“If the plastic posts were ever protecting anyone to begin with, they aren’t doing it when they don’t stay in place for more than a few weeks at a time.”
— David Binnig
The thousands of plastic posts that delineate Portland bike lanes are perhaps a perfect symbol of our city’s commitment to bicycling and traffic safety. On one hand they show the transportation bureau respects bicycle riders and other vulnerable road users and that they know protecting bike lanes and building diverters is a key ingredient to boosting bike usage. But on the other hand, they don’t go far enough. By using a flimsy material for something meant to encourage people to drive less and protect them from collisions with multi-ton steel vehicles, the city shows they’re commitment to safety is more about aesthetics than outcomes.
These nearly-ubiquitous plastic posts (aka flex-posts, bollards, wands, or candlestick delineators) are good, but not great. And we desperately need great.
You probably either love or hate these posts. I love them when they stand stout and tall because they change driver behaviors and offer some protection (or at least a feeling of protection). But when I see them battered and uprooted, I get mad. I can feel a pit in my stomach that’s part frustration with PBOT for using them to begin with and part fear that my body will suffer the same fate.
Southeast Portland resident David Binnig is one of many volunteer activists who’ve made it a side hobby to track the fate of these posts they pass by each day. Back in March Binnig began to track the status of downed posts on the traffic diverter on SE Clinton and 17th. He snapped a photo in March. Then another in April. Then May. Then June. Then he emailed PBOT’s traffic safety request system at via firstname.lastname@example.org. This email address is part of PBOT’s robust and very effective system for capturing complaints and fixing them. It works very well and we’ve shared several success stories over the years.
In August, Binnig heard back from PBOT that they’d upgrade the plastic wants to steel posts with more robust signs attached. The posts would still be breakaway-style (so fire trucks could go over them in an emergency), but they look stout enough that drivers are likely to avoid hitting them.
I asked Binnig to share more about his experience at this location and how he got PBOT to address it.
“I don’t think this particular location was the most important place — there are many, many intersections that are higher-priority in terms of safety,” he said, “but it was an egregious one it that it was pretty clear that drivers were deliberately ignoring the diverter and choosing to drive over it, as opposed to just misjudging their cornering.”
Because Binnig biked by regularly he knew the posts were being knocked down regularly and he had documentation of it happening for the past several years.
Asked if he hopes PBOT makes this upgrade elsewhere, Binnig said, “Yes. Everywhere.” Here’s more from his response:
“The reliance on plastic flex-posts is (in my view) a symptom of Portland’s lack of conviction on bicycling and road safety: We want to create an appearance of prioritizing safe routes without committing to anything that might scratch a car in the course of protecting someone on a bike. It’s also a problem in itself, when damaged posts allow drivers to cut corners or drive into bike lanes. If the plastic posts were ever protecting anyone to begin with, they aren’t doing it when they don’t stay in place for more than a few weeks at a time.”
As for using PBOT’s complaint system, Binnig has some thoughts about that too. “It’s just sort of absurd that we keep putting in road safety treatments that everyone knows are constantly knocked out of place and rely on random citizens complaining often enough to get them fixed. Lives aside, I suspect it’s penny-wise and pound-foolish to put in bike lane dividers that need constant maintenance to keep them in any functional shape.”
And it’s an issue that goes way back. Remember the bollard debacle we reported on in 2012? When PBOT tried to protect the NW Lovejoy viaduct ramp down to NW 9th with plastic posts, only to have them uprooted and replaced so many times they eventually gave up? And like I shared in a 2016 opinion piece, if Portland is serious about cycling than we must get serious about cycling infrastructure.
Until then, bookmark this page and put email@example.com and 823-SAFE in your contacts.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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