Commissioner Fritz floats another idea: Car-free streets

Commissioner Amanda Fritz.

The day after she drew criticism for suggesting that biking should be deemphasized compared to transit in city planning, Portland Commissioner Amanda Fritz went out of her way to put forth a different proposal.

It came Wednesday at the tail end of a report from Portland Streetcar Inc., the publicly chartered rail transit service that Fritz has become an enthusiastic supporter of. Discussion of one of Streetcar’s perennial problems — getting stuck behind cars, either in traffic or due to parking mishaps — seemed to prompt her to ask a question: do we really want cars to be able to use streetcar lanes at all?

And for that matter, she asked, do we really want cars to be able to use the major biking streets?

Here’s how Fritz put it:

I had some comments yesterday about Williams. I think we should be looking at should there be streets that are primarily for cyclists and transit and local access for cars only? Are there other streets that are mostly for automobiles and transit? The more we can keep everybody safe while getting everybody where they need to go, I think that would be a better system, and we’ve already started doing that with the Tilikum Crossing being just for bikes peds and transit. Maybe there are other streets we could look at, or maybe there are other lanes that — yes, cars can go in the streetcar lane. But do we really want them to be? Yes, cars can go on a street that a lot of cyclists use, but do we really want them to?

Here’s the video:

Fritz reiterated her position later that day on Twitter.

To that, safe-streets advocate Steve Bozzone pointed out that her exact proposal — designating a street like Williams for “cyclists and transit and local access for cars” while having other streets be mostly for cars and transit — basically describes Portland’s road system today.

Based on her two rounds of comments this week, it seems as if Fritz had a viscerally unpleasant reaction to the experience of driving north on a dark, rainy Williams Avenue, trying to figure out its unusual weave of lanes for the first time, and then turning left across its bike lane without running into someone pedaling toward her from behind.


Most people would probably be stressed out in that situation, as she was. It sounds as if her comments have in part been her puzzling through different ways to prevent such moments of stress.

One solution, beloved by people around the world who never ride a bicycle for transportation, would be to completely ban bicycles from certain streets. But Fritz realizes that wouldn’t work; some people would disobey, and in any case it would discourage an activity that most Portlanders agree is a good idea in principle.

So she’s touching at the edges of another solution: banning cars from certain streets, something that works well in downtowns around the world. Fritz doesn’t quite embrace that, either. And it’s true that car-free streets have been able to succeed economically in the U.S. only in some pretty specific situations.

But she is coming down on one of the big truths about bike infrastructure, whether it be a car-free street, a truly traffic-calmed shared street or a fully protected bike lane: infrastructure that makes biking less stressful also makes driving less stressful. Whatever you think about Fritz’s other takes on bikes, it’s nice to hear someone saying that out loud.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

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