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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bikes Are Good, City Club Decides in 2013

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Wed, May 29, 2013 at 8:30 AM

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Big news: Bikes are a good thing, and Portland's done a pretty good job promoting their use!

You're painfully familiar with that narrative—it's been trotted out for years in the pages of the country's largest newspapers and magazines, and dissected endlessly in local media. Now, one of the city's staid civic organizations has decided to add—perhaps a touch belatedly—to the dog pile. The City Club of Portland this morning released a lengthy report painstakingly hashing over the state of bicycle transportation in the city.

The report is excellently titled "No Turning Back" which I like to envision being uttered hastily through clenched teeth—sort of the way one talks before pulling off a Band-Aid. As is typically the case with City Club efforts, it is lengthy and thorough, a more-than solid primer for anyone hoping to learn about the city's bike legacy.

But the 12-member committee that authored the report came up short on anything particularly novel, new or surprising about the state of bicycling in Portland. The committee's central finding: Bikes should be a permanent and important part of Portland's infrastructure planning.

"In short, your committee finds that the right question is no longer 'Should we promote bicycle use?'" the report says. "It is: 'How should we structure our transportation system to optimize choice, efficiency and safety for all modes of transportation, including bicycling?'"

This is always a welcome sentiment for bicycle advocates, and if the report has a utility, it may be as a solid bit of evidentiary "oomph" those folks can offer up in talks for better bike facilities. It'll be interesting to see what, if any, other waves the document makes.

After the jump: A few points that bear mention.

-The club suggests a 4 percent excise tax on the purchase of new bicycles. This isn't a new concept—it's been discussed since at least 2008. But it's gained support in the past from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, the state's largest bike advocacy group, as a way to fund future projects and increase perceptions cyclists are paying their fair share for use of the roads (most riders would tell you they do that, new tax or no). That buy-in could mean we hear more about a targeted tax in the future.

-The City Club advocates developing protected bikeways, where obstacles like cars or curbs separate bike paths from car traffic. This is a refrain coming from bike advocates around the country, but the club goes a step further, saying those improvements should be pursued "even if it means eliminating bicycle lanes on high-speed or high-capacity streets." That could ruffle some feathers among cycling advocates.

-The committee butted heads over whether the city should require cyclists to be licensed or register their bikes. Ten of the committee members felt such a program would be ultimately unworkable, contending it would be difficult and costly to set up and that police don't have time to enforce such a system. Two committee members disagreed, and authored a minority report suggesting the city begin licensing bicycle commuters at a rate of $30 a year.

-The report is critical of how the city has presented bike infrastructure improvements to both Portlanders at large and neighbors of the projects. It specifically cites the controversial improvements coming to N Williams, but says miscommunication has been a problem elsewhere, too. The committee notes "there is little organized opposition to bicycle use in Portland. However, there is latent, but pervasive, uneasiness among some residents that expanding bicycle opportunities will come at the expense of other modes of transportation."

-The report's central finding—that the city should be focusing on improving all modes of transportation—could be seen as at odds with Mayor Charlie Hales' "back-to-basics" pledge on infrastructure, which has largely centered on repairing and maintaining the city's busiest roads. Later this morning, city council will take up a proposal to switch some of that work to smaller city streets.

There's a lot more in the report, and potentially I've missed some really juicy nuggets. Give it a read, and let me know what stood out to you.

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