Snow still blocks many bikeways, one week after storm

Posted by on February 19th, 2021 at 3:14 pm

(Many key bikeways still a dangerous mess nearly one week after the snow fell.)

The major snow and ice storm that moved into Portland Friday is still having negative impacts on bicycling conditions throughout the city. While conditions for drivers have improved greatly in the past few days and some bikeways are clear — large amounts of snow, ice, gravel and debris continue to block access to most bikeways and walkways.

N Greeley Ave path southbound is one bright spot! It’s clear from Willamette to Interstate Ave.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortlanD)

The lack of sweeping on major bikeways shows that either PBOT doesn’t prioritize them or that they are unable to address the issue due to capacity limitations. Either situation should be cause for concern.

One issue that seems to be causing the problem are protected bikeways. I’ve noticed several bikeways that have concrete curbs and/or plastic wands separating them from other lanes that look to have not been touched by sweepers. Portland has a very small street sweeper that was purchased in 2013 specifically to reach narrow bike lanes, so it’s not as if they don’t have the equipment.

Below is an example on N Interstate Avenue at Skidmore where it looks like plows cleared the street but protective wands in the bike lane prevented them from clearing all the snow.

N Interstate and Skidmore on Wednesday afternoon.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

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Here are more photos from around town (including some from reader Robert B)…

Reader Robert B sent us several photos yesterday that show major bikeways are still impassable by bike. The Burnside Bridge is still in bad shape, as are the approaches to the Broadway Bridge. “What I’m seeing is infrastructure not designed to be maintained and actually made worse by snow ‘removal’,” Robert shared. “With no attempt to keep bike lanes and crosswalks operable. There is no apparent connection between the active transportation people at PBOT and the road crews.”

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In my neighborhood, North Rosa Parks is completely under snow in most places. And reader Brendon C shared via Twitter that even as of Friday morning (today), the bike lanes on N Denver Avenue were “Completely blocked by huge piles of snow that must’ve been shoveled/plowed from nearby roads/driveways all the way from Kilpatrick to Rosa Parks.”

Bike lanes on NE Cully Blvd and NE 57th are still “pretty messy” with “mostly gravel but still some snow” another reader shared.

It appears PBOT crews are clearing and sweeping some bikeways and the natural melting is slowly doing its trick; but it’s been a week!

The presence of snow piling up in bikeways and walkways is dangerous because it forces people to spend more time exposed to more dangerous vehicle users in a shared-lane environment.

We raised this issue in 2017 and found that PBOT’s plow routes and snow removal plans didn’t include neighborhood greenway streets — which are in many ways the backbone of our network. I’ve reached out to PBOT once again to ask about bikeway-specific clean-up plans and will update this post when I hear back (see below).

How are the bikeways where you ride? Please share status updates in the comments. See reports on conditions in this Twitter thread.

UPDATE, 3:17pm: PBOT says “Yes, we have been clearing bike lanes and streets that have downed trees. If there is a lane that needs attention, please encourage your readers to call our maintenance hotline — 503-823-1700 — to report it and get it on the list.”

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Native Portland CyclistGlowBoyHello, KittyqqqJonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) Recent comment authors
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Champs
Guest
Champs

The I5 access trail off N Marine comes to mind when I say that the pea gravel will be haunting us for months, maybe even years.

Jd
Guest
Jd

Good thing we’re all riding gravel bikes now, amiright?!

Fred
Guest
Fred

No, we are not. 😉

Jd
Guest
Jd

I thought “all bikes are gravel bikes”?

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

If it can’t handle a little gravel, it’s a toy, not a bike. Bikeways completely obstructed by snow are a much bigger problem than a little gravel.

maxD
Guest
maxD

In addition to the bike lanes disappearing under snow along Interstate, the northbound hill on Interstate has a deadly mix of snow/ice, gravel, and branches. Navigating that in the dark last night was kind of harrowing.

drs
Guest
drs

The westbound bike lane on the approach to Hawthorne bridge was still an issue yesterday morning, though the rest of the bridge had been cleared.

Nadia Maxim
Guest
Nadia Maxim

Thanks for advocating for clearing the vital Greenway streets! I did a bit of shoveling on my street to free up the corners from the snow berms. Those big berms really make it tricky for pedestrians.

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

PBOT also pushes snow into sidewalk crossing to make walking extra hard.

Fred
Guest
Fred

I dunno about pushing snow onto sidewalks – seems to me that sidewalks, when they are cleared, are prioritized over bike lanes. During my rides I’ve been paying attention to the sidewalks in places where there are bike lanes, and the sidewalks generally are clear and the bike lanes are not. Isn’t there an ordinance that requires property owners to clear sidewalks of snow when sidewalks cross their property? I saw many people shoveling snow from sidewalks and depositing it in the bike lanes. It’s same with leaves in the fall and debris generally – just blow or shovel your crap into the street, which means the bike lane, and let someone else deal with it.

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

I’m not saying that they push snow onto side walks. They push onto sidewalk crossings. There are sidewalks with no snow but huge 3 feet piles when you need to cross.

X
Guest
X

That does appear to be a routine practice.

Nadia Maxim
Guest
Nadia Maxim

Yes, property owners/occupants are responsible for clearing sidewalk of snow/ice. They are also liable for any injuries for failing to remove snow/ice

Portland City Ordinance No. 176585
A. The owner(s) and/or occupant(s) of land adjacent to any street in the City shall be responsible for snow and ice removal from sidewalks abutting or immediately adjacent to such land, notwithstanding any time limitations.

B. Property owner(s) and/or occupant(s) shall be liable for any and all damages to any person who is injured or otherwise suffers damage resulting from failure to remove snow and/or ice accumulations.

C. Property owner(s) and/or occupant(s) shall be liable to the City of Portland for any amounts paid or incurred consequent from claims, judgment or settlement, and for all reasonable investigation costs and attorney fees, resulting from the responsible property owner’s or occupant’s failure to remove snow and ice accumulations from such sidewalks as imposed by this Code.

https://www.portland.gov/code/17/28/025

Chopwatch
Guest
Chopwatch

Along with snow, issues like transient camps on sidewalk that causes pedestrians into bike paths, which in turn causes bikes to swerve into car lanes all contribute to raising accident probability. Running around with scissors is only harmful if you bump into things or fall down. Unfortunately, there’s always risk, but our city isn’t doing enough to reduce the harm of it.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I’m not surprised that PBOT focused on clearing the way for the motorized vehicles at the cost of the “modes of the privileged”. PBOT’s primary mission is “equity,” which seems to (bizarrely) demand prioritizing motor vehicles.

That sounds a bit snarky, but it’s what I learned from the Hawthorne project.

Enjoy gravel season!

squareman
Subscriber

Bobcycle caught this lovely thing that Tesla did, clearing the snow out of their parking lot, but dumping onto the bike path: https://forums.bikeportland.org/t/slush-and-snow-status-reports/960/3?u=squareman

soren
Guest
soren

The NE Multnomah pseudo-protected bike lane still has massive plow piles that have been intentionally pushed into the bike lane.

It’s depressing to bike commute these days because people driving no longer expect to see people cycling and drive in an exceptionally careless and aggressive manner.

Nadia Maxim
Guest
Nadia Maxim

Maybe PBOT should organize a volunteer bike path cleanup crew? I think it would be fun to drive that cute little Dutch bike path sweeper they have for a few hours on a weekend. No salary and benefits required. I’ve never seen any PBOT employees using it anyway so why not let a few volunteer cyclists take it out for a spin? As Jonathan wondered a few years back, does it come with a snow plow attachment? Probably wouldn’t be equitable to plow the bike paths though. Ugh!
https://bikeportland.org/2013/11/18/meet-portlands-new-bike-path-sized-street-sweeper-97302

Keith
Guest
Keith

Probably 20 years ago now, the bike advisory committee asked PBOT to prioritize sweeping bike lanes after snow events, and it appears to me that PBOT has done this. I can appreciate the difficulty in clearing streets initially during challenging conditions and poor visibility. Similar to street sweeping after a snow event, PBOT should adopt a policy for snow plowing by returning in the days immediately following a storm to do a better job clearing bike lanes and crosswalks – at least on major streets. As it is now, bike lanes have not been usable this week and may remain that way into next week. Think of the political heat the mayor/PBOT would get if streets were impassible for motorists for this length of time!

Another issue worth considering is the impact of wands and other physical barriers that separate cyclists from traffic. While they’re great when the bike facility is clean, it’s the opposite when they’re full of snow because they can’t be plowed. Following the snow melt, they’ll be full of gravel and debris for weeks or months. PBOT needs a maintenance strategy for these facilities.

Fred
Guest
Fred

Keith, did you mean to say (in your first sentence) that PBOT has *not* done this? (has not prioritized sweeping bike lanes).

I think you are absolutely correct: any wanded or otherwise physically separated bike lane needs its own snow-removal plan. But I’m guessing PBOT doesn’t have funding for any dedicated crews or equipment, and they just wait for the snow to melt.

I wish I had gotten a photo of the raised bike lanes on the north side of SW Multnomah Blvd. Looks like some astute snowplow operator raised his plow a few inches and did a great job of clearing those lanes! The lanes seem rather special to me – I haven’t seen them anywhere else in Portland – but they are raised an inch or two above the car lanes and have rounded curbs onto those lanes. So they are not fully separated: a car or especially a truck could easily wander up into the bike lane, but I suppose the rounded boundary would alert a driver that s/he was leaving the lane. The advantage in snowy conditions is that since there are no wands or hard curbs, the snowplow can actually clear the bike lanes. I wonder why this design isn’t used in more places (cheaper to add paint and glue in some wands?).

Keith
Guest
Keith

I meant that PBOT has. This is not to say they’re swept as soon as we’d like but at least generally ahead of lower priority bike streets.

soren
Guest
soren

20 years ago cycling advocacy had not become such a political wedge-issue* for marginalized communities, the center-left, and the left (Bike Score™ >90 !!1!1!!!!!). IMO, the only political demographic that still largely prioritizes bike infrastructure is the liberal/pro-market demographic (a demographic that is viewed with increasing hostility by many marginalized communities and by many on the left.)

*for valid reasons, atmo.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

Where should the snow be plowed?

Suburban
Guest
Suburban

Mars, Bitches

Chopwatch
Guest
Chopwatch

One of the vehicular lanes whenever there are multiple car lanes per direction.

Steve Scarich
Guest
Steve Scarich

In Bend, these conditions can last for several months, depending on snowfall. Bike lanes never get a clean sweep until Spring. The City touts itself as pedestrian/cyclist friendly, but that all goes out the window for five months a year. The City itself is the worst offender, because they create big berms in the sidewalks and bike lanes. Responsibility for clearing sidewalks is the landowner, and that is hit or miss. The sidewalks on some of the bridges over the river, which are City responsibility are completely covered with 3′ of snow.

Fred
Guest
Fred

Be careful taking the lane and remember to repeat your seven chakras so your blood pressure doesn’t rise too much when motorists honk, yell, and throw things at you. 🙂

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

We have the same problem in Minneapolis, at least with unprotected on-street bike lanes. Plows fail to clear all the way to the curb, and bike lanes either get partly buried in the resulting snowbank, or blocked by cars whose parking lane is buried. Either way, forget about using “normal” bike lanes in winter.

The difference is that our huge network of MUPs (which are mostly under various park bureaus’ jurisdictions) get plowed, and often sooner than the adjacent streets. Also, fortunately, as protected bike lanes have been added in recent years, the city has made a commitment to maintaining them in winter. Someone above said that protected bike lanes “can’t be plowed”, which is absolutely untrue. We have plows for that, and the city gets it done.

Even if Portland only has one machine capable of clearing bikeways (and my understanding is that they do) they should have been able to at least clear the snow off every single mile of protected bikeway in the city by about five days ago.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

Not even a truck mounted plow can make much of a dent in the sort of ice we had last week. The prospect of success using small equipment is poor.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Plows won’t clear ice, but they will clear off the snow, so that when the ice melts off the path is clear. Then you don’t have to wait days longer for the piled/packed snow to melt.

RH
Guest
RH

Inevitable consequence of the proliferation of tortuous, unmaintainable, third rate gutter obstacle course “bike paths”, intended to get bikes out of the way of motor vehicles, while pandering to the sidewalk riding mentality.

mark smith
Guest
mark smith

So…a plow on the front of an ATV doesn’t work anymore? Or do they have to use their fancy german made unit that moves at snail pace..

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

That’s mostly what they use here in MN for the paths, although I’ve occasionally seen the Parks Board use 4×4 pickups with plow attachments. Either works just fine.

mran1984
Guest

Snow and ice are more welcome than tarps and human excrement. I had zero issue commuting this week. No, I don’t like the gravel either. If the city is going to give away river view real estate then I would like FREE TUBES & TYRES during gravel season.

qqq
Guest
qqq

From the article and comments, it seems like lots of people noticed what I also did–that biking and walking were made more difficult because of snow being shoveled or plowed off of vehicle areas (street lanes, driveways and parking lots) onto bike lanes, crosswalks, and sidewalks.

Chrystal
Guest
Chrystal

Thanks for posting the maintenance hotline number I will be calling. I ride up the interstate ave. hill to get to work and there are branches down in bike lane. That road is really narrow, cars tend to speed up that hill, and I felt bullied by cars a bit when taking the lane this morning.

Carrie
Guest
Carrie

OMG that quote from PBOT about clearing the roads with downed trees. They cleared the huge tree that feel across SE Bybee by the Eastmoreland Golf course and put the tree parts IN THE BIKE LANE on both sides of the street. The tree fell and was ‘cleared’ a week ago. How the hell is that clearing the bike lane?

FDUP
Guest
FDUP

This is a clear case of unintended consequences; it could easily have been foreseen that show removal would be a problem if bike infra was separated from car infra by barriers of any sort.

ChrisP
Guest
ChrisP

Revoke our platinum status, now.

This is just one more piece of prima facie evidence. There is more work to be done,

Javier Sodo
Guest
Javier Sodo

Well, all powerful Mother Nature has now done what PBOT could not do. 🙂 The snow is gone! (Well, except for the big berms and piles of snow pushed into the bike lanes). 🙁

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

I have often thought that it might be better to do nothing rather than plow, especially in the flat parts of the city. The problem will resolve itself soon enough.

Chopwatch
Guest
Chopwatch

I also wanted to comment I noticed snow shoveled to the side by some construction site in Central Eastside that they carved out just enough snow for fully able bodied pedestrians to get through the temporary barrier thing, but certainly not done to the expectations of ADA clearance standards. Bike lanes and ADA issues have pretty low priority in Portland.

D2
Guest
D2

I’m legitimately tempted to design a bicycle powered sweeper and loan it out to people assuming that even under human power we can do it much faster than the city or metro will.

qqq
Guest
qqq

An interesting question (based on a common situation): The City plows the street and creates snow drifts that can be 3′ or 4′ high on the adjacent sidewalks in front of all the businesses. Now aren’t the property owners responsible for clearing the snow drifts off their sidewalks? The law says they are.

It probably never comes up because the law doesn’t seem to be enforced. And the property owner who doesn’t clear their sidewalks can legitimately argue, “If the City expected me to clear my sidewalk, why would it pile snow on it?” Or even, “I’d like to clear it, but I don’t know how to get rid of several tons of snow the City dumped there”.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Yes they are. Plow drivers need to slow down and make sure their wake isn’t burying sidewalks. We occasionally have this problem in Minneapolis, but mostly it’s on the busier streets whose maintenance is done by the county, and those drivers feel like they need to blast along at 30 mph. On quieter city streets, even with very narrow planting strips, you don’t see sidewalks getting buried by plows (except at corners, which is a separate problem – and a big one) because they go slower on the side streets.

Native Portland Cyclist
Guest
Native Portland Cyclist

I tried to report the downed tree(s) blocking the bi-directional bike way at NE Wasco St and NE 28th for the last two weeks, using the number listed at the end of the article. I was told I called the wrong bureau. LOL