(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)
Portland City Council unanimously adopted a resolution this morning that gives the bureau of transportation more strength and clarity in how they design and manage neighborhood greenways, the residential streets formerly called bicycle boulevards where biking and walking have priority over driving.
“Greenways were a big part of helping me feel safe and comfortable as a bicyclist. I’m hoping that adoption of this report will help more of my peers be safe and comfortable on their bikes instead of just opting to drive right away when they get their license.”
— Isabelle McTighe, junior at Cleveland High School
The Neighborhood Greenways Assessment Report (PDF here) is a 55-page document that outlines the current state of the network, explains its weak points, and lays out solutions to make them better. Today’s action by council didn’t come with any funding for new projects, but it gives PBOT engineers and planners important policy guidelines. More importantly, the report and its nearly two-hour long public hearing at City Hall today has given neighborhood greenways, and cycling in general, a major political boost.
The context of the report and how we got to this point is important to keep in mind. PBOT was forced to do something about neighborhood greenways because users of them have been yelling and screaming for years that they’re not living up to their “low-stress” promise. Those complaints turned into organized actions and even helped spur the formation of a new activist group, BikeLoudPDX, that made the uncomfortable cycling conditions on SE Clinton Street their raison d’être.
PBOT Bicycle Planning Coordinator Roger Geller was one of several people who mentioned the impact of activism at City Hall this morning when he said during his testimony to Mayor Hales and the rest of council, “We’re getting a lot of complaints from citizens that some of these greenways are not working well.” And PBOT Active Transportation Manager Margi Bradway also mentioned it. “We’ve heard a lot of concern about Clinton Street in particular,” she said during her presentation.
Several of those concerned citizens took time out of their day to testify and show their support for better neighborhood greenways. Volunteers with BikeLoudPDX wore green and held up signs throughout the proceedings. One family brought their two young children up to the microphone to testify. Isabelle McTighe, A 17-year-old Cleveland High School student, told City Council that she’s been biking in Portland since she was four years old. “Greenways were a big part of helping me feel safe and comfortable as a bicyclist,” she said. “I’m hoping that adoption of this report will help more of my peers be safe and comfortable on their bikes instead of just opting to drive right away when they get their license.”
Of the 15 members of the public who testified, 14 spoke in support of better greenways. One 12-year-old Hawthorne Middle School student said he wants more traffic diverters to keep driving to a minimum on inner southeast sidetreets. “I don’t feel safe riding on them anymore frankly, because drivers have been aggressive toward me… like screaming at me and throwing things at me. I’d like to feel safer riding on them,” he said.
“We can’t shut down the city everyday like we do on Parkways… but we can build in the technology everyday to make those conditions possible.”
— Commissioner Nick Fish
When it came time for commissioners to ask questions, Nick Fish put on quite a show. He had pointed questions and shared genuine anger about people’s dangerous driving behaviors.
Fish wanted to make sure that the report he was voting on didn’t direct PBOT to allocate any funding to specific projects or programs. “I think we have to be clear with the public what we’re signing onto today,” he said. I think this was a smart move motivated more by a keen sense of PR rather than any personal reluctance to fund bike projects. Fish probably remembers how the passage of the 2030 Bike Plan backfired when the media (and then the public) turned it into a controversy by incorrectly assuming that the city had just agreed to spend over $600 million on bike projects (don’t we wish!).
Fish also asked about what changes PBOT would make when streets passed the 2,000 cars per day threshold set in the new report. Speaking to Geller, he asked, “What’s the state of our engineering toolkit?”.
And Fish is very fired up about dangerous drivers. He talked about how as congestion increases, people are turning to residential streets and driving with frustration and anger. “Everyone is in such a damn rush they’re putting everyone else’s lives at risk,” he said. “And that’s what we want to discourage.”
A resident of inner-northeast Portland, one of the most bike-friendly areas of the city, Fish spoke about the “transformative” and “exhilirating” experiences he has had during Sunday Parkways and how that event, “Reminds us what it is to be on a dedicated bike pathway that’s safe.” “That ought to be the goal,” he continued. “We can’t shut down the city everyday like we do on Parkways… but we can build in the technology everyday to make those conditions possible.”
Amanda Fritz wanted to know about ridership demographic data and funding of greenways in east and southwest Portland. “Why is there no greenway from east Portland into downtown?” she wondered. Even Commissioner Saltzman, known for being quiet and certainly not expected to chime in much on transportation issues, had something substantive to say. He said he and others are sometimes confused by bike-specific roadway markings and he urged PBOT to have more signs that make it clear to road users when they’re on a neighborhood greenway.
In closing comments before the 5-0 vote was recorded, PBOT Commissioner Steve Novick offered a good summary of what it means to have passed this resolution. “We will put up more diverters. We will put up more speed bumps. And we’ll get calls from people [who don’t like it]… And now we can say, ‘Actually, that’s a neighborhood greenway and we’ve given direction to PBOT to take steps to make sure that it’s used as a greenway.'”
Today’s council meeting was about more than the neighborhood greenways report. It was the most complete and compelling education about cycling that our five elected city leaders have gotten in as long as I can remember. And it came from not only their own staffers and well-known advocates like the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (who also shared excellent testimony today); but also from everyday people who spoke from the heart. And they took it all in very well. Their engagement with the people who testified and the volume and content of their questions showed that they respect neighborhood greenways and the role cycling in general plays in Portland.
For a city council that we’ve had public misgivings about for their lack of perspective and experience around cycling issues, what I saw and heard this morning was a breath of fresh air.
With past cycling-related controversies fading over our shoulders, the emergence of new, powerful, and unifying initiatives like Vision Zero and neighborhood greenways along with new faces to advocate for them (both in the community and in city staff), it feels like today was the start of something. Maybe we’re emerging from the dark cave of stagnation that we’ve been struggling with for years.
And to top off what I felt was an extraordinarily positive council meeting, Mayor Hales nonchalantly announced right before moving on with the agenda that he’ll commute into work next Monday (8/31). Stay tuned for more about that — and hopefully other things that herald Portland’s biking renaissance — in future posts.
If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at email@example.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.
Thanks to everyone who showed up today in support of this bill. I feel like this is a great first step to get City Council talking about improving our bike facilities. It was great to hear Nick Fish (and maybe Saltzman IIRC?) voice support for building more protected bike lanes. Now it’s time to get some projects on the ground – starting with Clinton.
1. This is far too small a step with too little commitment to make any substantial difference. It’s a feel good thing at worst and a marker of just how bad it will be allowed to get at best.
2. Twelve-year olds are having stuff thrown at them and being harassed verbally while riding their bikes on the not-so-green ways? Good grief, that’s pretty much the marker of complete and total failure.
3. Elected officials who get around by any means other than bikes and public transportation are a big part of the problem. City employees who do the same are the rest of it. The folks responsible for the conditions on the ground simply MUST be riding, walking and taking public transit so that they can be truly informed about what’s going on. I suspect there would be far better facilities and law enforcement if they and their twelve-year olds were being harassed.
I agree with some of that. But in this town nothing happens until council/mayor hear loud and clear from people that “enough is enough!” and they heard that today in an unprecedented way IMO. Also, PBOT doesn’t tend to do innovative things until they have the policy/political leverage to do so.. and this report gives them that.
I agree. I’m very happy that boy testified, and I’m simultaneously sick about what he said.
I could not agree with you more. And did you see the part where Hales finally plans to give bike commuting a try?
“It was the most complete and compelling education about cycling that our five elected city leaders have gotten in as long as I can remember.” — It sounds like they got it. Thanks to everyone who helped.
A mayor on a bike!? That’s at least part of what’s been missing here.
B Carfree — you wrote:
“This is far too small a step with too little commitment to make any substantial difference.”
2 points on this:
a) It’s a pretty decent step. Neighborhood Greenways have worked really well in Portland. Some are broken, this assessment, policy and plan is exactly what is needed to fix the broken ones and get our riding conditions back to where we were at 5 years ago.
b) Sure, it appears to be a fairly small step. But, I think we’ve achieved a lot with this small step, in that PBOT Active Transportation produced a plan to fix something, council approved it, and council got a nice dose of supportive comments from polite, articulate, sympathetic constituents (that’s us). If PBOT and council do something, and we gripe about it being too little to be helpful, they may or may not respond by bringing a better project to the table. On the other hand, if their constituents give them good feedback and positive media coverage, they’re going to be keen on a repeat performance, and continuing to take the next steps necessary to restore other lost Platinum-level facilities.
& if you look at councils’ expressions during the public comment and their personal grandstanding before offering an “aye” vote, you’ll see that they were feeling pretty good, personally, about this small step forward.
“Why is there no greenway from east Portland into downtown?”
Sullivan’s Gulch Trail is the answer. Even better than a greenway.
Because the 4M greenway hasn’t been funded yet thanks to the same people asking that question…
Even worse – it WAS funded under Adams administration plans and that funding was cut by the current city council.
The Sullivan’s Gulch trail would be great, but how is it the answer to East Portland not having east-west greenways?
imo the sullivan’s gulch project should not be the answer to anything. That project is pie-in-the-sky, a convenient way for politicians and bureaucrats to distract us from actual bikeway facilities we need/deserve… I think everyone’s energy would be much better spent pushing for an on-street bikeway along the same corridor. just my .02.
Awesome news! Can’t wait to see what gets rolled out. Thanks to BikeLoud & everyone that spoke up today.
Maybe you should do a ride along with Mayor Hales now that he’ll be an occasional bike commuter? That would be a great post. 🙂
I agree a Ride Along post featuring the mayor would be neat… But I’ve purposely always tried to feature just regular people in that series instead of bigwigs and notables. I’ll probably ride with him sooner or later and will definitely report back.
Overall, this is a wonderful step forward on safety and comfort on greenways. Safety and comfort are I think the highest priorities to improve so this was a good place for the City to go.
I feel like convenience and navigation are the next steps – and not really focused on in this report. Here’s what I’d like to see in a future report:
*Convenience: Quantification of stop sign frequency on greenways and a commitment to reduce it. Ones with stop signs every two blocks (Tillamook/Hancock, ahem!) or even four blocks (41st/42nd/43rd) impede getting places efficiently if one actually stops (as I do!). Even brand-new greenways like the 50s have more stop signs than necessary (why are there stop signs at cross streets between Hawthorne and Belmont?)
*Convenience: Quantification of delay due to excess hill climbing, route circuitousness, and waiting at street crossings compared to arterials. Commitment to reduce that delay to parity.
*Navigation: signage of where to turn off of greenways to get to major destinations on arterials.
These would be good things to include in the planning process for the East Portland greenways, for example.
Agreed, some spots need their signs flipped. SE Water and Caruthers, for one. And to get rid of those 4-way stops on Clinton after diversion is successful.
Thanks for this write-up, I was bummed I couldn’t be there in person to show support – so nice to hear that the City is listening. Can’t wait to see them doing!
Any discussion of lowering speed limits as another way of trying to move traffic off the greenways? A lower limit would be one way of notifying people in cars that they’re in “our house” now.
The city recently lowered greenways to 20mph. Speed limits alone are not a very effective way to slow cars down I’m afraid.
By and large, agreed. But, the City has never done a speed-focused enforcement action on a neighborhood greenway as far as I know. (Stop sign stings at Ladd’s Circle, plenty.) At BikeLoudPDX we have word that that is going to change….
Of course, what’s really necessary in order to perform sufficient enforcement to change behavior en masse is automated speed cameras. One step at a time, though!
Diverters on the greenways and speed cameras on the arterials at least. With enough diverters, drivers will start to feel accountable to the many neighbors they see each day.
They have done them sporadically before based on complaints to 823-SAFE, but nothing systemic or citywide AFAIK.
Not true. I live on Lincoln. The speed limit is still 25 and that is never enforced. Without enforcement it doesn’t matter what they post.
Thanks for the clarification. I’m guessing Lincoln doesn’t meet this criteria:
“The streets must have fewer than 2,000 motor vehicles per day, have 85th percentile speeds (the speed at which 85% of the traffic is travelling) lower than 30 mph, and have pavement markings to indicate the presence of people walking and biking (sharrows).”
Many of the legacy greenways, former bike boulevards, have not been upgraded to greenway standards, something the report identifies, along with codifying those standards.
The article suggests that action will be taken if more than 15% of vehicles are going faster than the speed limit (20 mph on most greenways, 25 mph still on some areas with too much traffic ironically). Speed humps are one option mentioned; chicanes and diverters would also help. Direct enforcement by police officers wasn’t mentioned. But changes to the street design are better: they work as weel at 1 am as well at 1 pm, and they can be used everywhere. There are only so many traffic police.
Precisely my point, better stated 🙂
Thank you PBOT and the people who attended.
It’s nice to hear stronger language from our elected officials. I’m going to be optimistic and believe that the tide is turning towards safer streets.
As an aside has anybody noticed the Vision Zero logo popping up on PPB reports? Somebody out there is at least listening.
“We can’t shut down the city everyday like we do on Parkways…”
Oh dear… was the city shut down? Did someone neglect to notify the tens of thousands of folks who keep showing up to enjoy their city? And the all organizations, businesses, and musicians that join in the fun?
There must be some mistake, the city wasn’t shut down at all!
Is the mayor biking to work a one day thing? I’m reading it somewhat ambiguously.
“I’m going to start doing some commute rides because I went on the Policymakers’ Ride and some citizens said “Hey, you should do that more often.” So actually on Monday I’m going to commute by bike and start out at the coffee house at 26th and Clinton and ride in with the folks that take that trip and try and take more of those kinds of commutes with advocates again who know the situation on the ground.”
https://www.portlandoregon.gov/video/player/?tab=council , click on “Aug 25 2015 AM
Sounds like his current plan is to experience commuting himself by riding with people in different parts of the city. That’s a big step up from no riding at all at peak periods. And it’s only one step away from commuting from home to work himself. Perhaps if a few citizens comments “Hey, you should try the ‘home to work’ commute on a regular basis” he’d do that too.
This is a very encouraging report!
On behalf of BikeLoudPDX, thanks to those who sent in supporting comments by email prior to the vote.
If you would like to let City Council know how you feel about the Greenway Assessment, and their plans to reduce car volumes on greenways, you can contact them via email. A few “thank you”s and “keep up the good work”s will help motivate them to ensure the guidelines in this document make their way onto our Greenways.
Names and contact info for the five councilors is here:
Thanks for all the info and for your work and supporting bicycle safety, I was able to watch the whole am session from august 26th from your link above and appreciate all of the support and testimony by bikeloudpdx representatives.
I have tweeted and emailed all of the council members with my support and thanks for their recent positive participation in improving bicycle safety.
I’m very excited for this positive step forward towards real #VisionZero accomplishment.
Individual email addresses:
& if you all want to view the public testimony, the BikeLoud representatives go from 59:50 to 1:15:50 on the council website (With Chris Anderson, Amy Subach and their two children being the stars of the show at 101:20).
Click on Aug 26, a.m. session
Small victories do not a battle win.
Vote for actual change-makers instead of career politicians. Lobby the freakin’ police to start doing their job. Wake the government beast!
Diverters on Clinton St. will not stop murder by automobile.
The accidental death of one human by another is not murder.
No, it’s more like manslaughter. But by what reasoning do you assume David meant “accidental” death?
City hall is well-versed at showing they have good intentions.
Good news. I think we need at least two new greenways, in addition to improving the old ones. 8th Ave should be optimized, as well as getting a bridge over I84 to 7th Ave. Additionally, we really need a north/south greenway downtown.
The 12 year-old who spoke at city hall asked me to pass along the followingL He actually attends Hosford Middle School (not Hawthorne) and his full name is Ethan Frager.
Riding on Woodstock in the bike lane this morning. Rode over a loose wire coat hanger, the hanger got entangled in the spoke and derailleur and stopped me sharp. Pretty dangerous.