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City Council backs $21 million for better walking and biking, citing boost to economy

Posted by Michael Andersen (News Editor) on September 18th, 2013 at 2:14 pm

Commissioner Steve Novick at Green Lane Project event
Commissioner Steve Novick speaking at a
Green Lane Project event earlier this week.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The ways people talk about active transportation seems to be changing in Portland, both inside and outside of government.

At a unanimous City Council vote Wednesday in favor of $20.7 million in federally backed walking and biking improvements throughout the city, including $9.1 million to enact parts of the East Portland in Motion plan and $6.6 million for what promises to be a historic upgrade of central Portland bike facilities, people on both sides of the council dais were repeating an idea that isn't always common: Improving biking improves the city for people who don't.

Leading the shift: new Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick, who echoed and rephrased some of the observations we shared from his speech two nights before.

"It should be obvious to everybody that the freight improvements are connected to economic development," Novick said Wednesday, referring to $4.1 million dedicated to efficient truck movement. "But the things that make it easier to walk and bike are economic investments. … There's a couple of ways to improve your family's economic position. One is to make more money, and one is to reduce your expenses. Active transportation investments help people reduce their expenses."

The city said it would match $22.2 million in federal flexible funds, which would be awarded by regional agency Metro, with $2.6 million in local money for a total of $24.8 million in freight and active transportation projects. Full details are on the city's website.

Novick also noted that more comfortable sidewalks, street crossings and bike lanes help businesses by cutting their health care costs.

"It's obvious to people that when people bike, they're healthier," Novick said. "They're also healthier when they have access to transit … because they're walking."

Commissioner Nick Fish, following Novick in voting to prioritize the biking and walking projects, congratulated the commissioner on what he said was Novick's "finest speech to date" from the council bench.

Another theme that emerged: adding clearer separation between auto, bike and foot traffic, using physical barriers or simply more dedicated space, improves things for people on foot.

"One of the ways to make downtown more welcoming is to be able to walk on a one-way street and not have a bicycle coming at you," said Charles Johnson, who testified at the hearing. "Are any city resources being expended to make the majority of the Portland population get around without being made to come face to face with a selfish cyclist on a sidewalk?"

Prompted by a question from Fish, Bicycle Transportation Alliance Advocacy Director Gerik Kransky testified along similar lines, though he phrased things differently.

"We've become victims of our own success," Kransky said, talking about the quantity of bike and foot traffic in the central city. "It used to be that a multi-use path 10 to 14 feet in width was the gold standard. … We're finding that that's not enough."

crossing PMLR bridge
Rendering of the path over TriMet's
new bridge connecting Southeast
Portland to the South Waterfront.

The Hawthorne Bridge's sidepaths are 10 feet wide. TriMet's new bridge, which will also be shared by people biking and walking, will be 14 feet in each direction.

Some of the grant money will go to improving bike connections on the west landing of that new bridge.

"That section will open the door to bikes and pedestrians from the entire Southeast Portland neighborhood to the South Portland area," said Roger Gertenrich, a former mayor of Salem who now lives near the South Waterfront.

Economic growth and pedestrian comfort weren't the only issues raised Wednesday; many said the projects would improve safety for people on bikes and foot.

"They're not just about livability, though that's important," Novick said, just before casting his vote in favor of the citywide sheaf of projects. "They're not just about global warming, though that's important. They're not just about safety, though that's very important. They're also economic investments. Aye."

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  • Chris I September 18, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    Convert the auto lane on SW Morrison and SW 5th Ave into a protected 2-way cycle track! We need safe, separated routes through downtown.

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    • was carless September 19, 2013 at 12:24 am

      SW 5th is definitely hardly used by automobiles. There are only like 2 driveways or parking lots the entire length of the street downtown.

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  • BURR September 18, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    With the possible exception of the downtown MAX routes and the Park Blocks, separated routes will not work on the downtown one-way grid unless major changes are made to other aspects of traffic operations there, such as eliminating all turning movements through or across the separated facility; I simply don't think the PBOT traffic engineers or managers are up to the task.

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    • paikikala September 18, 2013 at 5:14 pm

      How about some couplets then. That's what they did for ligth rail in downtown. Real, 2-lane, one-way cycle track couplets, imagine.

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    • spare_wheel September 19, 2013 at 8:11 am

      Dedicating the park blocks to cyclists would be a practical and inexpensive solution. However, my money is on another couple hundred yards of conflict-prone and narrow bike sidewalk.

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      • Alex Reed September 19, 2013 at 10:24 am

        The Park blocks streets would be bad bike thoroughfares IMO because they have stop signs at pretty much every block.

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        • spare_wheel September 19, 2013 at 10:44 am

          Nonsense. The park blocks have crosswalks where cyclists have legal priority at just about every block. A bit of paint is all that is required to give cyclists more priority.

          And a meta comment. Dedicating car free space to cyclists is exactly the kind of thing that Holland did in the 70s and 80s. Their mode share then was about 30%.

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  • Gerik September 18, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    I'd like to see the downtown project create physically protected cycletracks on SW Broadway and SW 4th Ave.

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    • spare_wheel September 19, 2013 at 8:21 am

      Do you commute on these streets? I do and the Broadway cycle track is by far the most annoying part of my commute. In contrast, cruising down SW 4th to the bridge is pretty much stress free.

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      • was carless September 19, 2013 at 9:08 am

        Unless you get stuck in traffic, then it takes ~25 minutes to go from PSU to Madison, unless you are lane-splitting and riding in the 16 inches between cars and the curb.

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        • spare_wheel September 19, 2013 at 10:56 am

          A fantastic argument for a nice wide buffered bike lane or a *REAL* cycletrack.

          An example:

          http://www.international.fhwa.dot.gov/pubs/pl10010/images/figure20.jpg

          Notice how *REAL* cycle tracks have no physical segregation. Asking for fully segregated facilities in an area where traffic speeds range from 10-15 mph is, IMO, quixotic.

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          • Chris I September 19, 2013 at 3:18 pm

            The picture you linked to shows a cycle track with a curb physically separating the rider from car traffic.

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            • spare_wheel September 19, 2013 at 4:03 pm

              Are you seriously trying to argue that a tiny lip of pavement is more of barrier than 3 foot wide painted buffer zoner?

              Really???

              This is an in road facility with no actual segregation. If a motorist steers into the cycle track the cyclists will be just as likely to be hit as on a buffered bike lane.

              I'm totally OK with this kind of upgraded bike lane since it has the same advantages of a buffered bike lane and few of the disadvantages of a true physically separated cycle path (which is what many in PDX erroneously call a cycletrack).

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              • Alan 1.0 September 19, 2013 at 4:32 pm

                That image is Figure 20 in this document:

                http://www.international.fhwa.dot.gov/pubs/pl10010/ch03.cfm

                It illustrates this section:

                "Separated Facilities
                "Separated bicycling facilities were in use in all five of the countries visited during the scanning study. The designs differed between countries and sometimes at different locations within a country. For the purposes of this report, the separated bicycle facilities are classified into these categories:
                "Cycle track— A one–way exclusive bike lane that is separated from motor vehicle traffic by a curb and has an elevation slightly above the motor vehicle lane but below the pedestrian walkway or sidewalk. Cycle tracks sometimes transition to onstreet bike lanes as they cross street intersections. Cycle tracks were most common in Copenhagen, Denmark (figure 20).
                "Cycle path— A one–way or two–way exclusive bike lane located parallel to an existing street, but separated by a full–height curb. Cycle paths are typically at the same elevation as the pedestrian walkway or sidewalk, but are often differentiated by a distinct color. In some cases, the cycle path was located on the outside of onstreet parking or onstreet transit stops. The scan team saw numerous two–way cycle paths in Sweden and Switzerland (figure 21) and one–way cycle paths in Germany (figure 22).
                "Cycle path on an independent alignment— A oneway or two–way bike path located on an alignment that is independent of the street network (figure 23). When shared with pedestrians and other nonmotorized users, this path is comparable to a shared–use path in the United States."

                So, I think there is at least slightly more separation there than in a simple 8" bike lane stripe that drivers around my neighborhood run over so frequently that the paint wears out within six months or so of painting. A 3-foot buffer is certainly better than an 8" stripe but I think something which drivers feel (tactile) as well as see, even if it's not a true barrier, gets better compliance than just paint. Botts' Dots on the car edge of the buffer zone are another example. (Education, enforcement and cultural shifts all help, too.)

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                • spare_wheel September 20, 2013 at 8:45 am

                  I used the term segregated above because a buffered bike lane (or a green lane) is considered to be separated infrastructure (even though it really isn't). Likewise a cycletrack with a curb only "slightly above the motor vehicle lane" is, IMO, not real segregation. Moreover, both real Danish-style cycletracks and upgraded bike lanes avoid many of the safety problems with Portland's faux-cycletracks.

                  There are actually very few genuine 8-10 foot wide buffered bike lanes in PDX but the ones I have ridden have a high rate of compliance. I am willing to bet that the bike lane with eroded lane markings you mentioned is a conventional bike lane.

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                • Alan 1.0 September 20, 2013 at 7:11 pm

                  Pardon the slow reply; Friday happens.

                  You win! Yes, I meant typical Vancouver bike lanes: 8" stripe, 4' lane if you're lucky, share it with corner cutters, church overflow parking, garage salers, garbage & recycling, drain grates, basketball standards...argh.

                  So, my main point is that more separation/segregation/distinction is better. I do think a small rise that drivers feel through their tires (or texture, dots, etc) does make a difference. If there's a cheaper way to get better compliance, I'm not beholden to one idea. Wise use of scarce resources is a big piece of fixing the bike access problem in Portland and most US cities.

                  8" bike lane markings are not distinct enough from 4" fog lines; too easy to mistake them. They need to be instantly clear at a glance, for all drivers and riders. Fog lines can appear wider when new stripes are not exactly centered over old ones and bike lane lines narrower as they wear away, especially on corners (and that's arguably where they are most needed). The 8" standard is simply too narrow.

                  Three feet of buffer, as well as being visually more obvious (and it should include hashes to be be clear it's a buffer), also gives room so that a bike rider with tires tracking right on their edge of the paint will still clear a vehicle with its tires just on its edge. That alone is a big safety advantage over narrow stripes.

                  The rub will come where road planners try to squeeze the road by reducing the buffer and/or the bike lane. Maybe an 8' lane with 2' buffer would still feel almost as comfortable as 3'|10' to almost as many riders, but dropping down to a 6' lane with any smaller buffer makes in-lane passing much less comfortable and reduces that safety advantage to nil. Where they end up doing such a compromise (and I know it will happen; that's the nature of refitting urban space) I think some textural distinction (bricks or cobbles at grade level for a lane stripe?) would have a good effect on compliance.

                  Anyway, thanks for defining your terms and I agree that several of Portland's experiments with fancy bike tracks are not as successful as simple, large, well-distinguished and plentiful bike lanes should be.

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  • dwainedibbly September 18, 2013 at 6:10 pm

    Have any specific plans been revealed? It is great to hear that the City is going to commit money, but what, exactly, are they going to do with it. I agree that we need some East-West separated infrastructure downtown. I'd like to see something on Taylor or Main. Main is less useful, particularly since the PCPA people want to completely close the block by the Schnitz, so I'll vote for Taylor. Going downhill towards the river on Columbia or Madison isn't a problem, but Going uphill is a bear if you are older, or on a heavier bike (or cargo bike). (I won't suggest Jefferson as an uphill route since it's a busier street.)

    North-South? Broadway needs improvements but it's a start. 4th isn't a bad idea. 3rd would be a nice street to get a makeover. I'd also like some combination of South Park, 11th, and 10th, if we could use the non-streetcar side of the street on 10th & 11th. (Basically, give motorized traffic a good reason to use 5th & 6th.)

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    • was carless September 19, 2013 at 9:09 am

      5th would be better; there is currently almost zero car traffic on the street! So easy to convert it to a 2-way cycle track with left/right-turn green bike boxes!

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  • Howard Draper September 18, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    Is anyone else surprised that the new TriMet PMLR bridge won't have separated facilities for walking and biking, considering the $1.5B price tag?

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    • Jeff September 18, 2013 at 7:19 pm

      The TriMet site says otherwise: 2 - 14 foot bike/Ped paths on each side of the bridge.

      http://trimet.org/pdfs/pm/Fact-sheets-timelines/PMLR_Bridge_Fact_Sheet_Aug2013.pdf

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    • Chris I September 18, 2013 at 7:39 pm

      You are incredibly misinformed. The bridge is only about $150 million (less than what the CRC group has spent on planning) of the total budget. It will have 14ft paths on both sides that will have clearly marked pedestrian and bike zones.

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      • howard draper September 18, 2013 at 8:21 pm

        Thanks for the correction, I should've said $1.5M. "Incredibly misinformed" seems a bit ad hominem and unnecessary.

        Jeff, I was hoping for grade separated facilities for walking and biking, instead of the paint stripe (ike Hawthorne), like something from Denmark or NL. It seems like the PMLR 7' wide bike lanes could still be dicey with people passing, a little buffer space to the handrail, etc. I'm definitely excited about that project, but is the biking and walking world-class?

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    • Scott September 19, 2013 at 3:27 am

      Um... No, I'm not surprised. There was a lot of conversation in this city when the bridge was being designed. Physical separation was one of the options on the table. -but a lot has changed since those conversations were taking place in 2008 and 2009. The overall bridge price tag has very little to do with whether or not the bike and ped ways are physically separated. I sure wish they were separated though. It is the right thing to do.

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  • gutterbunnybikes September 18, 2013 at 6:36 pm

    Really more talk of Downtown improvements.... Lets see, every intersection is controlled, for the most part traffic moves at nearly bike speed anyway, and with amazing access to public transportation Oh Please...

    There are whole sections of town in SW, outer NE and SE that desperately NEED improvements because it's actually fairly dangerous, not just inconvenient.

    Keep them blinders on with your eyes focused on downtown and wonder why the numbers don't improve like you all think they should. The next wave of riders isn't looking to ride downtown, they want to ride to their neighborhood grocery stores and schools. Is it unreasonable to at least wait until the light rail bridge is done before you start improving access to Downtown some more? Will the Hawthorn Bridge even be relevant once it opens?

    You want more economic and social diversity you gotta starting looking somewhere other than Downtown and the gentrified areas of the East side for improvements.

    Recommended Thumb up 14

    • Hugh Johnson September 18, 2013 at 10:11 pm

      You nailed it gutterbunny. Exactly why calling Portland a "#1 biking city" is a huge farce.

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      • spare_wheel September 19, 2013 at 7:43 am

        But #1 biking wealthy urban core does not have the same ring to it.

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    • i ride my bike September 21, 2013 at 7:44 am

      No, your mindset is why the bike ridership in Portland is stagnant. The only place most people (non bike nuts) would ever ride is in and around downtown, yet it has practically no bike infrastructure. Stop building bike lanes in unbikeable areas that no one but the most avid, fearless and fit young white male cyclists will use and start building quality facilities in places that ALL people will use which IS the central city. You may have no problem riding on city streets and traffic downtown, but the rest of the population would if they felt safe and comfortable in the one part of the region with a land use form perfectly suited to bike riding.

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  • howard draper September 18, 2013 at 8:39 pm

    Argh, $150M, rather. <--bad with decimal points, obviously.

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  • Joe Adamski September 18, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    npGreenway. You aren't going to reach that 50% 'interested but concerned" demographic until we build a network of separated trails.

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    • was carless September 19, 2013 at 9:09 am

      Portland needs about 5 or 6 NPGreenways, fanning out to every burb.

      Recommended Thumb up 1

    • BURR September 19, 2013 at 11:27 am

      IMO, the only separated facilities that need to be built are the ones that are completely separated from the street grid, like the Springwater and the Esplanade.

      These would include the North Portland Greenway, Sullivan's Gulch trail, and major improvements to the west side Willamette River path between the Sellwood Bridge and downtown.

      More money spent on streets like SW Broadway will be money wasted.

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  • Alan 1.0 September 18, 2013 at 9:44 pm

    Lots of talk about downtown bike stuff but it seems to me that downtown is already relatively passable for many riders. How about more stuff farther out where through routes are scarce and bike traffic hasn't started to snowball? Like the 50s Bikeway or even further out. Seems to me that the low-hanging mode-share fruit is in those areas, and that wide, buffered bike lanes there are the best bang for the buck.

    NoPo Greenway and Sullivan's Gulch Trail are high on my list, too.

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    • Scott September 19, 2013 at 3:36 am

      By the way, is it not true that Commissioner Novick mentioned the North Portland Greenway as a critical project during his Green Lanes Project reception speech on Monday night?

      That is great news to hear coming from our city leadership. Greeley and Southbound Willamette are just too dangerous (or perceived dangerous) for the interested but concerned/no way-no how crowd. WE NEED physically separated on street and OFF STREET paths to achieve our goals in this city!

      Recommended Thumb up 1

  • GlowBoy September 18, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    I agree with other commenters that downtown isn't in too bad of shape, and is VERY far from where we should be spending money right now. Not that I wouldn't appreciate downtown improvements, since I ride there every day (heck, even the inner-eastside core needs more work than downtown), but East Portland has by far the greatest need, and I'm glad they're getting $9M.

    SW Portland is close behind outer East Portland in terms of need. Besides pinning ODOT to the mat for their slimy behavior on Barbur, let's get that Red Electric project going! Seriously, there are only six missing blocks needed to create a neighborhood greenway from Hillsdale to the city limits near Raleigh Hills.

    Recommended Thumb up 6

  • Terry D September 19, 2013 at 10:07 am

    I spoke up in August in favor of investing in the outer neighborhoods instead of downtown....since PBOT does NOT have a plan at the present time. Considering the 8 block SW 12th road diet debacle that was vetoed by the west end business

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  • AndyC of Linnton September 19, 2013 at 11:26 am

    A while back I thought that putting more bike-specific infra in to downtown was the way to show that we are "serious" about bikes. I now believe that if we had better ways for those living in the outer regions to get around, then traffic would also calm itself downtown and make it better just by the (supposed)volume of vehicles entering the core.
    I would love if we had 5/6/7/8 Greenways across the city.
    Hasn't the North Portland Greenway been an idea for about a decade, now? The Sullivan's Gulch greenway makes a lot of sense. How's that coming?

    Recommended Thumb up 3

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