Image via Google Street View
There’s a lot of discussion in the transportation world about the benefits and downsides of cycling-specific road infrastructure. Many people feel it’s just simply a bad idea, and that everyone should ride in the road with the automobile traffic. Many other people feel that any bicycle infrastructure is a good thing, and a positive move forward.
I would say I fall somewhere in-between there. Having had years now to ride around Portland, I’ve had a chance to ride on the road in mixed traffic, to ride on what I think is pretty good separated bicycle infrastructure, and to ride on what I feel is dangerous and poorly-designed bicycle infrastructure.
Just this morning I had the pleasure of riding on a piece of road with very poorly-designed bicycle infrastructure. Above you see NW Everett street, facing East, from just on the west side of NW 14th. Coming down Everett, which is the only remotely bike-friendly street that crosses the freeway (I-405) going East within at least 5 blocks in either direction, you come to a bike box at the freeway, and then a standard painted bike lane across the freeway overpass and down the next block, which then ends right here at 14th.
There are a lot of problems with this. The bike lane ends on the near side of the intersection and basically turns into car parking on the other side of the intersection, which forces you to change lanes IN the intersection (which is actually illegal in a car, because it’s dangerous), it forces you to merge with traffic that is probably moving significantly faster than you and is not necessarily expecting you to merge, and if you’re not expecting the bike lane to end, it can put you in kind of a panic situation, where you may do something dangerous simply due to surprise. Not only that, it creates the expectation that you will use the infrastructure, and if you choose not to use it because it puts you into a dangerous situation, people driving get angry at you for being ‘in their way’.
Essentially this same situation exists in many places all over Portland where it was deemed that automobile parking was more important than the safety of people riding bicycles (that is, pretty much everywhere), and therefore when the road narrows to the point that you can’t have both automobile parking and a bike lane (which, the way we usually do it, is arguably unsafe in many cases as well), the bike lane just suddenly disappears.
To me, this is a case of infrastructure we would be better off without. They should either remove the bike lane after the bike box at 16th (the bike box would allow bicycles to get out into the lane at the light more easily), or they should (preferably) remove the car parking down the rest of the South side of Everett, and continue the bike lane all the way.
As it is, this strip of bike lane is creating a dangerous situation, putting people on bikes in harm’s way.
I had the pleasure of getting yelled at by a FedEx driver this morning, who was very unhappy that I exited the bike lane before it ended (while there was no traffic coming), so that I wouldn’t have to merge in the intersection shown above, and ended up in front of him while there was still bike lane to the right. He came up behind me right before a red light, and turned at the next block, so it’s not even that he was annoyed at me holding him up, he was just in a fit of moral rage at my not using the wonderful infrastructure that was provided for me, and paid for by his (and of course not my) tax money.
This is why it’s critical that we 1) design our infrastructure well from the start, especially if you’re going to legally require people use it, which Oregon does and 2) work really hard to stop this insane bikes vs. cars thing that plagues the public discussion about anything to do with bicycles.
It’s not about any kind of moral judgements of people who drive cars or ride bikes, it’s not about favoring bikes over business, or allowing people to get off easy by not paying for the roads but getting all kinds of money spent on them (which isn’t even remotely true, anyway).
The fundamental issue that it all boils down to is letting citizens of a city move through the city to the places they need to go without fearing for their lives. That’s it. Currently, you cannot just assume that you can do that in Portland unless you’re driving.
We’re willing to spend tens of millions of dollars re-arranging and widening freeways to help prevent automobile collisions, but we’re not willing to remove a dozen parking spaces in a dense, congested area (where it would make sense to encourage people not to drive as much anyway) to eliminate a dangerous situation like this, and it takes a mass citizen uprising to close an entrance to a street (N. Wheeler) where people are repeatedly being injured in right-hook collisions, because a few businesses are concerned it might take people an extra 40 seconds to get to their business.
There is something fundamentally wrong here.
We need to start thinking about our roads in a way that enables people. We need to start designing our infrastructure (not just the bicycle-specific stuff) logically, thoughtfully, and well. We need to consider that anyone moving on the roads is a human being, a potential customer, a potential acquaintance, a potential co-worker. This is not a war, we all lose if we go at it like that. This is about collaboration and enabling. We all win if we do that.