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.


  1. Nice post, man! I am definitely one to take the lane to make lefts because I feel that's the way to do it. I hate the "Copenhagen" way and agree that making a lane suggest that, like on Williams (which I was appalled by, APPALLED!), is just ridiculous. But your main argument that the city of Portland is putting cyclists on side-streets and not main streets is warranted. Why should cyclists be treated as second class old grannies?

    I'm just sick and tired of people telling me that I shouldn't take such-and-such a road because there are bike paths/routes. Most of those are scenic, inconvenient and full of tourists. just like any other commuter I want to get where I'm going efficiently...

  2. I am not a vehicular cyclist (as a label). But I've found to no small degree, that fighting for space on arterials simply gets me in a bad mood. So for the sake of my peace of mind, I take secondary streets these days because I get to my destination more calm and unstressed.
    To that degreee, when I take the 28th bridge, I turn left at Oregon or Irving st and continue south along 30th. This is my recommendation unless your headed to Ankeny (only a couple blocks south of there). I also avoid the 12th bridge entirely because there's just too many lights

  3. Thanks so much for your post. I'm happy to report that the City recently hired Alta Planning to explore potential bike infrastructure for the 12th Street Bridge, as well as several other locations near the Lloyd District (Holladay, Vancouver, and Williams). This bridge is such a pinch point for cyclists; unless the City addresses these critical links, it won't matter how many sharrows they put on neighborhood streets. I believe that Alta should begin their planning in the next month or so.

  4. I generally make that left onto Irving from the right 1/3 of the turn lane, which is the best way I've come up with to both take the lane and obviously be aiming for the bike path on Irving. Unless I'm suicidally tearing through a yellow, it mostly works. The Copenhagen left through here stinks, because the intersection is not squared off. I'm a coward, and I've never felt that that's an improvement on being out there in the (literal) middle of the mess.

  5. I personally don't like Portland's bike paths. They take me far out of my way during my commute and have joggers with Ipods just waiting to do a shoulder stretch into my face as I pass. No thank you, I will ride with other vehicles, take a risk in the turn lane and shave a mile off my commute.