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Editorial: On Williams Avenue, a crucial test for Portland

Posted by on May 3rd, 2011 at 10:34 am

“The… project has the opportunity to be a cycle-track the whole length if we don’t let the traffic engineers reserve too much space for cars… First, we have to have the guts to try it and then we’ve got to make it succeed.”
— Chris Smith

At a stakeholder advisory committee meeting later today we’ll learn how community feedback has — or hasn’t — changed the City of Portland’s perspective on the North Williams bikeway project (a.k.a. the North Williams Traffic Safety Operations Project).

Even though Williams is one of the busiest bikeways in the city and a hub of bike-oriented development, PBOT’s initial proposal for the busiest section of the street (from Cook to Skidmore) included no improvement to bike access. Fearing push-back from businesses about automobile access and on-street parking, PBOT was on the verge of caving to the status quo.

Bikes on N. Williams Ave-5

The community responded by showing up in droves to an open house for the project. We don’t know the official results from that event, but all signs point to a flood of support for removing one of the existing lanes to make room for a larger and more comfortable bikeway.

It’s no surprise that it’s taking community activism to help PBOT see the right move.

Unlike the “cycle-track” on SW Broadway or the buffered bike lanes on SE Holgate — where auto traffic volumes were low enough so that a re-allocation of roadway space was easy to justify — the traffic volumes on Williams are over capacity during peak hours. Also looming over this project (and everything the city does in this neighborhood) is the complex issue of racial demographic shifts and gentrification.

Williams has also turned into a commercial main street in recent years (much of the development, ironically, due to the street’s great bike access); and historically, PBOT has not made commercial main streets accessible for bicycles. Take Hawthorne, Mississippi, SE 28th, Belmont, Killingsworth, or Alberta as examples. All of those streets have two-way motor vehicle traffic and motor vehicle parking on both sides — and no dedicated space for bicycle traffic.

At our Get Together in the Pearl District last week we were joined by City Planning Commissioner and consummate transportation activist Chris Smith.

As we discussed the lack of separated bike facilities in the Pearl and downtown, Smith brought up the ongoing Central City Plan (which includes Lower Albina):

“I think that bikes are a huge part of the answer for how we get more people in the Central City without clogging it up with cars… I think the conversation for transportation in the Central City Plan is, do we start allocating parts of the right-of-way for cycle-tracks or other protected facilities?”

Smith then used the North Williams bikeway project as a prime example:

“The North Williams bikeway project has the opportunity to be a cycle-track the whole length if we don’t let the traffic engineers reserve too much space for cars. And that is emblematic of what we have to do with the Portland Plan because that will be an example of taking a quality bike facility through a business district.

We’re really good at neighborhood greenways, but they don’t get you to the business district; and to make the healthy, connect neighborhood idea of the Portland Plan work, we’ve got to get the bike facilities into the business district. North Williams is our first opportunity to do that. We have to make it succeed. First, we have to have the guts to try it and then we’ve got to make it succeed. So, show up for those open houses, email people… Make North Williams work!”

Smith is right. This isn’t an easy project for PBOT by any stretch, and that’s precisely why it’s so important.

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  • Chris Smith May 3, 2011 at 10:48 am

    I think that the real challenge for this project is not going to be the traffic engineering. Finding a way to move 10% of the cars off Williams for 2 hours a day is not that hard.

    The real challenge here is how to make it relevant for the local community, not just for the folks who use this facility to get to other destinations. Key questions we have to be able to articulate to the neighborhood are:

    1) Traffic safety benefits! (this should be an easy one)
    2) Health and affordability benefits – do folks in the local community use bikes and to the extent that they don’t how do we help increase bike use with the attendant health benefits from active transportation and improvements to household budgets that come with being less car-dependent?
    3) How do we make sure that as bikes enliven the business district that these are business that serve the local community.
    4) How can we ensure that our changes to Williams will not disrupt the many faith communities that gather, particularly on Sundays?

    A road diet to get Williams down to one lane is straightforward (and with a little community backing, our traffic engineers DO have the guts), making the project meaningful to the local community will take more work.

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    • John Lascurettes May 3, 2011 at 11:05 am

      I would argue that anyone using N Williams on a bike during peak hours is a part of the community. I know I use many of the businesses along the way on a regular basis (carts at Vancouver and Fremont, Red Cross, Metropolis Cycle Repair, Pix Patisserie, etc.).

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  • Zach May 3, 2011 at 11:05 am

    Mr. Smith – what are some of the “not that hard” ways we could move 10% of the cars off Williams for 2 hours a day?

    Quantifiable and realistic, please.

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    • Chris I May 3, 2011 at 11:29 am

      Reduce it to one lane, the congestion will cause drivers to seek other routes.

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      • Barney May 3, 2011 at 12:51 pm

        Reducing usage by increasing congestion? Sounds oxymoronic to me.

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        • Andrew Seger May 3, 2011 at 2:51 pm

          But it works. It’s why we make traffic engineers go to school.

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          • Barney May 3, 2011 at 5:20 pm

            Still, I think it would be a hard sell to tell people that you are improving their neighborhood by increasing traffic congestion. Or dont you plan on telling them that part?

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        • matt picio May 3, 2011 at 4:10 pm

          Congestion is generally a constant for a given population level. Make it easier to drive, and more people will drive. Make it harder, and people will find alternate routes. The only way to truly reduce congestion on the roads is to remove people from the metro region. Good luck with that project.

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          • Joseph E May 3, 2011 at 11:41 pm

            Congestion pricing has been shown to be an effective way to reduce car traffic.

            Reducing availability of parking also can reduce car traffic in areas where parking is already full.

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      • jim May 3, 2011 at 10:49 pm

        Reducing it to 1 lane would not work. They allready tried that on Interstate Ave, and now it is a giant parking lot during rush hour. Somebody screwed up bigtime on that one. They said people would just ride the max instead of their cars. Didn’t happen. This is why there is so much traffic on Williams, the other arterials are all clogged up. This is the last one that moves decently, and now they want to screw it up too.

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    • David May 3, 2011 at 11:30 am

      70-100 cars per hour is a small number for the surrounding neighborhood to absorb. Most of those cars will divert to MLK, and if spillover onto Rodney/Mallory/Cleveland/etc. was still a major concern physical diverters could be installed to force traffic onto MLK.

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  • Jack May 3, 2011 at 11:21 am

    One idea regarding community response/acceptance:

    Sunday Parkways should re-target it’s marketing efforts towards the people who aren’t showing up. Just last week, when I encouraged my neighbor to checkout a Sunday Parkways this summer, he replied, “No thanks. Those things are for white people.”

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    • beth h May 3, 2011 at 1:41 pm

      Not necessarily germain to this discussion, but a topic well worth exploration elsewhere. I’d love to see a MUCH deeper study/discussion of gentrification [of Portland's historically black neighborhoods by mostly white families] and the intersection with transportation choices and communities of color.

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  • Chris Smith May 3, 2011 at 11:40 am

    The comments that the amount of traffic that needs to move elsewhere will self-disperse to other streets (MLK, freeway, etc.) are spot-on. The people most likely to choose other routes are those who are only passing through.

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  • Psyfalcon May 3, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    If this turns out to be such a problem, why not use Rodney and Cleveland?

    Clinton and Woodward are used that way to avoid Division. Neighbors get a low traffic street and Division businesses that don’t want bike traffic don’t get bike business.

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    • Jack May 3, 2011 at 1:20 pm

      If you can get all of the stop signs turned and figure out how to get tons of cyclists safely and efficiently across Fremont and Alberta, I will take Rodney.

      In the mean time I will take the direct route with the bike lane (Williams). I suspect most other people on bikes will too.

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      • matt picio May 3, 2011 at 4:13 pm

        I usually stay on Rodney – Williams has too much bike traffic for my taste, and I don’t like being passed on the right (which happens all too frequently during commuting hours). I agree with the issues crossing Fremont and Alberta. It’s fine for a few cyclists at a time to do, but very difficult with the volume of cyclists that the Vancouver / Williams couplet handles.

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    • borgbike May 3, 2011 at 3:14 pm

      Portland has a real opportunity to shine here. We have a chance to demonstrate that businesses can thrive a bespoke bike corridor. It’s a rare chance to show the world where bicycles can benefit a community. Shunting bike to a side street would have a worse impact on the corridor’s businesses than losing a lane of traffic for cars.

      Let’s show some leadership here and build a world-class cycle track. It can’t cost that much and the benefits to the city have the potential of being huge.

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    • jim May 3, 2011 at 10:53 pm

      All that work to make Concord into a greenway and bikes still use Interstate (except kids going to school for 30 minutes in morning and afternoon)

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  • spare_wheel May 3, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    Psyfalcon
    If this turns out to be such a problem, why not use Rodney and Cleveland?

    I would have no problem with shunting motor-vehicle traffic to Rodney or Cleveland.

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  • Brian May 3, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    I don’t understand – why don’t motorists use just MLK if they need to get somewhere in a rush? It’s like, four blocks to the west, and is four lanes of high-speed, glorious asphalt for your motoring convenience!

    Also, a large part of southbound Vancouver is already one lane only, with both wide bike-lane, and ample on-street car parking provided, and it works GREAT. No problems, no conflicts, no nothing. Why not just have the entire couplet work that way?

    Win-win situation, everybody’s happy.

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    • John Lascurettes May 3, 2011 at 1:20 pm

      Brian, MLK is to the east of Vancouver/Williams couplet. Also, FWIW, Williams at the moment is faster than MLK both by bike and by car. I choose it over MLK to get from Broadway to Fremont all the time.

      The point other people are making is that Williams was not supposed to be the main collector street (MLK is) and that creating more congestion (for cars) on Williams will get people that are bypassing a section of I-5 or MLK to return to using those appropriate avenues in motorized vehicles.

      In the case of bicycles, they are already operating at capacity on Williams at rush hour (and other hours too) and it’s more appropriate to give them a little love and room since bikes cannot exactly go to MLK (very unfriendly to bikes) or I-5 (prohibited). Many opt to use Rodney, but I’m not one to pick side streets with stop signs every other block (nor are a majority of bike commuters).

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      • BURR May 3, 2011 at 1:49 pm

        Rodney works fine if you just ignore the majority of the stop signs.

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        • Jack May 3, 2011 at 1:55 pm

          And the Fremont bridge is a quick way to bike downtown if you just ignore the fact that bikes are prohibited.

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        • Chris I May 3, 2011 at 2:09 pm

          I don’t think that you can call it a realistic alternative if it requires breaking the law to be convenient.

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        • are May 3, 2011 at 4:01 pm

          hard to ignore the stop and offset at fremont

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        • walker May 4, 2011 at 3:42 pm

          Yes…which many cyclists do, unfortunately. It gets old, as a pedestrian, dodging all the stop sign runners who are avoiding Williams.

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  • random rider May 3, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    It’s worth mentioning that Interstate is another viable alternative to cars using Williams as a way to bypass traffic on I-5.

    Rodney works ok by bike if you’re not in a hurry and don’t mind stopping (or at least slowing to a near stop) every other block if you get on it north of Fremont. However there is not a good way to cross Fremont on Rodney as it does a jog over with no crosswalk or traffic control devices.

    What the businesses who object to a lane diet don’t realize is that it’s reasonable to think that the majority of cars who would find an alternate route aren’t going to stop at their business anyways. Cars using Williams as a bypass are trying to save time getting to their destination and are not looking to visit one of the local places. Getting them to take an alternate route will actually increase the visibility of these businesses and make it a more inviting area to folks who are more likely to stop and spend.

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    • matt picio May 3, 2011 at 4:17 pm

      I think you mean “not a quick way” to cross Fremont. There’s a perfectly “good” way: wait for traffic to clear, turn left, pedal, turn right – works every time, simple and easy. Rodney is not a convenient path, but it works very well for those not obsessed with making time.

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  • random rider May 4, 2011 at 8:29 am

    I suppose it’s all semantics and I see where you’re coming from. Personally, I don’t consider it a good way in that it can be time consuming and a bit dicey, especially during the rush hour times that encourage finding alternatives to Williams. There are lots of cars and many of them are moving as quickly as they possibly can making it inconvenient at best and flat out uncomfortable for those who aren’t comfortable making that kind of maneuver.

    I’m fine playing leapfrog, but the fact that it interrupts my ride, on top of alternate street stop signs on Rodney, make it inconvenient for a rush hour commute to the point that I believe it is not a “good” option.

    IMO, it is similar to the PBOT idea they floated of having a total of 5 or 6 stoplights in that little stretch of Williams. Yes, it is rideable, but no, it is not a “good” solution.

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  • Michael M. May 4, 2011 at 10:26 am

    Chris Smith
    The real challenge here is how to make it relevant for the local community, not just for the folks who use this facility to get to other destinations. Key questions we have to be able to articulate to the neighborhood are:
    1) Traffic safety benefits! (this should be an easy one)

    It might be easier if more people riding bikes would ride more considerately than a significant minority currently do. I have a friend who lives between Vancouver & Williams at Dawson Pk who is terrified of all the cyclists because she has lost her vision. She can hear the cars, she can’t hear the bicycles. Her perception is that too many pass her too closely, maneuvering around her rather than stopping and yielding as they’re supposed to when she’s in a crosswalk. She says many of her neighbors complain about the same behavior, as do many in her nearby congregation. (There could easily be some confirmation bias at work.) We’ve engaged in all kinds of conversations about the relative dangers of 3000 lbs cars vs 50 lb bikes and the damage they can do, the number of people on bikes she doesn’t see who are stopping for her, but the fact remains that perception is the biggest determinant of reality and no stats are going to change that. Lots of people in & out of transit and cycling circles have been talking about this problem for a long time (Roger Geller has done so repeatedly), but no one has come up with a solution. The fact remains that it is much, much harder than it should be to sell “traffic safety benefits” when so many people take such a dim view of the behavior of so many other people who ride bikes.

    (On a related note, in the Sharing Public Sidewalks meeting on Monday the topic of people riding bikes on downtown sidewalks came up, and man you should’ve heard the vitriol fly. It was startling how many people chimed in claiming how many times they’ve almost been “mowed down” by those crazy cyclists riding on the sidewalks, despite the fact that it is illegal to do so downtown.)

    Chris Smith
    2) Health and affordability benefits – do folks in the local community use bikes and to the extent that they don’t how do we help increase bike use with the attendant health benefits from active transportation and improvements to household budgets that come with being less car-dependent?

    It is getting really tiresome to hear cycling and active transportation advocates pretend to care about “health and affordability benefits” of anything when thousands of Portlanders are shut out of access to any kind of health care they can’t get in the emergency room, and thousands are living on the streets or in their cars or couch surfing because of the very pro-gentrification policies so many of those same advocates continuously endorse. Can you please just drop the pretense?

    I think Portlandia got it slightly wrong: it’s “Put a bike on it” and call it “health” or “affordable,” instead of pursuing meaningful, systemic solutions to problems that are reaching epidemic proportions. No wonder Portland gets whiter and whiter and downtown affordable housing stock continues to decline as we paint our streets with bike lanes.

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  • El Biciclero May 4, 2011 at 11:28 am

    “It might be easier if more people riding bikes would ride more considerately than a significant minority currently do.”

    A. Funny how we don’t required drivers of motor vehicles to follow all traffic laws, stop hitting and running, quit brushing back pedestrians at crosswalks and pushing cyclists into curbs before we consider widening the freeway. No, we just think to ourselves “there is not enough room for all the cars that need to get through, so we should make more”. Why can’t we see it the same way for non-motorized vehicles? There are too many bikes (in this case) that need to get through, so we need to make more room.

    I tire of the refrain of “if cyclists behaved better, people would be more willing to drop them a crumb.” I say, if motorists behaved better we wouldn’t have all the “safety” concerns that require considering all the street changes being considered! Why do cyclists ride on the sidewalk? Because of bad motorist behavior! Stop treating cyclists like naughty children and motorists like their all-knowing parents. All groups of road users contain their share of immature, irrational, ignorant, scofflaw members; why do people attempt or threaten to withhold needed safety changes based only on perceived cyclist “bad behavior”? Bias?

    B. Gentrification is a complicated issue; Health Care is a separate issue from transportation. The fact remains that “active” transportation does have health benefits. Promoting cycling as transportation does not equal promoting gentrification, even though complicated factors tend to link the two. We still promote the health benefits of drinking water, even though half the world doesn’t have clean drinking water. Who’s to say who truly “cares” about what? It is just a fact that being more active tends to be more healthful than being sedentary.

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    • Michael M. May 5, 2011 at 10:00 am

      You’re conflating two different but related issues. The arguments for or against widening freeways (vs, say, investing in a more robust public transportation system that provides options other than driving to get around a region) have much more to do with regional priorities and needs than with any types of behavior, or other related issues (salary/benefits for transit workers, land use decisions, etc.). Behavior comes into play where people using different modes are interacting in close quarters — typically, in dense urban areas. Your perception might be different, but I don’t get the impression that many people are too bothered by the behavior of people driving downtown or people walking downtown; I do get the impression that many more people (whatever modes they themselves employ) are bothered by the behavior of people cycling downtown. It’s a safe bet there’s a fair amount of bias involved in these perceptions — my question is how are we going to change that bias if we continue to act like these kinds of perceptions shouldn’t or don’t matter?

      The argument that “There are too many bikes (in this case) that need to get through, so we need to make more room” is a great one — I think that’s partly what Chris Smith was getting at. My point is that it would have much more force if people didn’t harbor such ill will about cyclists’ behavior. As things stand, it’s easy to imagine people making the argument that there are already too many bikes wreaking too much havoc in our urban areas and we don’t want to encourage more.

      It’s not a question of dropping “crumbs,” we’ve already been given far more than crumbs. It’s a question of why I witness arguments between pedestrians trying to enjoy a walk on the Esplanade and Lance-wannabe cyclists who think the Esplanade is their own personal Tour d’France. The majority of the people I see riding on the sidewalks downtown aren’t doing it because they’re afraid of the cars, they’re doing it because they’re taking a shortcut riding the opposite direction up a one-way street — in other words, they are both too lazy to ride around the block with traffic and too inconsiderate to get off their bikes and walk them one block.

      My own perceptual biases no doubt play into my feelings about these issues. I’m more comfortable riding in automobile traffic than in bicycle traffic. I find people drive more predictably than they ride, and I feel far safer when I’m around others who are behaving predictably. I prefer NE Sandy Blvd to NE Tillamook for those reasons, especially after dark because Sandy has better lighting and there are so many people riding around the Irvington/Sullivan’s Gulch/Grant Park neighborhoods without lights, not bothering to stop or slow at stop signs or pay much attention at intersections. I know the stats, I know the consequences of getting hit by a car are likely to be worse than the consequences of getting hit by another bike, but the fact remains that I’ve had more near misses with bikes than with cars despite the overwhelmingly greater number of cars on the roads. I’m certainly sympathetic to the argument that it would be easier and safer to bike up N Williams if we had a wider, thru-cycletrack (and I would love to see one) but I think I get how these kinds of perceptual biases play into people’s willingness to support this kind of infrastructure.

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  • Roger Geller May 4, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    While there are ample examples of poor behavior from individuals representing every group using the public right-of-way (cyclists, motorists, pedestrians, etc) the fact remains that many people are scared by the behavior of bicyclists and it is this feeling of fright that in parrt contributes to an unwillingness to support additional investments in bicycling.

    I recently watched videos of focus group conversations about bicycling among different groups: urban and suburban residents, rural residents, business owners and youth. People representing these groups all mentioned the same 3 negatives: cyclists behave poorly–do not follow the rules, which makes these people scared to drive or walk near them; bicycling itself is dangerous; cyclists don’t pay their way.

    This was true even of our idealistic youth!

    They mentioned positives, too (bicycling healthy, good for the environment, fun under the right conditions), but the negatives are what they mostly focused on.

    As one kid put it: “bicyclists just don’t seem to respect other people.” Whether this is true or not, it is what sticks in people’s minds and does influence their willingness to support increased investment in bicycling facilities and programs.

    You may not like it. You may not think it’s fair. But that’s the way it is.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) May 4, 2011 at 12:27 pm

      Thanks Roger,

      I hear you about this problem and I admit it is real and important.

      However, no discussion of this is complete without making the point that the reason people on bikes behave the way they do is because of a lack of respect given to bicycling in our culture.

      From cultural bias to laws to infrastructure, bikes are marginalized and discriminated against in many ways. Given that, it’s not surprising that some bike operators act in a way that reflects this rogue position in the American psyche.

      On a more practical level, the simple fact that most roads are designed for bikes as an afterthought — or are completely devoid of bike-specific access altogether — means that bicycle operators sometimes make evasive/illegal/unpredictable maneuvers simply because they are confused or they want to stay alive and get home in one piece.

      I could go on and on but i’ll stop there for now.

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      • Roger Geller May 4, 2011 at 1:08 pm

        Sorry Jonathan, I cannot agree with you. How does a person sitting at a red traffic signal in a bicycle lane feel that their being “discriminated against” gives them the right to run the signal?

        How does cultural bias make cyclists pass too close and too fast to a family trying to enjoy a walk on the Esplanade?

        Look, we’re all the same, whether we’re driving in cars or riding bicycles or walking. Some people just behave like jerks. The way people drive is the way people bike. Each vehicle lends itself to its own unique effect due to bad operators. Because the bike is so much more flexible than a car it allows people to behave poorly in ways that we cannot in a car.

        I think where the cultural bias comes in is that people may be somewhat blind to poor motorist behavior (speeding and rolling through stops) compared to poor cyclist behavior. Again, not fair, but reality.

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        • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) May 4, 2011 at 1:20 pm

          I don’t dismiss bad behavior and I understand why it happens and I understands its extremely negative ramifications on bicycling in general. I am just trying to offer another perspective and explanation for why some of the law-breaking and jerk-behavior happens.

          There is a lot more to this situation than my comment gets to.

          Still, I don’t agree with all your points.

          I do think systemic cultural bias against bicycling leads to an environment wherein people who ride bikes do not feel they are expected to behave properly and they then proceed to… surprise… behave improperly.

          Your anecdotes about jerk riding don’t disprove anything I’ve said.

          That being said, I think one of the issues with jerk-biking is that it is often so egregious and easy to witness that it has a much greater impact on people that similarly dangerous/illegal behavior by someone driving a car.

          ok. that’s enough…I’d love to debate this in person ;-)!

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          • John Lascurettes May 4, 2011 at 1:51 pm

            Jonothan, don’t forget: Sometimes what people consider “bad behavior” by cyclists is actually within and according to lawful behavior, but those making the accusations do not understand the law (e.g. “Share the Road” means bikes allowed to use full lane yet people think it means “bikes must yield to cars”).

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        • El Biciclero May 4, 2011 at 5:48 pm

          “How does a person sitting at a red traffic signal in a bicycle lane feel that their being ‘discriminated against’ gives them the right to run the signal?”

          When the sensor loop won’t detect them. It’s pretty bad when the roadway itself discriminates against cyclists. No motorists needed–oh, except to trip the signal.

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          • Alexis May 5, 2011 at 8:09 pm

            And when the signals are timed for motorist convenience, and not for cyclist convenience. Which is almost always the case, except in downtown Portland and a few other places.

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    • El Biciclero May 4, 2011 at 12:54 pm

      Indeed, that’s the way it is. However, the fact remains that many people are scared by the behavior of motorists and it is this feeling of fright that in part contributes to an unwillingness to obey dangerous laws and use sub-par “infrastructure”. Why does it have to stay that way? Worried about cyclists on sidewalks? Curb (literally) the behavior of motorists who make the street so frightful. Maybe if the behavior of motorists wasn’t so deplorable, we’d be willing to let them rule over the streets–oh, wait…

      And why are the three false negatives never countered with, um, facts?

      1. Drivers break laws in much more dangerous ways every day than bicyclists. Last time a bicyclist injured a motorist by running into them was when, now? Last time a distracted cyclist destroyed a building?

      2. Bicycling is safer than walking–especially walking up and down stairs. What are the statistics regarding non-race-related cycling injuries/deaths that don’t involve being hit by a car? Driving cars irresponsibly is the threat, not bicycling.

      3. Everybody pays for roads. Drivers necessarily pay more because they extract exponentially more from the system. Drivers do not pay their “fair share” either.

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      • Alan 1.0 May 4, 2011 at 12:59 pm

        You’re preaching to the choir, Roger Geller to the unwashed masses. How do you propose to get your message to Roger’s audience?

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        • El Biciclero May 4, 2011 at 5:46 pm

          Heh, therein lies the rub, as they say. I suppose at meetings where such topics come up, facts have no place? Are the “facts” I am stating completely wrong? If I am wrong, then we should just fold up and go home, and be resigned to our status as the dregs of the roadway, subject to any and all abuse motorists decide to dish out, without any redress.

          Regardless of whether I am right or wrong, tell me what other public space authorities allow one group of misbehaving users to trample all over, but then claim that another group who also misbehaves must “clean up their act” before being given access?

          To handle roadway access this way is biased hypocrisy at its absolute finest.

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          • Alan 1.0 May 4, 2011 at 6:46 pm

            I’m glad you (and others) state those facts here and even more power to you when you state them in civic meetings (etc.). I’m still seeing, though, a disconnect between Geller’s statements about public perception (based on focus groups, presumably selected for statistical randomness) and your and Maus’ responses about facts (I’ll include cultural bias as fact, even). The problem isn’t that the facts are wrong (they aren’t) but that vast swaths of the public believe otherwise. Changing public perception is slow and difficult, but that consensus and perception is what public officials need to support their case for changes. So, my question is as much to Geller as it was to you (and to me, myself!): How to get that message to that audience?

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          • El Biciclero May 5, 2011 at 10:32 am

            Alan 1.0 is right. It seems that the majority (drivers) enjoys great privilege on the roads, and have adjusted their belief system to support the continuation of that privilege. Therefore, those in the minority shlump along under their “tyranny”. How do we overcome that? I fear it is more of a religious debate than a rational discussion about the optimally cost-effective allocation of public resources, or a civic discussion about fair access to those resources.

            I know there are many who don’t even own a car, but it would be very interesting to stage a “critical mass” commute, where everyone who would normally ride drives alone in a car. If drivers/business owners fear the “effects” of providing more bike access, could we not somehow highlight those effects by showing the inverse? Impossible to coordinate, I’m sure, but maybe if there were just a billboard or two asking drivers to do the thought experiment of imagining every bike they passed as a car in front of them… Or perhaps an animated simulation that turned bikes into cars at some key points in the city and showed the resulting increase in congestion and delay–although it would probably be denounced as ginned-up pro-bike-skewed propaganda, just like the annual bike counts. *frustrated sigh*

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  • random rider May 4, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    The topic of how people perceive the poor behavior of a cyclist and conflate it to all versus a bad car driver being seen as an individual is one that could go on forever. While it is definitely relative to this topic, I think it’s only one piece of the whole pie.

    Suffice it say that, IMO, better enforcement of traffic rules on Williams for all modes would significantly improve conditions for all. In fact, that is one of the comments I made at the open house.

    I have had my bars clipped by a cyclist passing too closely or been cut off by one passing on the right who then pops back into the lane when approaching a parked car. I have stopped for pedestrians in the crosswalk by Dawson Park and had other bikes sail by on both sides even though all traffic is stopped.

    I have also had several near right hooks, doorings or t-bones by people in motor vehicles. If PPB spent some time at the high incident locations ticketing drivers/riders who break traffic laws and endanger others I think the word would get out and a lot of the identified traffic flow problems would correct themselves on their own with minimal other infrastructure changes.

    At the open house they had a graph showing the percentage of motor vehicles that exceed the posted speed limit by different margins. If people learn that they cannot drive 45 on Williams I bet a lot of them will move over to I-5, MLK or Interstate. Isn’t that a major part of what these proposed fixes are trying to accomplish?

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  • Joe C May 9, 2011 at 11:01 am

    random rider
    At the open house they had a graph showing the percentage of motor vehicles that exceed the posted speed limit by different margins. If people learn that they cannot drive 45 on Williams I bet a lot of them will move over to I-5, MLK or Interstate. Isn’t that a major part of what these proposed fixes are trying to accomplish?

    You’re right, making Williams 1-lane is meant to address that. Near 30% of drivers are over the speed limit. I live on Williams in Seg 4 (Cook to Skidmore) and I can attest to the outrageous speeds of cars–some carrying Washington plates, avoiding I-5 snarl 10 blocks directly west, not good traffic for a neighborhood collector at all.

    On the topic of general ‘discrimination,’ a degree of the objections to cycle-friendly facilities may be modal bias, since most Americans are drivers, presumably. Whose bad behavior are they most likely to perceive? For all fears of cyclists and how they don’t “respect” people, if a driver strikes and kills a pedestrian in Oregon, it’s a misdemeanor. If a pedestrian kills a driver with his bare hands… it’s an entirely different affair. Is this not a patently unequal system? But our entire culture is so structured around driving that we don’t see the truth, regardless of how deadly or environmentally disastrous its ramifications.

    I don’t bike or drive much. I’m old school–a pedestrian. And the times that I almost get nailed by a rider (resulting in a few scratches), or mowed down by a car (resulting in serious injury, if not death), I only ever begrudge the person, not the demographic. However, it’s always worth noting that there is ONE group of travelers that tends to ride around at gross speeds in a two-ton box of speeding metal death… and I think as a general rule we should err against them, so long as they continue to do so.

    The best way to end these cyclist-bashing focus groups is to encourage more people to bike. And the only way to do that is to add more facilities–Williams is a great example of a needy street, given that only 15% of its space is allotted to the 35% of its traffic that is bicycles. As more people bike and as more bike facilities are added, the people will become more familiar with the laws and procedures involved, the streets will become safer, and the cycle perpetuates itself. I’m sure people through history have had to take time to adjust to all kinds of new or trending forms of transportation. In their day, people probably complained about chariots, litters and rickshaws. Homesteaders in the Old West complained about the speeds of new trains crisscrossing this side of the country, most of them reaching a “breakneck” 25mph.

    After all, it’s not as though Copenhagen woke up one day with 55% ridership during commute times. They’ve gotten over the hump of “public perception is…” and the other slippery weasel words naysayers employ to preserve the status quo. Naysayers will always say nay, up to and even past the point where a yes seems given. Sometimes even years later. The closest the Catholic Church came to apologizing to Galileo was in 1992… People can be remarkably resistant to change, even after whole centuries.

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