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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.

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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 — Jonathan

64 Comments
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    9watts October 7, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    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.”

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      Colton October 8, 2014 at 11:05 am

      While the conclusion might be valid, I can’t recall anyone ever asking me “How far can you go” (on a bike). Ever. In decades of commuting. Surely I’m not the anomaly.

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        9watts October 8, 2014 at 11:08 am

        I think you’re missing some context. Zelada isn’t commuting. He was on a tour of Europe/the world.

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          Colton October 9, 2014 at 7:59 am

          Well then a question of “How far can you go (tour)” wouldn’t make any sense in The Netherlands or Belgium. The answer would likely require you to respond with some landmark beyond the border of the respective country.

          In Oregon, however, it makes sense to know if you can make it from say, Burns to Frenchglen. The State of Oregon is literally 4 times bigger than the countries of The Netherlands and Holland combined.

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            DP October 20, 2014 at 10:39 pm

            The Netherlands and Holland are not two countries.

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        Miss Forpe Stubb October 12, 2014 at 10:11 am

        Can confirm: “How far can you go” or “How many miles do you do in a day” are among top questions asked in my experience. Said almost as often as “be safe!”

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    Glenn October 7, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    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.

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    Anne Hawley October 7, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    “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.)

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    paikiala October 7, 2014 at 3:39 pm

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

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      Will P October 7, 2014 at 4:15 pm

      I, for one, approve of Mr. Zelada’s more inclusionary lifeboat rule.

      Signed,
      Dad

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 7, 2014 at 6:06 pm

      Thanks paikiala we’re well aware of that. However, during the editing process we opted for a more gender neutral phrase.

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        runyararo October 9, 2014 at 11:59 am

        “Gender-neutral” but excluding all non-parent women? Thanks, I guess I go down with the ship…

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    Steven Soto October 7, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    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.

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      Pete October 7, 2014 at 5:24 pm

      “…the incentives to ride instead of driving are simply not there…”

      Until we Americans have to pay for gas the portion of our disposable incomes that the Europeans do, I would argue that connected infrastructure will only go so far to incentivize anyway.

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      paikiala October 8, 2014 at 8:41 am

      Here’s another PBOT continually wrestles with: Do we invest in areas of the city where a lot more people will ride in the future (inner east/west side), or where infra is most lacking (outer east and SW)? The first will generate the higher mode shares to get PBOT to the average 25% goal, while the other addresses historical equity and income issues.

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        9watts October 8, 2014 at 9:01 am

        A false dichotomy. I’d ask instead why, as Roger Geller conceded in a recent bikeportland article, the City has fallen down on it’s responsibility to make driving less convenient? Why are we, again, arguing over crumbs when it is easily shown that any money spent on bike infrastructure, or enforcement that could make bicycling safer, or on efforts to level the very sloped playing field… is a better value than many of the things higher on the list?

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        mikeybikey October 8, 2014 at 1:47 pm

        Why must we wait on PBOT to “invest”. We know that once speeds get over 25-30 mph fatality and injuries start to go up drastically for people on foot and on bikes. Maybe its time for a citizen-lead movement to push a law that blankets a 20 or 25 mph de facto speed limit on any street section that lacks sidewalks and cycling facilities.

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          BC October 12, 2014 at 8:57 pm

          Deafacto speed in residential areas should be 20mph or less. If there are no sidewalks it should be 15mph or less.

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    rachel b October 7, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    “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!

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      paikiala October 8, 2014 at 8:42 am

      Hence the need for both bike lanes and greenways.

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    Amanda October 7, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    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)

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      Tim October 7, 2014 at 5:39 pm

      It is not the streets and paths that are worse, it is the way people behave.

      You know you are not in Kansas anymore when a car, a motorbike, three pedestrians and half a dozen bikes all enter the same intersection with no signal or stop signs and everyone just alters there speed an course so that everyone gets where they are going. It is about cooperation rather than rights or right of way.

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        spare_wheel October 7, 2014 at 6:49 pm

        the netherlands is full of bike scofflaws…and no one cares. (well only a few people and most of them vote ppv)

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          spare_wheel October 7, 2014 at 6:50 pm

          pvv

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      Craig Collins October 7, 2014 at 6:04 pm

      The bicycle infrastructure in Portland is almost non-existent as compared to the Netherlands, so yes, a cautious approach (helmets, reflectors, lights, etc.) is justified but it’s not the solution. The solution is having the infrastructure that makes wearing a helmet seem silly for a quick trip across town.

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        Pete October 7, 2014 at 11:08 pm

        I just returned from working in an Italian city where, except for a few cycletracks in some newer neighborhoods, bicycle infrastructure was entirely nonexistent. Yet there were way more people (of all ages) bicycling among tight and aggressive car, bus, and scooter traffic than I see here. It was on a minority that I saw a helmet on, and in fact saw more people riding without lights at night than I’ve seen anywhere before, yet somehow everyone seemed to get along with no particular discrimination as to transportation choice (not that they don’t have any problems…).

        http://windluvr.com/BiciLucenti.jpg

        My point: I think culture plays as significant a role as infrastructure, if not more.

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          Tim October 8, 2014 at 8:14 am

          I noticed the same thing. Italian roads appear chaotic and if there is a bike lane it is generally ignored by all, but I never feel like someone if going to run me down for being in their way.

          Even in Amsterdam, where bikes make up 60% of the road users and cars 20%, it is apparent that bike infrastructure is to keep the bikes out of the way of the cars. Smaller streets are choked with bikes but the main roads funnel the bikes onto crowded 3 m wide tracks to leave 12 m for the cars.

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          PorterStout October 9, 2014 at 1:10 pm

          “My point: I think culture plays as significant a role as infrastructure, if not more.”

          If this be true, and I don’t think I disagree, then the situation requires an entire cultural change to fix. I don’t know what the odds of achieving that are, but I’m pretty sure attitude on the bike doesn’t help. I’m going to wave to someone on the way home today.

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      Adron @ Transit Sleuth October 7, 2014 at 6:59 pm

      In Copenhagen, Amsterdam, etc nobody wears a helmet unless they’re doing extreme riding. The reason is simple, they’re absurd. It’s merely a facade with oddball statistical nonsense added because we in America are so good at killing people with cars and hurrying so fast we manage to kill ourselves a LOT. In Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Hamburg and many other cities, nobody is killing themselves (or others) like we do in America to hurry up and get to the next thing. Europeans simply live in the moment much better then we Americans tend to do (albeit us Portlanders are getting pretty darn good at it!).

      So again, the reason is simple, the helmets aren’t necessary at all. Statistically there AND her in the United States there is more empirical evidence available that points the need for motorists to wear helmets than cyclists – especially when the data is cross-correlated with European riders. They have dramatically less of any sort of fatality in those countries then we do in the United States. They’ve proven that helmets just don’t help when you’re cruising around – what helps is getting motorists out of the way and creating a culture that Armando describes in this article (good job btw Armando, great piece).

      But anyway, I digress, I wear a helmet here in the US mainly to not avoid be chastised or end up in these absurd helmet debates. I will admit though, I probably should wear one when I’m walking around – because I’ve saved myself form a few wounds while walking around – but that brings up a whole different discussion (why am I walking so forcefully!?)

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        paikiala October 8, 2014 at 8:50 am

        2012 fatal crashes (all) per 100k population (OECD 2014 report):
        Sweden: 3
        Denmark: 3
        Netherlands 3.9
        UK: 2.8
        AU: 5.7
        US: 10.7

        Portland: 5.1

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          Alan 1.0 October 8, 2014 at 9:19 am

          So, that’s for all modes combined, peds, cars, bikes, motos, etc?

          Do you happen to have the figure for Italy, since it was mentioned upthread?

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            paikiala October 8, 2014 at 4:19 pm

            6

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        spare_wheel October 8, 2014 at 11:22 am

        those speed walkers and their synthetic walking shoes intimidate people and make us all look bad! it’s not race-walking folks!!!1!!

        i also make a point of eschewing synthetic walking shoes and using sensible “city” walking shoes made by rivdendell walks. i do, however, wish i could afford the dutch “oma” walking shoes sold by clever walks.

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    PNP October 7, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    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.

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    Tim October 7, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    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.

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    Dwaine Dibbly October 7, 2014 at 5:50 pm

    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.

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    Chris Anderson October 7, 2014 at 6:24 pm

    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.

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      Adron @ Transit Sleuth October 7, 2014 at 7:01 pm

      The beginning of a better future for all involved! Keep rocking Chris! 🙂

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        Brian October 8, 2014 at 8:32 am

        Are Adron and Chris the same person? 🙂
        My son has been riding to preschool since age 3, but has yet to ride in the road at the age of 5. He asks to all the time, but I’m just not ready for that.

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    Jim Lee October 7, 2014 at 7:55 pm

    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!

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    Ted Buehler October 7, 2014 at 8:04 pm

    “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

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      David Lewis October 7, 2014 at 11:35 pm

      Going for the low hanging fruit is the whole reason Portland is not Amsterdam, and never will be. The monkeys dine on the sun-ripened fruit and us moose get drunk on the rotten stuff. Somehow, that’s just how it works out.

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        Ted Buehler October 8, 2014 at 1:31 am

        David — going for the low hanging fruit is also why Portland isn’t Cincinnati, and never will be. While I’d like to be a happy fat monkey, I’d still rather be a drunk moose than a starved moose.

        If bicycle interests would have held out for absolute perfection on Williams, the goal would get further away every year. Every new block of apartment buildings would have made it even harder just to lobby for the road space reallocation that we’re actually getting this month. And there’s eleven new apartment blocks going up in the Van/Wms corridor in the next two years.

        I’m all about being outraged at the slow progress of bicycle infrastructure improvement. But I’m also all about being pleased and proud of the victories that we have and will continue achieve in the current political environment.

        FWIW, Ted Buehler

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        • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
          Michael Andersen (News Editor) October 8, 2014 at 8:51 am

          EXTENDED METAPHOR OF THE WEEK

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          David Lewis October 8, 2014 at 3:26 pm

          You’ve let slip one of the real problems here. “Bicycle interests” is a very strange thing for me to understand. You could just as easily say “tennis interests” and demand more tennis courts in public parks. Only tennis players (and their admirers) would benefit and only when it’s not raining. Politicians have so many special interest groups that if you join them you’ll just have to get in line.

          Governments at all levels have departments of transportation, and each of them is generally very hostile to modes other than private automobiles, and they consistently and automatically act against the interests of Americans. They do it in Portland just like in Cincinnati. If there really is a bicycling constituency, it would vote en bloc to change the leadership and therefore the direction of the department, not beg hostile politicians and civil servants after the fact.

          Bicycles do not need advocates. Bicycle riders don’t either because they are not special interests. If an apartment block developer wants to cash in on rich hipsters moving to Portland, the red carpet for private automobile parking should not be rolled out by default, but it is. Why?

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            9watts October 8, 2014 at 4:32 pm

            “…the red carpet for private automobile parking should not be rolled out by default, but it is. Why?”

            Carhead.

            Cars are the ‘unmarked category.’ Everyone else’s mode gets to, as you say, get in line.

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            Ted Buehler October 8, 2014 at 5:43 pm

            David mused —

            “If an apartment block developer wants to cash in on rich hipsters moving to Portland, the red carpet for private automobile parking should not be rolled out by default, but it is. Why?”

            A couple reasons —

            1) There’s an apartment building proposed for N Williams at about Monroe. Next door to the “Tropicana” restaurant.

            The developers are a group of young Portlanders, not older suburbanites or non-locally held corporations. They proposed minimal car parking, with bicycle amenities.

            The Eliot Neighborhood Association, on reviewing the project, requested that the developers add more car parking. (At least that’s what the developers told us when they presented to at the neighboring Boise Neighborhood).

            2) Other developers are mostly suburban-living local corporations or out of town corporations. Many do build low-parking developments. Most don’t.

            3) Many loan underwriters will look skeptically at a building without parking.

            FWIW,
            Ted Buehler

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            Ted Buehler October 8, 2014 at 5:55 pm

            David — you wrote
            ““Bicycle interests” is a very strange thing for me to understand.”

            I’m looking at the list on page 10 here. The Williams Stakeholder Committee.
            https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/395383

            There’s 26 people on the committee. Seven of them I know personally, and I know that if they had their druthers most would want a fantabulous cycletrack of one form or another going up Williams. They represented me, and the other 3000 daily bicyclists on Williams. Other stakeholders represented other constituents.

            For lack of a better term, I tried “bicycle interests.”

            How about the term “Stakeholders whose primary interest is the safety and throughput of bicycles?”

            Just checking in, I’m happy to clarify my statements and toss these ideas back and forth.

            Ultimately, the question of treetop fruit, low hanging fruit, and starvation is the question of the day. How much are we getting? Could we get more if we organized and stood firm for something closer to the Amsterdam infrastructure? Or, are we truly at such risk of becoming irrelevant that shooting for anything better would lead to a prolonged, unhappy stalemate?

            Ted Buehler

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              Ted Buehler October 8, 2014 at 6:01 pm

              &, I haven’t seen any of the 26 members of the stakeholder committee posting here, I apologize if I’m overstating, understating or misrepresenting your interests in serving on the committee.

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    Eric October 7, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    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.

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      Tim October 8, 2014 at 8:21 am

      In Europe it is not just the cars that cooperate with the bikes. I noticed that the older lady in business dress would speed up and the young man in shorts would slow down to avoid conflicts. Cooperation rather than me first is what makes European traffic different.

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      F.W. de Klerk October 8, 2014 at 9:20 am

      Eric, don’t apologize. I find it funny how passive-aggressive Portlanders are “upset” someone else on a bike has passed them. Now the Tour de France wanna-bes who find it necessary to pass at high speed only to cut back in just inches off my front tire…that’s a bit much.

      It would be nice to have the short trips and leasure time the Europeans appear to have, but we have to work here and our bikes are vital commuting tools.

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        stasia:) October 8, 2014 at 1:37 pm

        I totally get having to go fast, and I don’t think it’s usually just the fact of getting passed that annoys people (come on, do you really think that everyone believes no one will pass them?) It’s the blow-past-you-like-you-don’t-even-exist, speed-by-without-warning, squeeze-past-without-leaving-enough-in-between-space that is super obnoxious. Certainly you can be a speedy biker with courtesy, but that necessitates thinking of other people first, not just your own need to get home.

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          rachel b October 9, 2014 at 2:38 pm

          Hear, hear, stasia :)! I hate the mute sideswipers—what is it costing you to say that you’re passing, or to ring a bell? I’ll never understand it. It’s just common courtesy. But I share Eric’s and F.W.’s frustration, too. Despite my support of the lifeboat principle, in the Portland of today, I know it’s idealistic and impracticable I too get impatient with Portland’s unaware (or, as the author notes, narcissistic) mass of path users–flocks of joggers and walkers and dog walkers, cyclists, skateboarders, scooterers, rollerskaters/skiers, parents with kids. We have to agree on how to share the path and (apparently) be educated, and that’s where I feel Portland’s severely lacking. I’ve often wished the city would either paint more basic path use rules at intervals on the paths, or post signs outlining basic multiuse path etiquette. I.e. “Stay on the right, except for passing.” “Give warning when passing.” “All dogs must be leashed and under control (no extendo leashes!).” “Do not sprawl in groups—queue up and keep to the right side of the path.” And maybe “Do not stand in the middle of the path, twirling and playing a ukulele.” I’m a big fan of common sense and no fan of signs everywhere. But I’m desperate, and apparently the path users of Portland today need them.

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    jeff bernards October 8, 2014 at 8:02 am

    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.”

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  • John Liu
    John Liu October 8, 2014 at 8:41 am

    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.

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      Tim October 8, 2014 at 10:21 am

      Maybe the difference is there are 10 times the number of bikes on the road, so 7 to 8 fatalities is low compared to Portland.

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      Paul October 8, 2014 at 1:58 pm

      You can actually ride quite fast on those paths if you want to – save for a few crowded sections near Centraal Station and other busy shopping areas. After all, for now they still allow scooters on those paths, annoyingly flying by you. But many folks are riding single-speed heavy old bikes that are parked outside 24/7 in the rain, and they don’t feel like sweating, so it feels silly to ride fast. And you can ride safely side-by-side with someone and in many cases still have room for a rider to pass. But you know, it also doesn’t feel that slow either. At least it didn’t for me. Maybe because the population density is so high and I never had to ride more than about 3 miles.

      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. Greenways definitely are nice, but it make one wonder if all those signs are really necessary. We might be better off with no traffic control at all except major arterials & intersections.

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    Marge Evans October 8, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    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.

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    Ted Buehler October 8, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    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

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      Ted Buehler August 21, 2015 at 10:43 am

      Update on this — I participated in the PBOT Bike Count yesterday at Williams and Russell with Emily Wilson. This is 8 months after the redesign was completed in Dec, 2014.

      We counted 859 northbound bicycles between 4:00 and 6:00.

      Only 2 had children on board.

      NOT a “lifeboat” facility.

      Ted Buehler

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    Clark in Vancouver October 8, 2014 at 9:52 pm

    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.
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    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.

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      Jochem in Amsterdam October 9, 2014 at 8:11 am

      In the Netherlands you’ll only see stop signs when the intersection is truly dangerous. Generally people will follow the sign and actually stop. On almost all other intersections there are only yield signs (including the painted “shark’s teeth”, which make it even more clear who has priority – even three year olds understand it, literally). Smaller intersections on low traffic streets have no signs whatsoever, here traffic coming from the right has priority (including cyclists). This means that traffic has to slow down enough to be able to make a full stop if necessary.

      These low traffic streets are generally residential areas and such, they’re the destination of traffic (although for cyclists it can be an intentional shortcut not available to cars). These streets link up with the roads for through-traffic, which has priority. Only on busy intersections you’ll find traffic lights or roundabouts.

      This works really well. When I commute on my bicycle (10km+), I have to go through some of the busiest intersections of Amsterdam (probably of the Netherlands) and I pass right by Central Station (for those who’ve been to Amsterdam, you know how busy it can get). Yet I can still do my commute in about 40~45 minutes. I don’t have to cycle super fast, I just don’t have to stop and wait a lot (and I didn’t even mention the energy lost on de- and accelerating).

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      Opus the Poet October 9, 2014 at 9:00 am

      Stop signs have been de facto traffic calming in the US for so long that most people don’t know how to react to a properly placed stop sign any more. Witness the number of wrecks where people come to a stop and then pull out in front of oncoming traffic on the through street, the stop signs with additional signs “crossing traffic does not stop”, and other such balderdash. The problem is the American culture of speed that seems to have bled over into every Anglophone country…

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