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Subscriber Post: The Seven Bicycle Infrastructure Wonders of Portland

Posted by on July 5th, 2017 at 9:36 am

Here is my list, in no particular order:

Worst Day of the Year Ride 2011-39

The Steel Bridge lower deck/floating Esplanade. Created thanks to the Bike Bill and Street Trust lawsuit, this is the most spectacular of the crucial bridge and waterfront connections that made Portland’s eye-popping biking boom of the 2000s happen. The floating section of the Esplanade is one of the city’s most wonderful public spaces.


new permanent traffic diverter on SE Clinton at 32nd-3.jpg

Clinton Street’s traffic diverters. The old one at Chavez improbably turned a busy commercial collector into a bikey commercial street and also created the single most bike-friendly crossing of Chavez; the new ones, created by direct activism in the face of city staff opposition, turned the bikey commercial street into a truly comfortable commercial bikeway.

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Bike signal at Broadway Williams-7

The dedicated bike signal phases at Broadway & Williams. This happened before my time so I don’t really know the story but the care with which this was done, I think the illegality with which it was done, and the indisputable rightness of it, all make this little detail extraordinary IMO.


Go By Bike shop in South Waterfront-23

The Go By Bike valet at SW Moody and Whitaker. It’s a simple idea that most cities would have drowned in bureaucracy. It’s been growing each year by double digit percentages. It makes acres of parking lots unnecessary, saving OHSU millions. It’s the most visually spectacular testament to the city’s bikeability. It boosts bike use despite not being in any transportation demand management handbook, because nobody has ever bothered to calculate the psychological effect of just seeing other people use bikes and making it stupidly simple to join them.


Bike Advisory Committee rides downtown-4

The 11 mph green wave on downtown streets It’ll never recruit the uninitiated for the same reason it’s so effective: it’s invisible. The traffic signal timing on downtown’s one-way streets makes the entire downtown comfortable for riders who are confident enough to discover it, and without a single moan from anyone in a car. That’s not to mention the fact that it makes most downtown traffic nonlethal, saving countless lives and limbs.


bike parking downtown-2-1

The first 100 bike corrals. This is the only item on this list that might be unique by international standards. The quality of bike parking in central Portland’s streetcar-era commercial districts is, as far as I can tell, unmatched. The program was designed by city bureaucrats who used existing materials creatively for the audacious goal of making bike parking plentiful and convenient. Their successful application strategy of just waiting for businesses to ask for them is almost as audacious.


…And the number of bikes parked around the bottom of the Portland Building. Not the terrible wheel-grabbing parking machines, but the number of them that are used by city employees from every bureau … and, along with it, the number of car parking spaces on site at the Portland Building. (Almost zero.) More than any other single factor, this might be the driving force behind Portland’s relative bike-friendliness.

If I were still writing regularly for the site I would pitch Jonathan on a series where we looked at each of these and told the story of how it happened. Anybody (including Jonathan) want to do that?

And what items are on your list?

โ€” Michael Andersen, @andersem on Twitter.

This post was submitted as a Subscriber Post, one of the benefits of being a paid supporter of BikePortland. Learn more here.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. 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 โ€” Jonathan

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rick
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rick

The bike valet by OHSU was one of the main factors encouraging me to get back to riding a bike. Not every doctor’s office / dentist office has great parking / watchful valet like that.

Chris Smith
Guest
Chris Smith

The Broadway/Williams signal was constructed as part of the Streetcar Loop project and as I recall the big argument at the time was whether it could get built earlier in the project ๐Ÿ™‚

The old design was terrifying, threading between two-right turning lanes of freeway on-ramp traffic!

J_R
Guest
J_R

I think one of the best bicycle infrastructure features of Portland is the traffic signal bicycle detection indicator. That’s the little blue light that has been spreading to traffic signals throughout the city. 21st and Division is one such location; several intersections along the Max Orange Line, such as crossings at 12th Avenue and at Milwaukie, let bicyclist know for certain that their presence has been detected by the signals. Great work by Peter Koonce and his crew!

Michael Andersen (Contributor)
Editor

I love these too. Carl Alviani did a great post about them from a few years ago:
https://medium.com/re-form/the-traffic-signal-knows-youre-there-d9e6d690dffe

Daniel
Guest
Daniel

oh that’s what those blue lights are for? I didn’t know that. That’s handy.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

The Bike Valet is outstanding and we need more such facilities. The Esplanade seems like it would be awesome but it doesn’t quite work for cycling the way one would hope (really, it functions a lot like the waterfront), and most of the other things are good examples of what we should continue to build.

I actively dislike the 11mph green wave because I think that the well intentioned measure significantly increases right hook occurrences while slowing down cyclists and traffic alike too much.

Real progress is more about ordinary but helpful improvements rather than showcase projects that some would describe as wonders. For example, Interstate is way more rideable than it was some years back. Designating greenways so that cyclists and motorists alike know where to expect slower and faster streets is good. Dedicated signals where a large number of cyclists needs to do the same thing such as turn left off the Broadway Bridge onto Broadway or left off of Steel Bridge onto Interstate. Baby steps.

rider
Guest
rider

The diverters on Clinton have made SUCH a difference. Diverters on every bike boulevard, every few blocks now!

VRU
Guest
VRU

its been over a year since a new traffic-calming device/diverter has been installed. imo, negative pushback from other bike advocates is a big reason movement towards more traffic calming/diversion on greenways has stalled. bike advocates in pdx eat their own.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

V,
You must mean a permanent diverter.
15th and Ankeny diagonal test was installed in May.
Also, the pace of installs is a function of programming projects, and the fixing our streets funding has not yet kicked in for bike projects.
Ladd/Harrison/Lincoln is likely to have two.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

The PBOT “Portland By Bicycle” map, in full-size and mini versions. When I started riding my bike in Portland, that map was my bible, I carried it everywhere, it helped me learn my way around the city and find all of these infrastructure wonders. I think it is really cool how it is so easy to pick up a copy of this map free or order free copies online. It’s like our own Key To The City.

Tom
Guest
Tom

Thank you for this post. Portland really has done a great job with accommodations for biking, and it’s a nice reminder to see them listed here. I agree that the bike corrals are one of the most significant. However, I still think that we’ve been resting on our laurels for too long.

Look at Minneapolis or Washington, DC. They are far ahead of us in terms of bike paths and overall quality and connectivity of bike routes. With the exception of Springwater and Marine Drive, our bike paths are really disconnected and slow (I-205 path, for example). To be sure, Portland is limited by its existing layout and geography, but we can do better. Instead of spending $1 billion on adding a lane to a freeway, think of what even 10% of that could do for bike infrastructure. For example, a bike path along I-84 that connected the Eastbank Esplanade to Gateway Green would be a tremendous improvement. It would be costly given the extremely limited space and railroad easements, but it could be done.

Much more feasible in the short term would be to fast-track the north-south bike routes on the East side. Make 2-3 bike express routes on surface streets, with limited stops for bikes and frequent car barriers a la Clinton St, and build new bike/ped bridges over I-84. Biking between NE and SE is a real hassle right now. This impacts both commuting/errand trips and recreational biking. I recognize how much progress has been made, but let’s keep pressure on to take it to the next level!

Spiffy
Subscriber

“The 11 mph green wave on downtown streets”

I used to do this driving downtown on Market between Hwy 26 west and Hwy 26 Powell… it really annoys other drivers… I would just keep it in first gear and idle down to Naito without needing to use the gas or brake pedals…

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

If your method is more or less paced with the lights, it’s the fastest and safest way so they have no case. If it’s much slower than the lights and causing people to get caught, you’re needlessly blocking and causing traffic problems.

I can’t remember the timing on that particular street, but they all seem painfully slow on a bike so I can easily believe that just letting it ride in first is legit.

Ted Buehler
Guest
Ted Buehler

About the list — the most noteworthy things should be things that are
– unique or unusual in the US
– major features in the Portland bicycling game
– took significant $ or political will to implement

Add to the list —
* Tilikum Bridge
* Greenway Policy from August 2015 calling for actual engineering and management of greenways that are guarantee they are conducive to heavy bicycle traffic.
https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/542747
* Portland Bicycle Master Plan for 2030 that calls for 25% bicycle mode share
https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/44597
* The Portland 1996 Platinum Plan, that was the basis for making Portland the fabulous bike city that it became by 2010.
http://www.portlandonline.com/shared/cfm/image.cfm?id=40414

And, a comment on the list, Portland doesn’t have a lot of truly remarkable pieces of infrastructure. What it does have is an awful lot of people willing to use pretty average infrastructure…

Take from the list —
* Clinton St. Diverters — even though it did take a herculean amount of political will, it *shouldn’t* have. So it’s something of a black eye in my mind, that it took so much citizen effort to get something so essential for basic bikeway functionality. And it was an off-the-shelf fix…
* Williams/Vancouver bike signal — it’s still pretty lame. A modest band-aid to a significant barrier that makes it passable, but not good.

And, a possible historical list, of things Portland was the leader in in 1996 – 2008, before ambition for greatness evaporated
* Blue bike lanes
https://nacto.org/…/2011/01/Portlands-Blue-Bike-Lanes.pdf
* Expanded sidewalk width on the Hawthorn and Broadway bridges
http://www.maine.gov/…/022510PortlandHawthorneBridgeCas…
(with before/after photos)
* Early Bike Boulevards — Tillamook, Ankeny, Salmon, Clinton
https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/476096 (undated article)
* Critical Mass (not infrastructure, but likely crucial for political will to build infrastructure). Over 1000 people taking to the streets once a month for years, in the face of arrests and police brutality.
https://www.facebook.com/aftermass/

Thanks for the post, Michael!

Ted Buehler

maccoinnich
Guest

“Portland Bicycle Master Plan for 2030 that calls for 25% bicycle mode share”

…which in the current update to the TSP is being revised down to 15% bicycle mode share by 2035. PBOT staff don’t think it’s a realistic goal given current / projected land uses. ๐Ÿ™

9watts
Guest
9watts

!?

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

I don’t blame you for being surprised. I too wouldn’t expect them to come up with something realistic.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Unusual in the US: PBOT implementing signal detection loops that recognize bicycles (and mopeds/motorcycles) citywide. Not totally consistent, but far better than most US cities. Multnomah County also put in unique detectors in East Portland just before it was annexed by Portland, round rubber things in the street, where all the loops converge, such as at Glisan & 102nd – you trigger them with your front wheel, a bit like a pedestrian button.

Here in Greensboro, as elsewhere, at most signals we have to wait for a car to come to trip the signal – it makes you feel less than second-class.

Dan A
Subscriber
Dan A

It’s like that at pretty much all of the intersections I use in Washington County. Very spotty.

Racer X
Guest
Racer X

Good article.

…and Perhaps in 5 years, there will be a follow-up article…from the opposite side of the coin:

The 7 barriers to bike-as-transport adoption in Portland (to surpass 15% daily citywide bike commuting in order to reach the planned 25% mode split):
< bike sales tax (once implemented)
< Williams Bikeway (esp. New Seasons section)
< Failure of Police / Courts / DMV / Legislature "System" to systematically remove chronic dangerous drivers
< No change (east west road diets) to West Burnside, Hawthorne for bike lanes with pedestrian enhancements vs long standing status quo
< City streets flooded with cheap EVs and un[der]regulated AI-TNC vehicles
< City leadership quietly cuts budget for Vision Zero, due to incomplete implementation
< The Streets Trust continues to choose not to use the court system to push for CoP budget / traffic safety changes…
< …..insert other nominations here…

Racer X
Guest
Racer X

and…
< CoP quietly adoptes new bike plan or TSP that pushes 25% Bike mode split to 2050…

not that Mark
Guest
not that Mark

Widening the sidewalks on the Hawthorne Bridge was a great project.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Yes, that project made the Hawthorne the great bike bridge that it is today. (Although believed by many to be the busiest bridge for bikes in the country, I believe that title goes to the Washington Avenue Bridge here in Minneapolis – sorry! Can’t help myself) But the Hawthorne is still awesome.

While we’re on the topic, don’t forget that was just one of several major bridge projects in the late 90s-early 2000s. We had basically one bridge closed for restoration every summer … for several years in a row. Also:
– Widening the sidewalk on the Ross Island Bridge back in the late 90s. Yes, as unpleasant as it is now, it was barely physically passable before, with crumbling guardrails.
– Widening the sidewalk on the Morrison Bridge a few years ago.
– I think the Broadway or Burnside may have gotten bike/ped improvements/widening in their refurb projects too, but I never rode them often enough for me to say for sure.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Broadway did a few years ago, it became slightly wider with fewer obstructions. I think they are working on Burnside right now, but neither will ever be as good as Hawthorne.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

According to Wikipedia:
Hawthorne Bridge has over 8,000 bicycles/day
Washington Ave Bridge 6,850 bicycles/day
Brooklyn Bridge has 3,100 bicycles/day

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

No. Not even close. The Hawthorne Bridge’srecord was a bit over 8,000 bicycles per day.

Its consistent average has been just under 4,000 bicycles per day since the Tillikum opened. Even prior to that, it peaked at around 5,000 bicycles per day. Sorry.
Source:
http://portland-hawthorne-bridge.visio-tools.com

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

Regarding the Bike Valet — ” Itโ€™s the most visually spectacular testament to the cityโ€™s bikeability”

What it really is is a testament to the absolutely hopeless parking and driving sitation at OHSU. That doesn’t change the fact that making bike storage convenient and safe is a major incentive and that this specific measure needs to be more commonplace.

I’m not sure how many of you are aware of this, but at least the last time I heard, OHSU has an 8 year waiting list for a parking permit and those cost a fortune. And getting off the hill is miserably slow. Why anyone would want to drive that if they didn’t absolutely have to is beyond me. BTW, for those of you who celebrate traffic mayhem, the tram will close for 5 weeks next year for scheduled maintenance. Sadly, I’m certain it will also hose everyone except for those who pedal or walk the hill as the buses and shuttles will also get caught in the mess.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Correction: the downtown Green Wave is not a fixed 11 mph! Having taken Peter Koonce’s signal timing class at PSU a few years ago, I can tell you that it actually varies depending on the “program” in use at the time. IIRC you will see a progression speed somewhere around 12-13 mph at busy rush hour times, and as high as 18 mph late at night.

Beth H
Guest
Beth H

Um, let’s not give the Street Trust credit for something that happened before they existed, yes? I believe the organization was the Bicycle Transportation Alliance when the lawsuit went down that gave ride to the Steel Bridge bike-ped path.

Michael Andersen
Guest
Michael Andersen

We use “Oregon Walks” for things done by the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition before it rebranded. Same style here.