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First look at PBOT’s latest bike traffic circle

Posted by on September 7th, 2018 at 12:07 pm

Traffic circles for cycling are a thing in Portland now.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus)

Portland traffic engineers and planners have a new favorite treatment when two bike routes intersect: a traffic circle!

As part of the SE 19th Neighborhood Greenway project in Sellwood, the Bureau of Transportation has installed a large median and roundabout at the intersection of SE Milwaukie and Mitchell. In what used to be a wide-open intersection across from Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge trailhead is now a traffic-calming island and green pathways that connect to a new flashing beacon and crosswalk.

It’s been almost two years since we covered the city’s first bicycle roundabout on NE 21st. After that debuted, PBOT proposed another one on the northern landing of the forthcoming Sullivan’s Crossing bridge in the Lloyd. That one didn’t make the final design cut, but that didn’t stop them from proposing another one on NE Ainsworth as part of the Lloyd to Woodlawn Greenway project.

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The one at Milwaukie and Mitchell is much more robust than any of the designs built or proposed so far. The median is very big relative to traditional designs. It could be a nice plaza if they put a few benches on it and maybe a piece of public art or two. From a user perspective, it’s pretty self-explanatory. That’s in part because PBOT spared no expense with their use of bright green thermoplastic on the pavement and wayfinding signage on each end.

If you want to go from Milwaukie northbound to Mitchell in order to cross McLoughlin at 17th — or vice versa — you just continue through on the curbside. If you want to head west toward the Springwater via Oaks Bottom (or onto southbound Milwaukie, which isn’t a nice place to ride), the circle drops you right at a nice new crossing. Just push the button (not sure why all these aren’t outfitted with automatic loop sensors) and the lights flash. With a more narrow cross-section on Milwaukie and the addition of caution signs and crosswalk markings, people seem much more willing to stop and wait for crossers.

While I was out there last weekend I saw all types of riders using the circle. It’s definitely not a standard design so it might take some getting used to. Overall it feels like a nice improvement compared to the old intersection that provided zero protection for vulnerable users and did nothing to calm traffic.

It’s also pretty fun to zoom around it a few extra times if you’re in the mood…

https://www.instagram.com/p/BnSdujphtPJ/?taken-by=bikeportland

Have you ridden this yet? What do you think?

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

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Clicky Freewheel
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Clicky Freewheel

This is so stupid. Bikes are not cars, so why treat them as such? Cyclists can easily handle navigating around each other – all this roundabout does is limit the amount of space given to cyclists and creates a very tight turn for no good reason other than “it looks cool”. What a waste of our very limited resources for cycling infrastructure. Spend the money on concrete to protect cyclists from motor vehicles, not other cyclists.

https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2015/03/10/a-bicycle-roundabout-that-shouldnt-have-been-built/

DC
Subscriber

I don’t think it’s “stupid.” Good job PBOT!

John
Guest
John

The article you linked to placed a roundabout in an area with no possible turns. That one was unnecessary, but a completely different context than is shown here. This one seems to allow people to turn left much more easily than using one of those left-turn waiting boxes, or some other method. It seems like this will help the flow of bike traffic, and also does protect people biking from motor vehicles, as your post mentions.

Dan A
Subscriber
Dan A

I mean, I guess if we can’t have Idaho Stop, parked spaces removed from corners, or speed laws enforced, we may as well have silly circles.

Mick O
Guest
Mick O

Who’s up for the SE19th 500??

Ted Buehler
Guest
Ted Buehler

It’s too small to be useful, it seems to me.

Davis, CA pioneered bicycle roundabouts in the 1970s, they did well with large ones, then built a small one like this in 2002.

Now they’re back to building large diameter ones.

This one is so small (as is the one on the 21st Ave overpass) that you can’t ride through it at any sort of standard bicycling speed. You need to slow to walking speed to make that curve. Which adds a bunch of complicating features, like, it’s difficult to ride a bike at a walking speed, and you need more space to wobble.

At least on 21st Ave you can ride right through the middle (as I always do southbound, despite having a habit of following traffic markings). With this those curbs provide an additional hazard.

Roundabouts are really useful where you have a lot of traffic in 3 or 4 different directions, and road users can’t filter themselves through naturally. With this low-traffic situation, it seems a big open intersection area, or a “wye” shaped intersection would be safer and more functional.

I’ll withhold full judgement until I’ve actually ridden it.

Ted Buehler

Champs
Guest
Champs

PBOT: solving its last remaining problems in the only way possible.

Otis
Guest
Otis

I live nearby to this and have ridden this section of Milwaukie to access the Springwater as part of my daily commute for over 10 years. While I agree the overall design has flaws, it’s a massive improvement over the previous scenario, and leads to a far safer crossing situation for most users. More comfortable riders (I forget the appropriate BP term) can still make a take-the-lane left turn when heading northbound easily enough and forego the roundabout, esp. if traffic is light. But at rush hours, it’s a much safer option.

As traffic has gotten heavier on the section of SE Milwaukie b/w SE Holgate and SE Bybee (there’s only one traffic control device on this section, @ Tolman), this adds a significantly more appealing option to cross for peds and bikes, and w/ the closure of the Springwater and re-routing of cyclists onto the 19th Ave greenway it’s a necessary update.

People on here can and will criticize its design, and they should. But as someone who literally uses it every day I’m glad for it. I do wish they’d add a tree to the center and /or some other aesthetically inclined elements.

David Hampsten
Guest

Jonathan, did you inquire with PBOT engineers what this device’s purpose was, rather than infer by what it looks like? It’s cute and utterly useless as a traffic circle for all the reasons mentioned above, but it does function as a traffic calming device to slow bicyclists down just before crossing SE Milwaukie Ave or just after, to slow fast users down to pedestrian speeds.

Bald One
Guest
Bald One

I wonder when they will put in the speed bumps and rumble-strips so bikers have to slow down in the circle. I’m surprised they didn’t anchor some more signposts right in the path – it’s clearly not marked well enough.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

Narrowing the auto driving space so that drivers have to slow for the turn and pedestrians have a shorter crossing makes sense. Requiring cyclists to go around the circle then make a very sharp turn makes less sense.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

This appears to be a traffic circle, like the one on 21st, and not a roundabout. A roundabout requires traffic controls for entering vehicles.

Carrie
Guest
Carrie

David Hampsten
Jonathan, did you inquire with PBOT engineers what this device’s purpose was, rather than infer by what it looks like? It’s cute and utterly useless as a traffic circle for all the reasons mentioned above, but it does function as a traffic calming device to slow bicyclists down just before crossing SE Milwaukie Ave or just after, to slow fast users down to pedestrian speeds.Recommended 1

When PBOT proposed the new intersection to the SMILE transportation committee, once of the members submitted a cute line drawing with a tree in the middle, so that it wasn’t all hardscape. This hardscaped roundabout is what happened once the engineers got the drawing (at least that the conclusion those of us at that meeting have come to). We do hope there is a tree planted there someday….

I really, really dislike the whole North end of the 19th Ave greenway. I do agree with Otis that it makes the access to Oaks Bottom from northbound Milwaukee more comfortable, but the routing from 19th off of 17th to hit this circle to get to the Springwater take cyclists up a hill and several miles out of the way rather than just routing us down 17th to our destinations. It’s also VERY abrupt if you’re continuing further north on Milwaukee — I guess we’re not supposed to ride to donuts/tap room/summer camp.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

Another conflict-causing cross-bike here to annoy drivers that stop “helpfully” to let you cross when you aren’t allowed to cross.

This traffic circle is useless. Cyclists on Mitchell still have to come to a stop and wait for traffic on Milwaukie to clear before they can proceed.

Now drivers will come to a stop, thinking that they have to cede the right of way to cyclists. Cyclists will sit there waiting for traffic to clear because they don’t have the right of way. Drivers are now mad at cyclists due to the misunderstanding created by the city with those green cross-bike crosswalks.

I hope that the mandatory sidepath law doesn’t require me to use it. It’s not safe and I won’t be using it if I’m coming off Mitchell.

Christopher of Portland
Guest
Christopher of Portland

Based on where I live and my typical bike routes, I don’t get any use out of the bike infrastructure in this project even though I often ride near it. I do like that it filled in that vast expanse of empty asphalt that was previously there. Walking across that intersection was not fun.

Matthew in PDX
Guest
Matthew in PDX

I use this daily as I head home from Clackamas to N Portland. I think it’s not really necessary, kind of tight, but does get me and presumably others to get down to walking speed as we approach the crossing over Milwaukie Ave to the Oaks Bottom trail. Without it, I could see some riders speeding through that pedestrian crossing.

If PBOT plans to use this more extensively, a wider circle would be better.

Brandon
Guest
Brandon

I like it! I think they future-proofed with the consideration of possibly much more people using it. It works well for controlling the paths of people traveling in 3 different directions at once. A wide open “Y” space could be a confusing situation if there are a lot of bikes coming through at the same time. In particular, I’m thinking about 5:00pm at the bike path along the max line at SE 12th and Milwaukee train tracks, going towards Clinton St.. That’s almost all people going the same direction, but it turns into a completely swarm, with some people crossing the lanes at various points, some staying on the sidewalk, etc, all going very different speeds.

I think the traffic circle has the ability to both, direct and slow down bikes passing through. Which, may seem annoying to some seasoned cyclists, but I think it is great for newcomers who may be intimidated by other bikes flying by in every direction. I’ve been cycling in Portland for almost 15 years, and for me, I think the most important thing Portland can do for bike infrastructure is to make it very inclusive and not intimidating for people just starting out. The more people we can get on bikes, and stay on bikes because they feel comfortable biking in this city, the better. And I think the circle does that.

Huey Lewis
Guest
Huey Lewis

This is super cute and seems like a very crucial piece of infrastructure. Division, Powell and Holgate, east of 205, just naming the big streets I walk/jog/ride on and across, could use some better street lighting and sidewalks. No rush though.

BLin
Guest
BLin

A $1 million solution to a $100 problem? Why loose 5 parking spaces when you can take away 10??

B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

My head now hurts from slamming it on my desk. PBoT is getting ridiculous with these sort of things. Either they have no knowledge regarding how bikes actually work or they are actively trying to make things as bad as possible.

I guess a third alternative is that most of the people at PBoT were once competent, but after sitting in meetings and being exposed to so much head-slamming awfulness, they damaged their brains on their desks and this is what they now spit out.

Just for future reference: don’t create obstacle courses at/near intersections.

J_R
Guest
J_R

I’d much rather that PBOT had come up with a cheap solution here and spent money on signals or rapid flash beacons at three or four locations where greenways cross arterial streets. No doubt some PBOT staffers will attend conferences to present photos of this amazing new infrastructure solution, thus adding to the total price tag.

FRED TRAMPLER
Guest
FRED TRAMPLER

HOLY MOLY FRED CANT WAIT TO RIP THAT CIRCLE TRACK ON HIS DERESTRICTED ETRIKE BETCHA THE TRAMPLEMAN CAN DO A PEEL OUT DONUT DRIFT N TURN THAT GREEN CIRCLE BLACK BEFORE HE DRAIN HALF THE LITHIUM ION BATTERY PACK U BETCHA

Andrew Kreps
Guest
Andrew Kreps

I’ve been riding through that intersection for over 10 years now and the only word I can think of to describe it is: overengineered.

soren
Guest
soren

slowing people cycling down prior to crossing Milwaukee makes complete sense. the north bound portion also worked well and i was able to ride it a decent speed without seeming unsafe. the roundabout seemed like an effective calming strategy and is less jarring than rumble strips or bumps. my only quibble was that the protected areas felt a bit too narrow. people who use trikes, family bikes, or cargo bikes may feel a bit stressed. i’m also not sure whether one of those b-line cargo bikes could use this facility effectively. pbot should consider the fact that we will have larger pedal cycles on the road as e-cycling takes off.

for those who are complaining about being slowed down, no one is forcing anyone in portland to use bike infrastructure. if you are some macho/macha bike enthusiast you can always simply ride in the lane adjacent to this facility.

Toby Keith
Guest
Toby Keith

Good grief. I live a block away from a street that doesn’t even have sidewalks yet we’ve got money to blow on concrete and green paint for something as silly as this.

Jason H
Guest
Jason H

Interesting with some non-sensical features. The huge pads of concrete need some planters and benches to make it more of an inviting plaza streetscape, and that raised central curb and directional signs needs to go away immediately, it does nothing to protect anyone from anything (the irony given all the bike lanes that need raised curbs to safely separate them from motorists), and just forms a dangerous obstacle to anyone who doesn’t perfectly navigate the green paint zone. Put directionally correct bike stencils on two sides of the roundabout and then do a textured but flat central circle that can be ridden across to filter through safely. Sheesh, not that hard PBOT.

mark
Guest
mark

soren
this is a legal mid-block crosswalk and people biking at or near pedestrian speeds have the same legal right to cross as pedestrians.Recommended 0

…only when people biking use the all-white crosswalk.

Kittens
Subscriber
Kittens

Wow. Just… wow.

X
Guest
X

Damn. I blame myself. Mandatory attendance at Bicycle Advisory Committee meetings at all future dates. You can’t lay on the tracks if you don’t know the train is coming.

PBOT: can we have a “links course” approach to these things in the future? Like, some hard things on the margin, with signs and shiny paint so MV operators don’t hurt themselves and others, and an interior featuring large radius turns negotiable at 10 mph by a person with modest bike handling skills. Soft stuff here and there. SLIGHT changes in width/radius/camber to cue speed reduction. For dogsake, no curbs in the little corners!

Wiki design anyone?

Bike people of Portland: what’s the minimum inside radius for a bike circle?

doug B
Guest
doug B

I have yet to ride it, BUT I like it because it slows down car traffic on Milwaukie.

mark smith
Guest
mark smith

Would they do this in Copenhagen?

JJJ
Guest
JJJ

How to maximize empty concrete space in 2 easy steps!

What could have been a great location for a pocket park is now a stupid gimmick

Ted Buehler
Guest
Ted Buehler

BTW, the story line says this is a “Sellwood Neighborhood Greenway” But the actual location is at the north end of the Westmorland Neighborhood, where the 3 connections between Westmorland and Brooklyn come together in an hourglass — SE 17th, Milwaukee Ave, and Highway 99.

This traffic circle is an east-west connection that is a spur of the 19th Ave Greenway, running a couple blocks from SE 17th on the east to the connecting trail to the Springwater on the Willamette trail on the west. So it would be used by people in Westmorland and Brooklyn accessing the Springwater on the Willamette trail.

I can’t find a SE 19th Ave Greenway map online, just a project description with a list of intersections. https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/75551

Aside from the questionable merits of the traffic circle, this creates a very nice plaza in what was a jumbo triangular intersection, and creates a much improved route to get to/from the Springwater on the Willamette trail.

Ted Buehler

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

So narrow! Someone is going to get hurt here, maybe hitting a pole.

Sure did get the bikes moved out of the way of the cars though! Oh wait, was this a “bike project”?

BradWagon
Subscriber

How do you continue riding north on Milwaukie? Move out into lane and bypass altogether? Maybe sharp left after and then right from Mitchell back onto Milwaukie?

X
Guest
X

What happened to our bunnyhop advocate? Lost in moderation no doubt.

Xoe
Guest
Xoe

Ted Buehler
Correction: Seattle-Copenhagen is $350 round trip on Icelandic Air, not $400. For anytime in November or next spring. No excuse for folks with an interest in seeing “how they do it in Copenhagen” for not hopping over there for a week at some point to see for yourselves.

Comments like this are why people say only the rich benefit from bike infrastructure.