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City debuts new ‘Tuff Curb’ to create physical separation for bikeways

City debuts new ‘Tuff Curb’ to create physical separation for bikeways

City crews installed a new plastic curb at SW 13th and Clay today.(Photos: City of Portland)

City crews installed a new plastic curb at SW 13th and Clay today.
(Photos: City of Portland)

Hallelujah! At long last the City of Portland Bureau of Transportation is using an actual curb to separate bike-only lanes from standard vehicle lanes.

For years PBOT has struggled to figure out how to cheaply and quickly add physical separation. They’ve tried using plastic wands but those rarely last more than a few days before they’re hit and ripped out by people who can’t control their cars. PBOT’s most recent attempt to help separate the bike lane from encroachment by motor vehicle operators came in the form of “rumble bars.” Those failed too.

With budgets not willing to spend money required for raised cycle tracks (like the ones on SW Moody Avenue or NE Cully Blvd), finding a quicker-and-cheaper method is really important. We will not reach our transportation, climate, and planning goals unless we create more physically-separated bikeways. It’s a must.

That’s why are very happy to see that PBOT is testing a new product called “Tuff Curb” to separate a bike lane on SW 13th just before Clay. As we reported when they installed plastic wands there back in January, most of them were ripped out within a week.

Their new installation looks really solid. It’s similar to what Multnomah County installed on the eastbound Hawthorne Bridge viaduct back in 2013.

CiSWYfkUoAAImOz.jpg-large





curb

curb2

Based on prices for similar products we found online, this project on 13th and Clay likely cost about $4,000 in materials. Here’s more about Tuff Curb from a product website:

Tuff Curb is a durable, high performance traffic separator curb… Integral coloration makes Tuff Curb highly visible and resistant to UV damage and fading. In addition, enhanced profile dimensional properties and 3M™ reflectors provide maximum visibility and traffic separation both day and night. Tuff Curb’s safety and durability has been tested by Texas Transportation Institute to 2009 MASH standards and is also federally approved.

This is an encouraging sign. Not just because the bikeway at 13th and Clay is now more comfortable to ride in, but because PBOT has taken the time and resources to figure this out once and for all. Using this new plastic curb product shows that Portland is treating bikeways with the level of seriousness they deserve.

If you’ve ridden by it, let us know what you think. It’ll be interesting to see if they use it anywhere else. And if it lasts more than a week.

Stay tuned.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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The post City debuts new ‘Tuff Curb’ to create physical separation for bikeways appeared first on BikePortland.org.

City looks for alternatives to door-zone bike lane on new street in South Waterfront

City looks for alternatives to door-zone bike lane on new street in South Waterfront

Screenshot 2015-08-31 at 1.53.09 PM

Yes, apparently city engineers sometimes use the Unipiper to designate bike lanes. We’ll call it affectionate good humor.
(Images from a city engineer’s design dated April 2015)

Well, this would definitely be odd if it happened.

Despite a continuing gusher of evidence that adding some sort of vertical separation to bike lanes makes them much better at getting people to actually ride bicycles, the City of Portland was, as recently as April, drawing up “preliminary” plans for an entirely new street in the South Waterfront that had a bike lane painted into the door zone of a road bed.

Two days after we emailed him about the plans, city spokesman Dylan Rivera said the sketch (which is dated May 5, 2015 and lists April 2015 as its “date approved”) was “per the 2009 city council approved street plan for the area” and that “we are considering other options.”

The street in question is Southwest Bond, and it’s supposed to create a new weaving direct connection between the South Waterfront’s currently developed residential area, through the yet-to-be-developed Zidell shipyards and into the Riverplace area just north of the Marquam Bridge.

Screenshot 2015-08-31 at 1.54.58 PM

An overhead map of the planned future route of SW Bond Avenue.

Once it’s built, Bond will also create the first major intersection on the west landing of the new Tilikum Crossing, so it’s likely to attract plenty of north-south bike traffic connecting to the bridge.

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Another oddity about the April design for Bond: it would have apparently offered southbound bike traffic a choice between either a general travel lane or a sidewalk.

All of this wouldn’t be a big deal if not for the fact that the street is being built completely from scratch. So there’s almost no cost difference between a raised bike lane and one in the road bed. There isn’t even any topographic constraint; the plan hammered out by property owners and the city is to bury the entire area in soil and concrete, creating an entirely new slope, as shown here:

Screenshot 2015-09-02 at 6.04.30 PM

The only real obstacle to including state-of-the-art bike lanes in this future dense urban area is the amount of road width required.

Even more than the nearby Southwest Moody Avenue, Bond offers a rare opportunity to build a street completely from scratch in the middle of a metro area. Since the South Waterfront would have to put a third or more of its trips on bicycles for the city to achieve its transportation goals — and since the neighborhood is probably always going to be annoying to get to in a car no matter what — we’re eager to see how the city weighs these issues as it considers its forthcoming “other options” for the street.

“The preliminary design you have found implements the 2009 street plan for the area, which was approved by City Council after substantial public involvement,” Rivera said. “Six years later, now that the area is closer to redevelopment, we are looking at more detailed designs and trying to take into account the latest best practices for safe access for all road users. We’re not ready to discuss a timeframe for potential refinements, but can keep you posted when we know more.”


The post City looks for alternatives to door-zone bike lane on new street in South Waterfront appeared first on BikePortland.org.

Comment of the Week: Making Beaverton the country’s #1 biking suburb

Comment of the Week: Making Beaverton the country’s #1 biking suburb

Beaverton to Tualatin ride-3

Can you see the potential? No, seriously.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

One of the frustrating facts of life at BikePortland is that we’ve never had time to cover the big Clark and Washington County suburbs nearly as much as we’d like. But if you bike in Washington County and haven’t followed the comments beneath this week’s Washington County post, you’ve been missing out.

Here’s one of the many interesting ideas shared beneath Wednesday’s post about the Bicycle Transportation Alliance’s new campaign to gradually assemble a continuous, 16-mile low-stress bikeway to TV Highway between Beaverton and Forest Grove. Reader AndyK was one of several to weigh in with some detailed critiques:

Thanks for covering this….really bad idea, though. The worst. Let’s focus on cost and benefits.

If you have that much money to spend, please improve the east-west bike routes we already have (Cornell, Baseline, Farmington and Evergreen) by taking them to the next level of safety: protected bike lanes. They matter more at 45mph than they do at 25mph.

Everyone on the west side already knows that TV Highway is beyond hope and is only ridden by the brave or those without any other choice (these are the people riding on the sidewalk sans helmet). If you must spend money on an ODOT facility, use it on OR10 (Farmington), which has great potential, or build pedestrian crossing structures over TV HWY.

Bottom line: Lane protection would have a positive affect on all cyclists because it gets the interested but concerned cyclists out there and provides more safety for the ones who are already using it.

I would love to see other commenters chime in on this, and thanks again for covering this.

On the one hand, it’s clear that with Washington County and ODOT already looking to spend a bunch of money on TV Highway, this vision is more a target of opportunity for the BTA than the project it might have picked itself. On the other hand, AndyK and other readers are putting forth a vision for something that has never really been done in the United States: using modern protected bike infrastructure to create a low-stress bike network in a deeply auto-oriented suburb.

In a landscape where most bus stops and destinations are too far to walk to, comfortable biking arguably holds even more potential than it does in older, denser cities.

If any major suburb in the country could do it, it would be Beaverton: thick with bike lovers, staffed by bike-aware planners and engineers and wealthy enough to do almost any bike project it puts its mind to. The only thing missing is political will.

The post Comment of the Week: Making Beaverton the country’s #1 biking suburb appeared first on BikePortland.org.

Eugene students’ proposed downtown-to-campus bikeway moving forward

Eugene students’ proposed downtown-to-campus bikeway moving forward

Rendering of 13th at Oak Street in Eugene.
(Image: LiveMove)

A student-driven project in Eugene, intended to create a “more comfortable and intuitive” link between the University of Oregon campus and downtown Eugene, seems to be on its way to construction and just scored a statewide planning award.

We’ve ventured south of our usual coverage area to track this project a bit because it’s such a good example of community-driven planning in a city with close Portland ties.

UO graduate student David Minor was killed in a car crash while riding his bike on East 13th Avenue in 2008. His parents have put up $150,000 in his memory to support this project.

“This goes beyond the norm of these kinds of student groups do, and they’ve taken it on their own task,” professor Rich Margerum, head of UO’s Department of Planning, Public Policy and Management, in a university news release congratulating the student team, called LiveMove, for winning the Student Achievement in Planning Award from Oregon’s chapter of the American Planning Association.

As we wrote in December, the project looks to reduce wrong-way biking on the 13th Avenue corridor by creating a two-way buffered or protected bike lane.

The project required some on-street parking removal to make room for the facility. Students took inventories of which spaces were being used most heavily and took steps to preserve those.

LiveMove members will receive the award May 30 at the annual OAPA conference in Portland’s Oregon Convention Center.

‘America’s Bicycle Capital’? A visitor is unimpressed – and worried for us

‘America’s Bicycle Capital’? A visitor is unimpressed – and worried for us

Portland!

Truth or dare?
(Photo: Matt Haughey/Flickr)

It was a strong claim and a proud one — though, at the time, it hardly even seemed controversial.

But two years later, the Pedal Bike Tours mural that welcomes Portland visitors to “America’s Bicycle Capital” strikes one visitor as a sign of something else: the paralyzing complacency of a city that has ridden its bike-friendly reputation to nationwide fame, wave after wave of highly educated young people and, within a few years, surging central-city job growth.

The problem, as Vancouver BC-based writer Chris Bruntlett describes it in a piece published this afternoon, isn’t that Portland doesn’t like bikes any more. It’s that the city doesn’t seem to feel that being bike-friendly requires any “difficult decisions.”

Here’s a passage from Bruntlett’s essay for Spacing magazine, titled “Triumph and Tragedy in ‘America’s Bicycle Capital’“:

In the summer of 2012, Portland was so confident of its place in the world, that it declared itself America’s Bicycle Capital, boldly painting the phrase in 10-foot high letters on the side of a building downtown.

However, on my most recent trip to this cycling Mecca, I was told this bravado has had two adverse side affects. Firstly, it put a target on the city’s back, motivating more ambitious cities to work even harder. Secondly, it brought with it a sense of complacency; the dangerous notion that Portland had somehow reached a peak, and no more difficult decisions needed to be made. This stalemate is best represented by the strange fact that not one of their current mayor and council regularly cycle for transportation.

Before my visit, I had heard rumours that Portlanders were still debating the relative merits of protected bike lanes: this, while the rest of the world moves full steam ahead with their implementation. It was something I didn’t truly believe until I shared a photo of myself riding in a painted bike lane on social media.

Flanked by motor vehicles and frustrated my two children couldn’t comfortably come along for the ride, I pointed out that for all the hype about being “America’s Bicycle Capital”, Portland still didn’t have a single separated cycle track in their downtown core.

The tweet was met with a barrage of indignation: so-called advocates told me (and apparently my children) that protected bike lanes were an unnecessary indulgence. In their city, I was told, there is already safety in numbers, and drivers are largely passive and accommodating.

Nevertheless, the demographic I saw riding downtown certainly suggested to me that only the bold and the brave feel welcome there. Combine this with the fact that my kids were forced to walk several stretches on the sidewalk – the ultimate condemnation of any bike network – and it becomes abundantly clear, as Oregon Walks Board President Aaron Brown suggests: “There’s still work to be done to make riding a bicycle in Portland safe, convenient and accessible for folks ages eight to eighty.”

One thing Bruntlett doesn’t even mention here, as he laments the lack of comfortable, appealing protected bike lanes through our central city, is that our city council has actually already approved the funding that could be used to build such a system. It did so last September.

But that project has gone nowhere, and it’s not clear why. The man who shepherded it into passage, Active Transportation Manager Dan Bower, quit his job in March to become Executive Director of Portland Streetcar. In an interview last month, the city’s transportation director didn’t seem to be aware that the project exists.

I don’t think Bruntlett’s point here is that building appealing bike routes, or maintaining our national reputation as a bike capital, must always be the most important transportation priority of the city. Our city has plenty of serious transportation challenges. Chronically unsafe street crossings east of Interstate 205 are one. Housing supply in the urban core is another.

Copenhagen Day 2

A raised bikeway in Copenhagen, where auto dependence in the 1970s has successfully been reversed.
(Photo by J.Maus/BikePortland)

But it just doesn’t make sense, in a city that describes itself as financially crippled by eroding pavement and a metro area that is trying to avoid choking on its future traffic, to stop trying to make bike transportation a popular choice for mainstream Portlanders (which it still isn’t). The city can and should add flashing, shouting crosswalk beacons on Northeast Glisan. They’ll save lives. But they’re not going to make East Portland a place where most people actually enjoy walking, and they’re not going to reduce the region’s expensive and continuing dependence on the automobile for the vast majority of trips.

The cheapest way to make our region substantially less auto-dependent would be to line a network of major streets with buffered or protected bike lanes that are comfortable for people of all ages and abilities to feel safe and comfortable riding in. That’s the fact that cities across the continent have noticed in the last few years, and that’s what it’d take for us to keep living up to our reputation.

If we don’t do this, bike tourists like Bruntlett won’t really suffer. They’ll just move on to greener pastures. The ones who pay the price will be us — the ordinary people of Portland.

Guess who didn’t make list of America’s top 10 protected bikeways?

Guess who didn’t make list of America’s top 10 protected bikeways?

In the latest sign that Portland’s lead as America’s best cycling city is dwindling, we were completely left out of a list of the year’s top 10 protected bikeways published by People for Bikes yesterday.

People for Bikes (formerly known as Bikes Belong) is an industry-funded advocacy group that also runs the Green Lane Project, an effort to hasten the development of protected bikeways across the country. Portland was one of five cities selected to be part of that program when it launched in May 2012; but despite our long-held reputation as a bikeway innovator, we lag behind other cities when it comes to protected bikeways (loosely defined as bike lanes with some sort of protection from other lanes of traffic). According to a Green Lane Project inventory, Portland has managed to build just 3 miles of protected bikeways in the last four years.

Portland’s absence from the top 10 isn’t because our protected bikeway designs are bad, it’s because we didn’t even build any new ones in 2013. The one Portland project listed in the Green Lane Project’s inventory for 2013, SW Multnomah Blvd, has been delayed and is yet to be built.

As for the other cities who are moving forward faster than us on creating next-generation bikeways, here’s more from People for Bikes: (Note: The Top 10 blog post was written by Michael Andersen, who also happens to be BikePortland’s news editor.)

As the thermoplastic dries on this year’s round of terrific protected bike lane projects, we decided to scour the country for a comprehensive (and subjective) ranking of the best of the best. We talked to experts and advocates around the country, looked at technical photos and schemes and read the news reports to understand not just how these bike lanes were designed, but why. Though the word “complete” can be hard to define for something as malleable as a city street, every project on this page has been in some clear sense finished during this year.

And here’s the top 10 list:

    1) Dearborn Street, Chicago
    2) Indianapolis Cultural Trail
    3) Guadalupe Street, Austin
    4) Fell and Oak Streets, San Francisco
    5) Linden Avenue, Seattle
    6) First Avenue, New York City
    7) Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago
    8) 10th Street, Atlanta
    9) Cherry Street, Seattle
    10) Overton Park Road, Memphis

Pretty striking to see all those other cities getting into the action while Portland isn’t even part of the story. There’s been a growing discussion around these parts about the Great Portland Cycling Stagnation and this seems like yet another clear sign that it’s real. What caused it? How do we move beyond it? These are just some of the questions we plan to cover in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

County adds plastic ‘candlestick’ bollards to Hawthorne viaduct

County adds plastic ‘candlestick’ bollards to Hawthorne viaduct

Plastic bollards on Hawthorne Bridge-2

New plastic bollards installed by the County today. This photo was taken west of the SE Grand intersection and just before the McLoughlin Blvd off-ramp.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)


Just a quick note of follow-up to our post Tuesday about the newly expanded bike lanes on the Hawthorne Bridge: The County was out there today installing plastic “candlestick” bollards to help separate the bikeway from the adjacent lane.

I just rolled over and snapped a few photos…

Plastic bollards on Hawthorne Bridge-1

The bollards begin right where the new lane striping starts.
Plastic bollards on Hawthorne Bridge-3

Check out the interlocking plastic curb between them.
Plastic bollards on Hawthorne Bridge-4

Plastic bollards on Hawthorne Bridge-5

McLoughlin off-ramp.
Plastic bollards on Hawthorne Bridge-6

Looking back at the McLoughlin off-ramp. Note that the striping was done (by PBOT) in such a way to create a more pronounced angle between users. The result is better visibility and awareness and hopefully, fewer right-hooks.

It’s great to see the that the County has replaced the old plastic bollards. Better yet, they’ve added many more and put them even closer together. In addition, this is the first time we’ve seen them use the interlocking plastic curb between the bollards. This seems like it will prevent the bollards from being uprooted by road users while at the same time create more physical separation and the resulting sense of safety that comes with it.

According to County spokesman Mike Pullen, the new type of candlestick bollards are called “curb-style lane delineators” and he says they’ll be more durable than the old kind. “They have a stronger attachment at their base,” he shared with us via email, “that helps them survive if a car drives over them.”

They would have done the entire 300 foot section with this new product, but only did about 150 feet of it due to budget reasons.

Hopefully the County shares this technology with the Portland Bureau of Transporation, who has quite the trouble getting these plastic bollards to stay put.

Six lessons for Portland from the League’s new ‘Women Bike’ report

Six lessons for Portland from the League’s new ‘Women Bike’ report

woman on a bike

Common, but not quite common enough.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Even in Portland, people who really ought to know better (links to FB) still claim now and then that biking is a thing for young dudes.

Still, in a town where only 31 percent of people on bikes tend to be female (it’s about 25 percent nationally) we’ve got a long way to go until, as in Germany or the Netherlands, our biking population is evenly split by gender. Portland’s failure to change this ratio for 10 years can be discouraging to people who think everyone deserves to feel welcome on a bike.

That’s why there’s a lot to celebrate in a new report by the League of American Bicyclists that rounds up dozens of statistics about women and bikes. Culled from industry reports, political polls and academic studies, a few of the report’s figures are pretty surprising…

1) All U.S. growth in occasional bike riding seems to be happening among women.

Sunday Parkways

Here’s the only fact in this study that really knocked my socks off: between 2003 and 2012, though the national bike commuting rate has been rising rapidly among both men and women, the number of American men and boys who ride at least occasionally (at least six times per year) has completely flatlined. A National Sporting Goods Association web survey of 38,000 households found that the number of males who ride is stuck at 20.2 million, despite national population growth of 8 percent over the same period.

Meanwhile, the number of women and girls who say they ride a bike at least six times a year is up 20 percent, to 19.1 million.

League spokeswoman Carolyn Szczepanski described this as “one of the most surprising things I found,” and I agree. For Portland, this should be a reminder that a bike network doesn’t just serve people who spend a lot of time with it; it needs to be intuitive to those who use it now and then.

2) There are business openings for bike shops that serve women better.

Sharifa Roach of Black Bird Bicycle Repair

Sharifa Roach of Black Bird Bicycle Repair.

According to the Gluskin Townley Group’s 2012 American Bicyclist Survey, only 37 percent of women bought their current bike from a shop, compared to 48 percent of men.

Probably related: 89 percent of bike shop owners are men, according to a 2013 report for the National Bicycle Dealers Association. (Of bike shops, 33 percent are owned by a husband-wife team.) Though we have some great shops with women in charge (Coventry, Clever and Splendid Cycles come to mind), a lot of shops in Portland, whoever the owner, still feel like boys’ clubs when you walk in. You can call that a problem, but I call it an opportunity.

3) If we can safely separate bike and auto traffic, female biking is likely to rise.

Broadway's parking-separated cycle track

Broadway’s parking-separated cycle track.

Yesterday’s news that the federal government seems to be preparing to endorse cycle tracks is likely to boost the number of women in the saddle. While 13 percent of men say they’re “confident riding on all roads with traffic,” only 6 percent of women say the same. The national shift toward building physically separated cycle tracks, which has yet to take off in Portland, is in part a response to this gender gap, which was captured in a September 2012 poll by Princeton Survey Research Associates.

Portland’s network of off-street paths also has some glaring omissions, like the obvious lack of routes alongside the east side of the Willamette or Interstate 84.

If there’s an obvious reason why Portland’s bike gender gap has persisted for so long, this is it.

4) Public bikesharing tends to be a hit with women.

bikeshare demo

A study last year by Susan Shaheen of public bikesharing systems in North America found that 43 percent of all bikeshare members are female, far above the national norm for bike trips. If Alta Bicycle Share ever recruits the sponsors that’ll bring such a system to Portland, expect a similar trend here.

5) When biking gets beyond commuting, women win.

Even more than men, women use bikes for more than just the commute trip.

Like it or not, women in two-adult households tend to make twice as many trips as men to drop off or pick up children, according to a 2005 study, and women who bike are twice as likely as men who bike to use it for shopping and errands, a different study found. If we think these trends will continue, we should be making bikes and bikeways that people will use to carry both children and purchased goods.

This also means that if we increase the number of women on bikes, we’ll be strengthening the argument that good bike parking and access can be better for retailers than a few auto parking spaces.

6) Professional bike advocacy is doing OK at hiring women, less so at making them leaders.

Catherine Ciarlo on a bike

Former BTA director and mayoral aide Catherine Ciarlo.

I was pleased to learn that 45 percent of paid bike advocacy staff are female, but depressed to see that of 89 board members at the six biggest national bike advocacy groups, only 20 are women. Here in Portland, women are slightly less rare on the boards of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and Community Cycling Center: they’re currently 9 in 28; both groups have had female executive directors in the past, though for the BTA it’s been a while.

Another notable stat from the report: women represent 22 percent of the Congressional Bike Caucus. That seems like a big imbalance … until you realize that women only represent 18 percent of Congress. Biking isn’t the only area where this country has a long way to go.

Want to talk more about these issues with like-minded advocates? Join a nationwide Twitter chat at 5 p.m. tomorrow (Friday, 8/9) by following and using the hashtag #womenbike.

When should streets use sharrows, painted lanes and separation? (graphics)

When should streets use sharrows, painted lanes and separation? (graphics)

Where, exactly, do sharrows belong?
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Update: See below for a few other examples of graphics that try to answer this question.

There’s an interesting, useful bit of transportation wonkery in The Bicycle Transportation Alliance’s “Blueprint for World-Class Cycling” that came out this week: a visual guide to which sort of streets should get which sort of bike infrastructure.

This is obviously a complicated question, and it’s not something that’s ever going to be summarized by a single chart. But the question arises constantly. Last week, in a moment of heat, two Swan Island transportation advocates said the city would be better off without bike lanes near a crash-prone intersection of Interstate Avenue. Up in Vancouver, Wash., there’s a lively debate right now about whether sharrows are appropriate on a 35 mph four-lane street.

Here’s what the BTA’s new document has to say about the issue:

As BTA communications manager Will Vanlue said in a conversation this week, this isn’t the easiest graphic in the world to immediately grasp: as he observed, it’s trying to express three variables in two dimensions. But it’s a clearer expression than anything I’ve seen before of the principle that there are essentially three kinds of bikeable streets in a city, and making them bike-friendly requires a different category of infrastructure for each.

Like I said, the question of when exactly to use which facilities is very much a live debate, and I’m sure the BTA would say that case-by-case decisions are often required. But in a world where most people still haven’t thought about bike infrastructure in any systematic way, this graphic might be a useful way to outline the general consensus.

Update: Great to hear from a few other data-visualization nerds out there. Here are some more examples linked to by commenters below. First, from Allan and Washington County’s new Bicycle Design Facility Toolkit:

Second, from RJ and Transport for London:

Third, from Rithy Khut and what seems to be an unidentified textbook he’s used for a class about biking in Amsterdam:

Fourth, from Chris Anderson and Copenhagenize, is one that I’ll link to rather than embedding, since it’s presumably Copenhagenize intellectual property.

Also, the BTA’s Vanlue mentioned this chart used by the Oregon Department of Transportation. (You can also see ODOT’s “Context matrix” here (PDF).)

Each graphic definitely has its ups and downs.

As Portland inches along, new research shows separated bike infrastructure is safer

As Portland inches along, new research shows separated bike infrastructure is safer

Ride-along SW Broadway-9-6

Riding on SW Broadway in downtown Portland.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

A new study by researchers at the University of British Columbia and published in the American Journal of Public Health shows that physcially separated, bicycle-specific infrastructure can lead to much lower risk of injury for people riding bicycles.

Here’s more on the study from Atlantic Cities:

As it turns out, infrastructure really matters. Your chance of injury drops by about 50 percent, relative to that major city street, when riding on a similar road with a bike lane and no parked cars. The same improvement occurs on bike paths and local streets with designated bike routes. And protected bike lanes – with actual barriers separating cyclists from traffic – really make a difference. The risk of injury drops for riders there by 90 percent.

Intuitively, it shouldn’t come as any surprise to find that research shows separating people on bikes from motor vehicle traffic leads to fewer injuries. But there’s a group of people in the U.S. who feel that people on bikes are safest when they mix with car traffic. Even in comments here on BikePortland, it’s common to hear from folks who don’t like the idea of being locked into using separated bikeways (either by design or by law) when they’d rather “take the lane”.

In the past, I’ve heard that one reason for City Hall’s reluctance to push for more physically separated bikeways was precisely because there seemed to be infighting from the “bike community” about whether they were wanted or not. (Unfortunately, local politicians still seem to wait for a mythical, 100% consensus from the “bike community” before they push for bike-specific projects.)

This new research should be welcome ammunition for advocates and city planners who support more separated bike infrastructure.

Here in Portland — despite knowing for years that separation is imperative to reach our cycling usage goals — we’ve had a bit of separation anxiety. While we do have some bright spots of separated infrastructure, it has happened primarily where it was politically and technically easy to pull off. The plans to revamp NE Multnomah through the Lloyd District with more protected bikeways are a positive step forward. That project is great sign of progress and a promising omen for the future; but even that came only after major public outcry from people who wanted better bike access than PBOT originally proposed.

Last year, when I asked Portland Mayor Sam Adams’ transportation policy director Catherine Ciarlo about our progress toward more separation, even she acknowledged our effort was only good for “bronze”. Instead of pushing for fully separated, connected bikeways in the urban core, Ciarlo’s response was very telling. “The challenge is to figure out how to achieve separation in creative or economical ways,” she said. Ciarlo cited neighborhood greenways (which are shared environments on residential streets) as an example of this creativity. She also cited progress on signal timing as one way PBOT is separating bicycle traffic.

Bike boulevards and bike-oriented signal technology will only get us so far. The unmet challenge in Portland is to map out a network of streets in the central city that have dedicated and physically separated bicycle access. The City has an obligation to provide the same level of comfort and convenience for people riding bicycles as they currently offer people on foot and in cars, buses, streetcars, and light rail trains.

As evidenced by PBOT’s recent revelation that collisions have gone way up at several downtown intersections where they opted to use only paint as a means of separation, this research couldn’t have come at a better time. Of course, all the knowledge in the world means nothing unless it’s acted upon.