The Second Age of Portland Cycling Infrastructure Begins


Our new Cycle Track

In my view Portland became North America’s premier cycling city based on a combination of factors, many of which are cultural and social. But an undeniable ingredient was one key piece of infrastructure – the bike lane. While bike boulevards (quieter low traffic streets) acted as feeders to the bike lane network, the six foot bike lane alongside arterial auto traffic (and often next to parked cars that might throw open a door) has been the mainstay or the network that fueled our ascendancy

But that is changing, and I think yesterday may well be the day that history will mark as the beginning of the second age of cycling infrastructure in Portland. We celebrated the opening of our first cycle track at PSU (ably covered by BikePortland). This comes on the heels of a new buffered bike lane on Holgate.

I believe that our second age will be marked by a number of features aimed at capturing the “interested but concerned” demographic of new riders, who comprise the largest segment of the population:

  1. A complete network of bicycle boulevards. Riders will be able to navigate large areas of the city entirely on low-traffic streets, which will have well-engineered, safe and comfortable crossings of major arterials.
  2. Off-street bike paths will serve as “bicycle freeways” facilitating larger volumes and longer, faster trips. The North Portland Greenway and Sullivan’s Gulch Trail will be early entries in this part of the network. The Eastbank Esplanade and Springwater Corridor show us what these will look like.

  3. The parts of the network on arterial streets will look like cycle tracks and buffered bike lanes, or other designs that provide a considerably greater degree of safety and comfort than today’s bike lane.

But I’ll still think fondly about the good old bike lane that got us here.

23 responses to “The Second Age of Portland Cycling Infrastructure Begins”

  1. It will always be too dangerous to bike in many places, no matter what they do. That’s why as a non-driver, I adamantly refuse to ride a bike in this town.

  2. In both Vienna and Berlin, where I am now, I notice a consistent pattern of bike lanes located between the sidewalk and the parallel parking strip, rather than between parking and traffic as is done in America. The configuration here involves more interaction with peds and thus slower speeds, but almost no exposure to car traffic.

    I wonder how American outcomes would be different if we did it that way. I’m guessing it’s much less effective for serious longer-distance commuting, but attractive to a wider share of the population because of the greater safety.

    Not an expert on bikes, so just noticing.

  3. I suspect that “serious long distance” bike commuting is best handled by having physically separated bikeways. Portland has lots of those, though the network is incomplete in numerous locations.

  4. Wow.. traffic planners have really lost touch with reality!

    There was one time where planners attempted to plan based on accommodating demand; now it seems everyone is on a “if you build it, they will come” philosophy.

    Broadway has plenty of auto traffic, even at PSU. During the day, all three lanes are heavily utilized by motorized traffic whereas bicycle use is minimal.

    Holgate, along with any corridor east of 82nd Avenue has little to no bicycle demand any time of day— the only people who ride bikes out here on traffic corridors are tweakers with large bags of soda cans.

    To be honest, I have driven just about everywhere in the city and the only corridor that has ever struck me as having enough bicycle traffic to warrant any type of specialized lane is Hawthorne— and, of course, there are none.

  5. Way back when I was a poor college student in Eugene, I had to rent way out in west eugene ,
    [hellhole] , and I started riding in the gutter next to 18 wheelers. Then I discovered a stunning bikeway on a greenway behind the first row of commercial buildings. It went for quite a ways toward campus , and was a delightful way to bike commute [and safe]. It took up little room , and was a great buffer between commercial and residential. It is the Real Solution for main bike routes.

  6. There was one time where planners attempted to plan based on accommodating demand.

    And they are … PSU is one of the most bicycle-intensive destinations in our region.

    That stretch of Broadway is an ideal location to test out a bicycle track, because there are no existing intersections with right-turns. One of the potential problems with bicycle tracks is visibility to right-turn automobile movements. This demonstration section will tell us how well cyclists will utilize a track under ideal conditions (popular destination, uncomplicated implementation). It gets people used to the idea with a minimum of change-related risk.

    Another feature of the bicycle track is the facilitation of safe, signalized left turns, via perpendicular turning boxes at intersections, without cycles having to merge through multiple lanes of traffic.

  7. Chris – Great post. The three features you note are right on target. The fourth one I would add is inter-city travel – a way to connect between our communities and beyond.

    The ideas circulating around that include routes to Mt. Hood and to the coast represent this. They can can be seen in successful efforts like the US 101 cycle route and the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway.

  8. Chris – Thanks for the thoughtful post about the new Cycle Track. I think your readers might enjoy a few statistics that helped contribute to PSU’s commitment to this project:

    Currently 11% of students (that’s 11% of 23,000 non-resident students) and 10% of faculty/staff (approx. 3500) are biking to PSU. Meanwhile drive alone trips for these two groups are both at approx. 25% of mode share. Can you guess which numbers are going up and which are declining?

    This new infrastructure is, indeed, part of the second age. We are very comfortably predicting a 20% mode share for bikes in next 10 years. This isn’t about ‘build it and they will come’. It’s about ‘build it because they are coming’. Every year, the numbers increase dramatically. It’s about time we got ahead of the curve and started planning pro-actively, not reactively.

    Many thanks,

    p.s. Transit mode share is still showing slight growth as well. (Currently at 39% of students and 46% of staff.) We’re really looking forward to seeing how the new MAX line affects our transit numbers.

  9. Anthony,

    I work downtown and take a class or two a term at PSU. Generaly speaking, traffic on SW Broadway is only heavy during rush hour, not throughout the day. Nevertheless, you’re absolutely correct about how heavy traffic can be during rush hour… as such I think that ultimately taking a lane away from Broadway was a bad idea.

    I am a cyclist, I bike commute to work and school. I know that cycle tracks are intended to reach people who are not nearly as confident in their cycling ability as I am, so I recognize that cycle tracks aren’t targeted at me. Nevertheless, I have some serious concerns about how cycle tracks will be implemented:

    1) How will they mitigate right hooks? I know there won’t be any on this cycle track because there aren’t any right turns… but what about future cycle tracks? It seems to me that hiding bike traffic behind parked cars could lead to an INCREASE in right hooks.

    2) Where will we install future cycle tracks? In my opinion they’re only useful if they’re long and they connect to other “safe” portions of the bike network… either trails like the Springwater or bike boulevards. What main streets in Portland are we willing to take a lane from? Or are there main streets that wouldn’t require lane removal to install a bike boulevard?

    3) Bus stops. It’s a little worrying that buses have to pull through the cycle track to pull up to a bus stop. I’m guessing there’s no way around it, but with cyclists hidden behind parked cars there’s the potential for accidents.

    We’ll find out about #3 as this first cycle track gets used (I’ll be on it starting the end of September, so it won’t be long before I learn about it myself), but #1 and #2 haven’t really been addressed by anyone at the city or the BTA. In my opinion cycle tracks just aren’t feasible here, and that people who are seeking to improve the bike infrastructure here should concentrate on bike boulevards and off-street trails.

  10. “In both Vienna and Berlin, where I am now, I notice a consistent pattern of bike lanes located between the sidewalk and the parallel parking strip, rather than between parking and traffic as is done in America. The configuration here involves more interaction with peds and thus slower speeds, but almost no exposure to car traffic.”

    >>>> I note ‘more interaction with peds.’ Well, in Europe the cyclists may be slower, but since many cyclists in Portland don’t have good manners, forget it. They’ll just go mowing pedestrians down. If you walk a lot like I do (no car), you’ll know what I mean.

    This is of the reasons that I am not that sympathetic to the bicycle cause here.

  11. I have mixed feelings about cycletracks, as I think that good infrastructure should not make it less convenient or slower to ride a bike. Cycletracks can potentially do both. The two-step left turn can be a time sink in comparison to the vehicular left turn, although in some cases, sensors in left-hand turn lanes at lights often do not sense the presence of a bicycle. Other than that, I think they are okay, provided that they are made nice and wide. When I visited Goteborg, Sweden, I liked them, as they were sufficiently wide to enable one to pass a slower cyclist. In Stockholm, however, they were too narrow and I found the experience frustrating. (Fortunately, the police had better things to do than making sure that you didn’t stray from a cycletrack where there was one.)

    I don’t have any problems riding on and keeping up with traffic on Broadway, but my impression when talking to most people who ever ride a bike is that they prefer something resembling a separated trail (or a low-traffic parallel route like our bike boulevards).

  12. I think it is better to have the cyclists in a defined area—cycletrack, bike path, bike lane, etc—than all over the place. Particularly on a sidewalk where there are lots of peds! And make them use lights, so that peds with failing eyesight don’t get run over at night.

  13. the beauty of a cycle track is its the closest you can get to an off-street trail while using street right of way. you need cycle tracks to access areas away from rivers and RR lines which are presently the only places off street trails are located. this cycle track really needs a curb for all street users interests. make it a permanent concrete curb or a temporary one using railroad ties. why not make it two way since theres no present route in the other direction. hopefully bus bulbs will be added along this cycle track in similar fashion to the streetcar stop on sw moody in sowa. also green paint would help too. but on the whole i absolutely love it and hope to see the cycle track network expanded.

  14. I keep seeing people pointing out right hook worries/testing it here: one of the big reasons they’re testing it where they are is that there are no right-turns in that stretch, so no worries about right hooks. Cars physically can’t turn right.

  15. Mele,

    I understand that there’s no problem with right hooks on this section of street, but if the cycle track is going to be successfully implemented elsewhere PBOT is going to have to address that concern (and the other one I mentioned above, finding other streets they can take a lane from). Until that point in time, the cycle track is basically a one-off curiosity.

  16. Doug Says: I understand that there’s no problem with right hooks on this section of street, but if the cycle track is going to be successfully implemented elsewhere PBOT is going to have to address that concern (and the other one I mentioned above, finding other streets they can take a lane from). Until that point in time, the cycle track is basically a one-off curiosity.

    And we can easily see how that “no right turn” thing is working on 5th & 6th avenues. I’m not convinced it’s physically possible to create signage and information sufficient to retrain auto drivers that, no, you cannot do that!

  17. create signage and information sufficient to retrain auto drivers

    Well, it would help if we actually enforced laws and, moreover, there was the possibility that they could get their license taken away because not following signs meant that a person doesn’t know how to drive/can’t be trusted to do so safely.

    However, it would also help if the signs were lit so they didn’t disappear in the darkness, there were “no turns” signs instead of “one way” signs next to some of the signals, more explicit “no right turn” instead of “go left/straight” next to others, traffic controls that are rarely used elsewhere (double white lines) weren’t used, an odd, essentially left-side drive design wasn’t used…

  18. Anthony, if bicycle use on south Broadway is really “minimal” as you claim, maybe it’s because there’s no safe separated bike facilities there. (I see little train traffic there, too — maybe it has something to do with the lack of train tracks?) I live and bike in the area daily and seldom see “heavy” auto use south of, say, Main, and not much more north of there.

    EngineerScotty, what evidence do you have that it will “always” be too dangerous to bike? Somehow Copenhagen and the Netherlands and many other European cities and countries are able to have extensive, heavily used networks of cycle tracks, mixed with light rail and buses, and have far larger rates of bicycle commuting and mode share than we do in Portland or anywhere else in the US. Do those countries have vastly greater rates of right-hook collisions between car drivers and bicyclists than we do here?

    As the European countries that have tried cycle tracks have shown, if you provide the infrastructure that makes cyclists feel safer, far more people will cycle, and fewer will drive, thus reducing car congestion, increasing safety (the more cyclists, the more likely drivers will watch out for them), and, most important, facilitating greater — and greener — total mobility.

    The test isn’t how many cars can use a street but rather how many people can, and how many safe choices the infrastructure can provide. Providing adequate safe bikeways is long overdue, and we have a long way to go until the city has enough to meet the needs of road users who will choose to go by bike if it’s safe.

    The overwhelming amount of public subsidy still goes to a single inefficient, expensive mode — cars — that produces the most pollution and greenhouse gases per rider and costs the most in terms of infrastructure. A few blocks of bike demo projects hardly changes that big picture. But it’s a start. I think we’ll need plenty more before any serious conclusions about their safety and effectiveness can be drawn. The city deserves a lot of credit for this kind of green, progressive planning and experimentation.

  19. I know a number of cyclists in my area (on the East Coast) whom would prefer in-street bike lanes *in addition* to cycle tracks. Has there been any feedback to that effect?

  20. I have to say, I’m excited to be getting past the painted bike lane in the gutter phase of Portland cycling. I ride through a lot of areas that have bike lanes painted on the sides of the street on main arterials, but in most of those places, I would much rather go one block over and ride down a nice, quiet neighborhood street with no bike lanes than ride over sewer drains, manhole covers, junk that gets swept off the street, junk that people throw out of their cars, barely dodging car doors and parked buses.

    In parts of the city where there is no reasonable alternative than to ride on large streets, painted bike lanes are a great addition. In most of the inner part of the city, I think there are much nicer ways to go.

    As someone commented on BikePortland regarding the cycle track: anything that sends a message contrary to “anyone in a car can drive anywhere there is space whenever they want” is probably a good thing. Because that is basically how things work. Let’s hope that this and other bicycle/pedestrian projects signal an uptake in Portland really doing something about protecting the rights of the most vulnerable road users.

  21. ‘Twasn’t me who said that it’s “too dangerous to bike”, and certainly not always. My comments on this thread have been limited to posting a link to a Wikipedia article, and the observation that dedicated bike paths are probably better for some applications.

    Which is different than “it’s always too dangerous to bike”. Venturing onto the roads always involves some danger, whether you’ve got zero wheels, two, or four. Asserting that such risk is excessive cannot reasonably be done without further qualifying the situation–riding your bike in the middle of freeway traffic is probably “too dangerous”, but riding in a marked bike lane/trail, not so much.

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