Portland has new “bike-friendly” speed bumps, but I don’t like them for families

He meant to do that.

It’s always exciting to see something new in the world of bike infrastructure. A few Portland roads were repaved and treated with new “bike-friendly” speed bumps. BikePortland ran a post about them last week: PBOT’s experimental bike-friendly speed bumps. The article garnered a lot of great (and some silly) comments…but there were few comments specific to biking the bumps with kids. I’d love to hear what other family bikers think here or there or both.

Even when I’m not riding with my kids in tow I imagine how each road I take would feel with them along. I take this one step further for any new infrastructure and wonder how all sorts of people would feel using it. In the case of these new bumps I immediately thought of trailers and trikes. Save some tilty cargo trikes and recumbent or semi-recumbent trikes, trailers and trikes like to stay level. Hitting the rut with one wheel at slow speed would probably cause an uncomfortable lean, but I think hitting it while traveling at speed would be jarring for a trike or trailer and possibly cause it to tip over. I’d really like to hear thoughts in the comments from trike riders and trailer pullers.

Bagging-and-dragging is as wide as I get–it kind of fits.

I’ve had a chance to ride on a road with these new-style speed bumps for a while now–before last month’s SE Clinton project over four miles of SE Harold (from 52nd to Foster) was repaved and decorated with these same bumps. Except I haven’t been using them as intended until recently because the installation left a lot of gravel in the ruts and it stayed there for a long time. I’m all for riding through the pebble- and rock-sized gravel on unimproved roadways, but I was too scared to ride through the sandy gravel in the ruts. I don’t know if this means they’ll collect grit throughout the winter, but it makes me suspect they will.

Harold Street, where the sharrows don’t aim at the bike-friendly ruts.

Like others, I assumed the ruts were for emergency vehicles. Many of the greenways in Seattle, our old stomping grounds, have cushions spaced for emergency vehicles (though often only on steep blocks) with wider ruts. My kids could easily navigate the wider Seattle ruts, but the thought of them using these narrow ones worries me.

Biking west on Clinton without my kids I got the distinct impression that the ruts are for people biking fast to stay up to speed. Harold is flat and I’m very slow without a downhill incline or I would have come to this conclusion sooner. Back to Clinton, it’s really fun to hit the ruts while barreling downhill fast. But I hope that’s not who our greenways are designed for.

And what about in the uphill direction? It’s hard to get a heavy bike or trike uphill to begin with and a regular speed bump makes more of a hill to surmount. So the idea of a channel is nice, but aiming a heavy bike uphill at such a narrow rut sounds horrid.

I talk to my kids a lot about riding predictably and in straight lines (not that you’d suspect this if you’ve biked with them lately–they’re predictably wiggly) so I dislike the swerving encouraged by the placement of the ruts. Harold is wide so I’m not already biking in line with the rut–especially if there are no cars parked for an entire block, leaving lots of space for me on the right side of the road. I dislike slowing to go over the bumps, but it seems safer than swerving to use the ruts. But even worse, people driving (about half in my observation) swerve to aim their front left tires at the ruts. Or as I saw once (so far), the man driving a big truck took to the center of the street so he could put his left tires into the oncoming traffic rut and his right tires into his rut. Eek!

I don’t take my kids on Harold regularly (too busy) and they haven’t been on that part of Clinton since the repaving, but I braved one block of Harold with my 11-year old to see what he’d think and do. He said he’d normally opt to avoid the ruts because bumps are more fun, but he humored me and rode the ruts–the first one cleanly and the second one wigglyly (see the gif at the top of the page). He claimed he did that on purpose and didn’t seem worried about losing control, however I was a bit scared for him as I watched from behind.

Personally, I think a busy street like Harold should have speed bumps, but either regular continuous ones or a truly bike-friendly design with bigger ruts. Meanwhile, greenways deserve more diverters and fewer speed bumps. Assuming a diverter costs 10 times more than one speed bump (per this and this) it doesn’t seem that far out of reach.

Tipping hazards should be fun and in car-free settings (woop-di-doo at the 2014 Fiets of Parenthood).

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