Portland bike coordinator making headlines in Australia

Posted by on October 13th, 2010 at 10:21 am

Legislator bike ride at the Oregon Bike Summit-18

Roger Geller.
(Photo © J. Maus)

The City of Portland’s Bicycle Coordinator, Roger Geller, is in Melbourne this week to deliver the keynote speech at the 2010 Bike Futures conference. Armed with Portland’s biking success story, he’s making headlines and spreading the gospel of separated bikeways.

In a story published this morning in the Sydney Morning Herald, Geller told the Australian Associated Press (AAP) that Sydney could follow Portland’s path to becoming a more bike friendly city.

Sydney does not have a highly developed, on-street bike network, but according to the AAP, “Geller believes Sydney can be saved.” How? “The key is building more and more dedicated bikeways.”

Here are a few more quotes Geller shared in the news story (emphasis mine):

“Technically there’s no reason why you can’t do it,” he said.

“If you look at cities like Amsterdam and cities throughout the Netherlands they’re similar.

“They are very small, they have very limited right of way, and still they’re able to fit in facilities so that a third of trips are made by bike.”

Mr Geller said it wasn’t a question of physical space but political and cultural will.

“At its essence it’s `build it and they will come’.”

As to what type of bikeway is best, Mr Geller argues for designs which create the most separation between cyclists and motorists.

Standard on-road paths have “limited appeal”.

I find Geller’s comments interesting because much of what he says is important for us to hear in Portland. We are moving slowly toward more separated bikeways, and if we are to start moving faster, we’ll need people like Geller making the case here in the Portland media as well.

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12 Comments
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    Peter Smith October 13, 2010 at 10:57 am

    kinda funny. it’s like you can’t tell the truth at home, because then you’d be out of a job — or your boss, the mayor, would be out of a job.

    so the solution is to bring in an outsider like Jan Gehl or JSK to tell local politicians what they need to hear.

    hey, i’m for hire if anyone is interested — i can say, “duh — separated bikeways” as well as anyone. 😉

    i do see some terminology confusion, here, with ‘separated bikeways’ and ‘on-road paths’ — i’d just call them ‘cycletracks’ so we all know what we’re aiming for. either that, or ‘separated, on-road bike paths’.

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    peejay October 13, 2010 at 11:12 am

    One big problem with Australia (or is it a symptom?) is their obsession with bike safety: mandatory helmet laws and such. Characterizing cycling as a dangerous activity is self-fulfilling. It marginalizes and discourages the behavior, when all evidence points towards increased use making all cyclists safer.

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    David Parsons October 13, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    Well, if Australia is obsessed with bike safety, Mr. Geller’s commentary is going into receptive ears. I don’t see how this can be any problem — making cities in Australia more bicycle friendly does not make cities elsewhere less bicycle friendly.

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    Spiffy October 13, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    he makes a lot of great points that I wish the major news outlets would put on prime-time TV so that people in the US might get to hear some of it…

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    peejay October 13, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    Obsession with bike safety does not lead to better bike safety. It leads to less bike use. It’s not the same as rational encouragement of safety in all modes of transportation.

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    JAT in Seattle October 13, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    I don’t think Sydney, as currently built out has space for an additional network of cycle-specific separated routes.

    Australia is most certainly not obsessed with bike safety; they are obsessed with driving their cars as quickly as they can and not letting anything get in the way of that.

    I know self-proclaimed experts say that the only way to attract new riders is cycling infrastructure, but I think that’s wrong. What’s needed is a cultural change. One away from the culture of speed and toward courtesy and cooperation. I lived and cycled in Sydney for three years, and I’m sad to say I don’t think the Ockers and Bogans have it in them to be more like Portland.

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    El Biciclero October 13, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    “…their obsession with bike safety…”

    I wish we could end everyone’s obsessions with “bike” safety or “vehicle” safety and start focusing on “operator” safety. Someone once said that the biggest traffic safety improvement we could make would be to equip every motor vehicle with a big spike in the center of the steering wheel. You bet there would be a sudden drop in traffic “accidents” if that ever happened. Safety is mostly in the hands of the operator, not the design of the roadway or the equipment.

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    David Parsons October 13, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    “Obsession with bike safety does not lead to better bike safety. It leads to less bike use.”

    Well, according to that metric Australia isn’t obsessed with bicycle safety, because bike use there appears to be increasing. Really, about the only places where “obsession with bike safety” == “less bike use” are places where irrational motorists are actively trying to remove bicyclists from the road by means such as forbidding them from market roads (iowa — has that petition to the iowa leg been pushed into a landfill yet, or are the proponents still whining to their representatives about the unfaaaairness of having to pass people on the highway?) or by instituting punitive tariffs against bike riders.

    If Melbourne *isn’t* obsessive about bike safety and just sent out the invitation to burn off junket dollars, at least Mr. Geller will get a chance to see how people navigate in a city that is filled with streetcars, but doesn’t have the growing collection of bikeways that Portland does (If Portland can build out a lot of its streetcar wishlist, there are going to be many more streets where bike riders need to deal with railroad tracks, and it’s worth something to see how a city with one of the largest streetcar networks in the world handles it.)

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    wsbob October 13, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Hundreds and thousands of bikes traveling together at one time, close together on a roadway, becomes a lot like a roadway with a high volume of motor vehicles on it. Something like that is a far greater logistical challenge than these separated bikeways people dream about.

    How would cities justify that kind of infrastructure, not to mention pay for it? Pre-motor vehicle transition, China effectively had such a set-up (not separate bike lanes, but by simple numbers in the thousands, bike use dominated city commute streets).

    Does it even exist at all anymore? When at it’s peak, that would have been a great opportunity to study how this kind of mass travel mode functions relative to the motor vehicle type.

    El Biciclero, joking aside…definitely…better, consistent vehicle operation is critically needed.

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    jim October 13, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    Is this guy there on the public dime? Who paid for this trip?

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    BURR October 14, 2010 at 1:03 pm
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    Elizabeth October 16, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    As a Sydneysider and ex-Portlander I’m super pleased to see Roger here and am excitied about this sort of cross polination of ideas. I don’t think it right to characterise Australian as overly concerned with cyclists safety — the national mandorty helmet laws came in in the early 1990s. That was before my time here and I don’t know the politics around bringing in the laws but there was a big drop off in ridership thereafter. That said in the 10 years I’ve lived here ridership in Sydney has grown exponentially — there’s a lot going on with infrastructure and other forms of support for cycling right now in certain parts of town. Good stuff is happening here and visits from the likes of Roger Geller are part of that. And, by the way jim (no 10) — I think you can stop panicing that a few of your tax cents may have been spent, I’m certain Roger is here as a guest of the organisers of the Bike Futures Conference meaning they’ve paid.

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