(Photo: Stephen Upchurch)
A new, unauthorized traffic sign attached to a utility pole on NE Ainsworth Street at 30th urges people on bikes to leave the narrow, busy street and take the neighborhood greenway one block over instead. Nearby resident Stephen Upchurch sent in a photo of the sign. It reads, “Bike route one block [arrow]: Be SAFE.”
“The sign is, in my mind, symbolic of that tension. Tension that arises out of the unfortunate way that the street is set up.”
— Stephen Upchurch, nearby resident
The sign touches on what has become a major debate in bike and transportation planning circles as cities across the country develop bike boulevard networks: Should people continue to ride on busy, narrow streets when there is a bike-specific, low-stress route just one block over?
Former Portland bike coordinator and now nationally prominent consultant and author Mia Birk penned an article about this issue recently that appeared in the Portland Tribune. The headline itself, Are cyclists clueless or just plain rude? spoke to the heated feelings around this issue.
Ainsworth specifically, is in many ways ground zero for this debate because of its extremely narrow cross-section. Despite being a major neighborhood collector street that serves a relatively high volume of traffic, a “linear arboretum” that runs down its center and on-street parking make it too narrow for people on bikes and cars to travel side-by-side.
(Photo: Peter Welte)
And who can forget the famous “Ainsworth Incident” back in 2008 when a Portland Police officer nearly struck a group of people riding on Ainsworth and then issued one of them a ticket for impeding traffic.
We’ve offered suggestions on how the City might improve access on Ainsworth; but so far we’re not aware of any changes in the works.
This brings us back to the “Be SAFE” sign. Mr. Upchurch shared some of his feelings about the street with us via email:
“[The sign] attempts to direct those on bikes toward what is termed a “Bike route” accompanied by the suggestion that being SAFE is taking that route. That’s presumably Holman the neighborhood greenway, as opposed to Ainsworth with its narrow travel lane and on-street parking that combine to squeeze bikes and cars and any tension within their occupants right to the top.
The sign is, in my mind, symbolic of that tension. Tension that arises out of the unfortunate way that the street is set up.
Don’t get me wrong I enjoy riding on Holman and am happy with what PBOT has done with it but I can tell you as one who lives on Ainsworth there is a consistent stream of bikes on the street and I don’t think they are going away. I just wish there was more room… for everyone.”