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.
I am almost-certainly way late on the Monkey Light Pro, but have you all seen this? Who among us hasn't dreamed of an animated goldfish, futilely attempting to escape its crystal prison on our bike wheels? Or hamster-like kittens, running incessantly while we ride?
These look to be expensive—and they'll probably not be in production until after Pedalpalooza (which is coming up, by the way!)—but, damn it, I want to see these around town this summer. One doesn't like to shill, but I'm impressed. Make it happen.
Portland's Alta Bicycle Share has won the right to usher another large city into the age of bike share—and that could spell a boon for Portland's currently cash-poor system.
Puget Sound Bike Share yesterday announced it had selected Alta to build and operate a 500 bike system in Seattle. Officials say they'll have the system up and rolling by 2014, around the same time Portland's tardy system is now expected to begin.
That might sound like a rosy projection to folks familiar with delays in other Alta projects. When the company was announced as Portland's choice for bike share, the city was touting a spring 2013 launch date. But neither Alta nor the city had secured sponsors for the program at that point, and they still haven't. The system is short roughly $6 million it would need to purchase and set up a 750-bike system, then run it for five years.
Holly Houser, executive director of Puget Sound Bike Share, isn't spooked by either example. She's confident Seattleites will be sharing bikes like gangbusters right on schedule.
"We actually feel it's a fairly conservative timeline," Houser says.
Damn it. Is Seattle doing bike share better than us?
Sort of. Where Portland waited until selecting an operator to ferret out money, the nonprofit that will operate Seattle's system has been searching for months.
"We've already identified potential partners," Houser tells the Mercury. "We're ready, when we have a contract, to go out and make the ask."
Seattle, being a home to more large corporations than PDX, will likely have an easier time securing title sponsors for its endeavor. But that's potentially helpful for Portland. According to Houser, there's a chance Seattle's eventual sponsor might also be interested in ponying up for Portland's system.
"It's sort of a given" since Alta is building both networks, Houser said. "It could actually be more of a collaborative effort."
But she cautioned: "It's an idea. It's not something that we've begun to pursue."
Were I an eccentric millionaire itching to throw money at bizarre flights of fancy, I'd seriously consider dropping $3.75 million or so on Portland's currently cash-poor bike share project.
Not only would a logo of my choosing (probably a miniature pastoral scene with me, smoking and obscured, Waldo-like, by a distant haystack) be spangled throughout the city but, at least according to the folks selling the opportunity, I'd be getting an amazing deal.
The city, citing a study [PDF] released earlier this year and given to the Mercury yesterday, anticipates a "title sponsorship" in Portland's bike share system will be worth almost $3 million a year, what with the bikes acting as rolling billboards and the branded docking stations and the breathless media coverage planners anticipate.
"Portland is known for biking, it is what people look for what Portland is," reads my favorite incomprehensible sentence in the report.
But is Portland asking for $3 million? It is not. A title sponsorship will run $1.25 million a year (for a minimum three-year contract). If I'm rich and ennui-addled, I'm Portland bike share's "title sponsor" yesterday. Problematically, I'm neither, and those types are seemingly in short supply around here.
Alta Bicycle Share, tapped last year to run the program, is still looking about for money to get the project up and running next spring. The city's hoping for 750 bikes at 75 docking stations in and around downtown, though that will obviously depend on how much sponsorship cash emerges by then.
All you millionaires reading this: Just think about it. And think, too, about the priceless added exposure the project carries with it, which was tallied helpfully in the report:
In case you're curious how the City of Portland arrived at the $4.7 million figure to get the city's slightly tardy bike share system off the ground, the city's contract with Alta Bicycle Share provides some helpful information.
Here, for instance, is what the system's components are projected by Alta to cost.
So at least $3.6 million, with the balance of that $4.7 figure going toward setting the system up, hiring and training workers, etc.
Bike share bikes are built like tanks. They sacrifice swiftness and nimble handling to withstand the rigors of public use, so a little over $1,100 per bike is perhaps not surprising. They'll all be equipped with at least three speeds, racks, lights, and locks. The city will consider upgrades like GPS and seven speeds if the money's there, Project Manager Steve Hoyt-McBeth tells the Mercury.
Remember, none of this is coming from city coffers. Portland's using $2 million in federal money to get off the ground and casting about for something like $6 million in corporate sponsorship cash to purchase and construct the system, and run it for five years.
If you chanced visiting the website for Portland's upcoming bike share program last year, you were greeted with a large proclamation: Coming Spring 2013. Yet here we are, a week shy of that gentle season, and no fleet of sturdy, plodding rental bikes has flooded the center city as planned.
Now, the city's bike share site quietly announces: "Portland Bike Share is scheduled to open in spring 2014."
A year late? What happened?
A number of things, according to Steve Hoyt-McBeth, who manages the project. Mainly the question of funding.
When the city sent out a request for proposals on bike share—which will sprinkle bike rental kiosks throughout Portland, allowing users to take a bike from one dock and return it at another—it hoped the companies that aspired to run the program would respond with sponsors in tow.
Bike share is, after all, a fairly appealing notion—increasing the public's transportation options, promoting health, and potentially reducing emissions in the city.
But sponsors have been elusive. Portland received $2 million in federal funds to get the effort off its feet and has refused to use city money. It's now short almost $3 million to pay for equipment and "turn it on," as Hoyt-McBeth put it. The program needs corporate help.
That's not at all uncommon. Bike share programs throughout the country have used sponsorships to buy systems and fill in operational funding gaps (usage fees are rarely enough).
But "no one came forward with committed sponsors," said Hoyt-McBeth.
Check out this news alert from the Portland Police Bureau about some sad-sack bicyclist on North Vancouver who almost got hit with paintballs.
And, yes, someone in the office, WHOM I SHALL NOT NAME, actually said "good."
That is all.
This afternoon, Tuesday February 26, 2013, at 4:05 p.m., Portland Police officers assigned to North Precinct responded to the report of a hit and run and drive-by paintball shooting of a bicyclist at North Vancouver Avenue and Skidmore Street.
Officers arrived in the area and contacted the victim, 36-year-old Ricardo Medina of Vancouver, who told police that he was riding his bicycle southbound on North Vancouver Avenue, just South of Skidmore Street when a vehicle pulled alongside him and the passenger fired several paintball shots at him. None of the shots him Mr. Medina and the vehicle turned off of Vancouver into the neighborhood.
The victim told police that the suspect vehicle came back around the block so he got off his bicycle and confronted them about the shooting. The victim told police that he was off his bike standing in front of the car, when the driver began to drive forward slowly pushing the victim backwards.
The driver then put the car in reverse, backed up to Skidmore Street, then sped away westbound on Skidmore.
The suspect vehicle is described as a light-colored newer Honda Civic 4-door. The suspects are described as possibly white males in their late teens or early 20s.
North Precinct officers are continuing the investigation and anyone with information about this incident is asked to contact the non-emergency line at (503) 823-3333.
Verrrrrrry funny comedian Bill Burr gives his take on Lance Armstrong and that filthy fucking hypocrite Oprah in this hilarious interview with Conan. (P.S. Lance should steal the name "Sociopath on a Bicycle" for his autobiography.)
BEHOLD! Deer antler bicycle handlebars as created by Brooklyn designer Taylor Simpson.
If you missed the much-hyped Oprah inquisition of doper Lance Armstrong last night, the highlights are here.
But here was my highlight: Lance admits to taking drugs. He admits to lying to millions of fans. He admits to suing the living daylights out of everyone who said he took drugs and lied to millions of fans, especially his ex-teammate's wife Betsy Andreu. Yes, Armstrong tells Oprah, he phoned Andreu to call her some terrible names. “I called you crazy," he says. "I called you a bitch, but I never called you fat.”
Apparently, to Lance, the worst thing you could do in the world is call a woman fat. Paint her to be a liar, call her crazy, sue her, sure. That's worth apologizing for. But, by God, he did not call her fat! You gotta give him some points for that! I guess he's still a decent person!
Good on Andreu for immediately having her own response to his madness.
Alta has run into trouble launching New York's bike share system, where the company is essentially caught in a messy battle between the contractors that build the hardware and software for their bike share system. That program is now slated to launch in May and, regardless, Portland city commissioners are confident that Alta will be able to handle Portland's plan for 75 bike share stations hosting 750 bikes citywide.
Bike share systems exist in 26 other American cities already and function sort of like Zipcar for bikes. Anyone can use a credit card to check out a bike for short trips from a high-tech kiosk, paying a set price per hour to ride the bike wherever they like, then return it to any station. When launched next year, the system aims to increase the number of Portlanders and tourists turning to bikes as the method-of-choice for trips under three miles.
The hang-up for Portland's system turned out to be not price or subcontractor battles but helmets. Commissioner Amanda Fritz—a nurse, of course, wary of head injuries—is not sold on the idea of renting hundreds of bikes to people who would pedal around without helmets. I'm not going to delve into the pro-con war on helmets, but some poor transportation bureau staffers likely will over coming months. In approving the bike share contract today, Commissioner Fritz added an amendment that directs the city and Alta to explore ways to make helmets part of the bike share system (pdf). We might wind up with an option Alta pitched in Vancouver, BC: helmet vending machines.
Now as for the money...
December is a mess of local craft and art shows every weekend, but one of my favorites is coming up: Bike Craft is at Sandbox Studio (420 NE 9th Ave) this Saturday and Sunday.
If you're going to be spending money on holiday presents, you might as well spend it at Portland small businesses. About 50 vendors set up shop at Bike Craft every year selling Portland-made bike-related stuff like knit hats, screenprints, wooden fenders, and panniers. It's the place to snag stuff like a convertible backpack-pannier from North St Bags (which someone can buy for me if they're really feeling generous, please).
Three pocket-size bike books by Portland writers have made their debut in the past six months, and they're all worth checking out.
The first, April Streeter's Women on Wheels was published last May by A Serious Press. It's a well-designed, dense primer city biking and though "women" is in the title, it's composed of practical advice and background info that's geared toward any rider.
Second up is journalist and zinester Elly Blue's Everyday Bicycling, a super relevant and straightforward city biking handbook that I would recommend gifting to someone who's just getting started biking. Blue lists out everything about traffic laws, gear, and getting around that most people have to learn the hard way, with plenty of focus on often-ignored topics like hauling kids by bike and fear of riding in the road. I've wanted a jargon-free, readable, honest city biking guide to exist for a long time and Blue's is it.
Streeter and Blue are teaming up for a joint reading tonight at Powell's on Hawthorne at 7:30pm. Get down there!
Not in tonight's event, but still worth a shout out is Hop in the Saddle by Lucy Burningham and Ellee Thalheimer. Hop in the Saddle is exactly the punny book you think it is: A guide to exploring Portland's beer scene by bike. While the book is filling a niche sure to be the butt of a Portlandia joke, it serves its stereotypical market well. Lots of Portland tourists head straight for the breweries and this is a fun, practical guide to sampling Portland's best beers whether you're a local or a visitor.
Check out this brilliant green lane:
The vivid green paint is an upgrade for downtown Portland's only coupled east-west bike lanes on SW Oak and SW Stark. The city installed the buffered lanes in 2009, with only green splashes in the lane at intersections, but they seem to be confusing to drivers—often cars will obliviously drive in the lane or use it as a loading zone. In a city survey (pdf) of how the lanes were working, 44 percent of cyclists reported seeing at least one car driving or parked in the lane every week. The city hopes that going all-green will make the lanes' bike-only designation immediately obvious.
But do the boxes actually make cyclists safer? Just this year, Portlander Kathryn Rickson was killed at an intersection with a bike box on SW 3rd and Madison and many people have complained that the bike box on NE Couch is still a right hook zone. A 2010 study found that the bike boxes make cyclists and drivers feel safer at the intersections, but we've never had hard data on whether the boxes actually reduce the number of crashes.
Until now. Yesterday, the city released a depressing letter (PDF) to the Federal Highway Administration that shows the bike boxes may have actually doubled the number of crashes.
In the four years leading up the installation of the bike boxes, there were 16 right hook crashes at the problem intersections involving bikes. In the four years since their installation, the intersections had 32 right hook crashes involving bikes.
The vast majority of the new crashes—81 percent—occurred at just four of the eleven intersections, at SW 3rd and Madison, SE 7th and Hawthorne, SE 11th and Hawthorne, and NW Everett and 16th. At the other seven intersections, right hook crashes slightly declined.
During an Occupy protest on a rainy night last winter, Portland Police arrested Portlander Dan Kaufman and impounded his sparkly gold "disco trike," charging him with "unlawful operation of a sound-producing equipment" as he blasted music during the protest.
Today, a judge declared that the charges against Kaufman are worthless. Operating a disco trike at a protest is, she determined, a protected form of free speech.
While Portland has a sound ordinance that prohibits disrupting the peace by playing music too loudly or after certain hours, the judge ruled in favor of the disco trike here because the police sergeant who shut down the tunes was specifically trying to stop Kaufman's involvement in the protest, says Kaufman's lawyer Kate Stebbins.
"He had played music loudly on other days with no problem. The reason they shut him down on that day at that time was because that protest had gotten out of hand," says Stebbins. "This protest was late in the year. Police were tired. Protesters were tired. No one was on their best behavior. But this guy was just playing music, trying to keep everyone happy."
I didn't ever really give a thought to Swan Island—you know, the not-even-really-an-island business park that's at the base of North Portland's Willamette Bluffs?—until a couple weeks ago when people started telling me about the big issues going on with North Portland Greenway down there. I finally spent some time on Swan Island in past week and, oh man, the place is interesting. Here's why you should care:
1. How people get to work on Swan Island is no small deal: the island is home to 10,000 jobs. That's about 2.6 percent of the city's whole workforce and some of the city's only big employers, like Daimler Trucks, who aren't out in the 'burbs. If the city is able to work with employers there to make it possible to safely and easily bike to the island, it could reduce a ton of car trips and improve traffic around North Portland.
2. It's actually really scenic, guys. I think of Swan Island and I think of super-wide roads running past warehouses. But the west side of the island is home to some beautiful beaches that would be awesome to visit. No one will believe me, so check it out:
There's already a nice biking and walking path along the beach, but it doesn't connect to the rest of the city, instead just dead-ending into a fence lined with razor wire. If Swan Island's beaches were easy to get to from the rest of the city, they could be a whole new place for people to go.
3. The city is at a crucial point of deciding what the route is going to be for the bike-walk trail planned through Swan Island. Will it run on-street along North Greeley, or will it go where neighborhood advocates want, on a stretch of flat, paved road currently owned by Union Pacific? As reported this week, that route would take substantial negotiation and pressure from the city. From the story: "There's a joke among planners about dealing with the railroads: On the spectrum of tough negotiations, first there's neighbors, then there's other local governments, the state government, and then the feds. Then God. And then the railroads."
"Alta Bicycle Share is a good, homegrown company that has emerged as an international leader in operating bike share systems," said Mayor Sam Adams, in a statement.
The proposal calls for 74 stations around downtown and the inner eastside hosting 740 bikes that anyone can check out with a credit card and be billed by the hour—sort of like Zipcar for bikes. It's hard to imagine just how much bike sharing will change the experience of being downtown, but imagine if everyone who worked in or visited downtown could hop on a bike whenever they wanted. This will mean a lot more bikes on the streets.
This is the point where things get nitty-gritty for the city as it will now start to negotiate its contract with Alta. The contract here has serious stakes, as Alta has been involved in high-profile chaos surrounding bike share in New York City and Chattanooga.
Alta is caught in a messy battle between the companies that build the hardware and software for their bike share system. The Gothamist has a rundown of the drama, but basically, Alta works with Canadian company Public Bike Share System Company to provide the actual bikes and locking stations for the bike share program. For the roll-out of its sharing systems in Washington DC and Boston, Public Bike contracted a company called 8D to create and run the bike-renting software.
But after it landed the contract for New York, Public Bike ditched the software company and tried to develop the bike-sharing software in house. The results have been rather buggy and unreliable, prompting New York City to delay its roll-out and creating major embarrassment for Alta. Meanwhile, the software company is suing Public Bike and Public Bike is counter-suing the software company and it's not clear when exactly New York will gets its system. Ugh.
New York's system is entirely privately funded by Citibank. In Portland, the $4.5 million system will initially be funded by private money and $2 million in federal funds that city council voted last year to use for bike sharing.
Portland is supposed to cut the ribbon on its bike sharing system by spring of 2013—less than a year from now. It's possible that Alta's partners could have their legal mess sorted out by then. In its deal with Alta, the city will definitely need to nail down the details and make sure we're not left on the hook.
On May 16, 29-year-old Kathryn Rickson was killed in downtown Portland, just a block from city hall, when she and a truck turning right onto SW 3rd Avenue from Madison collided as she was biking east on the same street.
Today, the district attorney finished its investigation into the crash (PDF). The result? The truck driver, Dawayne Eacret, will not be charged with a crime, or even given a traffic ticket. "This tragic event was an accident," determined investigators.
Rickson collided with the truck's fender and the DA's investigation determined that the scratches on the fender show that the truck was turning right onto SW 3rd before it was hit by Rickson on her bike. Two witnesses said the truck had its turn signal on and both said there was nothing the driver could have done to avoid the crash.
Video footage from city hall's security cameras was used to approximate that Rickson would have been about half a block away from the truck when it started turning. The footage captured that Rickson was riding in the middle of the right-hand lane between SW 4th and SW 5th—there's no bike lane on Madison, so in the middle of the lane is the safest place to ride. It's not clear whether she was in the bike lane when it starts up after SW 4th, but even if she was, investigators determined, she would be "very small and difficult to see in the truck’s convex mirror."
Charging someone with a crime for killing someone with their vehicle requires meeting a rather high legal standard. In this case, Eacret would have to have charged with felony homicide for being "criminally negligent" or a traffic crime for being "reckless," which means he would been "aware of and consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk" or "grossly deviate from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation."
Eacret did what a normal person would do in this situation. He stopped at the light. He started turning on green. He wasn't drunk, he wasn't on his phone. Whether he checked his mirrors or not may not have mattered. Rickson was unlucky. She was doing what thousands of Portlanders do every day—biking safely on a "bike-friendly" street in the center of town. She just happened to be a few seconds behind a large truck that was turning right. She might have been able to slam on her brakes within half a block, but maybe not.
The story here is: No one should die on Portland's streets for using the streets in a safe, normal way. We may be the "most bike friendly city" in America, but that means nothing if a regular person riding in a regular way can be crushed any day of the week by a truck. We need to design streets and train road users to protect against terrible luck. "Normal" isn't good enough.
Businesses in Portland and around the country sometimes push back against bike and pedestrian projects because they think removing space from cars will hurt their businesses. Customers who bike, walk, or take transit to bars, restaurants, and markets are a drop in the bucket, right?
A new study shows that people who walk and bike are actually more valuable as customers to bars, restaurants, and convenience stores, spending more per person each month than people who walk, drive, or take transit to the establishments. Meanwhile, for supermarkets, people who arrive by car are the most valuable customers.
Portland State University civil engineering professor Kelly Clifton presented her super interesting report at city hall yesterday. She and some assistants spent five months interviewing Portlanders at local supermarkets, convenience stores, bars, and restaurants, about how they got to their destination, how much they spent, and some other details.
Over the course of a month, Professor Clifton found, people who bike to restaurants, bars, and convenience stores spend more money than people who arrive via car, transit, or their own two feet. This doesn't mean that those businesses make the majority of their money off cyclists—in many cases, most customers still arrive by car. But the ones who go out by bike often spend more money per person over time.
I think of Swan Island as being the place for giant trucks, but actually 20 percent of workers on the island get to their job by biking, transit, or carpooling. We interviewed a couple of surprisingly bikey boilermakers on the island back in 2010.
This weekend, USA Today gave Portland its classic USA Today take, meaning a well-known, absolutely unsurprising narrative run roughly three years too late.* The story In Portland, Ore, Bikes Rule the Road is a "Gee whiz, guys! People bicycling to work!" perspective on the city and just to reiterate the outside world's view of Portland, look at the first person the story quotes:
Even kids get around differently. Nationally, only 13% of children walk or bike to school, according to the National Household Travel Survey. Here, 31% do, in part because of a program that gives every public school student between fourth and 10th grade a 12-week course on how to ride a bicycle safely.
For Tree Marie WoodSmith, the evolution here has already made "life so incredibly easier." She and her husband moved to Portland from rural California where "to go anywhere you had to get into your car." Portland is the opposite, she says. Now WoodSmith can go "days on end and never even get in a car. It was pretty amazing."
*Did you guys know USA Today is the second-most read newspaper in America? Ugh.
The police staged a traffic enforcement sting on NE Broadway and Wheeler this morning, citing cyclists for running the stop sign near the intersection that was officially closed to car traffic last week. It's a dangerous spot, notorious for cars right hooking people on bikes as they turn across the bike lane onto Wheeler.
During today's sting, the police also cited four drivers, including two for driving on the newly closed road. From the police press release:
A team of four motorcycle officers and a sergeant started the mission at 8:30 a.m. and finished up at 10:30 a.m.
During the mission, officers encountered mostly cyclists who were in violation of the law. Every cyclist who was stopped and cited was offered the "Share the Road Safety Class" in exchange for a dismissal to the citation.
A total of 53 citations were issued, along with three written warnings.
50 cyclists and four motor vehicles were stopped.
Most citations were for Fail to Obey a Traffic Control Device (Stop Sign) from the North Broadway and Flint intersection; however, there were some citations for the same violation at the intersection of North Flint and Tillamook.
This week, Mayor Sam Adams' office and the Portland Bureau of Transportation took a big step in improving safety for bikes on one street in Portland by deciding to close North Wheeler to traffic where the street intersects with Broadway. I didn't get a chance to report on the closure then because, ironically, I was doored in Northwest and out of commission for a while. But here's the rundown, two days late!
As the city tries to make its streets safer for all road users, one of the most effective thing the transportation bureau can do is fix up the problem areas where the most crashes occur. Sure, turning neighborhood streets into bike-friendly greenways is nice, but that safer-streets strategy is moot if the greenways empty out into dangerous intersections. North Wheeler is just such a notorious problem area. The intersection of North Wheeler and Broadway is right along the route from the busy bike lane on North Vancouver and the Broadway Bridge, so thousands of people bike past the street everyday. Meanwhile, drivers zip across the bike lane regularly to get onto North Wheeler, where there are some major employers.
According to the mayor's office, the intersection there were 20 reported crashes at this intersection from 2000-2010 and seventeen of them were right-hook crashes involving a bike and a car. Ouch. The situation was so bad that the Portland Water Bureau banned its employees from driving on Wheeler.
The city has gone through a series of measures to try to improve safety on the street without closing Wheeler, like stepping up traffic enforcement in the area, installing a left-turn lane on North Wheeler, and painting a big "BIKES STOP" reminder on North Flint. Nothing has had the dramatic turn-around in safety we need, so as of Tuesday this week, no one will be turning onto North Wheeler from Broadway at all.
Let's hope it works!
Laugh if you want—but I just saw three of these things parked outside Stumptown.
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