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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
Guest

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…

Brian Hardman
Guest
Brian Hardman

The bicyclists will just use them anyway. They already don’t follow a litany of other laws, why stop now?

maccoinnich
Subscriber

You do realize you’re commenting about on a post that’s about Portland getting permission to use red paint on the roads, which is only necessary because car drivers can’t be trusted to follow signage?

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.

Doug Hecker
Guest
Doug Hecker

Sounds like a great idea for peak times like 6-10am and 3-7pm on the weekdays. I work off of NW Everett and the usage is pretty low on the bus lane besides the Bolt conglomerate taking up a lane and a half at many parts of the day.. And yes, I take the bus lane on my way down to Naito.

X
Guest
X

Wow it seems like people are really talking past each other here.

I absolutely agree that the registered owner of a car should pay a traffic fine, unless it has been reported stolen. Police enforcement of traffic rules seems to be broken. Let the people who use a car sort it out amongst themselves and enforce behavior socially. The idea that driver identification, or lack of it, gives deniability is just crazy. If three people have access to a car you’re going to know who ran the red light at 11:00 am last Tuesday.

In my perfect world bike riders and bus drivers would be natural allies but for that to work out you need space and user codes for them to slip past each other. It’s a dance, not a war. As a frequent bike rider my ethic is to give way to a bus in all situations but it doesn’t bother me a bit to ride in a bus lane absent of any bus. This would be harder to do if buses were electric but a bell would be sufficient to get my attention.

Oh YongHao
Guest
Oh YongHao

Part of the written test for driving I took in Taiwan included making sure that every driver understood their obligation concerning automatic ticketing. The law there states that the registered owner of a vehicle has an obligation to either pay the ticket themselves, or reveal who was in possession of their car at the time of the ticket. In practice one would pay the ticket then asked whoever they let borrow the car to reimburse them. From my understanding of their auto insurance they don’t have the same kind of actuaries that raise your rate based on getting a ticket.

X
Guest
X

comment error, not meant to be a reply to Doug

nate
Guest
nate

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

David Hampsten
Guest

Yeah, I couldn’t understand why bus-only lanes would ever be “new” to people in Portland, they’ve been on SW 5th & 6th for years. And those two do specifically exclude bicyclists. I’ll grant you the red lanes will be new (though they’ve been in Carlisle UK and elsewhere since at least 1999), but the exclusive right-of-way is old hat.

Bikeninja
Guest
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 ___________.”

Scott Kocher
Guest

NYC has a solution for cars in the bus lane.
Cheaper than a rocket launcher and generates revenue, too: https://twitter.com/NYCTBus/status/1181267948305960960?s=20

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

The bus camera for lane enforcement brings up an interesting point. Our current red light and speed camera system takes a photo of the driver from the front so an actual driving infraction ticket can be given to the driver. A photo from the back like this would not be able to identify the driver so it would have to be a ticket against the car like a parking ticket. I have advocated for a long time that this is the solution to our driving scoflaw problem. Avoid the issues surrounding giving driving infractions to drivers with automated enforcement and instead just create a set of illegal driving activities that can result in a parking style ticket issued against the car. If they are doing it in NYC there must be a legal way to accomplish it here.

rachel s
Guest
rachel s

By not directly recording the driver’s face, it would also help to address issues of racial bias when the police review the video tape prior to issuing the ticket.

mark
Guest
mark

I prefer the rocket launcher, but that NYC project does look promising.

I was a passenger on the #20 several weeks ago, and there was an Uber driver parked in front of a bus stop on W Burnside. The bus driver honked at him, and he stuck his stupid arm out the window to wave the bus to go around his entitled self. He finally scooted forward just enough to allow the bus to access the stop, but when we pulled out again, the bus had to go around him because he still refused to move.

mh
Subscriber

The image of the bus running over the (photograph of) the impeding car was heartwarming. Perhaps a snowplow on the front to push the car into its proper place?

Andrew Kreps
Guest
Andrew Kreps

I was hoping for a cowcatcher. A photo will leave less debris, though.

Scott Kocher
Guest

Thank you @PBOTinfo this is great work. To be clear, we have been able to do bus only lanes forever. We just haven’t. Federal approval is just for the red.

GlowBoy
Guest
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
Guest
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
Guest
tim

Another f’ing stupid idea

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Your compelling argument has completely changed my opinion.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

Putting what one wants (convenience, less delay) ahead of others’ needs (safety) is excessively selfish.

Mark smith
Guest
Mark smith

tim
Another f’ing stupid ideaRecommended 0

Oh yes, we should only prioritize single vehicle use.

Bike Guy
Guest
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.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Using a public resource for private property storage is not good policy, regardless of the income level of those who benefit. Car ownership is expensive, and car owners, on average, have much higher income than bus riders. Yes, I realize that some lower income folks have cars. Many of these people can’t truly afford driving, though. They haven’t budgeted for maintenance or proper liability insurance. They are one breakdown or crash away from being stranded, or worse, personal financial ruin.

As for that particular section of Killingsworth, there is plentiful side street parking. I would bet you that all of those car owners will find a place to park their cars. They might have to walk a block, though.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

Is there a proposal to remove (all?) parking on Killingsworth, or is this just an assumption?

Momo
Guest
Momo

Where did you get the idea that PBOT is proposing removing parking along Killingsworth? I believe a few spots here and there are being removed for vision clearance and pedestrian crosswalks, but there is no plan for wholesale parking removal that I’m aware of.

Braheem
Guest
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.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

Widening roads does not reduce congestion.

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?

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Problem: SOV commuters clog up the roads, slowing down everyone, including bus riders. Even when cities spend money to mark BUS ONLY in dedicated lanes, commuters still ignore (intentionally or not) these signs.
Solution: Red paint makes it abundantly clear that you are driving on a road that is “different” in some way. Combined with BUS ONLY markings, no one can use the excuse that they think it is just a standard travel lane.

This solution is used all over the world, and is effective:
https://usa.streetsblog.org/2019/06/07/the-magic-of-red-painted-bus-lanes/

They work even better when you eliminate parking along the curb; which is also a great way to free up space for dedicated bus lanes. The perfect solution!

David Hampsten
Guest

In most of the USA, red lanes is where the fire engines go, as in an emergency, especially in commercial shopping centers.

For those (few) motorists actually paying attention to their driving (and not distracted by their cell phones and/or in-dash entertainment systems), I dare say you’ll still get a lot of confused drivers.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

A red curb typically indicates a fire lane where parking is prohibited. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the lane itself painted red as a way to indicate a fire lane.

J_R
Guest
J_R

I completely understand that buses operate more slowly and are less attractive to riders if they are forced to operate in congested, general purpose lanes.
Do we have exclusive bus lanes in Portland that are being congested by errant or scofflaw motorists, thus reducing the effectiveness of the bus lanes? Where are they? Is this what the red markings are intended to fix?
Converting a parking lane to a bus-only lane is a completely separate issue.
We can only have a perfect solution if we identify the problem.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

No, we don’t have a problem with people driving in bus lanes because we barely have any. The idea is to build them, and when we do, make them red — a solution that’s proved effective in other cities in the US and abroad.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

No, Portland largely lacks bus-only lanes. The point of the red is to clearly indicate them when we do put them in.

X
Guest
X

It’s the cable lock school of traffic control devices.

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.

Brian
Guest
Brian

Despite the size of their vehicles, I find bus drivers to be some of the most courteous and aware drivers on the road.

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.