Archive | September, 2005

A Geeky but Practical Bicycle Question

Folks who follow this blog know I’m a transportation geek. What folks may not know is that I’m also a geek geek, i.e., my day job is doing Internet technology.

So sometimes my travels around the region require that I carry a laptop with me.

I have yet to find a way to do this on a bicycle where I feel confident about the integrity and safety of my laptop.

So what do you other bike commuters do when you need to carry a laptop? How do you protect it in case of a crash? Do you worry about (or have a way to mitigate) the affects of vibration during the ride?

Sellwood Bridge: Can’t Get No Respect

I recently attended a meeting of the Portland Freight Advisory Committee, where the Freight Master Plan was being reviewed.

Once again, the Sellwood Bridge came up. The line of discussion: it’s not a freight project, so don’t list it as a project it in the master plan, and certainly don’t spend any funds targeted on freight on it!

The basis of this argument is that as long as the bridge is only two lanes, and Tacoma Street is only two lanes, this is not a freight-friendly corridor. Arguments were advanced to reconsider the option of a new bridge south of the existing one (through the Waverly Country Club) or to rebuild the Sellwood with four lanes on the assumption that sometime during the bridge’s 100-year-expected-life we’ll wise up and widen Tacoma.

[Credit goes to PDOT staffer John Gillam who reminded the committee of the local delivery function the Sellwood bridge – even at two lanes – DOES provide for the movement of goods and services.]

Of course, this is exactly the thinking that caused the Sellwood Bridge to get zero funding from the state OTIA process, even though it scores 2 on a soundness scale of 100 (presumably it will get marked down to zero when it falls into the river).

Meanwhile, the bridge remains the top priority for bicycle and pedestrian advocates as the weakest link in our network for alternative modes.

So perhaps we should develop a plan for a bike and ped only bridge? After all, we wouldn’t want to spend any of our precious bike dollars on something those stinking cars and trucks could use!

When will we get our thinking out of these single mode buckets and learn to think about multi-modal systems? That’s the only path to assembling the funding required to actually do something about this failing bridge.

Tolls in Our Future?

Today’s Oregonian reports on the possibility of using tolls to fund new lanes on Highway 217, and reminds us that tolls are not completely foreign to Oregon. The Barlow Trail was a toll road and the Interstate Bridge was once tolled.

Metro forecasts that the 12-minutes average commute on 217 is headed to 16 minutes, but could be pared back to 12 minutes with an additional lane, or 7 minutes in an express toll lane.

Tolls have also been discussed for the Newberg/Dundee bypass, rebuilding the Sellwood Bridge and for the replacement or supplement to the Interstate Bridge.

What I find fascinating is that I hear tolls being promoted by both alternate mode advocates, because they may reduce or time-shift auto demand, and by folks like the Cascade Policy Institute, because they are market-based solutions to capacity and because they bring private equity to highway projects.

On the flip side is the possibility that the driving public just won’t stand for it. There are also economic justice arguments that some of the folks who would need to use these routes are least able to afford tolls to get to their jobs.

What do you think?

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