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PBOT adds more diversion to North Michigan Avenue greenway

Posted by on July 10th, 2019 at 10:47 am

The driver of this car was either unaware of the changes or felt they didn’t apply to him.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Making good on a promise made back in April, the Portland Bureau of Transportation has installed new plastic wands, signage, and striping at the intersection of North Michigan Avenue and Skidmore.

Proximity to I-5 makes Michigan a primary cut-through route.

The project aims to reduce the amount of people who drive on Michigan, a neighborhood greenway that’s supposed to be a low-stress, family-friendly street where bikers and walkers have priority. As we reported three months ago, PBOT has concerns about the high volume of people driving on Michigan. And at Skidmore specifically, the rate of crashes also raised a red flag.

The new diverters prevent car users from crossing Skidmore on Michigan. As we’ve seen all over the network, PBOT wants people to drive on larger arterials and neighborhood collector streets (in this case Albina or Interstate/I-5) and stay off of neighborhood greenways unless it’s their final destination.

This project is relatively simple: 10 plastic wands, “No Turn Except Bicycles” signs, and some clever pavement striping force people to turn right off of Michigan. At least that’s the intention.

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https://twitter.com/Intersection911/status/1148391409373700096

Unfortunately, the design isn’t robust enough to deter some selfish, scofflaw drivers (as seen in the tweet above). During my 10 minutes at the intersection yesterday I saw three drivers ignore the diverters and illegally continue straight through the intersection. I saw far many others obey the signs and do the right thing. Hopefully compliance improves as time goes on. If not, PBOT will need to come back and tweak the design.

“I think PBOT should be presenting that as a choice: ‘Do you want to see traffic impacted? Or do you want to see parking removed and put in bike lanes?'”
— Reza Farhoodi, Bicycle Advisory Committee member

At the City of Portland’s Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting last night, PBOT Neighborhood Greenway Coordinator Scott Cohen asked committee members what they’d like to see on greenways. “Diversion by default” — that is, installing diverters as standard practice, without asking permission and/or without waiting for complaints or conditions to worsen — was the top response.

Diverters have broad support among safe streets advocates. But for PBOT, the mere mention of the term often sends shivers up project managers’ spines. The agency fears backlash from people who think diverters make driving inconvenient and will only lead to more drivers on adjacent streets.

In 2011, PBOT wanted to install a diverter a few blocks north of Skidmore at Michigan and Rosa Parks. But because a few local residents objected, the project — and its benefits to public health and safety — was delayed for over a year.

Thankfully, PBOT has made great strides to overcome their diversion aversion in recent years.

At the BAC meeting last night, Cohen seemed supportive of calls for “diversion by default,” but he was clearly not ready to adopt such a policy. To do that, he said PBOT would need stronger political footing. Some sort of greenway action plan with diversion by default included as an action item would need to be adopted by City Council in order to give PBOT more authority.

Committee member Reza Farhoodi suggested to Cohen that PBOT might find more support for diverters if they told people who oppose it that the other option is a dedicated bike lane. “I think PBOT should be presenting that as a choice: ‘Do you want to see traffic impacted? Or do you want to see parking removed and put in bike lanes?'”

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

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Carrie
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I can only smile wryly when I read that “At the BAC meeting last night, Cohen seemed supportive of calls for “diversion by default,” but he was clearly not ready to adopt such a policy. To do that, he said PBOT would need stronger political footing.” when my frame of reference is that all greenways in Portland should be car free (or cars as visitors because yes, grandfathered residents should be able to park a car in their driveway). If diversion is too touchy, we are so far away from where we need to be.

J_R
Guest
J_R

How many citations have been issued by PPB to motorists for violating a diversion instruction or driving in a bike lane? Has there ever been one?

Shimran George
Guest
Shimran George

I wish I was at the BAC yesterday–I missed the last two meetings. I would have echoed the sentiment of diverters by default!

I’ve had the pleasure of emailing Scott Cohen about diverters by default. I have always appreciated his responsiveness and candor about talking bike infrastructure. He seems like a great guy and I am know he echoes a lot our sentiments about greenways. In my conversations with him, I have often advocated for the use of diverters over the speedbumps that seem to come standard with every implementation of a bike greenway.

I often wonder why we implement speedbumps by default on bike greenways when anyone who has ever been on a bike knows how annoying they to ride over. Speaking with Roger Geller after one BAC meeting, he even mentioned how in the Netherlands the smoothness of a road is another standard used to design low stress bikeways. If we ignored the potholed concrete mess of some of our current bikeways, how does having speedbumps on bikeways contribute to the smooth, stress-free ride of a cyclist? My point is: speedbumps, which seem to be put in place by default on bike greenways, or antithetical to low-stress experiences valued by cyclists.

You can make the argument that speedbumps on bike greenways slow cars down, but then I’d argue the name bike greenway is a misnomer: It is not intended to help facilitate bike traffic, but rather allow privileged residents to ensure their street doesn’t become a speedway. This also leads to a cyclist’s presence on a greenway as a human shield for PBOT–a cyclists is encouraged to use a greenway not because they are intent on making seamless and intuitive connections, but rather as another obstacle that is supposed to slow motorists down. I’m not interested in seeing PBOT seeing cyclists as a tool to slow traffic as it can lead to a dangerous situation and relies heavily on driver attentiveness. But currently, that is the impression I get from riding on a bike greenway.

Ultimately, if we want to make bike-greenways for bikes, let’s discourage motor vehicle traffic from traveling long distances or getting up to speed on them by using diverters. And lets get rid of the speedbumps that make for a choppy ride on the bike, we all know these greenways are already on some of the hilliest and uneven terrain as it is!

I hope PBOT is listening and has the courage to support this! I will do what I can if needed to make this a permanent policy!

Heidi
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Heidi

J_R
How many citations have been issued by PPB to motorists for violating a diversion instruction or driving in a bike lane? Has there ever been one?Recommended 5

There’s been at least one; my coworker got one on N. Willamette Blvd.

Terry D-M
Guest

I really wish I could have gone, but had a conflict. A group of us have been working on this policy for years, including having a meeting at PBOT with key players about six months back where the response was “You are not wrong, but a policy like this would need to go to Council and have a public process, let us wait until we hire a Greenway coordinator.”

I’m happy PBOT is taking this policy seriously. As someone who helps lead the largest Neighborhood coalition, we need a standard policy to pull these individual diversion fights out of the Neighborhood. In her last campaign, Sarah Iannarone expressed support for this policy, in writing and verbally as this was policy question from the BikeWalkVote PAC.

Shimran George
Guest
Shimran George

Speed humps signal that a car can use this road, but must go slow. It’s not an indication of priority at all. And oftentimes people fly over speed humps in general as many don’t care or know about the impact on the wheels or suspension when traveling fast. (as most people are not trained in driving or automotive knowledge to know this).

I tend to agree with Champs regarding the feeling of ‘breaking the rhythm.’ The same principle that affects cars affects bikes, but with our lack of suspension (in general) i’d say it affects cyclists 10x as much. I’d much rather a bikeway with diverters every few blocks and smooth surface than speed humps on a bikeway.

Shimran George
Guest
Shimran George

Sorry I should clarify on my last statement:

“I’d much rather a bikeway with diverters every few blocks and smooth surface than speed humps on a bikeway.”

It’s not an either/or situation. And speed humps with wide enough cutouts for bikes are fine by me. I’m just not super enthusiastic; I do think they slow motorists down, but I don’t think they are bike-friendly as PBOT would like you to believe.

X
Guest
X

In Portland there seems to be a correlation between rough pavement and future installation of a greenway but we’re about 8000 km from the Netherlands. You could almost say it’s a difference of night and day!

Put me down for diverters, no speedbumps. Also, outlet diverters are too easy for MV operaters to game. The old school diverter at NE 16th and Tillamook is good, and the concrete planter diverter on NE Rodney seems to work pretty well too.

bikeninja
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bikeninja

Isn’t the term ” selfish, scofflaw drivers ” redundant?

jeffb
Guest
jeffb

Thought I’d offer a counterpoint, I don’t find the speed humps at all inconvenient or uncomfortable on a bike, no matter the speed or tire width, not even at high speeds like on Germantown.

Laura
Guest
Laura

The corner of Michigan and Skidmore is on my daily commute. Since installed, I haven’t seen a single driver mind the sign and diverters. They just go around. Here’s an idea: occasional enforcement.
I think of it like the 20mph signs along Knott and the green box/no right on red at MLK & Russell (also on my commute & often ignored). Those who were already aware and driving responsibly mind the signs and try to drive even more carefully. But the real problem drivers are those that continue to disregard signs (or those fancy new thingies in their way).

Wait what?
Guest
Wait what?

“PBOT wants people to drive on larger arterials and neighborhood collector streets”

And yet PBOT has done nothing to provide for adequate capacity on said streets.

Christopher of Portland
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Christopher of Portland

Like I’ve commented before on at least one other article: there are a lot of drivers who do not pay attention to just about any signs or paint. I don’t know if PBOT actually expects honor system diverters to work. I rode through this recently but I didn’t hang around to watch anyone driving interact with it.

Toby Keith
Guest
Toby Keith

And while we are at it, remove car parking on Skidmore from Mississippi to MLK and put in some bike lanes. That street can be a real headache and it’s a pretty good east/west connector to get to the Going greenway. Turns out these apartment dwellers really love their cars.

Julie H.
Guest
Julie H.

I do wish Portland’s Greenways would include more explicit traffic calming infrastructure, both to make life better for cyclists, but also to shift the conversation to being about making neighbourhoods places for people and not cars. Here in Vancouver, BC (where I live part-time) there are Traffic Calmed signs installed when you turn off arterials into neighbourhood streets, and lots of diversions that only matter if you don’t live in the area. They serve the purpose of making the neighbourhood bikeways very unappealing to cars, but also of making cut through traffic unappealing/nearly impossible.

Here is one of my favourites, a bike only pass through turned garden plot (make it pretty and people will love it): https://goo.gl/maps/ukBrAKvLKAfoyBeP6

And a block away, a less pretty but very robust car diversion (note: wands are metal and concrete is poured, no plastic & paint here): https://goo.gl/maps/xL43BTgQPEigKwwr6

Takethelane
Guest
Takethelane

I still don’t see a stop sign for traffic on Skidmore at this intersection. Until the cars on Skidmore have to stop at Michigan, this intersection will never be safe imho. I stopped going through that intersection, opting for Failing Street overpass instead, due to the wait to cross Skidmore and the dangerous speed of the cross traffic.