Harvest Century September 22nd

‘Cycle Zones’ will help plan future bikeways

Posted by on October 23rd, 2008 at 1:56 pm

Which Cycle Zone do you ride in?
–Watch slide presentation below–

Alta Planning and Design and the City of Portland’s Office of Transportation have collaborated to develop “Cycle Zone Analysis”, a powerful new modeling tool that could have a significant impact on how Portland plans its future bikeways.

PDOT’s bike coordinator Roger Geller presented the Cycle Zone research and methodology at the International Symposium on Walking and Biking in Seattle back in September. He also shared the work with a packed room of Portlanders during PDOT’s monthly Bicycle Brown Bag discussion series last week.

PDOT’s Roger Geller discussed Cycle Zones
at a lunch-hour lecture series last week.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Geller explained that he and his partners on the project have identified 32 distinct “Cycle Zones” within the Portland city limits. The zones — which are defined by areas where similar bikeway conditions exist — were created through a combination of professional expertise, feedback from the City’s bike advisory committee, and from public input during open house events.

The Bikeway Quality Index.

Why create Cycle Zones? Geller says the zones help them in a number of ways: they give planners a more “fine-grained” understanding of how cycling conditions differ through the city; they allow more custom-tailored solutions; they help PDOT figure out what locations have the most potential to create “world-class cycling conditions”; and they help organize and direct discussion about biking conditions in general.

To analyze the zones, Alta Planning and PDOT looked at factors ranging from the existence of barriers (like major streets or freeways) to how hilly an area is.

One of the key tools developed as part of the Cycle Zone work was a new way to rate bikeway conditions — the Bikeway Quality Index (BQI). The BQI is a relative measure of the quality of existing bikeways in a particular zone. It’s based on looking at 10 different variables (like width of the bike lane, automobile speeds, dropped bike lanes, etc…) and each of the seven levels corresponds to a different color (see graphic at right).

Using the BQI, Geller says they discovered further evidence to explain why bike boulevards (low-traffic streets where bikes are prioritized) should be the focus of their efforts over the installation of bike lanes. The slide below shows that, when overlayed with the BQI tool, nearly all of Portland’s bikeway segments that are classified as bike boulevards are ranked higher than even the highest-quality bike lanes.

This chart shows that, according to PDOT and Alta’s analysis, bike boulevards offer a much better biking experience than the vast majority of streets with bike lanes.

Looking at the slide above, Geller said:

“This is one of the reasons why we are focusing on creating more bike boulevards, because generally the cycling experience is better on boulevards than on bike lanes. We’re not going to stop installing bike lanes, we just want to see bike boulevards be a more prominent element in our system.”

So, how does your Cycle Zones stack up? Here are the overall rankings of all 32 Cycle Zones, once all the factors (slope, land use, density, etc…) have been weighed in:

Overall Rating of Cycle Zones

As you can see, the areas with the highest ratings (purple) have high density (both commercial and residential), and a complete grid network of streets (among other similarities).

This research gives planners a way to assess which areas have the most potential to improve biking conditions. It can also help guide them in making decisions on specifically what factors need to be improved to reach that potential.

Here’s an example of how existing conditions dictate the potential quality of the bikeway in different cycle zones. In the slide, the green shading is where their are significant hills, the white lines are streets, and the pink boxes are commercial nodes.

Not surprisingly, the area with the most intact and connected street grid, combined with commercial density has the best potential, while the zone with hills, windy streets, and a long distance from residential to commercials areas has the worst potential.

In the case of the high potential area, the strategy would be to create what PDOT is calling a “Bicycle District” (theyíve got one planned for the Pearl District already). In the case of the low potential area, the strategy would be to work on connecting gaps in the network. Here’s a slide that shows more examples of how existing conditions might dictate strategies to improve them:

In the left column are various bikeway characteristics, and on the right are potential strategies to deal with them.

Mia Birk, the former bike program manager at PDOT whoís now a principal with Alta Planning, says several other cities are interested in applying the Cycle Zone Analysis and Bikeway Quality Index to their bikeway networks.

This new tool will be an important part of PDOTís ongoing Bicycle Master Plan Update effort, and itís also a very promising development for bike planners in general.

Modeling of different external factors is a tool that drives almost every transportation infrastructure funding and urban planning decision. Highway and transit planners have very sophisticated modeling tools that allow them to make their case to decision makers (or at least help make an informed decision). Having a similar tool for bikes, is a very important step toward leveling the playing field.

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For a more detailed look at Cycle Zone Analysis, sit back and wonk out to the audio slideshow below. I recorded Gellerís presentation (planner Denver Igarta is also featured) and mixed it with the slides (you can also download the slides as a PDF):

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you ‚ÄĒ Jonathan

33 Comments
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    hanmade October 23, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    Nice stuff, but why use purple for best? It’s too close to red. I would have thought green and blue to be the better and best colors, the furthest colors from red.

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    pockets October 23, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    Re #1: They’re following the electromagnetic spectrum: purple i that case purple is on one end, next to “ultra-violet”, and red on the other, next to “infra-red”.

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    mmann October 23, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    “So, how does your Cycle Zones stack up?”

    Umm, I’m not sure. Where I live it sorta looks like about 4 different colors all converge, but since I can’t read any street names and the map doesn’t have a zoom feature, that question is difficult to answer. I’m assuming there is/will be a bigger or more readable version of this map?

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    Bent Bloke October 23, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    I live just inside the orange (next to worst) zone on the far eastside of PDX, but only have to go about 3 blocks to get into the yellow zone. Most of my commute is through yellow, green and purple.

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    Bill October 23, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    Hey! Shout out from Cycle Zone 29. 2nd to worst, Baby!!!

    –Bill

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    Shane October 23, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    I would like to see Portland work with the surrounding cities and vice versa. Look at it this way. How effective would tri-met be if it only looked, worked and planned for the city limits.

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    Paul Tay October 23, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    I don’t get it. If bicyclists are DRIVERS of VEHICLES that operate in TRAFFIC, shouldn’t ALL roadways be declared bike routes, and all travel lanes declared bike lanes?

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    GLV October 23, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    Cycle Zone 29 is a great name for a band.

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    kgb October 23, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    Zone 21 – dead last and loving it. Hills good for the body and soul.

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    Jessica Roberts October 23, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    I’m in blue, but I deserve purple! PDOT, please rescue me!

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    neutralwrench October 23, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    So, how come the airport is not included? That is where I commute to from zone 5.

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    Jonathan Maus (Editor) October 23, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    “So, how come the airport is not included?”

    neutralwrench,

    This research only focused on residential areas… it also does not include Swan Island or Hayden Island.

    Geller said he regrets overlooking some of those areas.

    “I would like to see Portland work with the surrounding cities and vice versa. “

    I do believe that PDOT and Alta are working with Metro’s Regional Transportation Plan update to include some of this methodology…. Roger, Mia, can you refresh my memory?

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    Matthew Denton October 23, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    Okay, what is up with the gerrymandering? For instance, zone 4 is a U shaped. I realize that zone 5 has some special problems, but it seems like they should be able to take parts of zone 3 and 4 and hook them together, and then the parts of zone 3 that are below zone 2 should be it’s own zone, and then the parts of zone 4 to the east of zone 5 should be a different zone.

    And ultimately, I think there should be a lot more zones so that they can focus on the fact that the southern edge of zone 3 (Interstate&Greeley) is rather steep, and has high traffic streets with high speeds, and the solution to those sorts of problems is very different than the problems and solutions in the middle of Zone 3 (Denver&Ainsworth)

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    scoot October 23, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    Mmm… I like the look of that “Imagine Downtown/Lloyd” slide. Almost every day I’m amazed again by what they did on 5th with the new Max line and the opportunity to start from scratch. It’s a mess.

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    Mele October 23, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    yes, jonathan, please speak with them about including non-residential areas, as we do want to bike to work in these areas, or ride through them on the way to scenic rides, like my favorite, on the columbia…

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    Brad October 23, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    By the looks of this the rich will get richer. Live and work on the within a three mile radius of downtown and a flattish neighborhood? You get more goodies as PDOT goes for the “easy” prizes.

    Live in the West Hills? Southwest? The Numbers? Burbs just outside the city limits? Just keep driving. “World Class” biking is only for wealthy condo dwellers.

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    Graham October 24, 2008 at 12:03 am

    Random thought: I wonder how a map of property values would overlap these stats?

    Jonathan, thanks much for putting the slides together with the audio, it would have been a lot harder to grasp otherwise.

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    Kt October 24, 2008 at 9:57 am

    +1 on the working with areas outside of the Portland city limits… like…. Tigard, Beaverton, Milwaukie, etc etc etc.

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    Zone 14 cyclist October 24, 2008 at 10:26 am

    It’s great to have people giving more thought to the microscale cycling environment, but I’m bothered by several things.

    First, it seems that one needs to consider the worst zone through which one travels. The fact that I live in a pretty good zone suggests lots more of my neighbhors “should be” riding. Maybe it’s because they’d have to traverse “bad” zones.

    Second, the barriers criteria seems to reflect what’s in each zone, but the zone boundaries have been established using barriers. For example, the biggest barrier we have in Portland is the Wilamette River. There was virtually no cycling across the river until the Hawthorne sidewalks were widened. Sellwood Bridge (which I rode twice this week) barely qualifies as a crossing. Powell Boulevard, I-205, I-84 are all used to separate zones. They are significant barriers, but the methodology seems to ignore them.
    As for downtown’s scores, I’ll grant that connectivity is good and the network is closely spaced, but with all the one-way streets and dangerous streetcar and Max tracks, narrow lanes, high volumes, I’d not rank it as highly as the authors.

    Third, I don’t think the slope adequately addresses variation within zones. My zone is not as flat as suggested by the maps.

    It’s a good start, but it needs lots more work.

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    el timito October 24, 2008 at 10:28 am

    Brad – # 16: I understand your frustration with the state of bikeability in parts of the city outside of the downtown core/inner eastside. However, if you listen to the presentation you will hear a little more of the subtleties that go into this process. From what I heard, this is not necessarily a “triage” tool, deciding who can be helped and who can’t, as much as a way to determine what kind of help will work best where.
    For example, in some areas where there is already a lot of good infrastructure, PDOT might decide that more built enhancements aren’t needed, but encouragement efforts could increase biking instead (and more cheaply). In other areas, engineering would be required, and this analysis can help pinpoint what that might look like (improving intersections, for example, or traffic calming in other areas).
    But the bottom line is, as Roger said, for the majority of residents the bicycle is the best vehicle for relatively short trips. What this means is in an area where the land-use is old-school suburban model, where housing is built far away from retail and employment and the street grid is broken up with few connections in between, you are going to have a lot bigger challenge.
    And what that means is, don’t just agitate for bike facilities – advocate for smart urban development.

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    Ron October 24, 2008 at 10:31 am

    Brad (#16)
    Love the use of stereotyping. Not all of us who live close in are rich yuppies. Not all of these neighborhoods are for the wealthy alone. Just as not everyone who lives in East Multnomah county is a gap-toothed, inbred hick.

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    Ron October 24, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Sarcasm aside, my point should have been that it should come as no surprise that more dense neighborhoods will have better bike facilities. On the other hand people in close-in neighborhoods have no ready access to a Costco or other big box store. The type of neighborhood, not the people living in it, determine how people get around. El Timito (#20) said it very well.

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    Jessica Roberts October 24, 2008 at 11:02 am

    It’s not that wealthy neighborhoods get better walking and bicycling investments as much as that neighborhoods with great walking and bicycling conditions are more valuable.

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    Jonathan Maus (Editor) October 24, 2008 at 11:41 am

    “I wonder how a map of property values would overlap these stats?”

    i joked with someone at the presentation that eventually we’ll see this used by real estate agents.

    I can imagine a flyer for a house for sale listing various selling points…imagine, “this charming craftsman is Close to great schools, parks, and is located in a purple Cycle Zone!”

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    Brad October 24, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    I agree with you Jessica (and others) but I fear that this data will be used to justify an “Amsterdam on the Willamette” scheme that primarily benefits those already enjoying easy bicycle and transit access. (Heck, it’s politically easy and low cost – no risk needs to be taken.) If bikes are to truly make a difference then we need to address and enable more bike usage from areas outside that small ring around downtown. I contend that is where the majority of car traffic comes from and not The Pearl, SOWA, Sellwood, or Lloyd Center.

    The slides detailing some of the “worst” zones gave high marks for transit access. How much influence does PDOT or the city council have with TriMet? If riders from “bad slope” and “bad connectivity” areas are supposed to use mixed mode, how would future plans force TriMet to accommodate bikes? If they cannot, then no citywide bike plan is truly workable. We’ll have a glorious biker’s paradise close to the river (where rents and mortgages are high) and working class folks have to deal with the inconveniences of transit or be forced to ride in dangerous conditions. Both sound like incentives to keep driving to me.

    I support Portland’s efforts around bikeability but I have yet to see a plan that is inclusive of the entire city nor creates bike corridors (spokes?) for greater access to the city core. I suspect what we’ll end up getting is something akin to Disneyland: a “theme park” that is impressive, showy, but ultimately fake.

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    el timito October 24, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    Brad, your comment about Disneyland is an ironic one (intentionally?). The reason folks like the experience of walking around Disneyland’s Main Street is because it replicates a downtown center from a pre-auto-dominant age: shops are close, street width is pedestrian scale, it’s meant to be walked. Essentially inner Portland replicates that because it developed in -wait for it- a pre-auto-dominant age. The neighborhoods that are so pricey and desirable now were desirable back in the day because your house was only a 3 or 4 block walk to the streetcar stop. (A hundred years ago these neighborhoods might have received poor color marks from a Cycle Zone Analysis, but high marks for transit access.)

    Southwest and East-of-205 Portland are essentially post-war, unincorporated-county, auto-dependent style developments. Your inquiry about TriMet is on point – these types of areas need extra assistance to reach downtown (or other parts of the metro area). And, as it happens, TriMet is starting to think seriously about the issues of bike capacity. But as Gil Penalosa would suggest, don’t look to everyone bringing their bike on board as the answer – show me a city with high bike-mode-split and high-transit-use that does this. There’s no way that a 50-seat bus could have capacity for even 10 or 15% of the riders to bring their bikes. So….
    What we need to advocate for, from TriMet, is superior bike parking facilities as transit centers. From the city, superior bike connections from neighborhoods to the transit stations. Then, on the other end…
    There’s the rub. Bike sharing? Space to park your clunker that you use just from transit center to workplace door? Hopefully smarter minds than mine are working on it.

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    Andrew H October 24, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    It looks like the CZ mapping will be a useful additional tool for planners.

    I just hope that the talk of identifying places with the most “potential” does NOT indicate any reticence to tackle the challenges in the Red Zones… like the west hills zones I commute through daily.

    I would hate to see planners shy away from investing in zones that are red or orange in part because of an historical lack of investment in infrastructure in those neighborhoods. We should encourage investments that will reduce the glaring disparities illustrated by the Cycle Zone maps.

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    Matthew Denton October 24, 2008 at 7:59 pm

    Conductivity problems in many neighborhoods also prevents effective transit: if the bus stop is too far away to get to, then you won’t use it. And if the bus drives into every culdesac so that you can actually get to it, then it takes forever to get anywhere on that bus. And while slope doesn’t necessarily imply conductivity problems, (look at San Fransisco for an example of a grid system that goes right over the hills,) in general, people tend to run the roads along the sides of hills, and not straight up and down them, which tends to lead to conductivity problems.

    But my point is: Bad urban form is considered bad for a reason, and it is hard to get a high alternative mode share in those areas because of it. And there are solutions to it, (knock down a few houses to connect the streets, or go over them, (tram,) or under (subway,) all with an aggressive dose of infill to get the density up high enough to actually support neighborhood commercial,) but, is that what the people that live there really want to do? And is it worth it? Would it be easier(cheaper) to abandon the area and move the people into an area where the urban form is good instead? (Between subprime and high gas prices, I can tell you which way we are going now, but that also might be the fact that we may be in an economic contraction right now too…) And so the reason that, (on a sq foot basis*) the good urban form neighborhoods cost more, is because they are worth more.

    *People making minimum wage can live in a purple cycle zone, if they are willing to have a small apartment and a roommate. Nobody has said that the average person can afford a 2000 sq foot 3 bedroom condo downtown, (although if you have three quarters of a million, there are some nice ones on the streetcar line,) where as the average person can do that in the suburbs, so this is a trade off…

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    Roger Geller October 25, 2008 at 12:13 pm

    Warning: Long Post Ahead.

    We created this analysis tool in order to better understand and describe conditions for bicycling in all (well, almost all) parts of Portland. It’s proven very useful as an organizing principle not just for us doing bicycle planning at the Office of Transportation, but for people in other agencies and working on policies and plans that have significance for bicycle policy in Portland. Keep in mind that it is just one tool that augments rather than replaces local knowledge.

    We are now renewing our efforts to update Portland’s Bicycle Master Plan. This update will focus on four main areas: identifying a bikeway network citywide that offers more family-friendly bicycling, identifying all the improvements that need to be made to both improve our existing routes and create these new routes, creating bikeway designs that provide more safety and comfort for users in order to attract the “interested but concerned” cyclist (i.e., the average citizen), and enacting the policies that allow us to achieve both. We will also focus on better bicycle-transit integration, developing a bicycle parking plan, planing for increased education and encouragement, identifying what this will all cost, and suggesting means to fund what we need done.

    It is no surprise that the potential for bicycling is the highest in the central city. That appears to be the case in every world-class cycling city. If we’re to achieve our target mode splits city-wide (35% of all trips of 3 miles or less, as suggested in Portland and Multnomah County’s Draft Climate Protection Strategy), then Portland’s inner neighborhoods are going to have to carry a heavy part of that load. Eventually, we will need to design Portlandís inner city to accommodate overall bicycle mode splits of 40% or higher. Keep in mind that last year the City Auditorís report found that between 20-28% of inner city Porltanders identified the bicycle as either their primary or secondary means of transportation to work.

    Of course, our intent is to maximize bicycle use everywhere. We have identified great potential for family-friendly routes in every neighborhood in Portland. Creating them will require both better designs as well funding for designs we already use. We need money. For example, we have a preliminary list of intersections that might require HAWK signals to make them work well as part of family-friendly routes. While we still have more work to do solidify what are the best treatments for those intersections, if we were to employ HAWK signals then just those intersections alone would cost as much as $12 million. While $12 million may not seem like a lot for a transportation project itís still money thatís difficult to come by. To put this in context, PDOT spent a total of $2.7 million in bicycle capital improvements between 2000-2007.

    While the commercial areas of Portland’s Central City are often the focus of cycling activity within 3 miles of the Willamette River, that may not be the case for North Portland or East Portland or SW Portland. In those cases, local commercial centers or transit centers will need to be a focus, as well. Trimet is currently working with partners on a plan to better integrate bicycling with transit. The focus weíre looking at with them is providing high-quality bicycle parking at targeted transit centers to expand the service range of transit that will better serve longer-distance trips.

    Weíre soon to release the results of our 2008 city-wide bicycle counts. We counted at 135 locations throughout Portland and we find that bicycle ridership is up quite a bit in every neighborhood of Portland. Weíre talking double-digit increases everywhere. Every neighborhood has potential for more cycling activity than it currently experiences. Our goal is to maximize that potential city wide. We do want to make the bicycle the preferred means of private vehicular transportation for trips of 3 miles or less everywhere in Portland.

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    JP October 27, 2008 at 11:04 am

    Mo money, mo money, mo money!

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    al m October 29, 2008 at 10:48 am

    I had an interesting conversation with a ‘hardcore’ bicyclist on my bus yesterday and the conversation wandered to the rose quarter (of course) and we wondered why the heck they didn’t take some of that GIGANTIC sidewalk they have over there and make it a BIKE HIGHWAY?

    As a matter of fact why doesn’t this city designate thruways for BICYCLES ONLY?

    I personally will not ride my bike in NW Portland because I consider it way to dangerous. If there were separate roadways that would change everything.

    And the “not enough money” argument is bogus, they find money for all sorts of silly projects starting with Iraq, Financial bailouts, and street car installations.

    http://rantingsofatrimetbusdriver.blogspot.com/2008/10/more-on-bike-situation-at-rose-quarter.html

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  • […] has recently presented research on dividing their city into zones, and assigning a quality index score to each zone, so that the […]

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  • […] December 2008 the City of Portland and¬†Alta Planning released an analysis they called a¬†“Cycle Zone Analysis” (top two maps above). Although somewhat qualitative it identify the strengths and weaknesses of […]

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