Portland working with Federal Highway Administration on big push for advisory bike lanes

PBOT graphic of advisory bike lane design shared with Federal Highway Administration.

“We’re constantly looking to make cycling safer and more comfortable for more Portlanders.”

– Dylan Rivera, PBOT

2022 has been a big year for advisory bike lanes in Portland. We first reported on projects that would receive the new(ish) treatment back in May, then followed that up with a video about recent installations on NE 43rd and 53rd, and then earlier this month the Portland Bureau of Transportation had an open house to talk more about it.

Now we know why PBOT is so bullish on these treatments, and where they are likely to show up next.

First, let’s back up: Advisory bike lanes (or advisory shoulders, which is what PBOT calls them on streets without sidewalks) are a type of road striping where drivers in both directions have just one center lane to negotiate and PBOT creates a light version of bike lanes on each side. Instead of the solid white line to separate the bike lane, they are striped with broken, hashed lanes. When two drivers come at each other and there is no bike rider present, they can legally drive into the bike lane to pass. When a bike rider is present, the normal rules of a bike lane apply, and the drivers must wait, slow down, and figure out how to pass once it’s safe. You can see how they work in the video below…

PBOT loves this design for many reasons. First and foremost they are a cheap (and relatively non-controversial) way to improve access for bike riders and walkers onto narrow streets where adding dedicated space for them would require less space for car users. Advisory bike lanes require no one user to give up too much in terms of access (two-way car traffic can remain and parking is often be maintained) and at the same time they have significant safety outcomes.

From PBOT’s perspective, advisory bike lanes tick all the boxes and could be a quick and cheap way to build out their bike network as they ramp up to have 25% of all trips made by bike by 2030. So why are we hearing so much about them right now? After all, they were passed as a recommended treatment in the 2009 Bicycle Plan, but PBOT had only tried them in one location in the last 12 years prior to 2022.

The main reason PBOT had been tentative to install them is because they aren’t allowed by the Federal Highway Administration (there were only 30 advisory bike lane installations in the entire country up until 2019). In order to promote consistency nationwide, everything city traffic engineers do on their streets must follow strict rules laid out in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). a federal standards guide. If a city does something outside of the MUTCD, they run the risk of legal liability in the event of a crash and no engineers want to go up against the FHWA. Thankfully, the FHWA offers a way for more progressive cities like Portland to do new things. It’s called a “request to experiment” and it’s exactly what it sounds like. A city can ask the FHWA for permission to try something new, even if it’s not yet adopted into the official MUTCD guidebook.

PBOT is no stranger to this process. It’s how they forged ahead as a North American pioneer on things like bike boxes, green bike lanes, red transit lanes, blue bike detector lights at signals, and so on.

And that’s exactly what they’ve done with advisory bike lanes. PBOT filed a request to experiment with the FHWA back in January and has received permission to install them on a trial basis citywide.

Reached for comment about the FHWA partnership today, PBOT Public Informations Officer Dylan Rivera said, “We’re constantly looking to make cycling safer and more comfortable for more Portlanders. So we are eager to try new techniques that we have seen in other cities in North America or Europe.”

The 10-page request (PDF) lays out PBOT’s case for the treatment:

“Advisory Bike Lanes and Shoulders are included as a facility type in [Portland’s citywide pedestrian plan and the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030] but have not yet been implemented due to outstanding questions about traffic control device guidelines, application criteria, and experimental status with FHWA…

… the city also has many neighborhoods with narrow streets, often lacking curbs and sidewalks or pedestrian facilities. Many of these substandard streets are characterized by narrow pavements and rights-of-way, steep or environmentally-sensitive sideslopes, and streetside constraints like buildings or retaining walls, and it is either infeasible or financially prohibitive to install sidewalks or conventional bikeways in the near future. Nevertheless, these streets serve as the access to homes, transit, and other destinations in these neighborhoods, and warrant solutions to provide safe access for people walking and bicycling.”

PBOT map showing where they will test advisory bike lanes and shoulders as part of FHWA experiment.

As part of this experiment, PBOT hopes to test five new locations:

  • NE San Rafael St. from 122nd to 148th
  • NE Sacramento St. from 132nd to 148th
  • SE Ellis St. from 84th to 92nd.
  • SW 40th Avenue, Wilbard to Huber
  • SW Talbot Road, Fairmount at Gaston to Fairmount (Fairmount is a loop)

Rivera says that while PBOT believes all of these locations are good candidates for advisory bike lanes, there will still be some engineering and public outreach to get into the nitty-gritty details before they install the new striping and include them in the test.

As per the terms of the partnership, PBOT will keep FHWA apprised of their progress and conduct detailed before/after analysis at each location. If all goes well, at the end of the three-year trial, PBOT will be able to install them without federal oversight and the treatment would be considered for official adoption into the MUTCD, which would open the floodgates for cities across America to implement them.


— Check out the advisory bike lane page on PBOT’s website to learn more.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Bjorn
Bjorn
1 year ago

I am not in love with the image at the top depicting the advisory bike lane in the door zone of that parking.

cc_rider
cc_rider
1 year ago

Advisory bike lanes are hot garbage. PBOT loves them because its another tool in their greenwashing toolbox they can put along un-protected gutter lanes, the bike-crossing-walk things no one understands, and sharrows. It’s great for PBOT because it in no way slows down motorists.

Advisory bike lanes are bad for a couple of reasons

  1. They leave the street wide which means we can expect motorists to travel about 10+ mph over the posted speed limit.
  2. They train motorists to drive in the bike lane.
  3. They don’t feel safe. It doesn’t matter if they “work” or not, if they don’t feel safe people wont use them and they definitely wont get people out their car and onto a bike.

The neo-liberal PBOT administration has found a match made in heaven with the neo-liberal Biden administration. They both primarily see SOVs as our future and plan for such. This crap is what we get as a result of that.

Fred
Fred
1 year ago

I learned to ride a bike as a kid, in the days when there was no such thing as a bike lane. If we had a one-foot shoulder to ride in, we felt lucky. I learned to ride with traffic and became comfortable with it, but I don’t think any kid learns to ride this way nowadays. Parents are so protective (many would say OVERLY protective) nowadays that kids simply don’t ride bikes on the streets, and very few adults do, either.

So the solution to getting more people to ride is to … have cyclists play “chicken” with cars? Cuz that’s essentially what this design encourages. We who ride bikes already know how poorly people drive: they can’t judge speed or distance accurately; they can’t figure out how to interact with slower-moving traffic; and they are oh so distracted by everything going on inside the car (phone, digital dashboard display, audio commands, etc). And now you’re going to take away their lane and ask them to avoid people on bikes?

I get that some drivers will slow down when they see people on bikes in such a vulnerable position. But the 20% of drivers who can’t give a s**t will continue to drive as heedlessly as they always have, and cyclists will get killed. I don’t think this solution is going to get any non-cyclist to jump on a bike and ride. It seems like yet another half-measure from PBOT – a way of *seeming* to promote cycling without *actually* promoting cycling.

soren
soren
1 year ago

Dotted “advisory” lines are the new sharrows.

Mauri Rocco
Mauri Rocco
1 year ago

Don’t fall for the PBOT line. These things are worthless. No one understands them (at least drivers who have nothing to lose against a cyclist) and few ever will. Let’s stop the nonsense.

Amit Zinman
1 year ago

I love biking, but I love walking even more. I believe that all the streets in Portland should have sidewalks. If that can’t happen in a particular street for some reason, then that street should become a mixed-use local car-traffic only street. In the same way, all roads with more than two lanes in a single direction should have a standard bike lane.

Will
Will
1 year ago
Reply to  Amit Zinman

I feel like this is the answer to a lot of the sidewalk-less streets in SW.

Douglas K.
Douglas K.
1 year ago

I hate this plan.

I was riding with a driver lost month who’d never seen or even heard of these things before. He turned onto San Rafael and was immediately confused by the lane markings, He wasn’t clear on where he was supposed to drive or if it was a badly-signed one-way street. I explained it to him, and we both agreed it’s a stupid idea.

After seeing an “advisory bike lane” in the wild and watching how an actual motorist responded, I’ll stay the hell away from them when I’m on my bike.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
1 year ago

These are perfect for PBOT, they don’t have to inconvenience any drivers with removing parking and make cyclists face more danger than ever before! /s

Chris I
Chris I
1 year ago

For all of those hating on this solution, what would you do instead on streets like 53rd and San Rafael? They are too narrow for bike lanes and general purpose lanes, so we’re either stuck with sharrows, or a solution like this.

Personally, I’ve noticed an improvement as a rider on both streets. I’ve had fewer close passes than I did in the past, with the sharrows on 53rd, and the nothing on San Rafael.

Steven Smith
Steven Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris I

Anybody else in this thread other than Chris I actually ridden on them? I have and I agree that they are an improvement.

Matthew
Matthew
1 year ago
Reply to  Steven Smith

The greenway between 53rd and Everett and 53rd and Hancock is part of my regular commute. I’m not a fan of the new Advisory Bike Lane. The previous configuration — especially through the section at NE Irving — was much clearer and definitive. There was less guesswork by everyone using this section of road. Now, as a bike user, I have to hope the car lets me back into the lane…on a greenway. From experience, and based on the speeds regularly attained by autos on this route, I have little faith that enough drivers will conduct themselves sensibly and amicably when faced with a decision to make this a praiseworthy solution.

In the larger perspective, I’m not an advocate of Advisory Bike Lanes in Portland. Certainly, in Amsterdam, where bike infrastructure is exceptional — and the relationship between auto users and bike users is more diplomatic and symbiotic — I trust they can incorporate Advisory Bike Lanes in their network for the benefit of all.

I’m not only not sold that Portland, and PBOT, can do this, but I feel that Advisory Bike Lanes move PBOT away from actual bike infrastructure. As others have said, paint ain’t infrastructure. When there’s a call for more protected bike lanes in town.it seems as though Advisory Bike Lanes are a meager idea, if not a cop-out for more robust concepts

squareman
squareman
1 year ago
Reply to  Matthew

Cultural differences aside: The difference between Amsterdam advisory lanes and what PBOT does is a matter of night and day. The advisory lanes in Amsterdam are a different color asphalt! I wouldn’t be surprised if they also had a different texture or slight grade difference. PBOT on the other hand would just love to throw down some paint or thermoplastic and call it good. No outreach, no signage, no question on DMV tests, and so on. Even if they painted the advisory lanes greed, the coloring won’t last very long with auto tires in the summer and studs in the winter constantly wearing it off.

FDUP
FDUP
1 year ago
Reply to  squareman

All that thermoplastic being worn down by studded tires just ends up becoming microplastics contaminating your local water way.

DeeBee
DeeBee
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris I

Remove a side of parking, aka free private property storage maintained with public funds. It makes sense for taxes to pay for travel lanes to the extent that transit can use them. But parking can only be used by owners of cars.

Chris I
Chris I
1 year ago
Reply to  DeeBee

You clearly haven’t ridden these, because 53rd and San Rafael don’t have parking space to remove. The cross section you see above on the right is the full street width.

J_R
J_R
1 year ago

Drivers are unclear on what green bike boxes mean as evidenced by the fact that they stop in them while waiting for a signal. Everyone is unclear on what crossbikes mean since they have zero legal meaning. Motorists regularly, illegally drive in bike lanes especially when cars ahead of them are making left turns.

Now we have another variation in bike lane markings that will allow, permit, or encourage motorists to drive in these lanes, which may lead to increased driving in all bike lanes even those in which they are not supposed to drive.

The MUTCD is all about consistency and predictability to keep things as simple as possible for all users, but especially for motorists in hopes it keeps people safer. This proposal seems to add to confusion, which in my opinion decreases safety, probably to the detriment of bicyclists and pedestrians.

A bad idea.

Fred
Fred
1 year ago
Reply to  J_R

I agree, J_R. If you have had to teach a teenager how to drive in Portland, you’ll appreciate how utterly confusing our streets are to anyone who is trying to develop a sense of consistency in following the rules. We have so many odd lane treatments. One of my kids once turned right onto SW Macadam from SW Terwilliger in that odd slip lane and immediately drifted into the left lane. “What are you DOING??!!” was my response, as I resisted grabbing the steering wheel. She replied, “I thought I was turning into a bike lane.” And that struck me – after I calmed down (thank goodness no one was in the left lane) – as a completely logical response: we have bike lanes in some places and not in others, and they all look different, depending on where you are. And we have a million types of left- and right-turn lanes. I can attest to the fact that new drivers find them MYSTIFYING.

Let’s add one more mystifying lane treatment!

Lizzie
Lizzie
1 year ago

I’m grateful to see so many others denounce this new trendy tool from PBOT. There are so many in our community (many of my own friends and family members) who already don’t bike because they don’t feel safe. Advisory lanes are a step in the wrong direction. We should only be building protected infrastructure from now on and maybe in a decade or two, we’ll have the kind of infrastructure that allows children, the elderly, the cautious, the disabled, and everyone in between to enjoy biking around town without fear of being run over every time they hop on their bike.