Stale bureaucracy

I occasionally say smart things on Twitter, and even more occasionally, one of them is worth saying in more than 140 characters. Yesterday I had the following conversation with @bjamin:

The project Ben was alluding to is the I-5/Broadway/Weidler interchange plan, which is part of the N/NE Quadrant project. Public attention to the project has increased recently because the Stakeholder Advisory Committee was charged this week with making a recommendation on the interchange plans, and there was an opportunity for public comment at the meeting.

The process has been going on for almost two years. I got involved just over a year ago, right after the first public charrette (which I wasn’t able to attend for personal reasons), when I and some other advocates met with some SAC members who were feeling less sure about the transportation details than they would have liked. I ended up sitting in on a special meeting with ODOT and PBOT project staff at one point, I’ve kept in touch with the SAC members about the progress, I went to several open houses and commented on the plans, and I had a lot of (frustrating) conversations with project staff. So I know a bit about how the whole process went down.

The way that I described it for Ben I think is apt (and Steve thought so too). The ideas that were presented to the SAC and the community were pre-filtered by the agencies involved, including ODOT, and by the way the scope of the project was written. They’re stale because all the interesting ideas were thrown out by the “process”.

At the transportation design charettes, any options that included removal of I-5 (something many community members think is possible within the next 30 years) were thrown out as out of scope. Options that involved removing the ramps were put down as infeasible because the majority of the traffic on the freeway is local, even though local traffic doesn’t need a freeway to get around, and eliminating close-together ramps is a very traditional way to improve weaving problems like those cited for this segment (the freeway interchange in the city I grew up in was redone this way while I was in high school and college). And the TDM/TSM option (managing congestion using technological and mode-shift techniques) was never seriously developed — whenever I saw it, it was just a line item, and when I asked ODOT staff what this would entail, they did the verbal equivalent of shrugging.

All this points to a process that was set up with so many constraints to meet that it could only get one result: that the freeway needs the additional lanes ODOT says it needs. Pressure from the community is the only thing that brought the process to a point where the worst (most expensive and people-hostile) options  were eliminated and it included any reasonable improvements for people walking and biking through the area at all. That’s still not much, just a tiny update over today’s conditions, with some loss of connectivity (plus the construction impacts). This for an area that is the meeting of three major bike routes, that’s within blocks of the city’s biggest transit center and major event centers, and which will soon have a streetcar! I’ve also heard, but haven’t confirmed, that PBOT as much as said that the bike/ped improvements were contingent on the freeway improvements, and they couldn’t be done separately. If they’re really improvements that we think are good and worthwhile, why can’t they be done separately? Does PBOT want 25% of Portlanders riding their bikes to work in 2030, or not? Do they want people leaving the Rose Garden at night to be safe walking to TriMet or not?

This N/NE Quadrant process, to me, has become a symbol of everything I’ve seen that’s wrong with “public process” — I would say “in Portland” but I don’t think it’s just Portland.

  • The public doesn’t get any input on deciding what projects “need” to be done, or what their scope will be (Portland Transport discussed this recently as well).
  • Only the project’s “stakeholders” (however that is defined for a given project, and it generally isn’t defined very inclusively) get ongoing input. The public has to delve into websites and publications to find out when design sessions or open houses are or how to contact staff.
  • Open houses are rarely held at convenient places and times; they’re usually held from 4:30 to 6:30 (letting out a lot of working people) and often in odd places (Lloyd Center Mall, the Rose Garden Arena).
  • There’s often a distinct lack of data and discussion of the project’s (temporary or permanent) impacts on non-motor vehicle traffic. I can’t tell you how many times I heard how many cars drive on the freeway, but I never heard project staff even discuss bikeway traffic counts, despite such counts being available for several intersections in the area, and despite requests for such data from citizens.
  • One stakeholder can sometimes hold up an entire project, but how that can come about is never clearly defined.
  • The options that are presented, if they include citizen ideas at all, are always pre-filtered by agency staff, who are the same people who chose the project scope in the first place, so they can put their preferred options front and center and get rid of any they don’t like.
  • Staff can even insist after the fact that SAC recommendations won’t work and have to be changed. So nothing is currently stopping PBOT and ODOT from taking the SAC recommendation for the I-5/Broadway-Weidler project and deleting even the small bike/ped improvements the community did succeed in adding, just like nothing seems to stop PBOT from continually insisting that Williams can’t handle traffic with only one travel lane (and refusing to hear any points made that a change in road configuration is likely to change traffic counts).

Agencies have an existing culture and worldview and a vested interest in things going their way, so even when there are a lot of people with good intent (and I don’t doubt there are, here as much as anywhere, as I’ve met and spoken to many of them), that isn’t enough to get the agency to look beyond its own standard methods, its own little house in government, and the immediate future. Memorably, one of the open houses I attended for this project included a note that the median MUP that they wanted to install (which did make it into the final plans, but without any marked width) should be 12′ wide for two-way traffic. This on one of the major city bikeways? 20′ would barely be wide enough (that’s the total width of the Hawthorne Bridge paths). When I look at designs produced by staff and consultants, they almost always show that the person who designed them doesn’t regularly travel the street (at all, or by specific modes) because they are missing important details like that. At the last N Williams open house, I heard another citizen ask why they had added parking to a particular block of Williams, because it’s currently no-parking at PPB’s request. “Really?” said the consultant behind the table. “I’ll look into that.” In general, details that are critical to determining whether a design is any good are often missing until too late in the process to make meaningful changes.

More than a change to any individual project, or any one part of the process, we need a change from a culture of regimented process, stale bureaucracy, and imposed expertise to evolution, creativity, and collaboration. This requires change from both our government and us as citizens. Governmental agencies need to stop fearing and constraining citizen input and start talking with us openly what we want and need, while at the same time getting out of their silos and looking at the long view. We have to be more interested in the continued development of our neighborhood and our city over time, and more willing to see beyond our own self-interest. Right now, 74% of Americans want to see no new development in their neighborhoods. But without development, neighborhoods stagnate and decline. No future development means “I’ve got mine and I’m not worried about anyone else getting theirs.” That’s not the attitude of a community I want to live in. Let’s make Portland, and Oregon, better than that.

Why I can’t be arsed to support a cycletrack on SW 12th

True to my blogging history, let’s start with a linguistics digression: “can’t be arsed” is my favorite British phrase. It means “can’t be bothered”, but is somewhat less polite.

I can’t be arsed to support a cycletrack on SW 12th. I can’t really be arsed to oppose it, either, because who wants to oppose bike infrastructure? So I’ve been keeping quiet. But it looks like this debate is heating up and may be worth weighing in on.

Here’s the thing:

Cycletracks are a good facility type for improving cycling safety and comfort when used to protect cycle traffic from heavy or fast-moving motor vehicle traffic and create more space for cycling. But downtown traffic doesn’t move quickly, thanks to signal timing that has a progression speed of 12-16mph.  A person riding downhill can easily keep up with traffic downtown (I’ve ridden from Jefferson to Alder on 6th without even turning a pedal when I hit the lights right), and relatively fit cyclists can keep up on the flats as well. And SW 12th apparently doesn’t have heavy motor vehicle traffic (note the line in the document mentioning “underutilized capacity”), which is one reason this cycletrack is considered a good “demonstration” candidate. Put another way, it’s a good cycletrack candidate because it’s not really necessary.

But if it’s not necessary, why spend money, time, and effort on it? And why is it that one of our criteria for a good cycletrack opportunity — that it not necessitate removal of currently “needed” motor vehicle capacity — almost entails that the facility not be necessary? That implies that we’ll never install cycletracks where they’re most needed, like Broadway between NE 21st and SW Clay. That’s a cycletrack I’d be all over supporting, because the current bike lane is a complete death trap of dooring hazards, right-hooks, regular parking, valet parking, deliveries, taxis, school buses, potholes, and jaywalking pedestrians. Anything for actual dedicated space on Broadway, I would do. You want me to demonstrate outside City Hall at 3pm on a rainy Tuesday for that? I’m there. You want me to wear a clown hat and do a headstand in the mayor’s office? Ask and ye shall receive.* But ask me to support a cycletrack on SW 12th, and I’m all, eh, whatever.

I can think of a few reasons why it’s less silly than it seems:

  • In the future, traffic (both car and bicycle) is expected to increase. At some point, there may be heavier traffic on SW 12th (the PBA apparently thinks that’ll be soon), and people will then appreciate the separated space.
  • Despite the fact that it’s easy to keep up with cars when cycling downtown and so it’s a good place for a shared space model, there is still a population of people who find cycling downtown uncomfortable or scary. These people might be attracted to 12th by a new cycletrack, and feel more comfortable riding downtown. Peter Furth and Roger Geller discussed this at PSU last Friday when Roger asked what level of traffic stress Furth would consider downtown streets to be. The answer (based on the muttering around the room) was unclear, but I would say most of them are LTS 3 (appropriate for the enthused and confident) due to width, occasionally heavy volume (including lots of trucks), and complexity of driving behavior, even though they should be only LTS 2 (appropriate for most adults) based on speeds. Adding a cycletrack would make a downtown street LTS 1 or 2.
  • PBOT needs practice installing cycletracks where turns are allowed before they do a badly-needed project such as a cycletrack on Broadway that’s important to get right. I don’t know if this is true, but it’s a reasonable idea.

I can also think of a few reasons why it’s more silly than it seems:

  • On the other hand of the first argument, if bike traffic increases more than expected, then confining it to a cycletrack could be negative (this is a known issue in places like Copenhagen). Shared space allows bikes to be wherever they need to be.
  • SW 12th isn’t a great through-routing choice, in my opinion (although Ian and the BTA disagree). SW 14th is only two blocks over and has a bike lane that goes all the way through NW. 12th rather peters out around Davis where it becomes a two-way street with lots of stop signs. It also has exposed old trolley tracks in that area, which are hazardous.
  • SW 12th is downhill, which means it’s one of the easier streets for people to keep up with cars on. Installing a cycletrack on an uphill street would provide greater value.
  • It’s time to move past demonstration projects and get serious about installing cycletracks where we need them — on streets like Burnside, Sandy, and Broadway. Or how about MLK and Grand, or 11th and 12th? Amsterdam and Copenhagen have done it, NYC has done it, DC has done it, and Chicago has done it. Are we really going to screw it up so badly we need to practice first, even with all those lovely examples?

There are also genuine issues worth considering with regard to process and implementation. For example, cycletracks limit mid-block turning movements in ways that neither shared space nor (buffered) bike lane separation would. Mid-block turns are important for business accessibility, especially in areas where riding on the sidewalk is not permitted. This is an area where I think PBA’s concerns could be legitimate, although in my opinion they are probably concerned for the wrong reasons. We know a lot about whether bikes are good for business (yes) but not a lot about how cycletracks affect that, as there aren’t as many businesses along Broadway in the PSU cycletrack segment. N Williams will be using a buffered bike lane treatment, so that won’t help us learn about cycletracks and business accessibility issues either. Or general accessibility issues; at least one advocate I respect has raised questions about this in the past.

PBA also raises questions about evaluation that I think are legitimate if we consider this a demonstration project. The cycletrack and buffered bike lanes were evaluated by researchers at PSU, who came up with some suggested changes to the implementation. But I’m not aware of any changes made as a result of the evaluation, or whether there was a specific set of criteria that, if not met, would trigger changes (either improvement or removal). The buffered lanes have some issues, as Jonathan has documented, and if I were inclined to be opposed to this project (as the PBA apparently is) then I would definitely want to know how to avoid that happening here. As I’m not inclined to oppose it, it still leaves me where I started out: shrugging and saying “Eh, whatever.”

* But all I ever hear is that all that capacity on Broadway is needed, so it’s impossible to do anything. What ever happened to induced demand and disappearing traffic?

Why I’m an Options Ambassador

PBOT’s Transportation Options division is recruiting for new outreach volunteers — Options Ambassadors — for 2012. A few weeks ago Andrew at PBOT asked me if I would be willing to share why I volunteer with Options as part of their recruitment. I think my response is slated for a brochure or email because I couldn’t find it online, but I thought it would be nice to have it available for the future, and for my own purposes in promoting Options’ recruitment!

Here are Andrew’s questions and my responses.

Q. Why did you decide to become an ambassador?

A. I was lucky enough to live in the SmartTrips area when I first moved to Portland in summer 2009. I thought the rides would be a great way to get to know the city and meet some people. I was also looking for ways to use my bicycle advocacy skills in Portland. I enjoyed the rides tremendously, and I really liked how prepared, thoughtful, friendly, and fun the Options team was. I decided if there was any way I could get involved, I wanted to do it. I’ve always really enjoyed sharing my knowledge and encouraging others to ride, so it seemed like a perfect fit. At the last summer ride, I was excited when Timo announced that they would be recruiting for new Ambassadors in April and encouraged me to apply. And the rest is history!

Q. What is your favorite part about being an Ambassador?

A. I really like to help with the bike rides. I am best at encouraging people when I’m riding because my enthusiasm for the ride is contagious — I enjoy exploring new routes and appreciating the wonderful things about Portland (including the summer weather). I also really like helping people learn and get more comfortable with riding in a context where I can talk with them one-on-one for extended periods of time. Finally, I love hearing people’s stories about why they are interested in riding more, and what got them out to the event, and I like to see how they appreciate each other’s company and support. Seeing people enjoy riding and grow in their skills and abilities is what inspires me as an advocate.

 

I didn’t want to go on too long in my response about how wonderful the Options group is, but it really is a huge part of the reason that I volunteer. Timo and Janis are fantastically cool, funny, enthusiastic, fun, and prepared. On the Autumn Adventure ride in 2009, I was badly under-gloved for the severity of the rain (and probably underdressed in general — it was my first fall in Portland), and Janis lent me some extra gloves with no questions asked. That’s the kind of leader I always appreciate and aspire to be. Every time I assist them I enjoy their company and I learn a lot about how to make riding fun and accessible for everyone. Every year as people rotate out, we need awesome ambassadors to replace them, so if you love to share your knowledge and enthusiasm for riding or walking, please volunteer!

Besides a few hours for training, it’s as much of a time commitment as you want or don’t want it to be. In 2010 I volunteered most weeks, but in 2011 I could only make a few rides in the summer because of my work schedule at SMART Transit. Luckily Timo extended the season with some weekend rides in the fall, and I’m hoping to volunteer more again this summer. I can’t wait for the season to start.

All those big square houses

I was on a bike ride this weekend and we were riding down Salmon St in inner SE, between 23rd and 12th. One of the women on the ride was exclaiming about how beautiful the neighborhood was with “all these big square houses”. I listened to her rhapsodize for a few sentences, thinking how funny it was to hear someone describe the houses that way. I realized that I’ve gotten used to how inner Portland looks, and it no longer seems odd or remarkable to me, although I continue to find it very beautiful.

It also reminded me of a story my dad tells about me as a very small child asking why all the houses in Detroit (where we used to fly in order to drive to Canada to visit my dad’s family) had pointy roofs. My eye was apparently already calibrated to the flat roofs of many New Mexican houses and found the long rows of pointy houses remarkable, just as this woman found Portland’s “big square” houses remarkable coming from Beaverton.

PSU/PBOT Traffic and Transportation Class: Reflection

What I come back to most whenever the subject of my class last fall comes up is how amazing it is that I was able to learn so much information and meet so many significant figures in the Portland transportation scene in just ten short weeks (Oct 1 – Dec 3).

Getting into the class was a bit of a rollercoaster — I learned about the class from BikePortland while I was in the Bay Area over Labor Day weekend, but by the time I got back and organized to apply for the scholarship from the city, the scholarship spaces were exhausted and I was put on the waiting list. Disappointed, I consoled myself by thinking, “No need to rush into things. I’m new here; I’m sure others need the learning more than I do.” But Gavin encouraged me not to give up, and later I learned that it’s not uncommon for a few people to drop out before the class starts. Sure enough, the week before the class started, Scott Cohen, the class liaison, contacted me and asked if I wanted a space that had opened up. Yes, of course!

The class lecture series included Portland’s senior planner, Steve Dotterer; the director of PBOT, Sue Kiehl; officials from Metro and Trimet; Roger Geller, city Bicycle Coordinator; April Bertelson, Pedestrian Coordinator; Marni Glick of Transportation Options (who I also knew from my Sunday Parkways volunteering); Rob Burchfield, city Traffic Engineer; Patrick Sweeney, who headed up the Streetcar System Plan effort; and lectures from our coordinator, Rick Gustafson, a former ED of Trimet and longtime transportation official and consultant in Portland; as well as a special presentation by Gordon Price, Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC. (The presentations, except for Gordon Price’s, are all available on the class website.)

My favorite presentations were Gordon Price, Steve Dotterer, Patrick Sweeney, Roger Geller, and Marni Glick — possibly in that order — for, respectively, a deep and broad look at urban design and transportation, the historical perspective on Portland, a beautiful presentation with impressive evidence of project management and community outreach, bikey awesomeness, and sheer enthusiasm for the job.

Doing a project also turned out to be a really important part of the class. Hearing that it would involve giving a presentation and was optional, I almost backed out. I hate public speaking, and I wasn’t sure I had time for a project. But Rick encouraged us to participate because it would give us a practical grounding in what most of us really wanted to do with our class knowledge — getting transportation projects done in Portland.

I decided to do my project on the interaction between bikes and rails. It’s an issue of personal interest to me, because I live near the streetcar tracks (and the NW Industrial area which has a lot of disused/rarely used tracks) and riding near them makes me nervous. It’s also a well-known issue in Portland and is in the theme of my main area of interest in bike advocacy, bike/transit interactions.

My project ended up being selected for the second session, which would include an outside panel and any members of the public who wanted to attend. I was excited, but also nervous. It was fortunate timing in that the week of the first presentations was very busy for me, and the respite that I got allowed me to put together a much better presentation.

The process of doing the project was somewhat guided by our homework assignments. I started out by doing a lot of web research, and later moved on to documenting particular issues and investigating each proposed solution further, as well as taking pictures of nasty intersections. The part that took me personally the longest to do was to contact someone in the city or other government agency about the issue. There’s no shortage of people to talk to about the streetcar, but I was nervous about calling people. It’s a personal thing, and one that I badly need to get over before I can be serious about being an advocate. I was very impressed when I saw how many people some of my classmates had spoken with, when I didn’t even take advantage of all the leads I got until after class was over. Lesson learned!

The presentations were supposed to only take three minutes, because that’s how long you get to speak at public hearings. It turns out to be a lot harder to give a three-minute presentation than a ten-minute one. Not too many people made the time limit — I’m not sure whether I did, although I practiced hard and trimmed down my presentation until I could give it in that amount of time. My presentation got a very good reception, with particularly kind words from Rick, and is now available, with the rest, on Chris Smith’s Portland Transport blog.

I feel very lucky to have had the class so soon after my arrival in Portland. As I start to get more involved in the Portland transportation scene, having the background has already proven useful. And as Patrick and April, both themselves graduates of the class, reminded us, it’s not just what you know, it’s who you know, presenters and fellow students alike, that may help you get things done in the future.

My project on Portland Transport

I didn’t notice this at the time, but Chris Smith posted our presentations from the December 3rd Traffic and Transportation class session on his blog at Portland Transport.

If you’ve been waiting for me to get my act together, wait no longer — the PDF is available there. A few entries later is David Sweet’s NE Fremont project, which truly was the most impressive in how much he had already accomplished. It was inspiring to me to see how much time and effort he had put in, how many people he had spoken to, and the creativity he used in securing funding.

I’ve been working on a post about my experience in the class, but it needs some cleaning up. I’ll try to get there soon, as a complement to this post.

A week of excellent transportation conversations

Last night I went to Plan B (SE 8th and Main) for “An Evening with Roger Geller”, an interview of Roger Geller, PBOT’s Bicycle Coordinator, by Jonathan Maus of BikePortland. The main subject was the draft 2030 Bike Plan, which is likely to be adopted by City Council in January. It was a good conversation — by turns personal, wonky, political, and funny. My two favorite quotes, which I posted on Twitter during the evening, were:

You build for the future you want.

and

We’re talking to the choir a bit here, but it’s still important for the choir to show up to church.

The second one perhaps needs a little more context if you weren’t there. He was speaking in response to the concern that the conversation about the Bike Plan and cycling in general is not happening enough outside the ‘bike bubble’ of interested, active cyclists. Since despite my newcomer status in Portland, I’m certainly already inside the bike bubble, I don’t really have any idea, but I liked his point here and the analogy is fun.

You build for the future you want. Let’s build it out. Let’s get 5000 (clothed) cyclists to rally at City Hall. Let’s get more funding, so it’s not bikes or streetcar; or sharrows or bike boulevards, but both/and. Bike everything, all the time. Okay, maybe not, but I’m wholly enthusiastic, and particularly happy to know that they are planning to use all available traffic tools to manage the newer bike boulevards they will be building. Portland’s bike boulevards are sometimes more notional than actual, and still get crazy traffic. Put Ellen Fletcher Bike Boulevard-style diverters on them, take away the superfluous stop signs, and you’ve really got something great.

I found it interesting also to watch Roger’s deflection of fundamentally political questions. I don’t fault him for this, as it is really up to us, as citizens, to get politics and political will and funding stuff going, but it was interesting to see. At one point he commented rather simply “no” when asked if there was tension between being a cyclist personally, and believing in cycling, and building out infrastructure with all its many challenges and compromises. I saw in that an admirable passion for doing concrete things to advance cycling, even if it’s sometimes unclear which concrete things will be the best in the long run.

Tonight was a view from a different level: Gordon Price presenting at the Portland building, as part of my PSU/PBOT Traffic and Transportation class. Our coordinator had promised us a really great presentation, really great, but I have to admit I was skeptical. We’ve sat through a lot of presentations, many of them interesting, in the eight sessions we’ve had.

But this one was really fantastic. I was incredibly impressed by Mr. Price, in both style and substance. It probably helps that he totally reminds me of my dad (who is also a balding, sixtyish Canadian professor, albeit one who has mostly lost his Canadian accent over the years).

He had a comprehensive presentation about the development and state of the auto-dependent society, and not one that totally relied on numbers and text but which effectively used images of all kinds — photographs, maps, 3D maps, charts — to tell the story of the auto-dependent landscape vs. the human-scale landscape. He took examples from all over the US and Canada (even San Mateo, CA, where I used to live).

What I was most impressed with was the way his presentation explained what the auto-dependent society gives us that we want. We want privacy, space, autonomy. Obvious, right? But it’s overlooked so often in discussions about transportation and land use; it’s seen as obvious that we in fact don’t want suburban sprawl. Or if we do, we shouldn’t because we are bad people to want something that is so clearly bad in its end-stages. But it comes out of human impulses, human desires. No, it doesn’t work, but it’s important to respect the point. Even in high-density areas, he pointed out, household sizes are tiny. People occupy a ton of space per person compared to what they used to, so in order to fit enough people in, we have to go up, up, or otherwise be clever about space usage.

Some favorite quotes:
“Motordom never really worked on its own terms.”
“…an urban region designed for the car.” (a perfect description of 95% of the Bay Area)
“They laid out a continent that way…we walk in chains.”
“Congestion is our frind. You’re going to have it. Where do you want it?”
“If they can do it in Detroit, there’s gotta be hope.”

And the most interesting for me personally:
“As a cyclist I am not a big fan of rail in the street.”

Last, a relayed Tom Robbins, that I liked because of my interest in systems:

A truly stable system expects the unexpected, is prepared to be disrupted, waits to be transformed.

High-mileage week

I don’t think I’ve had a week with this much mileage since I moved to Portland, since so many of my rides now are in-city rides and I usually only ride a few days a week.

This week, after taking Monday off (horrid weather and luckily I didn’t need the bike), I rode about 10 miles on Tuesday, five miles on Wednesday, seven miles on Thursday, and five on Friday. Saturday I rode another ten. All of those days it rained at least some, although not always on me as I was riding.

Today I rode about 37. The fact that today totally wiped me out is on one level a little disappointing, considering that a day in the range of 35 miles with a chunk of climbing used to be totally do-able without creating that kind of exhaustion (the kind where I just want to climb into bed). One of my favorite long rides in the Bay Area was one I used to do for training that was 34 miles with almost 2000 ft total climbing.

On the other hand, I haven’t been riding much, so the fact that I was able to do today, after a week of regular mileage (37 miles), and still on the tail end of a cold, is pretty good.

My adventures this week were to a friends’ house in NE (~5 miles each way, up the Broadway Bridge and Williams to Dekum); to work and downtown for an appointment (~2 mi each way down to SW Stark and 3rd); to work, PSU, and SE Portland (1, 2, and 4 miles); back from SE Portland and to home (4 miles and 1 mile); to NE to have brunch (6 miles) and then down to SE (4 miles).

Then today, back from SE; downtown, back to SE, and way, way far out to Gresham, then north almost to I-84 (Halsey) and out on the Columbia River Highway to Dabney State Recreation Area. The return trip, we went up Stark, which I had no idea even existed way out there. Eventually in Gresham we picked up the MAX and took a shorter trip back, to the great relief of my tired legs. (The total climbing for today was 1800 ft just for the trip from home to Dabney and back to MAX, so really not too much different from my big old training ride back in the Bay Area.) The weather was chilly but cleared up after noon and the sun coming through the trees by the river was quite beautiful.

A stop at Vanh Hanh Vegetarian Restaurant (SE 82nd & Division, near the MAX Green Line Divison stop) yielded tasty Vietnamese vegetarian food to fuel me for the MAX trip and short ride back home. Yum!

Taking the new MAX Green Line was also fun. I was excited to get off at the new stop on Glisan and just roll up Glisan to get home (switching to Johnson at 14th).

SW Broadway cycletrack impressions

I’ve been curious about the cycletrack on SW Broadway since it opened a few weeks ago, and today I decided to go check it out on my way back from SE.

My impression of it was overall positive. It’s fairly clearly striped, and most of the left-turn boxes seem to be well-placed, although one of the first ones didn’t seem to line up properly with the road it was turning onto. It’s nice to be out of the flow of traffic a bit, especially going uphill like that, although as someone who’s accustomed to being in traffic I also found it kind of weird and disorienting.

However, the placement of signals isn’t ideal. The traffic signals are primarily over “in traffic”, where the cars are. It would be helpful to cyclists, who no longer have the cue of “oh, people next to me are stopping” (because there is an intervening row of parked cars) to have the signals moved closer to the cycletrack, or a new signal installed. Otherwise I predict some clueless red-light running. Though now that I think of it, maybe it doesn’t matter if you run the lights, since all the streets there dead-end into PSU campus. It’s very much like the situation on Evelyn in Mountain View, where the train tracks stop the streets from going through. U-turns or sloppy left turns are the primary danger on Evelyn, but Oregon is a prohibited-unless-permitted state for U-turns.

Although there isn’t noticeable signage warning pedestrians about the cycletrack, I did witness several pedestrians (on a quiet Sunday) clearly looking twice before stepping into it — luckily for me, and possibly for them as well. Still, I would feel more comfortable if the hatch-marked area and the sidewalk included a warning or two.

These are relatively minor quibbles, but I also have two major quibbles. The first was that a car was parked in the cycletrack. Just parked right there. This was also reported by some BikePortland commenters in the linked entry above. Clearly some people are missing the message. Enforcement would be good; possibly better would be having the special green striping throughout the cycletrack. I thought they had done this actually, and was surprised to find they hadn’t. It’s a special facility; why no special paint? This could also serve as the pedestrian warnings I feel would be useful, killing two birds with one stone. Green = bicycle = no parking and watch out.

The second major quibble I had is the beginning of the cycletrack. It starts at an intersection where the rightmost car traffic lane is right-turn only. The intersection has a green-painted bike lane and a bike box, as well as a sign I have become unfortunately familiar with whose meaning is “You’re about to turn across a bike lane, yield to cyclists”, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s really bad design to have through cyclists to the right of a right turn lane, especially right where a cycletrack starts so that most cyclists are almost certain to be going through and the area clearly has heavy bike traffic.

I have a feeling that I have a particular dislike for this configuration that doesn’t afflict PBOT’s bike facility designers, because this setup drives me nuts in two other locations I frequent: the approach to the Broadway bridge where Broadway crosses I-5, and the exit from the Hawthorne Bridge to city streets in SE Portland (actually an exit lane vs. a right-turn-only lane, but it’s the same basic problem). It may be because I’m accustomed to setups where the bike lane generally jogs to the left before the intersection, or where the bike lane is dotted to indicate that traffic should be mixing according to destination direction instead of by speed or vehicle type (vehicular cycling behavior). I just don’t believe that you can make cyclists safe in this situation by painting the road. Right hook situations are dangerous and in my experience are best managed by good merging behavior, not by paint and faith.

But aside from those major quibbles, this is an interesting facility and I look forward to seeing how it works and how it evolves.

I’m planning to send my written comments to PBOT through the PortlandOnline system, which took me a while to figure out how to do, but you can also call them at 503-823-CYCL.

More adventurous than anticipated

This morning I went on the Portland ByCycle Autumn Adventure to Vancouver and back via the two I-Bridges.

In a previous entry I described the ByCycle rides thus:

These rides are awesome. They start after work and end before dark, are hosted by incredibly friendly and knowledgeable city staff, and explore Portland’s bicycle infrastructure and nifty places.

This was a special ride, happening on the weekend rather than after work, and longer than the after-work rides: 25 miles rather than 5-10. Since it says 25 miles right on the description, and I knew perfectly well it was four or five miles from my apartment to the starting point, you’d think I’d be pretty clear that it was going to be a longish ride. But somehow I wasn’t: I kept thinking 20 miles, because it says 2 hours and the usual PBC pace is ~10mph.

Furthermore, yesterday in Portland it was in the eighties and sunny — a perfect, warm, late summer day. But today proved true to the “Autumn” epithet of the ride. Even now at 3:30, it’s only 68 degrees. This morning it was 58, and raining. I also somehow had a hard time believing it was really going to be wet and yucky out there, even though it said so clearly in the forecast.

So my brain was not really ready, and the adventure was more adventurous than I anticipated. I was wearing long shorts and a short sleeve jersey and jacket, and my summer gloves. My jacket was soaked through before I even arrived at Peninsula park, although I was doing fine staying warm. But after we started out at the group’s slower pace, in a continuing rain, and headed out toward the Columbia river with its associated wind, I got colder and colder, and my left thumb actually went numb — I couldn’t feel it properly when I rubbed against it. It became clear that I should have been wearing leggings and fall/winter gloves, and possibly arm-warmers as well. (My legs were warm enough, but most likely keeping them warm made it hard to make enough heat to keep my immobile hands warm.)

Fortunately, one of the wonderful Transportation Options staff managing the ride, Janice, lent me a pair of winter gloves that she wasn’t wearing. I was infinitely grateful for these as we went up the I-205 path: a bike path sandwiched in between two four-lane freeway segments. The path itself was like a normal bike path (blocked off with a low fence, two-way and about 5 feet wide in each direction) but was very, very wet, and very, very loud: probably one of single the least pleasant cycling experiences I’ve ever had. I felt deaf and headachy for a while afterward.

After we got over to Vancouver, it stopped raining for the most part, and with the gloves I felt more comfortable and enjoyed the paths we took along the river. Unfortunately, one person broke a chain, and then another later took a spill on some diagonal railroad tracks. I was very impressed with how well the staff handled everything — they were totally calm and cheerful about it. I was able to offer some band-aids that I often bring with me on rides (though no neosporin; it was in the cabinet at home).

On the way back, it finally cleared up and I was mostly dry (except for my poor sopping wet gloves, socks and shoes) by the time I got back. As the Ecotrust Hot Lips Pizza was on my route back, I decided to stop there and dry out and feed myself. Yum.

The whole ride was quite fascinating even aside from the weather. The first section was through low-traffic streets in North Portland, and then in an area west of the airport that seemed like it was almost in a different city/decade — quiet, semi-rural roads and houses. Very nifty. Then Marine Drive and the Marine Drive path to the airport and the I-205 path — a narrow bike lane, and a nice wide multi-use path, but very wet and windy.

The approach to the 205 path was quite well signed and designed — the street crossing of Marine Drive wasn’t signalized, but it was signed, with a light-activating button, and junctions were fairly clearly marked. Getting off on the other side was the same way — the path came down, veered left, and abruptly we were in a quiet neighborhood full of trees, then on a quiet street.

The paths on the Vancouver waterfront were impressive, wide and smooth, with new condos behind them and lots of trees, bushes, and other plant life. We went through several parks and saw lots of signs for the path showing that a lot of effort was recently put into it to revive the waterfront area.

The I-5 path was a totally different story. Although plenty of signs (similar to Portland’s green bike route signs, with distances and directions) directed us there, once we reached it we had to cross the street in a random and nearly unmarked spot. The path itself is set to one side of the bridge, and is one-way on that side (I assume there’s another side but didn’t see it). It’s a shared bike/ped path that is not even wide enough for a bike to pass a pedestrian unless the pedestrian ducks to one side when a pillar isn’t in the way. Still, the experience was less inherently unpleasant than the 205 path (quieter, because you’re to one side and have some steel supports between), and the bridge itself is certainly more attractive — like the Hawthorne Bridge on crack, kinda. (I can’t believe anyone wants to replace it with a 12-lane monstrosity, but that’s another story. ) But when you get to the other side, the access is TERRIBLE. Words are inadequate to convey its TERRIBLENESS. You have to get off the path, go around in a confusing way, cross the street a few times, ride on the sidewalk, cross the street again, and finally you’re on a path, which then curves around confusingly again. I have no idea where we were, and I’m so glad that I did it with a group led by someone who knew the way.

The fact that it’s so completely easy to take I-5 in a car to Vancouver (I’ve never done it but I can tell you how to do it from my place) and so completely confusing to navigate and/or unpleasant to do it on a bike is a classic example of how our transportation system is set up to encourage driving. It’s easy to drive; on a bike, it takes dedication to navigate and a certain amount of chutzpah to deal with the unpleasant noise and limited facilities on offer.

The freeway-crossings part of this was sufficiently educational that I’m glad I went, even if I did get wet and cold. I do like riding in the rain — I just don’t like doing so at 10mph when I’m underdressed. Can I suggest an optional, but planned, mid-route coffee break next time?