Portland is trying out a new traffic design in hopes of slowing drivers and improving safety on a residential street, but the unfamiliar lane markings have left some people scratching their heads.

Maya Lena was bicycling on her regular Ludlow Street route this month when she noticed strange new road striping on the Deering Center street.

Portland recently painted “advisory bike lanes” on Ludlow Street in Portland. The pattern has been used in cities around the world to improve safety on narrow, low-speed streets with low and moderate traffic. A lack of outreach and a discrepancy between the signage and the stencils on the road have left some users confused about how to navigate the road.  Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Two new lines of white dashes were painted on the asphalt, creating two bike lanes next to the shoulder and a single travel lane for cars in the center of the two-way street.

The striping, which extends about half a mile between Fuller Street and Wayside Road, perplexed Lena. What was it for? And how should drivers, cyclists and pedestrians approach it? She wasn’t the only one with questions.

“I got home and got a text from a neighbor that was just ‘What is this?'” said Lena, president of the Nason’s Corner Neighborhood Association.

The new traffic lines form what is called “advisory bike lanes,” a design intended to slow vehicular traffic and give pedestrians and cyclists designated space on the roadway.


This is how it works: Bicycles have designated space in the wide shoulder lanes, while motor vehicles use a central travel lane. When vehicles encounter oncoming traffic, they move right into the shoulder lanes to pass, while yielding to bicycles and pedestrians, and then return to the center travel lane.

Advisory bike lanes have been painted on narrow, low-speed streets in cities around the world. The lanes have improved safety on streets with low and moderate traffic, but they are unconventional and unfamiliar to motorists and bicyclists. It can take a while for all road users to understand and become comfortable with sharing road space and using a single two-way travel lane for motor vehicles.

So the fact there has been limited public outreach or education about the new traffic system hasn’t helped. The city was not required to hold a public meeting about its plans and outreach about the new traffic pattern has been confined to nearby residents and the head of a community group.


“The city did put up some signs, but they are not in agreement with what the (bike share) stenciling is on the road; it is a little confusing,” Lena said of the cyclist silhouettes that were painted in the center travel lane. Typically, they would appear in the shoulder lane designated for cyclists.

There should be an effort to “educate drivers about how to use this because it is not commonplace and it is new to people and I don’t think there has been any public outreach,” she said.


Neighborhood residents have been asking Portland city officials to do something about vehicle speed on Ludlow Street for at least a year. Construction work on nearby Brighton Avenue last year shifted more traffic, and some faster drivers, onto the residential road, Lena said.

The city installed the advisory lanes to address those concerns. It painted the new stripes as a pilot project and may extend the striping to more of the street if it succeeds and reduces speeds and crashes, Portland transportation engineer Jeremiah Bartlett said in an email to Lena.

Despite residents’ traffic concerns, Ludlow Street did not have enough speeding vehicles or crashes to qualify for physical traffic calming devices such as speed bumps, so advisory lanes were installed instead, Bartlett said. And because it didn’t meet the threshold to install speed bumps or similar measures, the city also wasn’t required to hold public meetings about its plans, spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said.

The public works department hung notices on the doors of homes in the area and communicated with the head of the neighborhood association and some residents, Grondin said.


Advisory lanes such as the ones Portland is experimenting with are being tried out in other communities, as well. But at least some other communities, as well as cities in other states, have extensive education efforts first.


Dan Ostrye, former chairman of the bicycle-pedestrian committee in Yarmouth, helped the town install its first advisory lanes on a street popular with walkers and cyclists in 2016. It has since expanded the program to six streets with more planned.

The town of Camden posted this graphic to help motorists and bicyclists know how to navigate advisory bike lanes.

A lack of public engagement can sink attempts to install advisory lanes, he said.

Clear communication with residents and neighbors was key to success each time, Ostrye said. Not everyone was in support and education was needed to prepare them for the unfamiliar pattern, he said.

“It is important to over-communicate with the public, you are not going to get 100 percent support but at least people don’t feel you have sprung it on them,” he said.

At the same time, the unfamiliarity of a new striping layout may also help make streets safer by forcing drivers to slow down, Ostrye added.

“You are going to do the right thing no matter what, because no one wants to hit a cyclist and pedestrian or another car,” he said. “Our brains are conditioned – when you have ambiguity, you tend to slow down and tend to be more cautious. We have seen that time and again with these installations.”

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