Welcome to the third of four posts where we ask Portland City Council candidates about bicycling.
BikePortland asked each of them the same six questions via email. Below are their responses (with some editing for brevity and clarity):
What is your relationship to cycling?
I am not a cyclist, but I do know how to ride a bike! When I moved to Portland, I tried out Portland State University’s bike share program from the Bike Hub to experiment with riding a bike to commute to work, but I mostly ended up using it for leisure. I did the bike share for about a year and then returned my bike and haven’t gotten a new one since.
I am an occasional and recreational cycler, but haven’t ridden for over a year and a half following the tearing of my ACL in a skiing accident and subsequent surgery and recovery. I hope to change that by summer.
I raced mountain bikes in Michigan for 5 years, including a couple years of road racing. I commuted to work by bike in Portland for 4 years until the birth of my first child and a more complicated and time-constrained schedule forced me back into a car. I now use an electric utility bike to haul my two boys around town and to pick up groceries.
Have you ever ridden a bike on a high-traffic, high-speed arterial street? What was it like?
No, I purposefully avoided riding my bike in high traffic and mostly stuck to the neighborhoods. I never got comfortable enough to ride on the streets.
Yes. I took part in the Equity Bike Ride in East Portland several years ago where part of the route included busy high speed arterials – such as Foster Road. I felt vulnerable and probably would not have ridden along a major high speed arterial on my own. I felt like I was taking a chance with my life and like my safety was at the hands of others. I did feel safer and less vulnerable riding along a high speed arterial with others on an organized bike ride because I felt there was more safety and visibility between bikes and vehicles, trucks.
I have and I am comfortable with it, though I understand why others are not. Our city is designed around those arterials being the fastest route to get places with few if any stop signs and stop lights that favor through traffic. It can be frustrating the bike routes are in the routes with less favorable lights and many stop signs. There needs to be a balance shift towards faster bike routes.
Bicycling to work in Portland is at its lowest point in 12 years. What do you think is causing that and what are two things we can do to increase bicycling in Portland?
People say, “It’s as easy as riding a bike.” But commuting by bike is not easy. Even if you overcome the obstacles of physical limitations and the risks of riding in high traffic areas, the costs of purchasing, maintaining, and safely storing the bike at both ends of the commute can be financially prohibitive for many. I believe we can address the third problem by increasing our bike sharing programs like PSU’s Bike Hub, and those can be managed from within PBOT and the City. Ultimately, bike commuting works best if the distance between home and work does not exceed your physical limitations, and that means that we have to work doubly hard to make housing in all areas of Portland affordable enough for people to live close enough to their work that they can just hop on their bikes. And while we are working with that, we must coordinate with TriMet to make bike-to-bus-to-bike a more seamless transition.
I think less experienced bicyclists feel very vulnerable – and we have to change that.
We need a strategy combination of education, encouragement, enforcement and engineering – building the right bike and vehicular infrastructure in the right places for multi-modal users – especially in high need areas. I am committed to taking on the challenges that come along with ensuring low income people, immigrants and BIPOC have the options they need to get to work and navigate to places with as few barriers as possible. Partnerships with culturally specific community based organizations and youth serving organizations can be great partners in building cycling education and capacity in these communities.
Correct me if I am wrong but it is the bike share that is lower not the total commuters. That clearly means that the new commuters are making a different decision and not that people are stopping the bike commute. If true that means we still have a chance to improve ridership. Of course, the first and most effective thing we can do is liberalize land use to allow for a greater intensity of development. The next approach is making it costlier to drive, which will more accurately reflect the true cost of driving. Finally, we can continue to innovate unique ways to make protected bike lanes and expand them to more locations.
Why is it so important for cycling to remain a high priority issue in City Hall?
We can’t build our way out of traffic congestion, nor should we. Adding roads and highways adds more cars, and that is not going to solve climate change. So bicycles are an important strategy to create more multi-modal forms of getting around town and creating greener habits for Portlanders.
In Portland we pride ourselves on being a livable, bikeable city and our density makes it easy to commute by bike if you live in the central parts of the city. However, cycling is still not accessible for many of our residents due to safety concerns, lack of experience, cost, and time. It’s important that cycling remains a safe, and accessible transportation. Cycling helps combat the climate crisis and provide transit options. It also means less people in cars and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and helps promote healthy active lifestyles. Providing alternative transportation options also helps our region manage the explosive growth we are and will continue to experience as more people move into our community.
Biking will be one of the primary ways we move away from fossil fuel consumption and the negative effects they have to our environment and our health. Electric technology is opening up bike commuting to much greater diversity of riders, and although they can be expensive they are still cheaper than a used car when fuel and maintenance are factored in. Aside from the obvious benefits of biking there is the ability to have a nice way to jump start the day. I always remember when I commuted I had more energy and positivity in my attitude at work. Driving is a source of constant frustration and anger and it is reflected in my attitude at work.
Do you think PBOT should respond to how the pandemic has impacted streets and how we use them? If not, why not? If so, what do you think they should do?
With the lower traffic on all streets and the perceived danger of the enclosed spaces, this would have been the perfect time for PBOT to encourage first time riders to do dry-runs of their commutes. Creating Biketown bike stations that sanitized bikes and offering them for free, and blocking off side streets for people to safely explore their inner cyclist would have introduced new people to the possibility of bike commuting in a low-risk manner.
I think there is room for PBOT to consider trying out some pilot projects during the pandemic to see how they work. In fact just the other day PBOT announced planned closures of greenway streets for more bike and pedestrian use to ensure social distancing during this pandemic- this is a great example of creative responsiveness during this pandemic. Also, PBOT and all other infrastructure bureaus that have projects in construction should be examining the locations where there are lower traffic volumes and determining if construction work can be done safely ensuring social distancing, while moving work that was solely possible at night, to days or considering full round the clock temporary closures to get the work done more efficiently while minimizing the impact to the public.
I have always wondered why a group of kids has to stop a game of street hockey so a car with a single person can pass, when a parallel road is just 200 ft away. We have yielded our public space to the car companies at the expense of our community life and sense of place. If COVID-19 exposes this problem and PBOT were to give some streets back to the people I would support that.
If you were in charge of PBOT, what would you do to make cycling more attractive and safe east of 82nd?
First, I think it would be important to hear directly from residents why they choose not to ride bikes and what would encourage them to do so. I’d launch a survey to residents east of 82nd that would include multiple ways of gathering information (paper, online, and door-to-door canvassing). Ultimately, people are not going to feel safe without more safety infrastructure to protect bike lanes from car traffic, so we need to reevaluate our 2030 Bike Plan and make sure we’re planning for that long term cost.
When it comes to strategies to reduce transportation emissions, our top priority should be getting people out of cars and into public transit and encouraging, biking and walking. This transition has to be equitable first. In my work with low-income and immigrant communities, we serve transit-dependent people, and know firsthand about the janitors or foodworkers or students who have no other option but to take 2-3 buses to get to work, or to take their children to the doctor after riding an hour-and-a-half on the bus. Improving transit access and reliability is an important priority – considering where we could implement Rose lanes in East Portland should be examined.
We also need to make it possible and safer for people to bike and walk, and start by prioritizing areas for investments where there are no sidewalks and greenways. We should also continue advocating for East Portland in Motion II which focuses on investments to design and build active transportation infrastructure in East Portland. Sidewalk and bike infrastructure and sufficiently spaced out signalized crossings – pedestrian activated beacons along urban high crash corridors that also tend to be highly transit dependent and underfunded.
Even in the midst of explosive growth east of 82nd and East of I-205, East Portland is still mostly affordable for Portlanders than other parts of our City. But it still has long been overlooked in terms of investments and it’s going to take decades to catch them up with the kinds of investments we have made in other parts of the City. I will be a champion and an advocate for East Portland, and will make sure investments are implemented equitably across the city, and address our most deficient areas first.
I think there is very little in PBOT’s playbook that will make cycling more attractive and safe east of 82nd. What needs to happen before the traditional tools PBOT has is a cultural change. Biking needs to be fun and respected in the communities before PBOT will be effective. That means small things like having more bike events for Pedalpalooza going through and inviting those communities
Learn more about these candidates on their respective campaign websites: Candace Avalos, Carmen Rubio, and Tim DuBois. In related news, see how Portlanders for Parking Reform graded the candidates.
Tomorrow we’ll share responses from mayoral candidates Sarah Iannarone and Teressa Raiford (and Ozzie Gonzalez, Philip Wolfe, and Ted Wheeler if we hear back). Browse all our Election 2020 coverage here.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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