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Eyes on the Street: How are ‘Slow Streets’ working?

Posted by on May 9th, 2020 at 3:34 pm

North Bryant was full of riders today!
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

With the warmest days of the year upon us and lots of people out on bikes these days, the 100 or so temporary diverters installed by the Portland Bureau of Transportation last week couldn’t have come at a better time.

I’m very curious how they’re working. What do the neighborhood greenways look like near you? Seen any signs out-of-place? Does it feel like more people are riding than usual? Anything else to share?

In my neighborhood (Arbor Lodge, Piedmont), the warmth has definitely brought lots of people out. So many people riding with small kids! It’s wonderful. I’d love to know what you’re seeing out there.

And remember to email hello@pdxgreenways.com or text 503-395-4509 if you see any barricades missing or damaged.

N Concord just south of Killingsworth.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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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 — Jonathan

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Kyle Banerjee
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Kyle Banerjee

The picture of Bryant shows exactly what we don’t need.

It just so happens that in nonpandemic times, I walk or run across the exact section in the photo minimum 4 times daily.

Recently, I’ve been avoiding Bryant completely unless it’s especially early, late, raining, etc because there’s not enough clearance — particularly if there is any oncoming traffic (vehicular or active).

People treating the streets like a park is not a good thing, especially if they act like they’re the only ones out there.

Fortunately, none of the streets near Bryant have this issue. So while it does feel like there are more people riding than usual, they tend to stay on certain corridors, Bryant being one of them.

dwk
Guest
dwk

Wow, people out and about using public space alarms you?
Was this satire?

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

If they’re creating conditions for contagion, it would concern me. I’m starting to see more and more people letting their guard down. I was out riding on Saturday night, and saw at least one big house party, and heard what might have been more. And now the news is reporting that even kittys can get covid-19.

dwk
Guest
dwk

So what do people in a house party have to do with people biking and walking on public streets? Is this close to the same thing?

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

It shows that people are getting sloppier with their anti-covid practices. Kyle was complaining about this same thing in the context of people using the streets “like a park” (i.e. getting sloppier with their anti-covid practices).

So yes, it is close to the same thing, if not exactly the same thing.

Middle of the Road Guy
Subscriber
Middle of the Road Guy

Hopefully this means people will actually leash their dogs at the parks.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

The picture above? Looks fine. If you can’t handle those “crowds”, you might consider moving out of the city.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest
Kyle Banerjee

We’re in a pandemic that’s on track to kill 100,000 Americans by the end of next week. That the density of people anywhere is higher than normal is ridiculous as is presenting that as a good thing.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

https://www.erinbromage.com/post/the-risks-know-them-avoid-them?campaign_id=9&emc=edit_nn_20200511&instance_id=18384&nl=the-morning&regi_id=96966949&segment_id=27239&te=1&user_id=898f019a2414e6e79bda0e3ab4a14482

“Importantly, of the countries performing contact tracing properly, only a single outbreak has been reported from an outdoor environment (less than 0.3% of traced infections). (ref)”

Middle of the Road Guy
Subscriber
Middle of the Road Guy

This is a good argument for opening up the coast and the Gorge.

Alex Reedin
Guest
Alex Reedin

Definitely disagree. This pandemic is clearly with us for the long haul, and humans have desires for companionship, exercise, and freedom that didn’t just go away with an executive order. The fact that many Portlanders are meeting those desires in MUCH safer locations (outside, with copious airflow) and activities than pre-pandemic strikes me as a good thing. More than 99% of documented transmissions are indoors, and almost as high a percentage is with with lengthy exposure to the same human’s air. I’m sure it is possible to get Covid-19 from biking on a greenway, but I’d rather have 100 people leave their house to bike on a greenway than have 1 person leave their house to go hang out inside someone else’s house for an hour.

Am I, personally, making use of the ‘secret’ outdoor spaces I know which are not crowded? Yes. But do I think the greenways under the conditions pictured have risk high enough to be considered ‘dangerous’? No.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest
Kyle Banerjee

The indoor transmission issue is exactly why supposed to be avoiding spending time indoors with anyone we don’t live with — including family and friends.

Getting companionship, exercise, etc is very easy without getting people closer in proximity than normal.

There is no reason to unnecessarily get within close proximity of large numbers of strangers — the only way it’s even possible to do this is to go to the handful of places where people flock. Even those places are empty if the weather’s not perfect.

Encouraging this sort of behavior encourages careless behavior in other settings, which I’ve been seeing more of. The pandemic is causing widespread hardship and is wiping out many businesses and individuals financially.

I presume everyone who thinks it’s unnecessary/onerous to avoid proximity outdoors thinks the governors in FL, GA, etc who opened up all the public spaces got it right.

dwk
Guest
dwk

***Portion of comment deleted.***- dwk, Please stop name-calling and being so abrasive to other commenters. I want you to participate freely without being on auto-modderation but you are shooting yourself in the foot with little personal digs. – Jonathan.

Oregon is doing fine. The streets have people walking in them outdoors.
Exactly where they should be.

Alex Reedin
Guest
Alex Reedin

Maybe we have different definitions of “proximity”? Or maybe you are thinking of instances when you have seen streets busier than they are pictured above? Because as pictured above, I see one instance of what I would call “proximity” – in the lead photo, riders #3 and #4 back, one of which has a black baseball cap. And one can imagine that it’s quite possible that those two riders live in the same household. But I can also see that it would be stressful and annoying to navigate that street with that many people while trying to maintain 6-foot or greater physical distance.

I have a faint recollection that you may work in the medical field (at least in some capacity at OHSU?) If so, and the pandemic is causing you extra stress because of that, I definitely empathize. My husband is working at a hospital. It definitely frustrates me to see people behaving in risky ways because I know more cases make the surge worse. (I haven’t been following the Portland news closely enough to know if Portland has enough cases to be called a surge currently, but we are in New Mexico, and we do have a surge). Anyway… just saying I empathize. We can have different beliefs about the optimal public health education strategy (e.g. sharing space with other humans “abstinence” vs. “harm reduction”) while sharing the same stress & goal of next to no new infections.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest
Kyle Banerjee

The problem in the picture isn’t the spacing between the people shown. The problem is that riding like that hoses everyone else unless they’re the only ones in the street — in which case the streets don’t need to be treated differently

When you get stuck behind people riding like that, you can’t perform a safe pass unless there are no vehicles, cyclists, or runners coming the other way for the entire block. If you’re coming the other way and are stuck behind a cyclist moving at a foot pace, same thing — not enough space for a clean pass.

I’m not talking about COVID-19 here — it’s too close to get to strangers of unknown ability and awareness who might unexpectedly swerve or you could startle and cause to crash (particularly when riding no handed as some riders do).

If a car get stuck behind the cyclists, no one can go any faster than the slowest rider out there. I avoid some greenways because of the car getting pinned behind the slow cyclist issue.

I get that people need to do rec riding — I do myself all the time. But it messes up the road experience for everyone if people don’t work with whoever else is out there and treat the other road users with consideration.

Alex Reedin
Guest
Alex Reedin

Interesting, that doesn’t bother me one bit. When I’m riding fast, I consider narrow residential streets, and especially greenways, as slow zones based on the likely presence of other road users. If I want to ride fast with minimal slowdowns, I use arterial streets.

The fact is that a large number of people who aren’t comfortable biking on arterials like biking slowly and socially – more than one person wide. The greenways are the best place for them to do that. I’m happy they’re riding at all.

I don’t consider them riding side by side and not shunting themselves over to the curb whenever there’s a space without a parked car to be “riding like they’re the only ones on the street.” Being next to other people allows conversation. Swivelling one’s head constantly for road users behind one and swerving in and out of parked cars completely ruins the kind of concentration on other people that this kind of social riding is focused on. They are riding like the activity they want to do is important and worthwhile and of value, even knowing that there are other people out there who want to go fast. I agree, and I think their slow and social riding is *more* important, on average, than saving other people (for example, me, when I’m bike commuting) a few seconds of their/our time.

Is this fair? No. In a perfect world, there would be copious places where people can ride fast *and* mostly separated from cars. But in the America we live, there are very few such places. And I find letting people ride slowly and socially on greenways without being put out about it to be the best way to navigate this wrinkle of our world’s imperfection.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest
Kyle Banerjee

I follow your logic, but I still think we should all have an expectation to work with others on the roads and be attentive. Aside from being the considerate thing to do, safety requires it.

To do otherwise guarantees conflicts and highly negative experiences that won’t encourage them to stay out.

I get social riding and sometimes cycle side by side myself — did exactly that on about a 50 miler last weekend. But everyone I’ve ever social ridden with reconfigures when there’s others around to help them through.

I agree that it’s unsafe to cycle at speed on greenways and n’hood streets and that those who want to move fast need to take arterials. But there’s a big difference between saying everyone should go at relaxed speeds and that everyone should be forced to go no faster than the slowest person who doesn’t care how they impact others.

In any case, as separated space appears on arterials like Rosa and Willamette and the dynamic repeats, everyone loses.

CarsAreAwesome
Guest
CarsAreAwesome

Out of about 15 people (maybe) I saw during two trips on Alameda not a single one of them was wearing a mask and distancing was clearly an afterthought. Oh but I forgot, this was never about safety in the first place.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Drivers kill over 40,000 people in this country every year. Anything we can do to stop cars from driving near people increases safety.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

They predominantly kill themselves, which is I why I generally encourage people to stay far away from their car when they’re driving.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

36,000 at last count.

dwk
Guest
dwk

Nice handle, I do not think this website is for you…

Jered Bogli
Guest
Jered Bogli

Correct, this 100% about closing all streets, to intentionally and completely decimate car culture (almost like a virus…) with an end goal to replace all streets with community gardens and solar panels. also it is targeted directly at you to actively make YOUR life worse…

real talk, I drive, I bike and this program flanks my neighborhood and it has had ZERO impact on me personally, I drive around the barriers to access my home, drive carefully as always and go about my day a bit happier that traffic is being calmed a bit.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

Mask-shaming is not cool.

Jason
Guest
Jason

All I see in the picture is some black folks riding bikes. If you are against that, them I’m against you.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

It is totally uncool to insinuate racism without evidence.

ring a bell
Guest
ring a bell

I think what Jason is suing is based on the first line of the post, “The picture of Bryant shows exactly what we don’t need.”

Jason
Guest
Jason

Okay, how’s this, “you sound racist”.

Josh Mahar
Guest
Josh Mahar

NE Going looked glorious this morning! COVID or not, it’s really amazing to have a little breathing room (off sidewalk) for runners, strollers, and walkers.

There is also a really nice perspective you get from being in the street compared to the sidewalk. A fuller view of the neighborhood, and even some views to the Cascades and Tualatin Hills.

Mark Riskedahl
Guest
Mark Riskedahl

I’ve been riding on NE Going regularly and love how calm it is. It feels like one of the best-used greenways for social distancing, other than the stretch of Sacramento on the ridge above Rose City Golf Course. I still see drivers every time I ride Going, however, that are using it as a through street. No barriers, cones or signs posted anywhere along its length.

bArbaroo
Guest
bArbaroo

Sorry, this is slightly off topic of slow streets but does respond to the question of whether more folks are riding: My observation is that there are more cyclists, pedestrians, skateboards, runners, elliptigoers, out and about. The load on the Springwater trail has been much higher than usual, especially the last 3 weekends. Weekday traffic may be a bit down as there are fewer commuters. Here’s a time-lapse from Saturday May 9, noon-2pm. https://www.instagram.com/p/B_-25l8AtZL/embed/?autoplay=1 Of note, not really a great place to go if you are following distancing protocols, some narrow spots and lots of people without masks.
At times there is a steady line of people coming and going, lots of groups, and lots of families. It’s always busy out there on Mother’s Day weekend but it’s still definitely above normal levels.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I hope we’ll see some of those folks filling up the greenways!

kate
Guest
kate

i’ve yet to encounter one closed off street!

mh
Subscriber

They’re just suggestions of street closures. I’m hoping some of the drivers I saw going through both sides of the intersection will next time only drive on the block of greenway that is their origin or destination. I’m not sure they understand that that is what “local traffic only” means. I’ll see what behavior looks like in a couple of weeks. There seem to be a lot of people who can’t quickly figure out another way to get where they’re going.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

I’m not sure that “local traffic only” has any legal meaning in order to be cited for continuing through the area.

Steve Scarich
Guest
Steve Scarich

In Bend, on the Safer Street near me, I notice no discernable increase in bike traffic. It is a little used route anyway. On streets in general, possibly a tiny increase in cyclists. Out on training rides in the country, hard to tell, because this is usually the time when tourists flock to Bend and ride the popular routes. Not a dramatic increase, if any, in my unscientific survey. One note, I was in a new/used shop yesterday, and the manager said they sold through all their mid-priced mountain bikes, and are getting very few consignment bikes. Normally, they would be receiving many this time of year.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

One of the more positive results of the pandemic has been an expansion of bicycle riding in general and buying better bikes by the mass market in particular. What I’ve seen in my area is people trying and failing to fix their cheap department store bikes at home and now trying to upgrade by buying cheaper bike-shop quality bikes ($300-$600) and some higher-end shops are now expanding into those lines in response.

mh
Subscriber

I hope they learn to maintain their new, better bikes.

El Oso
Guest
El Oso

I think its making a difference on the greenway I live on in between Fremont and Prescott. We have a lot of families on bikes and joggers and from what I saw on yesterday it looked like there was much less cut through traffic. I’m glad PBOT finally got this because I’m seeing weekend levels of use during weekdays and weekends are at Sunday Parkways level of use.

k7ty
Subscriber
k7ty

On Sunday just after lunch I rode the entire lengths of the N Concord, N Bryant, and N Central greenways. I encountered more cars than bike/peds although the counts for either was surprisingly low. I found most of the “local access only” barricades oddly placed just on one end of a road segment so they didn’t create much of a “walled-off” low traffic area. I did notice several cars drive slowly by barricades and not turn in so they are working at some level.

Of note, N Willamette had its usual mass of runners, walkers and bikers all trying to share space. Also Kelly Point Park was quite crowded with people despite it being gated.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

My go-to ride these days is out towards Kelly Point, because I can stick to the road bike lane and avoid crowded paths. I’ve noticed that Kelly Point is getting busier every week. The “overflow” parking lot is now the main lot, and it is routinely full on the weekends. Smith and Bybee was pretty crowded this past weekend as well. I think the state needs to open up additional recreation sites. People are crowding into the few spots that are open, and I think it is making the problem worse than it should be.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest
Kyle Banerjee

What will make the problem worse is people not worrying what they may be carrying to other communities — many of which don’t have access to good medical care — if they open up.

As a lifetime outdoorsperson who goes to the coast and/or mountains nearly every week, I get what it means to not get to go out. And so does the professional and enthusiast outdoor community that overwhelmingly supports the restrictions — which might not be necessary at all if it weren’t for the number of people who refuse to take the pandemic seriously.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest
Kyle Banerjee

I don’t get why Willamette is so popular.

For commuting, sure — you can move quickly. But if you’re running or just out for recreational movement, the n’hood streets are much quieter and it’s not a constant game of dodge ’em.

Barbara
Guest
Barbara

In theory a great idea but question the practice. I live on one of those streets. What I’ve seen is people riding and walking as if the streets are closed off like a Sunday parkway event without any regard for safety which is disappointing. While I rarely drive since the lockdown began have now gotten the evil eye for just driving to my house from the grocery store. There are plently of cut threw drivers (all going too fast anyway) coming off Sandy who just ignore and go around anyway.

Erin M
Guest
Erin M

I also live on one of the slow streets. As a resident, I am allowed to drive on the street, but I am a guest on it. I should be driving at a comfortable biking speed at most, and I should be alert for pedestrians. I also get off the street onto a side street as soon as I can. None of these things are hardships.

Fred
Guest
Fred

I went for a ride in NW on Saturday. NW 24th had the “local traffic only” signs at NW Thurman – and they seemed to make no difference at all. NW 24th has the sharrows painted on the street, but otherwise it’s a wide-open, straight-line street that looks a lot like an arterial. It seemed to have the same amount of car traffic as other streets in NW – though much lower volume than on a typical, non-covid Saturday. Didn’t see many other cyclists on the street.

My conclusion about what the new signs are doing? Not much. But good try, Portland.

Ben G
Guest
Ben G

My anecdotal view of using them this weekend was positive, though about the same amount of people and traffic as before the cones and signs were put out. I will say when crossing 53rd over I-84 into a zone Safe Streets area there was a car behind me and he was being very patient. Not sure if the signage was an influence or just a courteous individual. Curious how this will develop long term, but so far positive.

Joe White
Guest
Joe White

This comment is not an attack on particular ethic group, but is based on repeated observations while driving the legal speed limit on N.E. Sacramento street on the north side of the Rose City golf course. Yesterday, while driving east on this street I had to slow down because there were two white woman walking right next to each other in the street obstructing the traffic. There is a well worn path to walk on off of the street that the women had chosen not to use. Upon hearing my car behind them, the women turned around and looked at my car and then continued to walk in the street blocking the traffic lane. I had to drive in the opposite traffic lane to pass these “entitled ladies” and as I commented to my wife about their rudeness, she sighed and only said two words, “white people.” I laughed so hard for the next three blocks home. Oh yes, I too am a white person. Have a very pleasant day.

Alex Reedin
Guest
Alex Reedin

Is the well worn dirt path perfectly level and wide enough for two people to walk side by side for the duration of their walk? I am somewhat familIar with this street and am gonna guess “No.” If not, can you see why two people might want to walk side by side so they can hear each other better and easily look over to see each other’s facial expressions? People will differ on the relative value of their social connection vs. your speed, but in this instance I probably come down on the side of their social connection.

ChadwickF
Guest
ChadwickF

Yesterday I used SE Central, SE Woodward, SE 52nd and SE Sacramento neighborhood greenway streets.
It felt better where the signs & barrels were placed directly in the road. This maybe accounted for half of the barriers I saw.
From what I could tell it was working. It seems like there could be at least twice as many.
When is the next phase planned to launch? Any word?

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Minneapolis is doing a very similar experiment on about 20 miles of streets, starting about a week and a half ago. A large portion of the routing incorporates existing bike boulevards. Our signage is a little different, with each block having an 8′ wide barricade (just barely enough to drive around), each barricade festooned with a large yellow bike/pedestrian diamond-shaped sign and a smaller square sign advising 10 mph for cars.

I’ve ridden about 2/3 of it, parts of it multiple times. While it is not as heavily used as our immensely popular parkway system along our waterways (which have largely been closed to car traffic, with the former roadways reserved for pedestrians, in addition to the separated feet vs wheels paths we already had), I am definitely see a bunch of people using them, including parents with very small children riding bikes or scooters in the middle of the street. Kind of like Sunday Parkways without as many people, or the need to clear off the street by midafternoon and wait another year before going out again.

In other words, great. So far I haven’t seen any fast-driving behavior, though some confusion on the part of motorists. I think the local residents get it, and drive their cars in and out as needed. The confused people are ones who don’t live on the street in question, so if these are keeping them out, great.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest
Kyle Banerjee

One thing I wonder if is the tactic of marking too many streets as “local access only” may backfire.

My guess is that compliance is decent if these situations are uncommon enough. But if people encounter them too frequently, they’ll systematically ignore them as they do with “Children at Play” signs — a situation that’s gotten so bad that both federal and state authorities recommend avoiding using them.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

It’s still a pretty small minority of streets.

qqq
Guest
qqq

I’m unimpressed with the management of this project. Some friends on SW Miles Pl., which is part of the Willamette Greenway Trail, and already sees lots of people walking and biking, asked if I could contact PBOT about the lack of social distancing on the street.

I’d seen the street was marked as one of the “neighborhood greenways” on this project’s map, so I asked the project manager if PBOT could put up a couple of its social distancing signs it’s been using for the project, but somehow overlooked putting on Miles. I got a reply that Miles isn’t a neighborhood greenway, so didn’t get any signs. I had to reply that Miles was on PBOT’s project map as a “neighborhood greenway”, it’s part of the Greenway Trail, it’s a Major City Trail, it’s much more crowded that other streets that did get the signs, etc.

He replied that OK, I was right, but not all streets in the project got “local access only” signs, so that’s why Miles didn’t get “local access only” signs. I had to reply that I didn’t expect Miles to, because it’s a dead end so is already obviously local access only. I had to repeat my request for a couple “social distancing” signs that PBOT created for the project. Since PBOT encouraged more people to use the street, asking for the same signs other, less crowded streets got seems reasonable. I haven’t heard back yet.

This is a small issue in the scheme of things, but at the same time I’ve been defending this project to people, so it would be nice if a request for two signs didn’t require several emails just to tell PBOT what its own maps says, and what signs its own project has.

qqq
Guest
qqq

Have to give credit where credit is due–talked to the same person on the phone today and he was great. I think some of the earlier issues were due to the street being so unusual.

Alan 1.0
Subscriber

Congrats on chi.streetsbog.org choosing this photo, Jonathan!