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Comment of the Week: A map should not be an important safety tool

Posted by on December 18th, 2015 at 2:19 pm

elbcomment

If you haven’t read Jonathan’s haunting, exclusive report that Martin Greenough seems to have been killed on his very first bike commute, two weeks after moving to Portland, it’s not one to miss.

Part of the story is that the city’s official bike map inaccurately suggests that Lombard is a fine place to bike. But as BikePortland reader El Biciclero pointed out in a must-read response, the problem here is not really with the map.

The problem is that the only way to bike around Portland without near-death experiences is to use a map.

“‘He had just bought his bike… Saturday night might have been the first time he commuted to that location and back,’ Monica said.

He very likely had no idea there was a dangerous gap in the bikeway on his way home.”

This is what rankles me. Martin didn’t study hard enough before attempting to get from A to B on a bike. As a bicyclist, I can’t trust maps, Google, GPS—anything—to point me to a “safe” route. And really, why aren’t all routes “safe”? Why can I expect to drive my car anywhere, traveling any route I want, but if I want to travel by bike, I must study carefully, make trial runs, review video, check maps and street views, cross-referencing multiple sources to see whether the bike lane drops or there is a left turn signal, or a way around that doesn’t involve left turns or two-way stops, find out what the de facto speed is on a street that is signed for 30 mph, hope the shoulder or bike lane is as wide as it looks online and there aren’t huge drainage pits in it and the stripes haven’t worn off since the last time the Google photo car drove by (I have started looking at the “image capture” dates on Google street view to get some notion of whether the picture is still accurate for places I haven’t been). If I don’t do all of the above I could DIE.

If I hop in my car and follow my nose, the worst I can expect is getting lost.

We should never, ever have to ask “why would anyone ride their bike on that route?”

We’ll leave it at that.

Yes, we pay for good comments. This regular feature is sponsored by readers who’ve become BikePortland subscribers to keep our site and our community strong. We’ll be sending $5 and a little goodie bag to El Biciclero in thanks for this great addition. Watch your email!

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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spencer
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spencer

well said!

9watts
Subscriber

All I can say is IT’S ABOUT TIME.

El Biciclero’s comments here stand out for me because of their special combination of eloquence, insight, and razor sharp wit.

dbrunker
Guest
dbrunker

This is exactly what I do all the time and exactly how I feel. The only difference is I would also add Strava Global Heatmap (http://labs.strava.com/heatmap/#12/-122.65610/45.50626/blue/bike) and Google Street View.

A drivers almost never have to ask themselves which side streets and alternate routes they have to take to avoid being killed.

Mike Quiglery
Guest
Mike Quiglery

Funny. I was in San Francisco last week. Thumbed through one of those travel magazines at the airport. In it was a display ad: “Portland. Oregon’s Most Bikeable City” said the banner over a photo of a happy family standing and holding their bikes in the Rose Garden with Mt. Hood in the background.

Weird, huh?

dwk
Guest
dwk

Nice comments, except sometimes getting lost on a bike or exploring on a bike are the reasons to ride a bike……

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

An indication of the relative safety of a particular road or street along a particular route from ‘a to b’, is not information I’ve particularly expected of, or relied upon bike maps to provide me with. Mostly, I look to maps to identify secondary roads and streets that will provide a through route to my destination.

If I don’t know from past experience, that a particular road’s suitability for safe biking is lacking, it takes very little time upon arriving at the road, to decide whether to set out for an alternative route. There usually are some. There are some alternatives to Lombard. There’s some alternatives to the other popular road situation bikeportland takes exception to: Barbur Blvd.

Blaming the map for not pointing out that a given road (which in our area is most of them.) doesn’t have motor vehicle proof barricades a guy high on pot and losing control of his car can’t drive over, doesn’t seem to be a very well thought out complaint.

Mike G
Guest
Mike G

A calculated sense of velocity, surfaces, space, and simultaneous movement are critical to biking, driving, walking, jogging and truck driving. This applies to everything on the road.

Protect the right of way of everyone else, and maintain a good exit strategy.

“…or you could die.”

Joe
Guest
Joe

Lotta roads seem to have same disconnect.:( anyone downtown Thursday see the gridlock? Crazy backed up every street ppl driving like mad ppl

Jo
Guest
Jo

This terrible incident has disturbed me greatly. I follow the PDX bike community on social media and I have visited Portland a lot, but I just can’t ever biked there again. I hear too much about cyclists injured, killed or harassed while biking around town . I did visit once with my bike (on the bus), and was so terrified downtown that I ended up pushing it on the sidewalk instead of riding it. I had a pocket size bike map with me, but what was on the map did not match street traffic. I want to return, I really do. Maybe someday, or not. I feel so sad for this man and his family. It could happen to any of us. He is “Every Biker.”

eddie
Guest
eddie

I don’t know how many people will agree with this, but there is no way of telling if the marijuana was even a factor here. It’s easy to blame the weed but the fact is, drivers are easily distracted by anything, at any time. He might have been glancing at his phone or the stereo or even the rearview mirror. Maybe he was daydreaming.

The fact is, he killed the guy because he was in a car. An inherently dangerous contraption. A 2000 lb hunk of steel traveling at a speed which can easily kill someone in a split second.

And folks will counter this however they please, but the fact is and will always be, CARS ARE THE PROBLEM.

I don’t care how great a driver you are, or how sober you are, or how “safe” you are, you are risking all of our lives by driving, and there will be another death soon enough, we all know this.

And it will be the fault of whoever chose to drive that day, because they made the decision to pollute the environment and endanger human life, period.

Tom
Guest
Tom

Does Portland have a bike ambassador/guide program to help newbies find the best routes. I know they have one for road side assistance, but is there one to help guide people on the best way to get to their work, sneak up behind the local business district, and get the local grocery store. This could usually all be done in one ride together with a local volunteer guide. It could be requested that the newbie then pay it forward by participating in any one of a list of volunteer opportunities. One method of outreach for the program might be bike store point of sale for new bikes. Maybe combine with point of sale bike registration program. When the bike store hands over your new bike, they would say here is your free online registration stickers…its all set up already….and here is the contact info for your local guide.

I only wonder if such a program might have helped that poor fellow.

Mark
Guest
Mark

Odot has a get out of jail free card. The cannabis. Now they can forever blame their cyclist killing underpass on a plant that predates the bad design by quite a few years.

SE
Guest
SE

eddie
I don’t know how many people will agree with this, but there is no way of telling if the marijuana was even a factor here. It’s easy to blame the weed but the fact is, drivers are easily distracted by anything, at any time. He might have been glancing at his phone or the stereo or even the rearview mirror. .Recommended 6

hmmm …. your guess seems to be at odds with what the Police observed

“Kenneth Britt Smith, a motorist accused of striking and killing a bicyclist in Northeast Portland Saturday night, smelled of burnt marijuana, appeared slow and lethargic and had bloodshot watery eyes and droopy eyelids, according to court reports.”

http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2015/12/portland_police_identify_38-ye.html

Mike Reams
Guest
Mike Reams

This is a great comment. One thing I’ve thought about for a couple of years now is that if I need to get from point A to point B, I can simply get in my car and take the easiest, shortest, most direct route and not even have to think about it.

If I’m on my bike, I have to sit an plan out which route to take. This route is simpler and more direct but, also more dangerous. This route is pretty good but, there is a lot of backtracking. This route is probably shorter but, I’m not familiar with it and I’m not sure I’ll be able to follow all the twists and turns.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

I agree that a compelling tag line can be created from the statement from el B that could help non-bikers have an AH HA! moment.
I also think the frustration needs some context.

While it is true that bike riders were the first to lobby for better roads in the US, that level of use has been far surpassed by the auto users. The neglect of bike infrastructure over the last 100 years has essentially reset bike infrastructure back to zero in most cities. The current resurgence in bike use that is going on 20 years is akin to when cars first began to appear and become popular. And when cars first began to use roads in numbers, their drivers also needed maps to find their way around and plan trips of a scale similar to cyclist crossing a city.

SE
Guest
SE

I consult maps before riding to a new place not for safety, but for efficiency. IF i make a bad turn in the car, it’s fairly fast to correct it.
On the bike it can be longer/more complicated.

My 2 main bikes are Randonneurs (kind of “Safari” in French) but I try not too get too far off the best path.

SE
Guest
SE

eddie
The fact is, he killed the guy because he was in a car. An inherently dangerous contraption. A 2000 lb hunk of steel traveling at a speed which can easily kill someone in a split second.Recommended 6

I’m not picking on you eddie, but you are way off on the weight.

2000 Ford Crown Victoria/Curb weight

3,917 to 3,927 lbs

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

El Biciclero could not be more right. Like many others here, if I’m planning on riding to a part of town I haven’t been to before (or not recently) I spend a bunch of time poring over multiple maps – since no one map has fully accurate* information – to figure out the best route. It’s really sad that I should have to do this, and I can’t even imagine the number of hours I have spent. It’s a much larger fraction of the number of hours I’ve spent riding than I’d like, that’s for sure.

And even then, sometimes the information is wrong or I haven’t followed it correctly, and I find myself in a dangerous spot, surrounded by angry traffic. Haven’t we all been in this “oh shit!” situation, and either turned back or put the hammer down and cranked through a dangerous stretch while we prayed under our breath?

The reason we need to check maps beforehand is not just that so many routes are dangerous for us and if we choose wrongly we could end up dead, but that we can’t rely on on-the-ground information to find a safe way. Way too many routes, and especially junctions between routes, are unmarked or poorly marked. Even if you try to follow most of Portland’s official bikeways end to end by relying solely on signs and pavement markings, you are likely to lose the route at some point. You have GOT to use a map.

Yes, yes I know there are a few S&F types that are comfortable on nearly any road and don’t feel the need to preplan their routes. Goody for you; don’t shame the rest of us for exercising more caution about playing amongst the careening blocks of steel.

* Ahh, soo many maps! In Portland I mostly use the city bike map (loaded into my Bike Maps smartphone app) when I’m in the city limits, but revert to the Bike There! map in the suburbs. Same problem here in Minneapolis: I use the pretty-good city maps within the city limits, but the available maps for suburbia (and St. Paul) are woefully outdated, especially with the enormous gains we’re making every year in infrastructure. A 3 year old map is about as informative as a newspaper from last spring.

I still use Google Maps a lot because of its routing capabilities, but its actual bike-route information is spotty and I often have to override its decisions based on knowledge in my brain or from other maps. Sometimes it will send me down a dashed-line route that turns out to be a stroad even an S&Fer would question (meanwhile, other dashed-line routes are beautiful and should be solid green). It has the opposite problem too, often failing to route me on awesome bike lanes and trails that have been there for a year or two (or longer). I would guess Google is missing at least a third of the bike routes we have here.

davemess
Guest
davemess

Good comment. I think one thing that is getting lost though, regarding the recent death, is the disappearing bike lane.

For most roads it’s pretty easy to get a feel for whether the road is safe.
For me, if I’m in an area I don’t know, I go through a quick checklist.
1. Is this a busy road or an arterial?
2. Does it have any bike facilities?
3. Do I see other cyclists on it.

I think most cyclists can go a block or two on 82nd, 39th, or Foster and know that they probably want to find another route.

I agree that it is frustrating that cycling routes aren’t more ubiquitous.

mark
Guest
mark

The thing about this underpass is that there is no choice. At the very least, for the most part, a cyclist can leave the road and jump on the sidewalk if things get dicey. On this underpass…ODOT didn’t feel it needed to give a cyclist a choice. And to double down, they threw in guardrails on either side.

Something as simple as a choice…wasn’t considered.

It’s insane that we have to consult maps like intrepid explorers with the nina, pinta and the santa maria.