Wednesday, November 10, 2010

deconstructing joe rose

i sometimes wonder if there is some way to find out how many unique hits joe rose actually gets on his blog, "hard drive," on

maybe there is only some small handful of people who actually read the thing, and i am wasting my time monitoring the blog to correct misstatements he makes as he constantly stirs the "cars versus bikes" pot. and if i could somehow confirm this, maybe i could just let it go.

maybe i should just let it go anyway, like television and processed food and the consumerist culture generally.

but here is yet another case in point. a little over a week ago, rose posted what purported to be a reader's question about a supposed uptick in incidents of cyclists "slapping cars with their hands to get a driver's attention when things get tight in traffic."

rose calls this "the impolite and ubiquitous 'yo, i'm here' slap," as though it were a common practice, and as though it would be used in a situation where politeness could be even a marginal concern. the questioner says "i've seen a fight break out. is this legal? what can i do if a bicyclist damages my bmw x5?"

for purposes of discussion, let's suppose this is an actual question from an actual reader, though as a writer i will suggest that there are fairly clear indications that it has at least been edited, if not created from whole cloth, to set up what rose wants to get across.

things get tight. fight breaks out. x5. gimme a break.

rose begins by pretending to identify himself with the cyclist, saying he has been "mightily tempted" to use the technique "when i've encountered a space-case driver while pedaling downtown." not to mention a motorist who crowds you intentionally.

but then he immediately undercuts this by saying "we've evolved beyond such primal communication, right?" and "when you start abusing a stranger's property," etc., "don't expect it to change any hearts or minds."

well, let's hold up a minute here, joe.

first of all, let's make it clear to your handful of readers that we are talking about a serious threat to the cyclist's safety. this is nowhere mentioned in your summary, and of course it is completely ignored in the comments posted by the owners of x5s.

and "primal communication"? "abusing a stranger's property"? how is slapping a car any more "primal" than sounding a horn? [and how is it that the latter has become so accepted in this culture that someone parking at the curb and walking away from his x5 just touches his key fob and the horn blares. oh, i was just locking my car. b*llsh*t.]

you attack me with your x5, you can expect to hear someone knocking on the panels. the "stranger's property" is at that moment an immediate threat, a weapon.

and who said anything about "hearts and minds"? a hundred years ago, it was the stranger operating one of these killing machines on the public right of way who was stigmatized, not those whom he was threatening. somehow we have gotten this turned around.

then rose takes it a step further by actually encouraging motorists to escalate the situation. "it's not illegal" to slap an x5, he quotes the traffic division captain todd wyatt as saying, "but it's a good way to incite some serious road rage."

excuse me? the guy threatens my life because he is not paying attention, i give him the ubiquitous "yo, i'm here" slap, and somehow it is i who is inciting him? again, we are turned around here.

but wait, it gets worse.

"if an angry bicyclist leaves a dent and rides off," rose continues, "that's vandalism. and oregon law gives the victim of a crime the right to use 'reasonable force' to make a citizen's arrest."

leaves a dent? what is your x5 made of? a minute ago we were talking about the ubiquitous "yo, i'm here" slap, and now we seem to be talking about hammers or u-locks or something.

okay, so now we are saying to the motorist, go ahead, chase the cyclist down, and feel free to use "reasonable force" to detain him. this is how we share the roads. thanks, joe.

and it is not even good legal advice. oregon law does not in fact give a motorist whose x5 has been slapped by a cyclist he nearly ran off the road a right to use force, reasonable or otherwise, to effect a citizen's arrest.

this is a close question, so bear with me a minute. but it has everything to do with what kind of society we want to live in.

ORS 161.205 says you can use reasonable force to defend your property, "as hereafter prescribed," and the relevant "hereafter" is ORS 161.229, which says only as necessary to "prevent or terminate" a theft or "criminal mischief."

we are not talking about theft here, so let's look at "criminal mischief," which is what rose is apparently talking about when he uses the word "vandalism."

ORS 164.345 defines third degree criminal mischief, a class C misdemeanor, as "tampering" or "interfering" with someone' property "with intent to cause substantial inconvenience," and without "reasonable ground to believe" you have a right to do it -- as in, y'know, warning someone he is about to kill you through inattention.

second degree criminal mischief, ORS 164.354, a class A misdemeanor, is where you do more than five hundred dollars damage, and first degree, ORS 164.365, a class C felony, is where you do more than a thousand dollars damage. these x5s are delicate beasts.

in any event, if we are talking about chasing the cyclist down after the damage is done, we are not talking about "preventing" or "terminating" anything, so let's look at the actual citizen's arrest statutes.

ORS 161.255 says a private citizen can use physical force only as reasonably necessary to make a citizen's arrest or to prevent the escape of the person arrested, per ORS 133.225. that statute, in turn, permits a private citizen to arrest someone for a "crime" committed in his presence, where he has reasonable cause to believe the person he is arresting committed the "crime."

ORS 161.515 defines "crime" as "an offense for which a sentence of imprisonment is authorized." so is a class C misdemeanor a "crime"? well, yes, under ORS 161.615 the maximum sentence is thirty days.

so, let's review:

you nearly run me off the road with your x5, i slap the fender to get your attention, you imagine that i have left a dent. you chase me down to detain me, i resist, you wrestle me to the ground.

you had better be careful not to use more force than "necessary," and you had better be reasonably certain not only that i intended to cause you "substantial inconvenience," but that i had zero reasonable ground for doing what i did.

in other words, you have to know a lot about what was going on in my head. whereas a minute ago, you didn't even know i was there.

you might also want to look at ORS 163.275, which makes it a class C felony to detain someone under threat. "coercion," or what they used to call "false imprisonment." the punishment for a class C felony is a bit more than that for a class C misdemeanor. five years and a $125k fine.

anyway, my point is.

the guy has a platform that he could be using to persuade people to behave with some consideration toward one another on the roads. weirdly, that was actually the frame of this particular column. the anniversary of brett jarolimek's death, and why can't we all just get along.

but the default point of view on the blog is that of the beleaguered motorist asking "why do i have to put up with these g*dd*mn cyclists, and within what limits might i retaliate against them." not "how can we get motorists to wake up and pay attention."

if a motorist calls or writes in saying "i had thus and such a negative interaction with a cyclist the other day," instead of always stirring the pot, rose could use his platform to suggest "maybe you could think of doing things differently. the age of the complete dominance of the private automobile over absolutely everything else is fading."

if i slap your car to get your attention because you are about to run me down, is this not also "self-defense"? why are we even talking about whether you can then chase me down and beat me and get away with it?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

open note to dan gutierrez

hey, dan, a voice from the past.

saw your post on the CABO boards the other day, where you say roger geller told you thus and such to your face at the LAB bike summit three years ago.

specifically, you said roger
told me to my face at the [2007 summit] when I asked him about the driver rights in Portland, that those who prefer to act like drivers will just lose their rights in Portland, Oregon, in order to further the City's social goal of promotion of bicycling through mandatory segregation.

gotta say it, dan, that sounds like you are paraphrasing rather than quoting. maybe the original sounded more like
"dan, we are working toward a future in which the private automobile is completely secondary in the urban transportation mix, and unless someone works to get the far to right law and the mandatory sidepath law repealed, which is not PBoT's role, but which we do not oppose, and in fact our master plan for 2030 includes express statements that we want to have that conversation, then yes, someone who adheres to vehicular principles will find himself outside the law. but we are not going to let that stop us from implementing strategies that will lead us ultimately to complete streets."

ya think?

and for those on this thread who have tossed about the word "charlatan." that word has a dictionary definition. it means someone who pretends to an expertise he does not in fact have, in order to deceive someone. this could be seen as a slander, if we are talking about someone's profession. the guy has a masters from tufts in urban and environmental policy, which maybe should be a hint why he sees things differently than you do. but presumably you are not calling into question the quality of the education he received at tufts. he has himself been a vehicular cyclist for thirty-odd years, quite a number of them on the streets of boston.

i have it on reasonably good authority that roger has moved on from this conversation. you guys are fighting a rear guard, and you find yourselves defending a status quo that was created by the dominance of the private automobile and need not be preserved.

r. willis

back to the fifties

sat in on this community advisory committee stuff on the fifties bikeway project a couple of weeks ago. a number of neighborhood associations and business associations at the table, but a very bicycle friendly crowd, and if anything the voices from the table were pushing rich newlands farther than he seemed ready to go. he backed away early from moving the entire route south of lincoln off 52nd into some convoluted side routes through the neighborhoods. by the end of the meeting, he seemed willing to just do some crossing work and signage there and focus the identified route as 52nd, but he was still hesitant about the extent to which the city can expect to remove onstreet parking without substantial pushback from the residents.

and that is where we still are today, when i joined the crew for a ride of the route, to discuss specifics at a number of selected intersections. maybe cut back the curb extension at 57th and hancock, maybe some signage at the unsigned crossing of hancock with 53rd, maybe an advance stop line at halsey, maybe some lane striping and possibly a box at glisan, that kind of thing. whether to divert traffic south of glisan or do a partial diversion at everett. whether to put a HAWK beacon at the intersection with burnside. i could go on.

we ran into something really quite remarkable at 52nd and madison, coming down the steep hill from salmon. the moms and kids, and actually even dads, were out in force, with signs and chalk on the street, lying in wait for this group to arrive, to again ask the city (in the persons of mr. newlands and sarah figliozzi) to put in speed bumps and a four-way stop.

there was a moment of confusion that might have become awkward, but [someone in our group] said loudly and in an exaggerated tone, "yes, we have come from the sky to bring you speed bumps," and then we all stopped and had quite a conversation, lasting several minutes. how they are lying at the bottom of two descents, how often there are crashes or near crashes, how intersections a block in either direction have been given stop signs, and so on.

biking away, ms. figliozzi told me they are ineligible for a four-way stop for some reason i did not quite get, but that the likely outcome will be speed bumps with a two-way stop giving the bikeway on 52nd dominance. her concern seemed to be how to sell this to the residents who would see it as a half-measure.

the low point of the expedition was the intersection of 52nd and foster. six lanes on the diagonal, two and a center turn lane on 52nd. parking lots and vacant buildings and pavement everywhere. i don't know what the traffic volumes are, let's just say high. what is needed there is comprehensive redevelopment, bringing store fronts to the sidewalk and putting the parking lots behind. unfortunately, that is not where the city is headed with this, yet. the little ceasar's pizza just went in a couple of years ago.

and then the whole what to do about 52nd on south thing. will five-foot lanes be enough? if six, then we have to get rid of parking on one side, but which side? get rid of parking on both sides you have enough room for buffered bike lanes, but you might be removing enough clutter that motorist speeds will increase. they are already a bit high.

in the end, whatever comes out of this process will be more friendly to cyclists than may float with stakeholders who have not yet been part of the process. moving the route away from 52nd south of lincoln seems to be off the table, so we are looking at some kind of intrusion into the space that motorists have come to understand 52nd to be, and probably removing quite a bit of onstreet parking.

mr. newsome and ms. figliozzi seemed anxious about the rollout, wondering whether to so a mail-in survey first or just go ahead and stage a bunch of public forums. in which manner it would be more productive to deal with whatever pushback will surely come.

postscript 10/18

i was talking with someone about this entry, who said these two, rich newlands and sarah figliozzi, seemed to know what they were doing, having learned from past experiences dealing with upset neighbors. this person felt that his own experience of the route would be improved by the proposed treatments.

i agreed to both points, but with slight reservation. part of the reason i wanted to get involved in the 50s bikeway planning process though i myself seldom use the route, was to be able to talk with whoever from PBoT as they go through that process. these two were thinking, what if we take a survey and people say "no"?, should we frame the question so that bikes are not the centerpiece somehow?, etc.

i said put on a lot of public forum stuff early and then if people don't come, to hell with them. that's why i was so impressed with these people standing at the corner of 52nd and madison. they live there and they care what the hell is going on. people want to protect their onstreet parking, let them show up and identify themselves, none of this return a survey nonsense.

then maybe when they actually engage with their neighbors, they will come to see that accommodations should be made for other human beings. if you take the other approach, hide the ball, how do we educate them?, you get the perception, and ultimately the reality, of demagoguery and totalitarianism.

Monday, October 4, 2010

because this sh*t matters

i took the reopened broadway bridge into downtown the other day. they have restriped the last block approaching the bridge from the east, between benton and larrabee, so that the bike lane now hugs the right curb, inside the right turn lane.

before all this construction to put in the streetcar tracks, the bike lane had been to the left of the right turn lane for the last half block. there was a half block gap after benton that functioned, however inadequately, as a transition across the turning lane.

of course, i always took the travel lane anyway from at least ross, disregarding the bike lane against the curb, so that the merge to the through lane was a matter of only a few inches and i did not have to compete with motorists merging right. but with the lane striped solid all the way down to larrabee this becomes somewhat more overtly a political act.

there is an advanced stop line at larrabee, and one supposes that this will soon be marked as a bike box.

this was not on greg raisman's project list presented to BAC two weeks ago, incidentally.

when i got home, i sent somewhat intemperate e-mails to the entire crew at BAC (minus one, whose e-mail address i have not been able to unearth) and to rob sadowsky and gerik kransky over at BTA. "another genius move by PBoT," i said, and a couple of people reacted at least slightly negatively.

but it does seem to me that we are careening down a dangerous path with these bike boxes in lieu of proper lane placement and sharrows, and those who are positioned as advocates for cyclists either are silent or have affirmatively bought in to these treatments.

BTA is participating in the ribbon cutting for the burnside/couch couplet next tuesday, october 12. they have been promoting this with a variant of the "build it" logo saying "built." what the hell was "built" for cyclists? a striped lane on couch from 6th down, inside two right hooks and a bus stop, and a sidepath through an s-curve onto the bridge where lane widths and a tight radius at the last right turn pretty much force motorists to encroach. thanks a lot. "built."

oh, and a green box at couch and grand, which accomplishes nothing at all on the green signal phase. again, thanks. that atrocity actually was on greg's project list, at the very top, and no one at BAC said sh*t. but BTA has endorsed it.

but neither his project list, nor any project list anywhere that i have seen, says anything about whatever is going on at broadway and larrabee, and they do not include the reconfiguration of broadway at williams. it is my firm impression that neither of these was even reviewed by the BAC, [not] much less given a rubber stamp.

in a follow up message to rob sadowsky, i said, "i am good with advanced stop lines, and i am good with restricting right turns on red. my issue with the bike box is that it reinforces very forcibly the far to right and mandatory sidepath requirements."

for me, the descent on couch from 14th to MLK, downhill, with the lights timed to something less than 20 mph, is very comfortable. until you get to the lane striping at 6th. then all of a sudden you are told to squeeze to the right and let motorists overtake you in a not very wide travel lane. and then there is a bus stop and the right turn onto grand. i simply take the lane, and i defy anyone to show me that this facility, which was not included in the 1998 bike master plan, and which violates the technical specifications of that plan, can be treated as a mandatory sidepath.

this is what got that woman hurt the other day, not the absence of a bike box. indeed, a bike box would have had zero effect, because what happened to her happened during the green signal phase.

now, of course, i do realize that until PBoT gets these PSU studies squeezed through MUTCD the bike boxes, as such, are not mandatory sidepaths. but (a) they eventually will be, despite the weaknesses in the PSU studies, and (b) even now, before mandatory status kicks in, we have the problem of public perception.

i already get grief from the occasional motorist for not using the bike lane on couch from 6th to MLK or on the s-curve ramp onto the bridge. and i already get grief from the occasional motorist for not using the existing bike lane configuration on broadway from ross down to larrabee.

but if you push the striped bike lane over to the curb and put in a bright green box, even if the mandatory sidepath statute might not technically apply here or there, motorists (you know, those dull-witted motorists we all love to hate) will be led to believe that cyclists "belong over there," and not here, competing for space in the travel lane.

i reminded rob that when he and i first met, at the alice awards, just before he formally stepped into the executive director's chair, i described myself to him as a "vehicular cyclist" by inclination, self-taught, having read forester's book only after the fact, and i said, as i often say to people to explain my perspective, that "forester and i are no longer on speaking terms." there is actually a story behind that, and someday maybe i will tell it.

but the point is, i "get" that separated facilities have a place, and i "get" that we have to make it noticeably less convenient for motorists to run roughshod over all other modes. i do. i got rid of the car awhile back. but we have a very long way to go, and in the meantime we are putting in poorly conceived half-solutions that serve only (or largely) to exacerbate the problems.

people talk about encouraging the newbies, or whatever, and the "educational" function of some of these treatments. by striping a lane on couch from 6th to MLK, or by pushing the bike lane to the curb on broadway from ross to larrabee, and especially by capping these treatments with bright green boxes that serve no function at all during the green signal phase, we are encouraging and educating "newbies" to put themselves in harm's way.

BTA is identifying itself with the wrong side of these issues, and it would appear that BAC has been cut entirely out of the loop.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

the law of unintended consequences

so i went to this open house a couple of weeks ago for the davis street improvements project. ellen vanderslice was there to explain the storyboards, field questions, and listen to feedback from whoever stopped by.

during the time i was there, at least, the event was thinly attended. of the handful of people who showed, two or three were business owners there in the neighborhood, which i would describe as a sort of warehouse/industrial district.

one of these, whose name escapes me, was teasing ellen that "maintain truck circulation" should be moved from third to first in the list of project goals. ellen insisted gamely that there was no priority among the three listed goals, but she tried to accommodate him by writing "improve" on a post-it note and sticking it next to the word "maintain" on the first storyboard.

i think the larger point the guy was trying to make was that the project has been framed largely in terms of bike traffic.

i talked with this guy for a few minutes, and asked him to elaborate his concerns. has truck access already been adversely affected by the changes to burnside and couch, i asked, and is he worried that the proposed changes to davis -- speed bumps east of 12th, removing the center stripe, putting down sharrows -- will somehow make things worse, that kind of thing. yes, he said, and yes. and subtracting some small number of onstreet parking spaces on couch has made it more difficult for customers trying to get to his business.

and those g*dd*mned bikers blow right through the red lights. of course, i am standing there with the messenger bag and the fingerless gloves.

i asked him whether the trucks that were making deliveries to his business, or picking up or whatever, were coming in off sandy or down 12th from I-84 or from where. he didn't know.

i was curious about the parking issue, because (a) the businesses in this district are for the most part not retail, so we are talking primarily employee parking, and (b) the aerial photos seem to show a lot of offstreet surface parking alongside many of the businesses. and i pointed out (commiserating) that when the streetcar comes through there will be even less parking on couch. he knew, he knew.

somewhat interestingly, he claimed that the onstreet parking on davis is largely park and ride -- in other words, roof rackers from gresham who park in this district for free and bike the rest of the way in to their jobs downtown (and inflate the numbers on the bridge counts). i suggested that this problem could be addressed by limiting onstreet parking to two hours. but he and i agreed that lack of enforcement would probably undermine this approach.

also, i am wondering why these people don't just bike to the MAX. possibly this guy is overstating the problem, but it is certainly the case that we need to come to grips with onstreet parking as part of any comprehensive transportation strategy.

anyway, to get to the point.

the impetus for the project, according to the storyboards, is that the burnside/couch couplet has pushed some bicyclists onto davis, but also some motorists, quite a number of whom are speeding. the speed bumps are already scheduled to go in, pretty much right away. removing the center stripe and putting down sharrows are still awaiting approval.

the feedback PBoT was actually looking for from this open house has mostly to do with intersection treatments at 12th and at sandy. nothing in particular has yet been proposed, and in fact the third storyboard says pretty much straight out that they are not looking at signalizing the intersection with 12th or extending the curbs there, because this would impede the flow of truck traffic. they are looking for "creative" solutions. got any? i don't.

the situation at sandy for cyclists heading east is complicated by the fact that the approach is at such an oblique angle -- and midblock, halfway between 15th and 16th. there really is nothing you can do there, apart from a signal, but i scribbled out some post-it notes and stuck them here and there on the map to suggest that they divert eastbound bike traffic to 14th and then put a much larger cut through the island they have constructed there to allow cyclists to continue east on couch. of course this would require an additional signal phase specific to bike traffic, and possibly some alteration of the curb extension they have already built to prevent motorists from connecting across on westbound couch.

off in a corner of the third storyboard was a summary description of something called the "burnside bridgehead framework plan," which is a project of the portland development commission. among other things, that plan would connect davis down to 2nd and from there up to the burnside bridge. but there is a great deal more to it than that.

the plan would completely redevelop a four-block area north of the burnside bridge to davis, from 2nd to MLK, as a sort of catalyst to redevelopment throughout the district. all kinds of mixed use, etc. might have the effect of slowing traffic on MLK itself.

not sure what kind of feedback, if any, ellen is expecting on the bridgehead framework plan.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

re "move over" blog post

sent the following e-mail message to joe rose last night:


i really cannot express how disappointed i was to see this blog post.

the statute clearly says that a cyclist can claim the lane if it is too narrow to share.

typical speeds downtown are about 12 mph (unless you want to make a full stop at each light), and there are usually adjacent lanes motorists could use to overtake. (and hey, if they can't overtake, then maybe the cyclist isn't actually going slower than traffic after all.)

your treatment of this subject was very sloppy, and the headline is an outrage. in case you had not noticed, a great many people are completely incapable of thinking for themselves and rely on the popular media to tell them what to believe. this places a special responsibility on journalists to do the critical analysis and lay it out there for everyone to see. instead, you add fuel to this ongoing "controversy" between cyclists and motorists. i put the word in quotes because in fact the only motorists who have a problem are those who buy in to the story (see above re "incapable of thinking").

you say you spoke with this motorist on the phone. what street was it? how many lanes in each direction? what was the speed of traffic that this cyclist was supposedly not keeping up with? was there onstreet parking? etc., etc., etc. if you asked these questions, which i doubt, the answers should have been spelled out in your blog post (see above re "lay it out there").

i call shenanigans.


p.s. on an unrelated subject. the phrase "begs the question" refers to a logical fallacy in which the conclusion you are trying to prove is assumed at the outset. the phrase you are looking for in your little aside about the $94 fines is "raises the question."


something i wrote for boneshaker

Monday, August 30, 2010

first foray

last friday evening we did this scattermass traffic-calming pedestrian action l. is calling "the human speed bump project." all two of us met outside the star e rose and went inside for a cup of something before hitting the streets. the organizer required us to swear commitment to "safety first." at five promptly we went out into the field.

one by one, at a distance of roughly a block apart, we crossed each and every zebra striped crosswalk, two at each intersection, working our way east to 31st and then back, sometimes the same crosswalk twice in a row if the opportunity afforded. we gave buses and fire trucks and even cyclists a pass.

the idea was to start into the crosswalk just an instant before the gesture would seem political, but when the effect would still be to cause the motorist to slow down. if the motorist had to stop, i would give a friendly wave thank you. l. had one situation where the motorist simply veered around her, a big red pickup. but that was unusual.

even with just the two of us this was surprisingly effective. we often succeeded in slowing motor traffic for two blocks at a time. with a much larger scattermass the effect might be to take back the street for primary pedestrian use. this is something people can actually do.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

a tally of two intersections

recently i volunteered to count bicyclists at each of four intersections as part of PBoT's annual effort to estimate the number of total bike trips. they are trying to do counts at about 175 intersections during peak hours in july, august, and september. not sure if they have enough volunteers to cover everything.

i chose these four intersections specifically because they have issues with which i am familiar, and because i have my own ideas about what "should" be done to make them more amenable to bike traffic.

so i admit i went into this with an agenda.

let me talk about just two of the four intersections. the intersection of northeast 28th with glisan, and the intersection of northeast 12th with irving. there is some pretty substantial throughput of cyclists through these intersections during peak hours, together with some pretty high volume motor traffic.

northeast 28th at glisan

in the space of two hours, from four to six p.m. on tuesday, july 27, i counted 277 cyclists, about two-thirds male, about one-third not wearing helmets, of which latter group not quite three-quarters were male.

i mention helmets because they had us counting that, and the male/female split, together with how many of each of the twelve possible maneuvers through the intersection -- straight through, left turn, right turn from each of the four directions -- cyclists performed.

somewhat more than half the bike traffic was straight through north or south on 28th. slightly over one-third arrived at the intersection from the south on 28th, slightly less than a third from the north. about twenty percent arrived from the west on glisan, and only about one-eighth from the east. fully seven percent were riding on sidewalks through part or all of the intersection, mostly north along 28th, which brought the nominal intersection count down to 269.

five people (not quite two percent) found it necessary to execute left turns in the "copenhagen" or "box" fashion, including at least three arriving from the west on glisan and heading north on 28th -- and this despite the fact that there is a dedicated left turn lane there.

quite a number of cyclists heading straight through north on 28th were positioned so far to the right that they found themselves trapped behind parked cars on the far side of the intersection, outside the laundromat, and had to wait to swerve out. to me, this says "sharrows on 28th, throughout the corridor" but again, i have an agenda.

northeast 12th at irving

on thursday, august 5, again from four to six p.m., i counted 302 cyclists, again about two-thirds male, about one-quarter not wearing helmets (a different crowd), of which latter group slightly over three-quarters were male.

somewhat over half of the bike traffic was straight through north or south (about two to one north in the first hour, about even the second hour). roughly one-quarter were turning left onto irving from southbound 12th, and of these more than a quarter -- close to seven percent of the entire intersection count -- executed this turn as a "copenhagen" left, many of them arriving on the sidewalk. a fair number made the turn from the left edge of the through lane, but those who asserted the center of the left turn lane seemed to be confident of their position. my observation.

in fact, more than one-sixth of the entire count, exclamation point, completed some portion of their transit through the intersection on the sidewalk -- mostly southbound on the west side of the bridge, and then getting into the bike lane on the far side of the intersection. this did not bring the nominal count down much at all, because nearly all cyclists who did some part of their transit on the sidewalk did another part on the street.

it was my impression that the northbound count was probably low, due to the construction that still continues at 12th and burnside. the counts are continuing through september, and if the construction clears up, i intend to go back and count this intersection again.


what lessons to take from this left turn business, and from the high proportion of riders taking the sidewalk (again, this is primarily a matter of southbound traffic on the west sidewalk). one: people don't much, statistically, "like" the southbound setup on the bridge in general, and they don't like the left turn situation in particular. granted, we are talking about one-sixteenth of the total bike volume here, people southbound, turning left to go irving. but even the through lane, some significant number of people don't like. if there is no striped lane, you gotta fend for yourself, and a lot (and i mean "a lot") of people just will not do it.

however. and here i am speaking as a vehicular cyclist, if you will forgive me. oh, and incidentally. quite a number of left turning motorists were firing up their cell phones for the long highway trek east on 84. quite a number. i wasn't counting them. anecdotal.

okay, so i don't really object to marking these sidewalks as multi-use paths. go for it. and you can even guide people in to the copenhagen left the way you did at weidler and williams. i get it, okay. and hey, maybe a sufficiently intrusive infrastructure will get some of these motorists off their cell phones. right now they are on autopilot.

but there are twenty-something percent of people making this left who kinda know how to do it (though some of them hang just outside the right edge of the turn lane). and what i do not want to see is something that tells motorists, "they [meaning "those cyclists"] belong over there."

not just talking the mandatory sidepath legality here, though it seems to me this kind of treatment could actually fall within 814.420. i am talking perception. you have been putting sharrows all over these sidestreets, but out here where they could do some good, nothing. and if you put up the multi-use path and the copenhagen box, and you do not put down sharrows, the message will be clear, and the vehicular cyclist will be even more unwelcome. the motorist will feel that his sense of entitlement to the travel lanes has been vindicated. sharrows are a must here, whether or not you do the multi-use path.

but these people are not entitled, they are intruders, and they need to be reminded of this. i was once one myself. man, i was mean, but i'm changing that scene, and i'm doing the best that i can. let's not continue to cut motorists slack. you wanna get vehicle miles traveled down, you gotta bring down the hammer, make it difficult, turn the tables, make them the outsider.

there. i spit my piece.

and another point. i was not stationed at the north end of the bridge, but i go through there all the time, and can tell you -- again anectodally -- that a cyclist coming off the sidewalk northbound unexpectedly when i am making a right onto lloyd to get to the left turn lane, a cyclist doing that at anything faster than a walking pace, is a problem. first hand experience just the other day. so let's not be exacerbating that problem, either.

Monday, July 12, 2010

open letter to the BAC

July 12, 2010

Open Letter to the Bicycle Advisory Committee:

At the BAC meeting in April, vice chair Robert Pickett gave a report from a subcommittee looking into the committee's policy review process. Among other things, Ofcr. Pickett proposed that the committee find some mechanism by which it might "proactively" seek presentations on projects the committee itself identifies from PBoT's inventory, rather than limiting itself to reviewing projects PBoT chooses to bring to the committee.

After the meeting, I approached Ofcr. Pickett to suggest that the committee might go farther, by proposing projects or policy that PBoT has not already come up with. Ofcr. Pickett acknowledged the point.

As it happened, something along these lines had occurred earlier that very evening, when Liz Mahon, project manager for the Division "streetscape" project, presented draft language to be added to the project report prior to its being adopted by the city council. The draft language acknowledged BAC's expressed concern that diversion of Division motor traffic onto Clinton as a result of the project would be unfortunate.

The draft language proposed to monitor traffic counts between 12th and 39th, and specifically to take counts before the project is commenced and again after the project is completed in about two years, and it committed, in the event PBoT found diversion did occur, to take "measures" to "prevent any further diversion," with input from "the community and residents on Clinton," possibly including traffic calming devices "or passive/active diversion measures on Clinton" between 12th and 39th.

At least one member of the committee expressed the concern that the phrase "any further" did not address the problem of remediation (i.e., bringing the counts back down), and Ms. Mahon said she would try to work on appropriate language. One member of the committee, Tom Ralley as I recall, noted that traffic counts on Clinton at 26th are already right around 3k.

Roger Geller agreed the draft needed "a more comprehensive look."

I will acknowledge that this interchange did not take the form of a motion, with a second and discussion and a vote expressing the sense of the committee that language concerning remediation "should be added" to the report as submitted to the council. In any event, no change was made to the draft language in the final report as submitted to the council, i.e., nothing was said about remediation. Of course, remediation of an existing situation is not really within the scope of Ms. Mahon's project.

However, I would suggest that this is exactly the sort of issue on which the BAC might find its proactive role. Something needs to be done at 26th and Clinton. The committee might ask PBoT what has become of the Clinton Street bike boulevard "enhancement" project, that was supposed to have been completed last year. The committee might write a formal letter to PBoT expressing the sense that the proposed reconfiguration of the intersection at 26th is urgent, etc.

The committee might make similar inquiry of PBoT with respect to the diversion of motor traffic onto Ankeny as a result of the Burnside/Couch couplet project. This does not appear to be a temporary phenomenon, related only to the ongoing roadwork at Burnside and 12th, but a potentially permanent consequence of perceived bottlenecks at that intersection and at Sandy and 14th.

In each case, the committee might recommend that "passive/active diversion measures" be implemented. There are four speed bumps on Ankeny between 12th and 20th, but these do not seem to have alleviated the problem. Perhaps something a bit more forceful, like the diverter at 20th, could be put in every three or four blocks, restoring Ankeny and the various side streets to their intended use as local service streets and neighborhood collectors.

In this connection, it might be noted that using shared lane markings, or "sharrows," on bike boulevards is at least arguably inappropriate, as these are intended to indicate lateral lane positioning on somewhat more heavily traveled streets, where the outer travel lane is too narrow to safely share, advising cyclists to move away from the curb or out of the "door zone" and advising motorists that they should expect to see cyclists claiming the entire lane. Sharrows are not intended to designate lower trafficked streets as giving priority to cyclists, and although they might be seen as "passive" traffic calming devices, they are unlikely to have the effect of stemming the diversion of, for example, Burnside traffic onto Ankeny.

Yet (and this is another issue on which the BAC might become proactive), PBoT has begun to use sharrows in exactly this manner, as "wayfinders" on several of the newer bike boulevards. Evidently, PBoT sought and obtained a grant of $1 million from federal stimulus funds specifically for this purpose. On the narrower streets, such as Klickitat and Holman, these markings are placed literally on or even to the left of the center line, so that it is apparent they are not being used (and no motorist seeing these would imagine that they are being used) to indicate lateral lane positioning.

The committee might ask PBoT to explain its decision to put sharrows down as wayfinders on bike boulevards, rather than as lateral lane positioning indicators on streets where they are much more obviously needed -- 28th from Stark to Broadway, for example, or Division itself (and not just at 21st), or Hawthorne from 12th to 50th. Or instead of the striped bike lane on Couch from 6th down to the bridge ramp.

The committee might express a concern that the use of sharrows as wayfinders on bike boulevards could dilute the intended function of this traffic control device, so that if they ever are installed on some of the streets where they are needed, they will have become ineffective.

There are no doubt fifty or a hundred other issues on which the BAC might proactively engage, but I mention these because it seems to me they have some urgency.

None of this is meant, incidentally, as an attack on PBoT's efforts, but simply as underscoring the need for BAC to adopt a more proactive stance in order more effectively to fulfill its advisory role.

I would also like to express some slight concern as to the legal status of the committee's voting membership. Section 2 of Article II of the committee's bylaws requires that invitations to the community to apply for membership on the committee are to be extended "at intervals not to exceed two years." Section 3 of the same article states that the term of membership is three years. The last invitation to the community was made sometime in 2007. Five members joined the committee in January, 2008. Probably the terms of some of the other members have expired. This matter should be addressed sooner rather than later.

As indicated above, this is an open letter. I am sending a .pdf copy to Roger Geller with the request that he distribute it to the committee, but I have also posted the text to my blog, with a .pdf copy linked, at The text as posted includes hyperlinks to various documents and to earlier blog posts. These links are listed below.

In addition, although my list of e-mail addresses for individual committee members is incomplete, and although it may include some stale addresses, I intend to distribute the letter to at least some of the committee members directly.


R. Willis

Monday, June 21, 2010

sharrows as wayfinders

the device over there on the right, with the silhouette of the bike and the two chevrons, is a "shared lane marking," or more colloquially, a "sharrow."

the 2009 manual on uniform traffic control devices includes the sharrow at section 9C.07 as an optional treatment on roads on which the outer travel lane is too narrow to share. the intended purpose of the device is to indicate "lateral lane positioning," that is,
(a) to tell cyclists they should move to the left, away from the curb or out of the door zone, and
(b) to tell motorists they should expect to see cyclists claiming the entire lane.
the device may be used in conjunction with signage indicating "bicycles may use full lane," though this is not required.

over the past several weeks, PBoT has been putting these down on some of the newly designated bike boulevards -- klickitat, holman, going, etc. but they are not being used to indicate lateral lane positioning. they are being used as wayfinders.

evidently, PBoT made this choice because there was stimulus money available, but they needed to use MUTCD compliant signage and pavement treatments to get the grant. they did snag close a million dollars for this project, but it seems to me the money would have been better spent putting sharrows where they are actually needed, for example on northeast 28th, or on southeast hawthorne, or on the couch/burnside couplet. evidently putting sharrows on those roads is not a priority for PBoT.

as wayfinders, the sharrows are quite visible. but something else on a similar scale would have served just as well, though the money would have had to come from some other source, maybe bioswales.

my objection is not only that we need sharrows elsewhere, but that they are inappropriate here. lane positioning is not really an issue on a bike boulevard, where there is hardly any motor traffic, relatively few cars parked on the street, and average speeds are in the teens and low twenties.

and to make matters worse, on the narrower streets, like klickitat and holman, these sharrows have been placed not just to the left of the door zone, as contemplated in the MUTCD, but right on the center line (sometimes, weirdly, slightly to the left of center). this completely negates the intended purpose of the sharrow, diluting its usefulness in situations where it is actually needed.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


some weeks ago in "so is this a done deal," i described the first of two open houses at which PBoT rolled out its plans for the klickitat bike boulevard, um, neighborhood greenway. the subtext was the extent to which decisions might already have been made, and the open houses might have been a facade.

but something did actually happen on the way to the second forum.

at the first open house, the storyboards showed alternative intersection treatments at key crossings such as MLK, 15th, and (the focus of today's discussion) 33rd.

klickitat at 33rd is a pretty tricky situation even if you are not trying to put in a bikeway. just a block down a pretty steep hill from a signal at fremont. close to 10k cars each direction every day. posted thirty, but you know how people do.

there is a striped crosswalk on the north side of the intersection, with the yellow diamond signs, etc., but not on the south. in fact, on the south, there are signs warning pedestrians not to cross. there is a median strip to the north of the crosswalk which presumably is intended to slow the downhill traffic somewhat. and it provides something of a pedestrian refuge halfway across, albeit unprotected.

why anyone thought it would be better to put the crosswalk only on the uphill side of the intersection i don't know. possibly so that a northbound motorist wanting to turn left onto klickitat would not be left hanging in the intersection waiting for pedestrians to clear. though there is a center turn lane there. hard to say, really.

the existing design exposes a southbound motorist who condescends to respect the pedestrian crosswalk to the risk of being rear-ended.

anyway, the proposed treatment at this intersection, as presented at the first open house, was to extend the median through the entire intersection, with cut-throughs for bike traffic and another pedestrian crosswalk on the south, with both pedestrian refuges protected. the existing center left turn lane northbound on 33rd would be removed, and left turns would be forbidden (actually, physically prevented) from any direction.


this drew a response from at least one resident. a guy named jim knoble, who lives a few doors east of the intersection on klickitat, put up flyers around the neighborhood, urging people to contact kyle chesik at PBoT and voice objections to the proposed median extension. and show up at the second open house.

knoble's argument was that residents in that one block of klickitat would be forced to travel uphill either on 33rd or on klickitat itself to get out of the neighborhood, and that this would be especially troublesome when there was snow or ice on the streets. he also noted that the proposed treatment would do nothing to slow motor traffic pouring downhill from fremont, which is of course the actual problem.

what knoble proposed was to retain the existing configuration but add a pedestrian and cyclist activated crossing signal, synchronized with the signal at fremont.

the flyer did attract quite a number of fresh faces to the second open house, which was crowded into a space in the front end of the library in the alameda elementary school. not all of them agreed with knoble's analysis. some people felt that if you were going to leave the intersection at 33rd unregulated and then also turn some of the stop signs along klickitat west of 33rd around, you would defeat the purpose of discouraging cut-through traffic.

but the weird thing was, and this is the point i have been leading up to here, before the meeting even began, PBoT had taken the extended median idea completely off the table. no longer even an option. the new storyboards showed simply that the intersection remained a problem, and that maybe a hawk beacon (question mark) might be put there.

greg raisman was there at the second open house, along with an engineer whose name escapes me, providing backup to kyle. greg said it would cost too much to put in a pedestrian and cyclist activated crossing signal, etc., under more recent MUTCD standards -- a quarter mil or something --, and that the beacon actually has a higher compliance rate anyway.

he did not really respond to the objection that leaving the intersection unregulated while turning stop signs along klickitat would invite cut-through traffic, except to say that other calming measures several blocks away would somehow discourage this. he pointed repeatedly to a proposed pocket park at the alameda crossing, and to the closing of the block between 23rd and 24th at the magdalen school.

so that is what we are left with, subject to possible adjustment after monitoring the situation for a couple of years. the existing striped crosswalk, with maybe a hawk signal. kudos to knoble for effective advocacy, i guess, and a lesson to the rest of us.

in a followup posting to his webpage, knoble says PBoT has committed to "a pair of better-marked, more visible crosswalks," plus the hawk beacon (without the question mark). i think this somewhat overstates the actual commitment.

interestingly, an "evaluation goals" document released after the second open house mentions "curb extensions" at a number of intersections, to "reduce crossing distance and improve crossing visibility." 33rd is listed, though this may be an error.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

well, well, well

some interesting stuff at tonight's BAC meeting.

item one:

roger geller asked for input on the current ODoT bike/ped grant cycle. proposals due july 9. up to one million to be awarded on a single project, twenty pct. of the entire grant budget. OBPAC saying "think big," "showcase projects," "community-wide impact," etc.

roger mentioned a couple of "candidate projects," maybe put "hawk" signals at every major intersection along some corridor out east, beyond 82nd, maybe "improve" the klickitat walkway, taking advantage of a greater portion of the sixty-foot right of way. looking for other suggestions.

alicia crain urged that any proposal should focus on closing what she called the "equity gap," increasing bike/ped access for underserved populations. she mentioned cully in particular. mark ginsberg suggested going for the cutting edge, maybe close the transit mall to automobile traffic. several other ideas put forward.

item two:

among the informal announcements at the start of the meeting, mark ginsburg mentioned that the BTA board election is coming up in september, and in effect put out a call for anyone interested in contesting some seats.

item three:

katja dillmann, transportation policy advisor to the mayor, asked for feedback on the difficulties with the couch approach to the burnside bridge and on PBoT's response to date. maybe implying that further decisionmaking on this matter might be made over susan keil's head.

ian stude said he had biked down couch from 14th and found that the lights seemed to be timed to about 20 mph, rather than 12 mph as had been stated in the planning documents. dillmann actually confirmed that this was the case. apparently the change was made by some traffic engineer (she said who, but my notes are sketchy) in order to accommodate the throughput from sandy.

i seconded stude's suggestion that the timing be brought down closer to 12 mph, and i also suggested that PBoT simply get rid of the bike lane altogether, pointing out the conflict with the bus stop and the right hook at grand, and that they reduce the posted advisory speed on the transition itself to 15 mph.

somewhat to my surprise, there was a certain amount of support for these views among the committee. a straw poll actually favored asking the mayor's office to "look at" taking out the bike lane.

more to come.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

what were they thinking

the couch street portion of the burnside/couch couplet project is essentially completed, and there has already been some negative response from cyclists.

couch itself is now one-way west from 14th to MLK, with signals at every intersection timed to about 20 mph during peak hours. posted limit 25 mph. seven foot parking lanes on both sides, two eleven foot travel lanes, no striped bike lane until you get to 6th.

at MLK, the entry ramp onto the burnside bridge begins. an "s" curve of about 300 linear feet. there is a striped bike lane, five feet wide, and two travel lanes, each twelve feet wide. a hard turn to the left, followed almost immediately by a hard turn to the right onto the bridge.

over on the left as you cross MLK is a yellow diamond hazard sign showing the left turn, with an advisory speed reduction sign indicating 20 mph. nothing similar on the right.

a more sensible speed indication would be 15 mph, and a more sensible treatment would be not a striped bike lane but sharrows. a motorist in the right travel lane making the final right onto the bridge will tend to encroach into the striped bike lane, and a cyclist who allows herself to be relegated to the bike lane will inevitably get pinched in the corner.

what has already happened is that a cyclist or two has wiped out on the thermoplastic lane stripe itself. and in the course of responding to this apparently PBoT discovered that the line between the two travel lanes was mistakenly placed a couple of feet to the right of center, making the right travel lane too narrow (and exacerbating the problem at the right turn onto the bridge).

the present plan apparently is to widen the bike lane to six feet and create a four foot buffer. not sure where they are going to find room for all that. through most of the "s" curve the available pavement width is 29 or so feet. so presumably we are talking only about the final right turn onto the bridge.

again, getting rid of the sidepath and slowing motor traffic to 15 mph would have been a much better treatment. in my view.

early on, some of the negative commentary on was to the effect that PBoT should have striped a bike lane on couch from 14th on down. and here i disagree. with eleven foot travel lanes and lights timed to 20 mph, a cyclist should have no difficulty taking the lane. again, maybe sharrows. (note: when the streetcar goes in, the design calls for dropping the north parking lane, which would then become a seven foot bike lane.)

aside: why they want to waste paint putting sharrows on these "next generation" bike boulevards is beyond me. these are not route markers, they are a device to alert cyclists and motorists that the lane is too narrow to share, and to indicate that a cyclist is likely to assert a position somewhat to the left of the door zone or the gutter. in other words, to discourage unsafe passing. if motor traffic on the bike boulevard is sufficiently calmed (or diverted), sharrows should not be necessary.

meanwhile, there are thoroughfares where this kind of marking is actually needed, such as couch, and instead we are given sidepaths at the critical junctures.

query whether this sidepath, couch from 6th onto the bridge, is mandatory per ORS 814.420(2). there was a public process, after all.

but incidentally. or not so incidentally.

in applying to ODoT for an exception from AAHSTO standards on lane widths on couch -- cross section 36 feet rather than 38 on a minor arterial -- PBoT indicated it would post the speed limit at 20 mph rather than 25 mph. among other things, they wanted to preserve the twelve foot sidewalk and planting strip to enhance walkability. no indication in the public documents whether the exception was granted (presumably yes), whether the exception was conditioned on the lower limit, or what the hell happened to the 20 mph limit.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

diversion street

liz mahon, PBoT project manager for the division "streetscape design" project, distributed this memo at the BAC meeting last week. it does not purport to be bureau policy. what it purports to be is an internal memo, liz to roger, copy to the BAC, suggesting that certain language be added to the project report prior to its presentation to city council, addressing concerns expressed by BAC at an earlier meeting. her stated purpose in appearing before the committee last week was to confirm that this language sufficiently addressed those concerns.

if that does not give the appearance of public input from a bicycling constituency into the policymaking process, then you have to ask yourself what exactly BAC is.

and what the proposed language said was
(a) it acknowledged the existence of the clinton street bike boulevard as "a vibrant and well-established bicycle facility."
(b) it acknowledged BAC's expressed concern that diversion of division traffic onto clinton as a result of the project would be unfortunate.
(c) it proposed to monitor traffic counts between 12th and 39th, and specifically to take counts before the project is commenced and again after the project is completed in about two years.
(d) it committed, in the event PBoT found diversion did occur, to take "measures" to "prevent any further diversion," with input from "the community and residents on clinton," possibly including traffic calming devices "or passive/active diversion measures on clinton" between 12th and 39th.

someone expressed the concern that "any further" did not address the problem of remediation (i.e., bringing the counts back down), and liz said she would try to work on appropriate language. someone else asked what about diversion during construction itself, and liz said the project plan would provide for diversion that did not encourage motorist use of clinton. tom ralley noted that traffic counts on clinton at 26th are already right around 3k. roger suggested that was sort of the upper limit, clinton was an early rollout of the bike boulevard model, etc.

roger said the memo needed "a more comprehensive look."

the rest of the meeting was taken up with a discussion of the project review process. a subcommittee headed by robert pickett gave its report, proposing a more formal process for presentations by staff, and a mechanism by which the committee might pro-actively seek presentations on projects the committee itself identifies from PBoT's inventory.

another way in which the committee might be proactive would be in proposing projects or policy that PBoT has not already come up with. for example, the BAC might suggest to PBoT that the existing situation on clinton already needs to be addressed with calming and/or diversion, without regard to what further burdens might flow from the division streetscape project. i suggested as much to officer pickett. he seemed to take my point.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

so is this a done deal

went to this open house the other night. the guy from PBoT was there, kyle chisek, project manager, with three easels and a bunch of huge storyboards, the first set of which introduced the idea of what exactly a bike boulevard -- excuse me, "neighborhood greenway" -- is, and sort of generally why klickitat was chosen, etc.

and at this point a naysayer puts up a hand and asks, "so is this a done deal," and then, "but it's a done deal, isn't it," when kyle doesn't all that clearly explain that sir, you did have your chance back when we were doing the 2030 plan, and if you showed up then and objected, guess what, the party has moved on. three or four people from the audience heckled "let the man give his talk," and after awhile the guy left.

i heard later that a cyclist waylaid him in the vestibule on his way out and had a civil conversation in which they concluded that they actually agreed on some things. actually, the guy says, i'd rather put more bikes on fremont and slow these speeding cars the hell down.

meanwhile kyle moves forward, talking about traffic counts and calming and the benefits to everyone, on a bike or not, and people seem receptive, actually, with the conversation occasionally nudged by one of several bike activists who have placed themselves about the room. friends of trees gonna put in some street trees.

and pretty soon we are talking about specific treatments at specific intersections and which of two or three proposed alternatives do people like or hate. a consensus actually emerged that west of 11th and maybe even as far as 19th you pretty much should be on siskiyou, and the only real question is how to get across at MLK, and there were some voices in favor of morris, which is what the storyboard indicated was PBoT's favored choice.

interesting conversation about what to do at 23rd, where one block has been closed during school hours at the magdalen school. kyle had a card suggesting some serious narrowing and maybe bollards, and if it turned out there was still a problem with cyclists blowing through a bunch of kids, maybe even a gated chicane. someone pointed out that the intrepid one percent would simply deviate several blocks in advance, and this linked back in an interesting way to the comment one resident made near the outset -- yes, there was more than one cautious to negative voice in the room -- that hey, if this is the bike boulevard, can we then ban bikes on fremont? to a lesser extent, the party had moved on from this as well.

there was more, but right about here i split. it was after eight. a little over fifty people in the room when i arrived, maybe twenty when i left.

there will be a follow up on may 6, similar format, in which however what kyle will be presenting will in fact be the done deal.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

meeting notes

this is is a page from a presentation PBoT has put together to promote bike boulevards:

the page shows the intersection of NE going with 33rd, crossing offset more than a hundred feet. no signal, stop signs on both going approaches, 33rd treated as the through street, posted limit 30 mph. right of way 36 feet, parking on both sides, with occasional bulbouts, effective travel lane about 11 feet each way.

the plan is to carve out a two-way cycle track along the west edge of 33rd, with some kind of box at the north end for cyclists heading north and east to sit in, waiting for cross traffic to clear. not entirely clear from this diagram how wide the bike lanes would be, but let's say six feet with maybe a three-foot buffer. something like that.

onstreet parking would be eliminated in this half block, and motor traffic would be forbidden to enter going from 33rd altogether.

a modest accommodation for the going bike boulevard, if a bit clumsy at the box. existing signals at alberta and again at prescott perhaps explain a decision not to simply signalize the intersection.

my point is this:
(a) obviously it would be absurd to require me to veer across 33rd to pick up the cycletrack if i am heading north on 33rd from farther south;
(b) even if i am turning left onto 33rd from going heading north, if i am not planning to continue east on going there is no point in my getting onto the cycletrack and getting hung up in the box when I could simply take the lane;
(c) there will be all kinds of confusion in and around the box;
(d) motor vehicles parked along the west edge of the road north of the crossing will block my view of southbound traffic;
(e) etc., etc.

frankly, I do not care for the proposed treatment at all, and if it were within the scope of any of the upcoming open houses i would state my objections there.

also [footnote] since this is not an AASHTO/MUTCD approved treatment, it may not technically be subject to 814.420(2), but i begin to tire of PBoT's intentionally obfuscating that question.

bottom line, i should not be required to use this facility, and there should not be a statute on the books that gives the police a weapon to require me to show up in traffic court to defend my decision not to use it.

if the concern is what do "we" say to a legislator who says, hey, you asked for all this paint and we have a statute that requires motorists to keep out of the designated lane, how can you also ask that you yourselves not be required to use it?, my answer would be, the paint is there to provide comfort to the less intrepid, to encourage them to leave the truck in the driveway every once in awhile and bike to the grocery or the library or whatever.

but the more intrepid -- the vehicular cyclists who have been out there for years, just going about their business and mixing it up with the motor traffic -- do not need or want the sidepaths and should not be corralled into them. an analogy might be training wheels, or one of those pedestrian-activated crossing signals: if you do not need it, you should not be required to use it.

i know BTA has been supportive of all this infrastructure, but i think the constituency is larger than that, and "we" need to not ignore the needs of the vehicular cyclist. if not BTA then someone needs to maintain a voice that is identifiably separate from PBoT.

the city takes the position that the public process preceding adoption of the 1998 bike master plan is sufficient for the public hearing requirement. but in the 2030 plan PBoT is considerably more ambiguous with respect to whether the mandatory sidepath statute applies to the "experimental" treatments, and possibly the two-way track on 33rd would fall into that category. but again, it would be better to have clarity across the board that cyclists are not required to use even the striped bike lanes, period.

and frankly my longer range agenda would include getting rid of the far to right law. ORS 811.315 already requires a slower moving vehicle to stay to the right. there is no reason to treat cyclists as secondary road users in the statute, at all.

though i do appreciate the exception at 814.430(2)(c) for asserting the lane where it is too narrow to share.

at section 4.2D of the 2030 plan, PBoT says they want to engage with "community groups," among others, on the question of possible legislative changes to the mandatory sidepath law. who will step forward?

Monday, March 22, 2010

the outbox

sent the following to mark moline in the city attorney's office:

back in november you sent me the attached letter, taking the position (in effect) that the public hearing requirement of ORS 814.420(2) is met, and a striped bike lane is therefore subject to the mandatory sidepath requirement, if (paraphrasing here) the facility was listed in the 1996 bike master plan, as updated in 1998, and conforms to the design and engineering guidelines set out in appendix A to that plan.

i did already understand that this was the city's position, but it was useful (in my view) to get it out in the open, on paper.

taking this conversation a step further, i would like to suggest to you that quite a number of the facilities mentioned in the BMP do not in fact, paint on the ground, conform to the stated guidelines.

one example would be northeast tillamook at 41st -- a four-foot bike lane sandwiched between a seven-foot parking lane and a ten-foot travel lane, flat out nonconformance with the engineering guidelines. and there are many others.

in the particular case, you might say, well, if it's in the door zone, and ORS 814.420(3) says you can leave the bike lane to avoid a hazard, what is the problem? but you are telling me the bike lane is certified "safe" per 814.420(2), so how can it make sense to disregard the stripe because i think the stripe itself is unsafe? probably subparagraph (3) is limited to the case where someone is actually opening a door.

more generally, where a narrow bike lane is placed alongside a relatively narrow travel lane, an experienced "vehicular" cyclist would simply take the lane, and the argument would be that she is avoiding the hazard of being overtaken too close. as you may know, ORS 811.065, the statute that requires a motorist to leave a safe passing distance in overtaking a cyclist, expressly does not apply when the cyclist is in a striped bike lane.

i would like to encourage the city to re-think this, and to announce publicly that the BMP does not, in itself, constitute a public hearing for purposes of 814.420(2), at least with respect to facilities that do not in fact conform to the engineering guidelines that were the subject of (purported) public hearings.

thank you for your continued attention to this matter.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


awhile back, in an entry called "unfinished business," i talked about a hit and run that happened back in st. louis two years ago. some jerk blew through a red light in a 98 yukon and took out a guy on a mountain bike, breaking his leg and his pelvis and puncturing his lung.

lots more detail in the earlier post, but briefly:

the prosecutor went to the trouble of getting a grand jury indictment, and the perp was required to post a secured bond of $25k. but then he failed to show for some pretrial hearing, because (as it turned out) he had been jailed across the river on a burglary charge (unrelated, unless maybe he was trying to pay off the bail bondsman).

eventually he pled guilty on what they call a "blind plea," meaning the prosecutor was not offering to recommend a reduced sentence. the maximum sentence in missouri for leaving the scene, class d felony, is four years prison and a $5k fine. the judge actually did impose the four years, but then suspended execution on two years' probation. apart from the usual conditions -- weapons, controlled substances, associating with other criminals, checking in with your probation officer before leaving the area, etc. -- the probation order required the guy to keep a full time job.

what prompted the earlier post was that there was a hearing scheduled to revoke the probation. at the time i supposed that he might have lost a job, but from talking with the prosecutor's office i am gathering that this was actually some kind of fallout from the burglary conviction in illinois.

so anyway this is an update.

bottom line, on february 19 of this year the probation was reinstated. if this guy can stay out of trouble until march 25, 2011 (which does seem unlikely), he is clear.

oh, and he is required to pay $46 to the victims compensation fund. not clear whether he has paid that yet. also unable to find whether the victim has sued the guy for his injuries, which were pretty severe . . .

Monday, March 8, 2010

two more examples

recently i posted a piece detailing how the bike lane on northeast tillamook at 41st, outside the hollywood library, very obviously does not comply with the engineering guidelines in the 1996 bike master plan, as updated in 1998.

the city attorney says the public hearing requirement for the mandatory sidepath law is met with respect to facilities mentioned in the BMP because, um, the guidelines were adopted after public comment. or something like that.

of course, the guidelines are for the most part a mere reiteration of AASHTO and ODoT standards. no independent engineering analysis went into this, and it would be a stretch to say that there was any meaningful public input.

but here we have a facility that does not even meet the guidelines. the striped lane is considerably less than five feet wide, and it is sandwiched between a seven foot parking lane and a ten foot travel lane. flat out noncompliance.

so are we supposed to think maybe it is not subject to the mandatory sidepath law?

the easy answer is, hey, it's in the door zone, and ORS 814.420(3) says you can leave the bike lane to avoid a hazard. but that reasoning is too circular even for me. my question was, is the bike lane certified safe per 814.420(2), and the city attorney said yes. so how can it make sense to disregard the stripe because you think the stripe itself is unsafe?


last week L. and i measured a couple more bike lanes.

one was on lovejoy between northwest 10th and 11th. i had wanted to measure the lane coming down the hill on lovejoy from the broadway bridge (which was among those i had specifically identified in my correspondence with PBoT, and which the city attorney specifically acknowledged was covered by the BMP), but there is a sort of jersey barrier separating the road from the sidewalk there, making it a little difficult to get into and out of the roadway quickly (and giving the cyclist nowhere to bail). maybe another time.

but down there between 10th and 11th (again in the door zone), the measurements are these: bike lane 56 inches, a bit short of five feet, parking lane 86 inches, just over seven feet, travel lane exactly ten feet even. the BMP says in no event should a four-foot bike lane be put next to either a seven-foot parking lane or a ten-foot travel lane. does this comply? hard to say. maybe.

does not matter much to me because usually i am making a left at 11th, so i have another justification for not being in the bike lane, and if i am going further north i make my turn at 9th. but this stuff should matter to someone.

the other bike lane we measured was glisan at northeast 28th, out there in front of the laundromat and the cuban restaurant, with the new bike corral and everything.

bike lane 58 inches to the outer edge of each stripe, almost the full five feet. parking lane 89 inches, somewhat over seven feet, but not eight. travel lane 126 inches, ten and a half feet. pretty much no question this meets the stated guidelines, sorta.

but let's look at a couple of other numbers. a toyota prius is 68.7 inches wide, not quite six feet. an f150 pickup if 78.9 inches wide, a little over six and a half. a hummer h3 is 85.0 inches wide, more than seven feet.

let's say the prius driver parks six inches from the curb. a foot you say? probably, but let's give this particular prius driver some credit. so the left side of the car is maybe a foot from the bike lane, if that. if the driver's side door is opened, how far does the door extend into the bike lane? let's say it is more than zero. with the f150 or the h3 it would be that much worse.

so i am going to want to leave three feet or so between my path and the left side of the parked car. at least. maybe four.

could i stay in the bike lane? well, yes, most of the time, but why? we have almost fifteen feet between the parking lane and the center line. why not take some of it, give myself some cushion, and force an overtaking motorist to move a little to the left? what function does the striped lane actually serve here, except to force me to the side?

absent the mandatory sidepath law, would the far to the right law, ORS 814.430, require me to hug the door zone? not a question for the city attorney.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

for example

so L. and i took a tape measure and we went out and measured off the actual width of the bike lane and the parking lane and the travel lane on northeast tillamook at 41st, outside the hollywood library.

click to enlarge

photo credit L.

the bike lane is very obviously in the door zone, but let's look at the actual numbers.

the parking lane is 83 inches, which we will call seven feet. the bike lane is 55 inches to the outside edge of each stripe, which i think counts as about four and a half feet. the travel lane is ten feet even.

as detailed in a previous post, the city has taken the position that the public hearing requirement of ORS 814.420(2) is met, and a striped bike lane is therefore subject to the mandatory sidepath requirement, if (paraphrasing here) the facility was listed in the 1996 bike master plan, as updated in 1998, and conforms to the design and engineering guidelines set out in appendix A to that plan.

tillamook from flint to 92nd is in fact one of the facilities listed in the BMP, at page 38. mostly a bike boulevard, but striped from 38th to 42nd, coming into the hollywood business district. so let's compare the paint on the ground on northeast tillamook at 41st with the plan guidelines.

one might ask why the thing is striped to begin with. according to the criteria listed at table 3.2 in appendix A of the BMP, it would appear that this stretch of tillamook is a "local service street," for which no treatment at all is indicated. the traffic count about three years ago was less than 3k, which would indicate local service, but it does kinda feel like a "neighborhood collector," for which, if a striped lane is "not possible due to width constraints and parking needs," the wide travel lane should be sufficient.

in any event, for whatever reason, the decision was to stripe it. again, the guidelines say (again paraphrasing)
  • preferred bike lane width five feet, but we will accept four for distances of less than a mile between "existing bikeways" or where there are traffic calming devices or parking turnover is [very] low.
  • preferred width of adjacent parking lane eight feet, but we will accept seven.
  • preferred width of adjacent travel lane eleven feet, but we will accept ten.
  • but in no event should a four-foot bike lane be put next to either a seven-foot parking lane or a ten-foot travel lane.

not sure how they measure parking turnover, but in this block it seems to me it is pretty high. you can see in the first photo that there is a fifteen minute limit. people going into and coming out of the library, etc. no overt traffic calming, unless you count that island plunked down right in the intersection at 39th that prevents northbound traffic going through (and forces the right turn from westbound tillamook, creating a hazard for any cyclist pushed far enough to the right to have gotten trapped in the right turn only lane) -- but of course this device, forcing northbound traffic to turn either east or west on tillamook, would tend to increase, however slightly, rather than reduce traffic volume on tillamook itself . . .

but disregarding all that, here we have both the seven foot parking lane and the ten foot travel lane, and while the bike lane is not literally four feet, it certainly is not five. unambiguously not in compliance with the design and engineering guidelines.

so maybe it is not a mandatory sidepath under ORS 814.420(2).

Monday, February 8, 2010

subparagraph two

for nearly seven months last year, i engaged in an e-mail exchange with PBoT on the question whether there have ever been any actual public hearings conducted for the purpose of determining that any particular bike lane or sidepath anywhere in portland is "suitable for safe bicycle use," so as to escape the exception at ORS 814.420(2) from the mandatory sidepath provision of ORS 814.420(1).

a little background:

ORS 814.420(1) relegates me to a sidepath in many situations in which my own judgment says the sidepath is not the safest place to be. ORS 814.420(3) provides very limited exceptions to the mandatory sidepath rule, very notably not including a situation in which my staying within the striped lane encourages an overtaking motorist to pass too close (unless that in itself is a "hazardous condition" that i am permitted to avoid by moving left) -- and the safe passing distance statute, ORS 811.065, specifically excepts passing a cyclist who is in a designated bike lane.

but ORS 814.420(2) appears to let me off the hook if there has been no public hearing specifically designating a facility as "suitable." unfortunately, the oregon appeals court has ruled in state versus potter that ORS 814.420(2) does me no good unless i can prove the negative, i.e., that there has been no hearing.

when i say "me," i mean vehicular cyclists generally, and frankly it is my own view that motorists also need to know what is the actual legal status of these sidepaths. the "general public," in other words.


last april, i sent a formal public records request to maureen yandle, assistant to the director of PBoT, asking for any documents giving notice of, transcribing or summarizing the contents of, and/or stating the conclusions of any such public hearing.

almost immediately, to my amazement, she sent me back a response form indicating that no such records existed.

which i admit is what i had supposed, but the form was unsigned, and it arrived in my mailbox just as ms. yandle and i were trading e-mails in which she seemed to be suggesting just the opposite: that there were so many documents scattered in so many different files that she was going to have to quote me a huge research and copying fee.

at one point, in order to narrow the scope of the request, i had suggested that we could focus on just a few facilities, and i picked out
  1. the bike lane heading south on broadway from the bridge to hoyt,
  2. the bike lane heading west on lovejoy from the bridge to 9th, and
  3. the bike lane heading north on williams from broadway to killingsworth,
but this suggestion was ignored.

then there was silence for almost two months, and after some prompting from me, a couple of messages from ms. yandle saying she was meeting with people from the city attorney's office and with unnamed project managers and planners. and finally, in early august, another response form saying they would need to spend forty hours at a cost of a thousand dollars to provide the requested records.

in an e-mail message explaining this second response form, ms. yandle indicated that PBoT would assign a staffer to look through notices, minutes, etc. of public forums and city council meetings relating to adoption of the central city transportation management plan, the bicycle master plan (and update), and the transportation system plan (and updates).

i had suggested to ms. yandle, repeatedly, that the plan documents and the forums and hearings leading to the adoption of the plan documents were not responsive to my records request, which spoke in terms of hearings with respect to particular facilities, not broad policy generalizations. but she did not even acknowledge this objection, much less respond to it.

finally, when i reminded her that my records request included a request for a waiver of fees under ORS 192.440(5), on the ground that making these particular documents available would primarily benefit the general public, ms. yandle responded that fees cannot be waived "because city staff time must be charged to the project." i pointed out to her that this response did not address the public benefit question, and she replied that the decision not to waive fees "has nothing to do with" the question of public benefit.

at this point i asked the multnomah county district attorney to get involved, per ORS 192.460. john hoover of that office asked me to frame a petition, which i did, and he passed it along to the city attorney.

and not long afterward, i got a letter from mark r. moline of the city attorney's office, dated november 23, 2009, confirming that in practice PBoT has simply taken the position that the facilities guidelines set forth in the bicycle master plan meet the requirement of ORS 814.420(2), without the necessity of conducting separate hearings for each facility.

in other words, the april response form, box 6, no records, was in fact the correct response.

this is of course not exactly news. but the fact that PBoT asserts that guidelines in the bicycle master plan constitute compliance with the statute and that separate hearings for each facility are not required had not previously (to my knowledge) ever been formally acknowledged.

once, in the comments section of a piece on the striping of a buffered bike lane on southeast holgate, i persuaded jeff smith of PBoT to acknowledge the point, but he was not speaking on behalf of the bureau. amusingly, jeff's post mentions that he had "sat through one traffic court proceeding where the judge found this to be an acceptable argument."

presumably what he is referring to is the occasion back in 2006 when he himself was ticketed for taking the lane on southwest main approaching first avenue from the hawthorne bridge. ultimately, the ticket was dismissed because roger geller, who had been called as a witness for the prosecution, testified that it would be reasonable for smith to leave the bike lane to prepare for a left turn, more than a block away.

so. that is the city's position. separate hearing not required for facilities covered in the bicycle master plan.

one imagines that this implies that actual facilities, paint on the ground, in fact conform to the guidelines set forth in the plan. let's have a look.

bicycle master plan, appendix A, part C2a, bike lanes on curbed streets:
  • preferred bike lane width five feet, but we will accept four for distances of less than a mile between "existing bikeways" or where there are traffic calming devices or parking turnover is [very] low.
  • preferred width of adjacent parking lane eight feet, but we will accept seven.
  • preferred width of adjacent travel lane eleven feet, but we will accept ten.
  • but in no event should a four-foot bike lane be put next to either a seven-foot parking lane or a ten-foot travel lane.

does anyone seriously believe that any of the three facilities mentioned earlier in this post -- broadway, lovejoy, williams -- conforms to these guidelines? i can tell you for a dead fact that the bike lane on northeast tillamook at 41st, next to the library, does not, because i have been out there with a tape measure.

so maybe these are exempted from the mandatory sidepath law.

more to come.