Portland’s best-kept secret when it comes to cycling, is that we don’t have the political motivation to move beyond the easy projects that have the fewest repercussions, but also minor benefits. We’re all for putting in speed bumps (which also inconvenience cyclists) and gutter-placed bike lanes (which often inconvenience cyclists), but when it comes to things like removing car parking, installing good separated bicycle infrastructure, closing streets to cars (even ones with very little car traffic, and easy alternate routes), or making a particular section of road less convenient for automobile traffic in order to make it more convenient for bicycle and pedestrian traffic, Portland is extremely lacking in motivation.
As reported by Bike Portland last week, several key projects in the Lloyd district and a project to potentially reduce one of the busiest bike streets in Portland to one auto lane, and increase bicycle capacity (which is currently lagging far behind the number of cyclists using it) are in danger of being categorically shelved by the city, due to vague concerns from a few business owners about reducing automobile capacity.
Granted, some of these spots are going to require careful planning if the projects do go through, but at this point, Portland is at a stage where it needs to buck up and do the work. The citizens are requesting it. They seem to have forgotten that something like 60% of Portlanders said they would use a bike for transportation either at all, or more often, if they felt it was safer to do so, and in some areas, up to 25% of residents already use a bicycle as one of their primary forms of transportation. Many of the business concerns expressed revolve around the movement of freight through these areas – which would be much less of a problem if there were more people walking and cycling, and not driving single-occupancy cars.
There is not this stark dichotomy of bicycle users vs. car drivers. Removing some automobile amenities in an area will not necessarily even change who comes to that area, it may just change how they come. And while it may keep a person from the suburbs from driving 20 miles in to the city to get there, it may also encourage 10 people from the neighborhood nearby to walk there or ride their bikes.
We’re all seeing the benefits of supporting non-automotive transportation, from an economic point of view, a livability point of view, a social justice point of view – it makes sense all the way across the board.
And yet, if a few businesses get together and say they are “concerned” about a project, it is immediately in danger of being shelved. This doesn’t sound to me like a city that is invested in promoting walking and biking as the preferred forms of transportation, does it to you?