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Will Portland’s ‘Rose Lanes’ be safe for cycling? New research offers clues

Posted by on February 12th, 2020 at 12:29 pm

More coming soon.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

How safe is it for bicycle riders to share a “transit only” lane with bus and streetcar operators?

That’s a relevant question in Portland because the Rose Lane Project — a plan being considered by the City Council Thursday (2/13) — would see the implementation of just such an arrangement on local roads. And the answer is now a bit clearer thanks to new research from University of Pittsburgh, which found that bicycle users are safer in lanes they share with mass transit operators than those they share with car and truck drivers.


Graphics from the study showing a right-side pass and leapfrog.

The new research, completed by a graduate student in civil engineering at Pitt, studied the safety performance of an existing shared bus-bike lane that runs through downtown Pittsburgh. Using video cameras stationed at four intersections over a four-day period, the study recorded interactions between bicycle and other vehicle users traveling in both the shared bus-bike lane and a contraflow general lane that riders share with drivers. Risky “conflict” behaviors, such as bike riders attempting to leapfrog or overtake buses, riders using the wrong lane, crossing through the opposite lane to reach the far sidewalk, or riding on the sidewalk, were recorded and tabulated as part of the research.

The report concluded that there is a clear safety advantage for bicycle users in the shared bus-bike lane as compared to general traffic lane. For the period of observation, the report found the conflicts between bikes and other vehicles in the shared bus-bike lane were were about half of those seen in the general lane. Per the data, 42.8% of general lane bicycle users observed had conflicts with car users while only 18.1% of bicycle users in shared bus-bike lane had conflicts with a bus operator.

“The results show that our hypothesis was corrected [sic] as cyclists traveling on the [shared bus-bike lane] will have a safer experience than cyclists traveling in the general traffic lane. Bikers in the [shared bus-bike lane], having to share the lane with only the buses, will have less conflicts to worry about,” 
 concluded the author.

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Part of the reduction in risk was due to the fact that there were fewer buses running in the shared bus-bike lane as compared to the general lane, resulting in less chance of conflicts. The report did note, however, that there were certain problems with having buses and bikes share a lane, such as bikes attempting to overtake or “leapfrog” buses (above) when the larger vehicles stopped to pick up passengers. Despite that issue, the author concluded that shared bus-bike lanes still came out on top in terms of reduced risks for bicycle riders.

How best to integrate bicycle and transit users in one lane will be a big discussion point in the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s (PBOT) Rose Lane Project, an initiative that envisions a variety of transit-priority treatments citywide. The project aims to improve transit service by giving buses and rail vehicles their own lane where they can’t stuck in traffic. PBOT staff will present its report and recommendations to the City Council for adoption in a hearing tomorrow. Bus-priority lanes have already been installed on SW Madison, NW Everett, and the Burnside Bridge and construction of 20 Phase 1 pilot projects will start this summer.

“While we do not believe that shared bus/bike lanes are a good design, we want to make it clear that people on bicycles should be allowed to ride in bus lanes, at least until protected bicycle lanes are provided on a corridor.”
— PBOT Bicycle Advisory Committee

As this plan has progressed, the issue of how Rose Lanes impact cycling facilities has simmered. The PBOT Bicycle Advisory Committee wrote a letter about the Rose Lane Project on January 23rd that said “world class bikeways” should be integrated into the designs. “While we do not believe that shared bus/bike lanes are a good design,” reads the letter, “we want to make it clear that people on bicycles should be allowed to ride in bus lanes, at least until protected bicycle lanes are provided on a corridor.”

“Impacts on bike facilities, such as changes to bike lane configuration,” is listed as a potential trade-off in the Rose Lane plan itself.

While PBOT includes shared bus-bike lanes as an option in their Enhanced Transit Corridors Toolbox, only one of the 29 publicly released Phase 1 projects, a short stretch of N. Whitaker Road in North Portland, proposes a shared bus-bike lane.

While publicly available information indicates that no other Phase 1 projects have shared bus-bike lanes, they could be integrated into Phase 2 projects that would be designed this year and constructed in 2021-2022.

Other planned treatments for Rose Lanes include transit-only lanes, road design modifications, signal improvements, and stop and station improvements, among others. Each pilot would be evaluated for performance in order to measure the benefits and trade-offs for the duration of the pilot. The Rose Lane Project is intended to advance PBOT’s transportation justice goals by reducing climate impacts and improving racial equity.

The Portland City Council will take up the issue this Thursday, February 13th at 2:00 p.m.

— Ian Edwards, ian@ianedws.com and @ianedws on Twitter
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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

45 Comments
  • Avatar
    soren February 12, 2020 at 12:55 pm

    It’s incredibly exciting to learn that shared bus lanes are “safer” than a general traffic lane.

    Who new???

    Clearly, we need to redouble our efforts to replace existing bike infrastructure with shared bus lanes wherever possible (see image above for glorious example of Portland’s post-card perfect platinum bike infrastructure).

    Risky “conflict” behaviors, such as, … riding on the sidewalk”

    Oh my gosh! Such insurmountable evidence of “conflict” in the general traffic lane! Even better would have been to record people riding in bike lanes in a 10 block radius. Riding on sidewalks or in bike lanes is the epitome of conflict!!!

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    I'll Show Up February 12, 2020 at 1:24 pm

    Personally, the new bike and bus lane on Madison has been such an amazing upgrade. It’s so much more comfortable than the bike lane was. There’s a lot more space and the cars feel far away. If that’s how riding on these lanes feels, I like having more of them on other busy streets.

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      Jason February 12, 2020 at 2:39 pm

      How are the busses though?

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        D2 February 12, 2020 at 3:16 pm

        They keep their distance every time as far as I’m aware. It is helpful it is a downhill section since even a cautious rider is unlikely to mess up their timing of the lights so they don’t attempt a pass in the small stretch.

        If a bus is already it is pretty uncomfortable to pass it at speed and I have pretty narrow bars. I usually wait for them to pull over a bit more at the stop at the bottom of the hill, again there isn’t much to be gained in a pass with the timing of the lights.

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      soren impey February 13, 2020 at 2:58 pm

      Eastbound traffic on the Hathorne bridge (as a fraction of westbound) has plummeted since the bike facility was removed and replaced with a narrow east-bound advisory lane was installed.

      http://portland-hawthorne-bridge.visio-tools.com/

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        idlebytes February 13, 2020 at 3:17 pm

        Are you talking about the change in October 2013? Cause I’m looking at the month by month and it doesn’t seem significantly different. There’s some pretty big discrepancies sure but they go both ways and seem to me they might be counting issues because surrounding months are a lot closer and correspond with 2013 comparisons.

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          Alan Kessler February 14, 2020 at 11:37 am

          Yeah, i’m not seeing what Soren’s talking about either. I know the counters have been periodically broken and the Tilikum opened in that time period (2015) as well.

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            soren February 14, 2020 at 12:04 pm

            On a monthly basis, westbound traffic is consistently higher than eastbound traffic for the later months in 2019 and Jan and Feb in 2020. (When counters are functional in previous years westbound and eastbound traffic have been roughly the same on a monthly basis.)

            As someone who has difficulty riding a bike (and on many days cannot ride at all), there is absolutely no way I would ever ride in this facility.

            https://i.ibb.co/hXStLJP/image.png

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    Mick O February 12, 2020 at 1:31 pm

    “Graphics from the study showing a right-side pass and leapfrog.”

    Are they 2x of the exact same graphic? My spot-the-difference skills are failing. Is the takeaway meant to show that they are in effect the same thing?

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    Chainstays February 12, 2020 at 1:39 pm

    If I recall correctly, Paris has lanes that bikes, buses and taxis share.

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      JR February 12, 2020 at 2:40 pm

      So does London and some other cities in the UK I’ve been to. It seemed to work alright although their shared lanes were much wider than a single bus – more like the SW Madison example here, except without separate striping for bikes and bus.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty February 12, 2020 at 4:28 pm

        The problem with those UK lanes is that, like N Williams, they are on the wrong side of the street!

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          Jason February 13, 2020 at 10:20 am

          Having lived in the UK, I assure you the lanes are on the correct side of the road. This is relevant to the UK being left hand drive. In all countries, around the world, the driver is nearest the center of the road. Simple. The UK lane orientation is not relevant to US bike lane orientation, per se.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty February 13, 2020 at 10:21 am

            Their cars are on the wrong side too?!?

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              Jason February 13, 2020 at 12:03 pm

              Well, at least they aren’t upside down, not like Australia.

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              Jason February 13, 2020 at 12:07 pm

              idlebytes
              No I just think you’re reading too much into it. Obviously a driver should yield to a vehicle that has already begun to overtake it and it’s not illegal for vehicles to overtake a stopped bus. There are other circumstances that may make it illegal but there’s not a specific law saying you can’t overtake a stopped bus.A driver also has a responsibility to not just whip out into traffic without making sure that traffic has yielded as they should. Just because they don’t have to yield to those vehicles doesn’t mean they shouldn’t if they expect that the vehicle is not going to stop.Recommended 0

              I complained about a very specific issue to Mary Hill. In that instance I was ahead of the bus by two car lengths coming off the Hawthorn bride on the west bound lanes. I felt the bus did not yield to my lane change indication – I was crossing to the left exit to SW First. I say that because I was made to wait for the behemoth to pass me.

              Now, tell me again how I misinterpreted her statement? Because, from where I’m viewing it, I understand perfectly that she said, “regardless that you were ahead of the bus, you did not have the right of way. In fact, buses don’t yield to other vehicles.”

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                idlebytes February 13, 2020 at 12:18 pm

                Ok I understand better now. I think that you’re just misapplying her interpretation of the law to the situation John outlined. We’re talking about different things is all. I don’t think her response to your specific situation applies to the circumstance John outlined. I agree with her assessment for your experience because no driver in that situation has to yield to someone for a lane change. The person changing lanes has to make sure it’s safe to do so and not violate the right of way of the person approaching from behind. They don’t have to yield for you but it’s nice when they do.

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    dan February 12, 2020 at 1:40 pm

    Well, it stands to reason…after all, when an ordinary motorist hurts or kills a cyclist, they just get a fine. If a transit driver hurts or kills a cyclist, they might lose their job. Isn’t it interesting how when people are properly incentivized, it becomes much easier to spot those bikes that “show up out of nowhere”?

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      Jason February 12, 2020 at 1:58 pm

      False, if you didn’t yield to TriMet, you disobeyed the law.

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        John Lascurettes February 12, 2020 at 2:57 pm

        Depends. While a bus is picking up/dropping off, the driver is supposed to have the right turn (or is the hazards?) blinker on, a cyclist does not have to yield the left side to that bus (they DO need to be cognizant of any pedestrians debarking and entering the crosswalk and yield to them). When they’re ready to pull back into traffic, they’re supposed to turn on their left turn blinker (and the “YIELD” signal if so equipped) — at which point, yes you’re supposed to yield. So it depends on the state of those signals.

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          Jason February 13, 2020 at 10:17 am

          Per another comment in this thread: Mary L. Hill, Assistant Transportation Manager at the Central Garage said:

          “I have researched your understanding of the Oregon traffic code by viewing the Oregon DMV Drivers Manual and found that buses are not expected to yield to another vehicle.”

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            idlebytes February 13, 2020 at 11:09 am

            What that means is drivers trying to turn back out into the lane that have vehicles behind them are not expected to yield to those vehicles. That doesn’t mean that if a driver or cyclists are next to them that they can just come on over. They do have to yield to those vehicles. You also have a responsibility to reasonably assume the vehicles behind you aren’t going to go around. You need to check and make sure they’re yielding properly you can’t just blindly pull out into the lane.

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              Jason February 13, 2020 at 11:48 am

              Feel free to take it up with her. She was clear about her understanding. Do you want her email?

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                idlebytes February 13, 2020 at 11:59 am

                No I just think you’re reading too much into it. Obviously a driver should yield to a vehicle that has already begun to overtake it and it’s not illegal for vehicles to overtake a stopped bus. There are other circumstances that may make it illegal but there’s not a specific law saying you can’t overtake a stopped bus.

                A driver also has a responsibility to not just whip out into traffic without making sure that traffic has yielded as they should. Just because they don’t have to yield to those vehicles doesn’t mean they shouldn’t if they expect that the vehicle is not going to stop.

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          Fred February 13, 2020 at 10:26 am

          Thanks for adding that clarification. I go left around stopped buses all the time and I have no intention of stopping. Bus drivers need to get used to this leap-frogging behavior, IMO.

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          Kittens February 13, 2020 at 4:12 pm

          cars and other traffic are required by law to yield to a transit vehicle pulling from the curb regardless of the presence or status of any YIELD light

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      Jason February 12, 2020 at 2:08 pm

      I know I’m not the only one who has seen TriMet blocking the bike lane at SW Hawthorn and SW 1st Avenue while waiting at a red light. There was also that bus driver on Sandy Blvd that was “teaching the cyclist a lesson” by nearly clipping the cyclist. I do everything I can to avoid using streets with a bus route. For me, this is bunko – waste of money – to call a bus lane bike infrastructure.

      I commute every day of the year, so – Hello! PBOT! Don’t do this!

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        PDXCyclist February 12, 2020 at 4:22 pm

        You should probably report stuff like that in the future. Sure, maybe the cyclist did something stupid. Or maybe this is just a crabby bus driver — but no one deserves to die as retribution. It’s easy to mess up driving a massive bus while deliberately trying to close pass and cause a fatal crash.

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          Jason February 13, 2020 at 10:15 am

          The Sandy Boulevard incident publicized on the internet, I just can’t seem to manage the correct search terms to find it now. If I find it, I’ll link it. The driver’s name is Buck Worthey, if that rings any bells for someone, chime in.

          My personal incident was on Hawthorn Bridge, coming off the bike path and scooting over to the left lane exit. I stopped doing this, now I do a dogleg left. If you do this now, tell me your experience. I signaled my move and the bus, being several car lengths behind me, did not yield. I did report this and here is what Mary L. Hill, Assistant Transportation Manager at the Central Garage said:

          “I have researched your understanding of the Oregon traffic code by viewing the Oregon DMV Drivers Manual and found that buses are not expected to yield to another vehicle.”

          This dogma is why I have such disdain for TriMet as an organization. They run the streets, they choose the infrastructure upgrades. They control the vertical and the horizontal.

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          soren February 13, 2020 at 3:06 pm

          To support Jason’s experience:

          I was harassed by a bus driver who deeply swerved into the bike lane from the main traffic lane. I reported the incident with Trimet via email and got this response (My report included the time and bus number) :

          I have requested the Operator’s Supervisor respond to you via email.
          Kind Regards,
          Jenny J
          Customer Satisfaction
          TriMet”

          They never followed up even after I contacted them again.

          It’s my experience that trimet bus drivers are some of the worst drivers on the road. I avoid routes with bus traffic as much as possible.

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      Jason February 12, 2020 at 2:13 pm

      Damn nesting monkeys.

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    gilly February 12, 2020 at 4:16 pm

    I thought the purpose of the Rose Lane was to speed up the busses. It seems like that wouldn’t be happening if bikes and busses share the lane.

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      jonno February 12, 2020 at 4:40 pm

      My understanding is that what’s slowing the busses isn’t top speed, it’s the congestion at intersections and chokepoints. So the purpose of the rose lanes is to give busses priority through those areas so they’re not held up by the masses of cars.

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    maxD February 12, 2020 at 5:34 pm

    I work in CEID and live in NOPO. My commute to/from work uses Interstate Ave. I frequently travel down Madison/Hawthorne to meetings downtown by bike. In my experience the changes on Madison have been mostly positive. My interactions with the bus drivers have been positive and their are fewer interactions with people driving so that is positive. Heading west, the bike just disappears (typical!) but the bike lane/signal timing allows me to get in front of the cars and take the lane almost every time! Interstate has a couple of buses that must pull into the bike lane to access bus stops. That remains a scary conflict point. Going around the buses is possible but people drive super erratically through the Rose Quarter

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    Dan Sullivan February 13, 2020 at 6:07 am

    These bus lanes are in the Golden Triangle, where ordinary traffic is exceptionally slow. There is really no danger to cycling in traffic there if the cyclist obeys the rules of the road. Popping out from behind a bus into the oncoming traffic lane is an obviously bad idea,

    Studies often say what the people conducting the studies want them to say. This is especially true of someone looking at some videos and drawing conclusions. In studies of this nature, particularly, people see what they want to see. The fact that the videos showed no accidents in 192 hours (four whole days!) is meaningless.

    Actually, since there were multiple cameras, it isn’t even four days. It’s either four cameras for one day, two cameras for two days, or three cameras for 1 1/3 days. Don’t let the social-justice cyclists make mountains out of molehills.

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      Stephen Simac February 18, 2020 at 10:21 am

      This “new research from University of Pittsburgh, which found that bicycle users are safer in lanes they share with mass transit operators than those they share with car and truck drivers” was too limited to prove any safety advantages. Disagree that “there were certain problems with having buses and bikes share a lane, such as bikes attempting to overtake or “leapfrog” buses (above) when the larger vehicles stopped to pick up passengers. Despite that issue, the author concluded that shared bus-bike lanes still came out on top in terms of reduced risks for bicycle riders.” Passing on the left is far safer than trying to slip through stopped busses and sidewalk curbs, with or without entering and exiting passengers.

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    David LaPorte February 13, 2020 at 6:41 am

    Does anyone know where bikes are supposed to ride on NW Everett now that there’s the new bus lane? I’ve been riding in the bus lane, unless a bus needs to pass me or I need to pass a bus, then I straddle the lanes. I sure hope the rest of the new bus lanes aren’t this ambiguous for bikes!

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      igor February 13, 2020 at 9:55 am

      I asked the same thing several weeks ago about Everett, and Jonathan replied that the designers assumed that bikes would ride in the bus lane, even without that being marked. Clearly it’s a bit confusing because on other downtown streets there’s an indication when bus and bike traffic are supposed to share the same lane.

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    Doug Davis February 13, 2020 at 9:32 am

    This report assumes proper street maintenance which is unlikely to happen. More likely is dirt and debris will fill the gutter lane and create a hazard for cyclists. It is much safer for cyclist to pass the bus on the outside — and oh yes, it avoids the pedestrians entering and existing the bus; and the bus mirrors from taking off the back of their head.

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    Jason February 13, 2020 at 9:46 am

    Buses are like reverse TARDIS’; bigger on the outside than on the inside. They take up as much space as absolutely possible in the lane. Yet, no one has any comfort inside one. Everyone is always trying – vainly – to get their feet out of the isle for anyone walking the isle. Why though?

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    Paul in the 'Couve February 13, 2020 at 11:10 am

    I have ridden the transit lanes in NYC / Manhatten extensively. They aren’t even formally called bike facilities; as far as I know it’s ambiguous. Anyway, they work for me. I *feel* safer there. I’ll make a route adjustment to get onto a stretch of bus lane there. I won’t bother trying to get to a marked bike lane.

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    Dan Sullivan February 14, 2020 at 6:51 am

    igor
    I asked the same thing several weeks ago about Everett, and Jonathan replied that the designers assumed that bikes would ride in the bus lane, even without that being marked. Clearly it’s a bit confusing because on other downtown streets there’s an indication when bus and bike traffic are supposed to share the same lane.Recommended 3

    Cyclists always rode in the bus lanes in Pittsburgh, but there aren’t many buses and the blocks are very short. It’s pretty easy to get out of the way if a bus comes along. It would be very different in cities with better bus service or longer blocks.

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    X February 18, 2020 at 12:23 pm

    I’m pretty comfortable sharing lanes with buses in spite of the occasional difference of opinion with transit operators who take a dim view of the situation. If this becomes a standard, could we build in a few mid-block spots on uphills where cooperating bike riders can pull out to let a bus slide by in its lane?

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