Saturday, July 14, 2007

A bicyclist's buffet

I coulda been a contender:

Alas, I wasn't picked to be a participant in an ongoing Portland State study of bike commuting in Portland, but the first results are starting to come in.
The study shows that 56 percent of the riders said they wanted to bike more but didn’t because of “too much traffic.” Thirty-seven percent cited a lack of nearby bike lanes and trails as their barrier. Those with a network of quiet streets near their home were more likely to ride regularly.

A second phase, to be completed this fall, will use Global Positioning System units to study the actual routes that riders take.

(That GPS part was the part I wanted to take part in, but apparently I commute too much to be in that part of the study--they are looking for people who ride their bikes no more than 3 days a week. Go figure.)

The preliminary findings--that cyclists want routes that get them out of heavy traffic--doesn't sound too unexpected, although it does represent an about-face on the findings of a mid-1990s planning study:

[The Portland Office of Transportation's Roger] Geller began reviewing the bike master plan last year, taking input from a citywide bike summit and three open houses.

He’s heard one common refrain: that people like to ride their bikes on quiet neighborhood streets, just as Dill found in her survey. That’s a big shift in thinking from 1996, when the city put its biggest investment into bike lanes.

The thinking at the time, he said, was “to provide good access to employment (and) retail, keep the routes very direct and not weave cyclists around on various streets. The main streets — that’s where people wanted to be.”

The 1996 master plan recommended a total of 431 miles of bike lanes; the city has 179 so far.

Yet over the past decade, Geller said, “we believe it’s a relatively small fraction of the population that’s comfortable enough to go out on these bike lanes. The majority of Portlanders, about 60 percent, are more likely to ride if we can create lower traffic volumes, low speed conditions, and those are really served by bike boulevards.”

The 1996 master plan also recommended 84 miles of bike boulevards. The city now has 30, primarily in inner Southeast and Northeast neighborhoods, which happen to be the areas of highest ridership in the city. The city also has 71 miles of off-street bike paths.

Poyourow said the BTA has been pushing hard to expand the bike boulevard network to reach those riders who haven’t yet taken the leap to two wheels because they don’t feel safe in high-traffic areas.

Making their obligatory "on the other hand" appearance in the article, the Oregon Transportation Institute--who never saw a plan for getting more cars onto the streets of Portland that they didn't like--is quoted raising the standard argument whenever anyone objects to public money being spent on anything that the public, you know, wants: As long as there are potholes on the street, we shouldn't be spending our money on things like this (whether "this" is bike lanes or publicly financed elections).

Michelle Poyourow of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (does an Alliance outrank an Institute?) swings back: Saying bike lanes won't reduce congestion, and ignoring the fact that the bicycles aren't what made the potholes in the first place, is silly.

Bike profiling:

There's one group of cyclists that have no qualms about cycling in the urban thick of it--couriers--but they're having problems of their own.

The downtown motorcycle cops--two in particular, from the sound of Willamette Week's story on the subject--are making a tidy sum for the city by ticketing fixed-gear bikes downtown for violation of the state's recently passed safety law. The law requires--maybe--that fixed gear bikes also have a hand brake.
The ongoing ticketing highlights the Legislature's recent failure to clear up legal ambiguities around the bikes, which are brought to a stop by the application of back pressure on the pedals instead of more common hand or coaster brakes. The legs of the cyclist, coupled with the bike's gearing, act as a brake.

Local bike advocacy lawyer Mark Ginsberg worked with Oregon legislators in the just-concluded session to fix matters with Senate Bill 729. That bill included a provision that said fixed-gear bicycles are "not required to be equipped with a separate brake."

"We just spent a lot of time in the Legislature, and we thought we had it clarified," says Ginsberg.

But the fixies clause in the larger bill dealing with bikes died in the Judiciary Conference Committee after Sen. Ginny Burdick (D-Southwest Portland) stripped it out. A local bike blog,, reports that Burdick's daughter lobbied her not to green-light the surge of inexperienced fixie riders.

"After it initially went through, I had a lot of reservations," Burdick said in an interview with Jonathan Maus, editor of Bikeportland. "My own daughter (who works at River City Bicycles in Portland) rides fixies on the velodrome. She jumped on me pretty hard and said there were a lot of people on fixies who really don't know what they're doing, so changing the standard across the board would not be a good idea."

So that's the argument--that some bike riders who get fixies (from River City Bicycles? Sure hope not!) don't know how to ride safely on them? As a statistical matter, I'm sure that's true. On the other hand, it's also true that not everyone who buys an SUV with tinted windows and Bluetooth knows how to drive them safely either--but I don't see them getting ticketed just for being on the street.

Come on, officers. Find something that needs to be done and leave the couriers alone.

Repaved Naito: Just one little thing left to fix:

The bike lanes on the newly reopened Naito Parkway have totally changed the equation for getting around downtown. Getting from Old Town to the lower end of Tom McCall Park is now a matter of a couple of minutes. No battling TriMet buses on Fourth, or threading through the pedestrians on the river walkway. You still have to keep your eyes open in the block north of Morrison where the bike lane gets moved across a car lane twice in a short distance, but otherwise it's much more convenient, and much safer.

. . . Except for one little detail. On the northwest corner of the intersection of Couch and Naito there's a storm drain that's the kind with wide, long slots running parallel to the bike lane--the kind that's just right for grabbing a bike wheel and sending the rider flying.

All the rest of the storm drains on that stretch of Naito have the cross-bar style grates that are bicycle-safe. How and why this one got through is a mystery.

I've called the bicycle office at the Portland Office of Transportation, so the process of fixing this danger spot is started. Meanwhile, be careful at Couch and Naito.

Bike math:

Now that the weather in Portland is coming back down from the 100-mark, the number of pedestrians, joggers, and cyclists on the shared paths downtown is increasing to normal mid-summer levels. So let's take a moment review some basic math:

If there are four of joggers or strollers traveling one direction on a mixed-used path such as the East Bank Esplanade, that does not mean you get four-fifths of the right-of-way, leaving one-fifth for everyone coming the other direction. Pedestrian and bicycle traffic each get half the pathway. That means you can't walk four abreast (or three abreast, or five, or however many), no matter how much easier it makes conversation. Especially on narrow sections like the lower deck of the Steel Bridge and the Esplanade near OMSI, stick to no more than two abreast--and single file if you're pushing strollers. It's only for a few hundred yards--be tough.

(And as long as we're on the subject, if you're going to wear headphones when you walk or jog--which is perfectly understandable--you've waived your right to act pissed when you get passed by a bike you didn't hear coming up behind you.)

Thank you for your attention.

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