target “design user” — a 12-year old girl?
This is a guest article by Terry Dublinski-Milton, who sits on the board of directors for the Southeast Uplift neighborhood coalition. It’s digested from an essay published Monday on the BikeLoudPDX website.
This winter, Portland will release the 20s Bikeway for contract bid with a design that City Hall will tout as a modern, much needed north-south bikeway.
Though this statement may technically be correct, my viewpoint is quite different.
“The 20s” is primarily a pedestrian safety project with secondary auto and bike capacity improvements. It needs to be labeled as a bikeway because the federal money that funded it requires it. I would more accurately describe it as a series of needed pedestrian improvements with small bikeway advancements connected citywide by sharrows.
Why do I say this?
It is not only the possible elimination of bike lanes on Southeast 26th or those already eliminated from the plans on 28th. I call this a modern bikeway in name only due to a series of decisions made from the onset that prioritized the requirements of other modes at expense of the bikeway elements through each stage of the process. The 20’s may comply quantatively with national standards, but human psychology is constrained by qualitative experiences: you remember the collision and close call, not the hundreds of safe passes.
To get the “interested but concerned” onto their bikes we need the qualitative experience to succeed. Through this lens, I predict the 20s will fail.
To illustrate this point, let us visualize the 20s Bikeway through the eyes of two fictional middle school friends. We’ll call them “Mary” and “Jane.”
Twelve years old, Mary and Jane live near NE Columbia Boulevard in the Concordia neighborhood. Chatting last spring in class about how excited they were going to high school together in the fall, they discovered a mutual interest in bike riding. Summer practice rides through the neighborhood had gone well so the girls plan, with their parents, a summer day trip together.
Where? To take the new 20s bikeway south, then the Springwater Corridor to spend the day at Oaks Bottom Amusement Park!
City Bicycle Planning Coordinator Roger Geller has said multiple times publicly that our bikeways should be designed so “two 12 year old girls can ride side by side.” This is a version of how their day may go:
Mary and Jane start early in the morning. They get their bikes ready, pack a lunch, say goodbye to Mary’s mother and start their trip. Starting south on the new NE 27th greenway, they are little intimidated by sharing a roadway with a bus line, but are reassured as the Holman turn is only a few blocks to the south.
After the bus passes by, they ride south to Holman and 32nd, which pass through quiet residential neighborhoods. They can casually take in their surroundings. As they approach the first major cross street, the new green cross-bike striping at Ainsworth makes it seem safer, even if the wide median island allows for bike and car to cross simultaneously.
The long, steady ride up the hill in the crisp morning air invigorates them, but their calm is interrupted by a morning pick-up truck zooming down the hill. The girls quickly learn that when they see one, it will bully them to the side of the roadway.
As they cross Killingsworth, Alberta and then Prescott the girls soon learn that though the curb extensions into the street make crossing easier, they still need to pay attention as they approach in case a car makes a last minute turn onto the greenway.
After Prescott, Jane glances at her phone, “according to Google we will need to turn soon.”
“Good,” Mary replies.“I’m sick of having to pull over.”
As they turn onto Regents, the houses increase in size as the pedaling becomes easier. Our adventurers have finally reached the crest of Alameda Ridge.
“We must be at the top!” Jane says. “Hold on, I’m sure we will go down soon.”
Suddenly they see the slope, round the curve and a bus appears approaching a stop sign to their right. The girls make eye contact so the driver sees them as they continue to follow the sharrows, taking the lane downhill. They have been taught these skills through the Safe Routes to Schools program, but as they hear the bus behind them, both envision some menacing monster following them.
Concentrating on the roadway, zooming as fast as comfortable, Mary and Jane do not have time to take in their surroundings. Hence they are temporarily confused when dumped off at a huge swath of pavement at the bottom of the ridge.
Where are we?
After taking a few seconds to assess their situation, Mary points. There it is! They head through the sea of blacktop to head south on NE 26th.
(later in the day, Mary and Jane are at SE Division and 28th, headed back north)
Happy that the greenway passes directly next to the food cart pod, Mary and Jane pick out a great dinner. As they chat about their day, both became worried about how long it would take them to get home. Drivers are being very aggressive, so they decide against window shopping and exploring Division Street. Maybe another time.
They get back on their bikes and continue to explore the new 20s greenway. The climb north of Division is bumpy and unpleasant due to the cobble like surface, but it keeps them alert.
Following 29th uphill past Hawthorne, downhill to Belmont, and back up to Stark their hearts race. Jane wonders out loud if there is a faster, more flat route that would have worked.
Mary just gives her an “I will get back at you for this” look.
Past Glisan, they stop at Oregon Park, pull out their phones, send some texts and rest. Google shows that once they get across the freeway they will be back on familiar territory.
After this needed respite, they head north on 28th and are relieved to see the super-wide bike lane to get across Sandy. But then … what is all that green? They see a big bike box, crosswalk and sign: “Northbound Greenway turn here.”
But why? Though neither cyclist is really sure why there are two northbound bike lanes on this overpass, they sit at the bike box and follow the hatching to get to the bike lane on the west side.
Uncomfortable that these fast moving cars are so close with only a paint and plastic buffer, at least they are on the correct side of the street to cross into the neighborhood and get on NE 26th. Once there, they recognize that they had been here before…..ah, almost home.
Now to only get over the ridge.
Nervous about the coming climb, they each see the hill: a six-foot bike lane squeezed between a row of occasional parked cars and a bus line, staring them down.
Jane’s father, they both know, speeds up the hill through the blind curves all the time.
Taking a deep breath, they imagine riding single file, hoping that no car doors open in front of them. Each in turn rejects the idea, so they walk their bikes up the sidewalk until the top.
Exhausted, but back on their bikes, they cross Prescott. Mary and Jane know home is close as they pick up speed.
“No wonder my mother complains that hauling my little brother is difficult,” Jane says. “These big bumps might slow down cars, but they would wake him up.”
A few minutes later, after locking their bikes in the garage, they sit in the living room sipping lemonade. Mary’s mother asks “So how was your day?”
“Oh, the day was nice enough and we had a great time, but there were too many cars. It was a scary ride.”
“I’m sorry to hear that — are you still considering biking to Grant High School this fall?”
I will let you as a reader and possible parent answer that question.
— Terry Dublinski-Milton
You can read Dublinski-Milton’s full piece, including their diversion to the Lloyd Center Mall and Springwater Corridor, here.
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So it’s actually a plan to defraud the federal government?
Great read, Terry! Let’s hope some people at PBOT read this and are moved to make the 20’s bikeway a real world-class facility.
I am not a 12 year old girl, but my experience riding on many of these roads in SE and NE has been quite similar to their hypothetical journey.
Lots of cars, buses, and speedbumps, but not much that is actually conducive to safe biking.
How can we get PBOT to fix it before it gets built?
That was one of the all-time best reads.
The author should consider publishing a series of children’s books with an urban/suburban cycling theme.
As a father of kids that age, I can imagine riding with them a few times to get them used to the ride, but, in the end, deeming it too confusing and dangerous for them to do solo.
As a result, especially on rainy days, we’d just load them in the car and drive them to school, making more traffic.
Kudos to you if your kids this age would let you ride with them. I’m pretty sure I’d get a big no way from my kid.
My thoughts exactly, we shouldn’t have to be ready to dive onto the shoulder to stay alive. I find the inner bike blvd’s to be full of cut through traffic, and not pleasant to ride on. And I’m a fearless/ skilled cyclist. Our blvd’s have been afflicted by “paralysis through analysis” disease, and the sickening results are prevalent on PBOT bike blvds.
“…City Bicycle Planning Coordinator Roger Geller has said multiple times publicly that our bikeways should be designed so “two 12 year old girls can ride side by side.” …” bikeportland
That’s a nice idea. If there were any way it conceivably could be applied on 26th Ave, and meet travel needs people have from that road, it probably would be done.
One way: buy more right of way. Say, 20′-30′ more land from either side of the road from adjoining property owners. Leave existing sidewalks and put the bike lane where the lawns and flower beds, parts of parking lots, utility poles or whatever, are now. Anything can be done. Is it conceivable, or something people would support?
Nice piece, Terry.
I think you are right about a lot of what you say, but as someone who was 12 years old and biking before any of this infrastructure came along I feel a bit mixed too.
+ We could and should do better when we’re spending all this money (and political capital) to build a bike way.
+ Proximity to cars, endless turns that one needs to memorize (not all 12 year old girls have google in their pocket), and confusing signage and lane markings are worth leaving behind
+ But it is also perfectly possible for a twelve year old to get from here to there right now without so many turns, and any additional infrastructure, except we make this harder to imagine once we drop some treatments over there.
Hard to say what to do.
The amount of cars coming into the city is flooding streets. great story really touches bit of the dad life from my angle.
Thank you for the kind words and ability to publish here. I will be publishing a more technical editorial explaining WHY I portrayed their trip in this manner in a few days on BikeLoudPdx.org
Stay tuned, I am not finished yet.
Very Good read. I should have written up my adventures of riding with a couple of friends from Kenton to Milwaukie and back on day trips in 1954 and 1955 when I was in 4th and 5th grade. there were no bike paths perse. A similar route was followed that still exists today. Denver, Greeley, Interstate, MLK (was Union Ave.) 17th,Oatfield.
I don’t know how we survived but when we started riding the trolly to Oregon city they discontinued it in 1956.
I think the reason I did not write it up is because it was before Bikeportland by a few decades.
As a long time commuter, I can say this is a pretty accurate appraisal. I appreciate the story telling from the perspective of young people since I took up cycling around that time. Initially I was in praise of this design because it would impose a 20 mph speed limit on 28th between Stark and Sandy, implementing speed bumps (can we get speed bumps on **every** road?). Sad reality is that traffic is just an elimination game, when you quell traffic in one area, you just push the pressure elsewhere, and there isn’t enough infrastructure on the main streets to satisfy the absolutely bonkers car culture that Portland has.
PBOT aspires to “Build it for Isabella*” but somehow we end up with “Mary and Jane diving out of the way of trucks”.
And one of the main reasons that pedestrian improvements are more feasible than bikeway improvements is that businesses and a vocal minority feel that their vehicle storage subsidy is an inalienable right.
Great read! Thank you, Terry. I really wanted to read the part where they rode SE 26th, though… I’m beginning to really hate drivers there. I dread the future.
Here is the longer version:
Will read it at home tonight–thanks! And (again) great job. 🙂
those girls are destined to be bike advocates
… or destined to give up on cycling altogether while they’re still young and before they can fully realize the joys of cycling for transportation.
Holman to 37th to 38th will take them to Grant with very little stress.
17/18th to Tillamook to 2nd to (briefly) Multnomah will get them to the Esplanade, then to Oaks Bottom.
If you liked “Mary and Jane” then you might really appreciate my editorial. I wrote the ROUGH draft first, then wrote the Technical Fiction of “Mary and Jane.”
Here is where I deconstruct the project history and design, view it through a Vison Zero lens, then reconstruct for “Isabella. “. Beware, it is a dense 3800 words so do not read while ACTUALLY biking. That would not be Vison Zero behavior.