Streetfilms Portland Week: Bicycle Boulevards

Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson has been spending a lot of time in Portland learning about the politics, planning, engineering and culture behind that city’s phenomenal bike network. Working closely with Greg Raisman from Portland’s Dept. of Transportation Clarence produced a half hour documentary called "A Celebration of Portland Transportation." On Saturday, the film was shown on the big screen at Portland’s Bagdad Theater.

While Portland is, in so many ways, completely different from New York City, these Streetfilms provide a ton of valuable information for anyone interested in improving New York City’s bike network and public spaces. What I find most remarkable is the way in which Portland’s transportation officials are really working with communities towards broader quality of life goals. The job of a DOT official in Portland is about so much more than just keeping traffic moving.

Clarence has broken down his documentary into a six, bite-size, Streetfilms. And every day this week we will feature one or two of them here on Streetsblog. If you’re a glutton for Streetfilms you can watch them all right here.

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Portland, Oregon’s Bicycle Boulevards
Running time: 3:08 
Download: 12.12 MB

Bicycle Boulevards in Portland are beautiful, safe and tranquil for bicycling. They are also wonderful streets to live on. Mia Birk, former manager of City of Portland’s Bicycle Program (1993-99), and Mark Lear of the Portland Office of Transportation explain a few of the many strategies employed to keep thru-traffic off the boulevards and to make the riders using them safe.

  • EastBayBlvd

    Portland’s bike boulevards are great, no question about it. But their stencils are a little too small for their bike boulevards. Anyone know why they chose such small icons versus the ones in Berkeley?

  • There are also only 30 miles of bike boulevards in Portland. We’re working to change that!

    The small icons are a subject of great debate — are they small and not visual clutter, but a secret sign to bikes, or are they small and easy for cars to miss? Are they small so bicyclists won’t slip on the thermoplastic?

  • Clarence

    Funny Evan, I have all those conflicting thoughts simultaneously! Nice that the icons are small and unobtrusive. Also easy to follow and probably cheap to replace and lay down, but those Bike Boulevards in Berkeley with those stencils make you feel like you’re a king! When one passes under me while riding I can never get over the size of ’em.

  • Aaron

    Bike Blvds. There is nothing in NYC to compare to what Portland has. Even the smallest streets in New York is chocked with traffic. What I discovered from talking with hundreds of people, is that most folks see only the roads they travel on. For vehicle/transit users, this means big scary roads. However as the bike blvd infrastructure develops, it becomes more obvious that there are safe alternatives which are clearly navigable. Portland is leading the nation by steering away from bike lanes (which cars use as well) and towards more simple solutions.

  • I could easily see those types of streets in Queens or Staten Island and maybe some of Brooklyn. It would be interesting to do some test cases in the less dense areas first. On Staten Island Castleton Ave might be a great street to try this on…

  • Clarence

    When I see the Bike Boulevards of Berkeley or Portland, my first reaction is that there will be a million excuses as to why the city and DOT will say these will not work here. But I believe they could – not in Manhattan that would be pushing it – but certainly all the other boros. There are whole pockets of Brooklyn that look so much like Portland does.

    In Manhattan, the emphasis should be on curbside, physically separated paths, a video I should be posting sometime next week.

  • Take the 2nd Street bike lane that runs through Park Slope, Brooklyn. The street is pretty narrow and they’ve painted this strip along one side for bikes. I never ride in it. The bike lane puts you in the door path. The street is one-way going downhill so it’s really easy to travel as fast as a car. There is really no reason why bikes shouldn’t just take the middle of the lane and cars shouldn’t just chill the hell out and ride a little bit more slowly on their way to the next red light — or, better yet — be discouraged from using 2nd Street altogether.

  • Clarence

    Exactaly. In that area of Brooklyn you could define from 4th Avenue to the Park and Union Street to 9th Street as a block to discourage traffic from using. In Portland, they would probably look at 4th Avenue (way underused as a way to funnel traffic out of nabes), 7th & 8th Avenues and Prospect Park West as places to send traffic to by placing all kinds of traffic calming, traffic diverters, and street change directions all around and protecting the area. This would create natural places to make boulevards, and heck there are so many schools within those blocks, Safe Routes to School money could probably be used to do it.

  • Elizabeth

    All I can say is that I the bike boulevards that I’ve ridden on. I’ve ridden my bike in Portland, Berkeley, and New York, and let me attest that riding in the first two cities is much more peaceful.

    When I’m in Portland or Berkeley, I always ride on the bike boulevards because I definitely feel safer and happier. I avoid main arterial streets because I can. When I’m in New York, it’s always pretty stressful no matter which streets I ride on. In fact, my favorite place to ride is on the bicycle side of Manhattan bridge because there’s only bike traffic (aside from the occasional pedestrian, but peds are nicer than cars).

  • Greg Raisman

    I literally could talk for an hour about bike boulevards, so I’ll try to contain myself. Here are some key things:

    1) Bike Boulevards are, by definition, on streets with 3000 cars a day or less. We have cases (like Lincoln St) where the street had more than 3000 cars a day prior to being a boulevard. Lincoln used to have about 5000 cars, now has about 2000.

    2) Bike Boulevards are streets that are usually places where people are riding bikes anyhow. We want to enhance them for bicycles and make them less disirable for cut through motor vehicle traffic.

    3) Bike Boulevards are about much more than bikes. I can’t go to a neighborhood meeting without getting hit hard about the number and speed of cars on residential streets. A successful boulveard is a great places to let kids play and for seniors to stay active because of the reduced threat from motor vehicle traffic.

    People have a real cause for concern about the number and speed of motor vehicles. Very small changes in speed make a huge difference for traffic safety. Here’s a slide we use to illustrate that point: http://bikeportland.org/wp-content/images/speed_stopping_distance_big.jpg

    The way it plays out in terms of crashes is that 70% of our streets are residential. 20% of bike crashes happen there. As the number and speed of cars goes up, that proportion gets further skewed. We have very low numbers and low severity of reported bicycle crashes on our boulevards.

    On a bigger scale, we had more than 43,000 people die in traffic in our country last year. The number one factor was speed, following by DUII. If we had been following trends of many other countries in the world, we would have had 20,000 fewer dead people in our country last year. Slowing our speed down is very important.

    4) Providing good guidance is very important on a boulevard. While there is ongoing conversation about the size of our pavement markings, I like that the process led to the small ones we have.

    I like them because they are hard to see in a car, but easy to find on a bike. The more cars on a boulevard, the more difficult it is to acheive success (success defined by getting more people to ride, providing a safe environment, and creating a more livable street).

    I like that the markings have very clear arrows that point you in the right direction when the route turns.

    I also like that they are inexpensive to install and maintain. That means we can get broader coverage more quickly and that they will stay visible and on the ground longer.

    On the maintenance front, I know that as a member of the Traffic Operations Division, we get requests for (what dorks like me call) pavement legends that say what the speed is or to stop. We don’t use these types of legends because of the cost and frequency that they have to be maintained due to being worn off. In addition to not encouraging more motor vehicle traffic and being much less expensive, the small dots get run over much less frequently than a large pavement legend.

    Thanks and keep up the good work in New York City.

    Greg Raisman
    Community and School Traffic Safety Partnership
    Portland Office of Transportation
    (503)823-1052

  • someguy

    Thanks, Greg, for sharing all the great insight from your enviable city across flyover country.

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