Portland’s snow plows and protected bike lanes

We’ve been tracking how the City of Portland maintains bike lanes during and after winter weather events for many years now. Our recent snowstorm has revealed yet another wrinkle on this issue that deserves a closer look.

At many locations around the city, we’ve noticed walls of snow placed across protected bike lanes. The shape of the wall and the placement of them caught our eyes. It’s clear that they were left by Portland Bureau of Transportation plow operators who were running plows along the curb, then swung their vehicles out into the street as a plastic post or curb of a protected bike lane approached. As they make that swing, the remaining snow in their plow slides off and is left right at the entrance to the bike lane.

Given all the bike lane maintenance problems with have in this city, it’s a bummer to see this happening. The good news is that we know what’s causing it and hopefully PBOT plow operators can adjust their technique to prevent it. We are also happy to report that upon sharing these photos on Twitter yesterday, PBOT replied to us:

Our crews have begun picking up these types of snow piles as well as gravel in bike lanes by addressing reports as they come it. Please help them out by submitting reports via pdxreporter.org with specific locations.

(You can also call the maintenance dispatch hotline at 503-823-1700 or pdxroads@portlandoregon.gov to report these issues.)

It’s nice that PBOT is able to respond to these requests, but we really need to get a more comprehensive and efficient solution. We’ve had protected bike lanes for many years now and it’s unfortunate that PBOT still doesn’t seem to have a protocol for keeping them clean and maintained without relying on conscientious people to report problem spots (not to mention that complain-driven systems like this are inherently inequitable and many people will simply never do it).

This isn’t a new problem and there are solutions to snow removal on protected bike lanes used in other cities that PBOT could adopt and use here.

Will you be calling in any locations (or have you already)? How do the bike lanes look in your neck of the woods?

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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Carrie
Carrie
1 year ago

I’ve already submitted 5 different “gravel in the bike lanes” reports in the past week. Not holding out a lot of hope that they will be addressed, but submitting them.

Daniel Reimer
1 year ago

All along BH Hwy was like this too. I don’t report it because it seems unreasonable to report something every other block and it’s so apparent that everywhere needs attention. PBOT can’t even clear out the soil and overgrowth ivy after they “clean” the lanes. Believe it or not there is another foot of pavement and curbs underneath all of it in some areas but you’d never know. I’ll keep resorting to vigilante maintenance when necessary.

Champs
Champs
1 year ago

The city has a website with a map of its protected bike lanes. Do we really need to report the 99% overlap with it on a different one?

https://pdx.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=b51534aa6e1f4dd4ad4d83c4a084d9a6

FDUP
FDUP
1 year ago

LOL, what did y’all expect to happen in this situation?

Ray
Ray
1 year ago
Reply to  FDUP

For the bike lanes to be cleared as the roads are. Is that unreasonable or irrational?

FDUP
FDUP
1 year ago
Reply to  Ray

Activists demanded all of these unnecessary protected bike lanes, the city obligingly built them, and of course everyone conveniently forgot about the time and equipment that would be required to maintain them. Now the activists are whinging about it. Sorry, but I have very little sympathy.

Ray
Ray
1 year ago
Reply to  FDUP

Not everyone “conveniently forgot,” just the City. Not looking for sympathy…just comparable conditions to what people driving get.

Serious question…do you mostly drive or mostly ride a bike?

Michael
Michael
1 year ago
Reply to  Ray

I pay taxes on my vehicle tabs for roads, bike commuters don’t contribute money to both building or maintenance, do why should my automobile tabs fees pay for bikes? Contribute to a fund then you have a legitimate reason to complain.

pay for your negative externalities, freeloaders
pay for your negative externalities, freeloaders
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael

I rarely drive but still pay for a vehicle tab. I’m tired of subsidizing frequent drivers. It’s time for people who drive fossil-juice-burning vehicles to start paying for each trip they make and the cumulative damage they do to our road system, our shared environment, and the health of our communities.

Nick
Nick
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael

I own a car and pay for my car’s registration, yet I bike most of the time. You’ll find this to be the case with the vast majority of people who bike.

Ray
Ray
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael

That’s awesome! So do I. Unfortunately, when I bike to work (on N. Columbia Blvd.) I don’t have a direct “bike route” that gets me there. When I drive, I do. This is an imbalance to many more than just me.
As an aside, your insurance premiums pay for other’s injuries. Weird huh?

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael

I have two cars and three bikes and I walk a good bit. To me it seems fair that car registrations and fuel taxes pay for roads and sidewalks and bike lanes. Cars have much heavier impacts.

FDUP
FDUP
1 year ago
Reply to  Ray

I ride at least as much as I drive and I studiously avoid most of the unsafe and unusable bike infrastructure the city has built in the last 20 years. This is only one reason why that infrastructure is wildly inappropriate given the city’s limited resources to maintain it once it is installed.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
1 year ago
Reply to  FDUP

Clearing protected bike lanes is not hard. Other cities do it just fine and we should expect the same from our city

FDUP
FDUP
1 year ago
Reply to  Jay Cee

‘Other cities do it just fine..’

I don’t believe it for a minute. Please cite comparable examples in another US city of comparable size.

Fred
Fred
1 year ago
Reply to  FDUP

Sacramento.

FDUP
FDUP
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

Doesn’t snow much in Sacramento now, does it?

Billy Gelppy
Billy Gelppy
1 year ago
Reply to  Ray

Lol. Pay vehicle registration and we can talk about it. And for the people saying, “I already pay for my cars registration”. Yes, I pay registration on each of my cars.

Bojack
Bojack
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Gelppy

You too are perfectly capable of avoiding vehicle registration by biking or walking to work, so all your moaning about vehicle registration being unfair doesn’t make much sense. Furthermore, those fees are mostly to fund the DMV office, not roads. Most road/street budgets come from state income tax and city income tax, which people still pay even if they don’t own a car. Cyclists and pedestrians are funding YOU. You’re giving car owners way too much credit for the existence of roads. You think roads would suddenly cease to exist due to lack of funding if everyone suddenly started only renting from Enterprise something? Which brings up an important point that not even all automobile drivers pay vehicle registration. Should every kid being driven to school in their parents cars also be berated for benefiting from roads without paying their own reg fees? According to your logic I guess so.

qqq
qqq
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Gelppy

Aren’t you saying that you paying for your registration matters, but other people paying for their registration doesn’t?

soren
soren
1 year ago

Westbound NE Multnomah, one of Portland’s “signature” protected bike lanes, has been completely blocked by a concrete barrel for over a week.

Platinum.

Let’s Active
Let’s Active
1 year ago
Reply to  soren

Plus down by the transit center Multnomah has more gravel than any street I have run across in NE. I hate that section of my commute

Todd/Boulanger
Todd/Boulanger
1 year ago

Great storm coverage BP!
Bringing up an idea I (and likely others) have long suggested for important wide arterial bike and busways: public works agencies should consider – where appropriate – plowing to the center lane / median vs curb lane/ sidewalk as snow storage zone. This will keep access open to ADA ramps (federal requirement), storm drains open for the melt, bus stops clear, blocks fewer parked cars and multi modal access open in addition to a single thru lane. [Yes, drivers might have to do a ‘UPS turn’ reach some properties and side streets.]

PBoT, how about undertaking a pilot plowing project on a corridor?!

Andrew Kreps
Andrew Kreps
1 year ago
Reply to  Todd/Boulanger

Oh, we don’t clear ADA ramps, either. I chopped the ice off a bunch in Woodstock last weekend.

Todd/Boulanger
Todd/Boulanger
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Kreps

Yep, I am well aware of that.

Andrew Kreps
Andrew Kreps
1 year ago

BRB pdxreporting every bike lane in portland.

Seriously, why don’t they do gravel pickup, you know, where they laid it down?

Alan Love
Alan Love
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Kreps

2 days to spread it, 6 months to clean it. Platinum!

Todd/Boulanger
Todd/Boulanger
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Kreps

Perhaps there should be a gravel / sand $ ‘deposit’ …so they would be more likely to return and pick it up…just like the bottle bill…vs ending up in the rivers or blocking ADA sidewalk access.

David Hampsten
1 year ago

What we called the Mud Season back in the Midwest…

Bob black
Bob black
1 year ago

Shovel it yourselves. You want separated lanes that a plow doesn’t fit, you got what you wished. You wanted slower, more Co vested traffic, you got it. You want exercise… Go get it.

Laura Shirozako
Laura Shirozako
1 year ago

I used to report but gave up. Just seemed like it was a waste of time. Ah the life of a Portlander, lots of taxes and few services.

Billy Gelppy
Billy Gelppy
1 year ago

Build a little bike plow and handle it yourselves. You’re asking for a big bad fossil fuel truck to do it for you? Hypocrisy.

JohnL
JohnL
1 year ago

I thought PBOT had bike lane sized snowplows? I could swear I’ve seen a post about it on BP.

Portland just can’t handle snow. Ask the hundreds of people who had to abandon cars on freeways or surface streets, the pedestrians who were slipping on iced-over sidewalks, the elderly or mobility-impaired who were essentially trapped in their homes for almost a week.

Considering how infrequently we get snow, I don’t know that this will ever change.

Fred
Fred
1 year ago
Reply to  JohnL

It will change in 2025, when he have professionals running city gov’t and not the amateurs we currently have.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

That’s right. Everything’s going to be just awesome.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

We are going to have 12 amateurs running the government instead of the 5 we have now

Fred
Fred
1 year ago
Reply to  Jay Cee

No, the 12 amateurs will be politicians making policy. The people running PBOT and the other bureaus will be professionals in their fields, not elected hacks who can be removed whenever Ted gets his undies in a twist.

hopium
hopium
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

The people running PBOT and the other bureaus will be professionals in their fields,

Yeah…the car-headed professional class will continue to run PBOT like it does today.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

PBOT is currently run by a professional. Surely you don’t think Mapps is making daily managerial decisions. And surely you don’t think that a city manager will have time to do that either.

We’ll be getting a system that works more or less like it does today, except political accountability will be much more diffuse.

This will effectively grant more power to bureau functionaries with less oversight from the public. I hope that works out.

Charles Gates
Charles Gates
1 year ago

Just one more opportunity for bike riders to understand what it’s like for a wheelchair user under similar conditions.

David Stein
1 year ago

It’s great to see a story about this problem even if it doesn’t seem to change as a reminder that these conditions should not just be accepted.

For gravel PBOT has generally claimed that the math is pretty simple, they can spread it at 20 MPH 24 hours/day during a storm with many of their vehicles but collection happens at 4 MPH and their crews only go 12 hours/day with however many sweepers they are able to operate. In recent years short staffing has meant they aren’t even running at full capacity My thought is that they shouldn’t be spreading what they can’t clean up in a timely manner. A final note that they can’t sweep

The plowing though is a bigger issue. The way that PBOT currently handles plowing is only good for people driving and encourages it above all other modes. By moving all of the snow to the outside of the lanes rather to the inside, where a median usually exists, it compromised the modal hierarchy. I went out to my nearby High Crash Corridor (Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy) when the snow was falling and dutifully cleared the sidewalk and bike lane in front of a bus stop. The next day, after plows had made their way through, the sidewalk was mostly covered in a few inches of packed snow that had been in the road and the bike lane was impassible making boarding and leaving the bus a messy activity because the bus couldn’t get close to the curb. I cleared this area again out of a frustrated defiance. However other stops were horrible to use, bike lanes were unplowed (unsurprising) and blocked by 2-3 foot tall mounds of packed snow and ice that was cleared from the other travel lanes. Every facility for people walking, rolling, or using transit was made worse by the actions PBOT took.

I do want to take a moment and add that TriMet didn’t make things any easier by cutting service to SW over the last week or so as some routes weren’t able to run. The night of the storm there were hardly any buses running and no reliable information though that was likely more common throughout the city.

This afternoon, after seeing this article and PBOT’s response, I spent a few minutes putting in the request for several miles of bike lanes and MUPs on both sides to be cleared of snow, gravel, and foliage that has been overgrown for well over a year at this point. I fully expect it to be ignored long enough for everything to melt and am disappointed that this type of commitment is required if I want to bike yet PBOT will be proactive if I want to drive.

Fred
Fred
1 year ago
Reply to  David Stein

Comment (and good samaritan) of the week.

Such a good point about plowing making every other mode worse. Sidewalks are especially treacherous now – walking on the gravel is like walking on marbles. Yesterday I fell on my ass. C’mon, PBOT! You can do better.

Racer X
Racer X
1 year ago
Reply to  David Stein

In my long experience with winters as a cyclist in the PNW vs east coast / mid west…the only effective snow ‘plows’ that local cities have here are the frequent bus lines (CTRAN, TRIMET, etc.) and not the muni plowers.

I would recommend a committee of enquiry to study this during the summer and evaluate a moratorium on plowing of all but a few critical arterials. And that these service hours be used for preparatory work (deicing, etc.) and clearing of flooded catch basins, ADA ramps and gravel/ grit laid.

Fred
Fred
1 year ago

Time to give some love to ODOT (I never thought I would type those words).

Today I rode Barbur from Terwilliger to Hamilton – and the bike lane was freshly swept on the west side! Of course the ramp from Cap Hwy was terrible, and the section next to Rasmussen Apts where someone swept gravel off the sidewalk.

The east side of Barbur was swept only as far as Cap Hwy, but two sweepers passed me on my way back, so maybe they were going back to that section.

Go, ODOT! Show PBOT how it’s done!

Fred
Fred
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

Oops! – I reversed east and west. Hope both sides of Barbur are swept today.

Toadslick
1 year ago

When I see comments like this allowed on BikePortland, it makes me not want to even participate in the discussion.

I pay taxes on my vehicle tabs for roads, bike commuters don’t contribute money to both building or maintenance, do why should my automobile tabs fees pay for bikes? Contribute to a fund then you have a legitimate reason to complain.

This is the kind of ignorant trope that I’d expect in the Oregonian, not BP. And it’s been addressed many times. It’s exhausting to have to read it on a forum that is primarily for people who walk and bike.

qqq
qqq
1 year ago

New York is “The City that Never Sleeps”. Portland can be “The City that Never Sweeps”.

Chrystal
Chrystal
1 year ago

The protected bike lanes that I use are on Division, for me it’s people parking in them that is a constant problem.. Snow will melt but the cars will not.

Noah
Noah
1 year ago

Also probably snow plows knocked down a few long stretches of plastic bollards along Barbur blvd. Surprisingly, the city was actually responsive to get it fixed, they were scattered along the road for about 4 days before getting picked up, and the next morning they had almost all been replaced! Kudos to PBOT for the quick repair