(Photos © J. Maus)
A few minutes ago, TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen, Commissioner and Mayor-elect Sam Adams, and Bicycle Transportation Alliance Executive Director Scott Bricker led a parade of about 40 bicyclists through a ribbon stretched across a new green bike lane to commemorate the official opening of the Rose Quarter Transit Center.
After their inaugural pedal through the new, two-way bike lane (the first and only one in the city), and the massive new bike box at Wheeler and Multnomah, Hansen, Adams, and others spoke to the assembled media and crowd of onlookers.
Adams, astride an old Schwinn road bike (he borrowed it), said this was, “An example of our bike success and our transit success.” Adams also said that an estimated 3,400 bikes travel though this area on a daily basis.
Before the brief parade, I spoke to TriMet GM Hansen. He stressed two main points about the new bike access — that the design creates predictability for bikes and buses, and the importance of TriMet’s partnership with the BTA and PDOT.
After repeatedly praising the role of the BTA’s Michelle Poyourow for fostering the partnership, Hansen said his goal was to come up with a plan for bike access that would “really solve something, not just make a compromise.”
That solution was achieved, according to Hansen, because they approached this problem differently than in the past.
“At TriMet, we have a lot of engineers. We hear about a problem and then go back to our cubicles and draw up some plans. But this was different. With this issue, we partnered with the BTA and PDOT…then we went out and we taped off the area to test different designs, then sat back and watched what happened…and then together, came up with a plan to make it safer.”
What do TriMet operators think of the new bike access?
“Our operators, I think, are saying this is really predictable, it’s predictable for where buses ought to be, it’s predictable for where bikes ought to be and that’s what makes it safe.”
When I asked him about the petition that surfaced that vehemently opposed the idea of bike access through this area, Hansen said that once the plans were explained in detail, “many operators agreed it made sense.” He added, “Dan — the author of the petition — is now praising the fact that the design is predictable.”
Before these changes, many bicyclists simply ignored the prohibition and rode through via Wheeler Ave. anyways. Did that effect TriMet’s thinking in coming up with this solution? “Yes, it did play a role,” said Hansen, “because what we have to deal with is the reality out there.” He went on to say that:
“If there were a serious accident, or, god forbid a fatality, it doesn’t give you any comfort if you say, ‘but, it was an illegal move’, it’s still a fatality. We know that people were going to be going through there, so the idea was, let’s make the pattern work in a way that people would respect it.”
It was very encouraging to hear Hansen talk like this. I asked him if recent events (a fatal crash with a TriMet bus in Beaverton and two, fatal right-hook crashes in Portland last October) have impacted TriMet’s sense of urgency in improving bike/bus conflict areas.
As I expected, he was hesistant to speak directly about the Austin Miller tragedy, but he did say that, “Those incidents underscore how important it is to create a safe passage (for bikes).”
What struck me about this event — in watching the hugs and handshakes between the various people involved in making it happen — was the level of cooperation and partnership. When leaders from the advocacy community work effectively with our transit agency and our city government, amazing things are possible.
At the event, TriMet staff passed out cards with safety tips and Mayor-elect Adams said the Portland Police Bureau will be strictly enforcing the laws in this area (after a brief period of warnings).
If you ride home this way tonight, chime in below and let us know how it went.
— View more photos the photo gallery.