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Updated: 15 hours 41 min ago

Construction begins next month on NW Newberry Rd

Fri, 12/21/2018 - 09:30

Beautiful, isn’t it?
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Next month will be two years since a landslide wiped away a big chunk of NW Newberry Road. Multnomah County closed the winding, mountain road to through traffic in January 2017 and it has since become even more popular than usual for cycling. Newberry is one of a handful of climbs that take riders from Highway 30 up and over the west hills. It’s a welcome respite from the loud and fast traffic on “Dirty 30.”

With the closure, Newberry has become a de facto carfree climb. That is, for those people who’ve ignored the closure signs and were willing to ride around the jersey barriers.

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Now things are about to change. The County announced this week that construction is set to begin soon and the road will be fixed and reopened by spring 2019.

According to the County, construction crews will start staging on the site in mid-January and will work Monday through Thursday from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm. Construction should be done by the end of March and final paving is planned for May.

During the construction period, it would not be wise to attempt to ride Newberry. While many people have been riding through the closure up until now, with big trucks and workers on the site, we should now treat this like a hard closure. If you want to get up or down from the West Hills, I’d recommend NW McNamee Rd to the north and Germantown (which I never ride, and if I did it would only be on the weekends when there’s low traffic), Springville (very steep and unpaved!), or Saltzman (unpaved) to the north.

For more details, check the check the project website.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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PBOT unveils new designs, online survey for SW Multnomah/Garden Home project

Thu, 12/20/2018 - 14:47

Latest design from PBOT. Note the prohibition on driving via 69th on the right.

Unfortunately we posted our story on the City of Portland’s SW Multnomah/Garden Home intersection project one day too soon.

This morning PBOT sent over the latest concept designs, which show significant changes from the designs many of you are discussing over on yesterday’s post. They’ve also just released an online survey to formally capture feedback.

The two basic concepts we shared yesterday are still the ones under consideration; either a roundabout or a signalized configuration. But check out these new drawings before making up your mind. PBOT has supplied aerial and on-the-street views of each one.

And make sure to note that both designs show PBOT’s proposal would close off the southern section of SW 69th while maintaining access only for people on bikes and foot.

Roundabout:

Signalized:

Now, after you’ve read through the comments on yesterday’s post and thought about this for a bit, head on over to the online survey and tell PBOT what you think.

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— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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City relents to neighborhood concerns, will stripe unprotected bike lanes on N Denver

Thu, 12/20/2018 - 13:08


*PBOT conceptual drawings from September showing the original design (on the left) and the modified one created after hearing concerns from some residents.

A project that initially proposed parking-protected bike lanes on North Denver Avenue will now get just standard bike lanes.

“The project can be delivered with standard bike lanes and curb-tight parking while leaving open the potential to switch to parking-protected bike lanes as part of a future project.
— Geren Shankar, PBOT project manager

That’s the decision made by the Portland Bureau of Transportation after tallying public feedback and responding to concerns in the neighborhood about how the bike lanes would impact their lives.

Back in March we shared the original plans for Denver between Lombard and Watts. The idea was use a planned repaving project as an opportunity to create an “all ages and abilities” bikeway that would connect the Arbor Lodge and Kenton neighborhoods. Instead of a bike lane next to moving traffic and parked cars, the proposal would have built curbside bike lanes protected from drivers by a parking lane (similar to what we have on Rosa Parks) The newly designed street would be much safer for all users and it was scheduled to be constructed this past summer.

But when the project got to the Kenton Neighborhood Association, PBOT received pushback and opted to delay the project a full year. In a meeting back in September to allay concerns, garner feedback, and consider other options, PBOT Project Manager Geren Shankar characterized the neighborhood opposition as: confusion over where to place trash cans, how the new design might impact driving, and complaints about inadequate public outreach. At that time the plan was to take a survey and get as much feedback as possible then tally the responses and make a decision.

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The choices were: A parking-protected bike lane or a standard bike lane. In a letter being sent to Kenton neighbors today, PBOT says their choice is a standard bike lane.

Here’s the text of the letter from PBOT’s Shankar:

“We initially proposed repaving N Denver Avenue this past summer with protected bike lanes, transit stops and crossing medians. We received positive support, but also heard some concerns about the proposed design and placed the project on hold to continue our outreach with the neighborhood. Outreach included a direct mailing, an online survey, a presentation at a meeting of the Kenton Neighborhood Association, and a public open house held on October 2, 2018.

While most of the Portlanders providing feedback on the project supported the original design, many residents still had concerns. In addition to reviewing the concerns about the design, we evaluated the possibility of signalized crossing improvements along the corridor but found that they were not warranted at this time. Our project team has determined that the project can be delivered with standard bike lanes and curb-tight parking while leaving open the potential to switch to parking-protected bike lanes as part of a future project. In the interest of moving forward with the needed paving maintenance in the summer of 2019, this is what we will do.”

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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Business owner uses attorney and electeds to fight TriMet’s Gideon Overcrossing project

Thu, 12/20/2018 - 12:31

Early TriMet rendering of Gideon Overcrossing.

Neighborhood transportation advocates in southeast Portland are sounding the alarm about TriMet’s Gideon Overcrossing project. They say opposition from an adjacent business owner could shelve the project.

“It’s unfair to me. What it’s doing to my business would require me to move.”
— Michael Koerner, Koerner Camera

Michael Koerner, owner of Koerner Camera Systems on SE 14th and Taggart, hired a lawyer who sent a letter (PDF) to the regional head of the Federal Transit Administration on December 14th. The letter includes sharp criticisms of TriMet and the Portland Bureau of Transportation, questions the need of a bridge, and asks the FTA to require a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement before moving forward.

As we reported last June, this project would build a new crossing of the Orange Line MAX light rail and Union Pacific Railroad tracks near the busy Clinton Street transit station. It would be a much-needed replacement to the crossing at SE 16th and Brooklyn Street TriMet demolished during Orange Line construction in 2013.

The new bridge would go from SE 13th on the south side of the tracks to SE 14th on the north. In March 2018, TriMet said that location was “an attractive option for commuters” due to its proximity to the existing light rail station at Clinton St (which would be about 300 feet west of the new overcrossing). The location was also chosen to, “best link to the Powell pedestrian crossing serving the Brooklyn neighborhood to Hosford-Abernethy.”

TriMet plan drawing. (Koerner’s business is where the words “North Elevator Structure” appear in the upper middle).

TriMet began the design process this past spring and the new, $14 million bridge was supposed to start construction in the next few months.

14th Avenue looking south where the new elevator and stairway would land with Koerner Camera on the left.

But Michael Koerner doesn’t want the bridge on 14th Avenue. His camera rental business that supplies high-end equipment to the film and TV industry is directly adjacent to the tracks. As designed, the bridge needs to use existing public right-of-way currently used to access Koerner’s parking lot and loading zone. Koerner said his concerns about safety and business impacts have fallen on deaf ears at TriMet so he hired a land-use attorney to fight the project.

In a phone call this morning Koerner told me he doesn’t oppose the bridge project, he just doesn’t want it on 14th Avenue. In addition to his concerns that mixing trucks and forklifts with bicycle riders and walkers would be a safety hazard, Koerner said, “It’s unfair to me. What it’s doing to my business would require me to move.” Koerner isn’t the only business owner opposed to the project. Several others share his concerns and are actively engaged against it.

Koerner’s attorney Jennifer Bragar from the law firm of Tomasi Salyer Martin, wrote a letter on December 14th to the regional head of the FTA. In the letter she requests a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) and poke holes in the plan and the integrity of TriMet and the City of Portland.

“I am respectfully asking that you consider moving the bridge to a different location either up further on 16th St. or even consider 8th or 9th instead.”
— Rob Nosse, Oregon House Representative

Koerner also has support from Oregon House Representative Rob Nosse. In a letter dated December 10th and addressed to PBOT Director Chris Warner and TriMet General Manager Doug Kelsey, Nosse wrote that after talking with Koerner and other business owners on 14th Street, “I am respectfully asking that you consider moving the bridge to a different location either up further on 16th St. or even consider 8th or 9th instead.”

“I don’t think your planning is so far along that you could not consider an alternative,” Rep. Nosse continued, “And I think this would be an appropriate compromise.” According to Rep. Nosse, the planned alignment would make it difficult for these businesses to operate forklifts and access loading zones with large trucks. The alignment would also, “Potentially harm these very commuters your agencies are attempting to serve,” Rep. Nosse wrote.

“TriMet and the City of Portland have determined that the project cannot be built on another street.”
— Roberta Altstadt, TriMet

In her letter, Koerner’s lawyer Jennifer Bragar says an SEIS done in compliance with the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) review process is required because TriMet and PBOT want to locate the new bridge at a different location than the old one. “The FEIS did not suggest that the bridge would be replaced in a location that differed from its original siting at SE 16th and Gideon,” Bragar wrote, “nor that it would accommodate bicyclists as well as pedestrians.” She adds that while biking and walking projects are typically excluded from the EIS process, one is still needed because, “The proposed bridge will significantly affect the quality of the human environment by altering the physical environment and the relationship of people with that environment.”

Bragar also claims her client hasn’t been given adequate time to comment on the proposal. Furthermore, Bragar questions the necessity of the bridge altogether. Even if one is needed, she says her client wants it to go somewhere else. Here’s an excerpt from the letter:

“… both Tri-Met and PBOT have failed to provide evidence that the proposal is actually necessary for pedestrians or bicyclists. Neither agency has provided evidence of accidents or injury to either pedestrians or bicyclists at this railroad crossing nor have they provided evidence that the proposed bridge will be useful to bicyclists or pedestrians. If Tri-Met and PBOT believe a pedestrian and bicycle bridge is necessary, the Gideon Overcrossing should be placed in a location that will result in greatest utility for pedestrians and bicyclists – specifically in the location of the previous access bridge at SE 16th and Gideon which supports connectivity between neighborhoods, or other alternative locations that have yet to be examined in an EIS.”

(Graphic: TriMet)

While Rep. Nosse and Michael Koerner want the bridge moved to a different location (and Koerner said he’s also got support from Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek and several other business owners in the area), TriMet Communications Manager Roberta Altstadt told us this morning that’s just not possible. “TriMet and the City of Portland have determined that the project cannot be built on another street,” she wrote in an email. “However, the city and TriMet continue to look for ways to minimized or mitigate the impact on local businesses.”

Altstadt said the bridge can’t be built at any other location because the FTA funding is tied directly to safety issues at SE 11th and 12th, where long UPRR delays cause some people to cross unsafely and even to walk across stopped train cars. According to Altstadt, FTA guidelines stipulate that a bike/walk bridge must be located close enough to the original location of the safety hazard to “provide a convenient alternative.”Placing the bridge at 16th would not address the safety issue that is the basis for the FTA funding. The bridge at 16th would simply be too far away and require too much out of direction travel – particularly for pedestrians — to be a viable alternative,” Altstadt explained.

Altstadt says TriMet and the City of Portland analyzed several other locations and for various reasons, none of them could accommodate a bridge because there was either not enough room for the structure or the project would require condemnation of entire businesses.

While TriMet sounds resolute, neighborhood advocates are worried Koerner’s opposition could put the entire project in jeopardy.

Brooklyn resident John Karabaic posted his concerns on a local email list as a “call to action” to “save the bridge”. “There is a vocal business owner on the north side of the bridge who stands to lose about 11 feet of driveway space that’s currently in the public right-of-way,” Karabaic wrote, “While that may be inconvenient for them, I believe the benefits of this location far outweigh the slight inconvenience this business owner would incur.”

Karabaic said putting the bridge further east at 16th would make it about one-quarter mile from the 11th/12th crossing. “This is a long distance for someone who has trouble walking or is in a wheelchair,” he wrote. “It could make the difference in missing a bus or train.” Karabaic feels the proposed alignment is ideal because it lines up with an existing crossing of SE Powell Blvd used by a lot of people on bikes and on foot.

Drawing from Koerner’s attorney showing layout of proposed bridge and access to his property.

As for safety concerns, Karabaic says that claim is unfounded. He cites the nearby Rhine-Lafayette overpass and streets in the Central Eastside Industrial District — both of which interface with industrial businesses while posing no major safety hazards (at least statistically and in terms of popularity) to vulnerable road users.

Hosford-Abernethy Neighborhood District (HAND) Chair Christopher Eykamp says he agrees with some of Koerner’s safety concerns. In an email this morning, Eykamp told us he’s drafting a letter from HAND to TriMet asking for help to mitigate potential hazards. “The truth is that no one really knows how much of a [safety] factor this will be in practice, and it is possible that if the danger is real, businesses will have to change their practices accordingly.”

Eykamp feels the well-documented safety costs of not building the bridge should be weighed against the potential costs to businesses: “And I really don’t see much of a contest.”

For his part, Koerner said he’s already invested about $30,000 fighting the project. His anger with TriMet over how the process has unfolded is palpable. He feels the agency is “ramming this down our throats.” “We’re screaming from the trees and they’re not listening,” he shared on the phone this morning. “They’ve deceived us on more than one occasion and I find this all ridiculous and self-serving. They had no intention of ever working with us.”

Eykamp acknowledges TriMet’s public process and other missteps around the Orange Line project have caused frustration among many in the neighborhood, but given the choices available, he feels the bridge should be built as planned. “I strongly support moving forward with the project, and I believe a majority of the HAND board does as well.”

UPDATE, 12/21: Don’t miss the latest post on this story with response from TriMet and PBOT.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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SW Multnomah/Garden Home project is an opportunity for a better bikeway

Wed, 12/19/2018 - 14:33


*Two concepts under consideration by PBOT

(UPDATE, 12/20: PBOT has just released new designs and the online survey. Check it out here.)

Big changes are coming to a crash-prone intersection in Southwest Portland thanks to a $2.1 million project co-sponsored by the transportation departments of Portland and Washington County.

The two agencies will split costs to update the intersection of SW Multnomah Boulevard, Garden Home Road and 69th Avenue. The goal of the project is to reduce crashes, improve sight distance, reduce vehicle delays and improve bicycling and walking conditions.

As you can see in the images, this is a non-standard intersection with tricky curves and turning movements that can be unpredictable because there are no median islands or diverters. A high volume of drivers (about 17,000 cars and trucks enter the intersection daily), lack of a signal, and at-grade parking lots owned by adjacent property owners add to the stress and potential for collisions.

In the ten years between 2006 to 2015 PBOT has recorded 33 crashes at this intersection. One of them was fatal, five of them included a bicycle rider and nearly half involved turning motor vehicles.

“I could save us all a bunch of money and just put up some stop signs.”.
— Eric Wilhelm, local resident

After an initial study into possible fixes, PBOT has come up with two concepts: a roundabout and a complete realignment that would include a traffic signal. Now they’re entering a public outreach phase where they hope to learn more from road users before adopting a final design.

BikePortland reader and SW Portland transportation activist Eric Wilhelm has been following this project closely. He’s eager to make this intersection better because he says it provides a direct and flat connection to about one-third of the area’s bikeway network. But from what he’s learned and seen so far, Eric is unimpressed with the approach. In an email today, Eric wrote that he’s concerned too much of the planning has focused on driving ease and access. “What really troubled me from the start,” he wrote, “is that PBOT seems to be focusing the outreach on how each of the two concepts will affect drivers… The two designs are both flawed by this car-centric approach.”

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*Naomi Fast (@_the_clearing) made this video of the intersection a few days ago.

Eric says at least one person at a recent neighborhood meeting complained about how possible turning restrictions would force them to drive out of their way to get home.

Project Open House

PBOT will host an open house for this project on January 17th. See the BikePortland Calendar for details.

In terms of which of the two designs he feels would work best, Eric says having a signal would make crossing easier. He worries that the roundabout wouldn’t do enough to slow drivers down — especially those headed westbound. The roundabout also looks like it might not have any dedicated space for cycling (for what it’s worth, the signal concept has only unprotected bike lanes shown at this point).

“I could save us all a bunch of money and just put up some stop signs,” Eric shared in jest.

With an entrance to the Fanno Creek Trail just a half-mile away, if we get this intersection right it could create a much-needed link in the sparse southwest Portland bike network.

To help get more people engaged, Eric is leaded the Westside Wet Wonk Ride tomorrow (12/20) at 5:30. Meet at Bar 3 (4444 SW Multnomah) if you’d like to join.

And save the date of January 17th on your calendar. That’s when PBOT will host an official open house for this project. It will be from 6:00 to 8:30 pm at the Garden Home Rec Center (7475 SW Oleson Rd). We’ll need lots of voices to help make this project as good as possible for cycling. Stay tuned for the online survey and if you live in the area watch for PBOT coming to the neighborhood and make sure to bend their ear with your thoughts and feedback.

Check out the official project page to sign up for updates and learn more.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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Proposed bill would clarify definition of bike lanes in Oregon

Wed, 12/19/2018 - 10:19

The legal protection doesn’t end where the striping does.

A local lawyer wants to amend an existing state law so that Oregon judges can no longer decide that a bicycle rider’s legal right-of-way disappears in an intersection.

“It is important to affirm and clarify the law so that the bad legal result does not occur again.”
— Ray Thomas, lawyer

It might seem obvious to you and I that people still have to yield to other road users in intersections even though there’s no lane striping; but on two occasions Oregon judges have disagreed. That’s two too many for Portland-based lawyer Ray Thomas.

In a case last fall, a Deschutes County Circuit Court judge in Bend said his reading of existing law gave him “no authority” to support the plaintiff’s claim that bike lanes continue through intersections. And in 2009 a Multnomah County judge made a similar ruling when he determined a bicycle rider had no legal protection in the bike lane because there was no paint in the intersection designating it as one.

Thomas, a well-known bicycle advocate and bike law expert with Thomas, Coon, Newton & Frost (a BikePortland supporter), says those decisions are wrong and “out of left field.” Because the legal definition of a bicycle lane can be made by “official signs or or markings,” Thomas wrote in a 2015 article, the markings before and after the intersection are what create the legal presence of the lane.

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“While this lack of legal reasoning has no binding legal authority,” Thomas shared with BikePortland earlier this week, “it is nevertheless important to affirm and clarify the law so that the bad legal result does not occur again.”

To prevent another one of these unfortunate decisions, Thomas has proposed a bill for the 2019 Oregon legislative session that would clarify and strengthen the definition of a bicycle lane. Bicycle lanes in Oregon are defined in ORS 801.155 as, “… part of the highway, adjacent to the roadway, designated by official signs or markings for use by persons riding bicycles except as otherwise specifically provided by law.”

Current draft of LC 3354.

The proposed bill would add the following sentence to that definition: “Where the markings of a bicycle lane are interrupted by an intersections, the bicycle lane continues in and through the intersection.”

The bill is currently filed as LC 3354 (“LC” refers to Legislative Counsel, the office that writes bills for legislators) and Oregon House Rep. Rob Nosse has signed on as a sponsor. The bill was drafted with help and support from The Street Trust.

“We hope this law will pass through the legislature and become law before another legal judicial anomaly occurs to deny a bicycle rider their lawful right-of-way in the intersection,” Thomas says.

We hope so too.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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Oregon’s bike tax revenue is far below expectations, while admin overhead is going up

Tue, 12/18/2018 - 10:37

Customers at Universal Cycles on SE Ankeny are greeted with these signs at the checkout counter.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Through three quarters of its first year in existence, Oregon’s $15 bicycle excise tax has added $489,000 into state coffers. That’s a lot lower than state economists expected. Overhead costs are also more than expected and are likely to climb even higher as officials beef up filing enforcement efforts.

As OPB reported last week, officials from the Department of Revenue, Oregon Department of Transportation and the Legislative Revenue Office have been updating lawmakers on receipts from the slew of new taxes and fees included in the $5.3 billion transportation package passed in 2017. Among them was the infamous $15 tax that applies to every new bicycle valued at $200 or higher sold in Oregon.

The tax was pitched as a way to force bicycle riders to have some “skin in the game” when it comes to funding transportation infrastructure. It was seen by advocates (The Street Trust opposed the fee but supported the package it was integral to) as a part of the compromise needed to pass a bill with funding for Safe Routes to School and public transit, while raising fees and taxes on motor vehicle use. The tax was also seen as a way to answer some voters who — despite it being terrible and ineffective — have long dreamed of making “cyclists pay their way.”

We’ve railed against the bike tax from a policy perspective in the past. Why on earth would Oregon want to tax a form of transportation that adds such tremendous value to our roads and lives? Given cycling’s return-on-investment, it makes more sense to pay people to ride them than to tack on a clumsy tax.

Now it turns out the bike tax isn’t an efficient revenue tool either.

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(Chart: State of Oregon)

Back in September, an official from the Department of Revenue told members of the House Committee on Transportation that the bike tax had raised just $289,000 through its first six months. Of that, only $133,000 had been transferred to ODOT’s Connect Oregon grant program where it will be earmarked for path and trail projects outside of the highway right-of-way. (Yes, that’s right, the way the law was written, the money can’t be used for on-street bikeways.)

“At this point it’s pretty labor intensive.”
— Xann Culver, Oregon Department of Revenue on their efforts to collect the bike tax

Now state officials estimate the bike tax will likely bring in about $900,000 in its first two years. That’s less than half of the $2.1 million they told lawmakers it would bring in every two years. At another committee meeting last week, officials released a chart showing that future year estimates will be even lower. Instead of $2.8 million every biennium, they now expect just $1.1 million. And that’s before subtracting administrative costs. ODOT Economist Daniel Porter told lawmakers that in hindsight, their estimates for the bike tax were, “A real shot in the dark.” He blamed Oregon’s lack of sales tax data and a misunderstanding of the “seasonalities” of new bike sales.

Back in September, Department of Revenue staffer Xann Culver said they had less than 100 retailers filing the tax. Joint Committee on Transportation Co-Chair Caddy McKeown (D-Coos Bay) commented that the number of retailers seemed low. “Was there some sort of plan to increase that number to make sure everybody is paying their fair share?” she asked. “Yes,” the DOR staffer replied. She then explained how they plan to bump up filing enforcement efforts do more research on their list of 350 bicycle retailers to see which ones are selling taxable bicycles, and follow-up on tips from retailers about others shops who aren’t filing. The state also plans to hire an additional auditor in the coming months to “do more enforcement.” “At this point,” Culver said, “It’s pretty labor intensive.”

So, while the estimated revenue from the tax goes down, it appears as though the amount it takes to collect it will be going up.

For more on how the bike tax is doing, read the OPB article. And tune into OPB’s Think Out Loud show today at noon where I’ll be sharing my views as a guest.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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Oregon’s proposal to lift fourplex bans would be great for biking

Tue, 12/18/2018 - 08:57

Protected bike lanes aren’t the only reason so many people bike in Amsterdam.
(Photo: M. Andersen)

An earlier version of this post was published by the Sightline Institute. It’s by former BikePortland news editor Michael Andersen.

The fight to strike down apartment bans has arrived in Oregon’s legislature.

Would re-legalizing fourplexes everywhere be good for bicycle transportation? It very much would be.

On Friday, Willamette Week broke some news: Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek has been working on a bill that’d require all but the smallest Oregon cities in urban areas to re-legalize up to four homes per lot—a lower-cost housing option that was quite common in the early 20th century but was gradually banned from most parts of most cities.

BikePortland has had a lot to say about proposals like this one before (including the similar local reform that keeps getting better, thanks to public pressure as it works its way through Portland’s endless local process).

But now that this issue has hit the statewide radar, let’s gather the evidence around this question: Would re-legalizing fourplexes everywhere be good for bicycle transportation?

It very much would be.

As Elly Blue put it on BikePortland 11 years ago, proximity is key to our future. More than bike classes, more than courteous driving, more even than comfortable infrastructure, the number-one way to make bike transportation work for the life of an ordinary Oregonian is to make the trips we have to take shorter.

*Source: 2017 NHTS.

Making it legal — not mandatory, just legal — to build homes closer to each other is the way to do this.

Legalizing more housing creates more proximity twice.

First and most obviously, it creates proximity because it lets more people (and also more varieties of people) choose to live closer to current destinations like jobs, parks, schools, grocery stores, shops, parks, quality transit stops and (oh, yeah) their family and friends. Two weeks ago, an economic report on Portland’s fourplex re-legalization proposal estimated that 87 percent of the new, smaller and relatively cheaper homes built would go into the lower-density neighborhoods up to roughly 3.5 miles from the city center.

Those are the exact same neighborhoods we called out in a 2014: “maybe this is why you can’t afford to rent in the central city.”

These are also, of course, the Portland neighborhoods with the best bike infrastructure. We should be improving biking everywhere, but we can also make our existing investments go further by letting more people live near them.

The second reason re-legalizing duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes creates proximity is that simply by existing, homes help create more new things near them. TriMet can’t justify upgrading a bus line to frequent service until a lot of people live fairly close to it. New Seasons can’t justify opening a new grocery store — and Fred Meyer may not be able to justify keeping an existing grocery store open — unless there are a certain number of people living near it.

Every neighborhood coffee shop and dive bar in the city relies hugely on the people who live close enough to walk or bike there and back without hardly thinking about it.

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More homes => more people => more coffee shops and dive bars within biking distance => more biking.

You don’t have to take my word for it. It’s right there in the National Household Travel Survey:

*Data: 2017 NHTS. Chart: Michael Andersen.

This is the flip side of the phenomenon my colleague Margaret Morales recently observed about backyard cottages. She calculated that adding 7 more homes to each standard city block of 21 lots would reduce average driving per household on that block by about 1,000 miles per year.

(Or for more evidence in various contexts, you could look here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

One thing to notice about the chart above is that the difference in biking between 17,500 people per square mile (Portland’s Northwest 23rd Avenue, with lots of the old mid-scale housing that has since been mostly banned) and 27,500 (the south side of Portland’s downtown, with skyscrapers) is much less than the difference between 7,500 people per square mile (a lawn-and-driveway area like Beaumont-Wilshire) and 17,500 people per square mile.

In other words, if we want lots more biking, we don’t have to put towers everywhere (though that wouldn’t hurt, either). We just have to transition into cities with many buildings that are a few stories tall and attached to each other.

Hmm, sounds somehow familiar.

*Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo: M. Andersen.

*Houten, Netherlands. Photo: Nicholas Oyler, City of Memphis.

*Medellín, Colombia. Photo: M. Andersen.

*Montreal, Canada. Photo: J. Maus

None of this is to say we shouldn’t also be building awesome protected bike lanes and off-street paths and traffic-calmed side streets. Cities in northern Europe, South America and southern China prove that the magic formula for lots of biking is to combine proximity with great streets.

After years of stagnation, Portland is finally doing more to improve its streets. The logical next step is to make it possible for more Portlanders to use them a little bit less.

— Michael Andersen: (503) 333-7824, @andersem on Twitter and michael@sightline.org.

 

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Family biking profile: New(ish) rider Kaylen Boroff and her toddler take to the streets

Tue, 12/18/2018 - 08:42

Kaylen and Casey are ready for the rain!
(Photos: Madi Carlson)

This week we’re going to share a profile of a local family biker.

Kaylen Boroff is relatively new to Portland and has embraced bicycling for transportation with her toddler son in tow.

Our Family Biking column is sponsored by Clever Cycles.

➤ Read past entries here.

Tell me a little about yourself and your family.

Hi! My name is Kaylen and my son Casey and love riding our bike! Casey will be two next month and he loves the adventure and freedom of being on a bike. I’m a social worker at the VA hospital and we use our bike to commute to work and daycare. We moved to Portland from Michigan in April and began riding upon our arrival! We live in inner SE PDX.

Kaylen’s bike is lightweight and sturdy…and she can carry it upstairs to (and fit it in) her apartment.

Tell me about your bike.

We have a Specialized Sirrus we got new from River City this spring. It is an awesome blue color with blue fenders, too. We have a child seat in the back (attached by frame, the Co-Pilot). The bike has a decent weight, but I’m still able to take it up the stairs to our apartment. I love the Co-Pilot seat for the durability, removable seat pad, reflectors, and high sides. It is a safe ride for both of us. We have a basket in front for all of our supplies — diapers, wipes and clothes for school and lunch for work.

Casey has a comfortable ride.

Is there something you wish you had known before you took your first pedal stroke as a family biker that would have made things easier?

I wish I’d of known how intense it can be. As we live in southeast, we see bikers everywhere getting to Clinton Street. It can be overwhelming at times weaving through everyone. I also wish I’d of know about the dreaded freight trains blocking the way home!

Tell me about a typical ride you take in Portland.

Typically we ride four miles a day (to the lower base of the tram and then home) Monday-Friday. We cross the Tilikum, which is always a lot of fun. With the time change Casey has especially loved seeing all the lights and colors. It’s a pretty flat ride, which is a huge plus with everything that is getting hauled. We take the tram up for the rest of our daily commute. Weather pending on weekends, we might ride along the water front for some nice views!

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Tell me about an especially memorable ride in Portland.

One day coming home from work we got caught in some pretty heavy, cold rain. We were mildly prepared, but were missing true rain gear at the time. I was nervous about how Casey would react with the rain coming down and no real cover. He ended up laughing the entire way back, which made me enjoy the ride even more! Another interesting time was a morning with fog; that coupled with darkness made going over Tilikum feel like you’re floating.

Kaylen and Casey make it look fun!

If there was one piece of bike infrastructure (street, intersection, bike rack, etc) you use regularly that you could change to improve your life, what would it be?

It would be awesome if there was some sort of pedestrian overpass near division and 11/12th streets for when the trains come during the morning and evening rush. That way traffic could still be moving! It would also save in people trying to go over the tracks when it stops.

Two week Rhine-Lafayette Overpass closure begins today

Mon, 12/17/2018 - 09:11

(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

If you’re one of the many people who rely on the carfree overpass that connects the neighborhoods of Brooklyn to Creston-Kenilworth, a repair project might impact your trips.

TriMet crews are working to improve the durability of the elevators at the Rhine-Lafayette Overpass. Since the bridge opened in 2015, the elevator — which is a key feature for bicycle users — has had a spotty reliability record.

Here’s what TriMet announced this morning about the status of the project:

The two-week closure of the elevators at the Rhine-Lafayette Pedestrian Overpass in southeast Portland starts today, Monday, Dec. 17 through Friday, Jan. 4. The elevators will be closed throughout that time with the entire overpass (stairs and elevators) closed at times for safety reasons. When crews are not working—about 4 p.m. to 7 a.m.—the overpass and stairs will be open for use. This is part of an improvement project that began Nov. 26 to increase the reliability of the elevators. We appreciate the patience of those who use the overpass as we make the improvements.

For more information, check out the official project page at TriMet.org.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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A championship for Honsinger and a great Portland showing at Cyclocross Nationals

Mon, 12/17/2018 - 08:09

Clara Honsinger (Team S & M CX) after winning the U23 race at Cyclocross Nationals.
(Photo: USA Cycling)

I’ll cut right to the big news of the weekend from the Cyclocross National Championships in Louisville, Kentucky: Portland’s Clara Honsinger nabbed a national title!

After getting a great start, Honsinger (Team S & M CX) rode — and ran and slid — the treacherously muddy course to the win on Sunday in the Women’s Under-23 race. Even sweeter for Honsinger and the Sellwood-based Team S & M CX team was Sophie Russenberger getting the bronze medal. Beth Ann Orton, another member of the three-woman team, rode to a strong 13th place in the Women’s Elite race.

Honsinger’s win capped a tremendous season that saw this “kid from Oregon” emerge as a true star on the ‘cross circuit.

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Team S & M CX is owned and operated by Sellwood Cycle Repair owner Erik Tonkin. Tonkin, now retired from competitive racing, celebrated his shop’s 25th anniversary in 2017. Team S & M has been a mainstay on the local circuit for many years; but it’s been only in the last few seasons that Tonkin committed to an elite, all-women development program. With the support of sponsors, the work of Tonkin and his team manager and head mechanic Brenna Wrye-Simpson have paid off big time. Congratulations!

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I came to #cxnats to win. @iamjakewells and I had a fantastic battle today, it was insane but I made a couple mistakes in the last lap that cost me the jersey. THANK YOU so damn much to everyone that has supported me all these years, was out there today screaming and rooting for me and thanks for all the messages and texts, I am feeling the love.

The Monday Roundup: Convercycle, anti-speeding tech, a climate warning and more

Mon, 12/17/2018 - 07:30

Happy Monday everyone. Are you ready for the “atmospheric river” on tap to hit Portland tonight?

If things get crazy outside, at least you’ll have some great stories to read. Here are the most notable items we came across in the past seven days…

A walking tipping point? This NY Times opinion piece about how cities are finally coming to their senses after decades of building only for cars is positively heartwarming.

More highway cops in Oregon: Looks like state lawmakers might reach a big deal to rebuild the depleted Oregon State Police this coming session.

Anti-people planters: No one is taking credit for a mysterious row of empty concrete planters on SW 1st under the Morrison Bridge that appear to be aimed at preventing people from sleeping there.

Getting rid of highway relics: Saying private cars in cities will be the “cigarettes of the 21st century,” NY Mag has some advice for how New York should deal with the aging Brooklyn-Queens Expressway: Demolish it and move on.

Nifty rig: The new “Convercycle” is a bike that converts from standard urban commuter into long-tail cargo bike.

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Climate change warning: Outgoing California Governor Jerry Brown tells NPR that the threats from climate change are real and present and that most politicians are completely clueless about it.

Climate emergency: The mayor of London has declared an official emergency to battle climate change and is pressing other government officials for money and attention to deal with the issue.

Speed limiting tech: The EU is considering devices that would set the speed of cars to the posted limit and lobbyists for carmakers are fighting it.

Setback in Seattle: A judge has thrown up yet another roadblock on the path to closing the infamous “Missing Link” segment of the Burke-Gilman Trail, saying a recent study of the project didn’t do enough to analyze economic impacts.

Drinking and homicide: Utah wants to lower the legal BAC threshold to .05 instead of the national level of .08. The state also plans to introduce a new felony of “automobile homicide” if you drive recklessly while drunk.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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How Portlanders handled a wet, dark, stormy bike commute

Fri, 12/14/2018 - 15:04

(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Tuesday afternoon was a doozy, weather-wise.

It’s not often I’ll opt out of a bike ride, but I hopped on light rail to make it to a meeting downtown. Why? The conditions were: dark, windy, wet, and cool (just cool enough to need a jacket, just warm enough to make you sweat in it). I can handle each of those variable by themselves, or even two or three of them at once. But when all those factors get together I look for non-biking options if I’m able.

I had a feeling a lot of you battled the deluge, so I posted a photo of a rider battling rain on our Instagram feed and asked our followers to share. I don’t take comfort in other people’s misery, but I have to admit I enjoyed reading all the comments that came in! In case you missed the post, here’s what people had to say:

swanny22Yeah, that was not particularly enjoyable.

icomeoutatnight I worked in it, however it was relatively not that bad. It could’ve rained more and it wasn’t even cold enough for gloves

stahnke_kong & a flat tire on top of it all!!

nwcanyoning 7 miles home from downtown was fun

The Little Things: Stripes on stop sign poles in Seattle

Fri, 12/14/2018 - 12:00

A stop sign in Seattle with white and red striping on the pole.
(Photos: Mike Dowd)

This post was written by reader Mike Dowd.

When I grew up in Seattle, stop signs had wood posts with red-and-white, candy cane-like stripes. Now they have metal poles, but they’re still striped. When I moved to Portland, I really missed them! It seemed dangerous without them.

When you approach an intersection in Seattle, the stripes immediately show you whether people entering the intersection from other directions must stop. In Portland, you have to look for the octagonal sign shape — not easy to see when you’re looking at the back of a sign across the intersection (maybe with a telephone or light pole in front of it), and almost impossible when looking at the narrow edge of a sign regulating cross traffic.

It’s critical for everyone — whether driving, riding, or walking — to know who must stop at an intersection. You don’t want to enter an intersection until you’re sure nobody is entering it from your left or right. You don’t want to make a left turn until you know whether an oncoming vehicle or bike is going to stop.

If you misread the intersection, and proceed thinking that crossing traffic has stop signs when it does not, you may cause a crash. If you don’t see others’ stop signs, and slow or stop thinking they don’t need to stop, you create confusion and delays. (Portland has become infamous for the “You go,” “No you go,” “No you go,” dance.)

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Easier to see from any direction.

Portland has a mish-mash of info added below stop signs: “All Way” signs at intersections with four stop signs, “Oncoming Traffic Does Not Stop”, “Traffic From Right Does Not Stop”, etc. But it’s not consistent, which itself creates danger. Those also only give information to people who do have a stop sign. If you don’t have a stop sign, there’s no sign telling you whether cross-traffic or oncoming traffic has stop signs.

The stripes also make stop signs much more visible for people approaching them, since the overall “sign” becomes effectively about eight feet tall instead of just a two-foot octagon.

Also, the stripes Seattle adds to metal stop sign posts are reflective, so all the various advantages of the stripes are magnified at night. In Portland, the backs and edges of stop signs are almost invisible at night.

I’d like to see the stripes added in Portland. I’m curious what others have seen in other places.

— Mike Dowd

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New diverters on Ankeny and Lincoln part of plan to keep drivers off side streets

Fri, 12/14/2018 - 10:46

New driving discouragers on SE Ankeny at 15th.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)


“Things have changed a lot since we did our neighborhood greenway assessment [in 2015]… There’s more traffic pressure.”
— Roger Geller, PBOT

Life is slowly but surely getting harder for people who drive in Portland. And that’s exactly what the Bureau of Transportation is aiming for. In the past week they’ve laid down median diverters that limit where we can drive. The goal is to encourage us to keep our cars off what are known as neighborhood greenways — streets where cycling is supposed to be the priority mode of travel.

But as Portland’s roads have become filled with too many drivers in recent years, PBOT has had to do more to defend greenways from an onslaught of traffic-dodgers staring into Waze and Google Map apps in an attempt to shave a few seconds off their trip. Unfortunately those apps often lead people onto (what should be quiet) side streets that have been engineered specifically to make cycling less stressful. To end this cycle of more drivers and more stressful conditions on side streets, PBOT has added new diverters at two locations: on SE Ankeny at 15th and SE 50th at Lincoln.

SE Ankeny and 15th

As it should be: Driver forced off, bicycle rider allowed to continue.

PBOT image shows what they’ll look like when finished.

As we reported in 2014, many drivers swoop onto Ankeny to avoid the traffic further west at the Burnside/Couch couplet. Thanks to activists with Bike Loud and Buckman neighborhood residents, PBOT agreed to install a temporary diverter at 15th. They made good on their promise in July 2016 by placing large concrete planters and yellow caution signs in the middle of the intersection. The treatment prevented people from driving straight through 15th, forcing westbound drivers to turn north (back to Burnside) and eastbound drivers south.

This week PBOT made those temporary diverters permanent by laying down concrete median islands. The new islands are easier on the eye and are intended to accomplish the same result. PBOT told us this morning that more signage and vertical elements are still to come. They include (but are not limited to): stop signs facing north and south, yellow warning signs that alert people to the presence of people biking through the intersection, yellow and black striped sign, and signage leading up to the intersection indicating that it’s not for through-traffic, only bicycle traffic.

SE Lincoln and 50th

PBOT’s final design (note the car parking space on northeast corner).

It’s been a year since the infamous open house where opposition to the Lincoln-Harrison neighborhood greenway project went absolutely off-the-rails. PBOT’s attempts to reduce the amount of driving on Lincoln were met with epic opposition. Ultimately PBOT won the day with a revised plan that came out in March.

One of the biggest sticking points was a diverter at 50th and Lincoln. PBOT had to do something because this intersection had the highest volume of drivers of anywhere on the greenway — 2,300 cars per day east west of 50th and 1,500 east of it. The city’s goal for greenways is under 1,000 cars per day.

They settled on a compromise design that would place diverters in the middle of 50th to prevent people from driving through the intersection and limit some turning movements.

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Work began this week to install the diverter. However, some activists are crying foul because PBOT has altered the design since it was last shown to the public.

The plan before PBOT made the tweak to add a parking space. Compare it to the image above.

On Tuesday, local resident Andrea Brown with the Safer Lincoln group emailed PBOT Capitol Project Manager Sheila Parrott. Brown was concerned that the new design, “Has created an unsafe jog in the bicycle flow in order to accommodate an extraneous parking space on the northeast corner.” Brown added that her group was aware that an adjacent neighbor had contacted PBOT to request a parking spot in front of their house (which has its own driveway).

Parrott wrote to Brown that, “Following resident input, we revised the plan to remove the on-street parking on the south side and provide a disabled parking space on the north side. Although this type of parking space is generally used by the person making the request for the space, it is not a personal space. Anyone displaying the disabled placard can use the space.”

Another transportation activist and local resident named Betsy Reese emailed PBOT with several concerns about the new design. One problem she mentioned was that it, “Forces westbound cyclists to veer to the left to get past a stopped car, then veer to the right to line up at the gap in the diverter.” Reese wanted the parking spot moved further east to avoid conflicts at the intersection.

A PBOT traffic engineer replied to Reese to say the current layout is only a prototype and they plan to monitor her concerns as part of the evaluation

A brand new greenway treatment

Conspicuity is the goal.

In other neighborhood greenway news, PBOT unveiled a new idea at the Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting on Tuesday night. Citing what he sees as, “more traffic pressure” on neighborhood greenways since PBOT’s assessment report was passed by council in August 2015, PBOT bicycle program manager Roger Geller said they’re considering a new approach. Geller shared a list of projects up for possible funding in 2019-2020 that included one described as, “An innovative attempt to highlight the visibility of bicycle priority on neighborhood greenways.” The idea is to double the frequency of sharrow markings, possibly add painted stop lines on side streets, and add other signage as needed.

Geller said he’s noticed that many people ride in the door-zone on neighborhood greenways — a sign of stress likely caused by fears of drivers coming from behind. Geller wants to make Portland greenways more “readable as a bikeway.” In addition to more sharrows and signage, he’d like couple that with an education program. The goal would be to make it more difficult for people in cars to pass bicycle users, which would hopefully discourage people from driving on greenways altogether.

UPDATE: Reader 9watts (who’s concerned about the width of the biking gaps being too wide) has sent us fresher photos of the Ankeny/15th diverters:

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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Disability rights activists to TriMet: Let us take trikes on MAX

Thu, 12/13/2018 - 10:04

Serenity Ebert (left), Christine Watts (center), and Dawn Cohoe (right) in front of the TriMet board meeting yesterday. They are part of Civil Unrest Bicycle Club, a disability rights advocacy group.
(Photo courtesy Christine Watts)

TriMet General Manager Doug Kelsey and the agency’s Board of Directors heard from two cycling activists during the open public comment period of their meeting yesterday.

“I can’t use public transportation to get to cycling events that I can’t ride to or back from. What do I do? Where is the equity in that?”
— Serenity Ebert

Serenity Ebert rolled up to the microphone on her trike, which she uses as a wheelchair. It’s the same one she pedaled to the stage at the recent Alice Awards dinner where she gave a rousing speech about her experience navigating Portland streets with a physical disability. Christine Watts joined her at the testimony table to ask TriMet to allow tricycles on MAX light rail trains. Both women are members of Civil Unrest Bicycle Club, a grassroots disability advocacy group.

Current TriMet policy does not allow three-wheeled bicycles on MAX. Specifically, the policy states that only, “… two-wheeled bikes, folding bikes, and recumbents the size of a standard bike are allowed… Tandems and bikes with oversized wheels, three or more wheels, trailers or those powered by internal-combustion engines cannot be accommodated. Electric bikes with a sealed battery compartment are permitted.”

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“Not allowing such forms of personal transportation on the MAX train creates a hardship, and puts the disabled more at risk of injury, or being a victim of a crime.”
— Christine Watts

Ebert has submitted an application to TriMet for a special exception to the rule, but she says it has been denied. “I’ve lived downtown for 10 years,” Ebert said in her testimony yesterday. “I depend on public transit to navigate the city.” “I use my walker or my trike as my mobility devices,” Ebert continued. “A while ago I was informed that I can’t take my trike on transit as a mobility device. You could argue that I have equal access because I can use my walker on transit. But is it fair or equitable that I can’t use my other mobility device? The one that allows me to more fully participate?”

Ebert explained to Kelsey and the TriMet Board that she needs to be able to use both devices. The walker is slow and difficult to use on its own, and when she’s only using the trike she can’t, “Simply get off and go run to get my walker.” Ebert says if TriMet won’t let her use her trike as a mobility device, she’s still prevented from using it because a bicycle with three wheels is explicitly prohibited in current policy.

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“Unlike my fellow non-disabled cyclists, I can’t use public transportation to get to cycling events that I can’t ride to or back from. What do I do?” Serenity asked. “Where is the equity in that?”

In her testimony, Watts said TriMet’s exclusion of adult tricycles and adaptive trikes is discrimination against people with disabilities. “Not allowing such forms of personal transportation on the MAX train creates a hardship, and puts the disabled more at risk of injury, or being a victim of a crime. For example when tricycles are vandalized or parts are stolen or the trike itself when parked at bike racks.”

After their testimony, no one from TriMet spoke or asked questions. You can watch this testimony on video here (starts at 5:00 mark).

In an email today, TriMet public information officer Tim Becker said that while Ms. Ebert did file a “Reasonable Modification Request,” it was denied because, “The requested modification would not be necessary to allow her to fully use or participate in TriMet services, programs, or activities.” Becker said they made that decision based on Ebert’s ability to use a walker. “While Ms. Ebert cannot bring the tricycle on board,” Becker wrote, “she is able to access the transit system using her primary mobility device, which is her walker.” TriMet also says they have no plans to classify trikes as mobility devices, but they will address Reasonable Modification requests on a case-by-case basis.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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Bird rallies with The Street Trust to get e-scooters back “as soon as possible”

Wed, 12/12/2018 - 15:00

(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Bird, the fastest company to ever reach a $1 billion valuation, set up shop on the steps of Portland City Hall today in a bid to get their product back out on the streets. Joining them were leaders from active transportation advocacy group The Street Trust and Forth Mobility, a nonprofit that promotes electric vehicles.

“Our streets are for people. Our streets should also be for e-scooters.”
— Jillian Detweiler, The Street Trust

Portland’s four-month pilot of shared electric scooters ended at the end of November and Bird was one of the companies that took part. “We’re here today to talk about bringing scooters back as soon as possible, and to expedite the process,” a Bird spokesperson shared with me before the event got underway.

Before speakers took to the mic, Bird staffers, scooter advocates and interested onlookers milled around a table and tent emblazoned with the Bird logo that had been set up in City Hall plaza. The company offered free helmets, pizza, coffee, and custom-made cookies.

The first person to speak was Joanie Deutsch, senior manager of government partnerships at Bird. She said Portland should restore access to this transportation option “as soon as possible.” “Portland riders made clear they enjoyed having access to e-scooters as an affordable transportation option,” Deutsch added.

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Jillian Detweiler from The Street Trust speaks with Bird’s Joanie Deutsch in the background.

The Street Trust Executive Director Jillian Detweiler also spoke at the event. She said her organization was, “Tremendously surprised and happy” about the scooter pilot program. “It was giving a broader population of people an alternative to driving,” she said. “And giving people a convenient — and even fun — way to get where they need to go.”

“We’re here today because the pilot was a success,” Detweiler continued. She then echoed Deutsch’s comments, saying she wants scooters back on the streets as soon as possible. Detweiler acknowledged the need to consider data and feedback from the pilot and said she’s aware some scooter users rubbed walkers and people with disabilities the wrong way. “But we’re confident those [issues] can be worked out,” she said. “Our streets are for people. Our streets should also be for e-scooters.”

Detweiler also said The Street Trust is focused on making sure PBOT moves forward with their analysis. She announced today that PBOT plans to make a final e-scooter report available in mid-January and open up the topic to public comment shortly thereafter.

I chatted with Bird spokesperson Mackenzie Long before the event. She said, in addition to rallying support for e-scooters, they held the event to urge Portland to step into the forefront of the micromobility revolution. “We’re here to remind Portland that you were a leader in sustainable transportation. So keep it going!”

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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“Cut in 2 seconds!” Is the Ottolock really that easy to snip?

Wed, 12/12/2018 - 11:05

Screen shot of LockPickingLawyer video. Watch it below.

The Ottolock by OTTO Design Works.


A popular YouTuber has created a bit of a public relations headache for a local company.

After a very successful Kickstarter campaign in fall of 2016 where they raised over $350,000 (their goal was just $50,000) from nearly 4,000 individuals, OTTO Design Works launched their Ottolock with the wind at their backs. The Wilsonville-based company says over 100,000 Ottolocks have been sold (at $60 to $85 depending on length) and they can be found at bike shops and outdoor gear retailers nationwide.

“There was at least $30,000 worth of high-end road bikes outside the owners’ line of sight, right outside a big city, secured by a lock I suspected could be cut in a matter of seconds.”
— LockPickingLawyer

When we reviewed the lock in July 2017 we said the company had hit a “bike security sweet spot” by making something that would keep your bike safe for quick stops without taking up much room or adding weight to your training kit.

Since then we’ve heard some concerns about the lock’s strength, but nothing overly alarming. After all, it’s not marketed as a u-lock replacement and it’s not intended as a primary lock. The idea is to, “protect against theft opportunists,” the company’s website says.

But when a YouTuber known as LockPickingLawyer uploaded a video last week showing an Ottolock being cut in two seconds, I was shocked. I wanted hear from OTTO Design Works. Since it’s a locally-made product that we’ve reported on in the past, I felt the community deserved to know more.

The video itself is relatively straightforward. It features narration by Mr. LockPickingLawyer and he easily slices through the lock with a pair of tin snips in one try, just as the title of his video advertises. He says he decided to test the lock after seeing them being used at a local coffee shop. “I was stunned,” he says in the video. “There was at least $30,000 worth of high-end road bikes outside the owners’ line of sight, right outside a big city, secured by a lock I suspected could be cut in a matter of seconds.”

As you can see in the video, it appears he was right.

“We haven’t been able to replicate that outcome or speed in any testing.”
— Jake VanderZanden, Ottolock

LockPickingLawyer has amassed 270,385 subscribers and his videos have received over 38 million views since June 2015. The videos show him defeating all types of locks from many different major brands like Kryptonite and Abus. The Ottolock video is one of his most popular and is on its way to 700,000 views.

What struck me about LockPickingLawyer’s video is that Ottolock has a video of their own on YouTube (from April 2016) that shows them trying to cut a lock with tin snips without any success at all. In marketing materials, the company says the lock is “very cut-resistant”.

I contacted OTTO Design Works President Jake VanderZanden yesterday. He contends there’s simply no way the lock could have been cut that easily without a lot of preparation. “It’s highly produced or under extremely controlled or tuned conditions,” he said, “We haven’t been able to replicate that outcome or speed in any testing — either two years ago [when product launched] or recently.” VanderZanden said when they try to cut a lock with snips, the band flexes and folds inside the jaws of the tool, making it very difficult to cut.

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“Very cut-resistant.”

However, VanderZanden added they’ve never claimed the Ottolock is cut-proof. “We’ve cut them under certain conditions ourselves,” he said, before falling back on their marketing claims that the product is, “Highly engineered and more secure than a cable lock.” “It’s an excellent product for its intended use and target customer.”

Since both a YouTuber known for defeating locks and a company who sells them are hardly unbiased parties in this conversation, I found other perspectives.

Officer Sanders said he and his team warned OTTO Design Works that their lock would be vulnerable to tin snips, which according to Sanders, are carried by about half the criminals they arrest.

Portland Police Bureau Officer Dave Sanders is the lead of the PPB’s Bike Theft Task Force and has countless hours of street-level experience with bike thieves and their aftermath. When I told him about the video and asked for his opinion on the Ottolock he didn’t mince words. “That lock should not be used,” he said. “It’s maybe a smidge better than nothing at all. No more secure than a cheap cable lock.”

Officer Sanders said he and his team warned OTTO Design Works that their lock would be vulnerable to tin snips, which according to Sanders, are carried by about half the criminals they arrest.

In Ottolock’s defense, the urban commuter isn’t their target market. The Ottolock is intended for racer-types on training rides who want something that will fit in a jersey pocket and will secure their bike during a quick bathroom stop. Other target markets are using it as a secondary lock for wheels or other sporting equipment.

But beyond strength concerns, Officer Sanders said the Task Force worries that — despite the marketing — people would use Ottolocks in place of a more capable u-lock. “I want to be supportive of those who are trying to do something about the bike theft problem,” he said, “but I’m having a hard time with this one because we keep hearing about thieves targeting these locks.” And experienced thieves, he added, are probably better than the LockPickingLawyer because they cut locks every day.

Sanders’ concerns seem warranted. As this BikeIndex stolen bike listing reveals, someone had a Surly Ogre stolen from outside the Fred Meyer store in Hollywood a few weeks ago. “It was locked with just an Ottolock (foolish and careless of me) since it was a quick 20 minute shopping trip,” the victim wrote.

Asked what he thought of the video, bike theft expert and BikeIndex owner Bryan Hance said, “I think had they [OTTO Design Works] not used some slippery language and pitched it with all sorts of verbiage like ‘steel’ and ‘very cut-resistant’ they wouldn’t be getting as much blowback as they are. They’re pretty good about saying, ‘This is not as good as a u-lock’ but the reality on the ground is people are using them like ‘real’ locks.”

I also contacted LockPickingLawyer. I told him OTTO Design Works claimed there was no way he cut the lock on the first try. “I think the video speaks for itself,” the YouTuber wrote via email this morning. “The cut was made on my first attempt on a new Ottolock, right from the package. There was no testing or preparation off camera.”

Of the 100,000 Ottolocks that have been sold, VanderZanden says they’re aware of only about 25-30 bikes that have been stolen. “That said,” he added, “we’ve had an equal amount, if not more people, who’ve had their bikes saved because of Ottolock.” (You can see photos of the “saves” on the company’s website.) Even so, VanderZanden announced the company is working on a new product that is much more secure. It will be marketed as a more secure lock and should be released in 2019.

As for the video, LockPickingLawyer said he thinks it’s caused a stir because of, “The shock value of watching an expensive bike lock being defeated so quickly and quietly with an unskilled attack.”

VanderZanden says the whole episode is, “Not that big of a deal from a technical point of view. It’s just an unfortunate PR hassle.”

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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BikeCraft vendor spotlights: Velo Gioielli, Orquidia Violeta, White Noyes Crafts

Tue, 12/11/2018 - 12:37

Welcome to the final installment of our 2018 BikeCraft vendor spotlights, brought to you by our friend Elly Blue from Microcosm Publishing. The big event is this weekend, and if you’ve been following along you know that organizers have put together something special. They’ve got a new, larger space (Taborspace!), great vendors — many of whom you won’t find anywhere else, and lots of merry surprises in store. I look forward to seeing you there! – Jonathan

Take it away Elly…

Velo Gioielli – Etsy shop

Brian Echerer is one of the masterminds behind BikeCraft’s recent reboot. Somehow in between running around securing our venue and cajoling food trucks to come feed us delicious tacos and grilled cheese, he’s been hard at work crafting more of his gorgeous art, combining spokes and chainrings with gems and stained glass into intricate masterworks. Be sure to ask him about his obelisk.

What are you bringing to BikeCraft? What’s the most important thing people should know about it?
Bike art and spoke bracelets, the things every cyclist needs. The most important thing to know is by supporting BikeCraft you are supporting amazing local people.

Tell us about yourself—what events in your life led you to be doing this bikey craft?
I have a passion for road cycling and love watching the grand tours on TV. Nothin better in my life than having a stage on the tv while I am working on bike art at the same time. I just love bikes.

What’s your favorite BikeCraft memory?
So I was out of work and I had been making spoke bracelets for my cycling club. I saw the BikeCraft event call for makers in 2009 and signed up. My mother and I got to work making all sorts of bikey jewelry trinkets and that was the start of Velo Gioielli. BikeCraft was the start of it all and that first one was the best memory.

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Orquidia Violeta – Website

Adorable, bike-friendly and bike-themed clothes for kiddos — I totally fell in love with Orchid’s designs at last year’s event and spent half of Saturday texting with my sister to figure out my nephew’s size and style preferences. Also, I would totally wear one of these cozy ponchos in an adult size, just saying.

What are you bringing to BikeCraft? What’s the most important thing people should know about it?
I’m bringing fun kids clothes! Colorful wearable artwork sewn in Portland by me, using salvaged materials collected by bike. This year I made push-bike ponchos. They fit 2-5 year olds and are made from cozy wool and fleece. They have bright hoods and reflective bits, and an appliquéd pocket for treasure!

Tell us about yourself—what events in your life led you to be doing this bikey craft?
I’m a Salvadoran-American textile artist and I sew one-of-a-kind pieces that I sell around town. I operate my business entirely by bike, so kids clothes are easy to transport. I prefer selling to customers directly, like at BikeCraft. Connecting personally, I can help select the perfect gift. I love to watch my artwork go off into the world toward unknown adventure!

What’s your favorite BikeCraft memory?
BikeCraft is a fun sale with great vendors and customers. But it’s extra awesome that everyone arrives on two wheels. At most craft sales, I am the only vendor cycling, but at BikeCraft we have that shared experience. Portlanders are working hard to make the city more bikeable for citizens of all ages and colors. I appreciate that every day, and try to reciprocate through my craft and through this sale!

White Noyes Crafts
We met Julie Noyes at last year’s BikeCraft, where she was one of the first to sign up to vend this year. She’ll be debuting her bikey handknits at the fair — they’re so new, there aren’t any photos yet!

What are you bringing to BikeCraft?
I am bringing my hand knit items; hats and fingerless gloves. Also some handmade bikey ornaments and handmade books.

Tell us about yourself—what events in your life led you to be doing this bikey craft?
I have always been an artist, but about two years ago, my friend gave me a knitting lesson and I’ve been grinding out product ever since. I moved here from Vermont, so having a warm but lightweight hat is a necessity. I wanted to create something that bike commuters could fit under their helmets (please wear your helmet) and stay warm.

What are you most excited about at the event?
I am excited about getting my gear out there, and also contributing to a “warm” holiday season.

Learn more about BikeCraft at the official website.

— Elly Blue/Microcosm Publishing

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Family Biking: Beyond mama bear rage and toward healthier responses to bad drivers

Tue, 12/11/2018 - 11:51

Try “Wow, someone’s in a hurry” in place of “Slow the f— down!”
(Photos: Madi Carlson)

As the days get shorter, wetter, and colder it feels like more people are driving faster, less predictably, and more assholishly.

Our Family Biking column is sponsored by Clever Cycles.

➤ Read past entries here.

I used to get all heated-up about people driving unsafely around me and my kids. You know, like a protective mama bear. Grrr. I once angrily pantomimed hanging up a phone at a woman talking on her cell while running a stop sign in front of us and I’ve even thumped the trunk of a car after its driver barreled into the crosswalk against a red light, coming within an inch of my front wheel.

The thing is, reacting angrily just leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth, not to mention doesn’t set the best example for my kids. So I’ve drastically changed my reactions. I’m not perfect and slip from time-to-time (mama bears gonna mama bear), but keeping my cool has vastly improved my quality of life despite still sharing some roads with people misusing two-ton battering rams.

Some diverters divert better than others.

The idea to write this column came to me last week when I watched a man drive his minivan over the diverters at SE 17th and Clinton. He approached the intersection very slowly and without signaling, so I assumed he couldn’t decide which way to turn. But as I rolled up to the median (where bicycle riders can cut through, but drivers can’t) he forced his car over the cement “barriers” next to me. I couldn’t help myself — my eyes went wide and my mouth dropped open as we passed one another. It wasn’t the calm reaction I’d like to display for my kids (fortunately they weren’t with me at the time).

Now I have a few go-to responses that make me seem more like a well-grounded mom than a raging mama bear.

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Smile and wave
Biking with my middle schooler four miles each morning exposes us to at least a couple people each day primed to skip their stop signs (usually crossing Clinton, which is a greenway for crying out loud!) until they notice us on the road. I smile and wave at them all as they belatedly stop and look chagrined. Initially this felt inauthentic, as if I was waving “Thanks for not killing us,” but it’s just so commonplace for people driving to ignore the right of way that I’ve accepted it as The Way Things Are. Now it’s a pleasant excuse to wave to someone who might wave back.

Speed bumps don’t really slow people determined to speed.

“Someone’s in a hurry”
When we see people speeding I’ve taken to saying, “Wow, that guy is really in a hurry.” I’ve gotten so good at it, I say it when I’m with other adults. I’ve even caught myself muttering it aloud when I’m all alone. It’s much easier on the soul than shouting, “Slow down!”

Making a game of counting red-light runners.

Tally the red-light runners
We bike out of our way to avoid using busy streets, but we can’t avoid crossing big ones. For the aforementioned four-mile middle school commute we cross three big streets with lights and two without. While waiting for our light to turn green we calmly count and comment on the people who drive through yellow and red lights. It really sucks how many people run red lights, but it serves as a good opportunity for me to remind my kids to always check the intersection, even when the light is green.

“That was scary”
I often think back to something Katie Proctor (co-founder of Kidical Mass PDX in 2010 and more recently proprietor of Books with Pictures comic book store) wrote years ago on Facebook. She presented the idea of saying, “You scared me!” as a way of sharing your feelings and acknowledging the severity of the situation without being so accusatory as to invite a defensive response. I checked in with her for an update since Facebook’s search function leaves a lot to be desired and I couldn’t remember exactly what she said back then. Here’s what she says now:

“These days, I might even lean toward ‘Wow, that was scary!’ over ‘You scared me,’ as a way to center your shared experience — whatever just happened probably scared the crap out of both of you — and that then gives you room to de-escalate: ‘Can we take a minute to catch our breaths before we talk about it?’ Which will make any following conversation more productive.”

I still love this sentiment, as well as her advice to train oneself to yell “You scared me!” — in place of what you might otherwise yell — to model good behavior in front of kids.

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Obligatory word on safety
You know I don’t make a habit of talking about safety, but I do like to use appropriate opportunities to point out that intersections are The Worst. Two of the most common types of bike crashes are left hooks: when an oncoming car driver turns left into a person on a bike who was heading straight, and right hooks: when a person turns right, not noticing that there was a person on a bike to their right heading straight.

I love getting around by bike and feel carefree while doing it, but I also don’t trust anyone driving near me to notice me or to obey the law. I might look oddly suspicious as I check one-way roads for wrong-way drivers before I cross them and act stubbornly exasperated when I get into “you-go-no-you-go” hand waving wars with people who have failed to stop for me at intersections that I refuse to trust to now stay stopped.

Tl;dr: You can’t be too safe, but it doesn’t take any of the joy out of getting around by bike.

About that photo at the top of this post: It happened a week ago, and an hour after I’d nearly been plowed into in that very intersection. I’ve never been hit by a car, and this was the closest I’d ever come. Thank goodness the kids weren’t with me because I may have forgotten my collection of suitable reactions. I was only with my dog Pixie and I had to slam on my brakes to avoid being left-hooked by a woman I had mistakenly thought noticed me. I fumed for a while as I pedaled away. By the time my son and I got back and saw the aftermath of this crash I was able to take it in calmly with him. We surmised no one had been injured and I told him about my earlier near-miss. And then the subject switched to his latest hobby, making up titles for Avengers/Harry Potter mashup movies (“Avengers: Accio Wands!”) and things were the same as they ever were.

What about you? How do you react in these sorts of situations? Please share in the comments! Thanks for reading.

Remember, we’re always looking for people to profile. Get in touch if it sounds like fun to you. I’d especially like to feature families of color so please get in touch or ask friends of color who bike with their kids if they’re interested in sharing their stories. And as always, feel free ask questions in the comments below or email me your story ideas and insights at madidotcom [at] gmail [dot] com.

— Madi Carlson, @familyride on Instagram and Twitter

Browse past Family Biking posts here.

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