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Got polluted air? A good biking network helps, PSU study says

Got polluted air? A good biking network helps, PSU study says

In traffic on Grand Avenue-1.jpg

It turns out when people have route options, they choose healthier ones.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Last week’s news that a glass factory on SE 21st Street seems to have been emitting “alarming” levels of arsenic and cadmium has many Portlanders who bike through the area worried.

The recommendation for practice is to provide low-traffic routes wherever possible in bicycle networks, not to limit bicycle facilities on high-traffic streets.

After all, as we wrote in 2014, people biking ingest more pollution per second because they breathe harder.

But as it happens, the same Portlanders behind that 2014 study of biking and air pollution recently came out with a different finding: helping people avoid air pollution while they bike is one more reason to build a biking network.

As explored by Portland State University scholars Alex Bigazzi, Joe Broach and Jennifer Dill, it’s a simple concept, really: if you give people more routes to ride comfortably, they will be better able to avoid riding through pollution.

And indeed, the research team used Bigazzi’s self-made pollution-testing apparatus to determine that people do actually tend to better avoid pollution when they have good biking route options.

Compared to dose-minimizing behavior, bicyclists tend to use high-traffic streets too often if there is a bike lane and not enough if there is not. The recommendation for practice is to provide low-traffic routes wherever possible in bicycle networks, not to limit bicycle facilities on high-traffic streets.

Presumably, this is in part a response to one possible misinterpretation of Bigazzi’s prior research into air pollution. Bigazzi found, unsurprisingly, that streets with lots of cars have lots of air pollution. It’d be possible to conclude, from this, that it’s better to build bike networks away from large streets so people won’t be tempted to bike there.

But as Bigazzi has pointed out in previous research, proximity isn’t the only factor in pollution exposure. The other is time. If a direct route has slightly more pollution than a winding one, it might still be better for your lungs because you’re spending less time in the pollution.





This latest study brings some numerical heft to the discussion. When an interlacing network gives people a rich set of route options, they tend to be decent at choosing good ones.

Another thing to keep in mind here is the underlying fact of all health-related research on biking: The health costs of not biking are generally far larger than any health costs of biking.

This air pollution news from Southeast (and today’s follow-up about a second, smaller pollution hub just north of the Rose Quarter) is a useful reminder of another of Bigazzi’s findings from his previous study: cars are a big air-pollution problem, but they’re not the only one cities face.

springwater pollution

A slide Alex Bigazzi’s 2014 presentation about pollution he detected on Portland bike routes. Industry along the Springwater Corridor sends more pollutants into the air than cars on nearby big streets do.

Pollution is bad for everyone nearby, and a good bike network is no solution to the larger problem. But this paper is a useful reminder of the many ways that bike networks aren’t merely about appeasing an interest group or manipulating a behavioral shift. They’re about empowering people to help themselves.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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The post Got polluted air? A good biking network helps, PSU study says appeared first on BikePortland.org.

New Portland study says greenery is the preferred bikeway buffer

New Portland study says greenery is the preferred bikeway buffer

buffer type score

Slide from a recent PSU grad’s study of people’s comfort preferences. An “A” score represents the most comfortable biking.
(Image: TREC at PSU)

What’s the best way to separate bike and auto traffic?

Portland hasn’t built many protected bike lanes yet, but the ones it has include dabbles in every major separation method, from the mountable curbs on Northeast Cully to the plastic posts on the Hawthorne Bridge viaduct to the thick fence on the Morrison Bridge to the big round planters on Northeast Multnomah to the parked cars on Southwest Broadway.

As it aspires to make protected bike lanes its default bike lane design and prepares for a high-profile downtown project, here’s a recent bit of data that might inform the city’s choices: people seem to love planters.

A study presented at Portland State University last month by a recent grad is the latest to show that, for whatever reason, a giant flowerpot in the street seems to be pretty much the most popular way to protect a bike lane.

Policymakers Ride 2014-52

The planter-protected bike lane on NE Multnomah Street.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Here’s a clip of Northeast Multnomah Street that PSU grad Nick Foster, now working as a senior planner for the Boise office of Kittelson and Associates, filmed and shared with hundreds of people to ask how comfortable they’d feel biking in it. It was one of 23 clips from bike lanes in San Francisco, Chicago and Portland that Foster drew on to create the data in the chart above.

“They look nice; you can see over them,” Foster said in his Nov. 21 presentation at PSU, summarizing the two biggest advantages of planters.

A 2014 study of bike users in Hangzhou, which is arguably the bike capital of China and has an extensive network of bike lanes protected by greenery, found that “beautiful surrounding environments” was a meaningful reason people enjoyed biking for transportation.

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Planters come in lots of shapes and sizes. In terms of appearance, the planters in downtown Vancouver BC make some of the nicest-looking bike lanes I’ve seen:

planters downtown

(Photo: M.Andersen)

…but they lack one of the big advantages of Portland’s planters, which is that it’s easy for a person on bike or foot to move between them, either to cross the street, to get ready for a left turn, or to get around an illegally parked car or other obstacle.

One big downside of Multnomah’s planters is that they take up so much of the road’s width. They probably wouldn’t be possible, for example, if the general travel lanes on the downtown transit mall were closed to cars in order to create north-south bike lanes. There’s not much room.

Foster’s finding about planters echoes an earlier one from his professor and co-author Chris Monsere, which used still images to ask people how comfortable they’d feel in various contexts:

barrier separation types

One notable difference is that plastic posts fared much more poorly as a separation method in the video than they did in the still image, which may not have conveyed how flimsy most bikeway posts are.

“Posts are a nice reminder,” Foster said in his presentation last month. “But everyone knows that a post goes down very easy.”

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org


The post New Portland study says greenery is the preferred bikeway buffer appeared first on BikePortland.org.

Three non-obvious reasons the Bike Commute Challenge is such a great idea

Three non-obvious reasons the Bike Commute Challenge is such a great idea

Bike Commute Challenge Party-6.jpg

Who doesn’t like trophies?
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Portland’s friendly annual competition among workplaces to see who can log the most and longest bike trips and who can recruit the most commuters starts today. And an excellent new academic paper shows exactly why you should be signing up and nudging your co-workers to do the same.

The paper published last week is by New York-based biking psychology student Do Lee, based on interviews, mapping and video and ride-along observations of the two-week Lake Tahoe Bike Challenge in California.

His simple conclusion: no amount of infrastructure or logic is ever going to give people the confidence and information they need to make a rational decision about whether they should commute by bike.

For confidence, they have to see other people doing it — and for information, they simply have to try it.

Lee’s study, which won a “best student paper” award last year from his regional division of the American Psychological Association, is unfortunately behind a paywall. But we can share some key insights here that ring true.

Most people have no idea where bike infrastructure is located

Ultimate North Portland Family Loop-2

Many of Portland’s most appealing bikeways — like the Bryant St. Bridge over I-5 — are out-of-sight and therefore, out-of-mind.

When I was considering a bike commute in 2009, I emailed a friend to ask how long he thought it would take to bike from the Arbor Lodge neighborhood in north Portland to my job in downtown Vancouver.

“I’m going to say it would take you about 15 minutes,” he replied. “Provided that the car you get rear-ended by on I-5 deposits your remains at your desired location.”

My friend (a Portlander if there ever was one) had driven to Vancouver before but had no idea that there is a bikeable path across the Interstate Bridge. And in that, Lee finds, he was like most people who have only taken a particular trip in a car.

“Many bicyclists prefer designated bike paths and informal bike trails but these routes are usually located away from the main roads and are often difficult to spot while driving,” Lee writes. “Prior to their first bike to work event, many participants lacked knowledge of bike routes other than those immediately visible while driving.”

For Portland’s bike network, which is dependent on our generally pleasant but hard-to-spot neighborhood greenways, this hurdle is especially high. But the practical experience of piecing together a bike commute for the sake of workplace camaraderie can break it down, Lee writes.

People driving see only the worst parts of bike commuting

From the other side-2

Yikes! That sure doesn’t look very safe from where I’m sitting.

Most people who commute by car come across people biking from time to time. Where are they most likely to do so? During the very worst moments of a bike commute — the moments when the bike commuter has to interact with cars.

Is it any wonder that so many car-centric people see bikers, and biking, at their worst?

In his interviews, Lee found that people thought biking is always like that.

“In essence, the participants forecast an experience of bicycle commuting that is filtered through their experiences of driving,” he writes. “The driving environment renders the positive aspects of bicycle commuting invisible while drivers simultaneously project negative qualities onto any bicycle commuting that remains visible.”

Only by escaping the car for a day or two can someone understand that a lot of bike commuting is actually less stressful than driving.

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Rich and poor people alike are motivated by more than just money

Ride Along Kathleen McDade-7

There’s a popular myth that some people who don’t own cars bike because they “have to.” But people of every income level are making choices all the time. Someone who doesn’t own a car might carpool, ride a bus or simply make painful financial sacrifices to buy a car.

Lee’s research suggests that you don’t have to be an office worker to respond to a bike-to-work challenge.

“The two Latino males in this study were both blue-collar laborers who worked multiple jobs; yet, both spoke of becoming bicycle commuters not out of economic necessity, but based on complex experiences and motivations facilitated by the event,” he writes. “Based on their interviews, both participants would not have known about and experienced the event without having a workplace team.”

On the downside, Lee found, bike-to-work events often end up targeting office workers, neglecting people who work other jobs and ignoring people who focus on unpaid work like parenting.

“The event did not exclude anybody from participating, but the event’s outreach favored the social environments of middle class, well educated, and mostly white social networks in Tahoe despite a sizeable local Latino bicycling population,” Lee writes.

Moral of the story: Bike lanes aren’t nearly enough

Pedalpalooza 2014 Kickoff Parade-35

Bike infrastructure is great for those of us who already ride. But it does little to boost the number of people biking unless people get on their bikes for the first time — and getting people on bikes requires social support.

“Bicycling infrastructure alone is not enough to encourage cycling, because the material and social conditions of a car world render bicycle commuting as largely invisible and unviable for everyday transport,” Lee writes. “Lived experience is the essential bridge to knowing how one’s environment affords bicycle commuting in daily life.”

As we’ve reported, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance’s free-to-play competition has been steadily shrinking since 2011. But the BCC’s major funders at Metro doubled down in 2015 by boosting their support for the program.

Let’s hope it works. There’s little question that the BCC has played a big role in helping thousands of Portlanders discover the joy of bike commuting.

“Real freedom is about breaking from automatic and unconscious habits and routines in order to search for new possibilities of being in the world,” Lee writes, quoting the late philosopher Maxine Greene.

Here’s to that.

Thanks to Jessica Roberts, a bike programming expert at Alta Planning and Design, for the tip about Lee’s work.


The post Three non-obvious reasons the Bike Commute Challenge is such a great idea appeared first on BikePortland.org.

What makes people stop at red lights? Other people, study finds

What makes people stop at red lights? Other people, study finds

Would you stop?
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

It might be peer pressure. It might be geometry. It’s almost certainly some of each.

But following up on a study that found that (as we reported last year) 94 percent of observed bike users in Oregon stopped for red lights, a Portland State University civil engineering student has also found that every additional person waiting next to you on a bike makes you 78 percent less likely to run the light on your own bike.

That’s assuming that you happen to be riding through one of the seven intersections observed, four of which were at Portland intersections that have dedicated bike signals and are frequented by utilitarian commuters. The intersections in Beaverton, Corvallis and Eugene did not have bike signals.

The new study’s author, Samson Thompson, also measured how much various other factors influence red-light running: gender, the presence of a bike signal, helmet use, the amount of cross traffic, the presence of an adjacent motor vehicle and whether a biker had witnessed a previous violation while approaching the red light.

“The number of cyclists already waiting has the biggest effect by far,” Thompson said Friday, presenting his findings as part of a masters thesis defense. “It’s probably because there are more eyes on the road, but it’s also because bike infrastructure, bike boxes, are not very big. So somebody could be physically impeded from running the red light.”

The second most influential factor in getting people to follow the law while biking: having a car stopped next to them.

Less powerful factors, all of which increased the chance that someone would jump a red lights: witnessing a previous violation, not wearing a helmet, and being male.

In all, the study used video footage and direct observation to capture the decisions of more than 2,500 bike users.

Thompson said he gathered video data from the four Portland intersections because video footage had already been captured there, for a separate of bike-specific signals. He conceded, in his presentation, that it seemed to be a nonrepresentative sample: disproportionately wealthy, white and professional compared to Portland’s bike-using population and its population in general.

“My sense is that people who benefit from the system as a whole are going to be more likely to adhere very staunchly to traffic rules.”
— PSU engineering student Samson Thompson

“My sense is that people who benefit from the system as a whole are going to be more likely to adhere very staunchly to traffic rules,” Thompson said.

In an interview after his presentation, Thompson added that based on his own experience, the decision of a bike user not to weave through a crowd of stopped bikes in order to get past a queue of other riders and jump a red light (even if it’s physically possible) isn’t merely about social pressure.

“It’s not that they’re going to think I’m a jerk,” Thompson said. “It’s more trouble.”

Thompson, an intern at Alta Planning and Design whose study took home first prize last month among student research presentations at TREC’s Oregon Transportation Summit, added that he’s amused by a question he’s never been asked yet.

“It’s funny that nobody asked me if I run red lights,” he said. “I do, on occasion.”

The post What makes people stop at red lights? Other people, study finds appeared first on BikePortland.org.

Infographic expands on local e-bike research, but the biggest puzzle remains

Infographic expands on local e-bike research, but the biggest puzzle remains

ebikes_OTREC

(Infographic by Portland State Transportation Research and Education Center)

A new poster summarizing research from a Portland State University scholar has some interesting factoids about electric bike users, but it doesn’t answer what’s becoming one of the biggest mysteries in American biking: why haven’t e-bikes taken off yet in the United States?

“If we can sell a lot of e-bikes in Germany, than we’ll sell a lot of e-bikes in the U.S. too over time. Yes, we love our cars, but Germans love their cars too.”
— Rob Kaplan, Currie Tech

In China, according to one estimate, 200 million people own e-bikes — that’d be 15 percent of the country’s population.

More recently, e-bikes have been rocketing across Europe. Rob Kaplan, VP of sales and marketing at Currie Technologies, a large developer and distributor of e-bikes under the iZip, eFlow, and Haibike brand names, said during an event in Portland last April that about 80,000 e-bikes are sold in the U.S. market per year. Compare that to Germany where 400,000 units are sold annually. In the pancake-flat Netherlands, e-bikes now represent 19 percent of new bike sales by quantity, even though they cost four times as much as a non-electric model; that’s how much Dutch people have come to love e-bikes.

Moms are one segment of the market that have been quick
to realize the potential of e-bikes.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Here in the United States, e-bike sales continue to grow rapidly, in part due to reasons illustrated in the graphic above. Kaplan of Currie Tech says their dealer sales are up 46% overall and up 286% year-to-date.

Locally, there are signs of growth too. If you’re heading north on Grand Avenue this month, you can admire a big billboard for Cynergy E-Bikes on Southeast Powell; in North Portland, the eBike Store recently moved to a larger location with expanded hours.

Rob Kaplan in Portland back in April.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

But even here, electric bikes are far from mainstream.

Currie points to several factors that might be keeping a cap on U.S. sales growth: acceptance, education, and infrastructure. Bike shop employees aren’t familiar with e-bikes and many of them aren’t exactly huge fans of the technology, says Currie, and that lack of enthusiasm spills over into their sales pitches. The market itself is also relatively uneducated about the latest in e-bike technology (“most people still confuse them with scooters,” he said). And then there’s the lack of bike-friendly infrastructure in the U.S., which is a problem for cycling growth in general.

But Currie is very optimistic about future growth. “If we can sell a lot of e-bikes in Germany,” he told a crowd of e-bike industry leaders at a talk hosted by Drive Oregon, “than we’ll sell a lot of e-bikes in the U.S. too over time. Yes, we love our cars, but Germans love their cars too.”

His other reasons for optimism include: aging demographics, re-urbanization, concerns about the environment, and improvements battery technology.

As companies keep working to crack the American e-bike code, the sort of market research being done by John MacArthur through OTREC at Portland State University will come in handy. For more on his research, read our story from last fall: The appeal of e-bikes: 5 facts from a new study.

Editor/Publisher Jonathan Maus contributed to this post.

The post Infographic expands on local e-bike research, but the biggest puzzle remains appeared first on BikePortland.org.

‘Groundbreaking’ new study gives big thumbs up to U.S. protected bike lanes

‘Groundbreaking’ new study gives big thumbs up to U.S. protected bike lanes

Screen grab from the study’s video analysis.

A new study released today, which is being touted by its funders as “groundbreaking,” shows that a sampling of protected bike lanes in American cities have been a resounding success.

The facilities included in the sample — hand-picked bikeways from Austin, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Chicago and Portland — showed a massive increase in bike traffic, received high marks for improving safety of all road users, and have won over the hearts and minds of people whether they use them or not.

Lessons from the Green Lanes: Evaluating Protected Bike Lanes in the U.S. (PDF) was funded in part by People for Bikes and the research was completed at Portland State University’s National Institute of Transportation and Communities (here’s more background on the study).

study-ninlanes-big

The nine different bikeway facilities included in the study.

The 179-page report includes detailed analysis of nine different bike facilities (see above) including NE Multnomah Street in Portland. Researchers used a combination of video (204 hours of it), count data, and surveys of users and nearby residents.

Here are some of the key findings:

  • Over a quarter of riders indicated they are riding more in general because of the protected bike lanes.
  • In its first year alone, a protected bike lane increases bike traffic on a street by an average of 72%
  • 96% of people riding in protected bike lanes felt safer on the street because of the lanes
  • 76% of people living near protected bike lanes support the facilities in additional locations, whether they use them or not
  • Drivers thought traffic became more predictable after protected lanes were installed. Most drivers said congestion and drive time didn’t change.
  • Parking is a key issue when street space is reassigned and cities. The impact to parking was the most negative perception, with about 30-55% of residents indicating the impacts to parking were negative, even in cases where a minimal amount of parking was removed, or parking was increased.
  • In the 144 hours of video analyzed for safety, studying nearly 12,900 bicycles through the intersections, no collisions or near collisions were observed. This included both intersections with turn lanes and those with signals for bicycles.
  • Over half the residents surveyed (56%) felt that the street works better for “all people” due to the protected bike lanes, while only 26% felt the street works less well.
  • Nearly three times as many residents felt that the protected bike lanes had led to an increase in the desirability of living in their neighborhood, as opposed to a decrease in desirability (43% vs 14%).

One of the issues slowing protected bike lane progress in many American cities (including Portland) is that designs and best practices are still all over the map. What’s the best method of separation? Planters? Paint? Those wobbly, reflective posts? What’s the best way to handle intersections? Bike-only signal phases? “Mixing zones”? The National Association of City Transportation Officials’ (NACTO) Urban Bikeway Design Guide has helped in that regard, but this research will provide city traffic planners and engineers valuable insight into what works best.

That type of fine-grain analysis and compare/contrast of real-world usage on facilities in five very different cities, combined with the surveys (2,301 of nearby residents and 1,111 of actual bikeway users) to better understand how people feel about the bikeways, this study will likely become an important tool for engineers, policy makers, and advocates for years to come.

According to lead research Chris Monsere, “This study fills a critical gap in the research and can influence national guidance on protected bike lanes. Policymakers can look to this research to see how they could best use protected bike lanes to meet their mobility, safety and economic goals.”

There are tons of interesting nuggets in this study. Take a closer look for yourself (PDF) and stay tuned for more coverage.

The post ‘Groundbreaking’ new study gives big thumbs up to U.S. protected bike lanes appeared first on BikePortland.org.

Article in academic journal offers explanation for Williams project controversy

Article in academic journal offers explanation for Williams project controversy

Williams project meeting-11-10

New research delves into the Williams
project process and why it turned into such a controversy.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

It’s been over two years now since the issue of racism and gentrification became part of PBOT’s North Williams Avenue traffic safety project. As the public process for that project morphed into a citywide dialogue about these volatile topics, the project transcended PBOT and became a case study that has been investigated, analyzed, and debated by people all over the country.

Now the work of two Portland State University professors has been published in the peer-reviewed academic journal, Environmental Justice. The article, Contesting Sustainability: Bikes, Race, and Politics in Portlandia, (published in the August 2013 issue) was written by Dr. Amy Lubitow, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at Portland State University and Dr. Thaddeus Miller, an assistant professor at the Nohad A. Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning, College of Urban and Public Affairs, at PSU.

“The environmental justice movement can, and should, seek to politicize sustainability in ways that will open up the concept of sustainability to the range of social and economic priorities that continue to impair the health and well-being of low-income and minority communities.”
— From Contesting Sustainability: Bikes, Race, and Politics in Portlandia

Lubitow and Miller were present at many of the project’s public meetings and they interviewed many citizens, city staff, and members of the project’s stakeholder advisory committee.

Their article contends that the Williams project ended up being controversial because it was framed as having universal benefits and that city project managers and advocates failed to embrace the obvious political and racial elements that existed in the neighborhood where it would be built. Key to their argument is a characterization of the Williams project as a “sustainability” initiative and they leaned heavily on existing research about other “sustainability” efforts in gentrifying neighborhoods.

Here’s more from the introduction:

“We contend that the inability of environmental justice concerns to gain traction in discussions about the design of sustainable infrastructure is due in part to the depoliticization of sustainability projects… that is, a given problem, project, practice, or policy is framed as urgent and necessary by appealing to universal values or scientific knowledge claims related to ecological health or public health and safety.

Sustainability, in other words, rises above what are perceived as parochial concerns and is too important to be dragged through the political mud.”

Its this attempt at “sidestepping” issues like race and inequality that lead to controversy, according to Lubitow and Miller.

The City of Portland did extensive public outreach in the neighborhood at the very beginning of the project to ensure that the members of the stakeholder advisory committee reflected the neighborhood population. However, “Despite this extensive outreach,” write Lubitow and Miller, “only four of the 22 members present [before the committee was enlarged] were people of color.” They blame this disparity and the combination of “historical legacies of racism and inequality,” in the North Williams area, as the, “catalyst for community grievances around this project to emerge.”

The lesson from this project, according to the professors, is that projects like this should “encourage the politicization” of the plans from the outset and integrate “numerous voices” into the resulting changes that are considered.

Based on their research and observations, Lubitow and Miller conclude with the following argument:

“We suggest that the environmental justice movement can, and should, seek to politicize sustainability in ways that will open up the concept of sustainability to the range of social and economic priorities that continue to impair the health and well-being of low-income and minority communities… decision makers should assume that all community members have a unique vision for their local environment and that their input is a critical mechanism for truly sustainable outcomes—and for formulating a vision of sustainability that resonates with a broader set of constituents.”

My quibbles with this article are that they couch this transportation project (which has its roots as a bikeway improvement project) as a “sustainability initiative” and the people who supported it as being part of the “environmental justice movement”. I don’t fully agree that a transportation project should be characterized like this simply because it includes a bicycling component. I also noticed they referenced a quote on BikePortland as coming from a “prominent blogger” when the quote they used actually came from a citizen at a public meeting (not from me, the author of the post).

These quibbles aside, their research and general conclusions are thoughtful and powerful. Read it for yourself online.

With $2.8 million grant, PSU now a national center for ‘livable communities’ research

With $2.8 million grant, PSU now a national center for ‘livable communities’ research

The Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium (OTREC) at Portland State University continued to raise its national profile with today’s announcement of a $2.83 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. This grant comes on the heels of a $3.5 million federal grant awarded in January 2012 that solidified PSU’s role as one of the premier university transportation centers (UTCs) in the country. The competition for this grant was very stiff with 142 universities vying for just 32 grants.

With this latest grant, OTREC at PSU is now the USDOT’s go-to institution when it comes to “livable communities” research. For this round of grants, the USDOT awarded just five national university transportation centers. Each center was pegged to focus its research on one of the agency’s five categories: economic competitiveness, environmental sustainability, safety, state of good repair, and livable communities.

We asked OTREC’s Justin Carinci if he felt the livable communities designation would limit the scope of their work. “I don’t think it’s limiting,” he said, “because we always consider those other categories as being part of livable communities.”

When PSU won their initial federal grant in 2012, they created the National Institute for Transportation and Communities (NITC) to reflect the inclusion of their partner universities from outside the state. (Their partners are: the Oregon Institute of Technology, University of Oregon, University of South Florida, and University of Utah).

PSU and its partner universities have put out a call for research proposals for the coming year, but they’ve already committed to several areas of focus. Some of the projects that will be funded in the first year with this grant include:

  • A project evaluating how transit-oriented developments affect jobs, housing choice and affordability; and another examining their equity effects in immigrant communities.
  • A study providing designers and engineers the safety effects of splitting scarce right-of-way among various modes.
  • A project looking at whether a fuel-cell drive can reduce emissions from large commercial vehicles such as garbage trucks.

As any regular readers of BikePortland are aware, the excellent and timely research being done at OTREC has a huge impact on transportation policies and debates. From e-bikes to busting myths about shopping behaviors — PSU continued success in the transportation research field is great for Portland and great for moving policy forward.

Congratulations!

— Read more about transportation research in our archives.

Biking and breathing on major streets

Biking and breathing on major streets

Traffic-3

Newsflash: Cars are highly toxic
and bike riders suck it all in.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Portland Tribune published an article yesterday with a scary headline: “Car exhaust proves unseen road hazard.” The story chronicled the efforts of transportation researcher Alex Bigazzi, who rides around Portland with special equipment attached to his bike in order to measure air quality.

Bigazzi is a doctoral student at Portland State University who’s no stranger to this topic. In 2010, we wrote about research he worked on that pointed to the air quality and health benefits of streets that have cycle paths separated from auto traffic. Bigazzi’s latest work, as highlighted in the Tribune, are sure to raise some eyebrows. Here’s one of the opening paragraphs:

You might want to stay off Southeast Powell Boulevard if you’re a bike rider — Bigazzi’s breakthrough data shows biking on Powell leaves a rider with two to three times more volatile organic compounds in their lungs as a ride on a less-trafficked neighborhood bikeway route such as Southeast Clinton or Lincoln streets.

This concept isn’t new. In 2011, we shared a bit of research from Canada that showed how cycling in heavy traffic could have a “significant impact” on heart health due to exposure to air pollution.

While the quality of the air we breathe is obviously an issue everyone cares about, the framing of the article in the Tribune has sparked a separated (yet related) debate: Is poor air quality on arterials a good reason for people to stop riding on them? Many people (including PBOT to some degree) strongly advocate that bicycle users should always use side streets when moving around town. On the other hand, other people resist that suggestion because they are comfortable riding on arterials (like Sandy for instance) and enjoy the convenience and access to destinations they provide.

The Tribune article spurred local citizen activist Doug Klotz to write on a local email list, “I suspect this was intended to be, and will be, used against any call for bike facilities on major streets.”

Bigazzi himself has also chimed in on the email thread. “My research does not address where the city should invest in bike infrastructure, or how road space should be allocated to reduce exposure for everyone,” he wrote. “If someone wanted to use my results to argue against providing space for bikes on arterials, they would have to consider how different bicycle infrastructure affects bicycle travel, auto travel volumes, and traffic patterns – which is a whole other area of research.”

Bigazzi continued: “That said, if you are a traveler, and trying to avoid air pollution, these results can provide information to help inform route choice decisions within the constraints of existing conditions.”

Another thing to consider when thinking about biking and auto exhaust is that air filters in cars don’t block pollutants. The reason this is a bigger deal for bicycle operators is that they breath harder than auto users and therefore the “intake and uptake rates of the pollutants are higher,” Bigazzi writes.

And of course, while the Tribune story goes into detail about the terrible things the toxic exhaust from cars can do to your body, it doesn’t mention the myriad health benefits of using a human-powered vehicle. When weighed against pollution intake, the physical benefits of riding outweigh the negative impacts of bad air quality.

Our reaction to this story and research shouldn’t be, “Bicycle riders should stay off arterials!”. It should be, why do we have streets where road users are forced to operate their vehicles mere feet from other vehicles that are spewing toxic chemicals into the air? Given that Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick is such an advocate of public health and bicycling, it appears he could use this research as yet another strong argument for doing more road diet projects, implementing more policies to discourage auto use in the central city, and building more cycle tracks separated from auto traffic on major streets.

In the meantime, we’re still holding our breath.

Read more about Alex Bigazzi’s research and his rolling bike laboratory at PortlandTribune.com.

Biking and breathing on major streets

Biking and breathing on major streets

Traffic-3

Newsflash: Cars are highly toxic
and bike riders suck it all in.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Portland Tribune published an article yesterday with a scary headline: “Car exhaust proves unseen road hazard.” The story chronicled the efforts of transportation researcher Alex Bigazzi, who rides around Portland with special equipment attached to his bike in order to measure air quality.

Bigazzi is a doctoral student at Portland State University who’s no stranger to this topic. In 2010, we wrote about research he worked on that pointed to the air quality and health benefits of streets that have cycle paths separated from auto traffic. Bigazzi’s latest work, as highlighted in the Tribune, are sure to raise some eyebrows. Here’s one of the opening paragraphs:

You might want to stay off Southeast Powell Boulevard if you’re a bike rider — Bigazzi’s breakthrough data shows biking on Powell leaves a rider with two to three times more volatile organic compounds in their lungs as a ride on a less-trafficked neighborhood bikeway route such as Southeast Clinton or Lincoln streets.

This concept isn’t new. In 2011, we shared a bit of research from Canada that showed how cycling in heavy traffic could have a “significant impact” on heart health due to exposure to air pollution.

While the quality of the air we breathe is obviously an issue everyone cares about, the framing of the article in the Tribune has sparked a separated (yet related) debate: Is poor air quality on arterials a good reason for people to stop riding on them? Many people (including PBOT to some degree) strongly advocate that bicycle users should always use side streets when moving around town. On the other hand, other people resist that suggestion because they are comfortable riding on arterials (like Sandy for instance) and enjoy the convenience and access to destinations they provide.

The Tribune article spurred local citizen activist Doug Klotz to write on a local email list, “I suspect this was intended to be, and will be, used against any call for bike facilities on major streets.”

Bigazzi himself has also chimed in on the email thread. “My research does not address where the city should invest in bike infrastructure, or how road space should be allocated to reduce exposure for everyone,” he wrote. “If someone wanted to use my results to argue against providing space for bikes on arterials, they would have to consider how different bicycle infrastructure affects bicycle travel, auto travel volumes, and traffic patterns – which is a whole other area of research.”

Bigazzi continued: “That said, if you are a traveler, and trying to avoid air pollution, these results can provide information to help inform route choice decisions within the constraints of existing conditions.”

Another thing to consider when thinking about biking and auto exhaust is that air filters in cars don’t block pollutants. The reason this is a bigger deal for bicycle operators is that they breath harder than auto users and therefore the “intake and uptake rates of the pollutants are higher,” Bigazzi writes.

And of course, while the Tribune story goes into detail about the terrible things the toxic exhaust from cars can do to your body, it doesn’t mention the myriad health benefits of using a human-powered vehicle. When weighed against pollution intake, the physical benefits of riding outweigh the negative impacts of bad air quality.

Our reaction to this story and research shouldn’t be, “Bicycle riders should stay off arterials!”. It should be, why do we have streets where road users are forced to operate their vehicles mere feet from other vehicles that are spewing toxic chemicals into the air? Given that Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick is such an advocate of public health and bicycling, it appears he could use this research as yet another strong argument for doing more road diet projects, implementing more policies to discourage auto use in the central city, and building more cycle tracks separated from auto traffic on major streets.

In the meantime, we’re still holding our breath.

Read more about Alex Bigazzi’s research and his rolling bike laboratory at PortlandTribune.com.