Coming Down from the Summit

The tone of Saturday’s Bicycle Summit was set for me when a fellow Portland Transport contributor sat down and said “I hope there won’t be a lot of self-congratulatory crap.” (You know who you are.)

Of course, there was some celebration of where we’ve come from and what we’ve accomplished, but it was also acknowledged that only 3% of trips are by bike, and the focus was definitely looking forward. This was the opportunity to whip up the base to go out and evangelize!

There are no silver bullets, it will take the combination of many efforts and actions to get us to the goal Commissioner Adams articulated, matching Amsterdam’s bike mode share of 40%. But my take-away is that there are two major tracks we’re going to have to pursue:

  1. Keep improving the infrastructure. There are still lots of gaps in the system, and we know that the next set of riders are going to prefer calmer, relatively car-free routes. This is the target for the BTA’s Boulevards campaign, and I think they’re on track. I believe the key element of this effort will be making the places where the bicycle boulevards cross arterial streets as bike-friendly as possible. I hope we’ll try a number of different approaches to this, and then replicate the designs that are proven to work – by attracting riders.
  2. Personal outreach. Whether this looks like the Travel Smart program that PDOT has run in Interstate and is now running in the “NE Hub”, or whether it looks like a grass roots “bike buddy” effort with neighbors helping other neighbors get onto a bike and start learning the safe and convenient routes, it’s going to be about people talking to people one-on-one and helping them get comfortable and confident in using a bicycle as regular transportation.

I could only attend two of the dozens of break-out sessions. What was your take-away from the summit?

22 responses to “Coming Down from the Summit”

  1. I wasn’t able to attend the Summit, but I’d like to add one more general policy needed to acheive bike mode splits of 40%: DENSITY.

    Amsterdam is on the order of 5x denser than Portland, putting a much larger percentage of trips within biking distance. While current bikers may be willing to go 15 miles on bike roundtrip with regularity, the next generation will likely prefer much shorter distances.

    Given that Portland is already substanstially built-out, and given the controversy of urban in-fill (the Mississippi lofts, for instance), I question whether Portlanders relize the difficulty of reaching these targets. Transportation planning for the future should include frank discussions on what type of land-use patterns are really necessary to acheive the transportation system we all say we want.

  2. Good summary, Chris.
    The Bikeway network (please do not call these Boulevards) as shown in the Oregonian last week, left out a key piece of information…unprotected crossings of arterials. The worst of these are several points along E. Burnside at 16th, 41st and 45th. We have a long way to go to make the Bikeways work for new riders.
    But this AM along Tillamook, which works pretty well, I noted several riders heading east. We all said Good Morning…which felt nice. But the signage even on as good a Bikeway as Tillamook still is timid at best…little Bike Dots in the pavement, the occasional sign. Nothing tells either bicyclists or motorists that this street is a Bikeway!, primarily for bikes, though cars are welcome if they must use it, go slow, etc.
    I think to move Portland to the next level, there needs to be a really big “signature” project in the works that costs serious dollars and gets fast track treatment. I nominate the North Portland Greenway from Going Street on Swan Island to St Johns. Some of this is already in place, other portions are funded, and especially north of U. of P., alignments are pretty much set.
    Last, the Police Bureau needs to deploy traffic resouces based on real threat to life and property and quit harassing bicyclists who coast thru stop signs.

  3. Transportation planning for the future should include frank discussions on what type of land-use patterns are really necessary to acheive the transportation system we bike enthusiasts all say we want to impose on the region.

  4. I attended the Summit Saturday and am really empowered by all it it. I’ve been in Portland 5 years – and a bike advocate for about 2 years – am heavily involved with Shift to Bikes – Bike Fun, I organize the Bunny on a Bike ride, andI have taken a interest in getting a bike buddy program going city wide in Portland.

    Improving Infrastructure & Personal Mentoring are indeed the two main areas that will get more people on bikes. (Also a third sub category – is a Bike Tourism/Resource Hub Center) The Personal Mentoring is an area I think is key and an area where myself and other cyclist are eager to put time and energy into. I attended the “Why do people no ride -really” workshop – and the topic of safety and traffic came up as one of the number one excuses to why people don’t bike (of the 60% of people who in a study are bike potential) – however this excuse has an underlying real excuse – uneducation and fear – yes improved infrastructure will help folks feel more safe to ride – but also knowledge is more key – and having a one on one mentor is one way that may solve this for some people. Such as one woman piped up she was most scared biking downtown, while another guy said, that’s strange because I feel most safe biking downtown. These two people precieve the same situation as opposite – why? On a personal level, I used to find downtown scary too, until I realized I had rights as a cyclist to take up a lane when it was unsafe to bike on the side of a street without a bike lane. Downtown the traffiic is slower, so in my own lane, I’m just as fast as others – and I feel much safer not having cars pass inches from me. I learned this info from my own bike mentors.

    San Francisco and Seattle have tried and true Bike Buddy mentor programs so why doesn’t Portland have one, being as bikey as we are – seems strange doesn’t. I was pleased to hear the bike buddy idea mentioned over and over throughout the day by other people than myself. The programs that the PDOT Options create are great – they are getting more folks on bikes – and gathering lots of good data about the population. Another step would be a simple bike buddy program city-wide.

    The good news is I feel we are on our way. Both LLoyd Districts TMA & Southeast Uplift are working on their own localized bike buddy programs to be off and running sometime this summer. LLoyd is focusing on commuters, and SE UPlift is focusing on neighbors, and getting people on bikes for even small trips such as too the store or other errand. The program that SE UPlift is piloting could definitely be adopted citywide.

    I’ve started a bike buddy listserve to help get this program going as well as the hope to gather info to write how-tos so any small group can start their own bike mentoring program. If interested in joining go here:

    -Carye Bye

  5. The Amer Comm Survey of the US Census for 2000 showed :

    For entire Metro – 1.9% which includes bike and other things 1.9

    For City of Portland – 1.9% for bike only.


  6. Regarding mode share for bikes, I’d like to see a survey (scientific, with a low margin of error) of various types of bike questions… does anybody know if such a survey is out there?

    Questions like:

    How many days per month do you ride a bike to any destination other than work? How many days per month do you ride a bike to work? How many non-adults in your household ride a bike to work? How often? Perhaps broken down also by sunny days/rainy days.

    Do the survey once in the summer, once in the winter, just to be sure people aren’t overly optimistic in their self-assessment.

    It is more important to me, rather than looking at the percentage share of daily commuters, to find out what percentage of our population bikes on a regular basis.

    – Bob R.

  7. I think people are overvaluing both infrastructure and personal choice. Collective action by bicyclists would have a larger impact. The critical mass rides have been part of that, although the confrontational tone of the public relations hasn’t always helped. But look at the Bridge Pedal. There are all sorts of people who arrive with their bikes on racks to take over the streets for a day. There ought to be an effort to organize those same folks into group rides to the starting line.

    Likewise, there are bike to work days – but there ought to be regularly scheduled bike commutes that happen every day where bicyclists have security and visibility. What happens if there is a group of riders that takes a lane of Going street at 7:45 every morning an at 8:45 so that people can actually bike to Swan Island safely? Or a group that meets at 39th and Hawthorne and takes a lane all the way to the bridge.

    There should also be consideration of closing some streets or portions of streets entirely to auto traffic during the morning and evening commutes. They could then be the bike “freeways” during that time.

    I also think that, in addition to fighting for a share of the infrastructure money, there needs to be a concerted effort to take back right-of-way that is now controlled entirely by autos. That means using the freeway shoulders as bike paths for instance. There also ought to be be Watch For Bikes in Lane signs on all the streets, like SE 20th, where there is not enough room for an auto to safely pass. It would both warn motorists and encourage bicyclists to take the lane without implying that they can’t take them elsewhere.

    40% is a very high goal. It would be a mistake to think you can come close to it through the existing planning and budgeting processes in the region. Some of the things that will be required simply don’t have processes in place to make them easy to accomplish. And focusing only on those that do will leave you far short of the goal.

  8. Ross,
    I can think of few things as unpleasant as bicycling in a freeway shoulder. Even with physical separation from travel lanes (which would be difficult to arrange, since they are needed for breakdowns/emergencies), being that close to that kind of traffic is deleterious to my senses.

  9. “That means using the freeway shoulders as bike paths for instance.”

    The speed differential is too great… although I believe bicycles are allowed on shoulders in some selected freeway corridors (where no alternative is available), I’ve seen way too many vehicles suddenly drift or swerve into the shoulder to think that this could be a safe thing to do.

    How many cyclists would really choose to utilize a freeway shoulder, anyway?

    – Bob R.

  10. I also think that, in addition to fighting for a share of the infrastructure money, there needs to be a concerted effort to take back right-of-way that is now controlled entirely by autos.

    I think there has been a political calculation that this is exactly the wrong way to go at the moment. That we can get more mileage by working on boulevards than spending political capital trying to reallocate right-of-way. I’m inclinded to agree that’s the correct strategy right now.

  11. How do they get the 3 percent? That is an estimate made by Metro.
    Note that it is “trips” not “miles” much less “passenger miles.” Auto
    trips are longer (and carry more people) than bicycle trips. So if
    bicycles make up 3 percent of trips, they probably account for less
    than 1 percent of passenger miles.

    They mention Amsterdam but fail to note that bicycle’s share of
    travel in Amsterdam is declining. Between 1970 and 1990, per capita
    driving in Amsterdam doubled. Per capita transit use increased less
    than 25 percent. I don’t have the data at my fingertips, but I doubt
    that per capita cycling increased by much more than transit.

    Randal O’Toole

    American Dream Coalition
    P. O. Box 1590
    Bandon, Oregon 97411
    541-297-6798 cell

  12. The 3% number was used by one of the speakers at the podium, I don’t know what the data source was.

    The issue is not the absolute number, but the direction.

    I’m curious, Randal, what your underlying point is? Given that the cycling programs being proposed (boulevards) don’t reallocate space from cars and are relatively inexpensive (crossing treatments on major arterials which probably benefit pedestrians as well), what concern this generates?

  13. think there has been a political calculation that this is exactly the wrong way to go at the moment.

    I think it is likely the political calculation will always be that way. I don’t think you will get to the kind of mode split you are looking for just working the short term political calculations. Those are ultimately the end process for the kinds of change you want – but not the starting point.

  14. “Auto trips are longer (and carry more people) than bicycle trips.”

    As far as I know whenever trips are talked about it is in terms of people, not vehicles. If there are two people in a vehicle that is two trips.

    As for the distance, I am not sure why that is an issue. Is there some reason we as a society should give higher value and invest more resources in a 30 mile commute to work than a 1 mile commute? Isn’t a choice to make a shorter trip, using fewer resources, a positive choice?

  15. I think the idea of bicycle boulevards is great. I object to taking
    lanes out of arterials and collectors such as Sandy, Barbur, and
    McLoughlin and turning them over to bicycles. I also think people who
    believe that bicycling can ever reach 40 percent of travel, by any
    measure, are deluding themselves. Bicycle facilities can and should
    be inexpensive and non-auto-hostile.

    Randal O’Toole

    American Dream Coalition
    P. O. Box 1590
    Bandon, Oregon 97411
    541-297-6798 cell

  16. I object to taking lanes out of arterials and collectors such as Sandy, Barbur, and McLoughlin and turning them over to bicycles.

    As far as I can tell, that has never happened. I don’t recall it even being an option in the Sandy Boulevard discussions. The actual conflicts are usually between on-street public parking and bike lanes. And even then, not on principal arterials like McLoughlin since they don’t usually have parking.

    When I suggested reclaiming right-of-way, I was talking more about making shared right-of-way a reality than eliminating lanes for autos. In theory Going is a multi-modal street. In practice, riding a bike to Swan Island is very intimidating and most people use the sidewalk, not the street.

  17. “most people use the sidewalk, not the street”

    This should be the choice more often.

    It’s understandable why bikes should not be on busy sidewalks, such as dowtown, but there are sidewalks all over the place which rarely have any peds on them at all. Yet bike paths were added, in some cases at the expense of road travel lanes.
    So now there are unused sidewalks, rarely used bike paths and insufficient road lanes.
    Where is the wisdom in this?
    On top of this is the push to commit more resources and ROW to bike facilities as if no one is measuring need, use, effectiveness, or common sense.
    Is this this good transportation system planning?
    Or just bike advocacy?

  18. Is this this good transportation system planning?
    Or just bike advocacy?

    The sidewalk is possibly the most dangerous area for a cyclist to ride. Sidewalks are fraught with driveway entrances and blind spots, and cyclists tend look too similar to the distracting vertical lines (e.g. telephone poles, guy wires, mailboxes, trees, building edges) that motorists train themselves to ignore. Not to mention that when on a sidewalk it’s illegal for a cyclist to ride faster than walking speed, precisely for those same visibility reasons.

    It’s not practical and not good transportation planning except in limited circumstances (e.g. crossing bridges and other long stretches unemcumbered with driveways and intersections). There’s a reason why no one puts curbs in the middle of a road.

  19. There are sidewalks all over the place which rarely have any peds on them at all.

    I am not sure where these sidewalks are that are rarely used. Bikes and pedestrians mix uneasily. There are complaints on the esplanade about bikes going too fast. I certainly wouldn’t want to share a narrow sidewalk with high speed bike commuters any more than I would want to take the lane on a freeway with my bike.

    common sense

    Yes, we could use more of that.

  20. Note that the most successful Bikeways in SE are on through streets that were closed to commuter traffic…SE Clinton, Lincoln and Ankeny. This reduced the level and speed of auto traffic such that bicyclists felt safe and were drawn to the route. Also, the first two routes offer signals at 39th, where crossing would otherwise be impossible.
    re Going Street, since that is my territory. We have opted to upgrade the sidewalk…no driveways or residents…as opposed to converting travel lanes. At higher speeds bike lanes are of dubious value…lots of Swan Island bike commuters will not use Greeley, and these are long time riders.
    Up to the present, the City bike program has picked the low hanging fruit; now its time to tackle the tougher spots…gaps, crossings, etc., and come up with designs that while not excluding motorized vehicles, make clear that they are not the primary vehicles for a certain street or route.

  21. A little off topic, but I just wanted to comment on the beautiful new Fillmore Avenue bike lanes in Bandon. I think they’ll make a great addition to an already bike-friendly community (with the exception of 101), and look forward to riding them on my next visit. I can’t help but think that with a little extra effort from the city Bronze might not be far off for Bandon. Specifically, 3rd Street from Fillmore to North Ave would make a great bicycle boulevard, allowing cyclists to easily divert around 101 going north up the hill.

  22. Amsterdam is an illusion. That goal is based on a continent where individuals have lived close together for literally centuries and in a flat and landlocked nation.

    This will never happen in the United States, and structuring public policy around this goal is pure fantasy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *