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Fact check: The St. Johns Bridge does not need 19-foot wide lanes for freight traffic

Fact check: The St. Johns Bridge does not need 19-foot wide lanes for freight traffic

The St. Johns Bridge looking west. (Photo: Joe Mabel/Wikipedia)

The St. Johns Bridge looking west.
(Photo: Joe Mabel/Wikipedia)

Despite multiple demands over the years to improve bike access on the St. Johns Bridge, the Oregon Department of Transportation has used many different excuses for why the current lane configuration simply cannot change. And it turns out their latest excuse — that state design guidelines for freight traffic require 19-foot wide lanes in both directions — is untrue.

ODOT is facing renewed pressure to make the bridge safer for cycling after 55-year-old Mitch York was killed while biking on the bridge on October 29th.

The claim about lane width first raised eyebrows on October 31st when ODOT spokesperson Kimberley Dinwiddie told KGW News that state law mandated 19-feet of width. We immediately questioned the figure in a Twitter post and a KGW reporter then followed-up with Dinwiddie in an effort to clarify the information.

In a Q & A posted as an update to the original KGW story, Dinwiddie repeated the claim…

Snips from KGW story.

Snips from KGW story.

I checked both the relevant Oregon law (ORS 366.215) and the Oregon Administrative Rule that implements that law and found no reference to 19-feet, so I also asked Dinwiddie to clarify the statement. On November 2nd she reiterated the claim she made to KGW. The 19-foot lane width is, “a guideline we use statewide to make sure freight can move over a variety of different kinds of highways and bridges,” she said via email. When I followed up again two days later to ask whether or not it applied to both directions (meaning they’d need 38-feet of width for freight), ODOT’s Public Information Coordinator David Thompson also mentioned the 19-foot guideline. Thompson then said he’d check with ODOT’s Motor Carrier Division just to make sure precisely when the 19-feet stipulation applies.

As promised, yesterday I heard back from ODOT Region 1 spokesperson Don Hamilton who met with the agency’s freight experts in Salem. Hamilton said the 19-foot guideline applies only during construction. “In our earlier communications with you, we misunderstood this guideline,” Hamilton said. “Our apologies.”

So, just to be clear, ODOT does not need to preserve 19-foot lanes in each direction on the St. Johns Bridge.

The other excuse they gave KGW for why there’s no room to improve bicycle access on the main bridge roadway was, “because of the congestion and dangerous situations that could occur from that.” That claim also doesn’t quite match up with the facts and deserves much more scrutiny.

In fact, the more I learn about this issue, the more it seems like ODOT doesn’t have any legitimate excuse for not considering design changes on the St. Johns Bridge; changes that could vastly improve safety for all users. So why aren’t they more open to ideas? That’s a good question.

Stay tuned.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

BikePortland is supported by the community (that means you!). Please become a subscriber or make a donation today.

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Oregon just adopted a new transportation safety plan: Here’s what’s in it

Oregon just adopted a new transportation safety plan: Here’s what’s in it


About 400 people have died every year on Oregon roads for each of the past 20 years. Now a new plan adopted by the Oregon Transportation Commission on October 15th says the state has 20 years to bring that number down to zero.

Facing a second consecutive year of a double-digit increase in road fatalities, the the 177-page Transportation Safety Action Plan lays out a path to tackle the problem.

It’s the fourth Transportation Safety Action Plan adopted by Oregon since 1995. The previous plan was adopted in 2011. Beyond a useful roadmap to safer streets for policymakers and citizens, the plan also fulfills a requirement of the Federal Highway Administration. If Oregon wants to tap into federal safety funds, they must have a plan like this on file.

But it’d be a shame if the plan got stuffed into a file to just gather dust because the data and directives in the plan are essential knowledge.

For instance, the more than 230,000 traffic crashes that happened in Oregon between 2009 and 2013 had a total societal cost of $15.6 billion — about $785 per year for every Oregon resident. In that same time period 1,675 people were killed and over 7,000 people were seriously injured using our roads.

One of the many charts in the plan.

One of the many charts in the plan.

Overall we’re pleased at some of the language in the plan. It includes the most firm commitment the State of Oregon has ever made to achieving zero traffic fatalities. The plan never refers specifically to “vision zero” — the moniker adopted by 21 cities nationwide (including Portland) — but it unequivocally states that the Oregon Department of Transportation will work toward zero deaths by 2035.


This is a significant shift since 2011. The new plan mentions “zero” in regard to fatalities and injuries over 30 times. The 2011 plan mentioned it only twice.

“Transportation crashes and resulting injuries have historically been considered by many as an inevitable consequence of mobility,” reads the executive summary. “However, more recently this idea has been challenged as countries, states, and cities across the world seek to change safety culture and eliminate traffic fatalities and life-changing injuries entirely. The idea may be difficult to grasp initially, but when people are asked how many traffic fatalities are acceptable for their friends and family, the universal response is: ‘zero’.”

And in the section that describes “strategic investments” (Goal 6 in the plan), it states,

Oregon is committed to zero transportation-related fatalities and serious injuries. To make progress and improve traffic safety, stakeholders and partners are tasked with coordinating priorities, leveraging joint resources where possible, and utilizing quantitative data-driven tools (e.g., benefit-cost analysis). Funds are limited, therefore projects, programs, and policies will need to be prioritized to focus on those treatments which will have the greatest benefit toward achieving the vision of zero fatalities and serious injuries.

Compare the excerpt above with the 2011 version (notice how much weaker the “zero” language is):

The Oregon Transportation Safety Action Plan envisions a future where oregon’s transportation-related death and injury rate continues to decline. We envision a day when days, then weeks and months pass with not a single fatal or debilitating injury occurs. someday, we see a level of zero annual fatalities and few injuries as the norm.

Unless we design our roads for the speeds that are appropriate within the land use and geographic contexts and the types of users expected, crashes will also continue as before.
— Oregon Transportation Safety Action Plan, page 37

We also like the urgency in statements like this: “The development of the [plan] is an important step toward continuously changing the traffic safety culture in Oregon. It comes at a pivotal time as it is imperative to counteract the recent fatality increase.” It’s encouraging to see that ODOT is not ignoring the sobering spike in fatalities.

The plan also includes an entire section on the human impact of crashes with some frank language about the impact of road design on safety outcomes. “Unless we design our roads for the speeds that are appropriate within the land use and geographic contexts and the types of users expected, crashes will also continue as before.”

The plan outlines six specific “goal areas” with related actions that must be taken to meet the 2035 zero fatality goal: safety culture; infrastructure; healthy, livable communities; technology; collaborate and communicate; and strategic investments. To us, that feels like a great balance of soft (culture change) and hard measures (infrastructure).

The state’s goal is to create a safety culture, “where safety is integrated into everyday decision-making.” When it comes to infrastructure, the plan says roads should be designed in such a way that, “small user mistakes will not result in serious injuries.” Severity of crashes can be limited, the plan advises, “By creating environments that minimize potential conflicts… and implementing countermeasures with known or high potential to minimize crash severity and frequency.”

One of the six goal areas (Goal 5) speaks to the importance of working collaboratively with other agencies — something ODOT must improve on if we are ever going to complete a jurisdictional transfer and/or improve deadly arterials like 82nd Avenue and Powell Boulevard.

People who ride bicycles are addressed in a section of the plan that outlines four broad “emphasis areas”. Under the heading of “vulnerable users” the plan includes a section on “bicyclists”:

Bicycle fatalities and serious injuries can be caused by inattentive drivers or inattentive bicyclists.

Regardless of who is at fault, crashes involving a bicyclist tend to be more serious because bicyclists are completely exposed when using the transportation system. Nationally, as well as in Oregon, urban areas are developing transportation systems and land use policies to promote healthy communities and lifestyles. Alternative transportation infrastructure, including bike lanes, bike-specific traffic signals, and bike racks, are being implemented to encourage residents to bike to work, run errands, or for recreation. In the City of Portland, 7.2 percent of commuters go by bike, which is the highest percentage of commuters for a large American city. As bicycling environments improve and more people ride bikes, there are more chances for bicycle-vehicle conflicts. In

Problem Identification

Between 2009 and 2013, crashes involving bicyclists (pedalcyclists) accounted for 4 percent of all the fatal and serious injury crashes in Oregon and contributed to 42 fatalities and 293 serious injuries. About 86 percent of these crashes occurred in an urban environment, where there are more bicyclists and bicycle infrastructure. A number of bicycle-related fatal and serious injury crashes result from young driver crashes. Older driver crashes and crashes when aggressive driving is involved are also strongly correlated to bicycle crashes.

Unfortunately, the list of “Bicyclist actions” on page 84 is pretty weak:

The plan is also a treasure trove of data and charts that should be put to use by citizen activists, policymakers and professional advocates. We can’t get where we need to go if we don’t know where we’ve been and where we stand today.

Here’s the overall fatality trend over time:


The chart below shows where the bad things happen:


Take a closer look at the plan for yourself and keep it nearby for future activism work. If you have takeaways, we’d love to hear about them in the comments.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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State says raised bike lanes won’t work on outer Powell after all

State says raised bike lanes won’t work on outer Powell after all

concrete with durable striping

A sidewalk-colored bike lane (described here as a “concrete shoulder”) set off by slightly raised striping is the state’s preferred alternative for bike lanes on a reconstructed Powell Boulevard east of Interstate 205. The state-run road carries about 20,000 motor vehicles daily.
(Image: ODOT)

After an advisory group agreed that it wanted an upcoming rebuild of outer Powell Boulevard to include raised bike lanes, the Oregon Department of Transportation says they’re not practical after all.

Instead, it’s drawing the ire of some (though not all) advisory committee members by saying there won’t be any vertical protection between bike and car traffic on the busy state-run street.

“[A raised bike lane] presents a long list of challenges.”
— Matt Freitag, ODOT project manager

Among the issues the agency has cited were difficulty getting water to run off the pavement and into drainage areas; the number of driveway crossings; and the difficulty of sweeping debris or snow from the bike lanes, which would be narrower than any of the equipment the agency currently owns.

“Each of their own wasn’t a dealbreaker, but taken in aggregate [a raised bike lane] presents a long list of challenges,” said Matt Freitag, an engineer and project manager for ODOT’s Portland regional office.

Instead, Freitag said, the agency’s “preferred alternative” for Powell between Interstate 205 and 172nd Avenue is what it calls a “buffered bike lane.” But Freitag and project manager Mike Mason said that the “buffer” along Powell might be built with a different-colored material from asphalt and/or might include some sort of non-curb vertical separators.

A February memo that summarized options for Powell illustrated the “buffered bike lane” option as including “durable profiled striping,” which ODOT has described elsewhere as thick enough to give “auditory signals” to people when they drive over it.

durable profiled striping

Another option for buffered bike lanes: durable profiled striping with no color change.

Freitag and Mason said Wednesday the project is mostly done discussing whether or not there will be a raised or buffered lane.

“What’s undecided is what gets in the buffer,” Mason said. “Is it profiled striping, that raised striping that creates a vibration when you go over it, or some other type of raised pavement markers?”

Potter and Grosjean: ODOT tried its best to make separation possible


A rendering of a raised bike lane on Powell, prepared by ODOT but rejected as an option.

In interviews, two members of the advisory committee who had previously expressed support for protected bike lanes on Powell said they’ve been persuaded that raised bike lanes aren’t worth the cost on the street, which gets unusually heavy runoff from nearby hills during rainstorms.

“They really went into it trying to figure out how to get enough drainage,” said Cora Potter, a frequent bike user who sits on the Outer Powell Safety Project’s Community Advisory Committee. “Anything that involves grade separation greatly increases, like quadruples, the cost. … If you have a curb, you basically get a puddle at the curb that then comes in and covers up the bike lane. If you don’t have a curb, it just flows off the bike lane in a sheet.”

Paul Grosjean, the committee’s co-chair and a member of the Pleasant Valley Neighborhood Association, said that “after thinking about it for several months,” he’d decided a buffered bike lane would be fine.

“I have driven the entire corridor with just that in mind, and kind of looked at as I drove and said ‘What is this going to be like?’” He said. “I think this is the best solution that is available.”

Potter said she thinks there’s still a chance for the street to get domes like those used in Houston, Washington DC and elsewhere.

“The turtle dome things are actually kind of good, I think, if they’re spaced close enough together,” Potter said.

Potter also said she expects the bike lane to be very visually distinct. If it isn’t, she said, more people will drive in the bike lane to jump the queue for right turns, etc.

“The asphalt would be a different color or they’d make it out of concrete,” she said. “If they don’t, then I’ll be really disappointed. Because it needs to be visually very very clear that the bike lane is not a place for cars on Powell.”

Protected intersections might yet be included


A rendering of a protected intersection included in ODOT’s memo for possible intersection treatments on Powell, for example at 122nd Avenue.
(Image: Nick Falbo)

Elizabeth Quiroz, a professional advocate for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance who sits on the advisory committee, said in a July 12 email she doesn’t like the new plan.

“Many community members are not happy with the final option presented by ODOT.”
— Elizabeth Quiroz, BTA

“Many community members are not happy with the final option presented by ODOT,” she said in an email. “Our understanding was that a raised bike lane was a top priority. … We expected better and safer infrastructure.”

Mason and Freitag said that none of the issues ODOT identified with a raised or otherwise protected bike lane were insurmountable.

The City of Portland might be able to get a narrower street sweeper. Higher-grade crossings and driveways might prevent the “up and down” bobbing that they fear a raised bike lane might give people biking. Even the drainage issues might be solved with enough money.

They and Potter, the advisory committee member, also said there’s still potential for greatly improving the signalized intersections at 122nd and 136th with Dutch-inspired elements like bend-out bike crossings and corner safety islands to force sharper turns.

“The intersections are what really scare me,” Potter said. “As a bike rider, my honest opinion is if they can do the treatment that makes it obvious it’s a bike lane, like a different surface, and then plow as much money as they can into the intersection treatment, as someone who will probably ride a bike there, that’s what I would do.”

Freitag said protected intersection designs are possible at the signalized intersections.

“We’re certainly looking at options that include those elements,” he said.

Mason said that whatever happens on Powell, it’s going to be settled quickly — at least for the stretch from 122nd to 136th where reconstruction was already funded by the state legislature.

“The discussions with the city should happen over the next couple of months if not sooner,” he said. “We’re on a fast track to get this designed and built, so we need to be making decisions.”

Update: The East Portland Action Plan, a prominent advocacy group that had four members on the project’s advisory committee, has come out strongly in favor of protected bike lanes and against what it sees as ODOT’s proposal not to use them.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

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Correction 10:05 am: An earlier version of this post’s headline incorrectly summarized the most recent position of the project’s community advisory committee.

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ODOT to bicycle riders: Here’s your chip seal cheat sheet

ODOT to bicycle riders: Here’s your chip seal cheat sheet

You might not like chip seal; but at least now you'll know how to avoid it.(Photo: Peckham)

You might not like chip seal; but at least now you’ll know how to avoid it.
(Photo: Peckham Asphalt)

For the first time ever, the Oregon Department of Transportation has published their list of upcoming chip seal projects specifically with bicycle riders in mind.

Chip seal is a type of paving material that mixes asphalt with pieces of fine aggregate (a.k.a. gravel). Road agencies love it because it extends the life of low-volume rural roads and it’s much cheaper to do than repaving. But for people who bike, chip seal is a drag. Literally. The tiny bumps don’t even register while driving, but on a bike they can really slow you down and cause fatigue. (And you do not want to think about what happens when you crash on it.) What makes matters worse is that road crews will often chip seal just the standard lane and then leave a ridge that crosses the fog line and goes into the shoulder people ride.

“My goal is to get the word out so bicyclists can plan accordingly and avoid an unhappy experience.”
— Sheila Lyons, ODOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Coordinator

Because of the groans that come with chip sealed roads, we were happy to get an email from Oregon’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Coordinator Sheila Lyons last week. She wanted to make sure people know what to expect when planning summer bike adventures on our state’s many excellent backroads. Lyons knows this is an issue, not just because she hears about it from Oregonians, but because she’s a rider herself. “It can be no fun to ride on,” she wrote in the email. “But it’s a cheap and effective surfacing treatment that ODOT is using more and more.”

Every summer ODOT publishes a map of all their upcoming projects, so Lyons asked each district manager where they planned to lay down chip seal. Then she created a handy list (below). “It’s used largely on lower volume rural roads – those that we like to bike on,” she wrote. “My goal is to get the word out so bicyclists can plan accordingly and avoid an unhappy experience.”




You’ll note that of the 26 projects, six of them run through an Oregon State Scenic Bikeway. Keep this list in mind — and also check the map for other projects across the state — when making trip plans. Also remember that these projects are subject to change. For the latest information, call the local ODOT district office.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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Good news: ODOT just added four new staffers to head up active transportation efforts

Good news: ODOT just added four new staffers to head up active transportation efforts

N Williams Ave Community Forum.JPG-11

Susan Peithman speaking at a community forum in 2011.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The need for culture-change at the Oregon Department of Transportation is something we talk about a lot here at BikePortland. So we were thrilled to hear that the agency is on something of a hiring binge in their active transportation section. And it comes at an important time — ODOT’s advisory body is set to adopt a major update of the state’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Mode Plan tomorrow.

The big news is that former Bicycle Transportation Alliance and PSU Transportation Research and Education Consortium staffer Susan Peithman has just been hired as the Active Transportation Policy Lead. This is a welcome injection of fresh perspective into an agency that’s trying shed its cars-first reputation. Peithman isn’t just a whip-smart advocate and former consultant (with Alta Planning + Design), she’s put her volunteer time into the policies she’s now going to help steer. Peithman, who lives in northeast Portland and is a relatively new mom, had been vice-chair of the Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee for the past three years.

You might also recall Peithman’s past cycling exploits from coverage here on BikePortland. There was the time in 2012 when she was part of the winning team at the Rapha Ladies Prestige race in San Francisco, and she was also one of three Portland women who attempted to ride the entire Tour de France route. Also in 2012 Peithman was the BTA’s representative on the controversial North Williams Avenue Traffic Safety Project.

In an email to employees, ODOT’s Active Transportation Section Manager McGregor Lynde said Peithman is taking on a “critical position within the agency.” “With the updated Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan going to the Oregon Transportation Commission this week for adoption, the timing of Susan coming on board could not have been better, as we begin the efforts of implementing the plan.”

Peithman will start her new position on June 7th.

Lynde and Peithman will also benefit from expanded ground troops. ODOT hired Jessica Horning as an active transportation liaison in Portland’s region (Region 1) back in November 2012. Now they’ve announced the expansion of those positions to all five regions with recent hires being made in Salem (Region 2), Bend (Region 4) and Eastern Oregon (Region 5). Hiring for a SW Oregon (Region 3) active transportation liaison is expected to start soon. These positions will also interface with ODOT’s long-time Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Shelia Lyons.

To give you a sense of where Peithman and Lynde operate within ODOT, check out the organizational chart below. You’ll note that the Active Transportation Section is housed within the Transportation Development Division:


The impact of these new hires will rely on their ability to navigate the waters of ODOT — an agency that’s constrained by outdated federal guidelines, whims of the legislature, internal politics, and a penchant for highway-building.

We’ve shared promising news of organizational change at ODOT several times in the past; but you still have to look very hard to notice that the agency is indeed changing their ways. These new hires should bring things into much clearer focus. Stay tuned.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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ODOT hosts event to highlight bicycle access through work zones

ODOT hosts event to highlight bicycle access through work zones

A new type of "channelization device" ODOT plans to use this summer.(Photo: State of Oregon)

A new type of “channelization device” ODOT plans to use this summer.
(Photo: State of Oregon)

The Oregon Department of Transportation is hosting an interesting event. They’re asking people to ride a bicycle (or walk) through a work zone to see what it’s like first-hand.

The event happens tomorrow (May 18th) in front of ODOT’s headquarters in Salem where the agency has set up a temporary work zone to demonstrate how their crews are using new materials to ensure safe passage by people using feet and bikes. The event is part of the state’s Transportation Safety Month and it’s being done to help kickoff the summer road construction season.

“Have you ever ridden a bike through a work zone? Sound daunting? How does ODOT protect bicyclists and pedestrians in work zones?” reads an ODOT media advisory about the event. “Come find out! Bring your GoPros! Show the unusual perspective of riding through a work zone on two wheels.” (Love how they assume biking through a work zone is “unusual”.)

According to ODOT someone crashes in a work zone every 19 hours in Oregon (about 477 a year) and about seven people die in those crashes annually. Statistically, the most common cause of work zone crashes are people simply not paying attention and driving too fast for conditions.

To help make bicycling through work zones safer, this year ODOT will debut a new type of bicycle-specific safety product in work zones they call the “Bicycle Channelizing Device.” (We mentioned these briefly back in December in an article where we called out ODOT’s framing of biking and walking traffic in work zones as “problem children.”) The idea is to create a physically protected space for people to ride or walk (there are also “pedestrian channelization devices”) through construction zones.

Here’s more about these new devices from a backgrounder ODOT has created:

It is a lightweight plastic barrier system that guides cyclists along a pathway, keeping them from entering into active work areas or coming into contact with workers or equipment. Development of additional design standards and application details are currently underway. ODOT is expecting to use a bicycle channelizing device in a highway construction starting in June 2016.

It’s great to see ODOT doing an event like this. And even better that they are making bike-specific improvements part of their approach to work zones — which probably get more attention from the agency than any other safety topic.

Work zones and the lack of adequate detours through/around them is currently a hot topic in Portland advocacy circles. We’d love to see the Portland Bureau of Transportation host an event like this.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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Portland-region committee gives middling marks to NW Flanders bridge project

Portland-region committee gives middling marks to NW Flanders bridge project

flanders bridge span

The span at Flanders and I-405.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

The prospects for rapid state funding of a biking-walking bridge across Interstate 405 dimmed somewhat Monday as a regional advisory committee appointed by the Oregon Department of Transportion ranked it as only the eighth off-street transportation priority for the Portland region.

Top marks went to a 19-acre, $2.6 million parking lot that would help the Ford Motor Co. export more cars to China — though only if Ford agrees to increase its exports via the Port of Portland, which it hasn’t.

As we reported last month, a $5.9 million Flanders Crossing bridge could carry 9,100 biking-walking trips a day, making it (for example) 21 times more cost-efficient per user within a few years than the defunct Columbia River Crossing freeway-rail project would have been by 2035. The City of Portland is hoping $2.9 million could come from the State of Oregon; fees from recent real estate developments would cover the rest.

The Flanders Crossing would sit between the Northwest District, wich has been adding thousands of new homes, and the Pearl District, which has been adding thousands of new jobs.

The regional committee to award grants in the state’s lottery-funded Connect Oregon program identified two local biking-walking projects as higher priorities than Flanders: $700,000 to complete the Tigard Street Trail and $400,000 to complete the Waterhouse Trail in Tualatin.


The Connect Oregon ranking matrix from the regional committee. Click here for the full PDF.

Also beating out Flanders Crossing on the regional ranking were $1.4 million to enlarge the Hood River airfield for firefighting and other tasks; $8.3 million for new tracks that would speed up freight and passenger rail trains through North Portland; $1.8 million for a new transit center at Clackamas Community College; and $390,000 for a new transit center in downtown Mollolla.

You can read the project descriptions and analysis on ODOT’s website.

Flanders beat out various other bike/ped projects including trails in Milwaukie, Wilsonville, Gresham, the Naito Gap in inner Northwest Portland, the Red Electric Trail in Southwest Portland and a “bike station” for the Mount Hood Villages. Of the eight projects ranked lowest by the ODOT-appointed committee, six were biking-walking projects.

‘Backlog’ of city projects lower bridge project’s score


The bridge would activate the long-promised Flanders Street neighborhood greenway and it would provide a much safer crossing of I-405 than Glisan, Everett or Couch.

The middling score for the Flanders Bridge doesn’t mean the bridge plan is back on ice after a decade of delays — it could still be funded by the next step in the Connect Oregon process, coming in June.

A statewide committee of biking and walking experts ranked it their third priority statewide, after the Homestead Canal Trail in Redmond and the Tigard Street Trail. It’s now up to a final review committee that meets June 14-15 to reconcile the high ranking from the modal committee with the middling one from the regional committee.

ODOT staff said the City of Portland “has a backlog of incomplete projects for other ODOT and Metro funding.”

It’d be hard for any other project in the state to measure up to the Flanders Crossing for number of direct users. The Mollalla transit center, for example, would be expected to create 4,704 new transit-rider trips per year. A new Flanders Crossing bridge combined with a planned neighborhood greenway would be expected to carry almost twice that many trips on the average day.

ODOT’s staff analysis of the Flanders Crossing project has a lot of good things to say about it: “high quality design,” lots of local matching funds, and the facts that it creates a “critical active transportation connection” and “resolves safety issues on Glisan and Everett” by giving people biking and walking a way to get across 405 that doesn’t essentially cross a freeway onramp.

But ODOT’s staff notes also name some marks against Flanders: first, that it would sit on ODOT land and the state hasn’t yet signed off on related issues; and second, that the city “has a backlog of incomplete projects for other ODOT and Metro funding.”

Another issue is that the city’s application does not claim that a Flanders bridge would create any jobs. That stands in contrast to, for example, the Port of Portland’s application for a parking lot that could be used as a staging ground. Using its internal economic model, the Port estimated that having extra space to store cars bound for Asia would let Ford increase its auto exports, retaining 105 jobs and creating 90 new ones. But in their analysis, ODOT staff mentioned the lack of a commitment from Ford to actually scale up its exports through Portland even if the public helps underwrite the lot.

“The Nov. 16 letter from the terminal operator only states that the company is in active negotiations with Ford to increase exports through the facility,” ODOT staff writes. “Ford has other west coast options.”

Sebastian Degens, director of marine business development for the Port, said in an interview Tuesday that even if Ford doesn’t boost local jobs by signing a new, larger contract in 2017, the new parking lot could be used by other auto manufacturers.

“The auto business is booming,” Degens said.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

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Amid talk of congestion relief, Salem Dems reboot transportation bill talks

Amid talk of congestion relief, Salem Dems reboot transportation bill talks

Speaker of the Oregon House Tina Kotek

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

The 2017 Oregon legislature hasn’t even been elected yet, but state House and Senate leaders are getting ready for another try at a transportation bill.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-North Portland, told the Salem Statesman Journal that they’re planning another “bipartisan, bicameral legislative committee” to start negotiating a deal that would presumably include a statewide gas tax hike.

They went into the 2015 session with what seemed to be a similar plan and the backing of a broad coalition of interest groups, even the gasoline and freight industries. But Republicans refused to pass the deal without repeal of a low-carbon fuel standard. A special bipartisan committee met behind closed doors for weeks, trying to come up with an alternative carbon-reduction plan, but their agreement withered almost as soon as it saw the light of day.

It’s not yet clear who’ll be on the 2017 negotiating committee. “A spokeswoman for Kotek said the appointments will be made in a few weeks,” the Statesman Journal reported.

In her annual State of the State speech this month, Gov. Kate Brown called for a bill that would “reduce congestion.” What steps Brown would take to achieve that goal remain to be seen; but a typical response to her framing of the issue is to build more and wider highways. And despite all the evidence and common sense, much of the political class is still stuck in 1970s-era thinking that the next travel lane will be the one that never fills up.

Asked at a recent forum how they’d relieve congestion, nearly all 11 candidates for the Clackamas County Commission said they’d support widening I-205. Several of the candidates even went so far as to specifically oppose investments in public transit and biking. “We know there are no congested bike lanes or sidewalks, just congested highways and freeways,” Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas was quoted in the Lake Oswego Review. “That is where we need to invest our dollars right now.” (Savas is also a member of Metro’s Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation — a body with great influence over regional spending priorities.)

Some transportation reformers, such as former Metro President David Bragdon, have begun urging state legislators to deny any additional funding for the Oregon Department of Transportation without changes to its operations that would focus it more on mobility and safety and less on automotive speeds.

Legislative election season is starting to ramp up. Voters will select the 2017 legislature on Nov. 8.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

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As cities scramble for cash, $196 million drops into state’s lap from nowhere

As cities scramble for cash, $196 million drops into state’s lap from nowhere

I-5 at Rose Quarter

Where did all our money go?
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland

A revealing bit of information came across our desks this week.

The Oregon Department of Transportation just unexpectedly received $196 million from the federal government and has decided how to spend it after almost zero public input.

Before we look briefly at it, consider a few bits of high drama from the world of local transportation funding:

• Yesterday, we reported on a potential bike lane project that could radically improve the main bike route in and out of Southwest Portland but was, at an estimated $4 million, seen by some as hopelessly expensive.

• This morning, the For Every Kid Coalition is mounting an uphill battle for $15 million from regional government Metro to replicate Portland’s wildly popular program improving biking and walking near schools.

• Next week, TriMet and Metro will announce an 11th-hour overhaul of their Powell-Division express bus project, which is scrambling to find $100 million that would bring in a federal matching grant for transit, biking and walking improvements across much of Southeast Portland and Gresham. Finding that much money in less than two years is seen as a major challenge.

• In two months, Portlanders will vote on whether to hike their gas tax, the latest in a 10-year series of increasingly desperate ideas for staving off an ever-deepening road maintenance shortfall. The gas tax would raise $16 million a year.

OK, got that?

Meanwhile, the Oregon Department of Transportation just unexpectedly received $196 million from the federal government and has rapidly decided how to spend it with almost zero public input.

Here’s the relevant document, signed by ODOT Director Matt Garrett on March 3rd:

Screenshot 2016-03-17 at 1.59.17 AM


The formal vote by ODOT’s governing board (the Oregon Transportation Commission) is scheduled for today.

This big, unexpected chunk of change has been known to insiders for a few months, but there has been minimal public discussion about how to spend it. The Bicycle Transportation Alliance pointed out a different way to allocate the money in a letter (PDF) to ODOT in January. BTA Advocacy Director Gerik Kransky said the $196 million should be spent on projects listed in the state’s bicycle and pedestrian plan, for preliminary engineering on ODOT facilities to make projects more shovel-ready, and on projects that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“It is increasingly rare to see unanticipated dollars in these programs,” Kransky wrote, “and we hope you’ll agree to fund [these] impactful projects.”

Under ODOT’s current proposal, would this windfall go toward terrible projects? Generally, no. The spending list ($77 million for “fix-it” maintenance and improvement projects, $49 million for freight connections, $35 million for seismic retrofits, $25 million for “strategic investments,” $5 million for disability-friendly curb ramps and $5 million for new “non-highway” connections) could probably include many worse ideas if ODOT wanted it to.

But when everyone from state Sen. Betsy Johnson to former Metro President David Bragdon to every leading Portland mayoral candidate says that ODOT is flush with cash when cities are scraping by, this is what they’re talking about.

When Metro Councilor Sam Chase marvels that the region is on track to spend $9.8 billion finishing its auto transportation system by 2057 (black line in the graph below) but won’t be able to find $2.1 billion to finish its biking and walking system until 2209, this is what he’s talking about.


The status quo vastly favors highway widening and freight projects (black line) over biking and walking projects (green line).

When The Oregonian asks whether Portland can possibly find $613 million over 30 years to build the bike plan that would turn it into an American Copenhagen, this is what it is (or isn’t) talking about.

When we wonder how it’s possible that 83 percent of U.S. trips still happen in cars at a time when federal taxpayers are spending $52 million to move 85 people off a Louisiana island that’s about to slip beneath the Gulf of Mexico, this is what we’re wondering about.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

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Gap Week: 82nd Avenue and Burnside

Gap Week: 82nd Avenue and Burnside


East Burnside’s extremely important bike lane vanishes right where an “interested but concerned” biker might want it most.
(Photos: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

Part of Gap Week.

Every morning and afternoon on East Burnside at 82nd Avenue, 10 cars at a time queue up in what ought to be a great advertisement for finding some other way to get around the city.

People on bikes, meanwhile, squeeze past to their right. They’re riding one of the city’s very few continuous bikeways connecting inner and outer East Portland.

east portland connectivity

Well, almost continuous.

Network context

As we wrote in 2014, East Burnside probably offers one of the most unique biking experiences in the United States. The one-hour ride from 182nd, where its bike lane begins, to North Tabor and central Portland, connects a 1 percent biking neighborhood to a 20 percent biking neighborhood. The difference between East Burnside’s eastern and western ends is about the same as the difference between central Portland and Amsterdam.

Burnside has huge practical value in bringing those worlds together, and not only because it offers solid bike lanes from Mount Tabor to 182nd. Because the MAX Blue Line has left just one auto lane in each direction for most of its length, Burnside is also a remarkably calm and low-stress street to bike on by East Portland standards.

But before you even leave the relatively bike-friendly parts of Portland, there’s a two-block stretch were Burnside’s crucial bike lanes just vanish: the blocks on either side of 82nd Avenue.

Existing conditions

82nd overhead annotated

To make room for center turn lanes, the 35-foot-wide street eliminates its bike lanes.

On the west approach, this happens just as the street crosses the driveway of a busy gas station.

gas station

On the east approach, it happens as the street crosses a couple of curb cuts to an auto sales lot, both of which are actually fenced off:

curb cuts

On both sides of the street, the City of Portland has striped the through lanes a bit wider on the approach to the intersection. This creates a shoulder that’s wide enough for people biking to sidle past while traffic is stopped.

squeeze room

And for the most part that’s what people do — people like David Kelly, a bike-commuting teacher at Madison High School who recently relocated east of 82nd.

dave kelly

The thing this squeeze point is missing, of course, is anyone who might be biking on Burnside if they weren’t freaked out about crossing 82nd Avenue without bike lanes, which would indicate to people driving that it might be a place to watch out for someone on a bike.

According to the city’s bike counts, about 800 people a day bike on Burnside at 86th, just east of here. That compares to something like 8,000 motor vehicles per day on the same part of Burnside, based on an afternoon peak-hour count of 761 through vehicles.

Bikes get 0 percent of the road width to themselves here.

What the future holds

In a project that’s scheduled for construction next month, the Oregon Department of Transportation will install a new traffic signal set at this corner, replacing the current overhead wires with overhead masts and adding a left-turn signal phase onto 82nd from Burnside. And they’ll slightly upgrade the diagonal pedestrian ramps that are there today into diagonal pedestrian ramps with truncated domes that make them friendlier to people with visual disabilities.

Adding traditional bike lanes here would require one of two options:

Removing the left-turn lanes. The city doesn’t seem to have recent counts of how many people turn left here onto 82nd, but it seems to be at least one per signal cycle during the peak hour. If the turn lanes were removed, the bike lanes could be continuous but auto traffic would back up further on Burnside while people waited to turn left. Another option would be to bar left turns.

Widening the roadway a bit. All four corners of this intersection are parking lots. Buying a few feet of road space on one side of Burnside or the other would be enough to shift the sidewalk inward and put a narrow bike lane on each side of the street right up to 82nd. All that would have a cost in the six figures — but then again, so will the new traffic signal being installed next month.

Asked about this bike lane gap, the Portland Bureau of Transportation said that in ODOT’s current project, “funding was not available to extend bike lanes through the intersection.” ODOT didn’t answer questions by late Tuesday afternoon.

There might be other ways to call attention to people biking here, such as a green thermoplastic crossbike in the intersection. Kelly, the Madison High School teacher, said he wished there were a bike box that would give him a place to stand in front of cars while he waits for the light, rather than hanging out to the right of a potentially right-turning vehicle.

“They have them all over Southeast,” Kelly said Monday. “Why not here?”


If you want to share your thoughts about this gap with PBOT, contact them via For ODOT, which manages 82nd Avenue, use the Ask ODOT service.

And stay tuned for our next gap. And we’re still taking submissions from readers. Tag your gaps with #GapWeekPDX or drop us a line with the location.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

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