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October 14th, 2009 JONATHAN CROWL | News Stories
 

Changing Gears

A new city plan wants one in four commuters riding bikes by 2030.

     
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IMAGE: Tom Martinez

Portland metro-area residents have until Nov. 8 to comment on a new bike master plan that aims to triple the city’s 300-mile bike network and quadruple the number of riders.

The city’s first bike master plan, in 1996, is credited by bike aficionados like BikePortland.com editor-in-chief Jonathan Maus with transforming Portland into one of America’s premier bicycling cities. (According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 6.4 percent of Portland’s commuters ride bikes, ranking the city first among U.S. cities.)

This new 282-page plan (available online at wweek.com/bike_plan) intends to increase that commuter total to 25 percent by renovating routes with low motor-vehicle traffic into roadways featuring bike lanes. In addition to the revamped roadways, amendments to Portland’s transportation system plan will examine how the city classifies bikes in legal terms.

“In some regards it’s a pedestrian, in some regards it’s a motor vehicle, and sometimes it’s all on its own,” says Maus. “Bicycles have always been a toy or recreational item. Only recently have they been considered a mode of transportation.”

Before you comment, here’s what else you should know about the proposal:

  • A pecking order has already been established to give available funds first to the highest-priority projects. Unlike the 1996 plan, the 2030 plan has already cast its five project phases into a hierarchy, meaning there won’t be any debates over where and how money should be dispensed. “Cities need to focus on the most cost-effective investments in a day of limited financial abilities,” says Scott Bricker, executive director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and a member of the master plan’s 38-member steering committee.

  • The plan aims to relieve congestion for downtown businesses. Bricker says more than 50 businesses have already requested that motor-vehicle parking outside their stores be replaced with bike parking. “We’re finding that what is politically acceptable is changing,” Bricker says. But not all businesses are excited about all potential changes, particularly those whose clientele prefer to drive. “A lot of people that shop here drive,” says Cecily Stevens, manager of Goorin Brothers Hat Shop at Northwest 23rd Avenue and Johnson Street. “I like the idea of more parking for bikes, but I’m not sure [exchanging car parking for bike parking] is in the best interests of our business.”

  • Building it doesn’t mean they will come by bike. Just because the city creates roadways for bikes doesn’t guarantee new cyclists. Comfort and security become increasingly important for people who may be too scared to bike. And some cyclists believe the plan focuses too much on creating separation and not enough on treating bicycles as equal to automobiles. “Every study out there says that a successful bike network has to be safe for everyone from ages 7 to 70,” Maus says. Separated bike lanes or lanes with a buffer between them and cars would be the safest and most comfortable, according to Maus. But construction or changes to roadways owned by the Oregon Department of Transportation, such as Southeast Powell Boulevard and North Lombard Street, will require the department’s OK before the City of Portland can proceed with the changes.

  • Getting 25 percent of daily commuters on bicycles would be unprecedented in America, but not elsewhere. Portland lifted its bike commuter numbers from 4 percent in 2007 to 6.4 percent in 2008. The 2030 plan points to European cities like Copenhagen, where as much as 55 percent of residents bike to work or school, as reason to believe raising Portland’s number to 25 percent makes sense. “Cities like Copenhagen spent 100 years building their infrastructure to get to that point,” Maus says. But he also thinks Portland can realize its goals much more quickly: “I actually think [the master plan] could be a little more bold. I think [2030] is too far out.… I’d like to see a plan for us reaching 20 percent by 2015.”

FACT: Comments on the plan can be sent to Ellen Vanderslice, Portland Bureau of Transportation, 1120 SW 5th Ave., Suite 800, Portland, OR. 97204, or by email to bicyclemasterplan@pdxtrans.org. The Portland Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the plan Oct. 27 at 6 pm in Room 2500A, 1900 SW 4th Ave.
 
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