Road $$ is not cycling $$

There’s a problem with transportation funding framing. The problem is exemplified by the notion that we have enough money to build and maintain roads, but not enough money to build out bike facilities.

Frankly this doesn’t make any sense, and no one should be allowed to say it ever again without being strictly challenged on their assumptions. Building and maintaining any kind of bicycle facility is so much cheaper than building an auto-oriented facility for equivalent capacity. Furthermore, bicycle facilities require less maintenance because they suffer less wear and tear from heavy vehicles. So building a bicycle facility that will be consistently used is a great investment in the present and a great one for the future, because it is cheap and long-lasting.

If this doesn’t make any sense, why are people allowed to say it? Some of it is due to funding obligation. Transportation agencies can’t remove previously committed money from certain pots without repercussions. But I think this isn’t the real reason. The real reason is that money for bike facilities is seen as an add-on to money for roads, with the occasional exception being standalone trails, which are often funded differently. Makes sense, right? I mean, most bike facilities are currently just special parts of roads, so they pretty much are add-ons to roads. They’re not a separate system. There’s rarely much that’s separate about them!

It’s interesting to think about how this may have been affected by cycling advocacy history. In the 1970s when the Dutch were building real bike facilities, we were building pretty bad bike paths kind of off to the sides of roads, which caused all kinds of problems. The advocates of the time decided that this was terrible, and that furthermore bike paths could never be convenient or safe because these paths weren’t, and the real solution was to ride on the road. That’s the basic landscape we’ve been working with ever since. Even as bike lanes and now “separated” cycletracks have come into vogue, the basic model we have is that bikes ride on the road and act like every other vehicle, and that space where bikes ride is taken from the rest of the road and funded from the same pot as any other road money, for the most part. There are some special small pots that can be used as well, but mostly it’s just the same money as everything else. Oregon’s famous Bike Bill (which is pretty widely seen as awesome, and is, for what it was) is actually just a requirement that’s very explicitly on top of this model that says that a certain amount of this pot has to be used for bike things and that bike things are supposed to be a routine part of making and remaking roads.

If you look at it this way, it’s not a surprise that there’s a problem with framing around bike facilities, and not just for funding. Anything that “bikes” get is something that other vehicles that are not allowed in bike lanes don’t get, whether it’s money or space. So of course there’s no money for bikes, right? Because there’s hardly any money these days, and it’s supposed to be road money, vehicle money. And the majority of the population still drives, because we haven’t built very many good bike facilities, so they think that the money should be used for them, and not for bikes.

I’m not dissing “road funding” here. Roads carry the freight that brings me goods and the buses I ride and the neighborhood streets that I ride on. The point I want to make is that there’s a mistake in the framing. Proper bike facilities following major travel routes, the kind that are truly 8 to 80, are not just add-ons to roads, and the funding they require is not just an add-on, an extra, to road funding. Cycling is a different way to travel around, and outside of neighborhood streets and other extremely low-traffic or extremely low-speed areas, it requires separate facilities in order to be a safe way to travel. And there will never, ever be a majority of people riding until it’s a safe, consistent, easy way to travel. You can’t get there from where you are, framing-wise. Those facilities need their own funding stream and their own space and their own engineering system. They can’t be contingent on “road funding” because they aren’t roads. They’re places to ride bikes to get around. They need to go everywhere that roads do (so, like sidewalks, it makes a lot of sense for them to coexist in the same corridor as roads), and maybe places that roads don’t, or don’t in the same way (so they need to be separately considered as well).

Tell the truth: there is enough money for bike facilities. You just don’t want to use it for them, because you think that roads are more important.

Why I never want to hear “Sorry, I didn’t see you” again

Here’s what people usually say when they almost kill you in traffic:

“Sorry, I didn’t see you.”

Here’s why I never want to hear it  again:

1) I assume you didn’t see me, because I assume it wasn’t your goal to run into, hurt, or kill me. Most people don’t set out into traffic with the goal of running into someone else and hurting or killing them. But it happens all the time anyway. 35,000 people a year die on American roads, or about 100 a day. So your intention is both assumed to be good and also not really adequate as far as not killing me goes.

2) It’s your responsibility to see me. If you didn’t see me, you either didn’t look where you needed to look, weren’t paying attention to the right things when you did look there (attention blindness, which everyone has to some extent and most drivers are especially afflicted with where bikes are concerned), couldn’t see because of conditions and therefore shouldn’t have been driving at all, or should have been going more slowly, or you made a maneuver when you couldn’t look where you needed to look.

3) Frequently, what you did was illegal even if you had looked and the way was clear. In some cases where you just almost ran over me, failure to yield or a similar failure is the only violation. But far more often, you changed lanes or turned illegally or failed to stop at all or did some other completely illegal thing. In that case, I don’t really think NOT SEEING ME is your problem. Your problem is that you were driving illegally and unsafely and I just happened to be in your way at the time.

Here’s what I want to hear instead:

“I’m sorry, I was being careless and I came close to causing a crash that could have hurt or killed you. I will be more careful in the future.”

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking / I wasn’t paying attention. I know I should pay careful attention when driving, and I apologize for scaring you like that.”

“I’m sorry, I was focused on getting where I needed to be and did something foolish and risky. I’ll try to avoid that in the future.”

Granted, I’d rather hear “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you” than any number of other things, like “You were in my way”, “What do you think you’re doing?” or “Get off the road”. You might say this is a first-world problem, or a Platinum Bike City problem, or even a Portland Problem. But it’s not just that. Understanding that good intentions are not enough is a critical step in the progress toward Vision Zero and designing for safe traffic flow. The fact that you could kill someone without meaning to, just because you forgot to look, or couldn’t see well, or suffered from over-focused attention, means that the street lets you create unsafe conditions just because you’re a fallible human being. As the Onion says, it’s pretty incredible that Americans are entrusted with driving cars.

I’d really like everyone using the streets to travel in a vehicle get past the notion that “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you” is an adequate answer to scaring and almost hurting or killing someone. That goes for people biking and walking too. Because if you had actually hurt or killed them, that wouldn’t really be a good reason, would it? Let’s design our streets to be safe even when they’re being used by tired, stressed, inattentive, fallible humans. And let’s try to be the best falliable humans we can be, and admit our fault when we aren’t.

Mees 3: Have your cake and eat it too?

The quote that first caught my eye from this chapter was:

However, the same citizens who are most concerned about sustainable transport are often the fiercest defenders of leafy, low-rise neighborhoods.

This is a particularly pertinent note for Portland, especially right now in light of the discussion around the code allowing developers to build apartment buildings without on-site auto parking (one of which I’ll soon be living in!). These buildings, which allow greater density and improved urban form, including a better pedestrian environment without ugly parking lot gaps and ‘blank faces’ on buildings, are fiercely opposed by inner SE homeowners who believe it destroys the character of their neighborhood and clogs their streets. (Let’s leave aside for now that the former is completely subjective and the latter is false based on research by the city.)

These same neighbors, to stereotype just a little, also recycle, compost, shop at New Seasons, have chickens in their backyards, collect water in rainbarrels, buy Priuses, and have a school in their midst called the Sunnyside Environmental School…in short, they care about the earth on a personal level. But heaven forfend someone should try to change the development pattern so that it’s better for long-term sustainability. That, to them, is “like a rape.” (Yes, someone really said that, and yes, it makes me want to throw up.)

So, are these neighbors super lucky? Yes they are. Because Mr. Mees is here to tell us that you can have your leafy low-rise neighborhoods and your public transit too, if you design your transit cleverly!

The bulk of the chapter is devoted to dissing other possible solutions, like road pricing and electric cars. He’s unsurprisingly down on electric cars, saying:

The global effect of a large shift to electric cars would be to increase greenhouse emissions, since coal is still the main source of power.

He’s also surprisingly down on road pricing, saying that while it’s been a modest success in reducing car travel into city centers, it motivates people who can afford it to continue to drive, because they can just buy their way out of congestion. If you can’t buy your way out of congestion, you just have to live with it, and you’re more likely to actually seek out alternatives.

Vancouver reduced journey times by promoting congestion, while the other Canadian cities increased them by planning for higher speeds.

This is also pertinent for Portland, since our land-use rules and urban growth boundary tend to create greater congestion within the boundary, but they also shorten journeys, leading to an overall reduction in travel times. Vancouver saw the same effect, simply by failing to build more roads further out — when congestion is a factor in the central city, people choose to live closer in and select transportation alternatives. So even though my life would be easier if we could clear out some of the cars from downtown at 5pm, maybe I shouldn’t really be wishing for that — unless it’s because they’re riding bikes instead.

Finally, Mees tars public transit with some of the same brush as cars, particularly low-occupancy buses:

A bus with half a dozen passengers will be no more efficient, in greenhouse terms, than if the passengers travelled in cars at average occupanies…Walking and cycling produce no greenhouse emissions and are the only truly sustainable travel modes.

I’m with him there, but only up to a point. Jarrett has made a case that the purpose of public transit is to extend the reach of the walk, and if walking and cycling are the primary local modes, public transit is the necessary long distance complement unless you want to have tiny towns and cities, and also keep everyone’s car in a giant lot on the edge of the city, which sounds pretty expensive and dumb to me.

So, we can have our leafy low-rise neighborhood and our public transit too, but we can’t have our auto incentives and our transit incentives too:

The only way to produce mode shift is to combine transit incentives with auto disincentives.

Mees 1: “Density as destiny” is a convenient story

One of the most interesting points that Mees makes  early on is that the story of “density as destiny” where transit is concerned is convenient for a lot of people on both sides of the spectrum. Road-builders who’d like to keep building roads can say that they have to, because density is insufficient for effective transit. Transit agencies that are providing poor service can use low density as an excuse for doing so.

He touches a little bit on the issues that changing density raises: “large increases in the density of big cities take many decades, and may be politically impossible in a democratic society.” This is one of Portland’s current controversies: people who aren’t interested in transit and would rather have money spent on roads, and who definitely don’t want density, can stop both density and transit investment by having a fit only about density.

Mees’ hypothesis is the opposite:

Transport policy itself has a bigger impact on transport patterns than urban planners have realized, and suburbs don’t have to be totally reliant on the car. Planners who insist that car dominance can only be addressed by impossibly large increases in density may actually be entrenching the problem they are trying to solve.

He shows a counterexample to the idea that density is destiny in his story of Sternenberg and Bauma, a small village and its nearby town in Canton Zurich, Switzerland. Bauma has around 1,000 residents and has half-hourly trains from 6am to midnight and all-night buses on Friday and Saturday. Sternenberg, with a population of 300, has seven buses a day, which coordinate with the arrival and departure of the train at Bauma, going to onward services at regional centers and into Zurich City. The transit modeshare in Sternenberg is higher than Portland’s (the city of Portland): 19% (plus 10% walking and cycling). This is mindblowing when you think of entire towns and cities in the US that have no public transit whatsoever, or have quite useless transit, despite being many times the size (and as Mees the Australian reminds us, Americans are not alone in this).

One interesting bit from this story that Mees doesn’t spend much time on is that the population of Sternenberg is beginning to increase after many years of decline, and that much of this increase comes from people commuting into Zurich and suburbs (and that this is a general pattern). This is a case of high mobility by transit — something I like to think of as good — causing a kind of population sprawl. Mees isn’t so worried about this because his point is that relatively sprawling populations don’t have to impede good transit, and transit sprawl is usually a bit ‘better’ than auto-driven sprawl, but in general terms enabling urban depopulation and long-distance commuting decreases accessibility. It makes it more difficult to meet daily needs other than commuting by non-auto modes, which is reflected in the relatively high (for Zurich) car use in Sternenberg.

From my personal angle, interested in community building as I am and having lived in a sprawling metro area, it also impedes community formation and seriously burdens workers. When your friends live 2 hours away by train, you can’t run over for a quick cup of tea, and when you’re spending 2 hours a day commuting, you aren’t spending those hours with friends and family, being active, cooking, pursuing hobbies, or anything else you might like to do. In this view, the success of Sternenberg potentially comes at a price, something that is frequently, but not always, overlooked.

Car2Go: less horrible, possibly useful

Car2Go seems to have fixed most of the problems that I mentioned in my previous post about their website and I was actually able to successfully use it recently. I was going to pick up my bike from the shop, and I had a time crunch because I had to be home by six. At 5pm, I checked for 17s and discovered that the usual 5:15-5:20pm 17 was nowhere to be found and the 5:00-5:05 had either already gone or was also nonexistent.

Fortunately, there was a Car2Go a few blocks away (one of them seems to have a ‘home’ near my work) and I was able to confirm it was there, update my account information (I had forgotten my PIN, never having used it) and start the drive at the car. I found the car maneuverable but not very powerful or responsive, and the GPS didn’t work at all to enter an address because it was too slow (I puzzled through the route-choice-for-driving myself, and did okay). Parking it on a side street by Metropolis was easy because it’s quite tiny. It was a perfect use for that trip, since I could ride my bike home from the shop. It was nice to finally get to use it when it was convenient and see what the fuss is about.I found it was fairly expensive — even with 15 free minutes, my trip (29 minutes because of traffic) cost over $5. So it’s not great in times of heavier traffic because you spend too much expensive time idling (time for congestion charging in downtown Portland, revenue to go to transit, plzkthx). I would rather have taken TriMet from a cost perspective, although the convenience of Car2Go was better.

As far as the website, some of their landing pages are still a bit useless, like http://portland.car2go.com/, but if you go to Car2Go.com you can easily select your city, see the map, and log in, which is a major improvement. The map is less painful to use, too — it groups cars when zoomed out and runs more smoothly when zooming in.

It looks like they’ve sorted out reservations by making them too simple to be really useful for advance needs — all they can do is ensure that a car will still be there in 30 minutes. It fits with the usage model, but it makes them useless if you need to get to an appointment that you know about a long time in advance and don’t have much flexibility with, because they could all be gone by then.

Overall, a great improvement. And they have an Android app now which looks like it would simplify the process even more, although I’ve basically maxed out my apps so I may not be able to install it until I get a new phone.

PBOT needs to be solution-oriented

In Saturday morning’s Oregonian neighborhoods section, there’s an article about the safety and traffic conditions on NW Cornell. It contains the line:

The society would like to see a stop sign or a crosswalk signal, but Costello isn’t optimistic. “I had a PBOT engineer tell me that realistically, it’s not going to happen until someone dies.”

On Twitter Friday, in a conversation about the latest right-hook accident at NE Broadway and Wheeler, BikePortland said:

The vast majority of major bike safety-related initiative in this town in the last 7 yrs have happened only after ppl were hurt/killed.

While PBOT has made many ongoing improvements to the transportation system over the years, it seems plausible that this is true for specific changes to intersections considered dangerous by their users and the surrounding community. Bike boxes and the N Greeley/Interstate closure followed on serious right-hook crashes; the closure of Wheeler is only on the table after many serious crashes and tons and tons of advocacy work. It also seems clear that this trend or fact is recognized even within PBOT, based on the report in the Oregonian article.

This is simply unacceptable as an attitude, especially when at the same time Mayor Adams, who is responsible for PBOT, is claiming that “safety is the #1 priority”. Safety should be the #1 priority, but it isn’t. This needs to change. The cost of transportation safety improvements does not decrease with time, and the cost to the community increases hugely, both financially and emotionally, as a result of injuries and deaths that occur within the transportation system. Once a documented safety problem exists, it is wrong morally and misguided both financially and for the health of the community to take the attitude that a fix can be delayed until major injuries or death occur.

The fundamental orientation that underlies this attitude, and that I believe needs to change, is the “problem orientation”. This is an attitude that focuses on the problem. The problem in PBOT’s case, as it is in many cases, is a combination of inertia and lack of money. There is no money for new signals, so we just won’t install them right now. We think that painting crosswalks without adding other features doesn’t make people safer, so we just won’t paint them, since we don’t have the money for the other features. “We can’t do the obvious thing/the thing people are asking for, so we won’t do anything.”

Problem orientation is difficult to challenge because the problems are genuine. PBOT has serious budget challenges that they need to address. Research does show that the simplest solutions, the ones that people often want, are not always effective, or they have negative side effects. But having a real problem doesn’t preclude moving past it to consider solutions. It means you have to be more creative, and let go of your attachment to the problem as insurmountable.

I’ve been involved in other projects where the problem orientation was a significant barrier to reaching solutions. In 2001-2002, I was involved with a group in college that was suffering under a bad-fit leader. The problematic incidents slowly mounted, but because of the difficulty involved with making a change, there was a lot of gossiping, taking sides, quiet non-compliance. I unfortunately became one of the gossipers, someone who talked a lot about how bad the situation was but did little to figure out a real solution. Eventually, enough happened that the header left. Later I came to feel terrible about how I behaved in that situation. I got so focused on the problem that I didn’t contribute constructively to a solution. So I know how easy it can be to get stuck there.

In 2008, I had a chance to do better. Caltrain was doing everything they could to avoid talking about bikes on board, even though there was a huge interest from the community in more capacity to bring bikes on the train. When confronted, they had a long list of reasons why this wasn’t possible, none of which seemed insurmountable to the community. Instead of giving up, several groups (each in their own way) took the listed barriers to change and worked on creating innovative solution possibilities (some of which which worked around them entirely by relying on the community) and asked them to truly research whether certain things were really impossible, rather than just insisting. In the end, they increased capacity by 25% overall and significantly improved information and capacity consistency.

So I know how easy it is to get stuck in a problem orientation, but I also know that it feels terrible, and that the result of looking for a solution will be far better, probably better than you could ever imagine when you were stuck inside the problem.

Decisionmakers at PBOT: please believe that safety is worth the effort of getting past the problems and barriers. I know there are already staff at PBOT who believe this, but for something to be the #1 priority, everyone needs to believe it, especially the people in charge. It is worth it to me, it is worth it to the community, and it is worth it to you. Do the creative thinking, make the hard changes, and make Portland a truly safe and enjoyable place to travel for everyone, for every mode, everywhere.

Stale bureaucracy

I occasionally say smart things on Twitter, and even more occasionally, one of them is worth saying in more than 140 characters. Yesterday I had the following conversation with @bjamin:

The project Ben was alluding to is the I-5/Broadway/Weidler interchange plan, which is part of the N/NE Quadrant project. Public attention to the project has increased recently because the Stakeholder Advisory Committee was charged this week with making a recommendation on the interchange plans, and there was an opportunity for public comment at the meeting.

The process has been going on for almost two years. I got involved just over a year ago, right after the first public charrette (which I wasn’t able to attend for personal reasons), when I and some other advocates met with some SAC members who were feeling less sure about the transportation details than they would have liked. I ended up sitting in on a special meeting with ODOT and PBOT project staff at one point, I’ve kept in touch with the SAC members about the progress, I went to several open houses and commented on the plans, and I had a lot of (frustrating) conversations with project staff. So I know a bit about how the whole process went down.

The way that I described it for Ben I think is apt (and Steve thought so too). The ideas that were presented to the SAC and the community were pre-filtered by the agencies involved, including ODOT, and by the way the scope of the project was written. They’re stale because all the interesting ideas were thrown out by the “process”.

At the transportation design charettes, any options that included removal of I-5 (something many community members think is possible within the next 30 years) were thrown out as out of scope. Options that involved removing the ramps were put down as infeasible because the majority of the traffic on the freeway is local, even though local traffic doesn’t need a freeway to get around, and eliminating close-together ramps is a very traditional way to improve weaving problems like those cited for this segment (the freeway interchange in the city I grew up in was redone this way while I was in high school and college). And the TDM/TSM option (managing congestion using technological and mode-shift techniques) was never seriously developed — whenever I saw it, it was just a line item, and when I asked ODOT staff what this would entail, they did the verbal equivalent of shrugging.

All this points to a process that was set up with so many constraints to meet that it could only get one result: that the freeway needs the additional lanes ODOT says it needs. Pressure from the community is the only thing that brought the process to a point where the worst (most expensive and people-hostile) options  were eliminated and it included any reasonable improvements for people walking and biking through the area at all. That’s still not much, just a tiny update over today’s conditions, with some loss of connectivity (plus the construction impacts). This for an area that is the meeting of three major bike routes, that’s within blocks of the city’s biggest transit center and major event centers, and which will soon have a streetcar! I’ve also heard, but haven’t confirmed, that PBOT as much as said that the bike/ped improvements were contingent on the freeway improvements, and they couldn’t be done separately. If they’re really improvements that we think are good and worthwhile, why can’t they be done separately? Does PBOT want 25% of Portlanders riding their bikes to work in 2030, or not? Do they want people leaving the Rose Garden at night to be safe walking to TriMet or not?

This N/NE Quadrant process, to me, has become a symbol of everything I’ve seen that’s wrong with “public process” — I would say “in Portland” but I don’t think it’s just Portland.

  • The public doesn’t get any input on deciding what projects “need” to be done, or what their scope will be (Portland Transport discussed this recently as well).
  • Only the project’s “stakeholders” (however that is defined for a given project, and it generally isn’t defined very inclusively) get ongoing input. The public has to delve into websites and publications to find out when design sessions or open houses are or how to contact staff.
  • Open houses are rarely held at convenient places and times; they’re usually held from 4:30 to 6:30 (letting out a lot of working people) and often in odd places (Lloyd Center Mall, the Rose Garden Arena).
  • There’s often a distinct lack of data and discussion of the project’s (temporary or permanent) impacts on non-motor vehicle traffic. I can’t tell you how many times I heard how many cars drive on the freeway, but I never heard project staff even discuss bikeway traffic counts, despite such counts being available for several intersections in the area, and despite requests for such data from citizens.
  • One stakeholder can sometimes hold up an entire project, but how that can come about is never clearly defined.
  • The options that are presented, if they include citizen ideas at all, are always pre-filtered by agency staff, who are the same people who chose the project scope in the first place, so they can put their preferred options front and center and get rid of any they don’t like.
  • Staff can even insist after the fact that SAC recommendations won’t work and have to be changed. So nothing is currently stopping PBOT and ODOT from taking the SAC recommendation for the I-5/Broadway-Weidler project and deleting even the small bike/ped improvements the community did succeed in adding, just like nothing seems to stop PBOT from continually insisting that Williams can’t handle traffic with only one travel lane (and refusing to hear any points made that a change in road configuration is likely to change traffic counts).

Agencies have an existing culture and worldview and a vested interest in things going their way, so even when there are a lot of people with good intent (and I don’t doubt there are, here as much as anywhere, as I’ve met and spoken to many of them), that isn’t enough to get the agency to look beyond its own standard methods, its own little house in government, and the immediate future. Memorably, one of the open houses I attended for this project included a note that the median MUP that they wanted to install (which did make it into the final plans, but without any marked width) should be 12′ wide for two-way traffic. This on one of the major city bikeways? 20′ would barely be wide enough (that’s the total width of the Hawthorne Bridge paths). When I look at designs produced by staff and consultants, they almost always show that the person who designed them doesn’t regularly travel the street (at all, or by specific modes) because they are missing important details like that. At the last N Williams open house, I heard another citizen ask why they had added parking to a particular block of Williams, because it’s currently no-parking at PPB’s request. “Really?” said the consultant behind the table. “I’ll look into that.” In general, details that are critical to determining whether a design is any good are often missing until too late in the process to make meaningful changes.

More than a change to any individual project, or any one part of the process, we need a change from a culture of regimented process, stale bureaucracy, and imposed expertise to evolution, creativity, and collaboration. This requires change from both our government and us as citizens. Governmental agencies need to stop fearing and constraining citizen input and start talking with us openly what we want and need, while at the same time getting out of their silos and looking at the long view. We have to be more interested in the continued development of our neighborhood and our city over time, and more willing to see beyond our own self-interest. Right now, 74% of Americans want to see no new development in their neighborhoods. But without development, neighborhoods stagnate and decline. No future development means “I’ve got mine and I’m not worried about anyone else getting theirs.” That’s not the attitude of a community I want to live in. Let’s make Portland, and Oregon, better than that.

Why I can’t be arsed to support a cycletrack on SW 12th

True to my blogging history, let’s start with a linguistics digression: “can’t be arsed” is my favorite British phrase. It means “can’t be bothered”, but is somewhat less polite.

I can’t be arsed to support a cycletrack on SW 12th. I can’t really be arsed to oppose it, either, because who wants to oppose bike infrastructure? So I’ve been keeping quiet. But it looks like this debate is heating up and may be worth weighing in on.

Here’s the thing:

Cycletracks are a good facility type for improving cycling safety and comfort when used to protect cycle traffic from heavy or fast-moving motor vehicle traffic and create more space for cycling. But downtown traffic doesn’t move quickly, thanks to signal timing that has a progression speed of 12-16mph.  A person riding downhill can easily keep up with traffic downtown (I’ve ridden from Jefferson to Alder on 6th without even turning a pedal when I hit the lights right), and relatively fit cyclists can keep up on the flats as well. And SW 12th apparently doesn’t have heavy motor vehicle traffic (note the line in the document mentioning “underutilized capacity”), which is one reason this cycletrack is considered a good “demonstration” candidate. Put another way, it’s a good cycletrack candidate because it’s not really necessary.

But if it’s not necessary, why spend money, time, and effort on it? And why is it that one of our criteria for a good cycletrack opportunity — that it not necessitate removal of currently “needed” motor vehicle capacity — almost entails that the facility not be necessary? That implies that we’ll never install cycletracks where they’re most needed, like Broadway between NE 21st and SW Clay. That’s a cycletrack I’d be all over supporting, because the current bike lane is a complete death trap of dooring hazards, right-hooks, regular parking, valet parking, deliveries, taxis, school buses, potholes, and jaywalking pedestrians. Anything for actual dedicated space on Broadway, I would do. You want me to demonstrate outside City Hall at 3pm on a rainy Tuesday for that? I’m there. You want me to wear a clown hat and do a headstand in the mayor’s office? Ask and ye shall receive.* But ask me to support a cycletrack on SW 12th, and I’m all, eh, whatever.

I can think of a few reasons why it’s less silly than it seems:

  • In the future, traffic (both car and bicycle) is expected to increase. At some point, there may be heavier traffic on SW 12th (the PBA apparently thinks that’ll be soon), and people will then appreciate the separated space.
  • Despite the fact that it’s easy to keep up with cars when cycling downtown and so it’s a good place for a shared space model, there is still a population of people who find cycling downtown uncomfortable or scary. These people might be attracted to 12th by a new cycletrack, and feel more comfortable riding downtown. Peter Furth and Roger Geller discussed this at PSU last Friday when Roger asked what level of traffic stress Furth would consider downtown streets to be. The answer (based on the muttering around the room) was unclear, but I would say most of them are LTS 3 (appropriate for the enthused and confident) due to width, occasionally heavy volume (including lots of trucks), and complexity of driving behavior, even though they should be only LTS 2 (appropriate for most adults) based on speeds. Adding a cycletrack would make a downtown street LTS 1 or 2.
  • PBOT needs practice installing cycletracks where turns are allowed before they do a badly-needed project such as a cycletrack on Broadway that’s important to get right. I don’t know if this is true, but it’s a reasonable idea.

I can also think of a few reasons why it’s more silly than it seems:

  • On the other hand of the first argument, if bike traffic increases more than expected, then confining it to a cycletrack could be negative (this is a known issue in places like Copenhagen). Shared space allows bikes to be wherever they need to be.
  • SW 12th isn’t a great through-routing choice, in my opinion (although Ian and the BTA disagree). SW 14th is only two blocks over and has a bike lane that goes all the way through NW. 12th rather peters out around Davis where it becomes a two-way street with lots of stop signs. It also has exposed old trolley tracks in that area, which are hazardous.
  • SW 12th is downhill, which means it’s one of the easier streets for people to keep up with cars on. Installing a cycletrack on an uphill street would provide greater value.
  • It’s time to move past demonstration projects and get serious about installing cycletracks where we need them — on streets like Burnside, Sandy, and Broadway. Or how about MLK and Grand, or 11th and 12th? Amsterdam and Copenhagen have done it, NYC has done it, DC has done it, and Chicago has done it. Are we really going to screw it up so badly we need to practice first, even with all those lovely examples?

There are also genuine issues worth considering with regard to process and implementation. For example, cycletracks limit mid-block turning movements in ways that neither shared space nor (buffered) bike lane separation would. Mid-block turns are important for business accessibility, especially in areas where riding on the sidewalk is not permitted. This is an area where I think PBA’s concerns could be legitimate, although in my opinion they are probably concerned for the wrong reasons. We know a lot about whether bikes are good for business (yes) but not a lot about how cycletracks affect that, as there aren’t as many businesses along Broadway in the PSU cycletrack segment. N Williams will be using a buffered bike lane treatment, so that won’t help us learn about cycletracks and business accessibility issues either. Or general accessibility issues; at least one advocate I respect has raised questions about this in the past.

PBA also raises questions about evaluation that I think are legitimate if we consider this a demonstration project. The cycletrack and buffered bike lanes were evaluated by researchers at PSU, who came up with some suggested changes to the implementation. But I’m not aware of any changes made as a result of the evaluation, or whether there was a specific set of criteria that, if not met, would trigger changes (either improvement or removal). The buffered lanes have some issues, as Jonathan has documented, and if I were inclined to be opposed to this project (as the PBA apparently is) then I would definitely want to know how to avoid that happening here. As I’m not inclined to oppose it, it still leaves me where I started out: shrugging and saying “Eh, whatever.”

* But all I ever hear is that all that capacity on Broadway is needed, so it’s impossible to do anything. What ever happened to induced demand and disappearing traffic?

Why I’m an Options Ambassador

PBOT’s Transportation Options division is recruiting for new outreach volunteers — Options Ambassadors — for 2012. A few weeks ago Andrew at PBOT asked me if I would be willing to share why I volunteer with Options as part of their recruitment. I think my response is slated for a brochure or email because I couldn’t find it online, but I thought it would be nice to have it available for the future, and for my own purposes in promoting Options’ recruitment!

Here are Andrew’s questions and my responses.

Q. Why did you decide to become an ambassador?

A. I was lucky enough to live in the SmartTrips area when I first moved to Portland in summer 2009. I thought the rides would be a great way to get to know the city and meet some people. I was also looking for ways to use my bicycle advocacy skills in Portland. I enjoyed the rides tremendously, and I really liked how prepared, thoughtful, friendly, and fun the Options team was. I decided if there was any way I could get involved, I wanted to do it. I’ve always really enjoyed sharing my knowledge and encouraging others to ride, so it seemed like a perfect fit. At the last summer ride, I was excited when Timo announced that they would be recruiting for new Ambassadors in April and encouraged me to apply. And the rest is history!

Q. What is your favorite part about being an Ambassador?

A. I really like to help with the bike rides. I am best at encouraging people when I’m riding because my enthusiasm for the ride is contagious — I enjoy exploring new routes and appreciating the wonderful things about Portland (including the summer weather). I also really like helping people learn and get more comfortable with riding in a context where I can talk with them one-on-one for extended periods of time. Finally, I love hearing people’s stories about why they are interested in riding more, and what got them out to the event, and I like to see how they appreciate each other’s company and support. Seeing people enjoy riding and grow in their skills and abilities is what inspires me as an advocate.

 

I didn’t want to go on too long in my response about how wonderful the Options group is, but it really is a huge part of the reason that I volunteer. Timo and Janis are fantastically cool, funny, enthusiastic, fun, and prepared. On the Autumn Adventure ride in 2009, I was badly under-gloved for the severity of the rain (and probably underdressed in general — it was my first fall in Portland), and Janis lent me some extra gloves with no questions asked. That’s the kind of leader I always appreciate and aspire to be. Every time I assist them I enjoy their company and I learn a lot about how to make riding fun and accessible for everyone. Every year as people rotate out, we need awesome ambassadors to replace them, so if you love to share your knowledge and enthusiasm for riding or walking, please volunteer!

Besides a few hours for training, it’s as much of a time commitment as you want or don’t want it to be. In 2010 I volunteered most weeks, but in 2011 I could only make a few rides in the summer because of my work schedule at SMART Transit. Luckily Timo extended the season with some weekend rides in the fall, and I’m hoping to volunteer more again this summer. I can’t wait for the season to start.

All those big square houses

I was on a bike ride this weekend and we were riding down Salmon St in inner SE, between 23rd and 12th. One of the women on the ride was exclaiming about how beautiful the neighborhood was with “all these big square houses”. I listened to her rhapsodize for a few sentences, thinking how funny it was to hear someone describe the houses that way. I realized that I’ve gotten used to how inner Portland looks, and it no longer seems odd or remarkable to me, although I continue to find it very beautiful.

It also reminded me of a story my dad tells about me as a very small child asking why all the houses in Detroit (where we used to fly in order to drive to Canada to visit my dad’s family) had pointy roofs. My eye was apparently already calibrated to the flat roofs of many New Mexican houses and found the long rows of pointy houses remarkable, just as this woman found Portland’s “big square” houses remarkable coming from Beaverton.