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Let’s talk about bike boxes

Posted by on October 25th, 2017 at 3:21 pm

On a ride into downtown this morning I came across a common sight: People on bikes waiting for a red light in a single-file line at an intersection that has a bike box. The bulk of the bike box — a large green space at the front of the intersection intended to make auto users to stop further back — was empty.

This has always puzzled me for several reasons. Whenever I come upon a bike box at a red light I’ve always thought it best to fill the box. That’s why it’s there right? So, in an effort to spread the word, I posted a photo and message about it to Twitter.

The many replies to that post surprised me. It turns out people have a lot of different opinions about bike boxes and how best to use them.

One of our friends on Twitter said the only reason to be in front of an auto user is to turn left. I disagree with that. In Portland the standard practice for turning left is to use what the Portland Bureau of Transportation calls a “left turn box” to do a “two-stage left turn” (a.k.a. “a Copenhagen left”). Stage one: If you’re headed north and want to turn left (westbound) you wait for green and roll to a green colored box in the intersection on your right. Stage two: You re-orient yourself 90-degrees to the left and wait for the signal to change before heading west.

Another person questioned the wisdom of filling the bike box if your plan is to simply continue straight and eventually have to merge back to the right to continue in the bike lane. “What good is that?” the person wondered.

Other friends on Twitter worried that waiting in front of auto users would make drivers “pissed”. And alarmingly, two people said they no longer wait in front because of experiences where a driver’s foot slipped off the brake pedal and bumped them. And related to that, others reminded me that some people are too afraid to position themselves in front of drivers and that bike boxes are not adequate for the “interested but concerned.”

The responses to my Tweet were enlightening. They reminded me that not everyone has the same understanding or opinions about how our various facilities are intended to be used. This is not good from a safety or efficiency standpoint.

Who needs bike boxes?-1

I don’t need no stinkin’ bike box!

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Bike traffic on NW Broadway-16

NW Broadway bike box in action.
OR Bike Summit - Ride-6.jpg

That’s the way to fill it up!

As for bike boxes, they have many uses: They improve visibility between road users (which can prevent right hooks), they can facilitate turns (when they go all the way across a one-way intersection), they give bicycle users a head-start when the light turns green, and they give more space to bicycle users so that more of them can queue at an intersection and ultimately get through on the green signal.

That last point brings me back to people who line up single-file. Single-file is the least efficient way for bicycle riders to line up at any intersection. Our bikeways will never reach their potential if we’re afraid to bunch up a bit and share the space more efficiently. In high-functioning cycling cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam (where they don’t need bike boxes because they have an entirely separated lane for bikes), if people lined up single-file the lines would stretch around entire blocks! I know maintaining ample personal space is deeply engrained in our culture; but in my opinion we’d all be safer and happier if we weren’t so afraid to kindly pass others and let others pass when possible. And when there’s a bike box, we should definitely not be spread out way back into the bike lane. Doing so is much less safe and defeats the bike box’s purpose.

That’s just my opinion of course; but it jibes with what the Portland Bureau of Transportation and the National Association of City Transportation Officials think.

NACTO says one of the benefits of bike boxes is (emphasis mine), “Groups bicyclists together to clear an intersection quickly, minimizing impediment to transit or other traffic.”

And when the Portland Bureau of Transportation first rolled out bike boxes it’s clear they intended people on bikes to wait in front of auto users at red lights, as evidenced by the billboard and images below taken from a brochure they handed out in 2008:

bike box billboards-1.jpg


What do you think? Are a single-filer or a buncher? Do you wait in front of the drivers at bike boxes? Or do you prefer to stay on the right?

— 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 productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. 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

172 Comments
  • Avatar
    Chris I October 25, 2017 at 3:28 pm

    Maybe they should call them Shoaling Boxes instead?

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      soren October 25, 2017 at 8:55 pm

      the idea that there can only be one bike per 11-14 foot lane (e.g. shoaling) is the epitome of car head.

      it’s interesting that the inventor of the term (eben weiss) has largely stopped calling out people who cycle now that he has discovered that he hates cars. once a person who bikes realizes that 99% of the violence and trauma on our road is due to drivers, it becomes increasingly hard to resent jaybikers or jaywalkers.

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        Chris I October 26, 2017 at 7:13 am

        So I suppose it isn’t too surprising that someone on a 20lb bicycle wouldn’t exactly jump at the chance to position themselves in front of a distracted, angry person operating a 5000lb chunk of metal, who is about to get a green light? If you aren’t sure you can get a jump and get back to the bike lane within a few seconds, I can see why someone wouldn’t position themselves in the box.

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          soren October 26, 2017 at 8:25 am

          absolutely but the desire to criticize those who do is definitely related to the point of view of the majority.

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      Dan A October 26, 2017 at 8:27 am

      “Shoaling” is stopping in front of another cyclist, not next to them.

      http://bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com/2009/05/indignity-of-commuting-by-bicycle_12.html

      …while I’m quite happy to queue up behind somebody at an intersection, I have never, ever had somebody stop behind me. If you’re waiting, someone will pull up ahead of you. If a third person comes, they’ll roll ahead and stop in front of the second person. On a busy day, this accumulation results in sort of a shoal of cyclists which juts out into the middle of the street like a sandbar of idiocy.

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    maxD October 25, 2017 at 3:33 pm

    I love the green boxes. It gives me a chance to be seen by people driving. I think the greatest danger is people just being unaware of person on a bike, so I take advantage of any chance to increase my visibility. I do think that a lot of people driving do not get this and just think I am being obnoxious, but I can live with that.

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    Steel Bridger October 25, 2017 at 3:43 pm

    We could really use one at southbound Interstate and NE Oregon. That light often changes before even half the bikes can go through. Or maybe just a detector to keep the light green until the column of bikes is gone? It seems to work that way for the southbound cars.

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    GlowBoy October 25, 2017 at 3:47 pm

    I like them, and use them, and encourage others to do so. They are sort of a substitute for traffic signals having a leading interval for bikes, although ideally you’d have both.

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    oldguyluvs2ride October 25, 2017 at 3:47 pm

    Besides the number of automobile operators who do not stop behind the bike box, the biggest impediment that I see to using the bike boxes is the possibility of passing a car on the right just as the light changes to green. This has happened to me a handful of times and it is scary when it does. The nervousness is increased by the high number of drivers who like to keep other road users in suspense as to which direction they are going to turn.

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      Kyle Banerjee October 25, 2017 at 3:57 pm

      If you simply assume they’ll do the dangerous thing and plan accordingly, there’s no need to be nervous. Be pleasantly surprised in the frequent cases where they do the safe and courteous thing.

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      JeffS October 25, 2017 at 10:15 pm

      That’s the danger created by the bike lane, not the box.

      Yet another problem that was created by removing bikes from the travel lane.

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        Kyle Banerjee October 26, 2017 at 6:20 am

        Bollards, barriers, etc amplify this effect considerably.

        But people here seem committed to that sort of thing.

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    Kyle Banerjee October 25, 2017 at 3:51 pm

    The boxes are helpful. But I disagree that people should fill them in front. Rather, they should be wherever makes sense for the specific situation

    For example, in your shot of Interstate and Tillamook, having cyclists fill up that box is going to result in a chaotic and unsafe gaggle that’s bad for cyclists and motorists alike.

    This section is on a slight uphill and many cyclists take off very slowly. People being in the box the following effects:

    1) Slow cyclists pinned on the left because they’re either riding next to other slow cyclists or getting passed on the right. This is inconvenient and unsafe, particularly if they’re headed to the Broadway Bridge.

    2) Because it takes awhile for cyclists to get in lane and cars will be trapped behind them, there is a high density of cyclists moving forward. Some motorists are going to try to speed and do an unsafe pass rather than wait for a slow line to pass. Meanwhile drivers pinned behind light get anxious — it’s normally backed up at peak times

    3) Faster cyclists in rear guaranteed to be pinned behind everyone with no safe passing option — particularly if they’re going to the right up the hill

    Much better that they cyclists stay single file. Faster cyclists can ride in traffic as it accelerates and spacing between cyclists is increased making for safer passing. Cars get where they’re going faster too. Everyone wins.

    Filling up the box makes sense if everyone is going to move together, especially if they’re going a shorter distance at slow speeds. But that’s not what’s going on here or at many other intersections.

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      Dawn October 25, 2017 at 4:07 pm

      Yes…what Kyle said. There are places where the bike box makes sense (I’m looking at you SE Madison and Grand heading toward the Hawthorne Bridge). In that case it allows faster bikes to knowingly queue to the left of the box and slower riders stay to the right…which is perfect for the two lane uphill bike land onto the Hawthorne. In other cases the bike box seems to provoke frustration and anger and makes me personally feel more vulnerable rather than less.

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        Kyle Banerjee October 25, 2017 at 4:17 pm

        Madison and Grand is an excellent example of where to fill the box for the exact reasons Dawn mentions.

        In my experience, cyclists (especially regular commuter traffic) have a decent sense of when to use the box and when it’s better to be single file.

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      Kyle Banerjee October 25, 2017 at 4:10 pm

      Examples of intersections where it is better if people fill the boxes are Ladd/Division and 21st/Division.

      The lights are short, and the movement dynamics are that long single file lines will result in cyclists not reaching the light. Because the passing is done onto a wide rather than narrow space (as is the case with Interstate and Tillamook), it’s relatively easy for faster cyclists to get by and get everyone spread out.

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      Eric Leifsdad October 25, 2017 at 4:43 pm

      Don’t think like a car. The point is to get everyone moving at the same time (especially giving more space to riders who might have a wobbly start.)

      If nobody fills the front, cars start moving much faster much sooner, past a line of people trying to slowly get onto pedals. If a car is turning right, they have to wait even longer.

      A leading pedestrian interval and “bikes use ped signal” sign could clear the box before any cars start moving.

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        soren October 25, 2017 at 8:44 pm

        Don’t think like a car.

        sadly, like bike snob, it takes most people who bike many years to realize that they hate cars.

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        • John Liu
          John Liu October 25, 2017 at 9:26 pm

          Most people who have cycled for many years don’t “hate cars” . . . or their drivers.

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            Kyle Banerjee October 25, 2017 at 9:47 pm

            I’ve met people who hate cars, but I’ve never been on a ride of any significance with anyone who does. The people I’ve known that ride a lot are pretty good at dealing with just about everything.

            Most people can’t spend loads of time year after year in an environment filled with things they hate.

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              soren October 25, 2017 at 10:09 pm

              recreational cyclists are one of the top impediments to transportation cycling.

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                Rain Panther October 25, 2017 at 10:31 pm

                This seems a touch hyperbolic. But maybe I’m misinterpreting something. Why can’t cycling for recreation and cycling for transportation play nice together? And are there not times when the two are pretty hard to tell apart?

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                Kyle Banerjee October 26, 2017 at 5:53 am

                Who said they were recreational? In my experience, very few people who ride much are purely recreational.

                One of the top impediments to transportation cycling is arguably infrastructure/policy that discourages anything other than trivial rides.

                Given the physicality of where most people live in relation to where they need to get to, it’s a nonstarter to tell them they should use transportation that only has a practica reach of a few miles.

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                Rain Panther October 26, 2017 at 7:40 am

                I’m just trying to sort out how my status as a potential “impediment” changes depending on whether I’m riding to work or just riding because I like it. How does “transportation cycling” know what my objective is?

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                Kenji October 26, 2017 at 7:47 am

                Huh? That doesn’t make sense.

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                Dan A October 26, 2017 at 8:32 am

                Hyperbole is one of the top impediments to credibility.

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                soren October 26, 2017 at 8:45 am

                what does not make sense is walking into a bike shop and struggling to find a bike that is not designed for male recreation.

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                Rain Panther October 26, 2017 at 9:02 am

                I recently bought a bike for my 11 year old daughter and had a terrible time finding a straightforward 7 speed with fenders and upright riding position, so I see your point. However I still don’t think that translates directly into the blanket statement made above that recreational cycling is the number one impediment to transportation cycling.

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                Kyle Banerjee October 26, 2017 at 9:20 am

                soren
                what does not make sense is walking into a bike shop and struggling to find a bike that is not designed for male recreation.

                You’re going to the wrong shops. At least in my area of NoPo, the shops are overwhelmingly set up to serve utility and casual riders on a modest budget

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                Dan A October 26, 2017 at 9:49 am

                “I recently bought a bike for my 11 year old daughter and had a terrible time finding a straightforward 7 speed with fenders and upright riding position”

                Islabikes.

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                Middle of the Road Guy October 26, 2017 at 10:53 am

                Anytime someone starts with the assumption they are morally superior and starts lecturing others, they will lose that audience very quickly.

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                soren October 26, 2017 at 11:35 am

                rain panther, i did write not write that recreational cycling was the number one impediment. and i still believe that the culture of recreational/sport cycling in the USA is a major contributor to the negative stereotype of cycling as a pastime or lifestyle choice (as opposed to a normal utilitarian way to get around).

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                Rain Panther October 26, 2017 at 11:54 am

                Islabikes 7 speed with 24″ wheels = 650 bucks. A bit more than the budget allowed for.

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                Rain Panther October 26, 2017 at 12:07 pm

                Soren, no what you said was “recreational cyclists (i.e., people who ride bicycles for recreation) are one of the top impediments to transportation cycling.” But I legitimately don’t get how exactly you make the distinction. Can you tell by looking at me whether I’m a recreational cyclist? And what exactly am I doing that is undermining the cause of “normal” cycling?
                I think there are a number of different audiences to be targeted as potential bike riders. Some will be put off by sporty looking attire and accessories, while others will be attracted. I feel like Portland has a great mix of different sorts of cycling archetypes represented and I don’t see the sense in singling out some subset of bicycle users as being impedimentary to the success of some other subset – at least not without being willing to shoulder the burden of proof in making such a claim.
                In short, I’ve heard it before and I just don’t buy it.

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                Dan A October 26, 2017 at 12:43 pm

                “Islabikes 7 speed with 24″ wheels = 650 bucks.”

                My time, the time of the Portland employees assembling it, and the time my kid will spend riding it are worth the cost, IMO. AND, they support kiddie ‘cross in town. We have a 20″ and a 24″ now, and will be getting a 26″ soon.

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                Rain Panther October 26, 2017 at 2:36 pm

                “My time, the time of the Portland employees assembling it, and the time my kid will spend riding it are worth the cost, IMO.”
                Totally. It absolutely is worth it, for a lot of people – but not for everyone. Unfortunately, money is part of the equation. I’m not saying the Isla isn’t a good bike or even that it isn’t a good deal. Just commenting that there don’t seem to be a ton of options out there in the local bike shops.

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                soren October 26, 2017 at 3:53 pm

                rain panther, mea culpa — should not have used “cyclists”.

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                Eric Leifsdad October 26, 2017 at 7:49 pm

                The perception of cycling as recreational is a huge impediment to transportation cycling because investment is not seen as an essential public good like transit. Seeing people on bikes only dressed like racers also doesn’t help. Cyclists who advocate against separated bikeways or overlook cars-first VC conditions get used by DOTs to excuse the status quo. Meanwhile, 5mph sidewalk bikeways are being mixed with narrow painted lanes and little thought is given to everyday people replacing everyday car trips.

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                Rain Panther October 27, 2017 at 2:11 pm

                I am everyday people.

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            soren October 25, 2017 at 10:00 pm

            it seems that you have a few years to go, john.

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            • John Liu
              John Liu October 25, 2017 at 11:31 pm

              45 years riding now. I think I’ll manage to avoid becoming a hater.

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              Kyle Banerjee October 26, 2017 at 5:55 am

              Out of curiosity soren, how long did it take you?

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                Middle of the Road Guy October 26, 2017 at 10:54 am

                “immediately”.

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            El Biciclero October 26, 2017 at 9:24 am

            I “hate” cars much the same way I “hate” money. Causes a large portion of the trouble in the world, yet sure is nice to have if you need it.

            In the inimitable words of Martin Prince Jr., “Gross! Yet strangely compelling…”

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            KTaylor October 26, 2017 at 11:31 am

            I have cycled as my primary source of transportation for 24 years, and I hate cars, and resent the costs their drivers externalize onto me, and the infantile wrath some of them take out on me, and the hazy distraction or incapacity they are apparently unconcerned could injure or kill me. I hate the exhaust I am forced to breathe and the endless stinking stream of grime and junk they deposit on the roads and in water bodies. I am tired of motorists’ inability to see how much has to be sacrificed to make driving convenient for them – how it’s not just the natural ideal for moving people around in a city – just how much has to be spent and done and ruined to prop up the system. I’m tired of their paper tiger fear of living without a car and how that gets in the way of considering any other option – and this in the face of a rapidly-heating planet surface being driven in large part by our addiction to cars. So anyway – I hate cars, and I know many other cyclists who hate cars. It doesn’t seem like a particularly extreme position to me.

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              soren October 26, 2017 at 3:43 pm

              YES!

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              rachel b October 26, 2017 at 6:24 pm

              Well said, KTaylor.

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            resopmok October 26, 2017 at 4:38 pm

            I hate cars but I don’t let people who drive them make me angry. The difference is real.

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              rachel b October 26, 2017 at 6:23 pm

              The people who drive cars ARE the problem! Entirely. The animating force of the metal monster. 😉

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          mran1984 October 26, 2017 at 12:05 am

          I love my car. Absolutely love my car. I am going camping and MOUNTAIN BIKING tomorrow. This would completely blow without a car. I ride a bike everyday. I do not hate cars. I do hate those stupid gadgets that you are all addicted to though. I will have fun for you all tomorrow while you are all gazing at your hand. BTW, keep the mopeds out of the bike lanes, as well as any bike box. It’s a moped.

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            Chris I October 26, 2017 at 7:18 am

            Mopeds cannot be legally operated in bike lanes, per state law, so you have nothing to worry about.

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              chris October 28, 2017 at 11:29 am

              Actually, someone here in the subscriber posts recently posted the law that states mopeds can use the bike lanes when only the pedals are driving the wheel. Of course this means real vintage or new vintage style pedal plus motor mopeds, not those cheap plastic Chinese 50cc scooters that have moped plates on them.

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            Dan A October 26, 2017 at 8:35 am

            Meh. As Joe MacMillan would say, a car is just ‘the thing that gets you to the thing’.

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            soren October 26, 2017 at 8:56 am

            I love BIKING where there are no cars. I love not being threatened by (people in) cars. The antisocial behavior of car users completely blows.

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            Pat Lowell October 26, 2017 at 9:31 am

            I love my car too. Becoming a daily bike commuter (and recreational weekend rider) has really given me so much more appreciation for how amazing it is to be able bring home 100 pounds of groceries with ease, or go somewhere in the rain without worrying about what to wear or where to change when i get there, or travel up a steep hill at 20 mph even when I’m not feeling well. I love my bike too, of course, but I don’t see why we should have to be monogamous when it comes to transportation.

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              soren October 26, 2017 at 12:55 pm

              it is interesting that hate of an inanimate object triggers such defensiveness. i think this says something about our culture…

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              Eric Leifsdad October 26, 2017 at 7:54 pm

              That’s a really great description of an electric cargo bike. What do you need a car for?

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            Alex Reedin October 27, 2017 at 2:36 pm

            I love MY car too… because, like you, I can use it to get to go hiking/camping in places where there are no or next to no cars. Because, (I bet like you, if you would let yourself admit it) I hate everyone ELSE’s cars.

            I would guess that 90+% of Americans feel the same way we do. Who do you know who likes camping in the great outdoors… next to a freeway? The noise! The pollution! The ugliness! Who do you know who would prefer living on a street busy with fast cars than on the same street, with the same buildings, businesses, and level of walking, with few, slow, quiet cars?

            It’s a huge, complex, society-wide game of Prisoners’ Dilemma.

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          Middle of the Road Guy October 26, 2017 at 10:51 am

          why are you so full of hate?

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        Mike A October 27, 2017 at 12:49 pm

        The bike box also solves a more subtle problem that can be deadly for right-turn conflicts. When motorists are waiting to turn right at a signal they will often want to turn right on red. They have to watch for gaps by looking to their left, away from the bike lane. If a gap comes at the same time as the light turns green, the cyclist proceeds into the intersection looking at the green light while the motorist begins turning, often while still looking over their shoulder to the left to confirm there aren’t hidden vehicles that were approaching. These drivers may not know that the light turned green as they begin to turn, and consequently aren’t looking for conflicts with bikes.

        If the cyclist moves into the bike box, it blocks the right turn on red completely and focuses driver attention on the cyclist rather than the conflicting vehicular movement.

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      maxD October 25, 2017 at 5:47 pm

      I ride through here daily and I think it makes a lot of sense to use the box. The intersection of Tillamook is huge so there is plenty of time for bikes to sort out an order. Also, the bike lane splits into 2 streams, so there is plenty of space. For people on bikes continuing down Interstate, it is very helpful to be out in front of people driving so they can see the bike before merging to get on the Broadway Bridge.

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      ej October 25, 2017 at 9:20 pm

      For me , bike boxes are all about NOT queuing up behind the stinky cars and getting out in front of slow starting and slow riding cyclists.

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      wsbob October 26, 2017 at 1:23 am

      From what I can see of them in the pictures, rolling up to a bike box and deciding to jostle on over to the left side of the box, lane actually, from the right side of the lane, looks to be so awkward. This also, is not a proper or safe lane maneuver to be making.

      If I wanted to be riding in the center of the lane, or to the left side of the lane rather than the far right side of the lane, I’d be much more inclined to make the transition 100′ back or more from the intersection, so I could signal and let everyone else using the road, know what I was going to do before actually doing it.

      I think the point about the benefits of people riding more spread about the width of the lane, rather than exclusively single files is valid and good. In fact, I think Oregon law allows riding two abreast, but three abreast in a 10′ or 12′ width lane might work just fine.

      The Copenhagen left turn in this story sounds amazingly complicated and a real downer for biking. I wouldn’t do it.

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    Andrew Kreps October 25, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    How about we change that ad to read “At a red light, people on bicycles are more visible to people driving cars by being in front of them.”

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    Toadslick October 25, 2017 at 3:57 pm

    Most of the bike boxes I encounter in Portland required the bicycle to be far to the right in order to trigger the traffic light, due to either the road sensor or a beg button.

    For example, the bike boxes for crossing Division between 21st and Ladd both have this problem. Due to the position of the traffic sensor, the first bike must wait far to the right, and it can be a tight squeeze for other bikes to fill the bike box if a car has pulled up to the edge.

    So the first people that need to be educated about the proper use of a bike box are the traffic engineers putting them in place.

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      Doug Klotz October 25, 2017 at 8:37 pm

      I assume you’re talking about southbound on Ladd. I have found that that light is triggered by positioning a bike far to the left also, as long as you’re on one of the several “loops” visible in the pavement there. I use that box whenever I go through there.

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      Peter Koonce October 26, 2017 at 12:11 pm

      Toadslick-
      The City of Portland has worked diligently to improve practices of detecting bicycle traffic. Detecting bicycle traffic is a difficult challenge because most of the industry is focused on cars and in Portland we aren’t building a lot of new infrastructure, so as we complete projects we find that we don’t always know exactly where people will locate themselves in bike boxes as compared to European examples. As Doug Klotz mentions at the location that you reference, we have designed detection and the detector confirmation indication in a way that thinks about all possible paths to the intersection as you’re riding your bicycle. The delay you may be experiencing is that we’re trying to serve many different approaches at that intersection, not a typical problem.

      Several years ago, standard practice was to install push buttons because that was considered the clearest way to communicate what we intended for people to do at traffic signals. Thanks to the encouragement of commenters on BikePortland, peers at NACTO, and other sources of inspiration, the City has evolved to use detection in the street. PBOT has confirmed that in-street detection works effectively most of the time for most users. There are certain instances that the designer does estimate where people will be and we may be wrong. The flipside is that designers need to communicate to users where to locate their bike to be detected. That is one of our challenges. The standard symbol that is a national standard isn’t the most intuitive.

      The good news is that PBOT is completing research. We learned/confirmed in 2013 by working with Portland State University researchers that not everyone knows what the national symbol means. We confirmed that the standard symbol is not recognizable to all users, especially new users and PBOT remains committed to work with the Federal Highway Administration to improve the symbols used in the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices. PBOT has completed research that has been published in several national transportation publications including the ITE Journal specifically about the SE 21st & Division-Ladd intersection. Here’s a link to that article: http://nelsonnygaard.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/ITE-Boudart-2017.pdf

      Another problem with detecting people on bicycles is the traffic signal industry has claimed to be able to do this, but PBOT has found limited success in some cases to use detectors that are primarily made for detecting cars. We have tested a lot of different devices, but remain troubled by the challenge of having users know where they should locate themselves and by having equipment that can be effectively designed, operated, and maintained. Bike boxes are a special sort of challenge because of the layout and the location for where people place themselves. As I mentioned, designers have tried to account for all potential paths to the traffic signal (for someone on a bicycle) and then introduced the detector confirmation indication (blue light), which is something that can give a user feedback that they’ve been detected. We’re studying this as a formal Request to Experiment for the Federal Highway Administration and should have the after study done next year. Here’s an old BP article on that topic: https://bikeportland.org/2012/06/20/pbot-experiments-with-intelligent-new-indicator-light-73548

      So, it may look like you have to push the button or place your bike in a certain spot to be detected, but it might be that we have thought of the numerous options and designed it accordingly. That’s a challenge of thinking of all users from 8 years to 80. My 11-year old will push the button if she knows it is there, even if I tell her we can wait in front of a car.

      Finally, PBOT does these retrofits by request, so if you have a particular interest in a signalized intersection where you don’t know if you’re being detected, or would rather not have to press the push button, please call it in at 503-823-1700. We have some of these already in the queue and we address them as projects arise and budget allows.

      Thanks for helping make Portland traffic signals better for cycling, your feedback is helpful.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty October 26, 2017 at 12:47 pm

        The bike logo seems to be a good place to detect the presence of cyclists. Unfortunately, on Ladd Ave., entering the 7 Corners intersection, if you position your bike directly over the bike logo, the detector does not detect you, even though it appears there is a loop in the pavement beneath it. You have to back up away from the front of the box to make the blue light illuminate.

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    EricIvy October 25, 2017 at 4:11 pm

    If a car driver is an ass and passed me on the gas,
    I’ll pull into that box and maybe adjust my socks

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    Peter Hass October 25, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    I like the boxes and believe they help increase safety and convenience. I’ve noticed on my commute the boxes often have a string of bike riders to the right in the beginning of a red light cycle but they often get filled by faster riders who feel confident they can get out in front of the string of bikes just as quick as the light turns green. I’m an older/slower rider so I tend to just stay far right, get in line and let others fill the box so I’m not an obstacle they need to pass once we get going and are in a more single file formation.

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      mh November 18, 2017 at 6:13 pm

      I’m an older, slower rider, and I want to be seen. I get my hind end out in the middle of a box I can reach before a clueless driver stops inside it (Lloyd @ 9th). I cheer any cyclist who goes there before me, and any who follow me in. They are few.

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    Zach October 25, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    It’s a nice concept, but IMO, bikes really don’t belong directly in front of cars. Much safer to just wait on the sidewalk.

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      Zach October 25, 2017 at 4:23 pm

      EDIT: Until we get actual protected intersections, I should add.

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      Dan A October 26, 2017 at 8:36 am

      Um, no.

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    John Lascurettes October 25, 2017 at 4:29 pm

    I disagree with that. In Portland the standard practice for turning left is to use what the Portland Bureau of Transportation calls a “left turn box” to do a “two-stage left turn” (a.k.a. “a Copenhagen left”). Stage one: If you’re headed north and want to turn left (westbound) you wait for green and roll to a green colored box in the intersection on your right. Stage two: You re-orient yourself 90-degrees to the left and wait for the signal to change before heading west.

    I don’t now about “standard practice”. It’s an option, sure, especially for the concerned and unsure. But I find them so inefficient, usually guaranteeing I’ve got to sit through two signal cycles just to make a turn that I will usually go ahead and start merging to the left a block ahead of time so I can make a proper vehicular left turn.

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      Mark October 25, 2017 at 4:47 pm

      Yeah, the two-stage left turn is clunky and inefficient. I do like you do and merge left before the intersection and turn from the left-turn lane.

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        Paul Peterson October 25, 2017 at 5:00 pm

        Many times it’s faster to do a 2-stage left. Ex: when you have a green light going straight and the left turn light is red.

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          John Lascurettes October 25, 2017 at 5:54 pm

          True. And there are times where I take that into consideration depending on the intersection. But most of the time, if I have the green already it’s easier just making a vehicular left.

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          El Biciclero October 26, 2017 at 10:02 am

          In my neck of the woods, a 2-stage left can take up to three minutes to complete. No thanks to that. Although if I were in an area where I knew the lights were timed, there was a red left turn arrow, and I had a straight-ahead green, I might try to “cheat” by pulling a two-stage turn. I just don’t want anyone to expect “that’s how bikes are supposed to do it”, and start yelling at me any time I merge left or into a left-turn lane.

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      B. Carfree October 25, 2017 at 10:27 pm

      Right on. A two-stage left turn, which was originally called a Chinese left (named for the many university students from East Asia who came to the US back in the ’70s and ’80s who found our streets full of cars so disconcerting that they wouldn’t merge to turn left), is far from “standard practice”. It’s borderline silly and pushing it is yet another way we cement the notion that bikes truly don’t belong on the roads.

      Like many folks I have occasionally resorted to using it when conditions dictated, but it’s quite a rare event, on a par with cutting through a parking lot when making a right turn. I can’t believe anyone would call it standard or advocate it as a primary choice.

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    Travis October 25, 2017 at 4:33 pm

    At Interstate and Tillamook doesn’t it make the most sense for cyclists heading straight on Interstate to take the box and those keeping right toward Broadway Bridge via Larrabee to stay in lane? Otherwise aren’t we merging back across each other? Maybe explains why we mostly line-up in the lane, ignoring the box here.

    Not sure if this is unique to this intersection.

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      maxD October 26, 2017 at 11:21 am

      In my experience, Tillamook is so wide that there is plenty of time for bikes to sort out an order.

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    Phil October 25, 2017 at 4:46 pm

    Nah. Slow riders should not pull up and fill the box, it is dangerous for merging afterwards and it makes me have to pass them twice. If you’re slow stay back and line up single file, if you know you can overtake the people in front of you then fill the box. I can’t stand slow riders who pull up next to or in front of you at every light only to get in the way and fall back when they take off real slow again.

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      Doug Klotz October 25, 2017 at 8:39 pm

      Well, then, you should take the box yourself. The slow riders are using the box properly to block cars, and you’re the laggard!

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      soren October 27, 2017 at 1:06 pm

      Having to pass slower cyclists is a great measure of cycling mode share success. I love *safely* passing slow cyclists!

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        Dan A October 27, 2017 at 7:54 pm

        And after having passed them, do you like them to pull up next to you at an intersection and then stop in front of you?

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          Alex Reedin October 27, 2017 at 9:40 pm

          I feel the way Soren does, and I do like it. Not because the motion of passing them is pleasurable, but because it gives me another chance to see them again and say, “Oh yay, someone else biking!” (Or, “Look at all these people biking, yay!”)

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          soren November 1, 2017 at 12:58 pm

          i love seeing this.

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          Eric Leifsdad November 1, 2017 at 5:23 pm

          Doesn’t that say that you were both riding at the wrong speed to hit the green?

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            Dan A November 2, 2017 at 8:01 am

            I stop at red lights all the time. Are you saying that the problem is that I’m going the wrong speed? Not sure what you mean.

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              El Biciclero November 2, 2017 at 12:45 pm

              I’ve heard of a mystical land where the traffic signals are on timers, and if one can but move along at the “right” speed, all the lights will be green when one reaches them.

              Not trying to be snarky; I’ve just been beaten down by Beaverton’s sensor-activated signals that don’t sense me. The land of timed signals sounds wonderful, as long as the “right” speed isn’t 30. I get a tiny taste when I cruise down Columbia and up Broadway in the morning.

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                Dan A November 2, 2017 at 2:16 pm

                My commute home takes me to the light at 118th & Cornell, where the camera frequently fails to notice me, but at least I’ve figured out the timing. It changes to green 50 seconds after stopping there if I’ve been picked up, so I time it on my watch and after that I just go when it’s clear.

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                soren November 3, 2017 at 10:45 am

                dan_a, i’m curious as to why are you following the letter of the law instead of idaho stopping when the intersection is clear. no driver or leo will understand your actions as following the law — they will simply see a scofflaw cyclist.

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                Dan A November 3, 2017 at 12:24 pm

                Most times the light does actually change. Sometimes it doesn’t. And yes, I’m aware that proceeding through the red light makes me look bad even when I’ve followed the letter of the law. But it’s better than waddling over to the pedestrian beg button and setting myself up for a right hook.

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    shirtsoff October 25, 2017 at 5:07 pm

    I bunch up. I have always figured that it allows the cyclists to que up based on speed of passing through the intersection. It reduces the need for passing while outside of the bike lane, which while legal, can sometimes be ill received by cars who don’t want a bike to ever leave the restricted lane. That said, when I am the only cyclist at the bike box I feel sheepish about enterting the box proper. I should get over it in the off chance that another cyclist, boarder, etc. may arrive before the light turns green but it’s difficult to overcome a lifetime of being taught to “respect the order/que/line.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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    todd boulanger October 25, 2017 at 5:14 pm

    Jonathan – I disagree with your statement above, Amsterdam “where they don’t need bike boxes because they have an entirely separated lane for bikes”, unless things have changed a lot in AMS since my last trip (I know you were just there), as I have used a lot of bike boxes (opgeblazen fietsopstelstrook/ OFOS or expanded bicycle streaming lane/ EBSL in English) in the AMS (and in the NL) as a whole over my 20 trips there.

    Its not as simple as you state…yes, there are many intersections without them, but the use of bike boxes in the NL depends on the roadway design and having a warranted (high) level of bike + moped traffic.

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    RH October 25, 2017 at 5:15 pm

    If someone wants to fill the box, they are more than welcome to pass me as I wait single file. I don’t have eyes in the back of my head, so I have no idea if a lot of folks are cycling behind me.

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      Kyle Banerjee October 25, 2017 at 5:47 pm

      There are these devices called “mirrors” that are invaluable for this purpose. They’re required equipment on cars, and good drivers use them frequently even when driving at full speed.

      I find them even more useful when cycling than when driving.

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        RH October 25, 2017 at 6:48 pm

        I’d say maybe <5% of cyclists use a mirror , but thanks for the snarky useless comment.

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          Kyle Banerjee October 25, 2017 at 9:37 pm

          Knowing what’s going on behind you is basic awareness.

          I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t think they need mirrors to drive (and wouldn’t ride with them if I did). Slowing down so you get overtaken more often and removing the safety cage doesn’t make it a better idea to not know what’s going on.

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            B. Carfree October 25, 2017 at 10:39 pm

            When sitting in a padded steel cage with a motor, one does need mirrors to know what is going on. When sitting on a saddle with no encumbrances, it’s not very difficult to be aware of one’s surroundings without using a mirror.

            The only time I use a mirror on a bike is when I’m rolling a hinged triple (tandem with a trailing bike attached) with my grand-daughters because their song and dance routines as stokers limits my ability to see and hear all that is going on behind me.

            In spite of not using a mirror, it’s very, very rare for anything to overtake me without my knowledge. In fact, when I ride stoker I’m usually the one to tell my captain, who does use a mirror, when there’s something overtaking us. Perhaps you have some hearing loss going on or you have lost some flexibility over the years and it’s preventing you from looking around. Or perhaps your vision is slipping and you are afraid to look away from the road for fear of hitting something you aren’t seeing well. While that sounds snarky, you can’t know what you’re missing without help. Consider looking into the status of your vision, hearing and flexibility.

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              Kyle Banerjee October 26, 2017 at 6:15 am

              What it takes to be aware and what level of awareness you need depends on circumstances.

              For rural rides on a tandem, traffic is light enough that you can tell their positioning/speed/etc by hearing alone. The dynamics in busy and noisy urban environments where you need to know what many cars in a tiny vicinity are doing is very different.

              The reason you’re noticing the cars before the captain is that your body blocks his line of sight to the vehicles. The same thing occurs in pacelines — the people in front can’t see much behind so the people in the rear need to communicates what’s going on.

              There is a lot going on in urban environments. I know everything behind me down to the inch. I can tell just from movement if drivers behind me can see me and what they’re going to do, I can see they’re setting up for a turn/hook even if they don’t signal, I time gaps between vehicles for my own transitions, and can generally position myself to optimize encounters and avoid hazardous situations. I do not get surprised by vehicles, e-bikes, or anything else coming up from behind.

              Knowing what’s going on gives a massive safety advantage as well as an ability to guide/control events. I’m certain I use my other senses much more than the vast majority of cyclists. I also use tools like my mirror, proper visibility, unambiguous signalling (both what I intend to do and what I want others to do), to move achieve a safer, faster, and more fun riding experience.

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                Chris I October 26, 2017 at 7:22 am

                I only use a mirror on my bike because I want to be aware of dangerous drivers behind me. When I ride in car-free environments, a mirror is not necessary.

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                Kyle Banerjee October 26, 2017 at 9:34 am

                Agreed in principle.

                Though I use my mirror a lot when on separated infrastructure such as bridges, MUPs, etc. to make sure I’m positioned correctly to avoid conflicts with knuckleheads riding too fast for such environments when I’m passing peds, slow cyclists, or making turns.

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              Eric Leifsdad October 26, 2017 at 7:50 am

              A mirror is very handy for judging the speed and attitude of a driver without constantly looking over your shoulder (a risky time when you’re not looking forward.) I think some drivers may also misread a glance over your shoulder as an invitation to pass, like you’re required to pull over once you know they are there. These might be the same drivers who think honking is required to inform you of their presence.

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              El Biciclero October 26, 2017 at 10:32 am

              I’m with Kyle on mirrors. It depends somewhat on environment, but I have places on my commute where I need to merge across two lanes of 40+ mph traffic while I’m going between 20-25. Any clues I can get on where the current “platoon” of cars whizzing past me is going to end, without having to turn my head until I think it’s clear, are extremely valuable. There is one section of my ride home that I call “The Gauntlet”, where there are several driveways into and out of a shopping center, and the right lane of the road I travel on ends, and there is a bike lane that puts me fairly well out of sight of drivers exiting the shopping center. Through this quarter-mile section of roadway, it is essential to be able to keep an eye on overtaking traffic (mostly to know whether it’s safe to move left if need be, or to spot right turn signals of drivers who would just as soon overtake and right-hook me as put their phones down or wait) while also keeping an eye on exiting drivers, or look for gaps left by stopped drivers to allow oncoming, left-turners to run me over on their way into the shopping center. Without a mirror, this would be nearly impossible. There’s nothing wrong with my rear-view “hearers”, or my flexibility—I still do a shoulder check before actually making a move—but the additional information that can be had without even a momentary loss of forward visibility (it only takes a split second for someone to dart into the street or fling open a car door) by using a simple mirror in noisy, crowded, high-speed, or even dark environments is priceless.

              It may be that my mirror is just a crutch that lets me ride a lot faster than I otherwise would; I could just go slow and cut through a lot more parking lots, dodge onto sidewalks, and push a lot more beg buttons, but why? Just because I’m riding a bike doesn’t mean there are any more hours in my day than anyone else’s.

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              • John Liu
                John Liu October 27, 2017 at 10:10 pm

                Big fan of mirrors here.

                Today I was loafing down NE 7th coming home from work. Feeling lazy. Rode slowly and hands off down the middle of the street, sightseeing. The mirror on my helmet let me know when a car was approaching from behind, so I could put my hands on the bars, move right, and motion the driver by. Cooperation makes things work better.

                A little thing that costs $10 and gives you eyes in the back of your head. Pretty cool.

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        BradWagon October 27, 2017 at 9:26 am

        “I prefer X when riding for my own comfort”

        Says the guy that regularly demeans others for preferring more protected bike lanes or riding on the sidewalk for their own comfort…

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    todd boulanger October 25, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    In general the poor use of bike boxes in PDX would likely be due to a range of issues: lack of education for ALL road users as to their function, the lack of full width of bike boxes (two stage left turns diminish the utility of most bike boxes), the “over polite” habits of some roadway users (just takes two bicyclists to bottleneck a bike lane leading to a bike box), lack of near-side traffic signals, etc….evaluating all these and other issues would make a great research paper for a PSU student (wink wink nudge nudge).

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    Ben October 25, 2017 at 6:30 pm

    Thanks for starting the conversation Jonathan, it’s really interesting to hear different viewpoints on this. I hardly ever use the full width of the bike box, even though in principle I’m a big supporter of more visibility of bikes in general = more safety.

    I guess for me it’s usually a sort of catch-22, though I’ll admit I’ve never really given it much thought. If I’m the first person at the light, there’s no crowd and so it seems unnecessary to use the full box. But if there is a crowd, then it can be hard to get around everyone and squeeze past cars to access the full box.

    I think going forward I’ll try to use the full box more, especially on an e-bike when there’s the option of faster acceleration. I’m constantly frustrated at motorists who encroach on the bike box, but if I’m not using the box then I’m not helping address that problem. The “pissed driver” and “foot slipped off the break” scenarios are a concern, however.

    Lastly – this has gotten me curious about how bike boxes interact with the Improper Use of Lanes law, ORS 814.430 (e), which specifically allows people to ride no more than 2-up in a lane. It’s not an issue unless you’re going slower than the “normal speed of traffic at the time,” but it’s likely that motorists would want to travel faster than a typical bicyclist coming off a red light. I wonder if this is why the PBOT illustrations shown in this article only have two people using the box, instead of a larger crowd.

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    rachel b October 25, 2017 at 7:25 pm

    Can we stop manufacturing motor vehicles that self-propel forward as a default unless your foot is solidly on the brake? HOW did that ever pass all the safety tests???

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      John Lascurettes October 25, 2017 at 7:52 pm

      At first I thought you were saying to drive with a foot on each pedal and I was going to plead, “please no!” I get what you mean though I think. You’re saying, unless your foot is solidly on the accelerator, it shouldn’t propel forward. Interesting thought.

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      Drew October 25, 2017 at 7:56 pm

      Seriously though! Also this is because everyone drives automatics now. Doesn’t happen with a manual transmission unless you’re on a down hill. Save the manuals!

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      Kyle Banerjee October 25, 2017 at 10:14 pm

      Because you frequently want the car to accelerate only at idle speed. I drive stick, and I often don’t use the gas pedal.

      I see what you’re saying, but I think your idea would cause more problems than it solves. I can’t believe engineers and personal injury lawyers haven’t given the matter a lot of thought.

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        rachel b October 26, 2017 at 6:32 pm

        I’m confused by your comment, Kyle. It’s how all cars used to be. You had to hit the accelerator to go. Period. The car would not move unless you did. That, to me, seems like pure, plain common sense! Major safety issue, I would think.

        I’m always seeing drivers lurching forward into pedestrians etc. because their foot slipped off the brake. And I maintain that the wretched deterioration in driving in recent years is partly due to how they make cars now–both the decadent, “living room” lulling thing and the self-propel mechanism. FWIW, I grew up driving manuals and had them all my life ’til now (we have a used Chevy Volt EV after 6 years car-free).

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        • John Liu
          John Liu October 27, 2017 at 10:20 pm

          Automatic transmission cars, like most Americans drive, have had the “creep forward” feature for many decades.

          The reason is that when you need to make small adjustments in position, it is easier to modulate the car’s movement by squeezing the brake than by pressing the accelerator. Imagine parallel parking, or inching through a parking lot with pedestrians all around. If you screw up and press the brake too hard, you simply stop. If you screw up and apply the accelerator too hard, you slam into something or someone.

          Remember that in the olden days, cars had big V8 motors with carburators and mechanical linkages, and the throttle response was not that smooth at low rpm. If you pressed the accelerator a bit too much, the engine rpm could surge. So for fine control at low speeds, it was better to use the brake than the gas. It wasn’t until fairly recently that most all cars became drive-by-wire with very finely controlled fuel injection.

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            X October 28, 2017 at 12:56 pm

            I haven’t had a car for a while, and the most recent had a manual transmission, but it was my understanding that a car with a properly adjusted idle speed would not move forward by itself. A car with a big engine that goes forward of its own volition because the owner is unable to modulate the throttle? Do you call it “Christine?”

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      Paul October 25, 2017 at 10:34 pm

      A lot of newer electric cars behave like you want, or at least have it as an option.

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        Kyle Banerjee October 26, 2017 at 6:25 am

        Electric cars don’t have an idle speed so you’re hitting the throttle from zero rather than 750 RPM

        So if a car starts moving without pressing on the throttle, this behavior has to be programmed in.

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        rachel b October 27, 2017 at 11:48 pm

        Our Volt requires you to step on the pedal to make it go. Comes to a full stop.

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          Kyle Banerjee October 29, 2017 at 6:16 pm

          How is it that you have never had to hit the accelerator to go? I’ve driven some really old vehicles including those without syncros (how many of you can double clutch) and that simply isn’t true. All manuals I’ve ever driven move without hitting the accelerator once you’ve started engaging the transmission and I’ve never driven that didn’t creep forward.

          My subie stick shift idles at 750 RPMs — about the same as many cars nowadays. I often do not press on the accelerator (i.e. to add more engine speed) either when starting from a full stop, moving in low speed traffic, or slowing down.

          An automatic has to engage at some point and it needs to be gradual. Are you really suggesting zero engagement at an engine speed that is appropriate for low speed operation?

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          Kyle Banerjee October 29, 2017 at 6:17 pm

          Electrics are another matter entirely — I’ve driven a bunch of them. Since the engine doesn’t run except when you press the throttle, the engine is never running at the speed you’d need if you’re already stopped.

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    mikeybikey October 25, 2017 at 8:44 pm

    Yes! I do find it baffling that most people don’t fill the bike boxes. I’m a buncher through and through. I stare in shock at the top of Broadway at Williams when people leaving Broadway to come onto Williams will actually cycle half a block the wrong direction down Williams in order to get to the back of a single file line in the bike lane instead of simply bunching up in the massive green bike box.

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 25, 2017 at 9:10 pm

      That’s a great example! I always bunch up there too. I don’t care if ppl there before me get annoyed.

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        Kyle Banerjee October 26, 2017 at 6:18 am

        This reinforces the notion that the best thing to do depends on the specifics of the situation.

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      John Lascurettes October 25, 2017 at 10:08 pm

      I cycle slowly up Broadway’s north sidewalk ’til I get to Flint just to avoid both that spot (which is a mess, particularly in the rain) and to avoid all the right-hook and passenger drop-off issues of the Moda Center. Closest I ever got to being seriously doored was a Lyft/Uber passenger in bumper-to-bumper traffic flinging open their passenger side door into the bike lane. Thanks to disc brakes, I stopped in time.

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    soren October 25, 2017 at 9:13 pm

    relatively few people who cycle in portland feel comfortable darting in front of a line of cars/trucks on a potential green phase. therefore, bike boxes cater solely to people who feel comfortable “getting in the way”* of inattentive and/or aggressive drivers.

    pbot knows very well how they could make bike boxes both safer and more comfortable for the “interested but concerned” but have been reluctant to implement these changes because they *may* inconvenience motorists:

    1) ban right turns and implement a leading ped/bike interval. (incredibly inexpensive)

    or

    2) install a bike signal. (relatively inexpensive)

    *this is sarcasm

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  • John Liu
    John Liu October 25, 2017 at 9:29 pm

    I’ll take up a bike box if I need to, but otherwise I don’t see the point of holding up car traffic just because I can.

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      soren October 25, 2017 at 10:02 pm

      “but otherwise I don’t see the point of holding up car traffic just because I can.”

      there is a flip side to this.

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      Paul Atkinson October 26, 2017 at 9:44 am

      I understand what you’re saying, but I see it differently. There’s nothing punitive in my mindset; I’m not trying to “hold up cars” for any kind of car-hating or driver-hating reason, but I’ll take the box almost every time for an easily-stated reason:

      I prioritize safety over speed.

      If I see taking the box (or the lane, or whatever) as safer then I’ll do it. That might mean that someone driving can’t press the gas pedal as hard as they could if I weren’t there, but weighing “everyone goes a tiny bit faster” against “someone might go to the hospital, or the morgue” puts it into perspective.

      Ride and drive such that everyone arrives safely. Within that constraint I have no issue with anyone going as fast as the law allows, but that constraint frequently means driving more slowly than people currently do.

      Safety over speed. Every time.

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      Dan A October 26, 2017 at 12:48 pm

      I’m probably the exception to the rule, but I almost always get going faster than the cars around me do. When the position is reversed and a car is in front of me (like waiting for left-hand turn), I’m stuck waiting for them to proceed through the intersection while they ‘hold me up’.

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    pdx2wheeler October 25, 2017 at 10:05 pm

    Get in there and fill up that hard earned road space people.

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      Dan A October 26, 2017 at 8:44 am

      No doubt. Every time I use the bike box on 14th and Burnside I remember that Tracy Sparling died for that bike box.

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    dan October 25, 2017 at 10:35 pm

    Yeah, it’s a funny one. Bunching up requires you to make some assumptions about who’s going to be faster when the light changes. Like if I pull up on someone’s left, I feel like I’m implicitly saying “I’m going to pass you”. But I have no idea if I’m actually faster than them, and it’s weird to pull up to them and force them to essentially pass you on the right when the light changes. At least, that’s what I always think.

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      Kyle Banerjee October 26, 2017 at 9:29 am

      Sometimes you can tell, sometimes you can’t though equipment and physique should give you some clues as to what you should expect. But you’ll know if you’re slow and if you take off fast and so does the other person, you can easily let them through or put a bit more leg in depending on which seems more appropriate.

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        Stephen Keller October 26, 2017 at 12:26 pm

        I base my decision to use the bike box on the previously observed behaviors of the cyclists in front of me. If they have been maintaining a pace slower than I’d like and the terrain ahead doesn’t look like it’s about to dramatically slow me down, then I’ll use the box as an opportunity to pass the slower cyclist. If they’ve been going faster or at a pace I’m comfortable with, I stay behind. The last thing I want to do is make some fast rider feel like they’ve got to pass me in the middle of the following block.

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          soren October 27, 2017 at 1:29 pm

          i love *safely* passing slower people mid block. i would appreciate it if you could give me more opportunities to do so.

          PS: that was not meant in a cat 6 sort of way at all.

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        El Biciclero October 27, 2017 at 9:56 am

        It gets weird sometimes, though with different gearing preferences. I see a few very fit-looking people on my travels, but I notice that many of them are shift-averse, or at least low-gear-averse. The results of this are that if I stop behind such a person, then when we start up again, they hold me up while they clip in and slowly crank up to speed track-style, but then they pull away once we get going faster. If I am in front of them, I pull away quickly, shifting gears like a madman (apparently), but then get overtaken again an eighth of a mile down the road. Anyway, start-up acceleration vs. eventual cruising speed can create deceptive assessments of who’s who.

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    Kenji October 26, 2017 at 7:50 am

    It’s human nature. You see the same thing when drivers merge from two lanes to one. Everyone merges early and you see one long line in the through lane instead of filling both lanes for a proper zipper.

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      CaptainKarma October 26, 2017 at 1:17 pm

      It is illegal to block a thru-lane if you have to stop and wait for someone to zipper you in. Prepare to hear the wrath of my mighty hyundai horn.

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    Lidwien Rahman October 26, 2017 at 8:47 am

    Thank you for this article, )onathan. Having grown up in the Netherlands, I am definitely a buncher. I’m older now and slow, so I try to find a spot towards the right. What really bugs me is the folks lining up single file, hanging out in the middle or left of the bike lane so I can’t get past without going into the car lane. As you said, if we did that in Holland we’d never get through any intersection.

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      wsbob October 26, 2017 at 7:11 pm

      “…I’m older now and slow, so I try to find a spot towards the right. …” Lidwien Rahman

      That’s decent of you. If it’s mostly level terrain, could you estimate roughly what is your cruising speed on your route among a lot of other people biking, for example during commute hours?

      Not the average mph speed for the entire ride, including stopping at lights and signs, but the cruising speed people in the bike lane are traveling between lights. I would think some people definitely want to be cruising at least at, or more than 15mph, which could pose considerable exasperation for people preferring to travel in relatively narrow bike lanes at a more moderate pace of say 8-12 mph.

      Unfortunately, it seems there are people that can ride 15mph or more, but don’t want to ride in the main lanes with motor vehicle traffic, at all unless they absolutely have to. Result being too much traffic in the bike lane, people following bikes too close, not doing a good job of helping faster riders to transition from the right to the left side of the bike lane.

      I don’t ride commute hours, or on Portland’s major commute routes, so not having experienced it first hand, I’ve wondered some what tends to be mph cruising speeds when there’s a big crowd of people biking in the bike lane during the commute.

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      • John Liu
        John Liu October 27, 2017 at 10:26 pm

        12 mph ish I would say. 15 sometimes.

        Big difference in natural speed between bike types. Power output that has you going 15 mph on a heavy upright bike (Dutch bike or Biketown bike) will have you going at least 3 mph faster on a drop bar road bike.

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    Scott Kocher October 26, 2017 at 9:15 am

    Hmm, no discussion of peds so far. “Bike” boxes (maybe we shouldn’t call them that) have potential uses, and affect safety, for peds and other modes in important ways unrelated to bikes. The effects can be good or bad, depending on implementation and movements. For example, potentially good: when needed, “bike boxes” can greatly improve no-right-turn compliance a lot better than a sign can, because they stop drivers back from the intersection. I expect even more drivers would keep “bike boxes” clear as intended if they were marked “keep clear” in big letters and “except bicycles” in small letters instead of “wait-here.” Potentially bad, however: bike boxes can make it impossible for people walking to make eye contact with a right-turning driver. Combining with that concern, unless peds get a dedicated signal phase, which currently they/we almost never do, “bike boxes” can put people using the crosswalk in the path of turning drivers, because it takes drivers a little longer when they get green to roll forward, turn right, and reach the conflict point in the crosswalk. It’s the same problem LPIs have. For everyone who is enthusiastic about LPIs, here’s an example of how a person died recently that is instructive for “bike boxes” as well: the person using the crosswalk to cross SW Barnes Rd at the St Vincent Hospital exit (one block west of SW Monterey Pl) started crossing on the walk signal. It was an LPI. That meant all traffic was stopped, and it looked completely safe to cross. 4 seconds later, the right-turning driver got green. The LPI timing meant people walking were in the path of turning drivers when the drivers turned across the crosswalk. The driver, even if he had looked for peds leaving the curb, “wasn’t expecting” peds out in the middle of the street. A “bike box” can create the same risk, if peds don’t get a dedicated signal phase or if people walking are otherwise sacrificed in favor of motor vehicle traffic.

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      Kyle Banerjee October 26, 2017 at 9:26 am

      This is an important point. Also, I disagree with the premise advanced by some posters here that it is desirable to delay cars from starting movement.

      Rather, I think the objective needs to be about reducing conflict. This may or may not require delaying when cars leave.

      Drivers often accelerate harder and employ closer following distances when their start has been delayed — particularly on limited duration signals where getting trapped behind yet another light cycle is an issue. This is unsafe for everyone, especially those not encased in steel.

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      soren October 26, 2017 at 1:01 pm

      Vision Zero suggests that we base infrastructure decisions on data, as opposed to anecdotes, wherever possible. And as far as I know, virtually all studies of LPIs suggest that they significantly decreases pedestrian risk. One example:

      The results suggest a 58.7% reduction in pedestrian–vehicle crashes at treated intersections, which is statistically significant at the 95% confidence level. An economic analysis was also conducted to determine the cost-effectiveness of the strategy. Given the low cost of this strategy, only a modest reduction in crashes is needed to justify its use economically.

      https://nacto.org/docs/usdg/safety_effectiveness_of_lpi_fayish.pdf

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    Paul Atkinson October 26, 2017 at 9:30 am

    My perspective is that of the data geek, so the decision on how to use those is pretty simple to me.

    Car suddenly accelerating and rear-ending a waiting cyclist? Relatively uncommon.
    Right hook? Relatively common.
    Ergo: I tend to use the box, with some situational caveats (e.g., if no cars have yet arrived then I may stay to the right because drivers running a stop = relatively common).

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      J_R October 26, 2017 at 12:12 pm

      I definitely “use the box,” but it’s right side of the box that is an extension of the bike lane. That way I am clearly in visible to the motorist if he’s turning right. However, I don’t use the part of the box that is directly in front of the motorist. I simply don’t see the point of picking a spot in front of the motorist so he has to wait for me to get back into the bike lane 50 feet further down the road.

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    Vince October 26, 2017 at 9:33 am

    I have said this before and expect that I will say it again. The answer is continual education. The photo of the billboard is from 2008. How many people are riding now that did not ride then? How many riders moved into Portland from places where green boxes are not used? And that’s not a dig at any other state. You could move from a different Oregon location and not be familiar with how the boxes work. Any time a traffic pattern that is not widely used is introduced, people need to hear how it is to be used over and over until they understand it.

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  • Hello, Kitty
    Hello, Kitty October 26, 2017 at 11:07 am

    As soon as someone decides to stop in the bike lane, it can be difficult to get past, and into the box. I am in total alignment with Jonathan on this one. Stop clogging!

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    maxD October 26, 2017 at 11:32 am

    One thing I love about bike boxes is that they usually come with no turn on red signs. Even though there are lot of people who ignore this, the majority of people stop behind the green box and wait for the green signal. This has a massive safety advantage for pedestrians. I work in the CEID and frequently walk all over. If you are walking against the flow of cars on the sidewalk, people driving on cross streets frequently roll out across the crosswalk, only looking in the direction of on-coming motor vehicle traffic and ignoring the crosswalk. Bike boxes are very effective at dealing with this.

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      soren October 27, 2017 at 1:36 pm

      If Portland was serious about vision zero, right turns on red would be banned entirely. I now refuse to take rights on red (or lefts on red) and have noticed that many other drivers behave the same way.

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      • John Liu
        John Liu October 27, 2017 at 10:29 pm

        Would need to ban it statewide and have a ton of signage, otherwise it would be dangerous as Portlanders assume no right on red but out of towners do it anyway.

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        wsbob October 28, 2017 at 12:13 pm

        NYC didn’t ban RTOR entirely. Studying the pdf soren provided the link to, what the city did, was conduct an extensive review of all signalized intersections…and there’s a lot of them…in the city’s five boroughs. The city then studied which of those intersections could be safe for RTOR, and mounted signage and signals to allow for the turns.

        The process was much more involved than simply reflecting on whether the city cared about danger associated with right turns on reds, deciding it did, and then writing an ordinance to ban right turns on red across the city. Would Portland residents be in favor of an extensive restriction in allowing right turns on reds if it involved paying for the kind of review of intersections for RTOR that NYC conducted?

        Is Portland, or any other city in the Willamette Valley or the state of Oregon, really in need of extensive restriction of right turns on reds as a means of reducing collisions? This is one example where referring to and relying some on statistics gathered, is likely necessary. Not that it can be relied on exclusively to accurately say much, but the little chart showing before and after crash incidence in the NYC pdf, is interesting.

        Restricting right turns on reds doesn’t eliminate the potential for right hooks. Some road users will ignore the law and turn anyway, leaving other road users traveling by motor vehicle, foot, bike, etc, in potential danger of being involved in a collision. Restricting this movement may help some to reduce collisions, but I think, considering all that’s likely involved in implementing the restriction, most people would find themselves having to carefully consider whether the restriction would be worth the gain.

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        Kyle Banerjee October 29, 2017 at 8:28 pm

        Rights on red certainly increase potential for conflicts which I have personally witnessed.

        I would add that passing on the right of vehicles near intersections also increases potential for conflicts.

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          soren October 30, 2017 at 10:02 am

          The problem is that our society treats bike facilities as second class infrastructure. If bike facilities were given the same basic safety consideration as motor vehicle lanes, unsignalized right turns across a through lane would be very rare.

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            Kyle Banerjee October 30, 2017 at 11:06 am

            I don’t see what’s second class about it. Passing from behind on the right of stopped or slowed vehicles is super dangerous for obvious reasons and problems are easy to avoid.

            Signalizing all crossings is undesirable as well as impractical. In heavy urban traffic, it is frequently the case that bicycles move faster than motorized traffic, so protection would require signalized green arrow turns at every single intersection — i.e. not just the ones that currently have lights now. This is unimplementable on many levels.

            Pushing an issue like this is a great way to get a requirement that cars drive in the bike lane when preparing for a right turn as is the case in California and/or having passing on the right outlawed entirely — passing on the right has only been legal for a few years in OR.

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              soren October 30, 2017 at 3:00 pm

              Virtually all major crossings for drivers and pedestrians (in urban areas) are signalized. I guess what is practical for them is — for some strange reason — impractical for people cycling.

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                Kyle Banerjee October 31, 2017 at 12:52 pm

                Major crossings are signalized, but the majority of crossings are neither major nor signalized. It’s not like hooks only occur at major crossings.

                Pulling the cycling victim card is a great way to get the laws changed so we can be like CA. No decent drivers passe on the right of a vehicle they think might turn — and most avoid passing on the right for any reason.

                Getting rid of your safety cage is not an excuse to get rid of common sense as well. Passing on the right is dangerous, and people need to use appropriate caution wherever they are.

                To pretend that we somehow have some disadvantage when we are explicitly allowed to do things the drivers can’t and have free movement when they are stuck is precisely why so many drivers have the idea that cyclists have an entitlement mentality. Cycling movement is far better than car movement, and it’s one of the specific reasons I ride.

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                soren November 3, 2017 at 3:50 pm

                the view that people riding bikes are “entitled” because they are legally allowed to do a few things that are not allowed for people driving is an example of bike stockholm syndrome.

                are pedestrians similarly entitled?

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    Dawn October 26, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    Dan A
    “Islabikes 7 speed with 24″ wheels = 650 bucks.”
    My time, the time of the Portland employees assembling it, and the time my kid will spend riding it are worth the cost, IMO. AND, they support kiddie ‘cross in town. We have a 20″ and a 24″ now, and will be getting a 26″ soon.
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    I fully support buying local and supporting local workers and businesses, however, $650 is just a complete budget buster for me personally. I can only afford to buy re-sale for my growing son (and yes, I’ll bring it to my local shop and pay to have it tuned up and made road safe if need be). I have no doubt of Islabikes quality but to assume that anyone/everyone can afford it is ludicrous.

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    Kathy October 26, 2017 at 3:52 pm

    If I can, I always use the bike box heading eastbound on NE Lloyd at 11th. Sometimes, I can’t because when I get there the light is green or there’s a line up of bikes blocking me from getting to the box, or MOST commonly, the first car in line is stopped in the box, sometimes as far up as in and blocking the crosswalk. But when I approach this intersection and the light is red and I can get there, I always use the box. This is one of the most annoying places I turn right because there’s one lane to turn right into two lanes on NE 12th and I’m always trying to turn into the far lane (probably 80% of traffic is trying to get into the far lane.) Sometimes cars will kindly stay behind you. Sometimes they will rush to get ahead of you. Sometimes they will drive RIGHT BESIDE you, leaving you wondering until the very last minute what they are going to do. Since I’m gearing up to take the lane anyway, it’s nice for me to just BE in the lane when the light turns green. Cars behind me have to choice but to wait behind me to turn right.

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    Craig October 26, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    To alluded to it in your article, but isn’t a secondary or tertiary function of the green bike box to serve as a collection location for cyclists performing a Copenhagen left? Leaving free space in the green box at a red light provides plenty of space for left turners to safely make their maneuver. If straight-through cyclists fill up the box, then the the whole two-stage left idea breaks down. This is what I remember being typical behavior when cycling along Copenhagen’s bikeways. To me the empty bike box is indicative of courteous behavior rather than not understanding the box’s intention.

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      Alex Reedin October 27, 2017 at 11:59 am

      I’m pretty sure I have never once seen anyone actually do this…

      Also, I think all bike boxes in Portland have crosswalks in front of them. Although I oppose taking up space in pedestrian areas in general (e.g. parking cars or bikes in a way that partially or completely blocks sidewalks or crosswalks), our pedestrian traffic is not so heavy as to make pulling into a crosswalk for a minute to do a two-stage left turn a big imposition (as long as one goes slowly into/from the crosswalk and is extra aware of the potential for kids, groups of people walking together, disabled folks, dogs. etc., and makes space for them as appropriate).

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      • John Liu
        John Liu October 27, 2017 at 10:32 pm

        Left turning cars often cut the turn close, so hanging out in the crosswalk on your bike is a dangerous thing to do. I stop well back from the limit line even when driving.

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      wsbob October 27, 2017 at 1:24 pm

      This is the problem people can have in not transitioning from the bike lane, into the main lane of the road, properly in advance of the intersection, in preparation for a left turn at the intersection.

      If at the intersection, the street they’re riding has a bike box, and the person riding doesn’t transition into the main lane until they reach the box, the box might already be jammed up with other people riding, spread across the lane’s width at that point, while the person on their bike, wanting to make the left turn, is stuck over to the right in the bike lane, or back in the queue in the bike lane.

      The bike box is not a bike lane. It’s a part of the main lane that, to reduce the incidence of right hooks, cordons off from use with motor vehicles, an area back some from the intersection when the signal for the street is red and has stopped traffic. Essentially, the same effect can be provided with just a stop line set back some from the intersection without the resulting box space between this line and the intersection having been painted green: motor vehicle traffic stays behind the setback line, bike traffic is positioned all the way up to the intersection.

      In Beaverton, eastbound on Millikan Way at Cedar Hills Blvd, there is an unpainted bike box. Eastbound, when I’m riding, I rarely turn left…north in other words, at this intersection. The road does have a bike lane, which I generally use to proceed straight through the intersection.

      At red lights, I could wait until arriving at the unpainted box to jostle over in the box to be in position for a left turn ahead of motor vehicle traffic waiting behind the setback line. Not a lot of people riding out here, so the box isn’t likely to be jammed up with people riding straight through. If there were a lot of people riding straight through, jamming up the box, and I needed to turn left at the intersection, I’d probably just make a standard bike lane to main lane transition further back from the intersection to prepare for the left turn.

      If I understand it, the bike box is not intended to function as an aid to making the Copenhagen left turn, which involves switching to the cross street in preparation for a left turn, before the left turn actually is actually made. From this bikeportland story, a description of how to do the so called ‘Copenhagen left’:

      “…In Portland the standard practice for turning left is to use what the Portland Bureau of Transportation calls a “left turn box” to do a “two-stage left turn” (a.k.a. “a Copenhagen left”). Stage one: If you’re headed north and want to turn left (westbound) you wait for green and roll to a green colored box in the intersection on your right. Stage two: You re-orient yourself 90-degrees to the left and wait for the signal to change before heading west. …” bikeportland

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    El Biciclero October 27, 2017 at 10:27 am

    One scenario I could imagine, would be a driver who has pulled up to an empty bike box on a red, seizing the opportunity to engage in all manner of phone fiddling while a few bicyclists “fill the box” in front of them. When the light changes, the driver’s eyes easily go from phone up to traffic signal (if at all), and they might continue to assume the way is clear in front of them, as it was when they first stopped.

    One might think that it would be easy to look directly in front of one’s vehicle, see people there, and send some sort of signal to one’s brain to delay acceleration until the path is clear, but we’ve all heard stranger stories of attention blindness. Plus, it’s hard to make eye contact with drivers that are behind you, even with a mirror.

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    X October 28, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    What’s wrong with bike boxes? I’m going out on the limb here–nobody has ever gotten a ticket for infringing on a green box. You would need a third zebra at every intersection to enforce this. The people who need this restraint don’t care.

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    Ted Buehler October 28, 2017 at 11:11 pm

    Jonathan — your position is backed by ODOT.

    The bike box is placed between the crosswalk and the stop bar for motor vehicles. bicyclists are given priority by allowing them to go to the head of the line and to clear the intersection before cars proceed.

    When a traffic signal is yellow or red, enter the bike box from the approaching bike lane. stop before the crosswalk. (Not all bike boxes or approaching lanes are painted green.)

    http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/Programs/TDD%20Documents/Oregon-Bicyclist-Manual.pdf
    p. 15
    Oregon Bicyclist Manual

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