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Two more reasons we need more dedicated cycling space in the central city

Posted by on April 23rd, 2019 at 12:40 pm

Streets like NW 10th are very intimidating to ride on — especially when you have a streetcar operator harassing you.

In the past week I’ve heard about two incidents that illustrate an often overlooked reason why we need more dedicated, protected bikeways in the central city.

“Then [the streetcar] got very close to me and was continuously honking and I realized it was directed at me.”
— Nate M.

For years, Portland bicycle riders have been forced to share the same roads with car, truck and transit operators. PBOT has timed the signals for around 12 mph, which keeps most people in check. But the shared environment only attracts a tiny percentage of people. To move the needle for ridership, we must give people a more comfortable place to ride. We recently passed a detailed blueprint, the Central City in Motion Plan, that should hasten development the protected network we desperately need. Now we need to implement it.

So far this year two people have been killed on central city streets where safety projects are already planned but have yet to be built.

In the past few days, readers have contacted me about two incidents where a transit operator behaved in an unsafe and rude manner toward a bicycle operator. In both cases, the bicycle user was left scared and confused. And in both cases, if the bicycle users had dedicated space to ride — or if there was a better route option nearby — they could have avoided the situation.

Below are the first-person accounts of what happened…

From reader Nate M.:

“Yesterday I left work on my bike getting in the lane of NW 10th Avenue (north of Burnside) in the middle of the tracks in front of no traffic as I have to turn right eventually on Hoyt. I cycle here as I do not want to cross the tracks multiple times in the 6 blocks I commute on 10th… The streetcar was picking up people at the Couch stop. The lane was clear so I got back on my bike clear of no traffic. The Streetcar was approaching behind me and was directly behind at the red traffic signal at NW 10th and Davis. I then proceeded to go at the green light and then the Street Car honked its horn. I was not sure what it was at. Then it got very close to me and was continuously honking and I realized it was directed at me, this was when I decided to go over the tracks left into the lane.

Nate might have opted for these planned protected bike lanes in the nearby Park Blocks.

I had no idea why I was being honked at and directed to move left by the streetcar? This is dangerous for me as a cyclist crossing the tracks in the first place. I was forced to move left, the streetcar drove by me… So after going left, I had to wait for traffic to go by to go right over the the tracks again for me to turn right on Hoyt. I was just confused and the streetcar added danger to my ride.

Nate figured he was doing something illegal by riding in the streetcar track lane. He wasn’t. Bicycle users are allowed to ride in streetcar lanes. He reported the incident to Portland Streetcar and they are following up with the driver.

There’s no project on NW 10th in the CCIM plan, but there is a project (#16) a few streets over that would create a protected bike lane couplet on NW Park and 8th. That might become Nate’s preferred route… if it ever gets built.

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I’ve ridden 12th a lot. It can be very stressful.

The next case came in today from Jessica S. She witnessed a scary situation involving a bike rider and bus operator on SE 12th between Stark and Ash:

Plans for 12th will give bicycle riders their own lane.

“A bike was traveling north in the right lane (there is no bike lane or extra space, so the cyclist was in the middle of the lane). The bus passed unsafely. Instead of occupying the whole left lane that was available to the bus, the bus only moved half way into the left lane, keeping the other half of the bus in the right lane. This means the bus was dangerously close to the cyclist as it passed. The bus then moved back into the right lane after barely passing the cyclist, keeping an unsafely close proximity to the cyclist.

The bus driver honked during this unnecessary and dangerous move, both startling the cyclist, leaving this cyclist to wonder if the driving thinks they are right in with this dangerous behavior.”

Jessica is worried about this bus operator’s behavior and has filed a report with TriMet.

On 12th Avenue, just like on 10th, there is no dedicated space for cycling. Thankfully, CCIM project #4 will change that. PBOT wants to reconfigure the existing roadway on 12th and create a wide, dedicated lane for bicycle users. If that design were in place today, this dangerous interaction would not have happened. Unfortunately, the is on the 6-10 year implementation list.

In the meantime, we can’t just hope that all transit operators will drive safely and with respect for others 100% of the time.

Incidents like these happen with much more frequency than most people realize. They are one reason why many people will never dare to try bicycling in Portland. If we want to reach our climate/planning/bicycling/vision zero goals, we must give people their own place to ride. And plans on shelves is not enough. We need to move more quickly and re-design our streets in a way that prevents these kind of interactions from happening in the first place.

— 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

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Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
Member

A week ago one of the bike valet staff gave someone the middle finger who had cut in front of them on his way to work. The person in the car then followed him for 1/2 a mile to the bike valet, parked, and came into the shop.

I had our four month year old in the shop and at first thought he was going to ask for directions. Nope. He raised his fist and threatened to get into a fight. For a few very intense minutes we tried to talk him down and he eventually left saying that no one gives the middle finger to him or his car. This guy looked like he does quite a lot of body building and probably could have taken out the three of us in the shop.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

Perhaps we need a new vehicular crime DUI S, “Driving under the influence of Steroids. ” I imagine in some circumstances such “Roid Rage” folks are more dangerous than drunks. Just another reason to wish for the ranks of those with drivers licenses to be culled by at least 25%.

PS
Guest
PS

Yeah, like drivers over 55?

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

How about drivers who fail a bi-annual mandatory skills re-test?

TJ
Guest
TJ

Please clarify. That’s either ageist and insulting or am I misunderstanding you.

CaptainKarma
Guest
CaptainKarma

Mr. PS, it has already been to the supreme court that airline pilots cannot be summarily retired at age 55. It has been statistically proven that older pilots are more safe than younger pilots due to experience, wisdom, and less likelihood of taking risks with other people’s lives. Retesting of drivers is a viable option, as would be statistical analysis of reported individuals’ driving incidents. That would indeed cull about 25 % of drivers of all ages.

dwk
Guest
dwk

As good as it might feel, flipping off drivers is stupid….
A lot of nut jobs out there, it is an unnecessary risk.
I have to many other things to worry about riding without being hassled by drivers

Al
Guest
Al

I second that. Flipping someone off is a way to escalate a situation. Not a good idea when YOU are the vulnerable user. Save your energy for pedaling.

Tim
Guest
Tim

911 – someone just came into my place of business and is threatening my coworkers.

When someone comes into a place of employment and starts making treats it is time to call 911 and report a violent crime in progress. The middle finger may be protected free speech, but threats of bodily harm are not.

BikeRound
Guest
BikeRound

The middle finger is not necessarily protected freedom of speech. While one court in Michigan came to the conclusion that it was protected in one specific scenario, most courts have held that, depending on the state, it is disorderly conduct or some similar infraction. Further, while calling someone out on their dangerous behavior may be acceptable in certain instances, showing the middle finger is never a constructive engagement and decent people should always avoid it.

Dan A
Subscriber
Dan A

In any case, I certainly wouldn’t flip off a driver who tried to politely wave me through a 4-way stop, as was suggested in an earlier thread.

soren
Guest
soren

giving someone the middle finger, including law enforcement, has been found to be protected free speech again, and again, and again.

the latest such court case in the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals:

https://www.phillytrib.com/news/a-raised-middle-finger-is-protected-free-speech-appeals-court/article_bacd0774-f323-5436-8c36-64a78086e263.html

meh
Guest
meh

sw & nw 2nd avenue, with the bike lane, seem much more treacherous now than it was before.

it was much better before, when we could roll at a leisurely 12mph in the middle lane and let turning traffic do so to our sides.

Andrew Kreps
Guest
Andrew Kreps

I’ve had some of my scariest moments riding a bicycle in that 2nd ave lane and those mid-block parking lot entrances. They call it protected and they’re right- the parked vehicles completely protect moving drivers from seeing me approaching.

Dan
Guest
Dan

Yeah, the parking-protected bike lanes on 2nd freak me out – I feel there’s a very high chance of getting left hooked there. I generally opt to take the lane instead.

mark
Guest
mark

Me too. That’s my commute home; I turn right to cross the Burnside Bridge. I’ve only used the “protected” lane once.

dan
Guest
dan

Yeah, and then you have the whole “are drivers going to be upset that I’m not in the bike lane?” question on your mind. 🙁

Dan
Guest
Dan

It’s not so much that I care what I think, it’s that I fear they may be moved to violence.

SafeStreetsNow
Guest
SafeStreetsNow

Too bad PBOT will be constructing a grand total of ZERO Central City in Motion bike projects this year. You read that right. NOTHING. They are starting with transit projects, and are ignoring the needs of vulnerable road users. I heard it from PBOT myself. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and ask them!

Andrew Kreps
Guest
Andrew Kreps

Wasn’t all the hubbub about CCIM last year approving the plan and choosing projects? My memory is that the whittling down of the projects was late last year, and nothing was ever on the docket for 2018 delivery.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

I don’t know what the timeframe for any of the individual Central City in Motion projects is, but CCIM isn’t everything that’s planned for cyclists in the Central City.

The new section of SW Bond Ave, the NW Naito / Front Ave road diet and the W Burnside / 18th / 19th protected intersection are all under construction right now.

Construction on the Naito I-405 to Jefferson project should start later this year.

Designs for the Flanders Crossing and Sullivan’s Crossing are all but complete, and those projects should be under construction next year.

metoo
Guest
metoo

the Bus 16 on Front does a similar shady move to me ALL THE TIME on my route. I cannot even keep track of how many times I have been forced up onto the sidewalk by the drivers’ inability to compromise and go into the always empty inner lane. These drivers are impelled to stay in the outside lane, they never ever want to divert into the inner lane for any reason, let alone avoiding running over cyclists in their way!! Thanks to my rear view mirror, I see them coming and now know to just stop and jump up onto the sidewalk and wait for them to drive well past me before I resume riding. I am done with those unnecessary close calls.

mark
Guest
mark

I’ve had similar interactions with the streetcar on SW 11th avenue. One time I was stopped at an intersection, waiting and signalling to make a right turn. The light turned green, but there was a man in a wheelchair crossing with the walk signal, so I was waiting for him to make it across the street. Streetcar driver did not care and just laid on the horn. I yelled at him that I was waiting for someone in the crosswalk, but that didn’t shut him up either. I called Portland Streetcar a few minutes later and voiced my concerns about their driver training.

I’ve had other instances on SW 11th. I have to take the lane a block ahead of my right turn, and was waiting at a red light. The streetcar came up behind me and couldn’t pull all the way into the streetcar stop and again, just laid on the horn. What am I to do, run the light? No thanks. Several helpful bystanders told me I wasn’t allowed to use that lane, but I know better than that. Thanks, ignorant bystanders!

I called again and spoke with the director of Portland Streetcar. He rides bikes, so was concerned to hear about the issues I had. I haven’t had any problems since, but apparently the drivers need another stern talking to.

mark
Guest
mark

If i were driving a car and legally in the lane in front of them, I doubt they would’ve cared. Some people just fly into a rage if there’s a bike in their way.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

You’d think most Portlanders would know by now that private vehicles are not allowed on MAX tracks but are allowed on streetcar tracks.

Actually, I bet those bystanders would have realized it if it were a car involved in the same interaction. Typical anti-cyclist bias.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

I ride through the Pearl District most days, and on nasty days I sometimes ride the streetcar so I have some understanding of the dynamic here. There is no excuse for this behavior by streetcar operators , but just the same what they have to put up with much of the time would turn the Pope in to Jack the Ripper. I was on the A loop one day and the driver had to stop and climb out three separate times to move mirrors on trucks, and twice they had near collisions with cars right hooking across them to enter parking garages . Cars often park too far up on corners preventing them from turning and frequently they are blocked by uber drivers and double parkers. Usually their horn is the only method they have of resolving these situations as they can’t turn around a problem. They are hired professionals and should not behave this way, but at the same time I can understand it given what they go through on a shift. My advise is to steer clear of sharing the lane in near proximity to them and give them a wide berth.

Gary B
Guest
Gary B

I strongly advocate for the street cars and max trains to have appropriate lane clearing hardware on the front side. Getting out for a mirror? Give me a break, let them buy a new one. A car blocking the lane? Sorry bud, won’t make that mistake again!

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

The problems described here are not related to a lack of dedicated cycling space; sorry, but making that connection is faulty logic.

q
Guest
q

I agree, the problem in the examples was bad behavior by bus and streetcar drivers, and they need to have their behavior corrected. Nevertheless, creating dedicated cycling space, or as the article says, “re-design(ing) our streets in a way that prevents these kind of interactions from happening in the first place” seems like a logical approach to dealing with the problems, albeit not an answer in itself.

q
Guest
q

Two more examples of professional (that is, paid to drive) drivers behaving badly, to go with so many recent cases of people being run over by professional drivers here.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Please enlighten us as to the real contributing factors, then.

David Hampsten
Guest

Why should Central City be prioritized when most deaths are in North or East Portland?

And why all the on-street parking? You should ban on-street parking or make it prohibitively expensive. If East Portland has so much off-street parking, why doesn’t Central City?

PS
Guest
PS

Yes, more expensive parking is a great idea, but of course the SJWs in charge here wouldn’t allow a regressive form of revenue generation, gotta keep going after the wealthy or business community. Ironically, those revenue sources are the folks most able to move too, so we’ll see how that pans out in the long run.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

I like riding streetcar routes. They’re fairly flat and usually don’t have many cars in them because people don’t want to deal with the slow streetcar. If one get behind you then it’s usually gone after a block or two because it has to stop again.

Even old streetcar routes like Belmont and Hawthorne are better than the greenways a few blocks over due to how easy of an incline they have.

However, like other motor vehicle drivers I’ve seen a lot of them assume they have the right of way over pedestrians and cyclists and not yield when they’re supposed to.

BikeRound
Guest
BikeRound

Do they have to yield? I am just asking because even in Amsterdam, street cars have absolutely priority over everyone and bicyclists better get out of the way. It makes sense since they carry so many people.

Gary B
Guest
Gary B

Yes they have to yield. They’re subject to the same rules as other vehicles.

Glenn F
Guest
Glenn F

I wonder when someone/people are going to start filing lawsuits for injuries substantiated from max/streetcar rail caused bike falls…

PS
Guest
PS

For sure, thats a great idea, if only there weren’t multiple other routes to every conceivable destination that did not require riding a bike near train tracks.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

The bus passing you too closely is a feature, not an error. Our lawmakers wanted to ensure that bus drivers would be legally allowed to run you over if you fall off a bike.

“Specific exclusions from the law are traffic lanes next to a bicycle lane, speeds below 35 mph, or when the rider is turning left. The 35 mph speed limit was a compromise to allow city transit services to travel more closely to riders in a low speed dense traffic environment.”

https://bikeportland.org/2014/01/06/get-legal-with-ray-thomas-oregons-safe-passing-law-explained-99506

Gary B
Guest
Gary B

Thanks for that link. One thing Ray didn’t address therein is ORS 811.370, failure to drive within lane. In general, you can’t be in two lanes at once, except of course while changing lanes. In the cases described here (2 lanes in same direction), I’d argue the driver violates that law by not moving fully into the other lane that is available.

Gilly
Guest
Gilly

Ideally Max and the trolly would run in transit only lanes.
The trolley drivers response was unfortunate but they are on a fixed route and can’t pass slower users. Legal and courteous are not always the same thing. Not sure how I would respond. I generally avoid streets with tracks.

Steve C.
Guest
Steve C.

Separate infrastructure, specifically protected lanes will not solve these issues with motor vehicles. The most dangerous areas are intersections and mixing zones. All protected lanes must frequently reintegrate with motorized traffic in some way at intersections. It’s effectively unavoidable unless you have flyovers or underpasses for bikes. With protected lanes, road furniture, bollards etc. cyclists are put out of sight and out of mind until we reemerge to be cut off, t-boned, or right hooked. The greatest perceived danger may be being hit from behind or passed too closely, but in my experience the real mortal danger is from cars at intersections not expecting or respecting cyclists right to be on the road in the first place. With the springwater/205 etc. we can see the effect of the creation of separate infrastructure we cannot or will not maintain as viable bike routes. We may have the political will to agitate to create these slick new road designs but if they are not maintained and drivers are not made aware of cyclists’ right to the road, and specifically the right to pass through an intersection safely, the lanes, curbs, and paint don’t amount to much in terms of safety.

zach
Guest
zach

Someone hasn’t heard of protected intersections

Bald One
Guest
Bald One

N. Interstate under the overpass where the bike lane squeezes down to inches wide. I’ve been blazed by the bus drivers under here many times. Passed at 35 mph by a bus with 6 inches of room in a two foot bike lane… terrifying.

Scott Kocher
Guest

I was at Tanner Springs with my family and watched a tourist on a hotel rental bike crash on the tracks on 11th south of Northrop (just another day in the Pearl). As she was trying to get herself up a streetcar operator came up and instead of stopping rolled up close and laid on the horn. Presumably the operator didn’t know why there was a person staggering in the middle of the street. Just another day in the Pearl. I was so mad. Streetcar insult to streetcar injury. Both so unnecessary. I guess I’m lucky it wasn’t me, and that I feel secure enough in the community to intervene. If chewing out the operator and trying to console the injured person counts as anything. So mad.

New streetcar lines should have rubber-tired vehicles. And the current fleet should be sold to someplace with no bikes, or converted to rubber tires, or melted down and sent back to Norway or wherever we buy them from. Ridiculous. It is only a matter of time until this happens here. https://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/our-region/edinburgh/medical-student-killed-on-princes-street-was-bright-star-1-4464959 When it does Streetcar Inc. will claim legal immunity and blame the user. Their business model would fail if there were accountability for the harm they cause. Shame on Portland for buying into completely inefficient glamsit and playing along.

gilly
Guest
gilly

Are the max lines tracks any different than the trolley car tracks or do we rip those up to and replace with electric buses?

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

There is no such thing as a streetcar with rubber tires.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Fair enough. But note that it still has a flanged rail that could entrap cyclists (I don’t see anyone riding on the line, BTW). I think what the OP is describing is a trolley bus.

mark
Guest
mark

I wish the city would’ve used electric trolley buses instead. They have the flexibility to move around poorly parked vehicles and don’t rely on rails which are a hazard to cyclists and skateboarders.

But whitey hates the bus, so we get trains instead.

mark
Guest
mark

Let me rephrase that:

I wish the city would’ve used electric trolley buses instead. They have the flexibility to move around poorly parked vehicles and don’t rely on rails which are a hazard to cyclists and skateboarders.

But *edit *people who are white* hate the bus, so we get trains instead. For the record, I am white, and use the bus from time to time with no shame whatsoever.

Also, the streetcar is more of a development project than a transit project anyway.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

The argument that the streetcar isn’t useful as transportation is a frequently made argument, that has no factual basis. It gets more daily riders than all but a couple of TriMet’s bus lines, and likely beats all of them in terms of number of riders per service hour.

soren
Guest
soren

Which makes the streetcar similar to an absurdly expensive bus from an ROI perspective.

There really isn’t a good argument tracked streetcars given the success of “rapid bus” technologies.

https://www.transit.dot.gov/sites/fta.dot.gov/files/BRTBrochure.pdf

Social Engineer
Guest
Social Engineer

Speaking of inadequate Central City bicycle infrastructure, when can we expect more Northwest in Motion coverage on Bike Portland? I suspect a lot of advocates would probably find the draft concepts in this document worth reading about.

https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/727955

Dave
Guest
Dave

Here’s a dumb, obvious question–why does Trimet still use full sized buses in downtown and central Portland? Yes, I know, more bodies transported by the fewest drivers possible. But, downtown and the pearl can make a Subaru Impreza feel like a tractor-trailer–certainly somebody that knows more about buses than me can figure out that smaller buses run more frequently would get around better and cause fewer conflicts with other road users. Tax Uber and Lyft–make them help pay for the problems they’re helping cause.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

That would increase costs significantly. Driver costs are the biggest cost element, so shorter, more frequent busses would add a lot of operating costs. If we are concerned about large vehicles downtown, we should start by banning all articulating trucks, then move on to non-articulating trucks over 30ft, and ensure that all commercial vehicles have side guards. Only then should we consider going after 40ft Trimet busses that carry dozens of riders at a time.

Champs
Guest
Champs

Both riders were within their rights and I can’t condone the behavior or either operator.

That said, hopefully Nate takes this opportunity to reconsider the relative risk of the streetcar lane compared to its reward. My younger self should have.

Gary B
Guest
Gary B

“Nate figured he was doing something illegal by riding in the streetcar track lane. He wasn’t.”

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I think he was. At least following the first honk:
“ORS 811.160. A person commits the offense of interference with rail fixed guideway public transportation system operation if the person … Drives any vehicle in front of a rail fixed guideway public transportation system vehicle upon a track and the person fails to remove the person’s vehicle from the track as soon as practicable after signal from the operator of the rail fixed guideway public transportation system vehicle.”

Obviously the streetcar driver should exercise some discretion here, and it doesn’t excuse them getting aggressively close to Nate, but apparently you do have to move from the tracks after the operator signals you to do so.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

“as soon as practicable”

IE: you can’t run a red light, but don’t linger in the lane. I disagree with your interpretation of the law here. I think the rider did, in fact move out of the way as soon as practicable. ORS 811.160 doesn’t allow you to ignore all of the other laws.

Gary B
Guest
Gary B

I don’t think we can say one way or the other based on the info we have. Apologize for implying otherwise. At the point the left lane became clear and Nate could move over, following the signal from the operator, he seems to have been violating this law. I think it’s fairly safe to assume that point would come within a few blocks (Davis when was honked to Hoyt when he needed to turn), but it certainly may not have already occurred when the operator decided to get aggressive.

q
Guest
q

Chris I
There is no such thing as a streetcar with rubber tires.Recommended 0

Wasn’t “A Streetcar with Rubber Tires” a play and movie starring Marlon Brando?

Joseph Knecht
Guest

Thank you Jonathan for this article.
On tenth Avenue, the tracks by the former Galleria building are especially dangerous as some go straight and others curve. How about if 9th Avenue and the NW park blocks become a bike only street? To start with , all the way from the Broadway bridge to PSU?

Cory P
Guest
Cory P

Back in January I had a similar situation skating down belmont between 60th and 50th se.
I was skating around 20mph and was staying out of the door zone . There was a bus behind me but i thought nothing of it. I stopped at a marked crosswalk for a pedistrian. The bus stopped behind me. When we started moving again I noticed that the bus was gunning the engine and a second later the driver was honking at me. I was shocked to see agressive driving from a trimet bus. I pulled over at the next bus stop where someone was waiting to get on. I asked the driver what was wrong. She yelled at me to get off the road. I started to explain that it’s legal and safer to be on the road while skating but she didn’t want to hear about it.
I was wearing bright clothing, wearing a helmet and a flashing tail light. I broke no traffic laws.
I got home and called trimet. They told me that they would talk to the driver.
Crazy stuff when we get harrassed by professional drivers.

Dan A
Subscriber
Dan A

Wow, 20mph! I wonder how fast I skate at top speed? I don’t think I get close to that, and I’ve always been a pretty decent pusher.

Cory Poole
Guest
Cory Poole

This was downhill. My flatland push speed is around 12mph.