Especially since the weather has improved this spring, Portland has seen a huge upshoot in the level of bicycle traffic around town. During rush hour and on weekends you can find large flocks of people on bicycles making their way across the city.
Regardless of the weather, Portland’s cycling rates are continuously going up, and this starts to make certain issues more and more apparent.
As I wrote recently, parking becomes an issue – not only that there isn’t enough, but that suddenly it starts to matter how you use the parking that is available. If you have a bike rack that fits 6 bikes, but only 2 people ever use it, it doesn’t matter too much how you park your bike on it. However, if you have 8 people trying to use that rack that fits 6 bikes, it’s important for everyone to park their bike in a way that leaves space open for other bikes (and potentially a couple extras to sneak in on the sides).
We’re starting to hear about bicycle accidents where there were no cars involved. Such an incident happened on the Hawthorne Bridge during rush hour, where a bicyclist tried to pass another cyclist who was moving for some pedestrians, and bumped her, knocked her off balance, and she fell onto the grating in the automobile traffic lane.
We’re starting to see congestion, which is promoting a lot of talk about separated bicycle infrastructure (along with the City of Portland cycle path and buffered bike lane projects). It seems that a lot of die-hard cyclists enjoy the freedom of riding in automobile traffic, where they can go as fast as they are able most of the time, and can just ride straight ahead at full speed. They fear the introduction of separated bicycle infrastructure as the biggest threat to their ability to ride straight and fast, and would prefer that anyone who wants to ride a bike should ride in traffic like them.
We’re starting to see more and more large cargo bikes like the Metrofiets or the Dutch and Chinese bakfietsen, and how do we accommodate those in terms of parking, in terms of infrastructure? When riding in a standard Portland painted bike lane as they exist now, they pretty much take up the whole thing.
So yeah, the increase in bicycle traffic around town is creating a new set of problems that we’ll have to work through as we continue to encourage cycling as transportation here in Portland. It’ll be interesting to see how the issues get worked out. A lot of it will just be people acclimatizing to more bicycle traffic and getting used to sharing closer quarters. Some of it will be resistance to the Oregon law that says that a cyclist must ride in a bike lane if there is one (with a number of exceptions for avoiding hazards and such). Some of it will be resistance to new bicycle infrastructure because it is more tangible than Oregon law. Hopefully, in general it will be a process of people becoming more aware of the views of others, and learning to co-exist in a more friendly manner.
I feel like Portland is getting close to the tipping point, coming from where promoting bicycle use is a fight and a political hazard, and going to where promoting bicycle use is the expected norm. Wait for more evidence of that in the near future (like 30 more bike parking corrals going in over the summer).
Cheers, and happy riding all!