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PBOT, Oregon State to partner on research into bus and bike lane conflicts

(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

As the City of Portland continues to roll out its Rose Lane transit-priority projects, the transportation bureau wants to push the design envelope beyond what federal guidelines allow.

At Portland City Council this week the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) will seek authorization (via this ordinance) to spend $80,000 on a contract with Oregon State University to embark on research that will test the coexistence of bus and bike lanes. The research will focus on three specific corridors on PBOT’s Rose Lane Project list: SE Hawthorne/Madison, E Burnside, and SW 4th Ave.

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Specifically, PBOT’s current plan to speed buses between Grand and SE 12th on SE Hawthorne includes a bus priority lane to the left of a bike-only lane. At some intersections, bus and car operators will be able to turn right — across a straight-running bike lane (see image below).

PBOT plans for SE Hawthorne at 7th. (Note: These plans are not current and are only being shown to illustrate lanes.)

This design doesn’t meet guidance of the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) so PBOT is planning to file a “request to experiment” and justify the design with research. The study will evaluate that data in hopes of clarifying the MUTCD.

Hannah Schafer in PBOT’s communications office told us the OSU research will center around Chapter 9 of the MUTCD which states, “A through bicycle lane shall not be positioned to the right of a right turn only lane or to the left of a left turn only lane” (page 808). Schafer says the study is needed to find out if this 20-plus year old statement* is still true, “particularly as it applies to Rose Lanes.” (*The MUTCD is notoriously outdated and is a constant thorn in the side of progressive engineers nationwide.) Once the research is complete, Schafer says, “The hope is it help improve the designs and make it clearer how BAT [business access and transit] lanes work adjacent to bike lanes.”

Working with the FHWA on road design is nothing new for PBOT. They’ve successfully earned interim approval for colored bike boxes, colored bike lanes, and bicycle-only traffic signals. The new bike signal with a countdown timer on Broadway at North Williams is the subject of a study as well.

PBOT will work with OSU’s Kiewit Center for Infrastructure and Transportation Research. The project will lead to a peer-reviewed journal article and will be led by PBOT’s Signals, Street Lighting, & ITS (Intelligent Transportation Systems) Division Manager Peter Koonce.

NOTE: On Wednesday 11/18 I updated this article to clarify that PBOT plans to move forward with current plans and that the study will evaluate how the new lanes work. Sorry for any confusion.

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