(Photo: Alberta Main Street/FB)
An interesting development in the main-street vs side-streets debate was brought to my attention by a reader this morning.
As part of a marketing campaign around their marquee bike boulevard, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) has placed several signs on NE Alberta Street to encourage folks to ride on the Going Street neighborhood greenway.
The photo on the right was posted by Alberta Main Street on their Facebook page with the words: “Love this! Why risk riding your bike on Alberta Street when the low stress Going Street Neighborhood Greenway is just two blocks South of Alberta?”
The comments (and number of “Likes”) show that the campaign is a big hit. PBOT, through their Neighborhood Greenways Facebook page, left a comment too. Here’s what they said:
“Thanks for the feedback. The City of Portland Bureau of Transportation has temporarily put up those signs to let people bicycling and walking know that the Going St. neighborhood greenway is a great alternative to Alberta. Of course, it is still completely legal for people to bicycle on Alberta (and any Portland street except the interstates in the city limits).”
I left a comment too; because this campaign — and this type of thinking in general — makes me a bit concerned.
While I appreciate making people aware of good bike streets, the thinking behind this campaign perpetuates some harmful ideas in my opinion.
This is a big issue in Portland. None of our popular commercial streets — except for N. Williams — have dedicated bike access. Hawthorne, Alberta, Belmont, Mississippi, Killingsworth — those are all fantastic streets loaded with destinations; but they are also dominated by cars and buses. They are often stressful for many people to bike on and they are certainly not suitable for the “interested but concerned demographic” the City says they’re keen to get riding.
These streets are typically the same; two lanes and an on-street parking lane on each side. People on bikes either take the lane, or what’s more common is for people to squeeze between parked cars on their right and moving vehicles on their left.
So, what are we going to do about it? Simply throw up our hands and tell people to ride a few blocks over? I don’t think that’s the right way forward.
Shouldn’t we be focusing on making NE Alberta less-stressful for people who are on bicycles instead of brushing this problem under the rug? A campaign like this certainly doesn’t help create any urgency around the need to improve bike access on this, or any other of our commercial main streets.
This campaign will also perpetuate the false notion some people have that bikes simply don’t belong — or shouldn’t be riding on — streets like Alberta. As we know, this type of thinking can manifest itself by people getting angry when they do see someone on a bike in front of them.
The fact is, riding a bike on Alberta could be much more pleasant if we re-allocated some of the space currently used to park cars and instead used it for moving people. Can we remove all the on-street parking? I think that should be on the table. But even if we decide that’s not feasible, how about allowing business owners to weigh in and opt-out of the auto parking if they’d like to? Even by re-allocating just some of the auto parking space, we could create passing opportunities and safe havens for people on bikes to use if bus and auto traffic want to go around.
Or, how about we keep parking the way it is, but we reduce the speed limit to 15 mph? That way, people on bicycles might feel a bit more comfortable taking the lane, instead of doing the dangerous and unpleasant squeeze between buses and cars.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. This is an issue I’ve thought a lot about over the years (we talked about it with PBOT staff at our Get Together on Alberta in 2009) and I still feel the same way. But as always, I’m open to other perspectives…