Archive for July, 2011

Alert — Look for sidewalk-blocking ODOT signs for I-405 detour project

Posted in News on July 20th, 2011 by Ted – Comments Off on Alert — Look for sidewalk-blocking ODOT signs for I-405 detour project

I was riding up N Williams Ave this morning and spotted two new ODOT highway signs mounted in the middle of sidewalk. Not one, but two!

The signs are a hazardous obstacle to navigation, and block access to the disabled. Even without measuring the distance between posts, I could tell that the signs posts “differed dramatically from a well-engineered, well-maintained facility”

I pulled out my measuring tape, and the widest “portal” through the signs is only 2’7″ wide, 5″ narrower than required by ADA standards. (the tape is marked in 1′ increments with black, yellow and orange paint).


These signposts are in violation of state and federal standards.

1) The USDOT ADA requirements for “Accessible Routes” are that it be 36″ wide, with short segments (up to 2′ long) at 32″ wide. So, the gap between the sign post and the right guardrail should be moved at least 1″ to the left, but ideally 5″ to the left. See the US DOT’s ADA Standards for Transportation Facilities.

While 1″ may seem trivial, it is not trivial if your wheelchair is blocked.

2) ODOT’s Sidewalk Design Standards specify a 7′ width on sidewalks. Looking at the tape measure, you can see that this sidewalk is 7′ 6″ wide. (it’s painted in foot intervals). So they have a 6″ strip on either side of the sidewalk that can be used for signposts, parking meters, etc. and still be within their design standards.

See Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian PlanII.4.B.1.f — Walkways: Standards: Sidewalks: Bridges. (p. 94)


I’m sending in this photo to and requesting that they move the sign posts to maintain a 7′ wide clear sidewalk. I think they’ll respond to this request fairly quickly.

My concern is that there are many more signs mounted in sidewalks around the freeway loop as part of this project. Keep your eyes out.

If you see any sidewalk-mounted signs as part of the I-405 detour project, you can report them to ODOT at
* 1-888-ASK-ODOT, or

You can also post them as comments to this post so other people can phone them in.

Don’t delay — remember ODOT’s directive in the Oregon Bicycle Manual — “To make riding [or walking] safer for you and other bicyclists [or pedestrians], report unsafe road conditions to local authorities as soon as possible.” (p. 4)

Ted Buehler

Why Bicyclists & Pedestrians Should Be Accommodated on Thoroughfares

Posted in Advocate's Toolbox, News on July 19th, 2011 by Ted – 3 Comments


Compare to

Hmmm. These are all the reasons why Lovejoy was a better bike route than Marshall will ever be…

— 1995 Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan

See the entire document at

What do people want (when they ride)?

Posted in News on July 18th, 2011 by Alexis – 1 Comment

On Wednesday Steve retweeted a link from Momentum Magazine to a survey called What Women Want Reader Survey on Twitter. I commented “That survey is pretty lame. I’m tired of journalism dividing what people want by gender stereotypes.” Steve asked what issues I saw, and what I’d suggest instead, and my thoughts rapidly outgrew Twitter’s 140-character limit, so here I am to say more.

The idea that what women do and want in the cycling community is different from what men do and want has been getting a lot of play lately, and I’ve been getting more and more frustrated with it. The reason that I cited above is one of the biggest: most of the reporting on the gap is used to reinforce gender stereotypes. The primary reasons that have currency to explain the divide, as epitomized by the New York Times article “Women, uneasy, lag”, are fear and fashion. That lines up nicely with the way women are usually portrayed in American society: emotional, fearful, more interested in clothes and appearances. Convenient. A nice, simple story.

Momentum‘s survey, like much of the coverage, assumes those stereotypes are valid. They aren’t even bothering to survey men, so they don’t have any corresponding male data that might threaten their narrative by being too similar. They also extrapolate, pre-select, and otherwise create distortions in their questions and answer selections which are likely to serve their narrative. This is most disappointing from a magazine that I usually enjoy very much for its focused coverage on practical and enjoyable cycling, and have seriously considered subscribing to.

For example, the first question asks whether you agree or disagree with the statement “Women are more vulnerable on bikes than men”. This takes the serious research, which is about whether, in the same conditions as men, women don’t feel that the safety offered is enough to get them riding, and extrapolates it another level of “fearful” to introduce the idea that women may even be less safe than men in the same situation. Feeding the fear narrative? Check.

Question 2 asks “What would make you feel more safe?” So they start with the assumption that “what women want” is greater safety, and only ask how they want to achieve it.

Question 3 provides a list of possibilities to complete the sentence “Women want”. Strangely, all the options except one could apply just as well to men: Better cycling infrastructure, Bikes that fit them properly, Accessories that make city riding easier, Fashionable riding clothes, Professional office attire that’s easy to bike in. And all but one of them are things you buy, with two being clothing. A final option, More great shops that cater to women and the bicycle lifestyle, also runs heavily to the fashion/consumer side of the equation. Yes, women mostly want a lifestyle, stuff to buy and places to buy it. Forget that nonsense about practical ways to get around.

Question 4, “What women don’t want” starts with More painted bike lanes on busy streets next to parked cars. This is a blatant attempt to get women to say they don’t want more bike lanes, reinforcing the idea that they prefer separated infrastructure because it’s safer. I wonder how many people would check Wide bike lanes on major streets” as something they don’t want?  Bike racks that don’t accommodate Xtracycles and trailersTo bike in areas full of pot holes and loose gravel…To not have access to a changing room and showers at work — I’m betting these aren’t just things women want. Are women the only ones who have Xtracycles and trailers? Woe to all the cute dad-and-kid sets and guys hauling beer that I see in Portland, I guess.

So are fear and fashion those the real reasons, or just the ones reporters like to talk about? Elly Blue’s It’s the economy, stupid explores the subject in a more nuanced way, looking past the answers that match our gender-role preconceptions to men’s and women’s different experience of our economic system.

Answering the question of why there’s a gender gap in bicycling in the United States is a reasonable endeavor, but we shouldn’t forget that the goal is ultimately to make bicycling safe, comfortable, convenient, and useful for everyone. If Momentum wanted to discuss the gender gap while serving that goal instead of reinforcing stereotypes, they could do worse than check out Elly’s article or explore Scientific American’s How to Get More Bicyclists on the Road. Both are reminders that in an auto-dominated world, the reasons people don’t ride are both extremely simple and ultimately complex and individual, and our questions and our stories need to reflect that.

How to Frustrate People Walking

Posted in Thoughts on July 14th, 2011 by Alexis – 5 Comments

[Another in the series of “How to” posts about barriers to active transportation.]

The idea for this piece came to me while I was visiting San Francisco a couple months ago. I didn’t realize how accustomed I’d become to downtown Portland, where the lights are approximately timed for people walking if you know how to use them (and where the grid is such that it’s almost easy to change your direction when the light isn’t green for you, if your destination requires both north-south and east-west travel), until I tried walking somewhere that doesn’t work like that.

Walking down California Street from my dad’s place to downtown, I was going crazy having to stop at practically every intersection. We’d reach each one just as the countdown got to about 4 seconds. I was with my parents, so we would wait at each light. Walk, wait, repeat. Argh! As I stood there, I realized that the prevalence of jaywalking may be related to this recurrent frustration.

When I started my job in Wilsonville a few weeks later, I ran into the suburban version of the same problem. I was (and am, when I’m not on the clock and trying to be a good example) constantly crossing against signals, because the signals aren’t always showing “walk” even if it’s safe to cross, and the signals are timed for cars entering the freeway, which means long waits if you just barely miss the chance to press the button.

So here is a manual for how to frustrate people walking. At first I thought of it as “How to Encourage Jaywalking” (which is a more fun and provocative title), but it turns out that “jaywalking is not a legally defined term in Oregon law” [PDF].

  1. Leave a long distance between signalized crossings or crosswalks. Crossing mid-block tends to be quite difficult on high-traffic roads (and in some local jurisdiction in Oregon, and in other states, may be illegal), frustrating people who want to get across when they don’t start near an intersection.
  2. Install signals that require a button press.
  3. Install signals that don’t turn to Walk unless pressed before the light turns green, even when turns are prohibited and the cycle is long enough to handle a mid-cycle crossing.
  4. Install signals that don’t respond in mid-cycle (a more general version of 2). Mid-cycle signals are harder if you have a short cycle, or need to allow for turns, but you can get them.
  5. Time your signals only for motor vehicles, so that people walking have to stop at every signal (or every few signals).
  6. Time your signals so that they’re on Don’t Walk when cross traffic is already stopped at an adjacent street, leaving the crossing clear. (This applies mostly in one-way grids, but also in any case where two-way streets have signals that coordinate this way.)
  7. Prohibit crossings on one leg of a four leg intersection, so that anyone who wants to move between those two corners has to cross three times.
  8. Install a signalized crossing where traffic is barely adequate to support one, or keep the signal active/timed at times when there’s very little traffic. (This is also a great way to encourage people riding bikes to run lights.)
  9. Don’t install countdown signals, so people have to guess how long might be left.

Some people reading might be laughing, because I use downtown Portland as an example of a non-frustrating case, and jaywalking is pretty much constant in downtown Portland (although I’ve heard it’s not as bad as the big East Coast cities). But though overall it’s not very frustrating, it does violate #5. The same timing that makes Portland excellent for walkers generally means that traffic cascades, so cross traffic will often be stopped while a signal is counting down and about to turn green, and people just go. This can be pretty annoying if you are turning in a car, or biking, and coming onto the street at an odd time. I’ve had a lot of near misses with people crossing who knew all the car traffic was stopped, but failed to account for me.

One thing I’ve seen in European and Asian toolboxes is a countdown signal that works the opposite way: it counts down the time until green. That would probably be a useful tool to reduce frustration help – if people know the signal is about to be green, maybe they’ll just wait the few seconds it’ll take. On the other hand, I’ve seen plenty of people who can obviously tell the light is about to be green take off because they know they’re probably safe. So you can’t totally predict people’s psychology, and some people will always jaywalk. But if you want to build a signal network that doesn’t frustrate people walking, do the opposite of what I suggest above, and your walkers will mostly be happy and content.

ODOT Announces New “Active Transportation” Section

Posted in News on July 12th, 2011 by Steve – Comments Off on ODOT Announces New “Active Transportation” Section

BikePortland reports ODOT is “right-sizing” its operations by consolidating state-level active transportation programs into an “Active Transportation” section.  Here is ODOT Director Matt Garrett’s explanation:

Our funding structure is overwhelmingly dedicated to highway programs, so we have to be imaginative in how we use discretionary funds and other funding that is directed to non-highway programs. The problem we have had historically is that programs, such as Scenic Highway, Bicycle/Pedestrian, Transportation Enhancement, and others have naturally operated independently based on their own funding cycles. While the state has invested in good projects that have contributed to the communities they serve in many ways, collectively they may or may not have contributed to strategic improvement of the transportation system.

I think by bringing more discipline to the process and developing a new frame of reference through which we see proposals, we can be more strategic and we can leverage the funds to get a bigger system impact.

The next step is to create a new “Active Transportation” section that will bring together separate programs into a more effective and efficient whole. Eventually, I would like to see a division reporting to the Deputy Director for Operations, but for now, we will start with a section.

The vision is to integrate programs and funding sources to support the selection and delivery of projects that are multidimensional transportation projects, not just a “highway” or “bikeway” or “transit” project.

It’s hard to see what this will mean for on-the-ground improvements, as it doesn’t seem this move will carry any new funding sources.  It feels more like a re-branding than a change in direction.  This move is not without its skeptics. For now, we can hope ODOT is sincere in this latest effort to bring the agency toward a true multi-modal sensibility.

Curiously, PBOT has gradually moved away from active transportation centric programs, disbanding the old PDOT Bike Program and scattering staff throughout the agency.  That move was heralded as an opportunity to approach all PBOT projects as multi-modal.  As AROW learned in working with PBOT on Streetcar bikeway design, our local agency lacks sufficient capacity for handling the specific needs of bicyclists in every project.

Read more over at Bike Portland.