we live somewhere you can ride virtually all year long, and not complaining about a few snow days.

todd boulanger
Guest
todd boulanger

I was surprised to learn that the City of Vancouver (WA) has been using salt (and homemade brine) since 2008 to treat our roads up here…I thought it was more recent. The snow response update went further to report that the City was having to NOW consider building more salt storage, since other cities were now using salt and thus becoming difficult to replenish supplies between winter events in the NW.

[Now we have Portland taking “our” salt too!]

Nick
Guest
Nick

I would support plowing greenways ONLY if all other roads get plowed. A plowed road will only attract more auto traffic during storms and I’d rather risk slip-sliding my bike on a snowy/icy road without the deathmobiles on the road. Some of my LEAST stressful days biking this winter were immediately after the storms….

todd boulanger
Guest
todd boulanger

Back to Portland now: Did Commissioner Dan Saltzman / Director Treat’s report address how their snow plan would address ADA per equity of access and services?

Would it be only enforcement tool or would it include equitable services (de-icing curb ramps, plowing that blocks ramps/ crosswalks etc) on City priority snow routes etc.? Snow / ice is now a recognized barrier to plan for (not ignore) per the US DoJ…especially for multiday storms.

Craig Giffen
Guest
Craig Giffen

Jonathan, it would really help to have a Q & A with the maintenance bureau. The amount of misinformed comments from your armchair maintenance staff is just as bad as the Oregonian’s.

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

I hereby solemnly vow to get to shovelin’ while the snow’s still soft, this time…

Doug Klotz
Subscriber

I heard today that the city plans to send out (soon?) a press release reminding folks to shovel their walks. They’ve also created an award for the best sidewalk-shovelers, so you can nominate people (or presumably businesses) for it:

https://www.facebook.com/PBOTInfo/photos/a.351142124961902.78454.101462706596513/1242763485799757/?type=3

Tophermcgarry
Guest
Tophermcgarry

To be fair, the bike lanes on my route from Rosa Parks across Willamette to the St Johns bridge were plowed. Thanks PBOT.

bendite
Guest
bendite

Adam
It is ridiculous for people to expect to drive during severe weather.
Recommended 1

Here in Bend, we’ve had close to 60 inches of snow since the first week of December and I’ve ridden my fat bike everyday. I have fun and the people driving are stressed and terrified.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

$2.8 million down the drain. Do people really think we will have another event like this last one? I guess climate change denial has really hit the mainstream…

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

Beet juice?

X
Guest
X

$2.8 million is about $5.00 per capita. Would people give that for a more effective response to one storm? I’d give that for retroactive clearing of a bikeway across any downtown bridge.

I tend to think that the issue was not so much a lack of gear as a failure to get in gear. We need to find out what resources were used where, and when, and match that up with where the worst problems were. That you could do for a lot less than a million, and it would be money well spent.

Snow clearing for foot traffic was really spotty. Most commercial buildings downtown made at least some attempt, but it was scrappy. Many shovelers appeared to have no concept of curb cuts for instance. Vacant properties? Fuhgeddaboutit.

I agree with the poster who said we should prioritize transit. Our transit is no better than it should be but if transit routes are passable we have minimum mobility for a lot of the population, a network of streets for emergency response, and at least some openings for commercial traffic. I know that there were some hold-ups in mail delivery (up to a two or three day lag, maybe more) and UPS had a backlog for at least a week after the streets were clear.

David
Guest
David

I, for one, would rather see a focus on making the roadways safer for all users before, during, and after these storms. It’s absurd to load up the roads with gravel (it’s not sand by any conventional definition) that doesn’t get swept up for a month or longer for the sole benefit of cars. This is to say nothing of the other debris and downed branches/trees blocking bike lanes.

If Portland is serious about the 25% bike mode share then you need people to ride a bike during the winter. The strategies for handling this kind of weather are misaligned with a strategy that is supposedly geared towards getting people to drive their cars less.

That golden shovel award is a joke. Very few people or companies actually shoveled their sidewalks and those that didn’t faced absolutely no penalty. Also the shovel is not the type you should be using for winter weather, at least not on any kind of flat surface.

Doug
Guest
Doug

Bitch piss whine and belly ache in a snow emergency that last occurred in 2008. Hardly anybody rides in the snow and the ones that do don’t need a plow anyway as witnessed by our fat tire friend in Bend.

I think the “Complain First Portland Bicyclers are unbelievable. I think you just like to complain, I mean come on, gravel? What would the TV news say in a traffic emergency like that day in December when the entire Portland road system was gridlocked, yet PBOT prioritized bike lanes and greenways? They’d call for the director’s head and they’d be right.

Real serious snow only happens once a decade, can’t you think about something smarter to complain about or is complain just the catch all response for you lot?

bendite
Guest
bendite

Not really. I’m first to spot white privilege but I don’t see it here. He’s basically saying it doesn’t snow very often and the blowback if PBOT gave cyclists what would be perceived as special treatment would be worse.

Spiffy
Subscriber

“After severe storms unleashed havoc on our roads”

I think you meant:

“After the city allowed citizens to wreak havoc on transportation infrastructure by not enforcing laws during several storms”…

Bill Clinton's Ghost
Guest
Bill Clinton's Ghost

This is an ugly failure by our local government to live up to its own stated principles, long ago negotiated with stakeholders. It seems to me the biggest distinction you can make between the politicians at each end of the spectrum these days, is which voter base they are pandering to. It is all too clear that, like their “Commitment” to Vision Zero, they have no plan for substantive action on increasing the percentage of bikes on the road. It seems they favor contrived, patronizing, pandering, emotional, theatrical press conferences and meetings, and funneling public money to their cronies with expensive phony studies.

Slap some green paint on it. Push them over to the side. Make more rules for the little guy. Give them their own signal. Make them wait. Preserve the holy sacrosanct supremacy of the privately owned motor vehicle. Push bicycles to the side streets. Only plow the main arteries. You MUST use the separate facilities we provide for you. Separate and lesser. An afterthought. Not a serious persons form of transportation. Good for the environment, sure. But bad for big business! You shop at the wrong stores, they are too small and local. You buy the wrong things, they are too small and local. If you want to be serious, you shop big. You shop for big items at big stores. In bulk but still individually packaged. We must appease them sure, they vote! But we must always limit that appeasement to words, so our actions are in line with what the unholy kabals and cartels that finance our campaigns expect of us.

“I take the lane.” – Mantra of the Free Cyclist

Mark smith
Guest
Mark smith

Dan has to be elected and Leah doesn’t. Dan fears the car lobby that could mobilize and vote him out. Bikes to 4th place again.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

I hope they don’t plow if they intend to skim. That’s worse than nothing.

As much as I personally appreciate clear roads for cycling, it’s difficult to a strong case for prioritizing cycling in the winter. Yeah, there’s still quite a bit of gravel on some roads which I’m not loving when I’m descending curves at night on getting pushed out into traffic lanes because it provides a squirrelly ride on my 23’s, but I don’t by the argument that poor maintenance is what keeps many cyclists off the roads. I might add that the last set of storms have really added some impressive potholes in critical areas which represent a greater threat than the gravel.

Even if roads are great, there are few cyclists to be found even when it’s cold, windy, or rainy. The MUPS, waterfront, and other places where people move about by foot or bike are empty. People don’t like riding when it’s yucky — keep in mind how many people whine about even driving in that sort of stuff.

What needs to be prioritized is transit. I would have loved to use it during that last round of storms but it was absolutely useless and it stayed that way for a long time. It’s not realist to suggest people should not expect to get about when conditions are bad. Many people don’t need to get out, but emergency services are not the only ones that people truly depend on.

I do think the city has an interest in making the roads safer for all users, and keeping the sides clear has many benefits for cars starting with giving cyclists an option other than taking the lane.

PT
Guest
PT

I, for one, was very happy that the greenways were not plowed or graveled during the last snow days. They made excellent nordic skiing routes through the city.

Specialized Hardrock
Guest
Specialized Hardrock

Want to ride in the snow? Get a mountain bike with knobby tires, better yet studded tires – best to go slow either way. Most folks know better than to bike in the snow – it isn’t safe.
Want to drive in the snow? Use chains so you have proper traction.
Don’t want to do either? Maybe walking would work. Or stay home.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

My feeling is that this is a lot of hand wringing over what amounts to a few days inconvenience. Yes, it sucked that the roads were icy, but this was a rare event and I would prefer we focus our resources on priorities that occur every day rather than once or twice a decade.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

And as for other agencies that missed the mark during the storm:

CTRAN, they had opened its brand new BRT line the week of the storm when they found out:
– their new longer articulated buses cannot operate in snowy or slick conditions well (they do not have the automative chains, etc.),to be fair this may also be a operator training issue with new equipment;
– their new buses cannot access the [new] main downtown BRT station at Turtle Place when it snows (so it was closed for a week and service area shortened); and
– their maintenance crews had not been told about the new transit station at Turtle Place and the need to include it in any snow removal / deicing…so this was a 3 block face ADA access barrier for 7 days.

Brian
Guest
Brian

If Portlandia is still in production this Winter provided an hour long Winterpocalypse episode’s worth of quality material.

Matt
Guest
Matt

I recently picked up a new phrase: snowsplaining. It’s when people from snowy climes complain about local drivers/nonshovelers/lack of plows, etc. On my block, you could tell who was from the Midwest/NE by who shoveled and who didn’t. Personally, I’m ok with prioritizing emergency vehicles, Tri-Met and school buses. My bus commute will take a lot longer than a straight shot bike commute but I don’t expect to do anything normally during a tastrophe-alypse.

B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

When these sort of things happen, I think about a hypothetical newly car-free person. If we’re serious about getting large numbers of people riding bikes, we have to consider what happens to them. With the current protocols of clearing streets primarily for use by cars (bike lanes and sidewalks receive what is plowed and then some gravel for good measure), the delay in being able to safely get to work/shopping/whatever for those with cars was much, much shorter than the delay for people who are reliant on bikes, walking or transit (if that was even an option). I don’t know the exact timing of the issue in PDX, but in EUG the delay was over a week the first time and nearly two weeks the second time.

My hypothetical newly car-free person was expected to get to work, largely because all the car-bound people were getting there. However, the sidewalks were not really walkable, the bike lanes were unusable, the bike paths weren’t going to work (hey, she only has one bike at this juncture). Still, she had to get to work because “everyone else” could.

I’m betting next winter she has a car. As everyone knows, cars have relatively large up-front costs, but operating costs are a small fraction of the total annual expenditure. In other words, once you have one you don’t save very much by using other means of travel.

Add in the fact that people become slaves to habit, and PBoT’s cars first policy defeats their bicycle ridership goals right out of the gate. This leads me to conclude that either PBoT is filled with stupid people, or those goals are just so much propaganda that they have no intention of taking seriously.

Mark smith
Guest
Mark smith

I don’t think this is such a big deal. Let the plows mess around on the main roads. At least bikes won’t be blamed when they decide to run the plows around with the plow 6 inches off the ground.