Playing the Numbers Game, Part 2

So, yeah, dangerous infrastructure gets built in places that have good reputations for bicycle friendliness. On my recent trip to Portland, Oregon — a platinum level bicycle friendly community, according to the League of American Bicyclists — I saw infrastructure that violates the rules of safe movement or otherwise creates hazards worse than the street as is.

Let’s take a look at what happened at the intersection of NE Multnomah St. and NE17th Ave.

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The first picture shows a bicyclist’s point of view traveling west on Multnomah in the door-zone bicycle lane (bad enough as it is). At the intersection with NE 17th, the door-zone lane becomes a protected lane. But it requires the bicyclist to turn right toward the new lane. Notice how far the motorist must encroach into the intersection to see on-coming traffic. Notice how little of the intersection the bicyclist can see just a second away from entering it.

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The second picture shows a bicyclist making the turn and entering the protected lane. By law, he must use this facility so he must make this turn from a blind spot behind the parked cars.

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The third picture shows a motorist’s point of view from NE 17th entering the intersection. Notice how the parked cars block the view of on-coming traffic, including bicyclists that would be hidden because they are required to use the door-zone lane.

I watched this intersection for several minutes and saw five bicyclists make the required maneuver. Notice that there is a slight downgrade leading to the intersection. All five hit this intersection doing 12 miles per hour or faster. Not one slowed down either approaching it or negotiating it.

There’s nothing difficult about bicycling on Multnomah. It would be a rather easy street to ride even for a novice with just a bit of traffic training.

What traffic problem does this infrastructure solve?

Answer: No problem existed on the original street that needed solving.

Take another look at the first picture. The safest way to drive a bicycle through this intersection (with no infrastructure present) would be to control the lane. The bicyclists would then be far enough left to see, and be seen by, traffic entering Multnomah from NE 17th.

How does something as dangerous as this get built?

Answer: At the request of participation advocates who believe that something is better than nothing and that we must accept the bad with the good to get something.

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Comments 7

  1. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Solutions in search of problems are bad enough. Solutions that create problems when none existed are in a class of their own.

    Posted 26 Jun 2014 at 12:01 pm
  2. Anthony Carter wrote:

    But if we don’t paint bike lines, how will the bicyclists know where to go when they want to get hit by an opening car door?

    Posted 26 Jun 2014 at 1:29 pm
  3. Melissa@HerGreenLife wrote:

    We’re headed to Portland later this summer, and I’m not particularly looking forward to riding there, given infra like this combined with the mandatory use law.

    I got around by bike there on a 2012 visit, but I’m just as happy being on my bike here in StL; I don’t need some special LAB status.

    I’d have to look up the language, but I imagine their mandatory use law has the traditional long list of exceptions, so you could make a case for not using the bike lane in the above scenario (and many other situations), though I’d rather not have the law in the first place.

    Posted 26 Jun 2014 at 4:57 pm
  4. John S. Allen wrote:

    Andy — Protected lane? That expression is propaganda. How about just saying “separated bikeway”? The lane appears to be in the right-side door zone of parked cars (though all the parking spaces in the closest block were empty when you took the photo). What happens after that, I don’t know, but usually there are blind conflicts at driveways and intersections.

    Posted 26 Jun 2014 at 7:23 pm
  5. Andy Cline wrote:

    John … What you see is a no-parking zone. Further on, the lane is separated by paint and planters.

    Posted 27 Jun 2014 at 5:41 pm
  6. Kevin Love wrote:

    It seems to me that a lot of the crap is due to failure to follow proper bicycle traffic design engineering standards. The best such standard is the Dutch CROW standard. Get your own copy at:

    http://www.crow.nl/publicaties/design-manual-for-bicycle-traffic

    The bicycle traffic design engineering standards explicitly discourage (“expliciet ontraden”) putting bike traffic next to parked cars in the first place. But if one absolutely must, there has to be a minimum 75 cm buffer zone (“schrikstrook” – literally translated as “fright strip”) to prevent dooring.

    It is my opinion that failure to comply with the minimums set out in CROW is evidence of design engineering negligence and incompetence.

    Yes, NL still has examples of obsolete infra that has not yet been brought into compliance with CROW. But an example of good implementation is Jodenbreestraat in Amsterdam.

    Jodenbreestraat is an excellent example of how a car-clogged people-hostile street was reclaimed by its citizens. Before WWII, this was a bustling street through the heart of Amsterdam’s Jewish quarter. Most of its inhabitants were killed during the war, so the post-war city government faced little opposition in destroying enough buildings to create an American-style 4-lane road for cars.

    Then in the 1970’s, the people started to reclaim their city. Plans to destroy even more buildings to extend the road for cars were defeated, and the street was reclaimed for people, not cars.

    To excellent descriptions (one with video) by two different people may be seen at:

    http://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/jodenbreestraat-in-amsterdam-given-back-to-people/

    And at:

    http://bikeportland.org/2013/06/14/observing-jodenbreestraat-a-lively-shopping-street-in-amsterdam-88446

    Note how well CROW was implemented. There are very few cars parked on the street and zero with cyclists riding in their door zone.

    The key point to note is the before-and-after. How an ugly American-style people-hostile car sewer was transformed into a prosperous and happy place for people.

    They changed. We can too.

    Posted 30 Jun 2014 at 9:26 pm
  7. Khal Spencer wrote:

    I don’t always agree with the separated infrastructure crowd, but as Kevin alludes, if you are going to do it, you have an obligation to do it right. As John Allen has said several times before this (with his swimming pool analogy, etc), we often get half baked facilities in the U.S. that encourage new ridership while adding previously nonexistent hazards. Its a little annoying.

    Posted 01 Jul 2014 at 5:37 pm