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With key federal approval, Portland is ‘full steam ahead’ on bus lane project

Posted by on October 7th, 2019 at 4:14 pm

Red bus lane in Seattle.
(Photo: Seattle DOT)

“They are an absurdly obvious idea and it’s even more absurd that the federal government had to give us permission.”
— Jarrett Walker, transit consultant

Just days before New Yorkers marveled in the success of a bus lane project on a major street in Manhattan, Portlanders who want transit to play a more dominant role on our streets received some very good news.

Late last month, the Portland Bureau of Transportation received approval from the Federal Highway Administration to use red coloring on bus-only lanes. Since the use of red to designate bus-only lanes hasn’t been fully adopted into the FHWA’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), cities that want to use the treatment have had to “request to experiment”. After going through an application process, Portland is now on the list of cities sanctioned to use the color. (PBOT went through a similar process with their use of green to designate bike lanes.)

Red lanes have proven to be very effective in keeping automobile users out of the way of bus operators and in speeding up transit trips. San Francisco has used the treatment since 2012 and other cities including Minneapolis, Seattle, New York City, and Washington D.C. have followed suit.

Jarrett Walker, an author and consultant who helps cities improve bus service, says red bus lanes are a no-brainer. “They are an absurdly obvious idea and it’s even more absurd that the federal government had to give us permission,” he shared in an email this morning.

“If all goes according to plan we could have a pilot coming to council for approval in February 2020.”
— Jamey Duhamel, Commissioner Chloe Eudaly Policy Advisor

The use of red bus lanes will be a major weapon in PBOT’s arsenal to boost bus ridership and it’s seen a central element of Transportation Commissioner Chloe Eudaly’s Rose Lane Project (a.k.a. Red Lane Project). Eudaly’s Policy Director Jamey Duhamel confirmed the federal approval with us last week and said, “Our Rose Lane Project is full steam ahead.”

Launched back in June, the Rose Lane Project is part of the Portland’s effort to battle both congestion and climate change. Funding for the project comes from the $2.5 million Portland earned by being named one of the 20 cities to take part in the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge. Mayor Ted Wheeler mentioned red lanes in testimony on Capitol Hill back in July when he told the Senate Democrats Special Committee on the Climate Crisis that, “PBOT is studying how best to roll out transit priority investments across Portland’s most congested corridors through the Rose Lane project vision.” Wheeler said dedicated lanes for buses will make transit a, “more attractive and reliable option for more people” and said the entire network would be planned and ready for implementation by the end of 2020.

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A list of 25 potential bus priority routes were adopted in June 2018 when council passed the Enhanced Transit Corridors (ETC) plan. That plan identified 15 central city (two of which – SW Madison and NE Everett — have already been implemented) and 10 regional routes that could be turning red (see maps below). 11 of the central city routes are likely to come with a “low-stress” cycling facility.

Source: PBOT/Regional ETC Pilot Program
Candidate Enhanced Transit Locations.

Source: PBOT/Regional ETC Pilot Program
Candidate Enhanced Transit Locations.

Duhamel and her team have been massaging the politics and meeting with community groups about the project for almost a year now. The bulk of their work has been to identify specific locations and designs. She told me last week that a special City Council work session on the project will take place on November 7th in east Portland. At that meeting Eudaly and her staff will share a report on the project and solicit feedback from Wheeler and other commissioners.

“If all goes according to plan,” Duhamel says, “we could have a pilot coming to council for approval in February 2020.”

After adding bus-only lanes to short segments of SW Madison and Everett earlier this year, PBOT is poised to begin construction on a bus lane on Burnside soon. We’ve asked PBOT for an update on where and when they’ll paint our first red lane and will update this story when we hear back.

If you’re a fan of better bus service, send TriMet feedback or attend an open house on their coming service updates.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @BikePortland on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Alex
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Would some “bus-only” lanes also possibly allow for bicycles? In London, where I first cut my teeth bike commuting, there are “bus + bike lanes”, which seems scary at first until you realize that the bikes and buses are looking out for each other, and keeps both out of the clogged main traffic lanes.

The idea of riding a bike up Sandy in a red bus lane seems kinda dreamy to me, and given that the 12 runs about every 15 minutes or so, it doesn’t seem like there would be too much conflict between buses and bikes…

igor
Guest
igor

I was wondering the same thing as I discovered the bus lane on Everett last week. “Am I allowed to be here?” There are no markings indicating that bikes are allowed, but it would make sense, at least until I needed to pass a bus ahead of me.

nate
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nate

So, will they also paint the bus mall? Maybe that will actually keep cars out of the transit lanes.

Bikeninja
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Bikeninja

I think to keep the scofflaws out of the bus lanes the bus’s will need to be equipped with James Bond style rocket launchers at the drivers command. Then Trimet can unveil its new more assertive slogan on the sides of buses, “Drive in red and you’l be ___________.”

GlowBoy
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GlowBoy

The article says Minneapolis has used the red treatment on bus-only lanes, but I haven’t seen any red lanes here. Maybe the treatment is planned for the bus lanes on the in-progress reconstruction of Hennepin Avenue?

Julie G
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Julie G

Before installing red paint on a Bus Only Lane, the transit agency is required to analyze like-for-like data. Bus speeds, compliance, and accidents. In SF the SFMTA simultaneously put in a red bus lane AND removed 5 bus stops in each direction while rerouting other traffic off of Mission Street in a 2.5 mile stretch. After doing so, SFMTA reported a 2-minute time savings in each direction. HOWEVER, THEY DIDNT TELL THE PUBLIC THAT THEY REMOVED THE BUS STOPS WHICH IS THE REASON THE BUSES MOVE FASTER NOW ! Also, there was no like-for-like data taken AND, permission was not granted to experiment on Mission Street w the RED LANES. On 3rd Street in a .9 mile stretch, there has been a large increase in injury accidents after RED LANES installation in spring 2014! The RED LANES are now being reconfigured in an attempt to lower the accidents !

tim
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tim

Another f’ing stupid idea

Mark smith
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Mark smith

tim
Another f’ing stupid ideaRecommended 0

Oh yes, we should only prioritize single vehicle use.

Bike Guy
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Bike Guy

> “For Eudaly — who’s built a reputation for her work on tenant protection — bus users are the transportation equivalent of low-income renters.”

Chloe is out of touch. On the section of NE Killingsworth east of NE 42nd Ave slated for parking removal under her plan, there is lots of public / subsidized housing. The street parking on Killingsworth is chock full of cars used by low-income people. Were they even asked about this development?

The message from Chloe is that low-income people can’t have cars (since their buildings invariably lack parking). She’s consigning them to bus use. People who can afford to drive still will.

This will result in her getting tossed out of office very quickly, if it gains traction, because her supposed electorate is going to wake up.

Braheem
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Braheem

So are they going to start tearing down buildings to expand the roads to make room for this? I guess the politicians in Portland forgot this city was not designed to expand roads.

Wheels61
Guest
Wheels61

Why isn’t a “street car only lane” not included in the scope of this project? Seems like it would be one of the most impacting lanes to segregate cars from.

J_R
Guest
J_R

What, exactly, is the problem we are trying to solve with red pavement markings? And, what evidence do we have that it will actually solve the problem?

I may be wrong, but it seems the concept is that red lanes will reduce the errant use (or maybe intentional) use by motorists of what is supposed to be an exclusive bus lane. Is it really a problem?

The green bike lanes or boxes appear to have multiple meanings. On one hand, the green bike boxes inform users that bikes, but not autos, have the exclusive right to occupy the space while waiting for a green light. In other places, green lanes appear to be simply a warning to motorists to look out for bikes. In some places, green appears to be used to denote an area for exclusive bike use. Finally, we have the green crossbikes that have no legal meaning at all.

What is the red pavement marking intended to mean?

Jason
Guest
Jason

Am I the only one who thinks buses are scary AF? I don’t think giving TriMet more road space will help their ego. But who am I kidding, TriMet owns the roads.

Mark Smith
Guest
Mark Smith

I don’t care if they overtly allow bikes or not. I will ride it regardless.

soren
Guest
soren

Experienced, skilled, and year-round cyclist traffic hierarchy:

Fast dude on road/cross/gravel bike > anyone biking slowly > pedestrian statues in bike lane >> E-bike-cheater >>> scooter bike lane ursurpers > ambulance/firetruck >>> bus with 25 people onboard > friend, neighbor, or family member in an automobile.