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City installs plastic curbs, wands to protect bikeway at I-5 freeway on-ramp

Posted by on October 11th, 2018 at 11:31 am

Nothing like the sight of a PBOT maintenance worker installing protection on a bike lane in the morning!
(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Something great is happening as I type this: A day after the City of Portland took some heat from Bicycling Magazine about not providing enough protected cycling space, I noticed Bureau of Transportation crews installing some in my neighborhood this morning.

As part of the North Rosa Parks Way paving project, PBOT is adding plastic curbs and delineator wands in the westbound bikeway as it approaches the I-5 on-ramp at N Missouri. This is very good news!

Here’s why: Despite clear painted striping and a large caution sign, many drivers do the wrong thing and encroach into the bikeway at this corner. See it in the photo below…

This is what the curbs and wands will prevent. (And by the way, you’re breaking the law and being rude when you do this!)

As major changes have come to Rosa Parks in recent months, the volume of people who bike on it has risen substantially. This means it’s more important than ever to make sure that all users of the road respect each other’s space.

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The tendency for people to make bad decisions while driving always seems to be more pronounced at freeway approaches. Since Rosa Parks is one of the last places for people to get onto I-5 to head north into Washington, the behaviors on display at this location during the afternoon rush are extremely frustrating. PBOT has made the right decision here. Unfortunately we can’t rely on peoples’ respect for one another to dictate safe vehicle operation so it’s crucial that the design of our streets makes it easy to do the right thing.

In addition to the plastic curbs, PBOT is installing the wands one block east to N Michigan Avenue — a major north-south greenway.

PBOT Communications Director John Brady said these new protective measures were always part of the original plan for the project: “We waited for ODOT to complete the work they were doing in this location, so that we wouldn’t be in the way.”

The roll-out and completion of the Rosa Parks project has been far less than ideal. And it remains incomplete while we wait for more physical protection that’s been promised to come within the year.

Let us know what you think of this new treatment and we’ll update the post with more photos after the installation is done.

UPDATE, 10/12 at 11:16 am: Here are photos of them all installed!

— 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

25 Comments
  • B. Carfree October 11, 2018 at 12:16 pm

    I have to disagree about this being a step forward. A better way to handle this would have been to not add that second travel lane when they discontinued the parking lane. Instead, PBoT should have maintained the line of the bike lane and added a dedicated right turn lane to the right of the bike lane and done it in such a way that it is clear that motorists are merging across a lane to get to the right turn lane. That’s a reasonable place to use that abundant supply of green thermoplastic indicating a conflict zone.

    With the current situation, a cyclist who knows what she’s doing would often leave the bike lane prior to the intersection in order to minimize the probability of being right hooked. Just adding the plastic obstacles forces everyone to remain in the right-hook zone and depend on motorists behaving themselves.

    Hmm, isn’t one of the talking points for cheering on this change based on the premise that motorists won’t behave themselves? Which is it? Will they behave or won’t they? I think we need to eventually start thinking and talking about these things more clearly, free from what has become a near-religious belief that any and all implementations of separation are good things, even when they increase risk in known ways.

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    • onegearsneer October 11, 2018 at 12:25 pm

      As a regular rider (and sometimes driver) on that route including just last night, I have to say amen!

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 11, 2018 at 12:44 pm

      B. Carfree,

      I can disagree with you about design stuff without it being because of my “near-religious belief” in separation.

      I think having the right turn lane to the right of the bike lane and creating a mixing zone is much worse than the design they have now. I actually think Rosa Parks is an excellent example of how bad the California-style intersection approach idea is. When I ride on Rosa Parks I have a direct and absolutely straight line of sight and space that is 100% all mine. Except for intersections of course… Where yes, I must trust that people in cars don’t turn into me. But until we all have separate tunnels there will always be a conflict point. With protecting the bikeway all the way to the intersection, we minimize the conflict point and I know exactly where it might occur every single time. There’s no guessing and no mixing. I love that. I am fully capable of watching to make sure people don’t turn into my path. If I’m not capable of doing that, I would not be riding in that position.

      And yes, at some point I believe we must expect that people will behave properly. That becomes much easier to do when we get the design right.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty October 11, 2018 at 1:08 pm

        Merging and turning are both complex and potentially dangerous movements. Doing both simultaneously increases the likelihood of collision. You can’t eliminate conflicts, but by having vehicles cross the cycle lane prior to turning, you can make them more manageable.

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        • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 11, 2018 at 1:21 pm

          how is a merge prior to the turn “more manageable”?

          you say yourself in your comment that “merging and turning” are complex and dangerous… A mixing zone requires both. A turn at the intersection requires just one.

          and FWIW I never said we can eliminate conflicts. I simply believe that in general, mixing zones and having people merge into bikeways prior to turning right is not as good as defending the cycling space all the way up to the intersection.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty October 11, 2018 at 1:32 pm

            Doing one complex thing at a time is easier than doing two simultaneously.

            When turning, your focus is on where you are going, not what’s approaching you on the inside lane (which, in most circumstances is nothing because we rarely ask, or allow, people to turn across a lane of going-straight traffic that could be approaching, possibly at high speed, from behind in a blind spot.)

            When crossing a lane, if you are not also turning, you can spare more cognitive effort to ensuring you don’t run over someone, and it requires the same practiced steps as changing lanes does — signal, clear the right-rear, move over.

            I could be convinced by data that shows that turning across a travel lane is safer than moving first and then turning from a curb lane.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty October 11, 2018 at 2:03 pm

            I guess I should clarify that I don’t like “mixing zones” as much as crossing zones to get turning vehicles fully to the right of going straight vehicles, like what we have at SW 1st & Madison.

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      • B. Carfree October 11, 2018 at 9:26 pm

        Okay, you’re (properly) castigating me for calling your adherence to separation religious. Fair enough. Message received and I apologize. However, your following that up with calling what I described a “mixing zone” and “California-style intersection approach” is also lacking in the civility department.

        As generally understood, a mixing zone is a shared lane right up to the intersection between right turning vehicles and through cyclists. That’s quite a bit different than a bike lane that continues on its straight route, no wobble or change of course, while allowing the parking lane to become the right turn lane.

        At some point the motorists turning right, mostly to access the freeway, will have to cross over the path of the cyclists who are going straight. Do we want to keep the right-hook features at the location where everyone’s attention has the most calls and sources of distraction (intersections) or do we want to allow for that crossover to happen prior to the intersection? We can disagree without mischaracterizing each other’s position.

        Here’s the local link for what Portland calls a mixing zone: https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/421778

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    • SafeStreetsNow October 11, 2018 at 12:57 pm

      Wait, people really think mixing zones are better than separation? Really? That hasn’t even remotely been my experience. PBOT needs to burn any pages with mixing zones in their design guideline. It’s a failed design that global leaders in places like Amsterdam did away with decades ago. What we need more of is protected bike lanes with protected intersections like the one that’s going in on West Burnside near Providence Park.

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      • zach October 11, 2018 at 1:49 pm

        Most people who say that don’t even know protected intersections are an option (likely because there are so few of them here)

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty October 11, 2018 at 2:00 pm

          If they are an option, why isn’t PBOT building any?

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          • SafeStreetsNow October 11, 2018 at 2:36 pm

            I just said they’re building one on W Burnside, and it will be the best intersection design for cyclists at such a crossing (at a four lane arterial) anywhere in the city.

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      • paikiala October 12, 2018 at 10:26 am

        Summary judgments without context often miss the mark. NYC just published a study of different treatments finding good results for some forms of mixing zones.
        http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/cycling-at-a-crossroads-2018.pdf

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        • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 12, 2018 at 11:30 am

          thanks for sharing that paikiala. I was going to reply earlier that, just for the record, I agree with you that we shouldn’t see this as a binary choice. I personally think we need to mostly trust PBOT to do the right thing — mixing or separated — depending on the particular street context.

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  • maxD October 11, 2018 at 12:29 pm

    Great news! I rode this last evening and a conflict at this very location! The right hook danger will still be present because cars stopped at the light may not notice bike passing them on the right and going straight. I have learned to watch for this when passing cars in a bike lane, but people often do not use their signals and with a curb, they may not telegraph their turn via lane position either. I am not saying that I don’t appreciate the curb, because I do. I am just urging other riders to take extra care in this situation.

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  • Greg Spencer October 11, 2018 at 1:11 pm

    It looks good to me. Nothing’s perfect, but better than a mixing zone and curb-side turn lane for cars. At the end of the day, it’s nothing but paint and I feel safer with physical separation. It’s more durable than a road marking and it’s harder for driver’s to ignore. I’m pleased the city’s doing more of it.

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  • Fred October 11, 2018 at 2:38 pm

    The same issue is at SW Terwilliger and SW Barbour Blvd, traveling northbound on Terwilliger. There are many mornings where I have drivers that are turning right trying to squeeze between me and the cars traveling north. Other times i’m behind several cars lined up to turn right waiting for traffic to clear on Barbour or I hear them revving their motor and creeping up behind me as I wait for the light to change.

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  • Chaise October 11, 2018 at 3:29 pm

    While we can talk about all the ways this could be even better, I’ll happily take it after years of having to “mix” into traffic at this intersection due to cars being bumper to bumper in the bike lane. Not to say we can’t do better, but I think this is a big win compared to what it was.

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  • Danielsz October 11, 2018 at 11:11 pm

    I bike Rosa Parks westbound from Williams every day. While the freeway intersection is a point of conflict with vehicles, the intersection that really scares me is Rosa Parks and Vancouver. A similar setup with wands and tough curb is very much needed at the point where the bike lane comes out from behind the row of parked cars.

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  • Amy October 12, 2018 at 8:10 am

    How will these lanes get cleaned? When the Greeley Ave plastic curbs were installed last year I remember there being a discussion around PBOT only having 1 bike lane sized street sweeper. Has this changed?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 12, 2018 at 11:31 am

      good question Amy. I’ve never been satisfied with answers to this. As we do more of these protected lanes, i have a hunch this will become a larger and larger issue. this fall could be really messy.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 12, 2018 at 11:29 am

    as promised… UPDATE, 10/12 at 11:16 am: Here are photos of them all installed!

    [gallery link="file" columns="2" size="large" ids="290952,290954,290957,290958"]

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  • Bald One October 12, 2018 at 3:49 pm

    Right hook gutter lane.

    Correction: ” protected right hook gutter lane”.

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  • Steve B. October 12, 2018 at 4:53 pm

    I noticed today PBOT also added large yellow plastic bollards around each end of the diverters, you can see them in the last pic in Jonathan’s comment above. Presumably this is to help cut down on folks driving around them to continue going straight.

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  • Teddy October 15, 2018 at 10:45 pm

    While these are a great addition these plastic bollards are not going to last long, I just do not know a more robust solution. Someone either absentmindedly or intentionally is going to hit them.

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