Tag Archives | Bikes

Requiem for a Greenway

It was after 6:30, so the bulk of the evening rush had come and gone. Clinton Street would be quiet, relaxing, exhilarating…like the olden days. Or so I thought.

Before I’d even ridden a block, I got the all-too familiar “Clinton Street Salute:” a car zipping around me too quickly and too closely. It presaged a glut of traffic the whole way, and along with it the nerve-racking claustrophobia that’s kept me away from Clinton since a group jaunt back in August.

Just a few years ago, the thought of going two whole months without setting tire upon Clinton Street would have been unfathomable to me. One of the best things about my job is that I get to travel throughout the city to look at roads and intersections, and Clinton has long been my superhighway to all points southeast. If you got there early enough, you could often go from Seven Corners all the way to Southeast 26th without seeing a single car. On my many ambles through the corridor I discovered the best cup of coffee in Southeast, the best corn muffins in the city, and the best hot buttered rum anywhere. I realize now that I developed something of a sentimental attachment to the street while riding eastbound all those mornings, mesmerized by constant stream of people cycling past me on their way downtown. Those sign-toppers really meant something back then.

Neighborhood Greenways, née Bicycle Boulevards, are among the most innovative of Portland’s contributions to bike infrastructure. Because Portland’s density is relatively low, and our city blocks are relatively small, we’ve got a decent number of streets that are naturally low-volume. By identifying some of those streets and making a few modest improvements to them, the city created a fairly robust network of comfortable bikeways, quickly and cheaply. Quintessential “low-hanging fruit.” These would never cut mustard as a substitute for high-quality bikeways along our busiest and best streets, but they could be an excellent complement to them. Certainly, they’d suffice in the interim while we built out all of that truly nice stuff.

While I savored those early morning rides along sleepy Clinton, change was happening quickly a block to the north on Division Street. As the recession eased and development picked up, Southeast Division began to densify as fast as any street in the City. Many hands were wrung regarding where everybody would park, but we forgot to think about where everybody would bike. All the while, car traffic on Clinton crept upward. When the Division Streetscape project hit, it was over. Though the project improved Division Street by adding curb extensions at the expense of automotive capacity, we forgot to plan for the impact to bicycling even though it was easy to see this coming. In the course of detouring cars around the construction, we introduced them to a route that they seem to be sticking with in lieu of a slower, narrow Division. The transformation of Clinton Street from a low-stress bikeway to a vehicular cycling boot camp is now complete.

When your bike plan consists of leveraging your low density and your growth plan is to densify, you run the risk of moving backward by standing still. We’ve seen that happen in real-time over the last few years on Clinton Street, and we’re starting to see it more and more clearly in the lagging indicators. The good news—in the case of Clinton, at least—is that the solution is easy and obvious: diverters. The traffic study to determine what to do and where to do it would be a cakewalk, and the cost of installing a few planters to do the trick would be minimal.

So what’s stopping us? My fear is that, with the 2030 bike plan now clearly relegated to “pipe dream” status, Portland lacks a vision for our identity as a bicycle city and how to move forward as such with determination. Bringing bicycling to the best streets is not happening nearly so quickly as we had hoped, which makes it that much more urgent to do what’s necessary to keep the greenways as a workable alternative in the interim. We must defend the fruits that we picked when they were low. We must, at the very least, not move backward.

A few planters could speak volumes. They’d definitely reduce them.

Platinum Podcast

If you’re a blogger one of the technologies you have to track is RSS, and it’s a quick jump from RSS into podcasting. So I often run into interesting podcasts. Last week I stumbled across Bike Talk and their podcast.

The show is out of Davis, California, which is significant since Davis is the first city to be awarded Platinum status for its bicycling environment, something Portland dearly aspires to.

I’ve listened to a couple of the half-hour weekly programs, and find them interesting. A recent show (MP3, 15M) included tips on winter commuting, which were quite useful for Portland since Davis has a similar climate to ours.

Now of course, Portland has its own bicycle radio program, the KBOO Bike Show on 90.7FM at 9am on the 1st Wednesday of every month.

But I’ve never heard it! That’s not a time I’m near a radio, and anyway my radio dial is pretty much super-glued to Oregon Public Broadcasting (sorry KBOO). AND IT’S NOT PODCAST.

So it seems to me that if Portland wants to be a Platinum cycling city, we need to podcast our bike program! One benefit is for folks like me who would listen if we could time-shift the program. The other is to export our experience to the rest of the world.

So what’s it going to take to get this done? Portland Transport will be happy to help. If KBOO or the show’s producers can get us the audio in any electronic format, we’ll be happy to convert it to MP3 and host a podcast here.

What do you say?

Beyond the Woonerf, Evolution of Cycling in the Netherlands

After being dazzled by the prevalence of bicycles here, once my head stopped spinning, I couldn’t help but wonder “how did this come to be?”

We got some of the answers yesterday with presentations from Amsterdam’s bicycle coordinator and a representative of an NGO whose mission is to help other countries adapt the Netherland’s learnings to their own situations.

So where did they start? In 1950, following WWII, the Netherlands had 3.5 million bikes and 90,000 cars. As cars began to proliferate, there was an attitude that “the bikes are in the way of the cars” and an effort began to construct some 1,400 kilometers (km) of segregated bike paths.

At that time, most home-to-work trips were within cycling distance.

During the period from 1950-1975, auto trips expanded from 4.5 billion annually to 89 billion, while cycling stayed about level. However, while km cycled stayed level, fatalities while cycling tripled as auto-bike conflicts increased, in part where segregated bike paths crossed roads.

In the 70’s, the Dutch had a sort of awakening, driven by the oil crisis, rising environmental awareness and predictions of the costs of building roads to accommodate rising auto use.

From 1975-1985 km cycled went from 9.5 billion annually to 12.5 billion, driven by the build out of the segregated paths, addition of bike parking in city centers and rail stations and limitations imposed on auto parking in major cities.

The Dutch began to think that perhaps the cars were in the way of the bikes!

This transit was facilitated by several factors:

1) The national government provided 80% subsidy on bike facility capital projects.
2) Bicycle coordinators were appointed in each city and formed a network, eventually producing a handbook standardizing bike facility design.

In the 90’s the approach evolved again. With the recognition that intersections between segregated bike paths and and roads were a major source of conflict and safety, a movement to integrate bikes back into roadways began, resulting in the urban fabric we see today with bike facilities on almost every street. The learning has been that as drivers become aware of bikes, safety increases. As km cycled increased, overall accidents go DOWN. We are seeing an echo of this in Portland where as bike miles go up, accidents have stayed relatively constant.

Indeed watching a street operate here in Amsterdam is a bit like watching a ballet – all the dancers, cars and bikes, know they roles and weave together very skillfully and very safely, despite very close proximity. I almost wonder if someday they will reach the point of cultural integration of cars, trams (streetcars) and bikes where physical delineations will no longer be necessary and they will operate seamlessly on a web of nothing more than social understandings.

As one of our cab drivers said about the prevalence of bikes, “it’s just a matter of getting used to it.”

One of the Dutch innovations talked about much in America is the Woonerf, an extremely “traffic calmed” street that favors bikes and peds. I was very surprised to hear one of our hosts say they they are no longer constructed. The Woonerf was a phase, a way of raising consciousness of the interaction between peds, bikes and cars. Once the awareness had been created, the physical tools were no longer needed!

So how can we apply these lessons in Portland? We don’t start from the same base of cycling that the Dutch did, but we have made some of the same decisions (e.g., to not build the Mt. Hood freeway and invest in transit instead).

What are the transformations of awareness that we need to create to move Portland (without a lot of support from the national government) to the next level of cultural integration of our modes? What physical infrastructure can help lead to these mental changes?