07/12/11

Biking, Walking, & Blogging: Portland's Bicycle Czar Comes to MinneapolisBiking, Walking, & Blogging: Portland's Bicycle Czar Comes to Minneapolis

 

Portland's Bicycle Czar Comes to Minneapolis

 

By Steve Clark

Despite getting to experience many of the great bike facilities and sights in Minneapolis, Roger Geller says he is not planning on relocating here anytime soon! His satisfaction with his position as Portland's Bicycle Coordinator and pride in having the highest percentage of bike commuters of all large cities in the United States was more than evident when he spoke to a room full of advocates and public officials as a kick-off event for Bike Walk Week on June 6th.

The first clue was when he stripped down to his "I bike Portland" t-shirt after donning a sport coat.  Knowing that there was a friendly competition going on between Portland and Minneapolis on which place truly is the best large city for cyclists, Geller told the audience that although he has heard the claim that "Portland is only an avenue in Minneapolis," as hard as he tried, he could not find a single thing in Portland named "Minneapolis."   So with that strategy shot, he did what one might expect: actually try to prove why Portland is so exceptional for cyclists.

While Portland arguably doesn't have an off-street facility equal to the Midtown Greenway, they certainly have mastered the on-street component. "For some time now we have been committed to making sure that most of our major streets, especially the bridges and streets that lead to bridges, have bike lanes," Geller told us.  "Sometimes this means reducing travel lanes to 10', sometimes it means dropping a travel lane, and sometimes it means removing on-street parking .... Our attitude is let's give cyclists as much dedicated space as we can."

Understanding that many would-be cyclists want a greater sense of protection from moving traffic, Geller is now looking for locations where ordinary bike lanes can be turned into buffered bike lanes or 'cycle tracks' as they are referred to in Europe.  "We know that there's a huge segment of the population interested in cycling instead of driving, but they're afraid of traffic.  Buffered bike lanes still make use of the pavement that is already out there, but provide a lot more protection." 

Among more recent innovations are the numerous colorized bike boxes that allow cyclists to move ahead of traffic at intersections. "The main purpose for the bike boxes were to reduce conflicts with right turning motorists," said Geller. "Instead of cyclists being tempted to stay to the right of the cars, they get to be up in front." The boxes (painted at the intersection) also help protect pedestrians since the stop bar for motorists is much further back.

But the type of roadway design that Geller seems most excited about are the "bicycle boulevards" which have only recently come to Minneapolis, but have been in Portland since the late 1980s.  Bike Boulevards are low volume (at least in terms of motorized travel) local streets that often parallel busier streets.   However, unlike most local streets that cyclists often avoid because of difficulty and delays in crossing major streets and the numerous stop signs, bike boulevards are designed to make the crossings easier and stop signs are reversed or removed as much as possible. Geller explained that once those changes are made, it is essential to use medians or other strategies to divert motorized traffic off these streets and to use speed bumps and other traffic calming to keep speeds slow and discourage through automobile traffic.  "Access for local residents is still there, but through motorized travel is discouraged."  The bike boulevards work extremely well for all ages and abilities.  Because of their huge success, (the residents like them, pedestrians like them, and bicyclists love them) the City now has plans to add 15 miles of bicycle boulevards each year.

Portland has also been a leader in hosting "Cyclovias" or an Open Streets campaign (called "Sunday Parkways" in Portland).  They have been extremely popular with five happening each summer. Portland's most recent Sunday Parkway-the second of the year-was held the last Sunday in June and attracted a record 31,000 people.

"It is City policy to do whatever we can do to promote the use of bicycles.  We understand that bicycling is good for the City, and hence, we want to be good to bicyclists."