My Trip: Jumping the Queue

I recently flew to the East Coast for a long weekend. As usual, I left straight from downtown Portland, leaving my bike at work, and riding the Red Line MAX to the airport. As we sped by alongside I-84, I looked at the hundreds of cars creeping along, nearly at a standstill, and I couldn’t help wondering–why would anyone want to drive to the airport?

My trip was comfortable, convenient, stress-free, and, best of all, I knew exactly how long it would take me to get there. Sure, in the middle of the night it might take less time to drive to the airport, but at any other time…who knows? It could be smooth sailing, or it could be a parking lot.

I’m interested in this experience because it’s one of the few times when the alternative transportation user actually has a clear advantage over the private automobile driver. I’m afraid that’s not always the case. The key to helping people make the change to environmentally-friendly modes isn’t to appeal to their sense of responsibility, and even less so to make them feel guilty. The key lies in making the alternative mode trip better than the car trip: faster, easier, cheaper, more fun, more beautiful, more reliable. Even one of these may be a deciding factor, but better yet is if we can combine them.

I can think of a few other local examples. During rush hour, bike lanes on major streets are like shortcuts for cyclists, allowing them to zoom past stopped cars. Likewise, bike boulevards (such as SE Ankeny or SE Clinton) offer cyclists direct routes while slowing down cars and restricting car access (such as enforced turns for cars while bikes can go straight through). Bikes also park free downtown (and everywhere), while the drive-alone worker faces a hefty monthly bill for the privilege of parking downtown. And, at least theoretically, HOV lanes on freeways offer an advantage to drivers who share their trip with others. Similarly, employer-funded transit passes offer a free ride on transit compared to the expense of driving.

These examples are few and far between, though. If you already own a car, it’s still the fastest and most convenient way to get around for many trips in the city. What can we do to truly make the right thing to do the easiest thing to do as well? And how can we make sure that both politicians and the public understand and support these efforts? What are the tangible benefits we’re trading for?

Here are a few ideas about what we could try:

  • No more right turn on red–provide a truly protected phase for pedestrians to cross the street
  • More bike priority signals (like at the Esplanade/Rose Garden) allowing bicyclists priority crossing
  • A new Willamette River bridge only for streetcar/light rail, bikes, and peds
  • Neighborhood intersections blocked to cars but open to people on foot and on bike
  • More traffic calming to slow down traffic and make neighborhood routes less appealing to cars
  • More bike boulevards that give priority to bike traffic and offer a truly superior route
  • Rush-hour pricing on our most congested freeways and bridges (and maybe, eventually, into downtown?)
  • More bike boxes, that allow cyclists to safely bypass stopped traffic and “go to the head of the line”
  • Car-free days and car-free areas in our city

21 Responses to My Trip: Jumping the Queue