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Safety advocates uneasy about striping bike lane across Steel Bridge onramp

Safety advocates uneasy about striping bike lane across Steel Bridge onramp

naito davis couch

New striping near the Steel Bridge at Naito will be done in the next few days.
(Image: Portland Bureau of Transportation)

Safety advocates are trying to balance enthusiasm for the city’s newly announced Naito bike lanes with concern over one key detail.

After nine years of delay, the plan to close the “Naito Gap” in the next few days drew joy from people like Reza Farhoodi, planning and transportation committee co-chair at the Pearl District Neighborhood Association and a member of the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee. But Farhoodi said it would be a “terrible mistake” for the city not to use a right-turn arrow signal to protect bikes from right-turning autos as the bikes head north across the Steel Bridge onramp.

Today, Naito’s northbound bike lane ends immediately south of the onramp. It starts up again 1,500 feet to the northwest. As we reported yesterday, converting a passing lane to a wide buffered bike lane in each direction will create a major new bike route between northwest Portland, the Willamette River and downtown. It could easily carry 1,000 bikes a day within a few years.

But Naito’s onramp to the Steel Bridge at Davis carries 450 to 500 cars during the peak hour alone, all of them making a shallow-angle turn across a bike lane in which people will mostly be heading straight.

“Putting an unprotected right turn lane to the left of a bicycle lane is substandard practice and just puts cyclists at risk of right hook collisions,” Farhoodi said in an email Thursday morning. “There is a reason why practitioners almost never use this design.”

(Farhoodi, whose day job is with an active transportation planning firm that often competes for city contracts, softened his judgment somewhat in later emails, after continuing to learn about the situation — see below.)

A signal would at least triple project cost, city says

The high-traffic right-turn on N Broadway at Williams, installed in 2010, uses red arrows and a bike signal phase.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Each of the two northbound lanes on Naito already has its own hanging signal here, and the city’s plan would convert the rightmost lane to a right-turn-only lane. So why not create a bike-specific signal phase, like the one that prevents right hooks across the river at NE Williams and Broadway?

Portland Bureau of Transportation staff said Thursday that though delay from a new signal phase might risk causing southbound traffic to back up across the railroad tracks, the “major” obstacle to a protected signal phase here is money.

The Naito project, PBOT spokeswoman Hannah Schafer said, is funded through the bureau’s “Missing Links” program, which has an annual budget of $75,000. Most “Missing Links” projects cost $5,000 to $10,000; Shafer said restriping the newly repaved roadway will cost $15,000 (with Missing Links covering the full expense). A signal would bring the total cost to $45,000 or so in a “best case” scenario, she said.

The additional $30,000 would include “a bike signal and right turn only signal including all labor, materials, engineering, traffic control, and a structural analysis of the existing mast arm pole on the north side of the intersection,” she said.

“Missing Links never pays for signals,” PBOT project manager Scott Cohen said. “It just doesn’t happen.”

A mixing zone is possible but would have problems too

perceived intersection safety annotated

A 2013 study by Portland State University found that many people riding in protected bike lanes feel unsafe mixing with autos at turn lanes.
(Image: PeopleForBikes)

Portland Bureau of Transportation engineer Mark Haines argued that the striping proposed for Naito wouldn’t make the situation worse. He noted that there is an uphill grade to Naito at this point, making it less likely that people biking will overtake people in turning cars.

“I this case I think cyclists and drivers can work together at lower speeds,” he said. “And ultimately I think it’s the driver’s responsibility to yield.”

Though turning vehicles must always yield to vehicles that are moving straight, many Oregon drivers don’t realize that this applies to bike lanes, too. The city’s Naito plan calls for a zebra-striped green crossbike across the intersection, plus a new sign reminding people to yield to bikes before turning.

Another complication: this project is only happening at all because Naito has just been repaved north of Davis.

“We saw the fresh pavement, decided this was the moment,” Schafer said.







The new asphalt starts immediately north of the onramp — meaning that any striping changes next to or south of the onramp would require costly stripe removal work.

Despite that, Haines said the city considered a green bike box, a mixing zone that would prompt bikes and turning cars to negotiate their way into the same lane, or markings to move the bike lane to the left of the right-turn lane, like the one at Naito and Morrison.

But because any variety of mixing zone would be so busy with right-turning cars, Haines said, “that would be very unhelpful for some people too.”

If people feel the new bike crossing is unsafe, Haines said, they can choose to move into the center of a general travel lane with their bike and go straight across the intersection. (There’s an exemption for this situation in the Oregon law that requires people biking to use a bike lane if present.)

Haines also noted that thanks to the new right-turn lane, people biking will at least have more certainty that any car in the right lane is going to turn.

City and advocates hope for more funding soon

steel onramp

Looking north on Naito at Davis.
(Image: Google Street View)

Biking advocates said Thursday that though they understand the city’s position, they would like to see more changes as soon as possible. Here’s how Farhoodi put it later Thursday, after learning more about the city’s reasoning:

I trust the professional judgment of PBOT staff, but think that they will receive a lot of negative feedback about a design that many people perceive to be unsafe because it manufactures conflict. For me, my major concern is that this could give cyclists a false sense of security compared to a design that drops the bicycle lane in favor of a shared turning/bike lane for a short stretch. Neither of these are preferable to a protected turn signal, but that’s the reality of the funding situation right now.

But we’ve waited too long to close the Naito Gap to rethink it now, and there is also the “safety in numbers” argument that closing the gap will increase bicycle volumes on Naito as a result of improved connectivity. In any case, I sincerely hope that PBOT’s proposed design will be safe for all users, and that they will revisit this location soon when more funding is available, perhaps with the upcoming Central City Multimodal Safety Project.

Here’s Sarah Newsum, a spokeswoman for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance:

In a confusing intersection, such as the one at NW Davis and Naito, we will always advocate for physical separation and signal differentiation. Ideally coupled with a bike box and “No right turn on red” signs. We’d like to see this intersection mirror that of NE Broadway and N Williams, with a separate advanced signal for people riding bikes. Signs telling people driving to watch out for bikes do not provide the necessary clarity or safety for any road user. …

The striping plan isn’t necessarily making that intersection less safe than its current design, however, additional traffic on the street will bring a potential increase in conflicts.

And Ian Stude, chair of the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, in response to a question about a red-turn arrow:

• Very excited to see this gap completed!
• Red turn arrow you suggest would provide some added protection for riders, but a red turn arrow does not prohibit a turn on red, so it would need to accompanied by a “no turn on red” designation as well.
• My suggestion for reducing potential right hook conflicts would be to use the space between Couch and Davis to create a merge point, moving the bike lane to the left of the turn lane prior to the intersection at Davis.

Schafer, Cohen and Haines said they expect the work to go ahead as planned in the next few days. They hope the street can be further improved in the future.

“We’ve actually been able to make some pretty big impacts for people,” Schafer said. “I think this is the first phase of what we hope to be additional improvements to come. … As always, we will be monitoring this area closely after the striping is complete. The safety of Portland’s road users is the bureau’s highest priority.”

“Maybe with the permanent Better Naito, if that ever gets budgeted again,” Haines added. “We’re hopeful that it will.”

Correction 12:35 pm: An earlier version of this post gave the wrong estimated cost for a combined restriping/signalization project.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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Bike traffic advisory: Expect delays on bridges due to repairs and Fleet Week

Bike traffic advisory: Expect delays on bridges due to repairs and Fleet Week

Bike traffic, Steel Bridge, sunny Saturday-1

The lower deck of the Steel Bridge is always crowded during the warm and sunny summer season — but it’ll be even harder to bike through over the next week.

The Bureau of Transportation has put out a traffic advisory (below) warning of delays on all downtown lift-bridges due to the double-whammy of lifts (as ships depart from Fleet Week festivities) and for electrical repairs on the Steel Bridge. The delays are expected to happen on June 8th, 9th, and 13th.

Be advised and try taking the upper deck for the next few days. If you do ride the upper deck, please ride cautiously when other people are present — it’s narrow up there.

The arrival and departure of Fleet Week ships for the Portland Rose Festival will require the closure of the lower deck of the Steel Bridge on June 8, 9 and 13. Because the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Union Pacific Railroad are also making mechanical and electrical repairs to the structure, the lower deck will be held in the raised position, closed to bike and pedestrian access, for up to four to six hours each day.

Since the lower deck of the Steel Bridge was opened in 2001, it has become a popular route for people bike and walking. The deck will be closed from 2 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday June 8 and Thursday June 9. If ships are able to pass before 6 p.m., the deck will be lowered and access restored as soon as possible.

The lower deck will be raised again on Monday June 13, from 5 a.m. to 12 p.m. If ships are able to pass before noon, the deck will be lowered and access restored as soon as possible.







Public access to the upper deck will be maintained, but expect intermittent bridge closures from 2 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday and on Monday morning as ships arrive and depart.

The Broadway, Burnside, and Steel drawbridges will need to open for ship arrivals and departures. Travelers can avoid delays by choosing a fixed span bridge or a bridge south of the Burnside Bridge.

This might be a good time to download Multnomah County’s new smartphone app that will send alerts to your phone when the lifts are up.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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The post Bike traffic advisory: Expect delays on bridges due to repairs and Fleet Week appeared first on BikePortland.org.

Steel Bridge lower deck will close for inspection at 7 am Wednesday

Steel Bridge lower deck will close for inspection at 7 am Wednesday

The current forecast for Wednesday morning.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

Update 2:20 pm: PBOT reports that the lower deck will reopen by 5 p.m. The original post follows.

If you usually bike or walk across the Steel Bridge’s lower deck in the morning rush hour, try another route on Wednesday.

It’s being closed at 7 a.m. for an inspection, according to the Portland Bureau of Transportation. PBOT added that it’ll announce the reopening, whenever that might happen, in a follow-up tweet from its @PBOTinfo account.

When a camera failure closed the lower deck one year ago this week, the bridge remained closed for four days.

The lower deck carries about 3,500 bike trips daily, and thousands more walk or skate it.

Both Jonathan and I will be away from BikePortland for most of Wednesday, so watch PBOT’s Twitter feed (or the comment thread below) for updates.

The post Steel Bridge lower deck will close for inspection at 7 am Wednesday appeared first on BikePortland.org.

Four days after camera failure, PBOT has no word on Steel Bridge lower deck reopening

Four days after camera failure, PBOT has no word on Steel Bridge lower deck reopening

Some commuters and exercisers used the upper
sidewalk of the Steel Bridge Tuesday.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

Portlanders’ unscheduled trip into the 90s extended into its fourth day Tuesday as the lower deck of the Steel Bridge, built for $10 million in 2001, remained closed due to a camera failure.

City spokeswoman Diane Dulken said Tuesday that she had no information about whether Union Pacific Railroad, the owner of the cameras, had been in contact with the city or was making any efforts to fix them. She said she wasn’t aware of detour signs other than the ones at the Steel Bridge’s lower-deck gates themselves.

The cameras are important because they let the on-site bridge lift operator know when people are crossing the bridge’s lift span. The cameras have failed in the past, including a one-day closure last year.

About 3,500 people cross the Steel Bridge on bikes daily. Thousands more use it as a foot crossing for transportation or recreation.

Kevin Wagoner, a Kaiser Permanente employee who bikes to work daily from southwest Portland, said Tuesday morning that it was a minor annoyance for him, but that he’d seen one man trying to open the bridge’s gates himself.

“I was like, ‘I don’t know if that’s a good idea,'” Wagoner said.

Portlanders took various strategies to detour across the river. Here’s a comment from Ted Buehler from yesterday’s post on this issue:

Steel Bridge upper deck sidewalks are not suitable for bicycling — far too narrow to permit safe passage. Bikes require a minimum of 4′ width. If you’re a skilled rider you can make do with less, but on the Steel Bridge sidewalk there’s no margin of error, and any twitch can bump you into the [substandard] railing posts, launch you over the [substandard] low railing and 85′ down into the Willamette River.

Best to simply take the lane. I do it regularly, just hang all the way on the right as you’re going up to the main span, slow down a bit toward the top to rest up, and wait for a gap in cars. Then scoot out into the middle of the lane and ride at your fastest comfortable speed across the main deck. I take the lane all the way to the bottom on the steep downgrade westbound, and scoot back to the right curb on the downgrade eastbound.

Another commenter, going by Vinney, reflected on Dulken’s comments from yesterday afternoon:

In situations like this I always find myself wondering if this would be acceptable if it was a car lane. What would be the city’s response then? What would be the reaction if Diane made this statement:

“People crossing the Steel Bridge Monday evening should reroute to another bridge. The bridge has been closed since Saturday evening, when a set of cameras that monitor the crossing stopped functioning. We don’t manage the cameras, so we’re not quite sure what’s going on.”

Union Pacific Railroad’s California-based spokesman Aaron Hunt said Tuesday morning that he had “calls in to a number of different people” to learn more about the issue. Dulken said she would ask her colleagues if there are any plans to improve communication with the railroad during future closures.

I spent a few minutes on each side of the bridge Tuesday morning to see how people were handling the closure.

There was a steady flow in both directions across the upper deck.

Most people descending to the Eastbank Esplanade rerouted to the south.

Some eastbound travelers hoisted their bikes up the
stairs to the upper deck after encountering the closure.

Others with larger vehicles didn’t have that option.

Whatever the cause of this four-day closure, it’s an unusual situation for a city whose long-term business plan depends on persuading tens of thousands of people and jobs to locate or relocate into the central city and whose official policy documents describe its transportation priorities this way:

After much finger-pointing, the Steel Bridge’s lower deck reopens – UPDATED

After much finger-pointing, the Steel Bridge’s lower deck reopens – UPDATED

Some commuters and exercisers used the upper
sidewalk of the Steel Bridge Tuesday morning.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

Update 3:59 pm: The bridge lower deck is now open, and the city’s Diane Dulken writes to confirm that the city, not Union Pacific Railroad, is responsible for the lower-deck cameras related to this closure.

Portlanders’ unscheduled trip into the 90s extended into its fourth day Tuesday as the lower deck of the Steel Bridge, built for $10 million in 2001, remained closed due to a camera failure.

City spokeswoman Diane Dulken said Monday that Union Pacific Railroad runs the cameras, and that the problem is UP’s. The next morning, UP’s California-based spokesman Aaron Hunt said that this was not true, and that the city has been working to repair them. Update: Dulken confirmed, late Tuesday afternoon, that the railroad was correct, and the cameras are the city’s responsibility.

Dulken said Tuesday that she had no information about whether Union Pacific had been in contact with the city. She said she wasn’t aware of detour signs other than the ones at the Steel Bridge’s lower-deck gates themselves.

The cameras are important because they let the on-site bridge lift operator know when people are crossing the bridge’s lift span. The cameras have failed in the past, including a one-day closure last year.

About 3,500 people cross the Steel Bridge on bikes daily. Thousands more use it as a foot crossing for transportation or recreation.

“We don’t manage the cameras, so we’re not quite sure what’s going on with those,” Dulken said. “It’s Union Pacific, and we haven’t heard from UP.”

Union Pacific, however, disagreed.

“The cameras are the responsibility of the city of Portland,” railroad spokesman Hunt wrote in an email Tuesday. “Union Pacific reported that the cameras were not working last Saturday. The city then closed the gates for safety reasons. The city has been working to repair the cameras since that time.”

Meanwhile, Portlanders have been taking various strategies to detour across the river.

Kevin Wagoner, a Kaiser Permanente employee who bikes to work daily from southwest Portland, said Tuesday morning that it was a minor annoyance for him, but that he’d seen one man trying to open the bridge’s gates himself.

“I was like, ‘I don’t know if that’s a good idea,'” Wagoner said.

Here’s a comment from Ted Buehler from yesterday’s post on this issue:

Steel Bridge upper deck sidewalks are not suitable for bicycling — far too narrow to permit safe passage. Bikes require a minimum of 4′ width. If you’re a skilled rider you can make do with less, but on the Steel Bridge sidewalk there’s no margin of error, and any twitch can bump you into the [substandard] railing posts, launch you over the [substandard] low railing and 85′ down into the Willamette River.

Best to simply take the lane. I do it regularly, just hang all the way on the right as you’re going up to the main span, slow down a bit toward the top to rest up, and wait for a gap in cars. Then scoot out into the middle of the lane and ride at your fastest comfortable speed across the main deck. I take the lane all the way to the bottom on the steep downgrade westbound, and scoot back to the right curb on the downgrade eastbound.

Another commenter, going by Vinney, reflected on Dulken’s comments from yesterday afternoon:

In situations like this I always find myself wondering if this would be acceptable if it was a car lane. What would be the city’s response then? What would be the reaction if Diane made this statement:

“People crossing the Steel Bridge Monday evening should reroute to another bridge. The bridge has been closed since Saturday evening, when a set of cameras that monitor the crossing stopped functioning. We don’t manage the cameras, so we’re not quite sure what’s going on.”

Dulken said she would ask her colleagues if there are any plans to improve communication with the railroad during future closures.

I spent a few minutes on each side of the bridge Tuesday morning to see how people were handling the closure.

There was a steady flow in both directions across the upper deck.

Most people descending to the Eastbank Esplanade rerouted to the south.

Some eastbound travelers hoisted their bikes up the
stairs to the upper deck after encountering the closure.

Others with larger vehicles didn’t have that option.

Whatever the cause of this four-day closure, it’s an odd situation for a city whose long-term business plan depends on persuading tens of thousands of people and jobs to locate or relocate into the central city and whose official policy documents describe its transportation priorities this way:

Steel Bridge lower deck closed since Saturday – UPDATED

Steel Bridge lower deck closed since Saturday – UPDATED

Steel Bridge upper deck

The Steel Bridge’s upper-deck
sidewalk is one way to cross this evening.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Update 6:30 a.m., Aug. 13: The lower deck remains closed on Tuesday morning. “I haven’t heard of any change yet,” spokeswoman Diane Dulken wrote. We’ve had no reply to our request for information from Union Pacific. Watch PBOT’s Twitter account for possible updates. Original post follows.

People crossing the Steel Bridge by bike and foot Monday evening should take the upper-deck lane or sidewalk or reroute to another bridge, Portland Bureau of Transportation spokeswoman Diane Dulken said Monday afternoon.

The lower deck has been closed since Saturday evening, when a set of cameras that monitor the crossing stopped functioning, Dulken said. The cameras are owned and controlled by Union Pacific Railroad, she said, which has not informed the city of the cameras’ status.

“We don’t manage the cameras, so we’re not quite sure what’s going on,” Dulken said.

The cameras need to work, she said, because they prevent the Steel Bridge’s controller from closing the lower deck’s gates and activating a bridge lift while people are still between the gates.

The Steel Bridge is jointly operated by the city, ODOT and Union Pacific Railroad, with the city handling the gates and approaches, an on-site ODOT worker controlling the bridge lifts and Union Pacific controlling the cameras.

“We want to open up that pathway as soon as possible,” Dulken said.

Steel Bridge lower deck closed since Saturday – UPDATED

Steel Bridge lower deck closed since Saturday – UPDATED

Steel Bridge upper deck

The Steel Bridge’s upper-deck
sidewalk is one way to cross this evening.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Update 6:30 a.m., Aug. 13: The lower deck remains closed on Tuesday morning. “I haven’t heard of any change yet,” spokeswoman Diane Dulken wrote. We’ve had no reply to our request for information from Union Pacific. Watch PBOT’s Twitter account for possible updates. Original post follows.

People crossing the Steel Bridge by bike and foot Monday evening should take the upper-deck lane or sidewalk or reroute to another bridge, Portland Bureau of Transportation spokeswoman Diane Dulken said Monday afternoon.

The lower deck has been closed since Saturday evening, when a set of cameras that monitor the crossing stopped functioning, Dulken said. The cameras are owned and controlled by Union Pacific Railroad, she said, which has not informed the city of the cameras’ status.

“We don’t manage the cameras, so we’re not quite sure what’s going on,” Dulken said.

The cameras need to work, she said, because they prevent the Steel Bridge’s controller from closing the lower deck’s gates and activating a bridge lift while people are still between the gates.

The Steel Bridge is jointly operated by the city, ODOT and Union Pacific Railroad, with the city handling the gates and approaches, an on-site ODOT worker controlling the bridge lifts and Union Pacific controlling the cameras.

“We want to open up that pathway as soon as possible,” Dulken said.