It’s been nearly seven years since the League of American Bicyclists bestowed Portland with its highest honor; a Platinum-level bicycle-friendly community designation.
Now there’s an effort to strip Portland of that award.
Platinum is the highest ranking possible in the League’s widely-respected program that judges cities with a combination of technical analysis, local expert interviews, and an application process. Portland is the only large city to reach this status — the other cities are Fort Collins and Boulder in Colorado and Davis, California.
31-year old Portland resident Will Vanlue has launched a petition on Change.org to encourage the League to downgrade our status. Vanlue told us via phone this morning that he’s “fed up” with the lack of progress being made to improve access for bicycles in Portland and he hopes his effort will “light a fire” under Portland policy makers, elected leaders, and advocates.
Vanlue is a former volunteer and was communications director for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) before taking a job as a delivery rider for SoupCycle. Riding around Portland streets all day has given Vanlue a discouraging view of just how bad Portland streets are for biking. Back in January we profiled his crusade to report bike access shortcomings to the City of Portland’s Bureau of Transportation.
This petition, he says, is the “logical extension of the traffic hazard reporting I’ve been doing.”
“No one seems to be pushing the City to generally improve the streets that are being built and policies that are being implemented,” said Vanlue. “I’d like to talk about more positive things; but I just haven’t had a lot of positive experiences to talk about. When I’m out riding around I’m always watching my back to not get run over… I’m just fed up.”
Last week Cedar Knoll, a co-worker of Vanlue’s, was hit by a truck while crossing Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Knoll says the police failed to make an official report of his collision and he had to take the law into his own hands just to get justice.
That was the last straw for Vanlue.
“Seeing somebody I know get hit and not seeing anyone take action is ridiculous,” he said.
Part of Vanlue’s increased urgency around bike safety comes from the fact that he is about to become a father in August. “I’m going to have a kid that’s going to be riding around these streets and most of the place I ride in Portland feel like they’re getting worse, not better.”
Vanlue hopes to spur attention for his cause on social media via photos and messages tagged with #downgradePortland.
For their part, the League has already openly questioned Portland’s Platinum status after the city’s controversial decision to ban bicycling at River View Natural Area.
It would be an unprecedented move for the League to downgrade a city from Platinum. According to the League’s process, Portland’s status wouldn’t come up for possible changes until the renewal period in 2017 (the reward was last renewed in 2013).
Below is the text of Vanlue’s petition as posted at Change.org:
We are asking the League of American Bicyclists to downgrade Portland’s ranking in their Bicycle Friendly Communities program.
Below are a number of ways that we, as people who want to ride bicycles in Portland, believe we have fallen short of the specific Attributes of a Bicycle Friendly Community (sometimes known as the “5 E’s”) outlined in the League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly Communities program.
We are not bringing these issues to light to criticize people who drive or ride bicycles, nor indict specific people or organizations. We are outlining our concerns here because Portland should not be held up as an example for other cities to follow.
We hope that Portland, one day soon, will become a “Platinum” city, but our current status as a “Platinum” community is odds with the reality of our streets. If other communities follow our lead they too will end up constructing roads & policies that increase traffic conflict, risk, and stress.
There are many instances when, even after someone dies while riding a bicycle, when the City puts the onus for safety on people who ride bicycles despite their having no legal obligation to yield to other people’s travel.
Warning signs targeting people choosing to ride a bicycle are readily applied, but rarely are people warned to drive safely through the installation of traffic signs.
Many streets are built using outdated design standards, or standards that do not adequately protect Portlanders in the context volume and speed of traffic on a particular street. Some of the few facilities “for bicycles” are not well maintained and often slow or restrict the travel of people on bicycles. Facilities on the street also frequently drop out or degrade at intersections, specifically where there are the most opportunities for conflict.
Many nonarterial streets have speed limits set at 30 MPH or above, which aren’t even enforced on a regular basis. Many streets with high speed traffic have no facilities for people on bicycles, at all.
The network of neighborhood greenways has been determined to be deficient in many ways, including being pockmarked with areas of highspeed, overcapacity traffic.
Traffic facilities do not connect well with transit hubs, and vice versa.
There is no convenient way to provide feedback about engineering of on-street facilities, and feedback is often spread across different City departments that do not actively coordinate.
The City continues to actively restrict off-road bicycle access.
Neighborhood greenways are not designed in a way to clearly illustrate their low-stress intent, nor is there a public campaign aimed to curb reckless behavior which degrades their practicality.
Public campaigns are often aimed at the victims of traffic violence, not the behaviors that cause crashes and fatalities.
No robust adult education program exists outside of the diversion program.
Sunday Parkways is a terrific, popular activity but it is chronically underfunded and is on a scant few weekends each year. The lack of a regular, perhaps weekly, program causes confusion on the part of people trying to drive around the event. Sunday Parkways routes are significantly constricted around motorways.
Tourism campaigns often oversell the promise of a safe, comfortable experience, setting up visitors for a shock when they try to travel by bicycle in Portland.
Portland continues to lack a public bike share system.
There are no themed loop rides, as are suggested by the League of American Bicyclists, despite this being an easy activity that could be developed around our existing Neighborhood Greenways.
Traffic laws are regularly ignored in Portland. Basic laws governing safety like the speed limit, prohibition of parking on sidewalks and in bike lanes, stopping for people in crosswalks and at stop signs are rarely if ever enforced by the authorities
The City of Portland lacks effective tools for reporting dangerous behavior. The City’s official reporting app lacks a reporting category specifically for hazards or superfluous closures impacting bicycle traffic. The behavior of officers and dispatch operators discourages people who ride bikes from reporting traffic crashes.
Portland Police Bureau officers, as a matter of policy, do not report or cite people in motor vehicle crashes that result in minor injuries. However, PPB officers also stage enforcement stings on popular bicycle routes, targeting common behaviors that do not pose a significant safety risk, and pushing the action to local media which creates the appearance of a publicity stunt.
Our regional trail network, intended as a destination for families, is not consistently patrolled by law enforcement and many trails have history of violent, threatening, or illegal behavior.
Evaluation & Planning
Little progress has been made on the City’s Bicycle Master Plan. Responses to Portlanders’ concerns are recorded and acted upon inconsistently.
Traffic crashes are studied and some changes are implemented, but dangerous conflict points and chronically unsafe behavior is often ignored unless it causes a fatality or serious injury.
Data is not collected before and after enforcement actions to evaluate their long-term impacts.
City officials frequently adapt street designs to fit pro-motor vehicle, anti-bike opinions. Suggestions from probicycle grassroots advocacy organizations and other community groups are not equally represented in street design. Compounding this disparity, the largest local bicycle advocacy organization has, as a matter of strategy, shifted away from actively working in Portland and rarely speaks out regarding potential changes to Portland’s streets. These forces create situations where the concerns of large groups of residents are subjugated to the whims of a small number of wealthy, well-connected interests.