Comment of the Week: Slow Skyline Boulevard down, don’t widen it

Posted by on March 1st, 2019 at 10:30 am

If drivers simply slowed down, riding on Skyline could always be this pleasant.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

We’re long overdue to put the spotlight on a great comment.

Our Comment of the Week goes to noted local activist and lawyer (and BikePortland supporter) Scott Kocher.

On Wednesday he shared insights about a road he knows very well: NW Skyline Blvd. His comment came on our story about Multnomah County’s online open house that seeks feedback on their 20 Year Road Plan. One project on that list would consider “augmenting shoulders” and possibly providing, “enhanced shoulder bikeways.”

Here’s Scott’s comment:

“I agree: slow Skyline down, don’t widen it. I met a surgeon once who lives on Skyline (and doesn’t bike) who commented to me that he figures Skyline must be “littered with dead bicyclists.” His phrase not mine, and I think it reflects a common misunderstanding. To my knowledge which goes back roughly 20 years, nobody has ever been killed cycling on Skyline. The VZ Crash Map (data from Portland to Newberry/McNamee) is consistent with that: No deaths and 4 injuries in 10 years. Nobody is texting except on the few straightaways because you’d drive off the road. Likewise if you’re driving drunk you won’t make it very far. There aren’t many intersections. The curves keep speeds much lower than on other thru routes in the area. The people who ride up there tend to be almost as fast as the vehicles (most of them, in most places), which means a relatively small speed differential. There’s poor separation but it’s a gradual approach, with more time to avoid a crash, and lesser injury if a driver did god forbid rear-end somebody. My only near miss up there in 18 years was a (near) left hook: driver coming the other way turning left into her driveway apparently didn’t see 4 riders wearing hi-viz with 500-lumen flashing daytime headlights. I’ve seen some very bad passes. I’ve seen the aftermath of roadway departure crashes. If left hooks, bad passes and roadway departures are the problem, wider shoulders won’t help. Wider shoulders might well encourage more speed, more cut-thru traffic, and more crashes.

Thanks for reading BikePortland.

Please consider a $10/month subscription or a one-time payment
to help maintain and expand this vital community resource.

If PBOT complied with the 20MPH Ordinance (Skyline is a non-arterial in a residence district) then people who want to drive fast would have to slow down, modestly increasing drive times and reducing cut-thru traffic off Hwy 30 and Hwy 26. People who live there would have a place to walk and jog and walk dogs without fear instead of being shut in. Everyone, including people who want to bike or e-bike, would receive the level of safety guaranteed to them by the the 20 MPH law and Ordinance. Which went into effect 14 months ago. How about it?”

What I like about Scott’s comment is that he uses a mix of data, direct personal experience, and calm reasoning to bolster his points. He also shares how current policy could impact the issue and paints a picture of what Skyline could be like if he got his wishes. Then Scott ends with a subtle call-to-action.

Thanks for the comment Scott.

But wait! There’s more! Here are a few other great comments that have come in recently:

— Don’t miss El Biciclero’s eloquent and though-provoking explanation of why we really don’t have any true “bikeways” in Portland.

— maxD shared several very strong points of concern about ODOT’s plans for lids over I-5 as part of their Rose Quarter project.

– Esther reminded us about the power of inclusive language.

Thank you for bucking the trend of not reading comments.

While it takes vigilance and dedication to the conversation, I believe our comment sections helps the community learn and grow together. It takes all of us working together to make them a helpful resource. Please do your part by: writing productive comments, flagging inappropriate ones (contact me directly), and nominating great ones by typing “comment of the week” as a reply.

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

Never miss a story. Sign-up for the daily BP Headlines email.

BikePortland needs your support.

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

41 Comments
  • Avatar
    Adam March 1, 2019 at 11:17 am

    Or, shock horror, you could do both.

    As a bicyclist, I always feel ***extremely*** vulnerable on roads with no shoulders. On Skyline, drivers routinely speed up to pass me before blind curves. They don’t want to crawl behind me until they are around the curve safely, so instead, the floor it. I have seen *so* many near misses from irresponsible overtaking cars almost colliding head-on with oncoming vehicles at curves in the road. The passing driver then typically wrenches the wheel back to the left to avoid a head-on collision, almost throwing me off my bike in the process.

    If you don’t want cars to encroach onto the widened shoulder, three words: ramble strip separation.

    As for the speed argument, it has merit, but reducing speed alone will change little. Who is going to enforce it? How many drivers are going to obey it? If we look at SW Naito on the stretch where Better Naito has been implemented, the speed has been reduced from 35mph to 20mph I believe? I say “I believe”, because despite what the sigange says, and despite a million cop cars on that street every day, everybody goes 35mph on that street still. I know that, because when I drive, I do too. You drive at the speed everyone around you drives.

    Signage alone is worthless, unless it is used to slap a penalty onto a driver for speeding after they’ve hit someone else Speed tables could be an option, although they encourage crossing over the center line so drivers avoid them (see NW Cornell for that in action 24/7).

    If we’ve learned anything from decades of pushing for better bicycling here in Portland, it’s that signage alone does f*** all to change driver behavior. If it did, we wouldn’t need separated bike lanes, or diverters, or speed bumps.

    I’m sorry, but Skyline needs wider shoulders.

    Recommended Thumb up 15

    • Avatar
      Dan A March 1, 2019 at 12:50 pm

      I can see the need for wider shoulders and rumble strips on the right-hand side of uphill sections, but on downhills I’m taking the lane. I can usually go about as fast as drivers traveling at or below the speed limit, I am less risk of being passed too closely, and I am far more likely to be seen by drivers pulling out onto Skyline. You do NOT want to be on the shoulder when bombing down a hill at 35-40mph and have a car pull out in front of you.

      Recommended Thumb up 14

    • Avatar
      BradWagon March 1, 2019 at 1:05 pm

      Did you even read other parts of the conversation? Wider shoulders will inherently make drivers drive faster and less cautiously around curves. You literally cannot “do both”. Either you keep the road narrow and speeds down or you widen it and then implement other ways to try and slow drivers down: speed humps which they will drive into the shoulder to avoid, rumble strips which bicyclists will have to negotiate when taking the lane and avoiding debris on the shoulder, added cost of enforcement…

      In the situation you describe about being dangerously passed I suggest moving further out into the lane when going around turns so they are not tempted to try and squeeze by you. Them doing something dangerous and illegal should not be used as a justification to cater to them even more.

      Recommended Thumb up 9

      • Avatar
        Adam March 1, 2019 at 3:07 pm

        Using that ridiculous logic, let’s remove every single bike lane in the city. After all, all they are is a wide shoulder.

        All we need to do is remove the bike lanes from Highway 30 to St Johns, E Burnside, NE Broadway, SE Division etc, and stick up a poxy “slow down” sign. Cyclists should be perfectly safe taking the lane!

        That should solve everything!

        Recommended Thumb up 6

        • Avatar
          q March 3, 2019 at 8:25 pm

          The article and the comment you responded to both mentioned the drawbacks of widening shoulders on Skyline due to its CURVES. Neither advocated against using wide shoulders in other situations. Their logic isn’t ridiculous at all on narrow, curving, non-urban Skyline or other similar streets, which are totally unlike the streets you mentioned.

          Recommended Thumb up 3

        • Avatar
          BradWagon March 4, 2019 at 10:37 am

          Ah yes, comparing Skyline, a narrow, winding, out of the way route to high volume state highways or critical urban transportation routes. Bravo.

          Recommended Thumb up 3

    • Avatar
      David Hampsten March 1, 2019 at 2:02 pm

      Actually, just the opposite is true. You need to periodically, every half mile or so, narrow the roadway even further so opposing traffic has to pull off onto a gravel shoulder to let other cars through, like an Irish or Scottish rural road. Rather than put in signals, you’d just simply add signage saying something to the effect, “road narrows next 15 miles” without specifying where it narrows, allowing for uncertainty in the minds of drivers.

      Recommended Thumb up 9

      • Avatar
        BradWagon March 4, 2019 at 10:47 am

        My thoughts exactly with making some sections of skyline a single lane to allow space for a wide bike lane on each side that drivers must yield use of to cyclists if they need to negotiate oncoming traffic.

        Recommended Thumb up 1

      • Avatar
        Holtz March 5, 2019 at 9:13 am

        That sounds like a sort of Advisory Bike Lane design that Multnomah County recently adopted as one of several toolbox items in its Transportation System Plan. Skyline may have too much traffic to be considered for an early test of such a design, though. I’ve been urging the county to try it on Springville… so any support would be welcome.
        But even if that specific design isn’t selected, I think there is support trying traffic calming designs. After all, separate from the concerns about endangering people walking or biking on Skyline, drivers are hurting themselves: single-vehicle crashes (typically flying off a curve) are the leading type of crashes on these roads.

        Recommended Thumb up 1

    • Avatar
      rick March 20, 2019 at 6:54 pm

      Let’s start with SW Skyline Blvd. It needs a sidewalk on the westside from Burnside to Barnes. It needs a combination of a stilted boardwalk and sidewalk on the uphill side from the Sylvan business offices to SW Barnes.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    El Biciclero March 1, 2019 at 11:38 am

    A street I use frequently, which looks like what Scott envisions: Hewett Blvd.

    Unlike its neighbor, Humphrey—which is more like the current Skyline with speeding drivers around blind corners—Hewett is slow, with joggers, dogs, walkers, and other cyclists usually present during my after-work traversal. Perhaps it is only so because of Humphrey, which acts as a safety valve for cut-through traffic—something Skyline doesn’t have.

    Recommended Thumb up 11

    • Avatar
      AndyK March 1, 2019 at 12:34 pm

      I agree. A big part of what makes Hewett awesome is Humphrey (the shorter faster parallel route).

      Recommended Thumb up 2

    • Avatar
      rick March 20, 2019 at 6:56 pm

      Humphrey Blvd needs the many turns to become flat. The many turns are banked like a race track.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Que March 1, 2019 at 12:02 pm

    Perfect area for a variable direction one-way single lane for cars controlled by stoplight and the other lane for bidirectional bicycle traffic, and drop the max speed for automotive traffic to 15.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Avatar
    I wear many hats March 1, 2019 at 1:01 pm

    The vista bridge now has a bike lane uphill. Above the bridge the paint is rubbed away on each turn. Drivers use the entire road bed despite the paint. This does not give me confidence in my fellow humans. A lot of people learned to color outside the lines and they drive accordingly as well.

    Recommended Thumb up 4

    • Avatar
      El Biciclero March 1, 2019 at 5:19 pm

      The same thing happens on this section of Cornell between Barnes & Murray. The paint here usually lasts about 8 months. Even in the linked map view, you can see three cars at varying levels of encroachment over the already-fading outer bike lane line.

      Recommended Thumb up 3

      • Avatar
        HJ March 2, 2019 at 12:00 pm

        So true. I grow weary of reporting the paint issues on that spot to the county. You’d think having already had a cyclist fatality in that stretch would get them to do something about driver behavior. Nope. Business as usual. I call the stretch from Cornell/Saltzman to Cornell/Murray the triangle of death due to driver behavior. One of the most dangerous areas I ride.

        Recommended Thumb up 3

        • Avatar
          HJ March 2, 2019 at 12:02 pm

          Of course it also has nothing to do with speed in that area. Just laziness of drivers. Simply put, it’s an attitude issue. One the police consistently refuse to address. Probably because I regularly spot them committing this offense as well.

          Recommended Thumb up 2

        • Avatar
          El Biciclero March 2, 2019 at 3:47 pm

          The whole stretch of Cornell from Science Park/143rd to Barnes is what I call “The Gauntlet”, for different reasons: high school drivers, shopping centers with tons of driveways, narrow lanes with curbside parking, and inattentive drivers. I have video of near-everything: right hooks, left crosses, drivers pulling partway out of driveways and stopping across the bike lane before they can squeeze into the tight traffic. Over the years, this one stretch has been the location of more evasive maneuvering than any other I ride.

          Recommended Thumb up 5

          • Avatar
            Dan A March 3, 2019 at 9:35 am

            Yeah, it’s total garbage. I’m lucky that my commute only requires me to ride Cornell between 118th and 119th, and then I take a circuitous route on the side streets to get to 143rd. Cornell would be faster for me, but not worth the risk.

            Recommended Thumb up 1

    • Avatar
      rick March 20, 2019 at 6:58 pm

      Then let’s join a SW Hills neighborhood meeting and speak up. Check the swni website.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Paolo March 1, 2019 at 1:24 pm

    Indeed a very good comment…

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Avatar
    Tom Hardy March 1, 2019 at 1:41 pm

    On my bike I ALWAYS use Hewett for eastbound and Humphrey for westbound. Hewett is a fairly even and curvy gradual uphill with a few flat spots. Humphrey, which does have an up hill portion has a fog line with good visibility on the up hill portions. The Humphrey downhill I use the traffic lane as I am doing traffic (speed limit) speeds. Occationally I need to slow for autos on the last major curve (left hand) before descending to Skyline/Scholls Fry.
    On Skyline to Cornelius Pass, on up hills, I use the right of the fog line. On downhills, I use the traffic lanes. Since 1979.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Avatar
    q March 1, 2019 at 2:15 pm

    Years ago I tried helping a Skyline resident who hoped to get the speed limit lowered by 5 mph near Skyline Tavern because cars were coming around a curve so fast she felt it was dangerous coming out of her driveway. PBOT told me that they couldn’t consider lowering the speed limit, because they are required to base the speed limit on the speed a certain percentile of drivers drive, and in fact he thought the speed limit should probably be raised.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

    • Avatar
      9watts March 1, 2019 at 9:57 pm

      With friends like those…

      Recommended Thumb up 5

      • Avatar
        q March 1, 2019 at 10:05 pm

        It’s true…I’ve had more recent instances where asking PBOT for help ended up making things much worse. You shouldn’t have to weigh the pros and cons of asking a City agency for help. At least with Skyline, they didn’t follow through with a speed limit increase.

        Recommended Thumb up 3

    • Avatar
      iBike March 6, 2019 at 8:47 am

      FYI, Skyline was reduced to 35 mph last year.

      Recommended Thumb up 2

      • Avatar
        q March 6, 2019 at 11:01 am

        That’s one of several times I’ve experienced where PBOT (and ODOT) has argued, then eventually done exactly what I or others have asked for. I guess that’s the main thing, but it can be frustrating when, the next issue that comes up, PBOT will act as if it can never be wrong.

        That’s not everyone at PBOT at all–most staff aren’t like that at all. It’s frustratingly inconsistent.

        Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Avatar
    Scott Kocher March 1, 2019 at 3:36 pm

    I’m blushing! Thank you Jonathan for the kind words and the megaphone. I’ve emailed safe{at] portlandoregon.gov to ask how the 4 crashes on NW Skyline happened so that we can give good input on Skyline. It would be so much easier if the police reports were on the Vision Zero crash map (they are public records). Maybe the county would use those reports, too, to figure out what needs fixing. Like Catie and Emily said:
    https://bikeportland.org/2018/10/11/we-cant-fix-what-we-dont-know-about-why-access-to-information-is-key-to-vision-zero-290773

    Recommended Thumb up 8

  • Avatar
    Buzz March 1, 2019 at 9:27 pm

    There already are speed tables on many sections of Skyline, that and the curves should keep traffic at a reasonably safe speed; unsafe passes, etc. are essentially the product of our cars-first culture and wider shoulders will help immensely, since there isn’t enough room for safe passing on many sections of Skyline as it is today. What irritates me the most are the many drivers who fail to use their headlights on Skyline when it is foggy.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Avatar
    El Biciclero March 2, 2019 at 10:10 am

    Also, Skyline is a pretty long road; I’ve only ridden on the section south of Germantown, and then only usually in the southerly direction. Only on rare occasions (ok, maybe one occasion) have I been farther south than Thompson on a bike. I’m curious as to whether different sections/directions of Skyline are more or less problematic than others.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

    • Avatar
      HJ March 2, 2019 at 12:15 pm

      Basically the further south you get the worse it gets. South of Cornell I won’t ride. (especially between Burnside & Sylvan) Thompson to Cornell is horrible. (this section also has LOTS of potholes constantly appearing) Thompson to Germantown isn’t quite as bad but still has issues. North of Germantown is typically nice riding. North of Cornelius Pass is awesome.
      The problem, simply put, is driver behavior paired with lack of enforcement. Doubly so because enforcement is regularly begged for and refused. So it becomes the wild west. Even the speed bumps between Burnside & Cornell do little to help. The folks that live there report regularly seeing drivers going 50 in the 25mph zone of that stretch. So volume becomes the deciding factor in how it goes. The further into the city, the more traffic.

      Recommended Thumb up 4

  • Avatar
    Paul B March 2, 2019 at 10:51 am

    Scott’s experience on Skyline is similar to my own. The things I want changed about Skyline is better cleaning of the brush on the sides of the road, improvement of the pavement on the edges where it is breaking apart, and keeping the speed down.

    El Biciclero’s comment also echoes my own thoughts. After 20 years in PDX, with being labeled a Platinum bike city, and oodles of new bike infrastructure I still feel like an unwelcomed interloper on my bike by way too many motorists. Even reading BikePortland’s positive articles on changes, I still feel like so many times during planning phases of projects that bicycling is an afterthought opposed to a priority.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Avatar
    HJ March 2, 2019 at 12:27 pm

    Here’s the thing. It’s not just speed that’s the problem. It’s drivers choosing to make unsafe passes. If space were available for them to safely pass us while we’re riding, regardless of the curves in the roads, it would make everyone safer.
    Yes, there would still be a possibility of encroachment into the shoulder by the drivers, but let’s be honest, this is really no different from the current situation of us riding in the lane. What extra space would accomplish is to provide a little wiggle room for all parties involved.
    We have a system that’s relatively well set up to address the speeding issue. We have many tools available to combat this problem. From automated radar signs (the ones that flash your speed and have the limit below) to photo radar, to motorcycle cops out giving tickets. What we don’t have as many options for is the unsafe passing. So perhaps we should use the infrastructure to address the more challenging problem and then use some of the many resources available to address the other.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

    • Avatar
      BradWagon March 4, 2019 at 10:52 am

      Only problem is that drivers already can choose to wait to make safe passes and they do not. So what will cause them to change that behavior? There are already some wide spots where cyclists could pull off to if needed, there are already straight sections drivers could wait for to pass, but they don’t. If there are wider shoulders they will be overgrown and filled with garbage so cyclists will be forced to the very edge of them, practically still on the road. Drivers now though will not feel obligated to even move over at all so passing distances will likely becoming even closer than if the cyclists only option is to be in a portion of the road proper. When cyclists can’t use the shoulder for some reason the rage passes by drivers will be even worse.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • Avatar
        El Biciclero March 4, 2019 at 5:53 pm

        “drivers…can choose to wait to make safe passes and they do not.”

        This is a (nother) big pet peeve of mine; not necessarily that drivers make unsafe passes, but that rather than do so “because I was impatient”, the claim is that the bicyclist “forced me into oncoming traffic”. Often followed up with, “if I have to choose between a head-on collision or running a cyclist off the road, you can guess which one I’ll choose!”

        This is the sickness: that slowing down is not even considered an option. Not because “I don’t want to slow down”, but because it’s just not even on the menu.

        Recommended Thumb up 4

  • Avatar
    Holtz March 3, 2019 at 9:51 pm

    Skyline and other popular rural roads were a major point of discussion by community members (including me) working on the recent update to Multnomah County’s Comprehensive Plan and Transportation System Plan (the guiding policy document for the current road plan update). Key messages included maintaining the rural character (which generally means not widening roads using typical cross-sections for busy roads) and taking into account specific local conditions. As a result, the decades-old long-range plan to widen Skyline with painted bike lanes along the full length was put aside in favor of consideration of specific measures to address specific issues in specific locations.
    (See the Introduction & citizen Involvement section here: https://multco.us/file/55859/download and the TSP into here: https://multco.us/file/56309/download which includes goals of improving safety, supporting all modes, and REDUCING vehicle traffic caused by people cutting through the rural pockets)

    The range of solutions listed in the TSP document noted above includes innovations such as Advisory Bike lanes, which can serve to slow motor vehicles while clearly noting space where people on bicycles have priority.

    That said, as someone who rides Skyline and similar roads frequently, I believe there are places where it could make sense to create space for a climbing lane or designated areas for safe passing. For instance, I like the short section of paved shoulder just up from Willamette Stone that allows people driving cars and trucks to safely pass. In my experience, it reduces the number of dangerous passes on nearby blind curves.

    Blanket solutions aren’t likely to work. We need careful attention to specific conditions and consideration of improvements that will improve safety while preserving the county road character that makes Skyline (and roads like it) such a joy to ride.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Avatar
    AndyK March 4, 2019 at 4:03 pm

    Andrew and Scott, great comments. And you’re right on. I’ll just add that one of the main reasons that the west hills routes have a good safety record is that they aren’t on a typical commuting route where you could see a cyclist at any time day or night and wouldn’t be surprised.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Skid March 5, 2019 at 9:46 pm

    People drive fast on that road for the same reason cyclists ride fast on that road: it is curvy and fun.

    I just hope if they do something distruptive to the speed of cars (and bicycles) like speed bumps that they are well-illuminated so I don’t unexpectedly hit one and get tossed off my bike again and get another AC separation and severe concussion.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    mark smith March 6, 2019 at 9:08 pm

    So many clutching pearls on whether the road needs shoulders or not. But if there were shoulders and they proposed erasing them to make wider lanes…wouldn’t there be more louder voices protesting?

    Either it should get shoulders or go car free. I say car free.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Avatar
      q March 6, 2019 at 9:21 pm

      If it went car-free wouldn’t there be even louder voices protesting? How would going car-free work?

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar