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Editorial: Does Portland’s Bike Plan matter?

Posted by on May 5th, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Time to get it off the shelf.
(Illustration: Mark Markovich)

I just returned from an open house for the Lloyd District Bikeway projects. Unfortunately, my hunches about the direction each of them is headed have been confirmed.

At this point, I think it’s time to take the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030 off the shelf and give it a re-read.

After a presentation by the project team at the open house today, Craig Harlow, speaking as a member of the Lloyd TMA Bike Committee (he’s also a member of the Stakeholder Advisory Committee), shared some closing remarks. Here’s what he said:

“The project team (PBOT and Alta consultant) gave you their impartial, official perspective, now I want to make a very partial, very biased plea.

Whether you cycle into the district, or walk, or whether your care about the safety and comfort of people who do that, I’d like to let you know that all three of the projects are, right now, at risk of totally flopping because the commercial interests that have now leveled objections to parking removal on Holladay, to making any changes to Vancouver, to making any changes to 12th…

If their voices prevail, than one or all of these projects won’t happen and there won’t be any improvements for bikes in and through the district and that’s a real risk. In fact, that seems to be the most likely case right now.

The reason the [Lloyd TMA] Bike Committee brought this [open house] to you to is because we’re looking for more voices to come in and support these projects and so the City can hear from more than just the large commercial interests about what’s important to people who live, work and use the transportation facilities here in the Lloyd District.”

I think Harlow’s plea makes it clear: We are in a situation with these Lloyd projects (and to some extent the Williams project), where the lofty rhetoric and goals adopted in our much-heralded Bicycle Plan for 2030 are at risk of becoming irrelevant.

One of the things I was most excited we were able to get into the Plan was the “Green Transportation Hierarchy.” Here it is as it appears on page 21:

And here’s the language in the Plan that backs it up:

“2.1.4 Putting green transportation first:

… Despite significant increases in bicycle transportation, it remains inaccessible as a realistic, primary means of personal mobility for most residents. More investment is needed to prioritize green transportation modes, such as bicycling, to attain a more balanced and sustainable transportation system. Systemic change at every level, from planning and zoning to the reallocation of the right-of-way, will be required

Building a sustainable, efficient city that is vibrant, healthy and prosperous will require further elevating green transportation – those transportation modes that have the least environmental impact and greatest contribution to livability.”

It sure sounds great, but it means nothing if we don’t live up to it. After thinking about and covering these projects lately, I re-worked the pyramid and came up with one that I feel better reflects the current reality…

One of the phrases I love in the Plan is that bicycling is (or should be considered), “a fundamental pillar of Portland’s transportation system.”

Maybe it’s just me, but my vision of “fundamental pillars” are things that aren’t easy to push around.

The easy projects have all been done. The sit-back-and-rest-on-our-laurels phase is officially over. We’ve got to push and work to make these projects right. There’s still time to turn things around… Get involved! Share your input (links to PDF of comment form)! Contact the Mayor!

This is Portland. If it can’t happen here, the transportation future of our entire country looks very dim.

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Comments
  • Chris Smith May 5, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    I absolutely agree that this is a critical test of our political will.

    But I also wonder if we need to be a little bit more strategic in our sequencing of projects. Re-allocating roadway to bikes has to be shown to produce positive results. I think this is a no-brainer on a project like Williams (but even there the political will is still something of a challenge).

    I wonder if we need to get a few early, easier wins before we tackle multiple, high-visibility projects?

    But please do express yourself to the Mayor’s office!

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    • Dave May 5, 2011 at 3:28 pm

      The problem is, even the “no-brainers” are quashed, the “quick, easy wins” are seen as irrelevant as they don’t really change anything significant, and in the meantime, we lose the opportunity to change things that really matter, and by the time we realize it would have made a huge difference, it’s too late. At some point, we need to stop quashing projects because businesses “think” it will be bad for them, based on no objective data, and just flipping do *something*. Look at all the businesses in town who have said something along the lines of: “at first, I thought it would be bad to remove space for automobiles, but now, I love the increase in bikes.”

      I feel like we might have to do something high-visibility, that will really make a difference, and just balls-up and do it, or we’re going to be stuck with putting speed bumps in forever.

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  • Nick May 5, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    Don’t forget about the climate action plan that the city has supposedly committed itself to. We’ll never achieve dramatic reductions in CO2 emissions by dipping our toe in the water.

    (Not to mention reductions of all of the poisonous substances that cause birth defects, respiratory deaths, etc. — it’s so frustrating that no one calls out automobile defenders along these lines)

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  • Dave May 5, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    I think this is also an illustration of why labeling cycling as particularly a “green” option is maybe a bad idea. In the plan, at least, in the part you posted above, that’s how it’s spun – but clearly, interests of business and economy are much more important to the people making decisions, so “green” decisions fall by the wayside – even though those “green” decisions, if looked at from an economic perspective instead, can be very beneficial for everyone.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) May 5, 2011 at 3:41 pm

      That’s a great point Dave and I absolutely agree with you.

      I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and have come to the internal realization that anything advocates try to frame bicycling as — other than simply a very effective transportation mode for certain types of trips — will end up not working.

      Green, economics, health… those are all great benefits of bicycling, but all they do is sound like you’re trying to sell something. We should be in the position of trying to sell something to the masses… It should just be a chosen activity based on its merits as an effective transportation mode (of course you have to have a system/network/policies in place that make it the best choice… and that’s the catch).

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  • wsbob May 5, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    How does the business Lloyd District businesses are receiving from customers coming to their businesses by bike, compare to the business these businesses are receiving from people traveling to the LLoyd district by car?

    If these businesses are convinced that a volume of their business is arriving by car… business they consider to be more important to them than the volume of business that’s arriving by bike, it’s logical they wouldn’t want to sacrifice parking needed by car traveling customers.

    So…how would you turn that around?

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    • craig May 5, 2011 at 4:28 pm

      wsbob,

      There is a very high volume of parking capacity in the Lloyd District, and the number of on-street parking spaces to be removed on Holladay is extremely small.

      Also, the project team interviewed the business proprietors all along Holladay, and there was virtually no concern about business impact from removal of parking.

      The only real opponent to removal of on-street parking is the property owner Ashforth-Pacific, which is right now selling off all but one of its properties in the Lloyd District. They were fine with parking removal, from the very first meetings of the Stakeholder Advisory Committee, because the project gave in to their concerns about the original proposal to eliminate ALL motorized use on Holladay. Ashforth’s about-face toward the end of S.A.C. process is a mystery.

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    • Scott Batson May 6, 2011 at 5:36 pm

      A few years back some advocates against base closure started using $2 bills to buy stuff in the local area. It communicated the effect the presence of that income source had and the multiplying effect those dollars also have. Anyone interested in Hamilton by Bike?

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  • Don Arambula May 5, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    Until the City of Portland merges the silos of transportation, land use and economic development in a holistic physical planning process for our districts, we will never achieve the reasonable and achievable Bike Plan goal of 25% ridership. Developing a bike plan for the Lloyd District without significant land use input is a recipe for disaster. Cyclist wan’t business to thrive, just like all other citizens. We need a process that avoids adversarial roles. To ensure this, we need a public process that is open and not slanted toward one or two user groups. Central to the discussion, the City and their consultants must develop and review of a range of land use and transportation concepts that consider adjacent existing and future land uses and the benefits or constraints that bike facility might have on them- not just transportation impacts. Until we do, we will be mired in a city of cobbled together “easy wins” that don’t amount to much. Sadly, I don’t believe the City nor their consultants have the capacity to develop concepts or run a process other than the one that they are currently engaged in.

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    • Sigma May 6, 2011 at 8:05 am

      But Don, the city is already doing that. It’s called the n/ne quadrant plan. It’s part of the central city plan, which is part of the Portland plan. Meanwhile, there was the rose quarter redevelopment planning process, the 2030 bike plan, the Williams planning process, holladay planning process, the 12th ave process, ad infinitum.

      You see what I am getting at? There is WAY too much planning in this town. We plan for the sake of planning, drown ourselves in “process” and then pat ourselves on the back because of all the “public involvement” we do. Meanwhile, years go by, millions of dollars are spent,and nothing gets done. The Portland Plan started under Mayor Potter, and isn’t even close to a tangible result.

      No one is empowered to make a decision. That starts at the top.

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  • craig May 5, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    Thanks Jonathan, for attending today and for the coverage.

    Everyone, please motivate our mayor to step up and represent the city’s strategy and boldly-stated priorities (hierarchy version 1, above) in relation to these projects. It’s not enough for the city to only initiate these key transportation improvements–it also needs to come forward and defend them.

    The Lloyd District is a unique junction point for the Williams/Vancouver couplet, Interstate Ave, the Eastbank Esplanade, SE Portland, and the proposed Sullivan’s Gulch bicycle highway. Right now, making connections on a bike through the Lloyd District is a harrowing experience fraught with hazards, uncertainty, and outright hostility.

    Is the city (read “mayor”) willing to leave transportation in and through the Lloyd District as awful as it is, just because a very short list of big businesses find that change to be uncomfortable?

    - Craig Harlow

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    • craig May 5, 2011 at 4:08 pm

      BTA, AROW, please bring your influence to these projects.

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    • BURR May 5, 2011 at 5:47 pm

      If the city was really serious about their commitment to increasing bike mode share, all of these projects would be no-brainers and we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

      Bicycling will not be mainstream until it is mainstreet, and good bicycle facilities that provide connectivity through congested areas and direct routes along key arterials and to major destinations are just as important as neighborhood greenways and provide a lot more overall benefits than the greenways do.

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      • BURR May 5, 2011 at 10:13 pm

        neighborhood greenways are great, as long as you don’t ever plan on leaving your neighborhood.

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        • cyclist May 6, 2011 at 10:40 am

          Neighborhood Greenways (i.e. bike boulevards) do a great job of providing convenient transportation for cyclists. The route that takes you from the Hawthorne Bridge, thorugh Ladd’s Addition and up Clinton is probably one of the most heavily used bike routes in the city. When I lived at 58th and Powell I used it (and was thankful for it) every day.

          So yeah, Neighborhood Greenways can and do take you out of your neighborhood.

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          • BURR May 6, 2011 at 12:20 pm

            sorry, but once you leave Ladd’s Addition you are no longer on a neighborhood greenway.

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          • Tim w May 10, 2011 at 11:24 pm

            In reply to BURR, yes, Clinton is considered a Bike Boulevard/Neighborhood Greenway. NG’s are my primary way of getting around the city, I avoid most other routes, including bike lanes as much as possible, which is pretty feasible.

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  • Roger Geller May 5, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    In this time of increasing gasoline prices an interesting thing to consider is how much potential retail revenue leaves the city each time gas goes up a nickel. My (vetted) back-of-envelope calculations estimate that for each nickel increase in the price of gasoline approximately $900,000 leaves Portland’s economy every month.

    Over the past year the price of gasoline has increased approximately $1. That corresponds to the equivalent of $215 million annually leaving Portland’s economy. That’s money that could have otherwise been spent on purchases that support local businesses.

    I believe that corresponds to supporting somewhere between 900 and 2,000 local jobs.

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  • BURR May 5, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    Hawthorne Blvd. was a designated bike route in the previous 90s version of the Bike Plan, and a lot of people came out in support of bike lanes on Hawthorne at the time the Hawthorne Plan was being discussed, but that didn’t stop the Hawthorne Blvd. Business Association from crying loud and long about it to PBOT, resulting in PBOT’s almost complete capitulation to the HBBA’s demands.

    The one thing PBOT did finally consent to in the Hawthorne Plan was the installation of sharrows on the boulevard once they were approved and in the MUTCD (read the final Hawthorne plan documents, it’s in there…). Well, PBOT has never honored that committment, or there would be sharrows on Hawthorne Blvd. from SE 12th to SE 39th and possibly beyond, right now.

    The same people at PBOT that made those decisions on the Hawthorne Plan are still making the decisions on these new projects at PBOT. Call me cynical, but I don’t expect much to change in the way PBOT does business.

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    • OnTheRoad May 5, 2011 at 6:02 pm

      There was quite a lag time between when the Hawthorne Blvd. Transportation Plan was adopted and when it was (sort of) implemented. The HBBA and even the neighborhood folks in the 1990s had no foresight or vision that bicycling would become what it is today as a favored mode by many in SE.

      Sharrows are called for in that Plan but all we got was a few small signs indicating bicycles may be sharing the lane.

      I take the lane on Hawthorne (between 12th and 39th) every chance I get to remind people that city policy says I should be there.

      The HBBA I guess has evolved somewhat — in Maus’ interview with Adams a while ago, Sam said that finally the HBBA has realized that Sunday Parkways along Hawthorne might actually benefit them.

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      • are May 6, 2011 at 11:05 am

        while i myself have no difficulty on hawthorne, i do understand that there are those who do, and while salmon, lincoln, etc. are sort of clunky alternatives, it would be good if PBoT would do something to facilitate an increased presence of cyclists on hawthorne, because this would improve the environment for all users (except motorists who think they should be able to book through at 35 mph).

        sharrows are a stunningly obvious solution here, and if they had been put down years ago, we would not have this confusion today as to what exactly they mean, and they could be a viable tool on the 12th avenue bridge and on segment 4 on williams. and on 28th, etc. instead, we see the sharrow device inappropriately used as wayfinders on back roads, and its potential utility in these locations has been undermined.

        it may not be too late, but does PBoT have the courage to do it?

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  • John Landolfe May 5, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    Here’s an interesting story from the Tribune reporting on businesses that took a hit from bus mall construction: http://www.portlandtribune.com/news/story.php?story_id=118462465913181300

    Why are transit construction zones considered a necessary evil to build city infrastructure but bike projects are up for negotiation if a few well-coffered individuals wish to veto the citizenry? I earnestly don’t get it.

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    • El Biciclero May 6, 2011 at 12:53 pm

      It’s because “cyclists” are scofflaws, whereas there are no criminals on transit…

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    • Michael Miller May 6, 2011 at 8:16 pm

      <blockquote
      Why are transit construction zones considered a necessary evil to build city infrastructure but bike projects are up for negotiation if a few well-coffered individuals wish to veto the citizenry? I earnestly don’t get it.

      But the transit mall is actually an excellent example of the same phenomenon — powerful interests diluting or blocking a major transit improvement if it isn’t done on their terms.

      My understanding is that the Portland Business Alliance basically refused to support the transit mall (green line) redevelopment unless there was continuous auto access the full length of the mall. (You may recall that previously, there were only sections of auto lane.) So now we have an auto lane that has been discussed repeatedly on bikeportland for the various problems that it engenders. Working along the mall, I can attest that two years after the mall was re-opened to traffic, cars still frequently end up in the transit lanes, or make right turns across or from the transit lanes, etc.

      But the less-well understood negative impact of the PBA’s insistence on ‘full auto access or nothing’ is that the current weaving-tracks mall configuration significantly limits the maximum transit through-put of the mall, compared to nearly all of the other bus/train/auto lane configurations studied. This design gives us fewer transit seats on the mall, and those seats take longer to traverse the length of the mall, than we should have had. Trimet spent $220M taxpayer dollars to rebuild one of the most important components of our regional transit system in a way that forever limits the utility of the system.

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    • wsbob May 7, 2011 at 7:38 pm

      If half or more of Downtown Lloyd District business was coming from people that traveled to their businesses by bike, the business community would probably be beating down the doors of city hall, demanding that the bike projects be moved full speed ahead, to make sure those bike traveling customers could get to their doors.

      What percent of their business actually arrives by bike? 20 percent? So they’re naturally going to be concerned to not do anything to discourage the patronage of the 80 percent that arrives by car.

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      • are May 8, 2011 at 11:49 am

        the pushback is not from private automobiles, but from freight interests to the south of the highway

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        • wsbob May 8, 2011 at 5:59 pm

          Read the other recent bikeportland story about this subject. In there are references relating to concerns about ‘flow’, expressed by the freight industry, but also Trimet.

          Basically, that leaves a situation where traffic represented by people traveling by bike is approximately 20 percent. Which raises the question of how much reduction in motor vehicle flow may or may not result from the installation of bike infrastructure proposed by the bike projects being discussed.

          What answers can be provided to those interests from where the pushback is coming from, that will convincingly persuade them their business will not unreasonably suffer from implementation of the bike projects?

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  • Dave Thomson May 5, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    I’m sure everyone who responds to this post will also be calling the Mayor’s office to support these projects, since you all know that blogging doesn’t change political reality, only voicing your opinion directly to your mayor and city council will do that. When you do call I really think mentioning Roger’s observations about the impact of gas prices on Portland’s economy would be a great idea.

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  • 3-speeder May 5, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    From a former Portland resident now trying to apply that experience to his small Wisconsin town:

    Well said, Jonathan. I just wish it wasn’t something that requires saying.

    In my town, we have a relatively good bicycle environment. But as with most American places, the motor vehicle dominates the transportation and land use discussions. The results are often not so pretty.

    A couple of days ago, I observed the dollar’s place on gas station placards roll over to ’4′. (I understand ’3′ is still common in Portland for now. Or at least it was a few days ago.)

    And it may be cruel, but I find myself rooting for the price to keep rising. Because I have come to the conclusion that until most people (like 75%) across the country have to feel economic pain, the automobile culture will persist. It is this culture creating the resistance that Jonathan is talking about.

    And I know that the poorest will suffer greatly. But it seems that great suffering is inevitable. After all, the ice caps recede a bit more each year. Due to eventual rising sea levels and incompatible crop habitats, the default case is large-scale suffering.

    The sooner we are forced to change, the better chance we have to mitigate the damage already caused. But in a capitalist society where almost everyone acts based on self-interest, it seems that skyrocketing energy prices are the only realistic force that can get the masses in the US to conclude in a timely manner that the status quo doesn’t work any more.

    As Jonathan writes, “This is Portland. If it can’t happen here, the transportation future of our entire country looks very dim.”

    My opinion above reflects this potential dim transportation future. But I would certainly welcome having Portland set an example that shows the rest of us that there is a more humane way to create a culture that acknowledges the impacts of current energy usage levels and energy resource constraints.

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    • Chris I May 5, 2011 at 8:35 pm

      It’s going to be rough for the country’s economy. My only hope is that we can show before and after, how regions that don’t rely on as much on gas fare better economically.

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    • michweek May 5, 2011 at 8:59 pm

      It’s sad that the poor must always make the sacrifice. I hate these situations as much as the next. But alas the sayings along the lines of ‘you don’t know or appreciate the things you have until their gone’ exsists because its true for the majority and to a small enevitable extent the minority.

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  • spare_wheel May 5, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    OnTheRoad
    I take the lane on Hawthorne (between 12th and 39th) every chance I get to remind people that city policy says I should be there.

    Word.

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  • was carless May 6, 2011 at 1:36 am

    So, if the official city plan is to promote bike and peds, can we sue the city if future projects fail to prioritize these consistently with the plan?

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    • Chris Smith May 6, 2011 at 8:22 am

      This highlights an important point. The master plan as adopted is essentially an aspiration, it is NOT policy. The intent is that policies from the master plan be adopted into the City’s Comprehensive Plan. That will happen (or not, in degrees) as we continue through the Portland Plan process.

      It’s very important that bicycle advocates track the “Healthy Connected Neighborhoods” strategy in the Portland Plan, as that is where the priorities will be balanced, driving what will get written into the Comprehensive Plan (the legal document) in about a year.

      So for example, I think it is by no means a slam dunk that the “green transportation hierarchy” that Jonathan references in this post will become City policy. But I certainly hope it will and am working hard to make that happen. We’re going to need a lot of help on that before we’re done.

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      • matt picio May 6, 2011 at 10:48 am

        The Master Plan *is* policy, what it isn’t is implementation. We as citizens are responsible for holding the mayor and city council to what they said they hold as important, and to ensure that the departmental policies reflect the overall guiding documents. (which are the highest level of policy) Frequently the lower-level policy does not reflect the guiding documents. We need to make sure it does, and that where it does not – that the city adequately documents why and under what justification they did not follow through on the plan.

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        • Sigma May 6, 2011 at 11:19 am

          No, the plan is not policy. Look up the Portland transportation system plan – that’s the official, adopted city transportation policy. And there’s nothing in there from the new bike plan. No references to bicycle districts, or major city bikeways, or even updated network maps. The planning commissioner knows what he is talking about.

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          • matt picio May 6, 2011 at 3:31 pm

            All of the plans are “policy” – we’re quibbling over terminology here. The point is, when it was adopted, the council agreed they would adhere to the plan. If they don’t adhere to the plan, we need to call them on it – otherwise the plans have no meaning whatsoever. In which case, why have one at all?

            “Policy” includes all of the written and unwritten Bureau diection, as well as the Bike Master Plan, the Portland Plan, and all the rest of them.

            Being a planning commissioner does not make someone the sole expert. I respect Chris a *LOT*, but we need to stop looking at only 1 or 2 documents as representing policy. The Council adopted the Bicycle Master Plan, and unless the Portland Plan contradicts that, the Bicycle Plan is a part of public policy in the city.

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        • Steve B May 6, 2011 at 12:54 pm

          Hopefully the opportunity to make it truly PBOT policy (as opposed to aspiration) will come up sooner than later.. we need an opportunity to update the Transportation System Plan to incorporate our new goals.

          Still it is a great document to point to TODAY and say we’ve already had this conversation and understand that, for instance, a separated bikeway is absolutely called for on Williams, Sandy, Burnside and so forth if we are going to provide an adequate level of service to bikes in our transportation network.

          When real projects actually come up, it’s a great opportunity to bring up this bike planning that has already been completed. In this case, the entire cycling public should be watching and most important, engaging the Lloyd District and Williams Avenue projects.

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  • meghan May 10, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    thanks, jonathan! i love it when your articles get me fired up! *grin* hope to see you at the SAC meeting today.

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