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PBOT fines contractors for blocking streets; but what about bikeway blockage?

Posted by on August 7th, 2017 at 12:03 pm

PBOT fined Columbia Construction Service for illegally blocking traffic on West Burnside.
(Photo: PBOT)

The City of Portland fined and publicly shamed two construction companies for blocking streets today. The companies went beyond the scope of their permits and were accused by the Bureau of Transportation of, “exacerbating rush hour traffic delays.”

While it’s nice to see PBOT get tough and defend public right-of-way like this, we’ve noticed this response differs considerably from how they deal with people illegally parking in bike lanes.

Here’s more on today’s announcement from PBOT via a news release:

“Last week, the Portland Bureau of Transportation fined two contractors who blocked the public right of way without a permit or in violation of a permit. The blockages exacerbated traffic congestion during the busy summer construction season. PBOT will continue to issue fines as needed to prevent unnecessary traffic congestion.

On Monday, July 31, Columbia Construction Service blocked a turn lane and a through lane just west of the Burnside Bridge, narrowing the street to one lane westbound during the morning rush hour. This closure caused extreme congestion, which delayed public transit service and other road users.

On Thursday, Aug. 3, PBOT ordered Turner Construction Co. to stop all work in the center lane of SW 12th Avenue, between SW Morrison and SW Alder. The company’s permit only allows the closure of the right lane.

After receiving complaints and photographic evidence, both companies were fined last week.”

Transportation Commissioner Dan Saltzman said he was “disappointed at the blatant disregard for the public,” and added that, “for a private construction company to block a lane during rush hour, delaying thousands of people and undermining our efforts to reduce traffic congestion is unacceptable. We will hold them accountable.”

According to The Oregonian, both companies were fined $500.

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Meanwhile, motor vehicle users continue to block bike lanes throughout the city with no such censure. One particular segment of the new 20s Bikeway just north of Sandy Blvd is often blocked. Yesterday our friends at Path Less Pedaled were just the latest to post a photo of this illegal behavior on social media:

When people park in bike lanes, it forces bicycle users into the adjacent lane. This can create a safety hazard and it can lead to tense interactions between bicycle and motor vehicle users. In addition, the inadequate designs that lead to the problem in the first place send a signal to the public that the City of Portland does not respect bicycle users to the same degree as automobile users. This is a problem in a city with adopted transportation policy that gives a higher priority to bicycle use than single-occupancy vehicle use.

The response from PBOT and the strong words from Commissioner Saltzman about these construction companies blocking the road provides a stark contrast to how Portland handles bike lane blockages.

We’ve been covering this issue since at least 2011 when we posted a series of articles about why people illegally park in bike lanes, how PBOT policy reacts to it, and what we as a city can do about the problem.

In Toronto the city responded by assigning a few police officers to a dedicated bike lane blockage patrol unit.

It’s great to see PBOT defend its right-of-way. Now let’s hope they stand up for all right-of-way with the same sense of indignation and urgency.

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

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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bikeninja
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bikeninja

No new laws are needed. It is not legal to park in a bike lane. Send parking enforcement and hand out steep parking fines. Whenever I see this sort of thing I stop and call the PBOT parking violation hotline. Sometimes they come and hand out tickets. Would seem like a no-brainer to send parking patrol every time and collect guaranteed revenue.

BB
Guest
BB

uber.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

In general, I’m pretty chill and don’t engage with knuckleheads. But I make exceptions for those who park or wait in bike lanes.

Having said that, design is a contributing factor and it’s not good to be unkind to people who make honest mistakes.

Andy K
Guest
Andy K

If every bike commuter stopped to call in violations whenever they encountered one, cycling would instantly become the slowest and least efficient form of transportation in the city. This is like asking all pedestrians to stop and report all sidewalks not meeting accessibility standards and encroachments including all limbs, bushes, and parked cars.

rick
Guest
rick

I saw two cars parked in the bike lanes of BH Highway over the weekend. Fully painted from SW Capitol Highway to 65th. I tired to find the person who owned the cars.

q
Guest
q

Jonathan, you don’t know how incredibly timely this is. In Willamette Park, a new bike path was just opened up a couple weeks ago. But the project has left a porta-potty right in the middle of it for the past week. It’s not really used anymore by the contractor, since their work is almost done near it, and there are other toilets available closer to where they’re working. You can squeeze past it, but it’s still thoughtless. It’s even being serviced, and due to its location, the service truck has to block the park entrance to service it.

I think I’ll tell the Bridge Pedal, since 1500 participants will be peddling on that same path next Sunday.

Adding a wrinkle, the project hasn’t yet installed the bollards at the park entrance near this porta-potty, so cars are stupidly but regularly driving onto the new bike path, thinking it’s a continuation of the street. Ironically, now when they drive into the park, they now can’t drive on the new path because the porta-potty blocks them. So they head right, onto the the even narrower, windier path along the river. I just saw a cyclist yell at one that ran him off that path.

It’s exactly like your remark that blocking bike lanes drives bikes into traffic, but taken to ridiculousness. Here, the bike path blockage isn’t forcing bikes into traffic, it’s forcing cars illegally using the bike path off of the path, and onto another bike/pedestrian path where they’re even MORE dangerous.

Mike Sanders
Guest
Mike Sanders

Such locations should be signed with prominent warnings: “Auto Parking Prohibited in This and All Bike Lanes. $1500 Fine. Strictly Enforced. No Exceptions.” The fine for illegal parking in a bike lane should be at least $1500, maybe more. Bites in the pocketbook just might send a message. Security cams along these streets would help, too. Commercial traffic blocking bike lanes for delivery/pickup purposes should be allowed one hour to do their business, no more. Such vehicles could be fined double, I.e. $1500 might become $3000. Such locations should be prominently signed, and businesses should be warned to advise drivers/assistants of the parking limit on the bike lane. Blocking driveways AND bike lanes should be fined $6000 – $3000 for blocking the driveway and another $3000 for blocking the bike lane. Prominent overhead signs pointing out the bike lanes shoukd be encouraged wherever phisically possible.

Racer X
Guest
Racer X

This is “about time” for PBoT and Jonathan you make a great point about the lack of equity of work zone enforcement…PBoT/ inspectors turning a blind eye to blocking bike per and ADA lanes by contractors…

2 Cents: Though I have to add that a single $500 fine for a contractor may be TOO LOW, as it may been seen as “worth it” as a way to make up lost construction time (or to even gain bonuses paid for completing construction earlier than contracted).

Todd Hudson
Guest
Todd Hudson

That’s a poor analogy. These contractors tied up lanes for relatively long periods of time…long enough for PBOT to take action. Delivery drivers come and go in less time than it takes being on hold when calling PBOT.

If you want Sysco trucks fined for unloading in the bike lane or janky Caddillacs given a parking ticket, hire more cops and parking ticket writers so they can intercept that stuff when it happens.

eawrist
Guest
eawrist

General rule of thumb that applies in NY: if it’s not physically protected, it’s extra parking. What is great about Portland, on the other hand, people on bikes rarely need to worry about the PPD parking in bike lanes.

JeffS
Guest
JeffS

“our efforts to reduce traffic congestion”

Does anyone know what efforts he’s speaking of? This is is the first I have ever heard of such a thing from Portland.

B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

A simple policy of towing and impounding all vehicles that block bike lanes and other active transportation features AND allowing independent towing companies to do the towing (after documenting the illegal parking) would keep the bike lanes clear as close to 100% of the time as is possible.

Let’s see, $400 for the tow, $200/day for the impound/storage (with the impound yard only open one or two days per week), finding alternative transportation until one can recover the car, missing work to recover the car during the two hours the yard is open for recovery, this is going to add up quickly. After a few stories from people who have met this fate, I daresay no one will park in a bike lane.

Added bonus: no city staff time needed. Just allow the private tow companies to profit from the people who are blocking the bike lanes and the problem is solved.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

I was in Chicago over the weekend and I think we should put in place a version of the signage and associated laws that they have on their highways to protect highway workers. The exact wording on the signs is, ” Hit a worker, $7000 fine and 15 years in prison.” Ours could be, ” Park in a bike lane, get your car crushed.” and ” Hit a cyclist $10,000 fine and 15 years in prison.

J_R
Guest
J_R

The obvious solution to autos parked in the bike lanes is stop sign enforcement in Ladd’s Addition.

Mike G
Guest
Mike Gilliland

I have been successful calling in the construction projects that seem to forget and fence the bike lanes. Particularly on SW Front under the Fremont Bridge, where, since I complained, they moved the temp fencing and have kept the bike lane reasonably clean and clear. The flaggers have included the bike lane in their controls as well.

Unfortunately it takes our diligence to stay on top of this. It is a safety issue.

Tim
Guest
Tim

When I encounter drivers stopped in the bike lane I stop and ask them if everything is OK and if they need any help. Feels more effective than getting nasty.

Most of the time delivery drivers or short term construction in the bike lane should not be a problem – signal, change lanes and go around. The problem is driver entitlement. I have been threatened for merging into traffic around construction. Screaming stay in your F- bike lane when I am traveling the speed of traffic is a real problem. Maybe she thought I was Sagan and I could just bunnyhop the construction.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

That location with the cars blocking the bike lane is right in front of Katie O’Brien’s; this business was opposed to the bike lanes and is now allowing their customers to blatantly disregard them.

q
Guest
q

This doesn’t involve a bike lane, but I reported a car in a Portland park that was parked 1/2 in an accessible parking space and half in a crosswalk. After I reported it–more than once–and after Parks staff said they’d make removal a priority, it remained there about 10 days, in a lot that doesn’t even allow overnight parking.

Unfortunately, I don’t see bike lane enforcement being made a priority when accessible spaces and crosswalks are not.

Matthew in Portsmouth
Guest
Matthew in Portsmouth

A $500 fine is not an effective deterrent if the contractor is working on a multi-million dollar project. A lot of companies see these “nuisance” fines as part of the cost of doing business. $500 might be appropriate for an individual motorist parking their car in a traffic lane, but companies need to be fined $50,000 per offense, with a possibility of stopping them working in the city at all.

Making the city a tow away zone, whereby tow truck operators could tow away any illegally parked vehicle would be great – especially if the tow truck driver could just photograph the illegally parked vehicle instead of waiting for a traffic cop. Maybe deputize them for that specific function.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

That location with the cars blocking the bike lane is right in front of Katie O’Brien’s; this business was opposed to the bike lanes and is now allowing their customers to blatantly disregard them.

Matthew in Portsmouth
Guest
Matthew in Portsmouth

In principle, I agree that law enforcement should be done by officials, however, when someone is blocking the right of way, it is straightforward to take photographic evidence (of car/truck in bike lane) and law enforcement officials are indifferent, I’d be willing to make an exception.

emerson
Subscriber

Seems like a great market-based solution.

Greg Spencer
Guest
Greg Spencer

Copenhagen has a policy of keeping bikeways open during construction projects: http://www.copenhagenize.com/2011/04/accommodating-for-cyclists-during.html

Tim
Guest
Tim

Portland does too. When i have been responsible for work in Portland’s streets, I have to get a permit. Part of the permit requires a traffic control plan and accommodations for pedestrians and bicycles. being the responsible neighborly type, I get the permit and make sure cyclists have a safe route even if it means hiring extra flaggers. So it really gets my neck hair up to see irresponsible types and the city itself not accommodating pedestrians and bikes.

The problem with permits is that responsible people are burdened with expensive time consuming permits to do the right thing that they planned to do in the first place, while smucks don’t get the permit and do whatever without consequences.

Kelly
Guest
Kelly

I see FedEx trucks and armored trucks (GARDA, et al) in the bike lanes all the time.

Even on 99E through Oak Grove and Gladstone, where every business has a parking lot, the armored trucks can’t bother to pull into the parking lot and instead they block the bike lane. Mind you this means any cyclist has to detour around into the vehicle lanes where the speed limit is 40MPH and traffic usually moves much faster than that. I literally stopped in the bike lane, got off my bike, and lifted it onto the sidewalk rather than risk my life trying to merge with the cars.

I wasn’t sure whether to call ODOT or the police (County sheriff?) in this case. I suppose both should know about the problem?

ODOT or their contractors also frequently post the orange diamond signs in the bike lanes as well when construction is ahead. Blows my mind that they think it is an appropriate place for a sign like that.

de
Guest

glad they got fined
things really aren’t too bad for bikes overall eh?