The good and bad about biking in Portland — in PBOT’s own words

The good and bad about biking in Portland — in PBOT’s own words

“While business and political support is strong it could be stronger, especially in key constituent groups.”
— Roger Geller, PBOT Bicycle Coordinator in a League of American Bicyclists Bicycle Friendly Community award application

Back in 2008 Portland became the first major U.S. city to be given a “Platinum” level Bicycle Friendly Community award by the League of American Bicyclists. Now, as per League policy, the Portland Bureau of Transportation must re-apply every 2-3 years in order keep its Platinum designation. (If you’re wondering, the League says the Diamond-level designation isn’t available yet.)

I recently got a glimpse of the current application and two questions stood out: “What are the three primary reasons your community deserves to be designated a Bicycle Friendly Community?” and “What are the three aspects of your community most in need of improvement in order to accommodate bicyclists?”

The application was filled out by PBOT Bicycle Coordinator Roger Geller. In the interest of understanding how PBOT sees its strengths and its weaknesses, I figured it would be interesting to share Geller’s answers. I’ve pasted them below (emphases mine):

What are the three primary reasons your community deserves to be designated a Bicycle Friendly Community?
Reason One
Bicycle Use. Portland’s bicycle use is high and continues to grow. The US Census reports a city-wide 6.3% bicycle commute mode split in 2011 (6.8%, not including worked at home). Data from the 5-year average ACS (2007-2011) indicates that for that 5-year period approximately half of Portland’s commuters (46%) lived in areas where the average bicycle commute mode split was 10%. About a quarter of Portland’s commuters (24%) lived in areas where the average bicycle commute mode split was 13%. These areas represent sizable proportions of inner Portland, extending beyond a 4-miles radius from the city center. 2011 personal transportation survey data (from the Oregon Household Activity Survey, or OHAS)–recently released by our regional government–shows that bicycling now represents between 5.5% and 6% of all (not just commute) trips in the city. In the part of the city with the greatest population bicycle use rose from 2% of all trips in 1994 to more than 8% in 2011. Bicycle use is growing not just in inner Portland but in all parts of the city. Neighborhoods the furthest from Portland’s central city–and traditionally underserved by transportation infrastructure–saw an annual growth in bicycle use of 11% compared to 2011. This reflects an investment by the city in bringing to outer neighborhoods the same quality of bikeways and programming as enjoyed by those in the inner city.

Reason Two
Commitment to design, encouragement and education. Portland’s commitment to doing whatever it takes remains strong. Portland has made use of every design treatment in the NACTO Design Guide. We have 16 intersections with bicycle signals (and another 2 funded); we have green wave bicycle progressions on a number of corridors; we have 26 bicycle boxes at 19 intersections (with 3 more funded at 2 intersections). Portland has several different types of “green lanes,” including buffered bike lanes and physically-protected cycle tracks, including elevated two-way, elevated one-way, barrier-protected and parking-protected. We have more under design and funded and are looking for dramatic expansion in that network in coming years. In recent years we have focused our efforts on developing bicycle boulevards and have a solid network of 70 miles, with another 24 miles funded. Portlanders can ride on a traffic-calmed, volume-reduced 20 mph boulevard continuously from one end of Portland to another. We are similarly committed to providing opportunities for Portlanders to discovery the joy and practicality of bicycling. In addition to numerous other activities, the high water mark of Portland’s encouragement efforts are our five Sunday Parkway events held May through September. These events annually attract 100,000 people, many of whom are new riders. Our educational efforts are similarly robust, with Safe Routes 2 School programs in 80 schools. We are working to train and encourage the next generation of Portland cyclists.

Reason Three
Policy, political and public support. Council-approved documents in Portland call for a 70% non-automotive mode split, with bicycles expected to carry about 25% of either commute or all trips–depending on the document. Portland is in the process of updating its comprehensive plan; the public working draft is calling for a green transportation hierarchy in policy that codifies walking first, then bicycling, then transit and so on. Business owners have led the charge in demanding on-street bicycle corrals as well as with the recent five-lane to three-lane road diet to create protected bicycle lanes on one of our central city’s main streets. Portland now has 97 bicycle corrals in business districts across town. While the city pays for them, they have all come at the request of immediately adjacent business owners and/or business districts. Portland politicians seem universally supportive of increasing bicycle transportation. Our most recent mayoral election–with primaries in May, 2012 and the general election in November–included three main candidates who all expressed strong support for bicycling. Portland citizens are ever more frequently “voting with their pedals.” Every indication we have–from user surveys, use itself, and voting habits indicates that Portlanders strongly support Portland as a strong and strengthening bicycle city.

What are the three aspects of your community most in need of improvement in order to accommodate bicyclists?
Aspect One
Stronger support. While business and political support is strong it could be stronger, especially in key constituent groups. Portland’s paper of record has fomented an unfortunate “bikes vs. potholes” dialogue that blames declining street maintenance on the striping of bicycle lanes. This theme does not benefit reasoned public discourse about the future of bicycle transportation in the city. Implementing world-class bikeways in Portland requires continuing change in our thinking about transportation priorities and that will require increasing support for bicycling near the top of the transportation hierarchy.

Aspect Two
Better designs. While Portlanders can ride almost everywhere in the city on a connected network of bikeways, the preponderance of them are AASHTO-style five-foot wide bicycle lanes. We need better if we’re to fully attract the “interested but concerned.”

Aspect Three
More extensive education. We need to better educate Portlanders about how bicycle transportation benefits them as individuals and the city as a whole. We need to better educate people who bicycle about how to operate their vehicles and how to behave better in the presence of others (pedestrians, motorists and cyclists, alike). Motorists need more and similar educational opportunities. Finally, we need more extensive educational efforts in all our schools, not just the 80 that currently have Safe Routes to School programming. We need more of the next generation of cyclists to be ready to ride.

This is some revealing and important straight dope directly from the horse’s mouth. Even if I don’t agree with everything Geller says, I appreciate knowing where PBOT stands. What are your thoughts?

Comments are closed.