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Portland’s Bike Boulevards Become Neighborhood Greenways

Transportation planners in Portland, Oregon are taking their famous bicycle boulevards to the next level. By adding more routes and stepping up the traffic calming treatments, the city is not only making these streets more attractive and usable for cyclists, but also for pedestrians, runners, children, and anyone else who gets around under their own power.

These next-generation facilities have been christened “Neighborhood Greenways,” and by 2015, over 80 percent of all Portlanders will live within half a mile of one. The city is counting on these re-engineered streets to reach its goal of increasing bicycle mode share from eight percent to 25 percent by 2030.

Just about anybody who’s biked one of these routes can testify to the safety and peace you experience. You’ll see scores of families and children riding to school with regularity. At any time of day, there’s a constant buzz of activity, and during rush hours you’ll see many more bikes than cars. As Portland Mayor Sam Adams points out, “They’re on a quiet street, where that bike boulevard is prioritized for the bike, not the car.”

On a final fun note, one day Portland may also be able to lay claim to being the birthplace of the “sharrow flower.” What’s that? You’ll just have to take watch this Streetfilm and find out.


[music] 

Speaker: [00:02] Welcome to Portland.  We’re turning our bike boulevards into neighbourhood greenways and working to create a citywide system that’s great to live and play and get around by walking and biking. 

 

[music] 

Mayor Sam Adams:  [00:26] In preparation for our 25 year master plan for biking, we did a lot of research and we did a lot of focus groups about what it would take to get from 8 to 25% of all trips by bike.  And what we learned is that bike boulevards, we also call them greenways, is the way to go. 

 

Mike Lear:  [00:45] Over the next five years we’re going to be increasing the percentage of Portlanders that live within a half mile of a family friendly bicycle and pedestrian facility from less than 25% to over 80%.  The main tool that we’re using to achieve those outcomes is the neighbourhood greenway project.

 

Greg Raisman:  [01:00] So right now we’re riding on the Going Neighbourhood Greenway.  One of the things that we do to make these routes pleasant is we make sure cars are going slow.  And we do that by installing speed bumps.  On this route we turned the orientation of 19 Stop signs to make it a through route for bicycles.  In addition, we put in 21 new speed bumps to make sure that we kept the speed down for cars, and then we put in some traffic barriers to make sure that there’s not that many cars here in the first place.

 

Mike Lear:  [01:28] Even in Portland one of the biggest challenges to creating a family friendly network is getting bicyclists and pedestrians across busy streets.  At this crossing of the Going Neighbourhood Greenway project and Martin Luther King Boulevard, we extended the median island and allowed pass throughs for bicyclists and pedestrians.  It’s made this project much easier and friendly and comfortable for people that are crossing this busy street. 

 

Greg Raisman:  [01:52] Behind me is one of our guide signs that we use on our Neighbourhood Greenway Network to let people know where they’re going.  We show up to three destinations, how far it is and how long it takes to get there.  Our new signs that we’ve started to use, we made the bicycle symbol a little smaller and the words bigger.  This is a sharrow flower.  We use it at the junction of our Neighbourhood Greenway routes so that people know that they have a decision to make.  We’re standing on the Concorde Neighbourhood Greenway where it meets the Bryant Neighbourhood Greenway, and this is where they make up their mind.

 

Mike Lear:  [02:22] A lot of our old bike boulevards have volumes of over a thousand cars a day.  With our next generation Neighbourhood Greenway projects, we’re trying to get the volume of cars down to below 500, if possible.  We’re also going to be working in the State legislature to create a 20 mile per hour Neighbourhood Greenway speed designation.  If this passes, we’ll be able to engineer our projects to a slower, more trail like speed which will increase the comfort and safety of cyclists and pedestrians. 

 

[music] 

Kiel Johnson:  [03:08] The bike trains are a really great compliment to the bike boulevards and we’ve been really fortunate for the City’s support in installing these bike boulevards that really make it safe to ride on, and really welcoming for kids. 

 

Mary Anthony:  [03:22] Last year when Safe Routes to School brought bike education to the fifth graders here at Beach, I had three children, none of whom knew how to ride a bike.  My fifth grader’s teacher volunteered to try to help her learn while the other kids were learning bike safety.  They started on Monday, by Wednesday my fifth grader could ride a bike, by Friday her brother in second grade could ride a bike, and two weeks later her sister could ride a bike.  And my husband got his bike out of the basement, where it had lived for 20 years, and I got going on a bike again and we’re all riding. 

 

Kris Meyer:  [03:50] You can see all the bike racks we have behind us.  They’re all quite new.  I’ve been here for 17 years and we didn’t have one bike rack when I first started here.  So I think the most exciting thing is that a lot of our kids come ready to learn cos they’ve gotten fresh air, they’ve gotten exercise, they feel a part of our school community.

 

Mike Lear:  [04:06] One of the other benefits of bicycle boulevards is using storm water treatments in the design to not only calm traffic, but to also manage the storm water that otherwise would be going into our sewer system.

 

Ivy Dunlap:  [04:19] You can see the green street managing storm water.  Trees creating a better pedestrian and bike environment and also cleaning the air and capturing storm water.  Speed bumps slowing traffic.  We choose vegetation that’s low to keep sight distance open.  One of our work core species is juncus because of all of the dense vegetation at the bottom, it collects pollutants when the water is flowing through the plants.  When you’re in Portland you will see a diversity of green street projects.  You’ll see them being used as traffic diverters at 33rd and Going.  You will see a new layout that we’re using.  This is the more traditional curb extension used to prevent basements who are back ups in little pockets of neighbourhoods.

 

Brett Horner:  [05:05] From Parks perspective we like the greenways because they can first of all connect existing open spaces or planned open spaces.  But they can also provide a level of service in areas where we can’t get a park.  So if we don’t have land in an area or it’s too expensive in an area to build a park, we see the opportunity in working in the streets and are adjacent to the streets in providing a level of amenity that reads and feels like a park.

 

[music] 

Brett Horner:  [05:40] We also see some social benefits as well I believe because people are interacting with their neighbours, they’re looking out for each other, and they’re exercising.

 

[music] 

Kiel Johnson:  [05:54] Having been on a residential street where it’s really calm, it’s a really great like social atmosphere where people can talk and get to know each other.

 

Abra McNair:  [06:04] When I commute to work down the Going Street Greenway I see people out walking in the street and like running in the street.  People feel safer and in any sort of transportation mode.

 

Mayor Sam Adams:  [06:13] They’re on a quiet street where the Stop signs are in their favour, where that bike boulevard is prioritised for the bike not the car, for the pedestrian not the car.  And that it actually in many cases is the most reliable trip in terms of time travel, is the quickest trip when you include, you know, the time to park, is the cheapest trip when you include the cost of parking, and it’s a trip that allows them to both to get to work and exercise.   

[music]

Transcription Sponsored by: Transcript Divas Transcription Services

Clarence Eckerson, Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • http://www.greenidea.eu Todd Edelman

    The kid on the scoot bike towards the end is very cute.

    Great that they are trying to change the legislation to have a max. speed limit of 20mph... but considering that the bikes in the video are mostly going 12 to 15mph tops, even a slower top speed would be better. How fast are cars traveling now?

    Almost everything we see here is low-ish density residential neighborhoods. What are public transport options for these people? Do the Greenways lead to public transport? And what if you need to visit some businesses, which I assume are on the main thoroughfares? Is it safer there, too? Did the cars which are not moving on these Greenways evaporate or just divert to the bigger streets, and are people who live on these streets having a less green way with things?

    Do all these helmet wearers know, for example, that an Australian woman recently successfully fought a ticket for not wearing a helmet since she convinced the court that not wearing one is safer?

  • http://urbanaggression.com fyx’d

    I envy Portlanders!

  • Solo500

    From NYC:

    Portland bike boulevards might as well be on a another @#$ planet. Not a single salmon, cellphone hiker. http://bit.ly/a2m8Dh

  • http://www.portlandonline.com/smarttrips Steve Hoyt-McBeth

    #1 Todd: Neighborhood Greenways are by design on local streets, where we usually don't have transit routes, although transit may intersect a NG. The greenways are often parallel to neighborhood commercial streets were density of housing and commercial make it a better spot for a transit route.

    I live a couple of blocks of the Going Street Neighbohrood Greenway and the transformation has been extremely impressive. I expected the increase of bike traffic, but the ownership of the street demonstrated by pedestrians, families, joggers, dog walkers is beyond my expectations.

    As a cyclist, it's a big treat. Flipping the stop signs, calming the street w/ speed bumps, and restricting auto entry at collectors makes an enormous difference in quality of life as a cyclist. It's the Resers Peanut Butter Cup of bike facilities: low auto traffic of a local street with infrequent interruptions of a collector/arterial.

  • exile

    I love the bike network in Portland.  Let me tell you exactly why.

    I had a late evening date, down near the waterfront.  It was a nice, cool evening, and our date ran very late.  At 2:00am, we headed back home.  She was on a vintage Peugeot Mixte, and looked absolutely adorable.  I rode just behind, and on her left, basking in the glow of her dynamo taillight.  The streetlights cast shadows through her spokes.  There weren't any cars on the bike greenway, and it was so quiet. That night, I feel in love.  With her, and with the city we rode through.

  • Severin

    I really like the bike boulevard concept, it is the closest thing we have to Dutch Bicycle Streets. If 80% of people live by a 'neighborhood greenway' there is no doubt that cycling rates will increase. When there are diverters and such, I think it opens people considering if a car is the best way to travel. Cutting travel distances for cyclists and increasing distance required for cars makes riding a bike a very attractive option.

    As for getting 25% bike mode share by 2030, Portland will have to work fast. It will be fun to see intense bike infrastructure grow in Portland if bike share is hoped to jump 18% in 20 years.

  • taomom

    What a great, low-cost investment in the Portland economy! Portland will now:

    1) be less affected by the coming sharp rise in gasoline prices due to the Fed's quantitative easing.

    2) be more resilient as peak oil reduces the amount of oil worldwide available for US import.

    3) have a healthier populace and work force, resulting in lower absenteeism and lower regional health care costs.

    4) have more stable and safer neighborhoods due to increased interaction between residents, resulting in lower crime rates, greater life satisfaction and stronger families.

    4) further attract people open to change and new ideas, the type best suited to new technology and innovative start-ups.

    No doubt some car drivers have been inconvenienced by these neighborhood greenways, but for once it seems the health, prosperity and well-being of the citizenry have taken precedence?

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/jass jass

    How about we NOT mimic their sharrows and sharrow flowers?

    Sharrows are supposed to say two thing:
    1) Drivers: Watch for bikes
    2) Cyclists: Bike HERE to be free of the door zone.

    Portland threw all that out the window to use them as wayfinders, putting them exactly in the middle of the street.

    It's stupid.

  • Bill

    I am sooooooo gonna live here someday!

  • Sprague

    This is a sweet film and it demonstrates how much some cities, like San Francisco, have to do in order to make their streets safer for all users (like kids on bikes). Hopefully SF will one day have bike boulevards, too.

    Thank you for another great streetfilm!

  • Clarence Eckerson, Jr.

    Jass,

    Although I am not the Portland expert, I'd say they do exactly both things you point out.  If you ride over them, no way you are getting doored.  The presence of them along with the signage and traffic calming certainly says there are bikes in abundance and watch out for them.

    Plus, not sure if you have ridden the boulevards/greenways but when you see on average a car every minute or two, it sure doesn't hurt letting people ride right down the middle of the street if they wish.  In fact, the streets are so pleasant, from time to time I got caught daydreaming with a car behind me - but no honking.  Nothing.  What a great place to ride.

    Now if your argument is that the placement doesn't work for all cities, that certainly could be.  But in Portland doesn't seem to be much of a negative.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/jass jass

    Clarence, by middle of the street, I do mean where the center yellow line would be. So if two cyclists ride over them in opposing directions, they will crash.

    I simply dont understand why they cant be in the middle of the lane, like everywhere else.

    The flower sharrow is the worst, it just sits there smack in the middle of an intersection.

    We have the manual on UNIFORM traffic devices for a reason - people cross straight lines and we want traffic signs to mean the same everywhere.

  • kidsroutes

    I am continually amazed at the innovation at the Portland DOT - and in particular the combination of vision and follow through by Greg Raisman. Let's get him to New York so that our kids will be able to ride their way into adulthood.

  • PJ

    Did you see those bike riders blowing that stop sign? Nice I like it!

    One of those big guys lives around my neighborhood, this summer he shook down some old lady who cut him off. We had to call 911 for her. Don't know if she ever made it.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/shmooth Peter Smith

    Fantastic film!

  • http://www.crankmychain.com Dan Kaufman

    Great stuff, as usual! Geez! did you do a voice over on Raisman's ride along? It's clear as a bell with no wind noise. The riding shots are great, especially the low ones.

    Oh yeah and good subject/content... guess that's important, too ;)

  • http://www.Shields-MarleyPhoto.com DeAnn Shields-Marley

    This is great.  I hope we are successful at getting this done in Little Rock, AR, where I live.  We do have the longest Pedestrian / Bicycling bridge in the world...The Big Dam Bridge which is 2 miles long and crosses the Arkansas River.  Riders come from everywhere to ride over it.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/Aaron_B Aaron Bialick

    It is odd that nearly everybody in these videos in Portland appears to be wearing a helmet. It seems to me that as cycling rates increase and people feel safer, they wear helmets less, and it's a sign of safe conditions. There must be a lot of helmet promotion going on in that town.

  • http://www.greenidea.eu Todd Edelman

    @Aaron - Indeed, there seems to be a lot of helmet promotion. A few examples, both patronizing:

    Helmets - "It’s really basic: wear one. Do we really need to say more? OK, How about: you only need a helmet if you’ve got a head on your shoulders."

    And manipulative:

    "Get Lit is a bike safety promotion program. We like to think of it as a random act of safety because we install Planet Bike front and rear lights for free on unsuspecting (and unlit) cyclists. We also use this time to advocate for the use of helmets."

    On the websites of well-respected Portland-based consultancies, and on the front of a new book by its CEO (look closely).

    Given its proximity to Vancouver and the all-ages - but intensely disrespected - bike helmet law in British Columbia, we can expect a lot of this to migrate north during Velo-city Global in 2012. If you are on Facebook, you can join us now to start promoting an alternative.

  • Great Neighborhooods Matter More Than Fashion

    Great job Portland! Making riding and walking normal. Making neighborhoods safe for kids. This movie is about so much more important things than fashion. I hope my street is a neighborhood greenway some day. If it happens, I will wear my helmet, use my lights AND ride my bike more. (Even if some fashion critics think that I shouldn't.)

  • http://www.greenidea.eu Todd Edelman

    @Great Neighborhooods Matter More Than Fashion: It's not about fashion, but about mandatory helmet policy from governments and promotion from various parties that - I think - encourages this policy. In other words, the groups I mention in my comment above think that they can have their cake and eat it, too.

  • Jimmy

    Visited Portland for a month, stayed in the NW Kings Hill area. Loved Portland in so many ways. You have a fine city with a bunch of great residents and city officials. Ok, I won't move there but we will visit again soon. Chow ( the food carts),
    Jimmy.

  • ScottB

    Jass, can you cite a portion of the MUTCD that prohibits the use of sharrow markings for wayfinding (hint, page 810). You can't because there isn't. There are no shall statements in Section 9C.06, just may and should. The adoption of the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices as a bible instead of a guide will ruin us all.

    sharrow flower inventor.

  • Ron

    I'm a Portland bicycle commuter and I can say without a doubt that the sharrows and 'greenstreet' initiatives have made cycling more comfortable. Of course we're now well into fall and everything is rainy and gloomy until April or May! Portland has a booming bike tourism industry going so come and visit... Oh and I have a furnished apartment in a close in neighborhood for you to stay in! Bike parking provided.

  • http://www.runmuki.com/commute/index.html Paul Dorn

    Great video. I work in Davis, which has been renowned as a bicycle-friendly city for many years. However, clearly Portland has the momentum and initiative these days. A great model for all of us.

  • Brian

    Making the speed limit 20 mph is just going to mean that its ignored more, it won't do anything for safety or change driver speeds at all. Most sensible drivers slow down when bikes are around.

  • http://www.greenidea.eu Todd Edelman

    @Brian - Regarding a new speed limit, while many will ignore a new sign, what is impossible to ignore are the further hard modifications that make it not just annoying but impossible for motor vehicles to go above that speed without being damaged. It would be a little cheaper to do it without signs... i.e. where those modifications act as the signs.

    The tough sell might be emergency services but they have other streets to go fast on (and I am still unclear on how safe people feel on nearby shopping or commercial streets with I assume 35 to 45mph limits).

  • Joe Sauer

    This film is great! I'm so happy to see Portland get this publicity. I live in SE Portland and bike commute with MAX (our light rail system) 12 miles to/from work every day in Beaverton on the west side. I live 1/2 block from Lincoln St., one of the main east/west greenway routes. I could be a poster child for Portland's bike culture. I am so fortunate to live here and have this incredible situation for bicycling as a normal and natural mode of transportation. (I have a car but it sits at home all week.) BTW, I've made two new friends because of cycling -- people I ran into all the time while riding.

  • Bonnietarbat

    Just great for Portland. How does this translate for a town in a now area like Collingwood? We can only ride for a small portion of the year.

  • Buck Reilly

    Thanks for making this video, it is a great tool for showing neighbors and elected officials what we can do!