A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

More bulbouts, and a question

Written May 29th, 2017 by Hasso Hering

Bulbouts are the fashion everywhere, as here in a highway project through Yachats on the coast.

The official name, I think, is sidewalk extensions. But you can also call them bulbouts. They’ve been a favorite of street planners for years, and Albany is getting a bunch more as part of the CARA streetscape project that’s going to start in June.

The idea behind bulbouts is that they increase traffic safety. They shorten, by a few feet, the distance that pedestrians have to walk in order to cross the street. Even though they don’t extend into the normal driving lanes, they create the appearance of a narrower street and thereby the speed of passing cars. And they supposedly make pedestrians waiting to cross the street easier for drivers to see.

That last point raises a question: If you see a pedestrian standing on the curb of a bulbout, are you as a driver supposed to stop and let the person walk across? State law says that at all marked and unmarked crosswalks, drivers must yield to pedestrians who are “in the crosswalk.” So, are persons standing on the bulbout portion of a sidewalk “in” the crosswalk or not? If somebody knows the answer — I mean “knows” as opposed to “guesses” — feel free to respond. (It bugs me to have cars screeching to a stop when I’m standing on the curb, patiently waiting for a gap in traffic so I can leisurely cross the street.)

Strange as it may sound, I was thinking of all this when, on the bike, I saw the bulbouts that ODOT is adding to Highway 101 through part of Yachats on the coast. The idea of that $2 million project is, among other things, to improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists. (In July 2013, a 75-year-old resident of the town was killed when he was crossing the highway, though not in the section getting the new treatment.)

In Albany, the $8 million streetscape project supported by CARA, the downtown urban renewal district, will be reconstructing 27 blocks of downtown streets.Two blocks will get only new underground water lines, but the others will get new sidewalks, among many other things.

The construction drawings, available on www.cityofalbany.net, show new bulbouts at Second and Ferry, Second and Broadalbin, Third and Ferry, and Third and Broadalbin. Two more are shown on Ellsworth at Seventh, in front of the market there.

Considering the volume of Highway 20 traffic on Ellsworth and the foot traffic to and from the market, a definitive answer to the question of people standing on bulbouts would be helpful indeed. (hh)


8 responses to “More bulbouts, and a question”

  1. Rich Kellum says:

    I am not convinced that bulb outs are safer, granted there is a lower amount of distance for a pedestrian to travel between bulb outs however that also means that the first step into the street is one where the pedestrian is in the death zone… My understanding is that a car has to stop when the pedestrian steps off he curb… so the difference is 3 steps by a pedestrian into the street before the pedestrian is in the death zone or the very first step into the death zone….. whatever is safer is up for argument, and I side with 3 steps as safer..

    • Mike Martin says:

      Agreed Rich. Not mention the elimination of much needed parking spaces. Bulbouts, another example of Government overreach. The requirement to stop for pedestrians regardless of their overall safety is another issue and another example. It will be interesting to hear what the law actually requires.

  2. John Hartman says:

    Who sows virtues reaps honor. Leonardo da Vinci uttered the phrase, it’s timelessness proved right here in the current Albany street rehabilitation project put into question by Hasso Hering’s damning tome and laser focus.

    Whether tis bulbouts, bulb-ins, or no bulbs at all, the mere suggestion that we, as a society, should have the temerity to ask a 3-thousand pound F-150 to slow down…ask that All-Wheel Cowboy to understand the inherent imbalance when a pick-up strikes the human torso at 40mph.

    The only real crime is that CARA confines it’s taxing authority to affect a rather narrow downtown corridor. CARA ought to expand it’s reach significantly so as to influence the outlying fleshpots of Albany, ignored far too long in the rush to save downtown from itself.

    Now that the Carousel Project is nearly in positive cash flow, downtown Albany’s problems are about to disappear. If the mayor and council would approve a decent recreational cannabis shoppe in downtown, you wouldn’t be able to beat the people away with batons.

    If CARA doesn’t do it and do it soon, the Grim Reaper of failed urban development will rear it’s ugly head. Just sayin’

  3. Terry says:

    Bulbouts suck! A person must make a move to cross the street not just stand on the curb. And finally…..Apparently Weed is the answer to all problems!

  4. Gothic Albany says:

    I hate these sidewalk pimples. They are ugly, do not fit the historic character of downtown, and as others have noted, make it more dangerous for pedestrians. In order for a pedestrian to have the right of way, they have to have at least one foot off the sidewalk. Now since the sidewalk is extended into the lane of traffic, the pedestrian has to be in the lane of travel to get the right of way.

  5. Ray Kopczynski says:

    If folks are not attentive while driving, it doesn’t matter. Turn OFF all radios, phones, and any other devices before you start the motor!

    • Shawn Dawson says:

      Well, a bit off topic, for once I am in agreement with Ray here. Turn off the noise and distractions before you pull out of the driveway.

      Regarding bulb-outs, 10 years or more ago the city started putting these in. The citizens protested, some about the cost, others about how they do not fit into the downtown historic area. My main concern was the former. But just like bonds, it seems they just keep bringing them back, hitting us over the head with them, beating us down, and eventually the spenders get what they want. It’s not a great way to run a society.

  6. Amanda says:

    The question for me is whether I think the pedestrian looks like they were about to step out into the street. With those bulb-outs, it doesn’t provide a lot of warning as to whether the person will wait or keep going. Before and after school, I tend to stop and wait for kids to cross, as I’ve found they’re more likely to dart out without much warning. While I agree that distracted driving is a huge problem, turning off the radio doesn’t make us mind readers.


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