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Portland needs to invoke the lifeboat rule

Posted by on October 7th, 2014 at 2:23 pm

kid on bike

Amsterdammers are made, not born.
(Photo in Amsterdam by J. Maus/BikePortland)

America's Next Bicycle Capital

Part of our series, America’s Next Bicycle Capital, where we share community voices about the future of biking in Portland. This week’s guest writer is A.J. Zelada, who chaired the Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee from 2011 to 2013.

The lifeboat rule needs to be invoked: parents and children first.

I returned from the Netherlands a few weeks ago and I was struck, of course, by how different it was. I admit, I am not so sure it is reproducible here as much as I’ve hawked it in the past. My partner and I bicycled from Bruges, Belgium to Amsterdam up the North Sea coast line but catching Ghent, Delft, Leiden and many other towns along the incredible segregated bike lanes that simply connect everything. [Publisher’s note: Follow Jerry’s adventures here.]

What struck me was that Americans have a missing childhood developmental stage of being an infant, a toddler, and a child on a bike before they get on a bike independently. And even though little Americans are propped up in a baby trailer or behind the rider’s seat, they still miss what parents in Belgium and the Netherlands teach their kids.

The difference is in plain sight: the child is up front on the handlebars or on a cross bar. When the bicyclist enters the traffic pattern, the child bobs and weaves and tilts with the parent. The kid gets imprinted with confrontations on the bike, slow-downs for intersections, people passing, people stopping, all that stuff that experienced riders know after years of riding. All that experience helps develop two key traits for a life of civilized cycling: anticipation and courtesy.

If you spend a year and a half as a preverbal kid riding on a bicycle, that’s something you don’t get later. That’s a hard wiring.

The smoothness of so many people moving by bicycle in all the cities we visited was incredible; the complete opposite of what I’ve experienced on, say, North Williams Avenue here in Portland. Vastly different infrastructural offerings aside, narcissism comes to mind as the most expressed trait here.

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As Portland embarks on a major redesign of Williams Avenue, the difference in how we ride here is put into stark relief.

dad with kid 320

(Photo: A.J. Zelada)

I came back from our European trip even more entrenched in the idea that we need to build each and every bike arterial with parents and children in mind. Every parent with a child should feel safe and able — without reservation — to ride to their nearest grocery store. This will change not only our lives (as we have seen in Europe), it will teach a whole generation how to ride.

But another difference between us and them is what we think of the bicycle. In America the most common question we get asked from people we meet is “How far can you go?” In Europe, we were generally asked, “Where have you been?” This sociological difference meant to me that we Americans are focused on a quantification of existence rather than on the quality of existence.

Williams Avenue will be our most significant bike lane on a major commercial corridor. As the project evolves, I’ll be watching to see whether or not it follows the lifeboat rule. The success of our cycling city, and our children’s lives, depends on it.

jerryzport

Jerry Zelada
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Follow Armando “Jerry” Zelada’s many bike adventures at 72km.org.

If you’d like to add your voice to our series, get in touch via email: michael@bikeportland.org.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. 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 — Jonathan

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9watts
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9watts

Nice!

“In America the most common question we get asked from people we meet is ‘How far can you go?’ In Europe, we were generally asked, ‘Where have you been?’ This sociological difference meant to me that we Americans are focused on a quantification of existence rather than on the quality of existence.”

Glenn
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Glenn

My father built a plywood seat for me that fit on the top bar of his bicycle in 1958. My mother says the most advanced sign of coordination I showed was mastering the butterfly nut that held it on when I was 18 months old. Now I realize how my father prepared me for a life on two wheels. He’s long gone, but I think of him when I ride.

Anne Hawley
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Anne Hawley

“Vastly different infrastructural offerings aside, narcissism comes to mind as the most expressed trait here.”

I hadn’t thought of it in quite this way, but it expresses my own subliminal perceptions pretty accurately. Though I can’t personally “compete” in speed, style, hipness, or whatever while I’m on my bike (or anywhere else), I’ve internalized this tendency by feeling that I *should* hurry, or absent myself from Williams, or avoid the Hawthorne at rush hour. To some extent I even felt that I didn’t fit in at the 3rd Avenue extravaganza this weekend through not being quite [something] enough to participate. (As I say, “internalized”. Not blaming. But worth thinking about.)

paikiala
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paikiala

just to be picky, the lifeboat rule is ‘Women and children first’, but it still works.

Steven Soto
Guest
Steven Soto

I agree with the sentiments, but I think that it brings up an important chicken-or-egg type question. Where should the priorities lie? Do we first build a connected network and then worry about making safety improvements later, or do we build great pieces of safe infrastructure that don’t connect? In Portland, we seem to have the latter.

I would argue that until we have a connected infrastructure, the incentives to ride instead of driving are simply not there for the vast majority of people. I think that the only unsafe infrastructure is an unconnected one. Portland has some bike lanes that suck, but I am much more comfortable in a sub-standard bike lane than somewhere where no infrastructure exists at all, or when I can’t find the infrastructure that is available.

rachel b
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rachel b

“But another difference between us and them is what we think of the bicycle. In America the most common question we get asked from people we meet is “How far can you go?” In Europe, we were generally asked, “Where have you been?” This sociological difference meant to me that we Americans are focused on a quantification of existence rather than on the quality of existence.”

This reminded me of the first extensive river rafting trip I went on—a week-long trip. When we were (literally) getting our feet wet and being oriented by the guide, I remember thinking it sounded like we were going to be progressing so slowly! I made a joke at some point about how much faster we could arrive at our destination, and the guide’s response was something along the lines of “it’s the journey, not the speed.”

Anyway—had a wonderful time and she was right. You want to spend as much time on the water as possible! Slower—not faster. 🙂

As regards biking in Portland: sometimes I do enjoy riding fast (esp. when a seriously spandexed rider mistakenly takes me for a poke-along—take that, HAH!). But I also would like it if weren’t such a race out there all the time. I’m accustomed to it but I can imagine how unpleasant and intimidating it may be for a new cyclist, or a family with kids. Sometimes it’s just nice to mosey.

Wonderful story. Thanks, Jerry, and bikeportland.org. One more vote for the lifeboat rule!

Amanda
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Amanda

How much worse are Portland’s streets and paths? Is our cautious approach justified? If that mom were in Portland she’d be accused of child endangerment (no helmets on kids, very young child(ren) on bike) potentially ticketed for a safety violation and certainly tsk tsked for not wearing a helmet herself. (as a responsible role model)

PNP
Guest
PNP

Great article. I’ve been to Amsterdam a few times now, and one of my favorite memories was seeing a man on a bike with a girl about 5 or 6 years old perched on the top tube in front of him, and they were both eating ice cream cones as they rode by. They were very comfortable on the bike, not in any particular hurry, and just enjoying themselves. I never see anything like that here.

Tim
Guest
Tim

I counted at least 8 different ways to carry a child on a bike in Amsterdam. Including, standing on the seat and holding onto dads shoulders as he pedaled. No sure that one was mom approved, but it looked like fun.

We made a joke when some insecure looser went by with a load muffler that he didn’t get enough attention as a child. Probably had to ride on the back of the bike.

Dwaine Dibbly
Guest
Dwaine Dibbly

I promise that as a childless adult, I’ll try not go get bent out of shape by the apparent bias. Infrastructure that is good for kids is generally good for all of us.

Chris Anderson
Guest

Portland’s family biking scene is alive and well. My daughter’s preschool class of ~15 kids has at least a couple who have been pedaling themselves to school since age three.

Jim Lee
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Jim Lee

When I steamed across the mighty Pacific Ocean in S. S. Arcadia in 1969 there was no preference by sex, age, marital status during our lifeboat drills.

I resent the sexist, ageist, parentist bias of Bike Portland!

Boo hoo!

Ted Buehler
Guest

“Williams Avenue will be our most significant bike lane on a major commercial corridor. As the project evolves, I’ll be watching to see whether or not it follows the lifeboat rule.”

As currently designed, rev 1.0 of the Williams Bike Lane itself will not be lifeboat compatible. But, it is a major step in the right direction. Here’s why:

* Americans, and Portlanders, prefer to travel in a wide range of speeds on their bicycles. The videos I see of Amsterdam and Copenhagen show a more homogeneous set of bicyclists.

* Diversity of speed is not a bad thing. It allows our relatively sprawling cities to have higher bike mode shares than they’d have if everyone rode slow — because people can boogie down Interstate Ave at 30 mph and compete favorably with cars and buses time-wise. And, you get better exercise riding hard than poking along.

* Williams will not cater directly to slow bicyclists. There is a wide lane for bikes, but no programming for slow bicyclists and fast bicyclists to peacefully and safely interact with each other. Such as: Passing Protocol — overtake slower traffic on one side, or shoal them on both sides? or Lane Channelization — with a 10′ bike lane, the 2030 Master Plan allows for two side by side bike lanes (dual bike lanes) so faster cyclists can overtake safely. Neither of these options are planned for Williams.

* Even if there was a dual bike lane, or at least a passing protocol, Williams will still have buses and fast cars. And lots and lots of turning cars. And about 500 new apartment units opening up in the next 3 years, many of which will be occupied by folks driving cars. (Partly because the city code for indoor bike storage requirements are outdated by about 30 years. I know. WTH? C’mon guys, set up apartment regulations that allow everyone to park their bike in a good spot!!!).

* But, included in the Williams Plan is a separate neighborhood Greenway on Rodney. 2 blocks away. With speed humps, a diverter, and a mini cycletrack to get across the jog at Fremont. This will make the Van/Wms/Rodney *corridor* Women and Children friendly. I live on Rodney. There’s a day care facility on my block. A decent number of parents already come by bike to pick up their kids. With the planned, funded improvements slated for on Rodney, the child-friendliness will only improve.

* You won’t be able to ease along Rodney with your toddler to do spontaneous shopping at New Seasons or the Treehouse Boutique. But you’ll still be able to get there more safely and easily than you can today. And, the commuters from Vancouver WA and St. Johns will still be able to zip home at a time-competitive rate.

“The success of our cycling city, and our children’s lives, depends on it.”

* Williams won’t be a calm, easygoing street. But, that doesn’t mean our success depends on it. Portland has done well inventing types of infrastructure, and infrastructure combinations that work fairly well for the 8 to 80 crowd. And it doesn’t mean all streets need to be placid. Eventually? Hopefully. For now? We’re making significant progress. Not on track for the 25% mode share by 2030, but making significant progress.

************

Excellent article, BTW. My disagreement is minor in the larger scope of things. & my reason for voicing my disagreement is more to showcase the low budget, low-hanging-fruit workarounds that PBOT so effectively employs, rather than to disagree with the message of the post…

Also, kudos to the members of the Williams Ave Committee, who tirelessly set through two years of meetings, and managed to get the Rodney Greenway included in the funding scope, even after PBOT didn’t put it on the table as an option. Nice work committee! If you see any of these folks on the streets, give them a big hug in gratitude for their success in getting Rodney included in the project scope! https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/395383 (list on p. 10)

Ted Buehler

Eric
Guest
Eric

Sorry guys. I am one of the riders that is always in a “hurry”. I dont want to be in a hurry. But when I am using a bike as transportation (not leisure) I usually need to get somewhere by a certain time, and I can’t be mosey-ing on. Not too mention I have a two very small kids at home and a wife who’s patience completely runs out about 3pm…and I usually dont get home until 5:15, so you see my need to rush….

When I am using a bike for leisure, it is usually deep in the woods on loamy singletrack and that’s when I take my time.

jeff bernards
Guest
jeff bernards

I biked in Shkoder Albania last summer, no bicycle infrastructure, but nearly the same amount of bicycle usage as Holland. There’s a lot of teaching and learning on the part of drivers that can make cycling safe now without waiting for the millions of dollars required to “be like Holland.”

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

I’m reading that the average Dutch city riding trip is 3 km (2 miles) at a whopping 8 mph. I would be quite unhappy if our bike infrastructure were optimized for riding at jogging speeds.

I’m also reading that bicyclists are a quarter of traffic deaths in the Netherlands, with 200 bicyclists killed per year. Considering the country’s popl’n is only 17MM, that seems not particularly low.

Portland (the city, not the greater metro area) is 600K popl’n, so a similar death rate would be about 7-8 cyclists killed a year here. Which is more than we do actually have (ranges from zero to 5 per year). Granted more people cycle in the Netherlands but I question if their death rate is much lower than ours, or lower at all.

If you think their bike infrastructure is so much safer than ours, and they ride slower, maybe the equalizing factor is helmet usage after all.

Marge Evans
Guest
Marge Evans

one massive major advantage is the Dutch work 33 hours and week and fathers have as much child leave as the moms. Parents pretty much split the child rearing. The Moms aren’t stuck with a job, ferrying children and chores like they are in the good old USA.

Ted Buehler
Guest

I was riding downtown around noon today. I rode down Rodney to Tillamook, then over to Flint and the Broadway Bridge.

While waiting at the stop sign on Williams, I saw a happy 30-ish father roll up Williams, with an alert toddler sitting in a top-tube seat.

It made me pretty happy, the day after reading this post, and I hope I’m wrong about my downer comments about The New and Improved Williams not being a Lifeboat-grade facility.

Ted Buehler

Clark in Vancouver
Guest
Clark in Vancouver

Paul
One major advantage the Dutch cities have for bicycles though, is that stop signs almost don’t exist, and you have free rights from cycle track to cycle track. Almost all secondary streets entering a main road are unsigned and treated as yields and 4-way intersections are unsigned. So unless you’re at one of the seemingly few traffic lights on a major street you rarely have to stop on a bicycle, compared to American cities. One of the most noticeable and annoying things about moving to Portland from Amsterdam was that it seemed like stop signs were EVERYWHERE, and whereas over there you just seemed to flow, rarely stopping on your journey.
Recommended 1

I’ve thought for a long time now that instead of introducing something like an Idaho stop law, just reduce the number of stop signs. So many of them seem unnecessary. People get to know places very well and what to expect and learn that they don’t really need to stop. If that’s truly the case then why not just have a yield sign in those places?
Save the stop signs for intersections where it really is necessary.