I got a call this week from Portland resident Alec Boehm, who’s looking for advice on a question many Portlanders have grappled with over the years.
When people biking and walking have dedicated spaces on a relatively narrow multi-use path, should faster bikes pass slower bikes on the right, or on the left? And (by the same token) should people who expect to be passed keep to the left of the biking lane, or to the right?
You can see the same situation constantly on the Hawthorne Bridge, and sometimes the Broadway, too. Until this week, you could sometimes see it for northbound bike traffic on Naito Parkway’s temporary protected biking and walking lanes, too.
Boehm said he and his wife regularly run into this issue while crossing Tilikum and being passed by people on faster-moving bikes.
“Basically it seems like the bike lane is too narrow,” he said Monday. The result: either the faster-moving bike or the slower-moving bike needs to veer into the pedestrian space.
Boehm feels it would make more sense if that responsibility fell to the person who wants to pass.
“If I stay to the left, because I’m not the fastest-moving bike, and the fastest-moving bike wanted to pass, they could determine whether there was enough room.”
— Alec Boehm
“My thought was if I stay to the left, because I’m not the fastest-moving bike, and the fastest-moving bike wanted to pass, they could determine whether there was enough room,” Boehm said. “it’s kind of up to them to negotiate the space between the pedestrians and where I am.”
In other words: “ride left, pass right.”
Wait, pass on the right? Can that possibly be best?
Boehm isn’t alone in this desire. I first heard that system described a few years ago by former Street Trust Advocacy Manager Carl Larson. Larson was lamenting that the general norm on the Hawthorne Bridge is for slower-moving bikes to constantly dip right, into the walking area, in case faster-moving bikes want to pass on the left.
However, Williams Avenue suggests that people aren’t hardwired to pass on the left. Just north of Broadway, the words “Ride Left, Pass Right” clearly state the rules for that left-side bike lane, and generally (after some early confusion) that’s what people do.
So: should TriMet consider a similar message on the approaches to the Tilikum? Or maybe the opposite, for the sake of clarity if nothing else? Or is it better for everyone to make the choice that seems right to them? Boehm said he’d be eager to get BikePortland readers’ take.
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Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.