Special gravel coverage

Slippery bikeway striping on Williams Ave causes multiple crashes

Posted by on October 25th, 2018 at 10:01 am

One of the many victims of slippery striping on N Williams Ave.
(Photo via Nextdoor)

In the past two days dozens of people have wiped out while bicycling on Williams due to slippery new lane striping that was recently installed after a repaving project.

We started getting reports via email and on social media on Tuesday. The more we asked for your feedback about the problem, the more crashes we heard about.

Here’s just a sampling:

Courtney: Yep! My back wheel slipped yesterday during evening commute. I barely stayed upright and a rider a couple bikes ahead of me slid out. I didn’t see anything else in the road that could’ve caused a skid besides the paint.

Billy: Yep. Last night. Bad crash… I’ve been a bike commuter for 15 years and last night’s incident was the strangest thing. It was like my front wheel was suddenly on ice. I walked the rest of the way home and told my fiancé that it was like I had forgotten how to ride a bike.

Christopher: I saw a cyclist wipe out right there last night during rush hour. Another took a skid trying to dodge the downed cyclist.

Lindsey: I saw 3 cyclists wipe out last night due to the wet striping.

Nathan: I slipped out in wet conditions making the turn from Williams onto failing yesterday.

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Commissioner Eudaly’s office responded quickly.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

The Street Trust Executive Director Jillian Detweiler also saw someone crash on the striping Tuesday night. She then heard about several other incidents. Detweiler said she contacted PBOT and spoke to a maintenance dispatcher. “Then I called Commissioner Eudaly’s office,” she shared with me via email this morning. “We agreed something needed to be done immediately. He got back to me within 30 minutes to say that a reader board was in place and crews would be out at 3 a.m. to fix it. I asked him to get back to me today on whether the work was successful. I haven’t heard from him yet.”

Crews working on the striping this morning.
(Photo: Nextdoor)

An electronic reader board flashing: “Caution: Pavement Markings Slippery,” was in place at the corner of Williams and Beech by yesterday’s evening commute.

I reached out to PBOT this morning to get the latest. Here’s how agency spokesperson Dylan Rivera explained it:

“Our crews were using a new device to mix the thermoplastic. The grit was not adjusted properly, so it was slicker than normal when they placed it on N Williams Ave… It should be fixed this morning, with a new layer that has more grit, to provide better traction.”

Rivera then followed up to say PBOT crews were making the fixes early this morning (before the morning rush) between Beech and Skidmore, the area where most of the wipeouts were reported. “The remainder should be fixed by this afternoon, before the evening commute starts.”

With rain in the forecast, we’ll know very soon if the fix works or not. If it’s still too slippery and/or if you or someone else slips on it, please contact PBOT at (503) 823-1700 or email PDXroads@portlandoregon.gov.

(Fun historical aside: Back in 2005 we reported on a slippery striping incident that led to a change in ODOT policy.)

— 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

  • Steve October 25, 2018 at 10:06 am

    Thanks PBOT, for getting right on this.

    Recommended Thumb up 39

  • 9watts October 25, 2018 at 10:21 am


    Recommended Thumb up 22

    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty October 25, 2018 at 12:22 pm

      I agree. Thank you PBOT for taking care of this issue so quickly.

      Recommended Thumb up 7

  • mh October 25, 2018 at 10:34 am


    I had a lesser experience with this years ago when the bike boxes were first painted on SE Clinton at Chavez. My foot slipped as soon as I put it on the ground. PBOT got on that one quickly, and I’ve not suffered or heard of another until this latest. Sounds like they really need to test each mix before they lay it on road surface.

    Recommended Thumb up 7

  • Schrauf October 25, 2018 at 10:53 am

    A separate good reminder is that new asphalt in general can be more slippery when wet. It’s made from crude oil, and although I don’t think what we think of as liquid “oil” is a component of asphalt, it can still get a sheen on it’s surface that that doesn’t do much for grip.

    And of course any road surface can be very slick when wet after the first rain in a long time due to oils from various sources. Fortunately we are beyond that for the season.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Tom October 25, 2018 at 11:09 am

    Is there any surface texture testing done for new stripping? Seems like QA is missing. What would be the downside of adding extra grit just for more margin? Is it just cost?

    Recommended Thumb up 4

  • Jason H October 25, 2018 at 12:32 pm

    Seems like the grit should be evenly mixed into the thermoplastic to accommodate for wear as PBOT admired they did not do. Now with just a surface treatment and people driving over it all winter (lots with totally unnecessary studded tires) by spring rains it’ll probably be worn through and be just as slippery again. Mental note to take care and think of Williams having imaginary tram tracks on it from now on.

    Recommended Thumb up 7

  • Joe October 25, 2018 at 1:16 pm

    yikes that section just got tad more wild.. agh

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Lester Burnham October 25, 2018 at 1:16 pm

    Come on PBOT…ever hear of quality control? No problem, tax payers pay twice!

    Recommended Thumb up 8

  • Blair October 25, 2018 at 2:11 pm

    This happened to a riding buddy in Hillsboro a couple years ago. When they don’t get the grit mixed in it is crazy slippery. I hit it and was lucky to stay upright – it was pure luck – but folks in the group behind ours weren’t so fortunate.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Kevin October 25, 2018 at 2:17 pm

    This happened to me on Tuesday. Was going up Williams and turning on Going. Bike came out from underneath me and came down hard on my shoulder.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Daniel S October 25, 2018 at 3:00 pm

    I went down on Williams on Tuesday. Got a bad scrape on my knee and elbow. Glad they got right on the fix. Hope pbot comes up with a way of preventing this in the future. This is not the first occurrence of this problem.

    Recommended Thumb up 4

  • soren October 25, 2018 at 3:06 pm

    Another problem with thermoplastic is that the parts that come in contact with motorvehicle tires are polished smooth the years. I crayoned pavement at ~20 mph due to a smooth patch of wet thermoplastic on Terwilliger. Just like metal plates/grates, thermoplastic is a major cause of unnecessary bike crashes.

    Recommended Thumb up 5

  • B. Carfree October 25, 2018 at 5:33 pm

    It’s good that PBoT is fixing it’s failing and that it put out a warning unit, but who placed that thing? Seriously, there’s a piece of road furniture on the right and instead of placing the warning sign twenty-feet further up the road, they placed it so cyclists have to veer from left to right to avoid the sign and cones, right over the slippery plastic.

    Perhaps it’s time for all PBoT employees to be required to ride bikes to work so they know what the impact of their low level decisions are. I don’t think there’s malice, just ignorance.

    Recommended Thumb up 6

  • Jeff S(egundo) October 25, 2018 at 6:02 pm

    Looks to me like the reader board is adjacent to the curb, with orange cones reducing the available width of the (6’?) bike lane slightly. Can’t say I see the problem.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Moto Metal October 25, 2018 at 6:07 pm

    A separate good reminder is that new asphalt in general can be more slippery when wet. It’s made from crude oil, and although I don’t think what we think of as liquid “oil” is a component of asphalt, it can still get a sheen on it’s surface that that doesn’t do much for grip.And of course any road surface can be very slick when wet after the first rain in a long time due to oils from various sources. Fortunately we are beyond that for the season.Recommended 3

    Same impression here. You certainly do not brake hard over these lanes and new asphalt.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Kate October 25, 2018 at 7:12 pm

    I’m so glad to find out I wasn’t going crazy! I almost ate it a few times on Tuesdays, and I even got off to see if there was something wrong with my wheel. I’ve been riding on tenter hooks since then—glad to know I wasn’t losing it!

    Recommended Thumb up 4

  • Buzz October 25, 2018 at 10:09 pm

    Thermoplastic sucks, we wouldn’t need it if it wasn’t for the studded tires. If it’s not slippery, it’s three layers thick and a rude speed bump if you’re not expecting it.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Carl October 26, 2018 at 6:33 am

    Maybe Portland really HAS lost its grit…

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Paul October 26, 2018 at 3:24 pm

    With worldwide microplastics environmental contamination in the news lately, I’m wondering if there isn’t a better and safer solution than thermoplastic roadway markings? Something like concrete, perhaps?

    Recommended Thumb up 4

  • Johnny Bye Carter October 28, 2018 at 9:40 pm

    Are we really still in the testing phase for bicycles as transportation? That’s the only reason I can think of not to use colored road materials instead of just painting the top of the road and having it wear off.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Olivia Marshall October 31, 2018 at 10:44 am

    My back tire went out because of this last night on Williams! Luckily no injury resulted, but the near-miss was caused by the diagonal stripping of the buffer between the parked cars and bike lane on Williams & Beech.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Darren O’Donnell November 11, 2018 at 10:35 am

    This just happened to me early this morning right after the Going St Market. Felt just like hitting a patch of ice. I’ve sent an email to PBOT to let them know.

    Recommended Thumb up 0