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Portland should be inspired by London’s ‘cycle superhighway’

Posted by on February 5th, 2015 at 10:41 am

superhwylead

No, this isn’t the NW Naito Parkway of your dreams, it’s a rendering of future bike ‘superhighway’ in London.
(Image: Transport for London)

“What if we just took that east lane on Naito Parkway and went ahead and made it into a bikeway? You know we really don’t need all those lanes on Naito Parkway.”
— Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, August 2014

As many of you already now, yesterday London Mayor Boris Johnson got the green light to move forward with what some are calling his “flagship policy to revolutionise cycling” in that city: a veritable “bicycle superhighway” right through Central London.

Why can’t Portland do this?

The cost of the two-way physically separated bicycle space on one of London’s major streets is $71 million. The project is part of Transport for London’s $6 billion “Road Modernization Plan” and it’s just a part of the $240 million that plan will spend on bikeways.

And this is real money and real commitment. With plans drawn up (PDF here) and a completion date (May 2016) and everything! It’s a far cry from our 2030 Bike Plan which — despite being widely mischaracterized by our local media as a $600 million investment — committed zero dollars to the projects within it and contains no real blueprint for moving forward.

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Back to the question: Why can’t Portland do this?

London has three key things Portland is seriously lacking at the moment: A unified vision for biking (the Transport for London plan), political leadership (Mayor Johnson has fought controversy to push this through), and most importantly, money (thanks to their congestion pricing program).

The other thing that strikes me about London’s plan is how much the concept drawings remind me of a Portland street where we could easily do a similar project. Take a look at the concept drawing again. Doesn’t it remind you of NW Naito Parkway along Waterfront Park?

Artist rendering of London cycle superhighway…

superhwylead

And NW Naito Parkway today…

naito-hwy

We could totally do that!

And it’s not like the idea is a pipe-dream. Not at all.

For years now, people have been eyeing NW Naito for some type of separated cycling facility.

Just last August, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales used the idea to curry favor with a bike-oriented crowd. He rode the Naito bike lane on the Policymakers Ride. Then in a speech that followed, he said, “What if we just took that east lane on Naito Parkway and went ahead and made it into a bikeway? You know we really don’t need all those lanes on Naito Parkway.”

I followed up with him about this comment later that day and he doubled-down, saying, “The Naito Parkway idea to me is a slam dunk. That’s a very compelling project and something we could do fairly quickly.” Hales added that PBOT has planning money (via Metro) to look into the project, but I haven’t heard a peep about it since.

The other reason PBOT should built a real bikeway on Naito is that the Parks Bureau has made it pretty clear that the path along the river isn’t meant to be used as an efficient transportation facility. Their new signs encourage “fast” riders to use NW Naito, but the 5-6 foot standard bike lane next to high-speed drivers isn’t adequately safe or comfortable.

Now that the Street Fee debacle is over on pause, and with this inspiration from London, perhaps it’s time for Hales to dust off those words and start putting them into action.

Speaking of inspiration, Ben Plowden, London’s Director of Surface Transport Strategy and Planning is coming to Portland two weeks from now. The BTA and Young Professionals in Transportation is hosting a ride with him on Thursday, February 19th.

I hope the ride rolls down Naito. And I hope Mayor Hales gets an invite.

– For more on this story, watch KGW News tonight at 4:00, 5:00 and 6:00 pm.

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

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Adam H.
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Adam H.

Yes please. An alternative to crowded Waterfront Park would be lovely. If the cycle track could extend all the way to the Fremont Bridge, even better. The stretch of Naito north of the Broadway Bridge is downright scary to ride on.

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

agreed… I hate that section after NW 9th where there’s 2 lanes… drivers are very often rude to bicycles taking the right lane… I’ve had people come within inches of me while motioning that I move over out of their way even though they have an entire other lane…

MaxD
Guest
MaxD

Agree AdamH! In fact, with the new housing and development along Front and the Pearl moving north, I think a safe lane all the way up Front to Kittredge would be forward-thinking and prudent.

Adam H.
Guest
Adam H.

I rode along Naito yesterday afternoon around 4:00 from 9th to the Steel Bridge. Most of the parking lane was empty. I understand this is anecdotal, but it shows that some sort of data collection on how utilized that parking is should be done. PBOT could turn the parking lanes into protected bike lanes without even removing car travel lanes.

Reza
Guest
Reza

Here’s an anecdote for your anecdote: Those parking lanes are pretty much fully occupied at night; most are probably Yards/McCormick Pier residents who didn’t want to pay for a off-street space.

Adam H.
Guest
Adam H.

Which brings up another question: why is PBOT (and by extension, the taxpayers) subsidizing people who don’t want to pay for parking in their building?

Tim Davis
Guest
Tim Davis

Adam, that would be my pick for comment of the week! 🙂 We *continue* to totally subsidize people who want to use PUBLIC streets to store their private cars 24/7! The livability of any true urban core is inversely proportional to the density of cars. This city needs to get the tiniest bit of political courage on SO many transportation and infrastructure fronts, but an obvious one is parking: simply force people to PAY to park in their buildings or in some private lot.

Anyone who thinks they can park their car right in front of where they live does NOT live in a major urban core. We are incredibly far from being a REAL city, but fortunately we have some surprisingly easy solutions available–ones that would save us $billions in long-term infrastructure costs. We just need leaders with political courage to do what will incredibly obviously benefit everyone, including those who solely drive cars (which sounds counter-intuitive but is totally true–ask any great visionary today: Brent Toderian, Jeff Speck, Gordon Price, Chuck Marohn, Darren Davis, Donald Shoup, etc). You very plainly see the benefit to ALL people when bike/ped infrastructure is improved to Dutch levels.

In many great European cities, the flow of people through the extended downtown areas (roughly double the area enclosed by I-5 and I-405) appears to be 5% (if not 0.5%) by car. Cities all over the world (and even many in the U.S.!) are being reclaimed by PEOPLE. The more I travel, the more I am painfully aware of how far behind Portland is. This bicycle superhighway could EASILY be done along Naito, like Jonathan says. As our biggest local company likes to say: “Just do it!!” 🙂

J_R
Guest
J_R

You are certainly right in defining money as one of the key ingredients necessary for implementation of any transportation system. However, congestion pricing is far from the only component of the UK’s financial element. The UK charges 2.19 Pounds ($3.63) per US gallon plus a 20 percent value added tax (VAT). The current price in the UK is a bit over $6.00 per gallon including taxes.

Even a reasonable per gallon gas tax would give us a bunch of money to implement some good stuff. A congestion tax would be icing on the cake.

MattD
Guest
MattD

Unfortunately, that will likely directly lead to the “why are car drivers paying for bike stuff” argument.

J_R
Guest
J_R

Just because an increase in the gas tax would lead to that argument doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue it. We could also implement plenty of “auto-only” “improvements” such as automatic speed enforcement, more red light cameras, access restrictions to keep driveways from proliferating, etc.

Scott H
Guest
Scott H

Put a big sign next to the cycle track that reads ‘paid for with income taxes lottery revenue, etc’

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

Matt,
The reason is clear. The *public* rights of way belong to all users. If the motor vehicles were not there, then the need for separate or delineated space would be greatly reduced or eliminated. It is the motor vehicle operator that is infringing on the rights of non-motorists by demanding to be able to drive fast in the public rights of way. As such, it is fair that those expecting higher mobility in a shared space, pay for the safety of those they are taking from.
It is a civil rights issue.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

“…It is the motor vehicle operator that is infringing on the rights of non-motorists by demanding to be able to drive fast in the public rights of way. …” paikiala

As a theory or an explanation of why road, highway, and street, posted speeds approve speeds traveled, they do, that’s very presumptuous, I think. The reasons for those posted speeds being what they are, is due to a top down push of ideas driven by a desire to maximize road carrying capacity and efficiency of travel and transport. Commonly accomplished and accompanied by undesired negative consequences to wide range functionality of roads, and to area livability.

Government has modern cities across the nation equipped with posted speed limits requiring that cars and trucks go fast to the extent that roads became hostile environments for anyone and anything not traveling in a motor vehicle. Bike lanes and cycle tracks adjoining roads, go some ways towards reversing the hostile environment that many busy modern roadways have become.

I think ideas that help to go beyond just providing bike lanes, to as well, help to restore hostile environments to more livable environments will naturally have an appeal to a much larger group than people looking to ride their bikes on the road.

Incidentally, does the phrase ‘Sunday Driver’ register familiarity with anyone reading here? That phrase is a throwback to days when not everyone felt obliged to, or wanted to drive fast.

Jim
Guest
Jim

I’d like to see the joggers and peds actively discouraged from using the new lanes then, so let’s make sure they have somewhere to go too.

rick
Guest
rick

Solid pedestrian infrastructure is the starting point for good bike infrastructure.

Rob
Guest
Rob

European cities have congestion pricing. They are starting to ban autos outright in core areas. They are starting to limit cars from school zones during arrive / depart times. They are either further along the transportation evolution than we, or they have a different relationship with the auto, or both. They just have more people who want it more.

oliver
Guest
oliver

What I find amusing is that even with their comparatively astronomical tax rates on fuel, they still have too many cars. Ie..high gas taxes don’t matter.

maccoinnich
Guest

As of the 2011 census, 64% of people in England & Wales use a car/van/motorcyle as their primary way to commute to work, 16% use public transport, 14% walk/cycle, 5% for work from home and 1% use some other mode. (http://bit.ly/16w2f5o). In the USA (2008-2014) 86.2% use a car/truck/van, 5% use public transport, 4.3% work at home, 0.6% cycle and 2.8% walk. (http://1.usa.gov/QklnLa)

While I doubt the tax rates on fuel are the only reason for the huge differences, I think it’s safe to say that they’re a major contributor and therefore very much do matter.

oliver
Guest
oliver

Fair point, our high rate of auto dependency is related to our low rate of fuel taxes, and the successful externalizing of the cost of motoring. Europe was largely built before the automobile and the design of their cities and public transportation infrastructure contribute to high utilization of public transportation in the very same way that ours wasn’t and does not.

davemess
Guest
davemess

Population density/ km^2
2010 2011 2012 2013

United Kingdom 259 261 263 265

United States 34 34 34 35

I’m going to go on a limb and say this might be more of a contributing factor.

maccoinnich
Guest

While I don’t density can be ignored as a factor, I think the fact that petrol is vastly more expensive in the UK than it is here is a much bigger factor. As an example – Massachusetts has a density of 324/km2 (22% denser than the UK as a whole) but still has 82.2% of its citizens traveling to work in a car/truck/vanpool (http://1.usa.gov/1C1pbC9).

In any case, you can’t really compare average density of the UK and the US because the figures for the US are skewed by the fact it has vast areas of wilderness and agricultural land where not many people live.

soren
Guest
soren

Ummm…several european nations “started” doing this things in a big way in the 70s.

RH
Guest
RH

Not to be a Debbie Downer, but I just don’t see this happening in Portland until the politics change a bit. I’d love to see something like this implemented though!

If Portland said the ‘street fee’ money would allow something like this to be built in 5 years, I would be all for it.

Charley
Guest
Charley

Ummm. Sorry to be Debbie Downer, but the concept drawings of that “superhighway” looks really tight! It looks narrower than the Springwater, which is not even in a densely people downtown environment. I’d be worried about meeting oncoming cycle traffic in a space that confined and surround by pedestrian spaces. Maybe it’s better than nothing, but it sure looks dangerous.

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

I checked the PDF and there are no lane widths… but I agree that it barely looks as wide as 2 bike lanes… certainly no room for passing…

soren
Guest
soren

The bike superhighway was significant narrowed due to motorist-freight objections over projected traffic delays. I recall reading that a few sections are only ~5 feet wide!

Alan 1.0
Guest
Alan 1.0

I like the Naito ideas but that title sounds like a whine every parent rolls their eyes at: “Bobby gets to do X! Why don’t I?”

Terry D-M
Guest
Terry D-M

Well, maybe if the city heard that this was a great idea from the public in large numbers, it would start momentum.

Make this idea part of the public record on the comprehensive plan here:
http://www.portlandmaps.com/bps/cpmapp2/#q1

Then comment on this “completed” project:

Naito Parkway Streetscape Improvements
Project Number: 20038

Let PBOT hear that we want this……this streetscape is substandard and needs to be FIXED.

bikey
Guest
bikey

If only Naito were connected to a thoroughfare that would allow easy biking to the western suburbs.

rick
Guest
rick

The Red Electric Trail will link from Alpenrose dairy to SW Slavin Road which connects to SW Corbett which connects to downtown.

invisiblebikes
Guest
invisiblebikes

I think naito is a little bit of a wasted location for a true Bicycle highway protected bike path, but if its the easiest and most sell-able way to get it done I would back it 100%

maybe it would open the doors to the real issue of needing a strong (safe) North/south route on the east side of the river… maybe MLK (south)/Grand (north) if they give us one lane from either of those? yeah I know that IS a pipe dream.. lol

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

For Naito Parkway, I like the idea of increasing the width from what they are now, of that road’s bike lanes. Hales idea about using the the entire east lane of Naito for a “bikeway” seems kind of radical on the face of it, but given that this road borders one of the city’s major parks, the idea makes some fairly good sense I think.

Visitors’ experience to and from Tom McCall Waterfront park and Downtown, suffers from excessive use of motor vehicles on Naito. Naito being a nicer road for people on foot to cross, could be one of the benefits to be had from devoting one of the road’s main lanes to being a cycle track.

Fewer motor vehicles in use on Naito, resulting in less noise, dirt and danger to vulnerable road users, while still allowing as many or more people to meet their travel needs using the road, may be possible with a cycle track on this road.

Also, of course, a major cycle track on this road, from some departure points, could be for biking, a simpler and faster route from SW to NW, than going through town itself.

Adam H.
Guest
Adam H.

Plus, Naito is flat.

invisiblebikes
Guest
invisiblebikes

Also I think another big issue is that a multi directional protected bike way would be an absolute disaster!
1) the traffic flow dynamics in the US would take years to adjust for a multi directional bike lanes.
2) Here in Portland it would be a PR nightmare just like N Williams has become because not only motorists would struggle with it… all the different speeds that bikes travel would be a huge conflict.
3) It would almost need to automatically be 4 lanes of protected travel and we would need to adopt a “slower traffic keep right” rule on it or “left lane for passing only” and you can only imagine the conflicts that would arise from that.
Look at N Williams even with its huge wide bike lane is already experiencing conflicts of riders at different speeds trying to pass and race off of lights (or cat sixing as its been coined) and then all the crossing streets and how to merge or cross the motor traffic lanes safely.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

If we are going to do a multi-directional lane, Naito would be the best place to start. There are very few vehicle crossings, as the majority of the roadway is adjacent to waterfront park.

soren
Guest
soren

I agree with this and I’m generally against bidirectional bike lanes.

rick
Guest
rick

North Williams has many cross streets. Northbound on Natio on the current bike lane has just one bridge on-ramp traveling eastbound on the Hawthorne.

Reza
Guest
Reza

“Their new signs encourage “fast” riders to use NW Naito, but the 5-6 foot standard bike lane next to high-speed drivers isn’t adequately safe or comfortable.”

This is where I mention that the Naito Gap (at the UPRR crossing/Steel Bridge ramps) is a significant impediment to improving this corridor. The major problem is that Naito is a bike lane to “nowhere”. Some sections of the bike lane are discontinuous and they are entirely absent past NW 9th or the Hawthorne Bridge.

One easy way to improve the street is to shut down the obsolete ramps at the Steel and Hawthorne bridgeheads. I wish they could remove the Morrison Bridge ramps too but that will get major pushback (and some of it is understandable) from Central Eastside freight interests who need to be able to get on I-5 southbound.

Jeff Bernards
Guest

To put things in perspective, London has 8 million people, Portland <1 million. There's a few more people paying into and using the London bikeways. High fuel taxes and congestion pricing doesn't hurt either!

rick
Guest
rick

We have dreams, too. Many including SW Trails are bold.

George H.
Guest
George H.

We can’t do this because when it comes to finding revenue, it instantly becomes a contest over which proposal is the most politically correct.

The initial plan for the street fee was easy to implement: stick it on the water bill, and have a low-income cut-off. But nope, we can’t do that! Instead the proposal turns into an eight-tiered income tax that requires creating a large bureaucracy to administer it.

Look at the revenue measures that London and the UK use (high gas tax, VAT tax, congestion fee). They are all somewhat “regressive”.

Portland won’t be able to agree on a revenue source, because we insist on this I’m-more-progressive-than-thou nonsense. Sometimes I think Portlandia is actually a documentary.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

“We can’t do this because when it comes to finding revenue, …” George H.

Don’t know how much it would be, but a cycle track on Naito, drawing on Hales’s idea, doesn’t sound like necessarily a very expensive project. So the funding may not be such a big deal.

This project could be something comparable in scale to the road diet for Barbur Blvd some people seek, but one that could gather far greater support due to the numbers of people Naito directly affected by it in traveling back and forth between the park and Downtown across Naito.

Except for grade elevation, if the desire was to go that direction, of the cycle track relative to the main lanes of the roadway, converting use of one of the road’s main lanes to bike lanes for a cycle track would simply amount to a reconfiguration of the road’s lanes. Basically, redrawing and repainting or marking lanes on the road.

Once people driving, arrive on Naito from either end of the road, at about Jefferson on the south, and adjacent to the Freemont Bridge, they’re essentially in town. The need for high, highway speeds between these points on this road, isn’t strong. I’d guess, the freight business would have some feelings about how this may or may not affect it.

rick
Guest
rick

Natio Parkway is a starting point to a better bike experience. It is bizzare that some governments tax cars based on engine displacement; the 2015 aluminum Chevrolet Corvette Stingray has a 6.2 liter V-8 and gets 19 mph city and 29 highway.

davemess
Guest
davemess

“The initial plan for the street fee was easy to implement: stick it on the water bill, and have a low-income cut-off. But nope, we can’t do that!”

We can’t do that because the city has been doing that for years and citizen’s don’t trust them anymore.

And why should road maintenance be linked to your water bill?

Andyc of Linnton
Guest
Andyc of Linnton

Awesome! I hope Portland can do some studies, take some transportation trips to look in to it, do a feasibility study, do some road capacity studies, ask the business community what they think about it, draw up some preliminary plans, then look in to how to possibly implement a design like this in 20-30 years.

rick
Guest
rick

build it today! The current Fanno Creek Trail has taken many years to develop.

m
Guest
m

Given the very close proximity of the car-free waterfront park, I would view this as a nice to have but definitely not a top priority. Even if it were installed I would still use the park.

rick
Guest
rick

What if the bike lane had no traffic lights?

Mark Nockleby
Guest

Are there no intersections with roads and cars on Lonon’s bicycle super highway?

Kevin Wagoner
Guest
Kevin Wagoner

Barbur!

rick
Guest
rick

The Red Electric Trail will have a connection to SW Slavin Road.

rick
Guest
rick

Naito Parkway needs improvements. I ride north on Barbur and take Naito Parkway over I-405 for the speed. The ruts and potholes are bad. A separated path for bikes is needed to move people more quickly.

rick
Guest
rick

Build a pedestrian / bike bridge from NW Front Ave to the University of Portland in North Portland!

gutterbunnybikes
Guest
gutterbunnybikes

I’ve long thought that Naito should just be swallowed into Waterfront Park between the Hawthorn and the Steel Bridge (though I’d let the Hilton keep it’s loading entrance). Though perhaps it should extend as far south as the Tilicum now.

There aren’t many businesses that really need Naito through there and those that are on it would likely benefit more from a huge outdoor plaza. The paved road section could be made into a plaza in which the festivals are held without tearing up the grass, with a bike path on it.

The area by the Steel (road and park) could be turned into an outdoor amphitheater. And you could add a few food trucks and perhaps a visitor’s center down there, skills track.

Never really understood why Pioneer Square is considered Portland’s living room. Way more people visit and enjoy Waterfront.

gutterbunnybikes
Guest
gutterbunnybikes

And I just remembered it’d make that new project being built in the spaces of the Morrison Bridge (sorry forgot the name) clover leafs much more accessible as well.

Champs
Guest
Champs

In this illustrated Utopia, nobody ever needs to make a turn or cross the street. Wedging any kind of “highway” between the city center and its waterfront sounds like a whole lot of history repeating.

Opus the Poet
Guest

All I have to say is I looked at the plans in the pdf release and was not impressed. Yes it is a protected bike lane for most of its length, but it is only “protected” between intersections. There is no bicycle priority at any intersection, there is at least one unprotected roundabout involved, and drivers can hook or cross the lane at every intersection. The only thing it has going for it is it is long and contiguous. Much of the “infrastructure” in the UK consists of a few meters of disconnected bike lanes stuck where ever they’ll fit and call it good. There is even a web site dedicated to highlighting how bad the infrastructure is, this month’s “winner” is a 2 meter bollard protected bike lane full of trash and debris. Portland has NOTHING to learn from London except how to waste large sums of money on extravagantly named crap. The “Barclay’s bicycle superhighways” of a few years back are 39″ wide strips of blue paint that are shared with cars, basically wayfinding aids that do nothing for safety. The only reason London has such a high bicycle mode share is bikes are the fastest way around town since average travel speed by motor vehicle is about 10 MPH except during “rush” hours when it drops to about 3 MPH. So theoretically they could triple rush hour travel speed by making the streets car-free and letting everyone walk or ride a bus or the Tube or ride a bike. Residential areas are plagued with “rat runners” speeding through the maze of streets in a vain attempt to go around the congested thoroughfares at speeds much higher than safe and driving on the sidewalks (or “pavements” as they are called in the UK) is common and mostly tolerated unless it’s done on a bicycle.

So, tell me again why emulating London UK is such a good idea?

maccoinnich
Guest

One thing that you might be missing is that the UK typically has (at least) four signal phases where two roads intersect: one for traffic in a N/S direction going straight; one for traffic in an E/W direction going straight; one for traffic turning; and for pedestrians to walk in every direction. Turning on red is illegal. There’s therefore no danger of being hooked at any intersections that has traffic lights. The disadvantage of this compared to a typical American two/three phase intersection is that all modes will spend more time waiting for their turn.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

Not to worry. Portland’s only two “super-” concepts seem to be “super-sidewalk” and “super-complicated”. I don’t think we’ll be emulating the UK any time soon, although a couple of true bike “superhighways” would be nice. After all, motorists have I-5, I-205, I-405, OR-217, OR-99W (OK, maybe that one doesn’t really count), I-84, and US-26.

Curtis Ailes
Guest

I will beat this drum again. The Cultural Trail in Indy, not so dissimilar. Former resident. It was awesome.

Build it and watching usage sore.

congokid
Guest
congokid

J_R
The UK charges 2.19 Pounds ($3.63) per US gallon plus a 20 percent value added tax (VAT). The current price in the UK is a bit over $6.00 per gallon including taxes.

Closer to $7 a gallon, and that’s only after a recent price drop of about 10p per litre.

So far the congestion charge only covers a small central portion of London and nowhere else.