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Should we open suburban bike lanes to other vehicles?

BikePortlander Post by Allan Rudwick on May 3rd, 2017 at 9:11 am

NW Evergreen near 185th (courtesy google maps)

The suburbs: what to do? We have mostly disconnected streets and the ones that connect are wide and fast. This makes for less than ideal biking conditions. We have put bike lanes on these roads, but they are empty a lot of the time. Eventually, as transportation dollars become even tighter there will be push-back for spending this money.

Any time government builds something that doesn’t get utilized it appears as though we’re wasting our money. What can we do about this?

Slow-narrow vehicles are perfect candidates to use bicycle lanes. Currently many of these vehicles are not allowed in bike lanes. Mopeds can’t use bike lanes if they’re operating their motor, motorcycles definitely aren’t allowed in bike lanes. The relevant statue is here: https://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/811.440 (2015 ORS 811.440 – When motor vehicles may operate on bicycle lane)

I think that on suburban arterials with speed limits often between 35-55 mph, slower vehicles are basically unable to operate on these streets without being allowed into a ‘slow lane’. Whether we continue to call the bike lanes or not to me is not important. What we should want is build up a coalition of users strong enough to lobby for more lane-miles, better connectivity and better maintenance of bike lanes on suburban arterials.

What do you think? Should we allow other vehicles into bike lanes on suburban arterials? Will this help get more bike infrastructure or maintain what we currently have, or would this simply create more conflicts between bicyclists and other users?

Electric bikes are already multiplying and are currently allowed in these lanes. We should think about this sooner rather than later.

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14 Comments
  • Allison May 3, 2017 at 9:27 am

    You express the concern that there will be political push back due to “waste” but fail to ask the question that I think is most important – how will this affect the safety of road users? I can’t see it as being in any way *beneficial* although I suppose it’s an empirical question as to whether or not it would be more dangerous. If motorcycles, who frequently obtain extremely dangerous speeds, are using bike lanes, how does that affect the safety of the cyclists in the lane, however rare they might be? What about the likelihood of passing slower traffic on the right because the bike lane is free-flowing when the 12ft lane is not? Higher speeds in that lane, which are closest to curbs, will also put pedestrians at risk.

    Without granting the premise – that a switch to building “slow lanes” rather than the “bike lanes” on these arterials with speed limits well above 30mph would be politically easier – we need to ask how much that might be worth in terms of worse safety?

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    • Allan Rudwick May 3, 2017 at 10:10 am

      I did put this in: “Will this help get more bike infrastructure or maintain what we currently have, or would this simply create more conflicts between bicyclists and other users?” but my goal was to start the discussion.

      In my mind — it should be illegal to pass another vehicle without leaving the bike lane (the law seems unclear here currently), and so essentially all passing and other interactions would require merging into normal traffic.

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  • Eric Leifsdad May 3, 2017 at 10:04 am

    Our electric bike law allows 1000W trikes and velomobiles with a top assist speed of 20mph and most bike lanes aren’t consistently wide enough for that. With high road speeds, people want substantial physical protection and it’s much more pleasant to have some distance from the dust, fumes, and noise. Lowering speed limits and changing 2 of 4 lanes to carpool/NEV/bus/scooter only would be worthwhile, and would give more separation to the bike lane. We don’t need gas scooters to legitimize our broken patchwork of 5ft painted bike lanes. When we have way more congestion and wide, safe bike infrastructure, we could talk about allowing higher-power electric bikes/trikes (gas will be done by then.)

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    • Allan Rudwick May 3, 2017 at 10:13 am

      some sections of road are already at this congestion point now, and allowing other small vehicles to bypass traffic seems like a win to me, but it is possible that my worldview doesn’t match well with the rest of the community.

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  • rick May 3, 2017 at 10:12 am

    The road design and traffic infrastructure and policy of Kolkata, India is not something to emulate. The traffic-jam-slow-speed may seem nice, but I think dedicated protected bike lanes need to be built. Washington County has launched an all-out war to turn 2 lane roads into 5 lane speed zones. One size fits all. On the westside, only Tigard has lately launched an effort to install lower speed limits and build adjacent bicycle cycle tracks on some (quieter) roads.

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. May 3, 2017 at 11:55 am

    No.

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  • James Donohue May 4, 2017 at 10:10 am

    Electric Bikes are fine. I have two Giant Lafree Sports (mens & ladies , matching set) they have 400 watt motors, built into the crankset, so you shift gears . they go 9mph in first gear and 18 mph in 7th gear , and you have to pedal, or the motor will turn off (it’s an *Assist* motor) 2002 model year .
    But they sit unused, in storage, without batteries. The charging system sucks on those bikes. My health is getting better and I don’t need the “assist” anymore.

    I think Bike Lanes are Obsolete. But I have about $400.00 worth of LED lights on my bike, a red flag on a fiberglass pole, two Rear-View mirrors, and a Digital Action Camera in a waterproof case, on a telescoping steel pole (selfie-stick, repurposed) …

    Everybody gives my bike seven to ten feet of clearance. If I ever catch somebody harassing , menacing, or intimidating me, or any other cyclists, I’m going to post a photo of the car that did it.

    Enforcement is important, but you need a photo or video to prove the motorist did what he did , other wise it’s your word against his.

    Street Sweeping is very important, as is plowing snow, senseless to have good pavement gong unused…

    Education- Drivers Ed. School needs to teach them that the Right Lane is the SLOW Lane, and the Left Lane is the *Fast* Lane , for passing…

    https://qz.com/818769/the-worlds-fastest-bicycle-designed-by-canadian-company-aerovelo-can-go-at-89-mph/

    The worlds FASTEST Bicycle goes faster than any Legal speed-limit … This may defy what was previously considered common knowledge. Many students are still being mistakenly told that cars are faster than bicycles. We need to re-educate people. I hear backlash that teenage boys need to believe their cars are faster than bicycles “because they have fragile egos…”

    There are even faster bicycles that rely on Drafting. You can maintain highway speed on bicycle by staying in the aerodynamic draft , behind a semi-truck. But I prefer the Streamlined Recumbent Bicycle mentioned earlier, it’s a Vehicle in it’s own right. Consumer “Streetable” Streamlined Recumbent Bicycles are called “Velomobiles” .
    You can install a One-Horsepower Electric Motor on a Velomobile and you can do any legal speed limit, plus you have a carbon fiber shell full-body-helmet to protect you in case you crash.

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  • El Biciclero May 10, 2017 at 12:55 pm

    You raise an interesting point about “waste”. It sounds like part of your motivation in this proposal is to decrease the perception of waste by allowing other vehicle types into bike lanes so that more people will acknowledge that bike lanes are “useful”, and join together to lobby for more of them.

    We would need to carefully define the purpose of bike lanes, and the reasons they are seemingly underutilized to fully discuss this idea. As with any tool, if it does not suit the purpose people want to use it for, it will not get used. I imagine that the intended purpose of bike lanes is to keep slow-moving bikes out of the way of car drivers, and likewise keep slow-moving drivers out of the way of bicyclists. A secondary purpose is to comply with current state law that requires remodeled or new roadways to have bike “facilities” added. A tertiary purpose is to give bicyclists a dedicated (not “safe”, just dedicated) space on the road where everyone agrees they are allowed be, thereby minimizing some of the aggressive treatment or harassment they might otherwise be subjected to at the hands of motorists. Finally, the “I guess so” purpose of bike lanes is to provide connected routes that are perceived as “safe” to people who would not otherwise leave their car at home and use a bicycle for some trips, thereby decreasing the number of cars and increasing the number of bicycles on the road, i.e., encourage bike use. The priority order of this list is wrong, IMO, but that’s a different discussion. So why do current bike lanes, under current rules, so often appear to be underutilized (i.e., a “waste”)? Which of the purposes of bike lanes are not being fulfilled?

    My guess is that it is mostly the last purpose in my list above that is not being fulfilled: bike lanes are either not perceived as safe enough, or they don’t go to the places that people want to go (or are disconnected or out-of-direction enough between destinations that they might as well not go there), so that they are not encouraging bike use. We could look at this another way, and reason that rather than to encourage bike use, bike lanes are merely there as a luxury for people who ride bikes already anyway, or that due to already-high levels of bike use, a bike lane is needed to keep those that already ride bikes anyway “out of the way”. This view is the one that is implied by your suggestion, in that we would be allowing bike lanes to better suit those that have already made their (non-conventional-bicycle) transportation mode choice.

    When you mention “other types of vehicles”, I imagine that those vehicles would be motorized. E-bikes and electric mobility scooters are already allowed into bike lanes as long as they meet power/speed limit requirements, so the only other kinds of vehicles we could entertain allowing are those that are electric-powered, but more powerful than are currently allowed in bike lanes, or combustion-powered vehicles, such as mopeds or scooters. If we do allow over-powered (according to current rules) vehicles into bike lanes, we are emphasizing the purpose of bike lanes to keep cars out of the way of bike lane users—bike lanes as passing lanes. For this purpose, it would not matter whether the lanes connected to anything, they could serve as a momentary passing lane to cut to the front of other traffic, at which point “other vehicles” could easily merge back into motorized traffic, while bicycles could not necessarily do so. We would be allowing faster traffic in the bike lane, potentially polluting traffic into the bike lane, and potentially non-empathetic vehicle users into the bike lane. All of these things, I think, could serve to discourage conventional bicycle use, even in bike lanes.

    Allowing other types of vehicles to use bike lanes would negate, in my view, the most important purpose of their existence: to provide connected routes that encourage people to use non-polluting, space-efficient vehicles instead of cars to make some of their daily trips. Instead, I would rather focus on creating bike lanes that fulfill their purpose of connecting places with safe(er) routes that are easily and efficiently usable by the non-motorized.

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    • Allan Rudwick May 10, 2017 at 2:38 pm

      I love your response. (Thank you)

      Regarding e-bikes/ etc — I think having a speed limit on vehicles in the bike lane instead of maximum power requirement would be helpful. If your trip includes areas with and without bike lanes, you may be able to and want to go faster in the sections without bike lanes, however you are then prevented from using the bike lane when they are available to. Imagine a hypothetical vehicle that has a top speed in the 25-35 mph range. This vehicle can’t use bike lanes when they are available even if they slow to 20mph, but they modify their vehicle to be legal in a bike lane, they can’t come close to being comfortable in traffic in the other sections.

      My goal is to get more people out of cars. Cars can do way more damage than golf carts, underpowered motorcycles, overpowered e-bikes, and other similar vehicles. I think we should encourage these types of vehicles over cars and one easy way I can think to do that on big wide roads it to let them use the bike lane which is currently serving ~ 100 trips per day or less in many areas. (compare this with 10,000-20,000 trips per day in the adjacent car lane)

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      • X May 11, 2017 at 10:18 am

        Speed regulation: the status quo is that speed limits are enforced in a very spotty way. You can pass an officer with a radar on a speed enforcement mission at 7 mph over the posted limit and they won’t blink. Only in school zones or perhaps construction zones are posted limits taken somewhat seriously. Are police officers who are mainly car drivers going to take an interest in a 2-stroke bike (bleah) going 27 mph in a bike lane?

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  • John Liu
    John Liu May 14, 2017 at 6:40 pm

    No.

    The average cyclist is moving only 10-15 mph, slower on uphills, only faster on downhills.

    What motorized vehicle has a maximum speed of 15 mph?

    Mopeds can go 25+ mph, there are very few mopeds on the road and most are quite polluting. Scooters can easily go 40-50 mph, they are basically small motorcycles. Neither of these belong in bike lanes.

    Bike lanes should be only for bicycles, other human-powered transport (skateboards, kick scooters), and for the slower sort of e-bike that is mostly human-powered and only slightly motorized.

    Everything that is motorized should use the traffic lane, and is capable of doing so.

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  • phillip porter May 15, 2017 at 9:34 am

    Absolutely NOT. NO.

    Allowing motorized vehicles to spill over into bike infrastructure will KILL AND MAIM PEOPLE.

    It will also clog and pollute the bike lanes.

    If you give motorists an inch they’ll take a mile. they’ll ignore speed limits and put the hammer down on bike trails and lanes.

    The thing about traffic is, if you’re talking about somewhere like Portland with exponential population growth, if you make more space for vehicles the spaces will immediately fill.

    So wider freeways means wider freeways full of traffic. Allow smaller motorized vehicles in the bike lanes, you’ll get bike lanes full of smaller motorized vehicles.

    The solution is LESS motorized vehicles of any kind, and people taking less trips using motorized vehicles.

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  • wsbob May 25, 2017 at 12:03 pm

    I don’t ride or drive Evergreen Pkwy or 185th much, even though both have directly to the main lane adjoining bike lanes. I don’t doubt that many people aren’t riding the bike lanes on those roads.

    Reason for thinking so is, despite having better than average bike lanes, those roads pose a hostile environment for biking: all those lanes of travel with many motor vehicles in use on them many hours of the day at rates of speed that create very loud tire on pavement noise, buffeting from passing vehicle created wind, and motor exhaust fumes. Nobody looking for, or needing an enjoyable ride to invite them out of traveling in a motor vehicle, is likely going to want to ride a bike along the type of roads those are.

    The message from lack of use by people biking, being made of the bike lanes on those roads should be in no small part, that some of the conditions essential to encourage riding have not been designed into that infrastructure. Allowing motor vehicle use of those bike lanes, would among other things, block the ability to see and eventually understand this message.

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  • Allan Rudwick May 25, 2017 at 9:52 pm

    I have been doing some thinking on this topic as well after receiving so many negative comments to the post. In my mind, vehicles > 500 lbs (including riders) should definitely not be allowed in bike lanes. I would have rules governing anything not exclusively human powered to a 20 mph speed limit and explicitly state no-passing in the lane (maybe by anyone ever — this feels super dangerous as its so narrow)

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