Portland Gets a Cycle Track, and All That Comes With It

In Portland, Oregon, already one of America’s best cycling cities, a new amenity was unveiled this past weekend: a cycle track, or physically separated bike lane, near Portland State University. For several blocks, it provides a protected place for bikers to ride — by taking a lane from motor vehicle traffic and changing the place where cars are supposed to park.

But as Bike Portland‘s Jonathan Maus notes in a post on the unveiling ceremony, negative feedback is threatening to drown out positive reaction. It’s a scenario all too familiar to New Yorkers:

cycletrack_big.jpgPortland’s new (and first-ever) cycle track has been installed on SW Broadway near Portland State University. Photo © J. Maus.

[S]ome local TV reports…seem to want to turn this into the latest front in the battle of "cars vs. bikes." One report, by Anne Yeager on KGW-TV

seemed to actually encourage negative feedback when she said on their
6:00 newscast: "If you love the idea, that’s great — but if you don’t,
contact the mayor’s office."


On other local media websites, the comments are flying in. The majority of them that I’ve read are negative. There are all the usual concerns that bikes are getting a free ride, that cars are being
relegated to the margins, that the city is going insane, and so on.

The Oregonian’s coverage led to so many thoughtfully negative comments that reporter Joe Rose decided to post another story on his Hard Drive blog to stick up for the project. Rose dusted off the old “Green Dividend” study by Portland economist Joe Cortright (which shows that our region saves $2.6 billion annually because we drive fewer miles on average).

Even here on BikePortland, several commenters are staunchly opposed to the project.

To combat concerns and negative feedback, the City stresses that this is nothing more than an "experiment." I wonder though, what would happen if they heard more negative than positive feedback on their experiment? Is the City losing the PR battle on this one?

So what do you think? Are cycle tracks worth the backlash they sometimes inspire? Will they ever become common enough — as they are in many European cities — that they will be widely accepted, and respected, by users of all different modes? Or are you one of the people who opposes physically segregated bicycle facilities altogether?

More coverage of the cycle track can be found at Portland Transport, which hails it as the harbinger of "the second era of Portland bicycling infrastructure." Lots of interesting comments there as well.

A related post from the Streetsblog Network today: the FABB Blog links to a report that says local governments should do a better job of providing bicycle infrastructure to help prevent childhood obesity.

  • Jon

    There are the “usual concerns that bikes are getting a free ride” – don’t car drivers get a free ride? The highway/road system was originally developed for cars without any support from the car companies – car drivers have ALWAYS gotten a “free ride” – why shouldn’t bicyclists? The point of the road is to get people from Point A to Point B in a safe, organized fashion – bike lanes mixed with car lanes helps fill the need of a wider range of users.

  • Hop Skip

    Free ride? I don’t own a car and I pay taxes for roads, is that a free ride?

  • a cyclist

    seeing how we are a somewhat democratic country, the use of space should be shared, the majority of users of course should get the biggest space. however, it seems odd to me that 1 person in a car (which is often the case but not always) should get tax dollars to support the road they drive on, while burning up gas that is environmentally unfriendly and politically expensive. if more people are walking or biking it’s time to give up a share of road.

  • Erin

    This is good. There was already a bike lane here, only it was on the other side of the parked cars. The street used to have cars parking along the curb and then a bike lane to the left of the cars. This was a bad situation for the bikes because cars come and go a LOT along Broadway, and pull in and out across the bike lane, often without looking to see if a bike is there or coming. It looks the only road no longer available to cars is a 2-ft wide striped buffer. Why are people complaining about this? The photo above shows that parking has not been removed.

  • Mattyoung

    I see no bikes in the picture?

    Add powered lightweight scooters and possible some light weight, powered three wheelers.

  • That is a dotted white line running down the middle of the road, if I am not mistaken. That means cars still have another lane to choose from. And yet there are still complaints by drivers, of course. Nice.

  • “Is it worth it?” Is heart surgery not worth it because you lose a week of work?

    There will always be a little grumbling, but the way to avoid conflict is to educate others and make sure planners minimize negative side effects.

  • Paul

    Most of the negative feedback seems to be from haters and blog trolls and the people who like it are just going about their day and using it. After riding it twice yesterday I actually heard conversations about it up and down the sidewalk. It’s a very new concept to most people around here so of course anything different gets knee-jerk reactions. The fact is, it’s just a hell of a lot more pleasant experience, especially when you have some bags of groceries, hauling kids…etc. With the old bike lane, you only have about a foot of usable space after accounting the door zone, now you have 7 feet with an extra 3 foot buffer – and your not next to moving cars! Cyclists can now actually pass one another quite safely and comfortably. Fast or slow, what’s not to like? 🙂

  • Erin

    Re: Mattyoung’s brilliant ‘question’, “I see no bikes in the picture?”

    I see only one automobile besides the ones parked. Hmmm. Guess that means that cars need at most one lane. I mean, really, why have two car lanes (and there are two) for one car? That is pure stupidity. Actually, let that car go southbound on another street. Close the road completely.

    Bikes do use that street, a lot.

  • I’m not opposed to cycle tracks, but I do think that before you build one, you should decide if it really solves the problems cyclists have at that particular location.

    If bikes are getting run down or doored in the middle of the block, cycle tracks may make bikers safer. And if cars are taking over the lane, a buffer of parked cars may discourage (most of) them.

    On the other hand, a separated bike lane, blocked from motor traffic’s view by a row of parked cars, may increase the number of right-hook collisions with turning cars. So, if most of the crashes on a street happen on the corners and not in the middle of the block, a cycle track may make things worse.

    I’d also expect that cyclists would have to deal with pedestrians stepping into the lane without looking, some of them heading to their parked cars. Motor traffic is not a good thing, in general, but it does force people to look both ways before stepping off the curb (usually). If there are no cars, pedestrians are much less cautious.

    A lot of people see the case separated lanes, pro or con, as a religious or ideological issue. I think it’s a pragmatic question. Sometimes they’re a good idea, and sometime they’re not.

  • Peter Smith

    I’m not opposed to cycle tracks, but I do think that before you build one, you should decide if it really solves the problems cyclists have at that particular location.

    If bikes are getting run down or doored in the middle of the block, cycle tracks may make bikers safer. And if cars are taking over the lane, a buffer of parked cars may discourage (most of) them.

    the reason more people don’t ride is because they are terrified, rightly, of cars. it’s pretty simple, really. cycle tracks make us cyclists _feel_ a bit safer/more comfortable (and may also provide a bit of actual, statistical safety), so we need them, and we need them everywhere. that’s it. there is really no complexity in the situation at all — we need appropriate cycling infrastructure everywhere.

    the ideal situation, of course, is to do away with all cars, but until we can make that happen, we’ll have to continue with the proliferation of cycle tracks and other bike-special infrastructure. cars were a horrific idea, and many people knew it from the start. thankfully, cars are slowly going away.

  • MKJ

    “the reason more people don’t ride is because they are terrified, rightly, of cars. it’s pretty simple, really. cycle tracks make us cyclists _feel_ a bit safer/more comfortable (and may also provide a bit of actual, statistical safety), so we need them, and we need them everywhere. that’s it. there is really no complexity in the situation at all — we need appropriate cycling infrastructure everywhere.”

    – – –

    That is an incredibly shortsighted statement. If the majority of bicycle crashes are at intersections, which most happen to be, cycle tracks can definitely make the situation worse.

    Constructing something that makes people “feel” safer but in actuality makes the situation worse, is not the right solution. Each location of a proposed cycle track needs to be looked at very carefully, lets not just build them because it makes us feel good about ourselves.

  • Erin

    I do believe that the majority of severe traffic crashes (resulting in hospitalization and/or death of the cyclist) occur in intersections. However, it’s possible that the majority of altercations which may (thankfully) have less serious consequences occur mid-block. Dooring and near-dooring, resulting in bike riders being forced into traffic without having the time to properly judge the speed of approaching vehicles, definitely occurs often, and mid-block.

    Dooring was/is a big problem on Broadway in Portland and I know many people who have been doored there. I had been nearly doored most days along Broadway, no exaggeration.

    It is important for bike riders to feel safer, and it is a justifiable reason to re-engineer a street, although that is not the only reason SW Broadway was reconfigured.

    Oh, and another thing: cycle tracks don’t automatically “make the situation worse” (the situation of cars turning). There are lots of great ways to increase visibility of cyclists at the intersections – not allowing parking right up to the crosswalk, creative uses of bump-outs, colored pavements, signage, etc. Don’t forget that, given time and education, a lot of people who drive cars can learn to adapt.

    I don’t think that anyone is “just building them (cycle tracks) because it makes us feel good about outselves”. MKJ, that’s a rude and uninformed thing to write, and it puts words in the mouths of others.

    We DO need appropriate cycling infrastructure everywhere. Whether appropriate is a Class I (separated), Class II (striped), or Class III (signed) bike route is dependent on the characteristics of each locale. Several streets in SE & NE Portland are Class III bike routes, sharing the road with cars, no striping, no separated path, and they work beautifully. Other measures (small traffic circles nicely landscaped, etc.) have been implemented in these locations. I would never recommend cycle tracks for these neighborhood streets. But in some places, I would.

  • MKJ

    I agree, we do need appropriate cycling infrastructure, whether it is a cycle track or not. However, a cycle track may not always be the best solution depending on the location (and I’m not saying the Portland cycle track is dangerous, I know nothing about it, I’m speaking in general terms). This statement from Peter, “we need them, and we need them everywhere. that’s it. there is really no complexity in the situation at all” is what I have a problem with. As you said, we do NOT need them everywhere. And I never said cycle tracks automatically make the situation worse, that’s putting words in my mouth, but in some cases there is a chance they may.

    We need to carefully plan and design the appropriate infrastructure for each project, not just apply a one-size fits all solution.

  • Nicolem

    Portland puts safety first by utilizing <a href="http://www.slipnot.com/products"<slip resistant metal products where applicable, for example non skid road plates, slip sidewalk grating, access hatches, cycle safe lanes and more. 

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