Author Archive | emanvel

A Sad Summer is a Call to Action

It’s been a sad summer in the bicycling community.

A friend called me Monday night to report the fifth cyclist death in a Portland-area crash since the start of June. We must stop and mourn the deaths and honor the lives of our neighbors, our friends, and our family members. We also have to respond, and act today to prevent future deaths.

The media are writing and reporting on the issue, with a bleed-and-lead headline blaring from last Friday’s Portland Tribune “Walk, ride at your peril.” That’s irresponsible journalism, as biking and walking remain relatively safe activities. But it’s right for people to be concerned.

Community members are looking to point fingers, wanting to know “Why is this happening, and who should be blamed?” After five deaths, it would ease our minds if there were a single reason. But there is no single reason.

Luckily, there are things we can do. Most of these crashes are not just accidents – they are preventable. Whether or not we take the actions we know will improve safety, instead of wishing the deaths away, depends on our collective will.

First, as drivers and cyclists, we have to act responsibly when we’re on the road. As drivers, we need to yield to bikes, drive defensively and at reasonable speeds, not drink and drive, forgo distractions such as talking on cell phones, and generally be courteous and thoughtful. As cyclists, we need to be visible and ride predictably and defensively. We need to yield to others when appropriate and be aware that drivers may not see us. Sharing our roads doesn’t have to be deadly. People can learn more at www.easytoshare.com.

Second, law enforcement officials need to respond effectively and send a clear message that our roads must be safe for all. Negligent and dangerous drivers who are making our roads unsafe by speeding through neighborhoods and in school zones, running red lights, and driving while drunk, must be cited, especially when their actions result in deaths.

Third, our elected officials must dedicate the required resources to identify the most dangerous roads and bridges and fix them, as well as improving safety during every upgrade. The Oregon Department of Transportation recently spent $38 million revamping the St. Johns Bridge and failed to include safe bike facilities. That should be unacceptable.

Fourth, community partners such as the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA), schools, and Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) must work to educate drivers and bicyclists about safely sharing the road. The BTA and others will continue to provide bike safety education classes to beginning cyclists, working to create safe habits for a lifetime. The DMV should make sure drivers get the same training.

Fifth, the media should continue to draw attention to the crashes, in a thoughtful and responsible way. While drawing attention to specific problems and incidents, media stories should remind us that bicycling remains a safe way to move about Portland, and has long-term health benefits that far outweigh the odds of being in a crash. Moreover, bicycling is getting safer and safer as more people bicycle, as drivers are getting more used to people on the road. The media should also remind us that driving is a dangerous activity, both for drivers and other road users. Every year in Portland, roughly fifteen times more drivers and passengers die than cyclists, yet those deaths fade into the background.

Each bicyclist’s death is tragic. But those deaths will be even more tragic if we do not act decisively, and take actions that we know can save lives today.

St. Johns Bridge Plan Ignores Chance to Reconnect

Editor’s Note: This appeared as an opinion piece today on Oregon Live with a summary in the printed edition of the O. We’re cross-posting it here to allow a little more exposure and discussion.

Portland’s Willamette River bridges connect east and west, north and south, uniting neighborhoods into one great city. Visitors marvel at the bridges’ beauty, variety, and utility; Portlanders adorn our walls with posters that celebrate the bridges’ engineering details as much as their lofty design.

Yet, as the $38 million upgrade of the 75-year-old St. Johns Bridge nears completion, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) is poised to miss a perfect opportunity to strengthen the connections among Portland communities.

The St. Johns Bridge is the only bridge spanning the Willamette River for five miles north or south. ODOT is currently planning to remodel the bridge in a way that endangers pedestrians and bicyclists, fails the freight community’s stated standards for trucks, and is nerve-wracking for everyday car commuters – even though all of these problems can be solved at no cost.

The bridge currently has four narrow traffic lanes, no bike lanes, and substandard sidewalks — an arrangement that makes everyone feel unsafe. Fast-moving twenty-ton trucks mix with cars and bicyclists in the roadway, and bicyclists try to share narrow, substandard sidewalks with pedestrians, as trucks zoom by.

Neighbors in St. Johns who want to safely bike or walk to landmark Forest Park, a short mile away via the St. Johns Bridge, might be advised to take a twelve-mile detour via the Broadway Bridge. In effect, North Portland is cut off from Northwest Portland for far too many people.

Yet instead of improving upon the situation, ODOT is planning to perpetuate it.

ODOT originally wanted to look at different bridge configurations, and spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars hiring outside consultants. Those consultants found that the pinch-points for travel happen at the ends of the bridge, and that “no capacity constraints or operational flaws on the bridge” would result from a new design, one that would use two wide travel lanes with shoulder areas mid-bridge.

Under pressure from special interests, ODOT simply ignored the facts at hand. The result, if it is allowed to go forward, is a bridge that will continue to be unsafe for the quarter of the area’s residents who cannot drive.

There is a solution that benefits neighbors, helps businesses move freight, creates transportation choices, and makes the bridge safer for everyone. Maintaining four lanes at the ends of the bridge, but having the middle of the bridge striped with two wide lanes and wide shoulders, would give everyone room to breathe, making it easy to share the road. Trucks, cars, bicycles, and pedestrians could all fit safely and comfortably.

Sadly, neighborhood disconnection is currently carrying the day. ODOT is buckling under to special interests, and ignoring the facts it spent our tax dollars to learn, as well as its obligation to provide safe facilities for all Portlanders.

The St. Johns Bridge is named after settler James Johns, who started the local ferry system across the Willamette River with a single rowboat in 1852. It’s disappointing that the bridge bearing his name has become a symbol of disconnection rather than connection.

Bridge renovations offer a once-in-a-generation chance to make real improvements in the relationship among Portland neighborhoods. Our children will live with the results of today’s decisions, and it’s our responsibility to make the best choice.

Instead of settling for an unsafe bridge that limits options, we should leave our kids a safer, better facility that reconnects our neighborhoods and our city. The bridges are a symbol of Portland. Let us reconnect.

Evan Manvel is the Executive Director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. Erik Palmer is the Land Use Chair of Friends of Cathedral Park.

Wanted: 3000 Donuts

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance is searching for 3000 donuts. At a recent staff meeting, our Program Director Brita Johnson asked if we knew where to find 3000 donuts. That’s right, 250 dozen.

Well, Voodoo Donuts has their Tex-Ass Sized donuts, but asking them to make 3000 cool donuts isn’t a likely winner. Perhaps Franz Bakery, whose lovely smell of baking permeates blocks around their factory at Northeast 11th and Everett, is the place to go. I can also imagine a Krispy Kreme poster of a bicycle whose wheels are made out of donuts. But if you’ve got ideas, let us know.

Why do we need so many donuts? Well, it’s a summer of fun for bicycling, and one of the events we help with, and benefit from, is the Midsummer Night Ride, July 9th. It’s a great ride through the city in the middle of the night with thousands of other cyclists. For those of you who may not have ridden in the middle of a summer night much, it’s an amazing experience, especially with a few hundred friends. Seriously consider going.

Or if you want to help with any of our events this summer, we’d love your help.

Otherwise, find us some donuts, will you?