The Portland Bureau of Transportation is on a bit of a plastic wand binge.
In the past week we’ve learned of white wands (a.k.a. delineators, plastic bollards, candlesticks) going up in the Lloyd District, near the Convention Center, and on Greeley near the Adidas campus in north Portland.
My first thought was that this was finally a moment I’ve been looking forward to for a long time: When PBOT systematically goes through their dozens of miles of buffered bike lanes and adds protection to them. Unfortunately PBOT says that time hasn’t come yet; but it’s still good to see them adding physical separators in specific locations.
PBOT Public Information Officer Dylan Rivera confirmed yesterday that they haven’t developed a standard design application for protecting bike lanes, “but have been able to install some on a case-by-case basis.”
I took a closer look at all three of these locations yesterday. Here are my thoughts, along with comments from Rivera.
NE 1st Avenue near the Convention Center
This is a stealth little connection between the Steel Bridge and the Lloyd District. NE 1st in the shadow of I-5 and the Oregon Convention Center gets people from the bike signal at NE Oregon and Interstate to the bikeway on NE Multnomah.
Here’s the PBOT rationale via Rivera: “We installed the wands on 1st Ave because a lot of people driving were using the bike lane as a de facto right turn lane there.”
This is a straightforward application of wands and it vastly improves the short stretch of bikeway they’re used on. Unfortunately there’s still a pesky one-block gap to Multnomah where bicycle users are thrown into a shared lane (with a sharrow). With these new wands, we’re now tantalizingly close to a continous, low-stress connection between the Esplanade and the protected bikeway on NE Multnomah.
NE Multnomah at 9th
Some of you might have noticed these new wands in one intersection on NE Multnoman outside of Lloyd Center Mall. They’ve been added to help people navigate through the mixing zones — areas at intersections where auto users merge into the bikeway to turn right.
The mere fact that we’ve added wands here shows the limits of paint-only bikeway design. Without the wands PBOT relies on yield carats, sharrows and turn arrows in hopes that the straight-going biker and right-turning driver interactions go smoothly.
Rivera said this specific application was done in cooperation with a National Institute for Transportation and Communities (NITC, based at Portland State University) study being led by Chris Monsere. “That study is looking at intersection treatments for protected bicycle lanes and Chris wanted to study the behaviors associated with a protected entry into a mixing zone,” Rivera shared. “In-house we consider that a good design and were more than happy to assist in this way.”
Greeley south of Willamette near Adidas
PBOT took advantage of a paving project on Greeley between Going and Killingsworth to add a buffer to existing bike lanes. Between Going and Emerson (right in front of the Adidas headquarters campus) they’ve now added plastic wands inside the buffered area.
Earlier this week we heard from longtime reader and highly experienced bicycle rider John Beaston (and winner of the 2017 Volunteer of the Year award from The Street Trust) about his concerns with this application. He cc’d us on an email to PBOT’s “Safe” email hotline (email@example.com) that tracks and responds to livability concerns. “While we appreciate the effort to improve things,” Beaston wrote, “the new bike lane treatment on N Greeley has made things worse for transit users, people on bikes and drivers.”
“We hope this design gets another look and corrected, since it is not been engineered using principles of Vision Zero.”
— John Beaston, local resident
Beaston lives a block away and said he bikes and uses the bus on Greeley to get downtown. His main concern is that PBOT placed wands right in front of a bus stop. “Bus drivers must now stop in the travel lane due to the bollards,” he shared. “Transit users must now carefully cross a wide, fairly high-speed (slight downhill) bike lane. This has created a high-conflict situation where one did not exist previously. In addition, when a bus is stopped in the travel lane, cars now cross the double-yellow line to pass. The double-yellow area also has a northbound left-turn lane just south of the transit stop. There will definitely be conflict between left-turning vehicles and those passing a stopped bus.”
The wands in front of the bus stop are now gone. We aren’t sure if PBOT removed them or if they were victims of bus and car operators.
In his opinion, the “plastic bollards” are ineffective — especially because they continue to be dislodged and scattered all over the bike lane.
“We hope this design gets another look and corrected,” Beaston wrote in his email to the City, “since it is not been engineered using principles of Vision Zero.”
Rivera said the addition of plastic wands in this location, “Is consistent with Director [Leah] Treat’s directive that we ‘make protected bicycle lanes the preferred design on roadways where separation is called for….[on both] existing roadways as well as …[on] new construction.'” We asked Rivera to respond specifically to Beaston’s concerns but haven’t heard back yet.
One of our big concerns with these newly protected bike lanes is maintenance. There were piles of leaves (not to mention a dead wand or two) in the Greeley bike lanes. PBOT has at least one small bike lane sweeper; but we have yet to hear about a strategic plan to keep these new bikeways clean. The agency’s newly released Winter Weather Plans made no mention of cleaning protected bikeways.
And I’m not sure what’s better: Unprotected and clean bikeways, or protected and dirty ones. I wish we didn’t have to choose.
It’s great to see PBOT prioritize protection on bikeways, but the installation of these wands still needs a bit of work. Quality of bikeways matters just as much as quantity. We’ve got to this right if we want people to use these bikeways — and if we want people who don’t use them to respect them.
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