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At neighborhood meeting, PBOT explains why they’re making it harder to drive

Posted by on September 13th, 2018 at 12:05 pm

PBOT Project Manager Scott Cohen explained the design to Kenton residents at a meeting last night.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Can we just stop beating around the bush for a second and talk about what the City of Portland Bureau of Transportation is doing to our streets?

From Southeast Foster to St. Johns, they are slowly but surely redesigning roads citywide so there’s less space for driving cars and trucks. In addition, they’re also intentionally making it harder and less efficient to drive. This is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it’s worth a huge celebration. If we want to make good on our potential as a great city we must move aggressively beyond the driving-alone status quo.

While it’s fun to observe PBOT’s progress from an advocacy, political, and bureaucratic perspective, I often find neighborhood meetings are the most fascinating window into the sausage-making process.

Last night I attended the Kenton Neighborhood Association meeting to learn the latest on a paving project on North Denver Avenue that will include a parking protected lane for cycling. While there, I heard an exchange between a PBOT staffer and a leader of the neighborhood association that I feel is worth sharing.

First, some background. PBOT proposed the project back in March as part of a scheduled repaving. It was supposed to be completed this summer; but PBOT now says it won’t get done until May 2019.

The initially proposed design on this short stretch of Denver (Kenton’s commercial main street) between Lombard and Watts would be similar to what PBOT just completed on Rosa Parks. Bicycle users would have a new, wider curbside lane protected from other traffic by a buffer and/or parked cars. Instead of weaving around parked cars, bicycle users would get a direct and predictable path — and it would be the auto users who would have to swerve to avoid the cars (more on that below).

Option 1 for Denver Ave is a direct, curbside lane for cycling protected by a buffer and parked cars.

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Option 2, created in response to neighborhood concerns, provides less protection and requires bicycle users to swerve around parked cars.

As I mentioned in our story last week, PBOT hit pause on the project after hearing pushback from some residents. Newly-hired PBOT Project Manager Geren Shankar has mentioned several concerns that cropped up: Confusion over where to place trash cans, how the design might impact traffic, and complaints about inadequate public outreach.

At last night’s meeting, Shankar made it clear he wanted progress. “I wasn’t here then. I’m here now. And I’m trying to push the project forward.”

Shankar shared the new design that will keep auto parking on the curb and will put the bike lane adjacent to auto users with only a painted buffer between them. The initial design is also still on the table. (Note: Both options will result in fewer parking spaces; 66 fewer spaces for option 1, 35 for option 2.) Shankar said PBOT will decided on which option to build based in large part on community feedback. There’s an online survey and an open house set for October 2nd (at Kenton Firehouse) where people will get to vote on the options.

Now, about that exchange.

It was between PBOT Project Manager Scott Cohen and the Kenton Neighborhood Association Treasurer Angela Moos (who was leading the meeting in place of the absent chair). It started when Moos expressed her feelings about the initially proposed design from the perspective of a car driver:

The red (biking) line is straight. The yellow (driving) line is not.

Moos: “I would really suggest that you ask people to go down and drive Rosa Parks to get a really good feeling of how this outside-inside parking works. Because my personal opinion of that is a disaster. You’re weaving all around. It’s not a straight street anymore and it’s very easy for someone to drive right into the back of a parked car.”

Cohen: “Well, I was the project manager. There’s a reason it’s not straight. We heard from the community around Rosa Parks that they were concerned about speeds. We have data that shows the speeds are really high… 38 mph approaching Willamette Blvd is a significant hazard. The community said, ‘Help us with speed,’ so we lowered the speed limit. We couldn’t put speed bumps on it because it’s a major emergency response route. So, another thing we can do is, instead of having something that’s a wide open field for people to drive on, you can narrow the field and make them react. We’ve done this on Sandy Blvd also, where there’s kind of a natural weave to the road that keeps people paying attention so it’s not a highway. Because Rosa Parks is not a highway, it’s a neighborhood street. So, we did that with the intention of what we wanted to get out of the street — which was to give it more of a neighborhood feel so people would slow down.”

Moos: “Well it’s very dangerous. More dangerous than it was.”

Cohen: “We also have lots of data that shows protected bike lanes are much safer for all users.”

Moos: “…safer for bikers, but for people driving cars it’s hazardous.”

Cohen: “It’s safer for people to drive and walk too.”

This is PBOT not flinching when called on to defend their work. This is PBOT reclaiming our neighborhood streets from unfettered auto use. This is the PBOT we need to pull off big initiatives like Central City in Motion (and you might have noticed a similarly confident tone from a PBOT staffer in our story yesterday).

This was nowhere near the first time I’ve seen PBOT staff successfully rebut driving-centric perspectives at a neighborhood meeting; but it never gets old.

— 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

51 Comments
  • Mark September 13, 2018 at 12:20 pm

    I’ve met that Scott guy before, he’s great!

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  • bicylist Mama Carie September 13, 2018 at 12:26 pm

    I wish the city would have paid the engineers to just sit at their desks. N. Rosa Parks Way is going to get me and my kids hit on our bikes. The 44 stop at N. Albina Ave. & N. Rosa Parks blocks the view of the cross walk, cars take the car lane to turn r right,and not wait for the bus to re-enter the land, it’s dangerous. The flow of traffic- having cars go ahead in the lane of traffic to turn right looks correct, but, if folks are biking or walking through the crosswalk, cars are slamming on the brakes to avoid hitting them. Yes, it’s happened to me and also me& kids. In my car I was doing what I just described and luckily no one was in the cross walk. As a car driver in that intersection, I will wait to turn. FAIL, huge Vision Zero FAIL.

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    • bikeninja September 13, 2018 at 3:11 pm

      I rode Rosa Parks from Williams to Denver last near the end of rush hour for the first time since the rebuild and I was prepared to dislike it from what I had read but instead I liked it. As someone who did not like Rosa Parks before and rode Ainsworth instead this was a big improvement and I will be riding on it in the future.

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    • PDXCyclist September 13, 2018 at 5:22 pm

      I haven’t had this experience at all as a bicyclist. I feel much safer. There’s one pedestrian crossing i am thinking of that needs the tree trimmed because you don’t see the person before they step into the bike path. But even then, they’re in the bike path not travel lane. I’ve ridden it from start to finish (at Willammette). Guess we have had different experiences but it has been very positive for me

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    • Middle of The Road Guy September 14, 2018 at 8:09 am

      I live nearby that intersection and have not had those experiences either in a car or on my bike.

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  • John Lascurettes September 13, 2018 at 12:28 pm

    Glad to see PBOT growing a spine.

    What’s interesting reading between the lines on the comments by Moos saying it’s “more dangerous” for drivers is that they’re ignoring completely the relative danger VRUs face every single day at the hands of those very same drivers. That whole dismissive comment of “safer for bikers, but not cars” is super telling.

    Cars have crumple zones, seat belts, airbags, anti-lock brakes, and all kinds of other safety devices to protect the occupants (but very little to protect those outside the vehicle). The only thing that is “more dangerous” for drivers in this configuration is the damage done to the pocketbooks of inattentive or aggressive drivers. This is the fact that Moos cannot admit to herself.

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    • Zaphod September 13, 2018 at 6:52 pm

      So well spoken. And in addition to this rock-solid logic, I’d like to add how making driver’s have to pay attention by forcing curves to follow the road will naturally drop speeds. It’s called traffic calming – a tried and true approach, even if many Americans are wholly unaware of this notion.

      And let’s get real for a moment. It’s not a real challenge at all to drive these sections. It’s just requires slightly more mental involvement than being semi-comatose listening to music and considering what’s for dinner as you might while driving in a monotonous straight line. I do think a cleaner and consistent fog line would be of value though.

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  • B. Carfree September 13, 2018 at 12:37 pm

    A street with enough action to warrant two-way left turn lanes is a street where hiding the cyclists behind a barrier of parked cars pretty much guarantees left-crosses. Of course we’ll also see an increase in right-hooks. If we continue to not enforce any laws with respect to motorists, I suspect we’ll see many people park well into the bike lane such that people on bikes get to enjoy the lakes that form in the gutter and get doored.

    Needless to say, I see the risk of overtaking traffic striking me or my granddaughters who ride with me as far less than the risk of being doored or having something go wrong at an intersection. I don’t see decreasing the risk mid-block as a good trade-off for the increased intersection risks that are introduced.

    Should we actually get out of our cycling rut, this is the sort of implementation that will have to be removed in order to make room for increased numbers of people on bikes. Sadly, it’s also the sort of implementation that’s likely to keep people in their cars, since it just screams the fear messaging that is so harmful.

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    • 2WheelsGood September 13, 2018 at 2:29 pm

      I agree.

      This solution decreases a minor threat while significantly increasing the real danger.

      I hadn’t thought about the fear messaging, but I agree with that too. Now that I think about it more, it also sends the message to drivers that bikes don’t belong on roads. That won’t make bikes look attractive compared to cars.

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  • Evan Manvel September 13, 2018 at 12:52 pm

    When you say “successfully rebut”

    … was Moos convinced?
    Did she change her mind?

    What I’m trying to say is this isn’t a debate that’s scored by judges. It’s a community conversation that is “scored” by community members and their opinions.

    Often data, even mountains of them, aren’t what change people’s minds.

    Can you tell us more about Moos’ response or opinions post-meeting?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) September 13, 2018 at 1:15 pm

      Hi Evan,
      Thanks for calling my attention to this. Why do you assume I’m a “judge” and not a “community member”?

      In my opinion, Cohen succeeded because he gave an honest, confident and reasonable response and he defended the upstart/minority use (cycling/walking) against the powerful/dominant use (driving).

      I don’t think whether or not Moos’ mind was changed is the only measure of success here. All the people in that room heard a PBOT staffer who didn’t back down and who stood up for the broader vision and goals. She didn’t really have much of a response publicly beyond what I reported above. I didn’t talk to her after the meeting.

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      • Evan Manvel September 13, 2018 at 2:04 pm

        Sorry I wasn’t clear. I wasn’t trying to say you were a judge.

        I was trying to distinguish between:

        (a) “successfully rebut” meaning someone providing well-researched data and well-reasoned arguments, which might traditionally win high school debate tournaments, and gives people a thrill when they do it in online comments, and

        (b) “successfully rebut” meaning changing someone’s mind.

        I’ve grown a lot more interested in how we do (b) over the years.

        I appreciate that you noted in your response that the minds being changed and/or convinced go well beyond Moos’, and that it’s possible to be laying the groundwork of credibility for future projects by responding to concerns with convincing arguments and clear communication. There is – and I think this is what you emphasize in the article – real value in pushing back against unfounded concerns from people in the traditionally power-dominant position of drivers.

        This isn’t, after all, a one-time conversation, but an ongoing discussion among community members.

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  • Jason VH September 13, 2018 at 1:03 pm

    I don’t want to rely on faded paint to keep a distracted driver from plowing into us. I want concrete. I want dividers.

    That might actually make getting around on a bike to feel safe in this town. Which would increase the number of cyclists, and generally make life better for everyone. Why do they keep insisting on paint again? Can we get some special car resistant paint at least?

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    • Buzz September 13, 2018 at 6:26 pm

      Hardscape is a much bigger hazard to cyclists than it is to motorists, and as a cyclist I think it’s foolish to be asking for even more of it.

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      • Julie Hammond September 16, 2018 at 1:44 am

        Can you explain how this is the case? For the last three years I’ve been living between Vancouver, BC, where most of my rides are on barrier protected or separated bike paths, and Portland, where my rides are on paint-only bike lanes, and without a doubt my rides in Vancouver are safer and more relaxing. It’s a shock to my nervous system each time I return to Portland and have to navigate riding alongside traffic without something between me and moving cars.

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        • soren September 16, 2018 at 9:29 am

          if all the bike infrastructure in portland suddenly disintegrated into dust, many of those who post on bike portland would still ride as much as they do today.

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          • emerson September 16, 2018 at 11:39 am

            But we want to expand the number of people biking, right? We don’t want to build a biking city for the minority of people who will bike “ no matter what.”

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  • Jessica Roberts
    Jessica Roberts September 13, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    Love this project. It has totally transformed how I feel about the street, especially when I’m biking my son to school at Chief Joseph. It’s so much calmer and clearer. I’m really grateful to PBOT for persevering.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) September 13, 2018 at 1:11 pm

      Hi Jessica! I agree. It’s a profound difference IMO to not have to swerve around parked cars. The directness and the added width/buffer/protection on Rosa Parks has made a huge change in my stress level and Everett (7) and I take it every morning, riding side-by-side and talking most of the time. I really hope PBOT does the right thing and keeps the original design for Denver.

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  • matt savage September 13, 2018 at 1:11 pm

    ugh, no…not on denver… cyclists are already incredibly vulnerable to right hooks going north. now if they’re hiding behind cars in a “protected lane” its going to be even more difficult to see them as you try to turn right. going north, its very easy to hit 25-30mph on a bike cause its downhill. I live on the corner of terry and denver, i ride and drive everyday, this is not the proper solution for that stretch of denver.

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  • Jason September 13, 2018 at 1:17 pm

    I’m a real oddity in that I love biking ( I moved to Portland in the 90s because of the ability to bike easily), but I’m also disabled. It takes a lot for me to walk any decent distance. So the new Rosa Parks protected lanes are cool, but they took away some parking spots in front of our favorite burrito spot (and coffee on the weekends). It was already a crap shoot to park there before this was in place. Now it’s worse. That’s great news for when I can bike, but it’s not all that often that I can. It concerns me that some of this thinking is too narrow in scope.

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    • turnips September 13, 2018 at 1:37 pm

      I personally would be in favor of dramatically decreasing the total parking available in the city, but increasing accessible parking. a friend has trouble finding spots where he can deploy the ramp to get out of his van even in districts with a whole lot of parking.

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    • Chris I September 13, 2018 at 4:17 pm

      Is it reasonable to expect that you can park directly in front of the business you are visiting? How much are you paying to store your car there while you eat your burrito?

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      • B. Carfree September 13, 2018 at 11:29 pm

        I think it’s reasonable for a person with a disability to expect to be able to park right in front of a store/burrito place. People without disabilities should have much, much longer walks from parking to destination (in my fantasy world).

        Maybe my view is skewed. I can ride all day and into the night (though I often start in the dark and ride into the day), but until I can only walk a mile or so. My wife can also ride all day and night, but can’t walk a block because she needs a hip replacement that she is putting off. Fortunately, we aren’t so bad off that we need to use cars to get around (lucky and well chosen home location), but I think I understand what those who do need them go through. In fact, most of the little driving I do is to chauffeur a disabled friend to doctor’s appointments and surgeries.

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      • 2WheelsGood September 14, 2018 at 5:15 am

        Most people think it is. One major advantage of biking is that parking is much more convenient than for motorists. I rarely go to businesses where that is not true.

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      • Tim September 14, 2018 at 2:14 pm

        Um, is it reasonable to expect that you can park your bike directly……..How much are you paying to store your bicycle there?

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        • Dan A September 14, 2018 at 2:35 pm

          I would gladly pay for secure storage.

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  • nuovorecord September 13, 2018 at 1:24 pm

    Atta boy, Scott! It’s great to see a public official telling it like it is!

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  • turnips September 13, 2018 at 1:30 pm

    perhaps relevant to the conversation: did anybody else get the e-mail from PBOT about crosswalk setbacks for parking? the illustration and verbiage are ambiguous about where this will be applied.

    to those concerned about crossing intersections with parking-protected bike lanes: would this improve things?

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  • maxD September 13, 2018 at 1:39 pm

    turnips, I got the notice about parking setbacks. If they applied this along greenways and on streets with parking protected bike lanes, I believe it would be a gamechanger in favor of making riding a bike more safe and comfortable

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  • Noah Brimhall September 13, 2018 at 2:00 pm

    I’ve heard Scott Cohen talk about the Rosa Parks project a number of times at Piedmont Neighborhood meetings (where I’m the board chair for full disclosure) and although I’ve heard him it explain it a number of times, he never mentioned the idea that the meandering path for car traffic was an intentional design to slow car speeds and make the corridor safer. Now, I’ve been reading this blog and others on this topic for long enough that I immediately suspect that this was one of the intentions of the design and I expressed this to folks complaining about the design a number of times.

    While I’m happy that Mr. Cohen is talking about this design choice and its effect on safety now, I think that by not putting this out as one of the primary reasons early in the Rosa Parks (and Denver) redesign process lead a lot of neighbors to assume stupidity for the meandering path for car traffic. I suspect that PBOT is worried that people wouldn’t buy their explanation, but I think that presenting this design reasoning along with evidence that it makes streets safer for all road users would go a long way to convincing the skeptical public that PBOT has good intentions.

    Finally, for all the complaints about the Rosa Parks redesign, I’m convinced that in 6 months we’ll look back at this project as a success. Sure the roll-out wasn’t smooth, but the design is sound and I believe it will make us all safer.

    (Note: the views above are mine alone and don’t reflect the views of the Piedmont Neighborhood Association Board)

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    • PDXCyclist September 13, 2018 at 5:26 pm

      I think this style is called “chicanes” (or google “chicanes road design”). Something new I learned today!

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    • Momo September 13, 2018 at 5:43 pm

      This is a fair point. “Chicanes” (lanes that weave side to side) are a tried-and-true, proven method of traffic calming a street, lowering speeds and forcing drivers to pay attention rather than go into auto-pilot. But it’s counter-intuitive…drivers often feel like it’s “confusing” and “dangerous” when it’s actually the confusion that makes it less dangerous by increasing awareness. It would be good for public outreach around projects like this to include more explanation of chicanes and why/how they work.

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  • John Liu September 13, 2018 at 2:22 pm

    I would personally say PBOT is “intentionally making it harder and less efficient to speed” instead of “intentionally making it harder and less efficient to drive”. I think that more accurately conveys what this sort of roadway does.

    I also disagree that there is a zero-sum game between drivers vs cyclists/pedestrians. High crash corridors are more dangerous for everyone: drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. Calmed roads are safer for every type of user and ultimately better for everyone except speeders.

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    • q September 13, 2018 at 8:54 pm

      Yes. I’m often finding that streets that have been improved for better biking and walking also work better for me while I’m driving. Same goes for streets whose speed limits have been cut. And while speeding by drivers seems to get cut, it doesn’t seem like getting from one place to another really takes any longer.

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  • Edward September 13, 2018 at 3:36 pm

    When the driver(s) say, “Well it’s very dangerous. More dangerous than it was”

    I would say, “I’m so glad you feel that way! That’s wonderful! Thank you! Making car drivers perceive danger and feel like it is dangerous causes them to slow down, which actually makes it safer. We no longer prioritize the ease and comfort of the driving experience over human life.”

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    • John Lascurettes September 13, 2018 at 3:40 pm

      This this this. It’s only “more dangerous” if they’re inattentive or aggressive — neither of which should be that state of any driver.

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    • 9watts September 13, 2018 at 6:25 pm

      Yes! This!
      But, following on John’s point, how do we communicate this (subtlety) to those unwilling to appreciate it?

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    • El Biciclero September 15, 2018 at 9:43 am

      Yes! The “danger” only arises when people driving aren’t paying attention. The assumption is that drivers “just can’t” pay attention all the time, therefore we need wide roads (so they can “drift” sideways once in a while), straight roads (so they don’t have to watch where the road is going)—both of which encourage fast driving—and others have to take “personal responsibility” to get and stay out of the way. It is as though some people think drivers have no agency over how their cars behave.

      Also, as was mentioned earlier, “danger” for a driver usually means “I might damage my car”, whereas “danger” for a VRU means “I will likely be seriously injured or killed”. It’s a completely different mindset that takes great effort to overcome for some people.

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  • Phil Richman September 13, 2018 at 4:04 pm

    In order to limit the amount of right and left turn hook risk my understanding is they are pulling parking away from intersections so that people are not hidden behind parked cars. It is why so many of these projects end up with on-street parking loss. Let PBOT know they can inform the public that rights of way should be reserved for the movement of people and goods and not for private property storage. I’ve ridden and driven Rosa Parks a handful of times and it feels much safer than it did. Nice work PBOT!

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    • Phil Richman September 14, 2018 at 8:16 am

      Here is a link to the new guidelines.
      https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/697596
      My suggestion to any person concerned about hooks or sideswipes to call the 503-823-SAFE number to express your concerns. I suspect action will be more readily taken if removing parking complies with the new guidelines and the status quo does not. Having been almost sideswiped on the Going Greenway this Summer I suspect parking setbacks adjacent to Greenways need to be reevaluated. My near miss was definitely impacted by lack of vision clearance. Again, call 823-SAFE to express your concerns.

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      • Johnny Bye Carter September 15, 2018 at 2:08 pm

        “In Oregon, state law allows cities to set their own regulations regarding intersection approaches.”

        So wait, is this why Portland signs parking up to the crosswalk in violation of ORS 811.550(17)? They’re allowed to override state law with signs?

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  • Jillian Detweiler September 13, 2018 at 4:24 pm

    It’s easier for PBOT to make these moves when advocates for walking, biking and transit are in the house. Join us on September 18 to call for a permanent Better Naito. Meet at Salmon Street Springs at 5. Ride Better Naito at 5:30 and continue on over the Hawthorne Bridge to the Central City in Motion open house at OMSI.

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  • Matt September 13, 2018 at 5:22 pm

    Headline: “NIMBY Feels Endangered By Parked Cars”

    Isn’t hitting parked cars the classic example of somebody who shouldn’t be driving in the first place?

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  • Zaphod September 13, 2018 at 7:02 pm

    I generally love the new design but I’ve had long dialog with my kids about how you need to be extremely aware on the sections that pop you (the cyclist) out from the parked cars to cross intersections. I’m teaching them to look over their left shoulder and, if the cars are tall, to enter the section in high-focus, high-skill mode, ready to brake or possibly make an abrupt right turn to prevent hitting a car who would otherwise right hook. I know we *have* *right* *of* *way* and it frustrates me to teach a way to ride that defers such rights. But I need my kids to be safe.

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  • Steve September 14, 2018 at 12:27 am

    I regularly ride the Rosa Parks stretch from MLK to N Delaware with my 7-year-old son to and from school, including during “rush hour” in the mornings. I feel that the new improvements, while not perfect, are a huge improvement compared to what they were before the re-paving and re-striping project in regards to safety and overall riding experience. Just last week my son spontaneously told me during our commute that “this new bike lane is much nicer because it is a lot wider and we aren’t riding right next to as many cars going fast.”

    Based on this experience, I will take the concerns of potentially increased right hooks that come with a parking-protected lane over riding right next to high volumes of traffic while only being separated by a couple of feet of paint stripes any day.

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  • Bald One September 14, 2018 at 10:05 am

    What is with Option 2? Why does the bike lane need to suddenly swerve into the gutter? I think the characterization that “bikes have to suddenly swerve around parked cars” is a bit mis-leading, since it appears from Option 2 that the bike lane is deliberately swerved into the gutter from it’s natural path away from the curb for some reason that looks dubious or chicane-like. I guess from this discussion it might be to intentionally slow bikes down and put the bike path directly into a raised curb at a crosswalk.

    Why don’t they just put a gate across the bike path, so you have to dismount and cross on foot?

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  • Johnny Bye Carter September 15, 2018 at 2:11 pm

    I would choose Option 1 because it keeps cars parked away from the intersection and crosswalks per ORS 811.550(17). Yes, it reduces the amount of parking, because it’s safer.

    Also, loss of parking is a red herring as everybody on the street has a driveway to store their property.

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    • q September 15, 2018 at 2:43 pm

      Even if it’s true that everyone has a driveway, there are plenty of reasons why people who are not building occupants or visitors park on streets, so it’s not a red herring. I’m not saying the on-street parking is sacred, or shouldn’ t be removed, just that it’s a legitimate concern.

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