A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Riding in the ‘bike gutter’: Clean but risky

Written October 29th, 2021 by Hasso Hering

That stripe on the ground marks the bike lane on Albany’s Pacific Boulevard S.W

Watching a video on urban planning and transportation the other day, I heard the presenter refer to “bike gutters.” What did he mean?

He meant, sad to say, the kind of bike lanes we have on major highways in Albany and elsewhere. He used the term in a mocking way, but it fits when the bike lane is right next to the curb.

Here, take a look and see what I mean:

On Highway 99E, Pacific Boulevard, they put the bike lane right next to the curb because there’s no curbside parking. There’s no parking on that highway through Albany at all, and that’s fine. But if you’re riding in the bike lane, the traffic roaring past your elbow at 45 mph or more takes some getting used to.

What could be done differently to make cycling on Pacific, and on similar highways with sidewalks, more common and less nerve-wracking or risky?

There are several ways, and you can see them illustrated in the YouTube video I watched about cycling facilities in the Netherlands compared to the cities in North America. (The YouTube series is called “Not Just Bikes,” and it’s well done. Take a look.)

Around here, most of what you see in those videos is impractical because we’re talking about retrofitting. But on highways like Pacific, which was widened and “improved” with curbs and gutters some 30 or 40 years ago, they might want to do it differently if they had to do it today.

The sidewalk is rarely used for walking. And because of high-speed motor traffic, the bike lane is uncomfortable for cycling. Why not combine both paths or lanes? Provide a single 8-foot-wide way for walkers and cyclists and build it a foot or two to the right of the curb.

That would not just eliminate the bike gutter. It would get cyclists out of the roadway, and this would be safer for them and for motorists as well. (hh)

14 responses to “Riding in the ‘bike gutter’: Clean but risky”

  1. North Albany Guy says:

    Similarly in other areas, the bike gutter / extended shoulder is often the place folks put their garbage bins.

  2. HowlingCicada says:

    YouTube says “This video is unavailable.” Tried both Firefox and Chrome.

  3. Francois DeLacroix says:

    I cannot believe my own eyes…Hasso Hering using a Euro-Socialist nation as an example of best practices. The worm has turned, indeed.

  4. Jennifer Stuart says:

    I saw another video of that series titled “Why Canadians can’t bike in the winter (but Finnish people can)”. Bicycle riding as the main method of transportation, even in Scandinavian countries, is increased with safe and separate infrastructure and maintenance, even in the snowy and freezing cold winter. Perhaps we should let other countries’ successes should inform our city planning.

  5. Harry W Renouf says:

    Aug 2021 price for gas in Netherlands was $2.26 USD per liter or $8.55 USD per gallon. Don’t know what percentage is tax but could be one contributing factor to better roads and paths.

    • HowlingCicada says:

      Tax per gallon is roughly 60 cents combined Oregon and federal. $3.51 in the Netherlands. From your price, I would have guessed an even bigger difference.

      Good charts with recent prices:

      No way do our gas taxes pay for building and maintaining our roads. This is exactly what I had in mind when I complained about “the socialized system of car dominance” in the previous article’s comments.

      Undertaxing motor fuel creates the perverse incentive to drive more and to buy bigger cars, thereby increasing congestion on our deteriorating roads. The Netherlands (and the rest of Europe) got this one right; we got it wrong.

  6. Al Nyman says:

    I have been to Amsterdam and they have 4 lanes of traffic in both directions. Walkway which I used is first (uneven pavement), bike lane next with great pavement, tram lane and car lane in center. Not a bike advocate but the system seems to work well but you need to be alert because you have to cross the bike lane and there are more bicyclists than any other method of transportation. The reason it works so well is every street appears to have buildings at least 4 stories with retail on bottom and families on the next 3 stories. You would have to completely change how the building structure in the US to make the Amsterdam system work.

  7. Mike quinn says:

    Oregon department of transportation there is one plain and simple reason why there isn’t a lot of projects. In fact it
    Seems projects are getting less and less P E R S

  8. Mac says:

    If they are “roaring past you elbow at 45” now would be a good time to remind them of the law:

    Drivers Overtaking Bicyclists

    If a vehicle passing a bicyclist is travelling over 35 miles per hour, the overtaking vehicle must pass the bicyclist at a distance that is sufficient to prevent contact with the bicyclist if the bicyclist were to fall over into the lane of traffic.

    • Jeff says:

      Yet nobody knows about nor follows this law. Biking in a bike gutter on a 35 mph plus road requires one to have a death wish.


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