“In a city where two-thirds of people surveyed support safer bike routes, we aren’t falling behind because of opposition, we are falling behind due to a failure to execute.”
Reading my share of the hundreds of terrific comments here over the last week, I’ve noticed a few assuming that because someone is advocating for biking improvements, it must be because those improvements would directly improve their own lives.
It’s hard to dispute that most of us here are motivated in part by self-interest. But this afternoon, reader Chris Anderson made an eloquent case for two big ideas:
- that bicycling investments are and should be popular because making bicycling fully mainstream actually has the potential to help create a generations-long era of success and prosperity here in Portland for riders and nonriders alike.
- that bicycling basically doesn’t have any organized enemies to speak of.
It’s a bold couple of claims, but I was inspired. See what you think.
My comment comes after doing a couple of years of on-the-ground research. There is no coherent opposition to biking in Portland. There are a bunch of reasons bike infrastructure gets shafted, but they aren’t coherent and there is no one who’s putting them together as a coalition.
Low mode share is not an argument. It may be a premise to an argument, but one could argue that funding split should equal (desired) mode share split as they have in San Luis Obispo. Even matching funding to existing mode share would be a step forward in Portland.
Some bike activists (myself included) are guilty of thinking and acting like there is an organized opposition, but the status quo is a much trickier foe than an organized opponent.
What I’m getting at by my comment that there is no anti-biking coalition in Portland, is that I think our failure to roll out infrastructure has to be looked at as a process failure. In a city where two-thirds of people surveyed support safer bike routes [pdf] we aren’t falling behind because of opposition, we are falling behind due to a failure to execute.
To make progress we need to keep the conversation on the big picture wins for Portland if we can successfully transition to a world-class bike system. To me there is nothing more economically valuable than quality of life: it’s how Portland will attract the best people (from around the world) to create the arts, culture and businesses, that mean winning in the 21st century.
When everyday Portlanders can easily picture all the ways they are missing out because we are stuck with 20th century infrastructure, those survey responses will become even more favorable. We can’t send everyone on study tours to Europe, so communicating and inspiring people about this vision falls to those of us who can see it. When folks finally realize that bike improvements cost a negative amount of money and benefit everyone (not just riders) we might be able to find a process that doesn’t focus on details like parking.
Anderson immediately followed up with this:
TLDR, the missed opportunity to me is the saddest. If we spent what we routinely spend on a single suburban highway exchange — let’s call it $100 million — on citywide awesome bikeness, it would lay the foundation for a golden age in Portland. Not just a biking golden age, a real generations-long worldwide leadership role for the city in arts, culture, technology, etc.
And we aren’t doing that bc local retail can’t see past “their” parking spots? Can we elect someone with spine, please?
Anderson’s plea for people who believe in bicycling and low-car life to look around us and see that (in his view) little is actually standing in our way reminded me in the best way of the end of one of my favorite Terry Gilliam movies.
Yes, we pay for good comments. We’ll be mailing a $5 bill to Chris in thanks for this great one. Watch your email!
Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.
“And we aren’t doing that bc local retail can’t see past “their” parking spots? Can we elect someone with spine, please?”
Exactly the problem. We don’t have leaders in our current city government. We have spineless politicians devoted to pandering just enough to every single person who whines so they can have a chance at re-election come the next cycle. We need leaders who are willing to make decisions that might be politically risky, but have the potential to transform Portland for the better.
When you are stating “Whine” dose also mean also the bicyclist. The independent store owner success or failer depend on flow of customers into there store from an outside source. With the graying of America it can become more difficult to get a sustainable flow of customers as shops in general might not sell products that are desired by the bicycle community along poor transit services can be a challenge to the business as a whole
I agree, great comment!
Every housing development that is allowed to be built without any on-site parking forces residents to park on the street. This will kill future efforts to remove parking for bicycling infrastructure.
I’m not saying that there needs to be 1 parking space per unit, but there needs to be some amount of on-site parking. Some people are always going to be driving and there will need to be somewhere for those cars to be stored.
Because NYC is such a great case for how a city won’t thrive without a car for each (or even a few) residential unit(s).
Of course they aren’t doing anything with bike infrastructure now either….
We don’t have the mass transit options that NYC has. Buses don’t count in my book, especially when there’s very few bus priority lanes and signals in Portland. They’re stuck in the same congestion as all other automobiles and they stop every other block in some places.
seen a MAX train lately? NYC doesn’t have an above ground train…
So I’d say we’re even.
Except for the Els.
when did Portland get a subway system?
Hey, we have one subway station…
And every development built with off-street parking increases traffic.
People moving to the area increase traffic, and the more desirable you make Portland, the more people will move to the area. Catch-22.
Are we talking about *car* traffic? Vancouver BC has seen an increase in population and a decrease in car traffic over the last 20 years. More people might move to an area, but car traffic only increases if they use cars.
I’m with Chris I. Every development with off street parking increases traffic and feeds a cycle of auto-mobility, while limiting the development potential of the land it sits on.
I’d rather have streets lined with parked cars and dense buildings, because the removal of parking will come naturally as a way to serve the majority of the population that walks, bikes and taking transit.
Personally, I find it sad and (perversely) funny that the 4-plex my wife and I live in has 6 residents, 3 off-street parking spots, and 2 actual cars. It’s a testament to Portland that my building isn’t using all of its 3 FREE off street parking spots. The parking minimums are so stupid and sad.
As someone who works for a company based there and has been shopping for property there for nearly a year now, I think you’ve picked a bad example. Yes, I’ve seen the Streetsblog article and city reports about a decrease in car traffic, but it’s debatable, and critics point out that what they really mean is a decrease in car *ownership* in the city proper. I suspect part of it is that Vancouver itself is insanely expensive – I own and live in a house in Silicon Valley and I still can’t afford to move there – and like here, a growing portion of that boom is from overseas money (specifically Chinese investors buying up properties without moving into them).
Vancouver is indeed continuing to grow rapidly – my business alone just added so many people we’ve overflowed our Georgia Street leased space and are shopping for another downtown office building. But ask just about anyone on the street in Vancouver during the workday where they live and they will tell you Surrey, North Van, Burnaby, Richmond, etc. Yes, there are many cyclists there, and I personally would take biking in Van over biking in downtown Portland any day, but you’d be hard pressed to convince me there’s been a decrease in car *traffic* in downtown Vancouver, even if there’s been a decrease in car *ownership*. When you saturate a city that has a reasonable transit infrastructure – and that city continues to grow jobs and desirability – that area will continue to grow but the density will give way to sprawl. I completely agree that the desirability of owning a car will decrease as well, but it definitely won’t disappear.
So no, I don’t buy into the notion that you can sustain double-digit growth rates in the densest city in Canada without adding automobiles to that area. Surrey, Port Moody, Langford, and Kelowna have growth rates that have outpaced not only Vancouver but every other city in Canada since 2012 or so (sorry, you’re on your own for links). But the businesses continue to grow in and flock to downtown Vancouver, more than the ‘burbs. That means sprawl and commuters.
If you guys are seeing vacant off-street parking spots in your housing in Portland that is fantastic – believe me, I’d love to see this everywhere too. But I’m also willing to bet that if you offered those spots up for weekly rent to a driver from, say, Beaverton or Hillsboro, they’d be swallowed up in a heartbeat. I personally doubt you’re seeing as big a growth in *car-free* households everywhere else as you are in Portland, but I may be wrong. Car and truck sales at record-breaking numbers seem to contradict that as well.
I only wish I’d bought in Gastown in 2012 when I had a gut feeling that might be a good idea… 🙁
BTW, one thing I LOVE about Van is that 2014 had the lowest pedestrian deaths on record, and that is because they are willing to invest in proper infrastructure, lots of red light cameras and enforcement and education campaigns and crosswalk stings, and lower speed limits. You can easily catch a bus or train to Whistler… oh, sorry, I said one thing. 🙂
You can’t move to Portland and increase traffic if you have nowhere to park your car. Once the street spots in a given neighborhood reach capacity, no more cars can be added unless off-street parking is built.
Hear, hear! Let’s not forget all the dynamic ways we can intervene, guide things, incentivize what we want more of, and penalize what we can’t afford.
The parking market isn’t that hyper local. Plenty of people with cars are willing to park down the street. Around the block. Even a few blocks away. So when an old house in a state of disrepair is torn down and replaced with a half dozen condos you don’t need to force the developer to build a parking lot. Let them look at the area, see what the parking situation is like. Maybe there is available unused off street parking nearby. Maybe there’s a shopping center a block away that never fills up. Or a fourplex down the block that has a spot the city said had to be built that’s never been used. Or maybe on street spaces are never less than 30% vacant, and that the street space wouldn’t be needed any time in the foreseeable future for a bike lane, transit lane, or wider sidewalk. The developer can see that and make arrangements to use existing off street parking, or decide tenants will be fine with the plentiful on street supply. Or (when zoning permits) build more but smaller units and market them to small one or two person households that are more likely to not own a car – 70% of carfree households in Portland are one person, another 20% are two people.
backwards… build every high-rise without parking and the streets will only allow a few cars so the majority of people won’t be able to own a car… then they’ll be ready for non-car improvements…
So when does that inflection point come? I’m still waiting for it in the half-century I’ve been alive…
Chris…nice ideas, but the bottom line is, road and parking infrastructure supporting use of motor vehicles, equates to income that individual people and families, business, cities, business depend on to make a living.
Though there’s those that question the investment, more people than they, support investing in bike infrastructure. The levies pass at election. My city, Beaverton, and Washington County, has a lot of it and is continually adding more. Portland too, of course, and I’m sure counties neighboring this city, watch intently to what extent Portland expands its biking infrastructure.
If bike enthusiasts are thinking that bike and pedestrian infrastructure should somewhat dramatically replace motor vehicle supporting road infrastructure, that idea sounds to me like a quantum leap a majority of residents far and wide would have to think long and hard about.
Not bad though, to keep giving the idea thought.
“If bike enthusiasts are thinking that bike and pedestrian infrastructure should somewhat dramatically replace motor vehicle supporting road infrastructure, that idea sounds to me like a quantum leap a majority of residents far and wide would have to think long and hard about.”
I think there are (at least) two schools of thought on this.
This comment and your reply are both about (1). One of these days, however, history may overtake us. At that point it will no longer be about ‘should’ but ”why did we wait this long?!’
“Constraint driven” again gets into initiatives that are not accepted by the general public, aka un-democratic decision-making. If active transportation folks actually came clean about constraint-driven and deliberate congestion, the public would explode with anger. So Leah Treat stays with buzzwords.
We have democracy for a reason and we can’t throw it under the bus to achieve a utopian dream that is not found outside this blog.
I am still waiting for proof that anyone has any luck changing their neighbors minds about any important lifestyle issue, especially when the conversation is very much “I am right, let me show you the light”.
That is bike evangelism- bikes will transform the world. And, judging by mode share for the past 8 years- very few are buying that position.
I don’t think you are hearing what I am saying.
“If active transportation folks actually came clean about constraint-driven and deliberate congestion, the public would explode with anger.”
The constraints I am talking about are exogenous, at least to the extent that burning up the last of the cheap oil & cooking the planet occur at such a large scale, that the blowback we are experiencing has nothing to do with our local preferences for alternative transportation investments, but with biophysical limits. This isn’t some pinko-scheme to take away your car, but a plausible scenario by which the conditions favorable to automobility disappear, cease to exist.
“We have democracy for a reason and we can’t throw it under the bus to achieve a utopian dream.”
Again, you are talking about something very different than I am. Coping with the disappearance of cheap automobility may (also) be a utopian dream, but chiefly it will be experienced as a calamity by those who are unprepared. Planning for this is what I’m talking about; getting over our hangups, our refusal to consider the possibility that tomorrow won’t be at all like yesterday.
“I am still waiting for proof that anyone has any luck changing their neighbors minds about any important lifestyle issue, especially when the conversation is very much ‘I am right, let me show you the light’.”
This is a fair and important point, but I don’t think what you are saying has any overlap with what I at least was suggesting. I am not interested in persuading anyone that they should do X because I do X; but rather that if they, both individually and more importantly collectively, hope to avoid unhappiness, being caught without viable way to get to work, for their food to get from the farm to their kitchen, with infrastructure that no longer aligns with the energy and climate realities of tomorrow-that-just-turned-into-today, we need to revisit how we think about our transportation priorities, our spending, our mode choices, what will work tomorrow and what won’t.
We can all continue to pretend that none of this applies to us*, that it will only hit people in Bangladesh or the Marshall Islands. But we would be foolish to do this.
*”…in our future dealings with the public, we were not to use the terms ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming.’ But it was OK to talk about sea-level rise, because for some projects that had to be taken into consideration.'”
There’s a fine line between “I am right, let me show you the light” and enjoying a carfree life and riding to school with your kids in all weather. I want to empower the people who are interested in the latter. The holier-than-thou attitude gets old quick, but mode-share can actually be infectious if it’s clear the people riding are having fun. I think that’s what investing in our infrastructure can do — make it easier to smile while riding, no matter what road you are on.
As far as the mode share objection you raise, I view our last round of infrastructure experiments, (from the Greenways to the sometimes mocked green bike boxes) as WILDLY SUCCESSFUL. If what we have today is the pilot program, then all signs point to TURN UP TO 11. If the humble and flawed work we did a decade ago has done so much good for the city, imagine what a real program would do?
Define “wildly successful” if mode share stagnates.
The mode share stopped growing when we stopped investing. Like I said, wildly successful pilot project.
Chris, there have been many infrastructure projects in the last 8 years of stagnation, so I am not buying your connection between infrastructure and bike commuting. My hypothesis is that weather, personal preference and the number of jobs that require a car are a natural ceiling on bike mode share growth. If you can point to facts that refute my hypothesis, I am all ears.
Amsterdam, the climate looks nearly identical, except for a bit more summer rain. Personal preference can change when faced with an easy bike ride or a hard/gridlocked car drive.
How many jobs actually require a car? Not just to get there, we can fix that with bikes and transit (and yes, a lot of money). 1 in 100?
Technically a Republic not a Democracy. There is a huge difference.
We elect officials to make these decisions. A true democracy wouldn’t work. You really wanna sit around and vote on every issue that sits in Congress, the state legislatures, local ordinances….etc.
We’d be so busy voting all the time the current Congress would appear to be working at the speed of light, and no one would have any time to build 4 story multi-use buildings.
“the bottom line is, road and parking infrastructure supporting use of motor vehicles, equates to income that individual people and families, business, cities, business depend on to make a living.”
Sure – at this moment.
But the whole point of planning, of being smart about things, is to devise ways to steer our ship in a sensible direction, so we can experience fewer regrets when the s#*t hits the fan. A predictable, steadily increasing tax on gasoline/or a carbon tax would provide exactly the kind of guidance that would steer us away from the sentence above.
Why do you think (a) nearly every other country on earth taxes their fuel higher than we do, and (b) the average household in nearly all of those countries nevertheless pays less for gasoline than we do here in the US? Because they figured out that providing alternatives to the car with the funds raised with those taxes made a heck of a lot more sense than our elected officials’ predilection for smearing honey in our ears by crowing for cheaper gas.
I’ve posted this before but I think it still bears revisiting:
“[9/13] the U.S. ha[d] the world’s 50th highest gasoline prices, but the fifth highest proportion of annual income spent on gas purchases.”
Every dollar not sent to Exxon and Ford Motor Credit is a dollar that stays in the local economy. Growing Portland, not shareholders.
I have been saying exactly this privately since I moved here two years ago. I agree with Chris Anderson on all points.
As a CPSLO graduate and resident of San Luis Obispo for 7 years (it’s hard to leave that place – Jonathan, we may have raced together in the WCCC), when I heard about the new city transportation funding plan, I was blown away. It’s an incredibly powerful statement and vastly bolder than anything Portland has done. As Chris stated in his award-winning comment, a single car-centric project could fund an entire city’s bike/ped master plan for a decade (stretch, but maybe). SLO ain’t PDX (different size, industries, etc.), but something approximating that commitment to funding mode share based on intended usage could be done, if our elected leaders had a less myopic vision of our future.
“What I’m getting at by my comment that there is no anti-biking coalition in Portland, is that I think our failure to roll out infrastructure has to be looked at as a process failure.”
I strongly disagree. The media and most especially the Oregonian (a rag run by an OC conservative and owned by republican billionaires) has very successfully waged war on transportation cycling. Heck, our politicians are now afraid to even talk about bike transportation in public. IMO, we have been losing the battle for public opinion and losing it badly.
Moreover, transportation cycling, like light rail, has become an important wedge issue in North American “culture wars”. Money spent on cycling has become a rallying point for those opposed to increased taxation and a broad role for government in society. Pretending that this is not and has been happening is a dangerous form of denial. The extreme right has very successfully made transportation cycling an argument about taxes instead of about livability and sustainability.
How do we fight organized opposition to spending tax money on cycling? We need to push back and get political. IMO, portland needs to change it’s advocacy emphasis: more activism and less bike fun.
My hope (maybe I said this in one of my other comments) is that we can raise awareness of “bikenomics” to the level of common sense, so that people see human friendly infrastructure as economic investment that just makes sense. http://www.strongtowns.org/ is doing a great job of taking this message to mainstream America. I think Portland can be more progressive than that.
The opportunity costs are staggering when you start to picture what we could achieve in just 2 or 3 years if we built toward a shared vision instead of around divisive details. Imagine European-style protected lanes on all the commercial strips, plus a complete Greenways network turned up to 11 (with more diverters and move the speed bumps to the cross streets before the stops signs, so the occasional stop-sign blowing driver isn’t an advertisement for why you shouldn’t let kids ride alone on the Greenway), plus all the innovative stuff we’ll come up with b/c we are Portland.
I’m not naive enough to think that we could just flip a switch and turn Portland into Groningen overnight. But it’s important to keep in mind that actually we could, and it would (more than) pay for itself almost as quickly as we can build it.
“…and it would (more than) pay for itself almost as quickly as we can build it.” Chris Anderson
Will it pay for itself by replacing the need people presently have for the use of motor vehicles to get to stores, schools, their jobs, the doctor, as well as sustaining the movement of goods and services? Those things are a fundamental block in the foundation of the economy, the sustaining of which, society generally regards as a priority over designing and building bike infrastructure.
There may be many more people than is well known, that would like not to have to drive almost absolutely everywhere they need to go. Long story short: my feeling, is that they know they got to pay the bills, and that they feel that bikes and bike infrastructure prioritized over infrastructure supporting use of motor vehicles, just isn’t gonna cut it.
In city hall, it helps to have champions of unconventional ideas with a high potential benefit. They can’t proceed with idealistic projects entirely on their own though, because they’re accountable to voters, bosses and so on. They need public support for those adventurous ideas in order to proceed. The fact that city hall has not so far been even able to conceive of or start to build a single link of a citywide cycle track system, indicates what the level of support for that sort of thing currently is.
People on the grassroots level, pitching such ideas, is essential. Eventually, Portland may come around. My city, Beaverton, right on the shoulder of Portland, may too. The soul and spirit of biking, and walking, knows that Beaverton could stand huge improvements in the quality of infrastructure of that sort.
“Will it pay for itself by replacing the need people presently have for the use of motor vehicles to get to stores, schools, their jobs, the doctor, as well as sustaining the movement of goods and services? ”
A fair question. What do you think?
Obviously (to me) we’re going to find ourselves there eventually, so delaying the investment makes no sense. Others, I’m sure, take a different view of the inevitability of the looming end of our present overreliance on the automobile. But what we do know is that, dollar for dollar, spending on bike infrastructure is a better bet than just about any other way we might spend our transportation funds. This is a long term prospect, and taking too short a view of the cost-benefit won’t serve us well in my opinion.
I was hoping Chris would take a shot at answering that question. My answer basically alludes to the sustainable community concept which periodically goes in an out of current conversations. I think it’s definitely possible to conceive, design and build communities that can be fundamentally functional using street infrastructure that prioritizes walking and biking, if enough of the essential components essential to make them viable, are included.
What ‘viable’ in this instance, means to me, is that such a community can’t work if ‘x’ percentage of residents require the daily use of a car on the communities’ streets, to get things done. What’s the percentage number? I don’t know.
The idea of a cycle track for Foster Rd, somewhat considered, is one I like to think over. If such infrastructure really were considered to represent a serious possibility of having hundreds, thousands of people decide to take to a bike to get to work, whereas otherwise, they’d be driving, why would the city, and its people, not want to build that kind of infrastructure? Such infrastructure, as such, could help provide the type of community functionality I think many people, believe is essential to meet the needs of people in cities whose population continues to grow.
The fact is though, I think, that the idea such infrastructure could be such an essentially integral, functional, and commonly desirable component of communities, probably seems like quite a stretch of imagination to most people that have always had to drive wherever they need to go. And that’s a big percent of the population.
Without arguing over how much bike infrastructure would benefit old-time Portland drivers by inducing them to actually *ride a bike on it* I think the case can be made for a Portland golden age. Eg let’s say we copenhagenized Foster with full-on http://www.protectedintersection.com/ etc. The very next thing that would happen is it would explode in Division-style development. Some folks don’t like density but it’s our only chance to keep Portland affordable. So let’s call it even on the pays-for-itself question.
How would Portland fare, for having attracted the kinds of people who want to live near protected intersections? The answer is that we already are attracting them in droves, and it’s been great for the city.
“The very next thing that would happen is it would explode in Division-style development. Some folks don’t like density but it’s our only chance to keep Portland affordable. So let’s call it even on the pays-for-itself question.”
Is this really how it works? Is Portland more affordable today than it was three years ago? Will it be more affordable in five years after ~1,500 or 15,000 rental units in apartment buildings have been added to the corridors?
As for paying for itself, I assume you are talking about SDCs and the like offsetting the bike infrastructure costs? But that is also not how it works. Development does not pay for itself; it is heavily subsidized by us the taxpayer, quite apart from any bike infrastructure you and I might like to see on Foster.
“Without arguing over how much bike infrastructure would benefit old-time Portland drivers by inducing them to actually *ride a bike on it* …” Chris Anderson
You may want to go ahead and clarify what your intention was in writing “…old-time Portland drivers…”, because what you’ve written sounds myopic and disrespectful.
In order for walking and biking infrastructure to become a functional component meeting a city’s transportation needs, the concept supporting that kind of infrastructure really needs to go far beyond simply being an attractive ‘livability’ amenity that looks good in pictures.
It’s infrastructure that can work for people, including many people that currently drive, because they feel bike and walk infrastructure designs to date, cannot sufficiently allow them to meet their travel needs with a bike.
I think many people would benefit if busy thoroughfares such as Foster Rd, had companion cycle tracks that were part of a citywide basic cycle track system. I question whether people really want to be living along roads, busy with heavy automobile use, such as Foster. Four or five blocks away from the thoroughfare, probably. A cycle track on the thoroughfare could support a residential neighborhood five blocks away, quite well I suppose.
I am not suggesting those folks don’t matter, and I’m not trying to be dismissive of their outlook. I am just arguing that the case could be made for radically successful redesigns without delving into hairy details about just who exactly will change commute modes.
It’s hard for me to imagine us copenhagenizing SE Foster, and not inducing at least a few of the residents to use it. I’m just arguing that it would be successful (for non-riders also) even if the usage by existing residents was lackluster. And Foster is not some special example. You can throw darts at a map and hit places that would be better neighborhoods if we made these radical changes.
“…I am just arguing that the case could be made for radically successful redesigns without delving into hairy details about just who exactly will change commute modes. …”
Without some strong idea of a percent of people driving that could consider biking instead, if their were sufficient biking infrastructure for doing so, I think support to conceive, design, build and get funding for infrastructure such as cycle tracks, will be very hard to come by, here in the Metro area.
I feel certain there’s a good number of people driving on the road, every day, that could and would bike if sufficient infrastructure for them to do that, were there. There’s no way to really know exactly who these people are, but by looking at things such as where they live, work, shop, and go to school and church a good guess may be possible.
“if we built toward a shared vision instead of around divisive details.”
I don’t see anyone with political power or a bully pulpit willing to advocate for this. So, if you are correct that the majority favor a bike build out, how do we elect people willing to go to bat for active (and public) transport? I don’t think we will get to 10% ACS mode share until we answer that question.
I think this absolutely has to be THE GOAL for the 2016 election cycle. Mobilizing the bike community along with the silent majority to elect somebody who actually WILL use the billy pulpit in this way.
Great comments indeed, and not just relevant to Portland. We could substitute most cities in the US and it all would still apply.
“Some bike activists (myself included) are guilty of thinking and acting like there is an organized opposition, but the status quo is a much trickier foe than an organized opponent.”
This comment struck me the most, because as a winter driver (I don’t like to drive on Portland roads in the dark and rain) and a summer rider – I am both a bike advocate and a car realist. But the press and the activists seem to set up an “either or” conversation.
The NE Williams Project is a great example of a very complex situation. There was car congestion, scary bike-car-pedestrian situations (and bus) before the the narrowing to a single lane and “irregular” placement of bikes on the left-side of the street.
This project seems like a perfect case for re-thinking of what shared-usage means. For me, it doesn’t have to be shared-usage on the same street, it could be focused car/bus traffic and safe pedestrian crossings on one street (Williams) with optimized bike traffic on a close parallel street (the Rodney Bikeway Project). I’m not clear why so much effort, and presumably money, was spent on keeping all modes of transportation on one street.
It makes me wonder if there was a reactionary component to the current N Williams solution because of an assumed need to satisfy two opposing factions, that don’t really exist. Ultimately don’t we all (bikers/drivers/peds) want to get to where we’re going in the easiest, safest way possible.
“Not just a biking golden age, a real generations-long worldwide leadership role for the city in arts, culture, technology, etc.”
The line above, I think, is a key point. Let me go even further:
Portland’s economic growth ABSOLUTELY DEPENDS on SIGNIFICANTLY BETTER bike infrastructure.
I’m speaking as someone from the technology economy, although I think we can mostly agree that the technology economy, at this point, is a significant contributor to overall economic growth. So growing Portland’s technology economy should create a “rising tide” that raises the city’s economic prospects generally (and increase support for arts and culture).
But Portland’s technology economy, in and of itself, simply can’t compete with San Francisco, or even Seattle. The sheer amount of money in both of those cities makes growing a technology company there significantly easier – to say nothing of the depth of talent pools, the existing infrastructure benefits, etc.
So given that Portland can’t compete on a financial level with its oh-so-close neighbors to the north and south, it needs another factor to grow. And it already has that factor: livability.
Portland can attract an incredibly deep talent pool of creators simply because of its superior livability. An hour and change to the people’s coast, to Mt Hood, great food and drink, etc etc. We all know why we live here. But key to Portland’s iconic status as a livable city (perhaps America’s “most livable city”) is its bike infrastructure. Which, to be honest, has always been more myth than reality. But that’s why the loss of Portland’s bike mojo has been even more damaging than any particular “real” infrastructure change. Portland’s economic growth depends upon a perception by outsiders of being a forward-thinking, pedestrian-oriented city. In the past, newcomers to the city (myself included) had a mindset of – maybe PDX isn’t Copenhagen yet, but if you squint hard enough at the future, you can see something like it! But that vision is increasingly lost.
Better bike infrastructure (and pedestrian-oriented development) is a fairly affordable win with an absolutely outsize impact on Portland’s economy. Livability is the key draw for creative talent, building a self-reinforcing cycle of economic growth that spills into all areas of the city. And nothing says livability like 20 minute neighborhoods linked by a world class bike system.
“Portland […] needs another factor to grow.”
Except that some of us have no interest in Portland growing in any dimension (physically, economically, demographically). I’m with you on the desirability of transforming the transportation infrastructure—it’s livability benefits—but don’t understand why we need to couple this to growth of the sorts you describe.
I hear what you’re saying; Portland certainly has shown a mixed record on how intelligently its grown. I think Portland’s growth is inevitable, as a reality of larger demographic trends; HOW it grows is the question.
Betting on livability (in this case, through smart investments in people-oriented infrastructure) can influence the form of Portland’s growth into something with positive effects artistically, economically, and culturally, in the most accessible / equally distributed way possible.
“I think Portland’s growth is inevitable, as a reality of larger demographic trends; HOW it grows is the question.”
“So growing Portland’s technology economy should create a ‘rising tide’ that raises the city’s economic prospects generally (and increase support for arts and culture).”
You’re muddling two very different views of growth in your comments.
(1) Growth as something inevitable, a force pushing in on us from outside, or from below due to our own fecundity vs. (2) growth as a social and political objective.
If we aren’t keen on (1), however inevitable it may seem to some, we can/could take steps to discourage it, modulate it, problematize it. And we certainly wouldn’t try to accelerate it, subsidize it, celebrate it as in (2), treat growth as the (only) key to unlocking a vibrant society.
9watts, I think we agree on the unsustainability of our current economic system but I don’t understand your vehement opposition to density in urban areas. It’s possible to advocate for economic/societal growth* that does not assume increased population/resource use while at the same time seeking to decrease the footprint of the remaining (and hopefully decreasing) billions.
*much of our GDP and “gross national happiness” is not based on physical widgets or things we produce/consume so GDP and GNH are not dependent on more stuff and more people.
“I don’t understand your vehement opposition to density in urban areas.”
I don’t think I’ve objected to density here in my comments. I have gone on record as approving and appreciating the makeover Division St. has recently gotten in the low thirties. I have celebrated all the no-off-street-car-parking apartment buildings going up in various parts of the East Side. I absolutely love Eli Spevak’s projects and ideas he wrote about here recently. My point, rather, has been that the tradeoff, exemplified by jeg’s comments here: you either are for sprawl or for density is a false dichotomy; one borne of an unquestioned acceptance—celebration even—of growth for its own sake. I think density can be managed well. But without questioning growth-as-our-political-objective we’re always going to be picking up the pieces, trying—and failing—to catch up.
“It’s possible to advocate for economic/societal growth* that does not assume increased population/resource use while at the same time seeking to decrease the footprint of the remaining (and hopefully decreasing) billions.
*much of our GDP and “gross national happiness” is not based on physical widgets or things we produce/consume so GDP and GNH are not dependent on more stuff and more people.”
You’ll need to explain that a bit more, because my understanding is exactly the opposite. As a long time student of Herman Daly’s I would argue that growth in economic output, as measured in GNP, is in practice inseparable from growth in depletion of clean water, clean air, stable atmosphere, fisheries, forests, minerals, metals, fossil fuels, etc. Notwithstanding all the talk of decoupling, on the whole growth has and continues to be accompanied by drawdowns of all the important stocks of what we glibly call resources. Show me an example that points in a different direction.
Growth in the number of people is a different but parallel threat to ecological stability. Our problem is that we continue to celebrate, pursue, incentivize, subsidize growth in both people and economic throughput. I do not understand why we continue to do this when we know the consequences.
“I would argue that growth in economic output, as measured in GNP, is in practice inseparable from growth in depletion of clean water, clean air, stable atmosphere, fisheries, forests, minerals, metals, fossil fuels, etc.”
A significant fraction of economic activity is based on services, content, information, or fiat money. These ephemeral “products” can have a lower impact on habitat, resources, and our shared environment.
“A significant fraction of economic activity is based on services, content, information, or fiat money. These ephemeral ‘products’ can have a lower impact on habitat, resources, and our shared environment.”
I’d put the emphasis on ‘can.’ Computers were also supposed to put an end to paper use—which has instead skyrocketed. But it is also important to remember that even though our economy is less reliant on manufacturing as it used to be, those products are still being made – just somewhere else: We import almost everything physical these days. On balance, it is my understanding that both GNP and depletion, at pretty much any scale we’d choose to analyze, have continued to climb. Decoupling that is bandied about so much tends to be relative: GNP may in some places grow faster than resources are depleted, but the trend for both is still in the same direction as before decoupling. The impact may be lower but there’s still an impact, and the buffer we once thought we had keeps shrinking.
“I[..] believe a large fraction of our economic product can be directed towards minimizing our impact on our shared environment.”
There’s the question of what share of our economic activity could be redirected, and there’s the question of economic growth as political objective. On the first, I would like to agree tentatively with you. But I don’t see the possibility of relocalizing our economic activity (local food production, eliminate fossil fuels, human powered transport, etc.) while pursuing economic growth. Any success within the former realm will almost instantly be negated and overwhelmed by success in the latter.
I come from a “bright green” and “reconciliation ecology” perspective and believe a large fraction of our economic product can be directed towards minimizing our impact on our shared environment.
So I looked up “bright green” and I have to say I’m skeptical of the concept that technical change can drive sustainable business. On the contrary! Almost every leap in technology quickly obsoletes past technology and produces waste as a result – eWaste recovery techniques do not result in 0% landfill, unfortunately. On top of that, much “services” growth has primarily been in information technology, and we’ve truly reached a data-driven age. While communications algorithms have improved bandwidth utilization (but see my first point!), modern “services” require more and more bandwidth which requires, yes, more and better physical infrastructure (virtualized servers and storage, copper/fiber, back-haul transceivers with gallium arsenide-based amplifiers, you name it) to accommodate that bandwidth.
Frankly, 9watts’ paperless office analogy is merely the tip of the iceberg, unfortunately. Even our little banter here by text probably killed salmon in the Columbia River, if you think about how my message (and Jonathan’s ads) got to you.
Petrochemical energy and industrial animal agriculture are the top two contributors to ACC (by a large measure). There are entirely feasible alternatives to both of these NOW.
“There are entirely feasible alternatives to both of these NOW.”
One could argue that there are technical alternatives (bike vs car, veggie over hamburger) but the devil is in the details. How do you get from here to there (technically, economically, logistically, culturally, behaviorally)? In theory we could all bike and become vegetarians tomorrow: pump up the tires, eat greens, but you know as well as I do that it doesn’t work quite like that. And heating, cooking, lighting, communicating without fossil fuels, that is going to take a few generations.
This is an interesting conversation. In my other other life I’m advocating for a currency where value is based on human connection http://www.wired.com/2014/07/document-coin/ as I don’t really like Bitcoin’s style.
9watts, I think I agree with your perspective except I think people will always call it “growth.” It’s just a matter of redefining what we mean by that. Growth in number of hours spent in nature by children. Growth in percentage of population reporting a good night’s sleep. I’m hopeful that we are on track for following a path 9watts would applaud, but my reasons are aesthetic not environmental http://www.generation-online.org/p/fp_bifo5.htm
However, there is one kind of growth we can not stop, we can only make it better or worse. And that is the influx of people into Portland. The word is out that we exist, our weather is nice, and if you are moving from one of the many places that are already way more expensive than us, it’s a bargain.
We can choose — if we choose density (I love ADUs/small houses but they aren’t the whole answer) then we can keep Portland a place where everyone can afford to bike. Let’s avoid the San Francisco outcome by acknowledging that Portland will continue to attract people no matter what we do.
My main argument here is that by building out a bike “Apollo program” today we’ll shift the balance of the kind of people we attract in the coming decade to be magnitudes more favorable, in terms of people who will give back to Portland and not just consume it.
TLDR: Portland is gonna get overrun by rich people no matter what we do, but if we put up enough top-quality bike infrastructure today, maybe it’ll scare off the worst of them, and make room for density and economic diversity. It’s reasons like this that make me support things like $15 minimum wage, as well.
I don’t think we’re particularly far apart on most of these issues, Chris. I just think we can and must be more careful how we situate our hopes and dreams within other conversations such as growth, density, affordability, etc.
“Let’s avoid the San Francisco outcome by acknowledging that Portland will continue to attract people no matter what we do.”
Perhaps, but you might concur that if our city leaders and state officials also agreed with this perspective they might be less inclined to continue subsidizing this in-migration, this growth to the tune of ~$1B/yr.
But since we have all grown accustomed to this ongoing subsidy, this enslavement to growth in everything, we don’t really know whether your statement above is necessarily true. We don’t know what leaving off that $1B in annual subsidies would translate into. Would our town sink into the muck, cease to be groovy, wither on the vine? Or would we be in a position to invest those $1B in the very things we both think would improve the livability, the safety, the potential for expanded reliance on nonmotorized transport here in the place we call home?
“…But key to Portland’s iconic status as a livable city (perhaps America’s “most livable city”) is its bike infrastructure. Which, to be honest, has always been more myth than reality. …” Justin Reidy
Well, proving that a good bit of Portland’s livability arises from good bike infrastructure, is more reality than myth, is the big challenge. Portland has a lot of hodge podge bike infrastructure. So does Beaverton. Looks great in pictures, but for a lot of people, actually riding it? Different thing entirely.
Wild ideas that actually have a lot of promise, can work, if the person or persons championing them have a vision that ordinary people can relate to, once they hear and understand. Momentum and support can be built that way. The bike has got to have wheels to go very far.
I think the bike organizing community could do a better job at organizing advocacy. I would love to have more separated bike paths and biking infrastructure. Tell me when to send the letter!!
Atention bikers in Spain: Trampas Salvajes contra Ciclistas: http://youtu.be/g-rsBMT9_dU
“. . .Will it pay for itself by replacing the need people presently have for the use of motor vehicles to get to stores, schools, their jobs, the doctor, as well as sustaining the movement of goods and services? Those things are a fundamental block in the foundation of the economy, the sustaining of which, society generally regards as a priority over designing and building bike infrastructure. . .”
There is clear support of bikes _arriving_ at businesses. For their own reasons, Portland business owners request bike corrals to replace motor vehicle parking outside their doors. This is a real world indicator of the economic impact of bikes that cannot be denied. It’s a step from parking, which has a clear local impact, to bike route improvements which benefit the area in a more diffuse way.
Ask business owners if they would like more bike traffic to their district?
“Ask business owners if they would like more bike traffic to their district?”
Maybe don’t start asking on 28th, though. 🙁
Chris’s COTW, perhaps COTY, is spot on.
Cycling in Portland means so many different things to different people, but at its core, beneath the idealism, the angst, the memes and the Oregonian click bait, cycling is central to maintaining prosperity and quality of life in Portland as it grows. It is simply one of the most practical ways to fit more and more people into a limited space without destroying the joy of living in a city. And it feels good, is healthy, costs less, zero emission etc… -essentially a small daily antidote for many of the afflictions of contemporary American life. I actually find it painful to list the virtues of cycling on bikeportland, because they are so obvious to people who ride bikes.
Portland’s rise as a cycling icon has created a lot of conceptual capital that has become synonymous with Portland. This conceptual capital has also been turned into economic and political capital, to the advantage of many. It is fascinating that businesses and individuals who do not advocate for cycling or who oppose cycling advocacy also benefit from the prominence of Portland’s cycling culture.
The Oregonian has cultivated its own special salacious exploitation of bike-fear that suits their current high volume, low value business model. A couple of weeks ago, a state legislator exploited anti-bike sentiment in his district by invoking the dangers that cycling at night poses to drivers. In the end, pretending to be a safety advocate for a day will probably work in his favor. One of the better examples of a business that benefits from cycling but has opposed development would be a certain movie theatre. This theater does not own enough private parking for its patrons and greatly benefits from people walking or biking to their business, especially as the neighborhood parking resources are consumed by new apartment development and tenants. But, when an opportunity arises to build sufficient cycling infrastructure for that area, the theater owner refuses for the city to sacrifice a few public parking spaces and pressures the city and his neighboring businesses into opposing the new cycling infrastructure.
Besides the cartoonish anti-cycling internet trolls, the occasional encore from the Portland Business Alliance, and the Flintstone’s-era mentality of ODOT, the above is what opposition to cycling looks like in the Portland area. It is unorganized, and it usually pops up around a specific issue where there is a fear of shifting the travel mode share away from cars.
Why does the city-for-cars status quo continue to succeed and access for cycling and walking is funded with crumbs of the transportation budget? Like Chris, I don’t believe that the answer is “democracy.” There is a collective understanding in Portland that safe, 8-80, vision zero transportation infrastructre is essential to Portland’s future, and cycling is at the heart of that. It is a tremendous return on investment and a key way to preserve quality of life.
Maybe, the reason that the status quo succeeds is because the greatest resource that cycling advocates have, which is the commonly held belief that “bicycling is good for Portland,” has not been adequately focused on influencing Portland leadership.
The current leadership of Portland enjoys using the idea of cycling and walking infrastructure as political capital for their benefit, but when it comes to standing up for meaningful infrastructure they disappear when there is opposition. And, there is little to no political cost for their inaction. Like many of us, they probably believe that the opposition to cycling is cogent and significant, despite the reality that, in Portland, it is not.
What is the best way to consolidate the shared pro-bike sentiment in Portland into meaningful action and leadership? I imagine that the organized professional cycling advocates in Portland must think about this. I imagine that the volunteers do as well, but I also wonder how much the specter of the overblown anti-bike coalition (that does not exist) diminishes our efforts. Do any of the advocacy groups try to create a comprehensive list that includes all Portlanders who support improvements in cycling in Portland in general? I would love to see a map of all the cycling advocacy efforts in Portland, what they do, how they relate to each other, etc.
Safe transportation is a resource for daily life, and especially in a city, it is a shared and sometimes scarce resource. Elected officials should consider how this resource can best be preserved and shared by everyone. Cycling and walking should be viewed as a means of multiplying space and safety and not merely a luxury that quirky Portlanders choose. Maybe if we realized the magnitude of this shared value that we all take for granted, Portland would take the step from low-hanging-fruit changes to a transportation system that took leadership and will to create. : )
The status Quo remains because most people aren’t by nature comfortable with change, conformity is the rule, and last but not least mentally lazy.
It’s pretty much that simple.
You can always add bus lanes and rationalize stop spacing.
You could say that some cities are ready for European-priced gasoline–and other cities deserve it.
Chris – great points. I hear you on missed opportunities. If you could redirect a major, locally-funded transportation project directly to bike awesomeness without spending a huge chunk on a bridge, tunnel, or right of way in the Portland area, you’d be a hero.
How do you sell it though? From a typical project manager’s perspective, and frankly the vast majority of road users, cycling has no issues with delay or capacity….so that leaves safety. They just check a box that says to us “Yep,we added bike lane that meets agency standards. Cyclists should be safe and happy.” There’s no discussion about the “interested but concerned cyclist” or why separating bikes and 45mph cars with paint might be an un-awesome idea.
You sell the sizzle not the steak. In this case we could plea for safety and comfort (for an invisible minority – the people a given improvement would induce to ride), or we could rally Portland business, school, family and political organizations around stepping up to the plate for a home run (seizing our opportunity for a Golden Age — and in time for our kids to grow up in it.)
Until we’ve demonstrated clearly that there is coherent and widespread urgency for livable streets in Portland, city leaders can act like politics is tying thier hands. Once the cat is out of the bag, they are gonna be playing catch-up!
“There is a collective understanding in Portland that safe, 8-80, vision zero transportation infrastructre is essential to Portland’s future, and cycling is at the heart of that. It is a tremendous return on investment and a key way to preserve quality of life. ”
Where’s proof that East Portland agrees with you re: cycling at the heart of Portland’s future? Why are there so many cars? Why has bike commuting stagnated city-wide? Why is biking not catching on among communities of color- or are they not part of Portland?
In my opinion, East Portland can not continue to act as a suburb. Inner east Portland can not sustain continued road widening and high speed dangerous roads for the convenience of commuters. East Portland may not agree, and may be dragged kicking and screaming into it, but unless we want all of Portland to look like Houston, something needs to change.
Why are there so many cars? Well, most of the roads are very unfriendly to ride on.
Awesome how East Portlanders are again treated like serfs. Downtwn values to be imposed on the working class and the non-whites even if they “kick and scream.” East Portland is discussing secession and this is why.
58 percent of East Portlanders say they’d be more willing to support a street fee that included protected bike lanes, compared to 64 percent of all Portlanders. (The most agreement on this stat by geography was westsiders, 58 percent.)
33 percent of East Portlanders rate “safer bike routes” as 6 or 7 on a scale of transportation needs, on a scale of 7. That compares to 37 percent of all Portlanders. (Highest percentage on this: Portlanders between the river and 205, 39 percent.)
20 percent of East Portlanders rate “safer bike routes” as a 1 or 2, compared to 19 percent of all Portlanders.
Margin of error 3.5 percent.
“Many people, when participating in surveys, give materially Dishonest Answers to the interviewers. They are especially likely to do this when they fear that their true opinion or situation is not “politically correct.” This phenomenon is known as social desirability bias. “http://www.marketing-metrics-made-simple.com/dishonest-answers.html
I think what people do is more instructive than what they say.
“I think what people do is more instructive than what they say.”
…and sometimes what people do is artificially constrained by their environment, which gives very little in the way of choice.
You’ve got no more of a leg to stand on making your assertion here than Michael has in citing survey results.
I think The statement that you quoted is probably a fact, although there would be many different ways to measure a vague term like “collective understanding.” Perhaps what you were asking for are references that would support this idea. In full disclosure, I was less interested in writing a persuasive argument and more interested in understanding how bike advocacy currently works and could be more effective in Portland. There are many well-referenced articles, like the one that Michael mentions, that make the case for broad support for cycling.
Otherwise, I think that bicycling has plateaued in Portland because cycling infrastructure has reached capacity. Not that it is overly-filled with bicycles, but that the current infrastructure is suitable for a certain demographic of cyclist and the numbers in this demographic have become stable. Creating infrastructure that is suitable for children, people who intimidated by current conditions and inexperienced cyclists would increase the capacity of the system.
The current cycling infrastructure may be used less by specific groups of people due to a lack of access to bicycles and areas that are perceived as being safe for cycling. This is reflected in a study done by the CCC from 2010 that discusses the obstacles to cycling for minorities that you may like to read if this is your concern. There may be more recent studies on this but I imagine much of this has not changed.
Why are there so many cars? I agree. We have more cars than we need. I am optimistic that the excess number of cars and trips-by-car is left over from tendencies of the past and will continue to decrease as transportation systems improve.
“…Creating infrastructure that is suitable for children, people who intimidated by current conditions and inexperienced cyclists would increase the capacity of the system. …” SD
Yes, I think think those are essential considerations to be made in the the conception and design of biking infrastructure that’s more sophisticated than simple painted bike lanes on the roadway.
Equally important is conceiving bike infrastructure that can offer increasingly realistic options to driving, for some of the many people currently driving. If the infrastructure conceived and built, cannot realistically enable people to meet their travel needs as well or better than use of a motor vehicle does for them, they’re not going to use it.
And of course, design and construction of bike infrastructure that can successfully meet this objective, almost certainly would involve accompanying but less direct elements than bike infrastructure itself. In other words: community planning that allows bike infrastructure to be used by a wide range of people, to meet their travel needs. Bike lanes alone, are nice, but they don’t do this.
“Where’s proof that East Portland agrees with you re: cycling at the heart of Portland’s future? Why are there so many cars? Why has bike commuting stagnated city-wide? Why is biking not catching on among communities of color- or are they not part of Portland?
Your persistent objections to bicycling seem impervious to facts.
#1 We’ve discussed here many times the many reasons people drive cars that do not reduce to ‘they prefer cars over all other modes.’ Cars have been the dominant mode for much of the past century; our policies have had the effect (sometimes deliberate; at other times perhaps less so) of making it harder, more dangerous, or illegal to get around by other means. East Portland, for reasons you and I probably would agree on, has more of that 20th Century infrastructure and consequently fewer realistic options to get around without a car.
#2 Specific local discrimination aside, insisting that cars trump everything else—that no funds should be allocated to other modes—because that is what people still rely on right now is a recipe for disaster.
Facts, which you asked for, are changing very rapidly, whether you or I approve of it or not. Biophysical facts (continued availability of cheap oil); Climatological facts (stable temperatures, precipitation, & weather are quickly becoming a thing of the past, never mind predicable food production, affordable transportation at the speed and scale we’ve grown used to); Economic facts (ODOT and PBOT are now consistently broke; there’s never any money for sensible, remedial things that would prop up what we already have, never mind building the infrastructure we might wish to have once automobility has dried up and blown away.
“Awesome how East Portlanders are again treated like serfs. Downtwn values to be imposed on the working class and the non-whites even if they ‘kick and scream.’ East Portland is discussing secession and this is why.”
Your class analysis has some historical validity, but you are here conflating one historical example of bias and discrimination with a rapidly changing world in which non-fossil fuel-requiring transportation will solve dozens of problems we’ve grown so used to we no longer even notice them, fail to tally them when we talk about costs and benefits of this or that policy.
Secession, while always fun to kick around, would hardly solve these much larger problems of how to cope with a rapidly unraveling life support system which our planet has provided free of charge for as far back as we can go.