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.


  1. The problem with that right lane at the bottom of Broadway at Larrabee before the bridge is that it's no longer a dedicated right turn lane and thus why they probably moved the bike lane to the right of it.

  2. thanks for this insight. they do not have all the paint down yet, so it has not been obvious to me that the right lane is no longer a forced right turn, if that is the case. but i have a problem with the striped lane being placed to the right of any lane from which a right turn is permitted, at all. but i do recognize that i am the voice of a rear guard on this issue.

  3. good luck making a difference on these changes. IMO, you are most likely to be labeled 'VC' and as a result summarily dismissed by PBOT and the sycophants at the BTA and on the BAC.

  4. i am going to continue to try to maintain the perspective that the people on BAC and at the BTA, at at PBoT, are well-intentioned and that they will at least listen to "vehicular" arguments that are not presented as dogma.

    i have been on the legislative committee at BTA since january, and they are not deaf to this stuff. and i have been showing up at BAC meetings for about a year now, and have actually put in for a seat there, though i do not expect to get the appointment. roger has been reasonably cordial with me.

    we will see. eventually someone will get hurt or killed at one of these intersections, under circumstances that will call the design itself into question. i do not wish that outcome, but it is a statistical inevitability.

  5. I'm all for both well-designed bike lanes / facilities, and better training on interacting in traffic for both motorists and cyclists; it's not an either or proposition.

    However, IMO, neither of these two things are really being done well in the US right now, quite a bit of improvement is needed in both bike facility design and transportation education programs.

  6. As far as the BTA’s “Built It” with Burnside/Couch, I suspect that they are referring to the bike lane on Burnside eastbound from the bridge to 13th. PBOT is supposed to be repaving Burnside this weekend, and I would suspect that the lane marking would be installed shortly thereafter, possibly even in time for the Tuesday ceremony, assuming the rain lets up.

    I am confused as to how you believe the Couch design violates the technical standards, perhaps you could elaborate? The only thing I can see on page A11 would be where it mentions that to avoid turning conflicts on one-way streets a left-side bike lane may be used, but that would only introduce left-turn conflicts at MLK, and would have to somehow transition back to the right-side when the road becomes two-way again on the bridge.

    As for it not being in the 1998 master plan, there have been a number of bicycle improvements that have been made that were not in that plan, such as the bike lanes through the Rose Quarter, or on Cascades Parkway. There are also new methods available, such as the shared lane markings, buffered bike lanes, cycle tracks, and yes, bike boxes, that were not on the radar back then. Things change, and the master plan needs to change accordingly, which is why we went through the update process, which does include Burnside/Couch.

  7. i am willing to be corrected re the striping on couch complying with the design criteria of the 1998 bike plan, but i am pretty sure the bike lane is not five feet wide, and i am pretty sure the adjacent travel lane is not more than ten feet wide.

    appendix A of the 1998 plan, at page A11, states that while a bike lane narrower than five feet or an adjacent travel lane narrower than eleven feet may be acceptable in some limited circumstances, the two should not be used in combination.

    and my point about the couch treatment not being in the 1998 plan is that the city attorney has taken the position that anything that was included in the plan has had a public hearing for purposes of the mandatory sidepath statute. by inference, anything not included in the plan, and especially anything not in compliance with the technical specs of the plan, maybe is not a mandatory sidepath.

    and frankly, i am not much enamored of the technical specs in the 1998 plan anyway.

  8. Thanks for the blog. I travel every day down couch, and I call the bike lane on Couch from 6th to Grand the "hit-me lane". I also take the lane there, as I am traveling at the speed of traffic.

    I am curious about the book you mention by forester. What is that?


  9. the title is "effective cycling." when i finally got around to reading it, after learning most of this stuff by experience and observation, it was already in its 6th edition at close to six hundred pages. a very entertaining read, because his crankiness comes through loud and clear.

    forester is still pretty much the guru of the vehicular cycling movement, but he has become something of a caricature of himself.

  10. Meh, you're not going to get very far quoting Forester. Only a small fraction of what he wrote is really applicable, and his personality and delivery is so unpleasant that it has overshadowed any benefits his insights may have provided.

  11. as i say, he and i are no longer on speaking terms, and some of it does have to do with the dogmatism of the v.c. extreme

  12. I'd like to get back to the comment that the city attorney considers anything included in the 1998 Bicycle Master Plan to already have had a public hearing.

    I call BS on that; nothing could be further from the truth. A plan is exactly what it says it is, a plan. It IS NOT a final design. I challenge anyone reading this to find an actual facility design in that plan that has anything to do with the AS-BUILT on-the-street bike lane. I don't think the concept of the Burnside-Couch couplet had even been proposed yet at the time the previous bike master plan was approved by council.

    The City Attorney's office also appears to have a much higher opinion of PDOT's engineering design skills as applied to bike facilities than the actual stuff on the street bears witness to.

    BTW, the date on the previous Bicycle Master Plan is May 1, 1996, not 1998. And I think the 'Potter decision' is the actual legal precedent the City Attorney's office is referring to, and I don't think the Bicycle Master Plan was even mentioned in that ruling, it's an appeals court decision on a Critical Mass ticket from about ten years ago regarding the mandatory sidepath law.

  13. it is true i have been inexact in referring to "the 1998 bike master plan." the 1996 plan was updated in 1998. the city attorney's position is that the public hearing process leading to the final adoption of these plans was sufficient with respect to the stuff mentioned in the plan documents.

    you are correct in noting that the burnside/couch couplet and a bunch of other stuff was not in those plans, and for this reason i would argue that they are not covered by the city attorney's argument. also anything that does not comply with the AAHSTO/MUTCD specs that are made a part of the plan in appendix A. links to all this are in my earlier post "subparagraph two."

    the potter decision simply says that if you get tagged for riding outside the striped lane, it is up to you to prove there was no public hearing. and yes, the city attorney is indirectly referring to this case when he says these public forums were all the hearing you get.

  14. What I recall the Potter decision saying - and I paraphrase - is that if a qualified registered engineer designed the facility, that is sufficient to constitute a public hearing.

    LOL, what a load of crap. PBOT engineers come up with some of the worst crap imaginable. The law deserves to be challenged in court again, on a stronger case and with a better lawyer.

  15. here is a link to the potter decision:
    engineering not mentioned. what the court said is we are going to assume there was a public hearing unless you can show there wasn't. what the city attorney says is, these public forums with the story boards and so on leading to the adoption of the 1996 plan and 1998 update are the public hearing.

  16. IMO, that's really a stretch and an obfuscation of what constitutes a public hearing.

  17. Here is the actual language from the Potter decision:

    ORS 814.420. Defendant does not dispute that there was evidence that he was operating his bicycle outside the bicycle lane in violation of subsection (1) of the statute. He argues instead that the state failed to prove, as subsection (2) requires, that the city determined, after a public hearing, that the bicycle lane on the Hawthorne Bridge was suitable for safe bicycle use.

    The state responds that the evidence that it introduced, when viewed in light of a statutory presumption, was sufficient to meet its burden of production. Alternatively, it argues that subsection (2) establishes an affirmative defense; it does not constitute an element of the state's case. We need not reach the state's alternative argument. Even if we assume that subsection (2) is an element of the state's case, we agree with the state that there was sufficient evidence to meet the state's burden of production. ORS 810.250(3) provides:

    "When a traffic control device is placed in position approximately conforming to the requirements of the traffic regulations or other laws of this state, the device is presumed to have been placed by an official act or at the direction of lawful authority unless the contrary is established by competent evidence."

    A bicycle lane is a traffic control device within the meaning of ORS 810.250(3), (2) and ORS 810.250(3) creates a rebuttable presumption that the bicycle lane was placed on the Hawthorne Bridge in compliance with the requirements of ORS 814.420(2). Given the evidence in this case, the trial court could find that the state had proved the basic fact (3) and that the presumed fact was sufficient to meet the state's burden of production. (4) The trial court correctly denied defendant's motion for a judgment of acquittal on the charge of failing to use a bicycle lane.