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What is a “wheel gutter”?

In my last post I made the mistake of referring to “wheel gutters” as “stair gutters.”  To be quite honest, I had no idea what they were called, but simply knew that they looked like gutters on a stairway, hence, “stair gutters.”  Same difference.

My first experience with wheel gutters came one afternoon while riding downtown.  While riding west down Mill street it began to rain.  Since I didn’t need to be anywhere I decided to find quick cover and look up a cafe to wait out the showers in.  I happened to be next to Portland State University (PSU) and saw a nearby awning that would suffice.  The only slight problem was that it was up a double set of stairs.  Ordinarily I would have just shouldered the bike, panniers attached, and hoofed it to the top.  And this is fine for somebody who hardly ever steps foot on campus nor has to deal with the daily climbing of steps with a bike.  But for any student or teacher the thought of needing to carry a bike up two sets of stairs every day can be daunting and discouraging.

Enter the wheel gutter. features an article from back in 2007 about some bike-friendly improvements made at the Hollywood Transit Center, at the intersection of NE Halsey and 42nd.  One of these improvements was the wheel gutter.  Publisher and editor, Jonathan Maus, writes:

The crucial north-south connection has long been a thorn in the side of cyclists trying to get over I-84. Southbound cyclists have been forced to contend with a TriMet bus stop loop and stairs leading up to a footbridge. The existing ramp was not designed for bicycles (but I think it’s fun!).

As I made my way back from the airport two evenings ago I exited the MAX at SE Foster & 92nd and promptly made my way down three large flights of stairs.  Halfway down I noticed the concrete “V” on both sides of the stairway and I remembered my experience at PSU.  At this point I stopped and knelt down to study the groove and noted that it was different than the PSU wheel gutter.  The main difference was its discreteness (it wasn’t gaudy, obstructive, or even very noticeable).

Stairway from below @ SE Foster

From the bottom (notice how well the wheel gutter blends in)

Like a glove.

As I have thought about infrastructure and just how big of a role it plays in the prominence of bikes in the city, it seems pleasantly ironic that it is the little things that, for Portlanders anyway, make the biggest difference.  The knowledge of the presence of a bike corral in front of your favorite coffee shop, or of a well marked and designed “bike boulevard“, or of a “bike locker” (post soon to come!) waiting for you at your local MAX station are just a few examples of small ways that a city can make a big difference for bicycling.  The general result is happier cyclists and happier citizens altogether.


3 thoughts on “What is a “wheel gutter”?”

  1. Kevin says:

    That is a gutastic idea.

  2. Thomas says:

    Oh, now I know. Sooooo cool!!

  3. Drew Slabaugh says:

    That is pretty cool; I’ve never seen a wheel gutter before.
    Also, nice to see you rocking the ‘stach. I’ve dabbled recently and been pleasantly surprised by the results. Although one time I went to a barber and he trimmed it up saying I had a “Wyatt Earp thing going on,” which I liked. After he trimmed it I looked like a certifiable ’80s asshole. Off it went.

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