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