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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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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

55 Comments
  • Avatar
    Alex October 7, 2019 at 4:22 pm

    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…

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 7, 2019 at 4:42 pm

      Yes they would. At least that’s my strong hunch. I believe it’s still under discussion exactly how they would work… But if we create a bunch of bus-only lanes on these key streets that don’t also allow for safe bicycle use, I can guarantee some people involved will have some very difficult questions to answer. Would be a huge mistake to redesign these streets without creating low-stress cycling space at the same time.

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        nate October 7, 2019 at 5:04 pm

        Hrmmm… Seems to me like allowing bikes in some of these (like going up the hill on Jefferson, for example) would make the bus lanes even slower than the car lanes. Since the lanes widths already work, wouldn’t it be best to have a red lane on the curb, and then a green bike lane outside of that? Or put bikes by the curb with bus stop islands? I dunno, but making a bus full of people wait behind my old, slow ass as I chug up Jefferson seems to sort of defeat the purpose.

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          maccoinnich October 7, 2019 at 5:20 pm

          The Central City in Motion proposal for Jefferson, which was approved by City Council last year, is to put a bike on the left side of the street and a bus lane on the right side.

          Hopefully as our bike and bus network gets built out the number of places where it’s necessary for the two modes to share a lane will be kept to a minimum.

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          Greg Spencer October 10, 2019 at 9:42 am

          There is a conflict there and it’s true that a bus full of people should not have to wait for an individual riding uphill on a bike. However, if the #12 continues with just 15-minute headways, that’s a pretty under-utilized lane and it wouldn’t make sense to ban cycling. I think it’d be a matter of educating cyclists and drivers on a good way to share the road, like cyclists not overtaking buses at bus stops, and bus drivers not passing too close when they do encounter a slow-moving cyclist.

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        Buzz October 7, 2019 at 8:34 pm

        FWIW, TriMet’s long term MO is to NOT share their facilities with cyclists, what’s gonna make them change now?

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          Connor October 8, 2019 at 9:12 am

          Ummm, example? What is Tillikum Crossing, SW Madison Bus Lane, all the associated bike projects that accompanied the Orange Line?

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      Brian Hardman October 8, 2019 at 4:03 pm

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

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        maccoinnich October 8, 2019 at 4:13 pm

        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?

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    igor October 7, 2019 at 4:43 pm

    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.

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 7, 2019 at 4:47 pm

      I agree PBOT needs to do a better job making bicycle use welcome on NW Everett. I expressed this exact concern to their project people directly at an open house a few months ago and was sort of dismissed because they felt it would be obvious that bicycle riders could continue to use Everett as they always have. I was also told that “Flanders will be the bike street” as if people would magically stop biking on Everett for a non-existing bikeway on Flanders.

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        X October 8, 2019 at 2:44 pm

        Also where is our Flanders Bridge?

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        Andrew Kreps October 8, 2019 at 10:45 pm

        Hmm let’s see. Take Everett where I can go 12-15mph and hit all the green lights, it takes me straight to the Steel bridge, Better Naito and Waterfront Park

        -or-

        Take Flanders, which doesn’t cross i-405 and dead ends at a one-way in the wrong direction east of 3rd.

        I wonder why more people don’t bike it?

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      Doug Hecker October 7, 2019 at 5:28 pm

      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.

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        X October 8, 2019 at 2:35 pm

        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.

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          Oh YongHao October 13, 2019 at 5:41 pm

          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.

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        X October 8, 2019 at 2:39 pm

        comment error, not meant to be a reply to Doug

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    nate October 7, 2019 at 4:59 pm

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

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      David Hampsten October 8, 2019 at 3:30 pm

      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.

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    Bikeninja October 7, 2019 at 6:31 pm

    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 ___________.”

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      Scott Kocher October 7, 2019 at 10:31 pm

      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

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        bikeninja October 8, 2019 at 9:17 am

        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.

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          rachel s October 8, 2019 at 3:04 pm

          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.

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        mark October 8, 2019 at 9:47 am

        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.

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        mh October 8, 2019 at 12:46 pm

        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?

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          Andrew Kreps October 8, 2019 at 10:49 pm

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

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      Scott Kocher October 7, 2019 at 10:33 pm

      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.

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    GlowBoy October 8, 2019 at 5:06 am

    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?

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    Julie G October 8, 2019 at 7:10 am

    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 !

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    tim October 8, 2019 at 8:06 am

    Another f’ing stupid idea

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      Chris I October 8, 2019 at 8:42 am

      Your compelling argument has completely changed my opinion.

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      paikiala October 8, 2019 at 11:20 am

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

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    Mark smith October 8, 2019 at 8:46 am

    tim
    Another f’ing stupid ideaRecommended 0

    Oh yes, we should only prioritize single vehicle use.

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    Bike Guy October 8, 2019 at 9:35 am

    > “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.

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      Chris I October 8, 2019 at 10:06 am

      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.

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      maccoinnich October 8, 2019 at 10:15 am

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

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      Momo October 8, 2019 at 10:22 am

      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.

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    Braheem October 8, 2019 at 10:03 am

    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.

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 8, 2019 at 11:20 am

      Braheem,

      No they’re not going to expand anything. They’re just going to re-distribute existing space in a more efficient and sensible way.

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      paikiala October 8, 2019 at 11:23 am

      Widening roads does not reduce congestion.

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    Wheels61 October 8, 2019 at 1:15 pm

    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.

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    J_R October 8, 2019 at 2:09 pm

    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?

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      Chris I October 8, 2019 at 2:47 pm

      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!

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        David Hampsten October 8, 2019 at 3:37 pm

        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.

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          maccoinnich October 8, 2019 at 3:41 pm

          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.

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        J_R October 8, 2019 at 5:20 pm

        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.

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          maccoinnich October 8, 2019 at 5:53 pm

          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.

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          GlowBoy October 9, 2019 at 12:37 pm

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

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      X October 8, 2019 at 2:53 pm

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

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    Jason October 11, 2019 at 1:47 pm

    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.

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      Brian October 14, 2019 at 6:16 am

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

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    Mark Smith October 12, 2019 at 3:06 pm

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

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    soren October 14, 2019 at 9:24 am

    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.

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