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  1. #1
    Senior Member randya's Avatar
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    Portlanders find bike nirvana in Amsterdam

    Portlanders find bike nirvana in Amsterdam
    Thursday, December 01, 2005
    By Jeff Mapes
    The Oregonian
    AMSTERDAM -- Clearly, we are not in Portland.

    The Amstel River shimmers in the background as people stream by a crowded outdoor cafe on a welcome sunny Sunday in late fall. A gray-haired couple casually peddle their bicycles along the cobblestoned street and easily turn left onto a busy boulevard that bridges the canal.

    Another couple, with a toddler nestled on a small seat in front of the handlebars, glide by. A few moments later, a woman carefully balances a wrapped package of food flat in one hand as she steers her bike over the bridge with the other. A pair of teenage girls, one riding sidesaddle on the back rack of their bicycle, giggle at a shared joke.

    With undisguised pleasure, Roger Geller, Portland's bicycle coordinator, watches the intricate street life of a city where bikes account for 40 percent of all trips, whether by car, bike or mass transit.

    "You see people operate with extreme skill and confidence," he says about all that the Dutch have done -- from street design to driver education -- to create one of the world's finest cycling cities. "It's a complicated dance, and everybody knows the steps."

    At first blush, Amsterdam seems as distant from Portland in miles -- 5,008 as the crow flies -- as in relevance. But among the activists, planners and politicians who want to turn Portland into Biketown USA, Amsterdam and just about any city in the Netherlands prove that a transportation system that takes the bicycle seriously can indeed work.

    "You can create an environment," insists Geller, "where 7-year-olds and 70-year-olds can ride and feel comfortable and healthy."

    Geller and several other bike advocates from Portland spent a week in the Netherlands last month in search of just that kind of inspiration -- and to fire up city Commissioner Sam Adams, who joined them for part of the trip. Adams heads the city's transportation department and says he wants to see a significant increase in bicycling's share of the traffic load.

    Of course, the Dutch are different in some ways. They live in a flat, compact country of 16 million that's a sixth the size of Oregon. And cycling has been a big part of their culture for more than a century.

    As a result, the Dutch reacted when rising car use clogged their cities in the 1960s and '70s and increasingly squeezed out bicyclists. They also realized how vulnerable they were to oil shortages (the 1973 Arab oil embargo targeted the United States and the Netherlands).

    The Dutch began a determined effort to figure out how to safely move bicyclists through city streets. They wound up rethinking the purpose of a street. Their innovations include separate signal lights for bikes, and bikeways that often run between the sidewalks and parked cars. Imagine transplanting Sunriver Resort's system of bike trails to a bustling European city, and you have a glimpse of Amsterdam.

    Through trial and error, the Dutch made it work. And Amsterdam stays remarkably quiet for a major city, thanks to an absence of traffic-choked streets.

    That's why Geller and his colleagues stopped at the kind of intersections you wouldn't see in Portland to snap photos and study the traffic flow. Unlike many Amsterdam tourists, they gawked at actual red lights, not the red-light district.

    Although Amsterdam is much more densely populated than Portland, the Portlanders think their ideas apply because nearly 40 percent of all trips in the United States are less than two miles -- an easy bicycling distance. And with the rapid growth of downtown condos, Portland's getting denser all the time.

    Some of the Dutch experience has been replicated in Portland, which has one of the more extensive bike networks in the nation. For example, the blue bike lanes warning drivers to watch for bicyclists at complicated intersections were inspired by the colored bike lanes in the Netherlands. Portland also plans directional signs for bicyclists, like the ones on Amsterdam bike routes.

    The Portland group came back from this latest trip with more ideas you may someday see in your local streetscape:

    More bikeways to rail transit stations

    Strategies for lowering traffic speeds and for converting low-traffic streets into major thoroughfares for bicyclists

    More bicycle-only signal lights

    Secure parking

    Adams (who made a point of saying he didn't use taxpayers' money to travel to the Netherlands) even mused about someday closing the streets along the Park Blocks to cars after seeing the busy bicycle and pedestrian-only shopping streets in Amsterdam and Delft.

    But Adams wasn't ready to talk about imitating the Dutch when it comes to making car travel downright unpalatable in the central city. In Amsterdam, street parking is about $3.50 an hour, and planners say they'd like to do even more to squeeze cars out of the middle of the city.

    "If you go at it primarily by attacking the car, which is the sacred tool of mobility for most Portlanders, you're not going to get very far," Adams says. "It's not a question of browbeating single-occupancy drivers into submission. It's developing options that are better."

    The bike advocates on the trip needled Adams about that and made it clear they think curbing car travel goes hand-in-hand with a better streetscape.

    "What they've decided to do is use their public space -- including their streets -- in a different way," says Evan Manvel, executive director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. "It isn't that they're necessarily out to get the car. It's that the car doesn't have the priority anymore. Would that be a shock to Portland? Yeah."

    *** Amsterdam recently opened a three-story parking garage over a canal next to the central train station. Only this one is for bicycles -- as many as 2,500 of them. It shares one feature with an American shopping mall on a busy shopping day: The best way to secure a parking space is to find someone leaving and grab the spot.

    While the garage may seem extravagant to American planners more accustomed to springing for little more than a row of racks, Amsterdam spends more than $23 million a year on bicycle projects -- and officials consider it a bargain.

    "All things for bicycles are very cheap compared to cars or public transport," says Ria Hilhorst, Amsterdam's top bicycle planner. In total, she says, bicycle projects eat up 5 percent of the city's transportation spending while bikes account for 40 percent of trips -- up from 30 percent in 1990.

    "It's fast," Hilhorst says of bicycling, "and you don't have to pay for parking, and you go door to door."

    In large part, the city put the roadway on a diet.

    Some four-lane boulevards were shrunk to two lanes, with a separated bike path on each side. Bicyclists now often have shortcuts. One path bisects a plaza filled with shops and restaurants -- including the Hard Rock Cafe -- and offers the quickest route between a busy arterial and a large park.

    Sometimes, in space-challenged central Amsterdam, it is pedestrians who feel the squeeze. Sliced in half, sidewalks make room for bike lanes, and some pedestrian-only shopping streets -- common in Europe -- feature bikeways down the middle.

    To a visitor, it can feel confusing. There are few stop signs. Instead, yield markings on the pavement let riders and motorists know who has the right of way. Unwary tourists often wander into bike lanes.

    And, as in Portland, many bicyclists blow through red lights if they think they can do so safely.

    Jack Wolters, a traffic safety expert for Amsterdam, shrugs when asked about the city's accident statistics.

    "When the speeds are low, the consequences are not severe," he says, noting that the city had a 21 percent reduction in accidents from 1984 to 2001 as it built its bicycle network and reduced speeds. Nationally, traffic fatality and injury rates in the Netherlands are much lower than in the United States, whether for motorists, pedestrians or bicyclists.

    Speeding is taken seriously. The country pushed 30 kilometer zones -- less than 19 mph -- in residential and central city areas. They think streets should be designed to make it uncomfortable to speed, and they don't regard speed bumps as a very elegant solution. Better, they say, to do such things as make streets narrower.

    Becoming a driver is also harder. Dutch drivers can't get a license until they are 18, and they have to spend thousands of dollars for instruction. They're also assumed to be at fault if they collide with a pedestrian or bicyclist.

    Willem Smoorenburg heads an 80-member traffic safety unit in the Utrecht region that has enough resources and high-tech gear to star in a CSI spinoff. For example, the unit is testing a vehicle that has spy cameras capable of instantly processing license plates to see whether a car is stolen or just hasn't had its regular safety equipment checks. Ironically, though, he dismisses attempts to force cyclists to obey traffic rules.

    "You can't change that biker behavior," he says, adding that the Dutch focus their resources on motorists because they do the most damage.

    Unruly bicyclists are not the only thing that the Dutch have in common with Americans. Their transportation planners also fret over an increase of jobs in the suburbs -- where many big multinationals locate -- and two-income couples who can't both be close to their jobs.

    Roelof Wittink, executive director of Interface for Cycling Expertise, a group that exports bicycle planning expertise to cities around the world, says more children are being driven to school. For the first time, he says, the Dutch are starting to worry about obesity.

    "It's much more an issue in the U.S. and the United Kingdom than it is here," he says. "But it is coming. . . . Forty percent of Dutch don't get enough exercise."

    It's hard to believe when you're pedaling around Amsterdam. You have to look hard outside the tourist areas to find someone who is overweight. Lewis Guignard, a Charlotte, N.C., college student spending a few months in Amsterdam with his Dutch girlfriend, says he was surprised when he recently stepped on a scale.

    "I lost eight pounds the first seven weeks here," he says, "just from biking around."

    ***

    It's mid-November, and Geller is back in Portland, on his regular bicycle ride to work from his Irvington home. After two trips to the Netherlands -- his first was on a family vacation in 1999 -- he rides like a Dutchman. He wears his work clothes, keeps a relaxed pace and doesn't break a sweat.

    On Southwest Broadway, he moves over from the bike lane across three lanes of heavy vehicle traffic and makes a left onto Madison. His movements are so deliberate, yet polite, that not a single motorist seems ruffled.

    "The impression some people have is that the Dutch are this super-strong bicycle race," he says. "But it didn't just happen. They put the effort in to make attractive facilities. . . . They've made it easy for people to ride -- it's not because they are so much hardier than us."

    Jeff Mapes: 503-221-8209; jeffmapes@news.oregonian.com
    http://www.oregonlive.com/search/ind...n?pddcs&coll=7

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    Banned. Helmet Head's Avatar
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    Of course, the Dutch are different in some ways. They live in a flat, compact country of 16 million that's a sixth the size of Oregon. And cycling has been a big part of their culture for more than a century.
    That makes all the difference.
    Note that the article does not mention what percent of their trips were on bicycle before all the facilities were added starting in the 70s. I bet it was already about 40%, and that there is little if any basis to attribute high bicycle use in Amsterdam to the special facilities.

    If the Portlanders think adding Amsterdam-like facilities will Amsterdamize the use of bicycles in Portland, I think they're in for a shock.

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    I think it's a little misleading to say that The Netherlands is one sixth the size of Oregon-- as if that has any bearing on whether *Portland* can be Amsterdamized. But then that's the Oregonian for you.

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    Banned. Helmet Head's Avatar
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    Population density is also a key difference, as is the difficulty to use a car practically, economically and effectively in Amsterdam.

    Unless they can make using a bike more practical in Portland than using a car, there can be no comparison with Amsterdam, where bike usage is clearly more practical. And as long as using a car remains reasonably practical in Portland, bike usage will remain relatively unaffected, no matter how much Amsterdamization they waste their money on.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Helmet Head
    Population density is also a key difference, as is the difficulty to use a car practically, economically and effectively in Amsterdam.

    Unless they can make using a bike more practical in Portland than using a car, there can be no comparison with Amsterdam, where bike usage is clearly more practical. And as long as using a car remains reasonably practical in Portland, bike usage will remain relatively unaffected, no matter how much Amsterdamization they waste their money on.
    Which is what the BTA was needling Adams about. I live in Portland-- the biggest single problem with making the downtown less car-friendly is the Portland Business Alliance. They want every square inch of dowtown accessible to the automobile, because it's "good for business."

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    Dog is my copilot. GGDub's Avatar
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    The ingrained culture is the biggest difference. In holland, a bike is like a pair of shoes in that its an afterthought. This is really obvious when you're there because the cyclists do not stand out at all. Meaning they're dressed in street clothes, not wearing helmets and there's a lot of them. In N. America, cyclists a much more of a fringe element and we stand out much more because we prepare much more to get on our bicycle (i.e. wearing clothing designed only for riding). Personally, I think if city wants more people to ride their bikes one of the areas they need to start with, is proving to people that it can be a very simple everyday activity. How they go about doing that is the problem.

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    unaangalia nini? baiskeli's Avatar
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    Thanks for the article Randya.

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    Banned. Helmet Head's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blue Order
    Which is what the BTA was needling Adams about. I live in Portland-- the biggest single problem with making the downtown less car-friendly is the Portland Business Alliance. They want every square inch of dowtown accessible to the automobile, because it's "good for business."
    Another difference is that Amsterdam is naturally car-unfriendly. It was car unfriendly before cars even existed, while modern Portland, like most U.S. cities, hardly existed before cars showed up, and thus was able to evolve in a way that accomodated cars, something Amsterdam could never do. Now some people are trying to retrofit Portland to make it artificially car-unfriendly. Of course the businesses are against it.

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    Senior Member randya's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Helmet Head
    Another difference is that Amsterdam is naturally car-unfriendly. It was car unfriendly before cars even existed, while modern Portland, like most U.S. cities, hardly existed before cars showed up, and thus was able to evolve in a way that accomodated cars, something Amsterdam could never do. Now some people are trying to retrofit Portland to make it artificially car-unfriendly. Of course the businesses are against it.
    Actually, much of modern Portland is very compact and was developed along streetcar lines, before owning a car and driving everwhere became 'essential' after WWII. And Portland has an urban growth boundary, which significantly reduces urban sprawl. Compared to LA, Las Vegas, San Diego, Albuquerque, Houston, etc., Portland retains much of its pre-automobile era character.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GGDub
    The ingrained culture is the biggest difference. In holland, a bike is like a pair of shoes in that its an afterthought. This is really obvious when you're there because the cyclists do not stand out at all. Meaning they're dressed in street clothes, not wearing helmets and there's a lot of them. In N. America, cyclists a much more of a fringe element and we stand out much more because we prepare much more to get on our bicycle (i.e. wearing clothing designed only for riding). Personally, I think if city wants more people to ride their bikes one of the areas they need to start with, is proving to people that it can be a very simple everyday activity. How they go about doing that is the problem.
    Sure, the culture is different, but why? The culture is simply a result of the practical situation. Car use is impractical, so bikes are used. They use bikes out of necessity there. Here it's an option (for most). And the culture differences simply reflect that.

    In other words, if you want to Amsterdamize Portland, then you don't change the culture, but you change the infrastructure to make car use impractical. If you did that, the cultural change would follow, out of necessity.

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    Quote Originally Posted by randya
    Actually, much of modern Portland is very compact and was developed along streetcar lines, before owning a car and driving everwhere became 'essential' after WWII. And Portland has an urban growth boundary, which significantly reduces urban sprawl. Compared to LA, Las Vegas, San Diego, Albuquerque, Houston, etc., Portland retains much of its pre-automobile era character.
    Never-the-less, car use is relatively practical in Portland, as compared to Amsterdam.
    In particular, you can find parking (eventually) in Portland. In Amsterdam, don't even try.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Helmet Head
    If the Portlanders think adding Amsterdam-like facilities will Amsterdamize the use of bicycles in Portland, I think they're in for a shock.
    Actually, Portland has been adding Amsterdam-like facilities for over 25 years. See:

    "Some of the Dutch experience has been replicated in Portland, which has one of the more extensive bike networks in the nation. For example, the blue bike lanes warning drivers to watch for bicyclists at complicated intersections were inspired by the colored bike lanes in the Netherlands. Portland also plans directional signs for bicyclists, like the ones on Amsterdam bike routes."

    in the cited article.

    I was a daily, year round commuter (7.5 mi each way) in Portland throughout the '80s and the difference between then and now is immense and not at all shocking given the local efforts at making Portland a bike-friendly city. I suspect that 25 years from now a similar improvement will have been accomplished.... it will not happen overnight.
    Those of us who live here have seen it happen and would be shocked if it did not continue.

    Dogbait

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    Bent_Rider
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    Quote Originally Posted by Helmet Head
    If the Portlanders think adding Amsterdam-like facilities will Amsterdamize the use of bicycles in Portland, I think they're in for a shock.
    Only gas prices above $5 a gal will do that.

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    It would seem to me that it would be a relatively simple fix to make the downtown area car-free. They already have a "fareless square" for public transit-- public transit is free within the bounds of downtown. So reroute through-traffic away from the downtown core. Provide ample, inexpensive parking for cars on the outskirts of downtown (parking downtown is already an unbelievable bargain-- 95 cents/hour at many garages), allow taxis, trolleys, buses, and light rail vehicles downtown, plus delivery trucks, and leave the rest of the downtown for bicyles, and pedestrians (and the skateboarders will want in on this, of course). Develop some key arterials to the downtown core as bike-friendly, car-unfriendly thoroughfares. Make it easy and cheap to get to the downtown periphery by car. Make it easy and free to get around downtown without a car. Keep doing what they're already doing in the rest of the city.

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    Senior Member randya's Avatar
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    As previously stated, the Portland Business Alliance is a major driver keeping downtown open to cars. A couple of years ago downtown parking restrictions, limiting the number of parking spaces available and imposed to reduce air pollution, was lifted, and a lot of new structured parking has since been added to the downtown area. The PBA has also lobbied successfully to allow private vehicles more access to the previously auto-restricted downtown bus mall, and has been implicated as a major driving force behind massive and brutal police crackdowns on Critical Mass in 2001 - 2004.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Helmet Head
    Never-the-less, car use is relatively practical in Portland, as compared to Amsterdam.
    In particular, you can find parking (eventually) in Portland. In Amsterdam, don't even try.
    Relative to 1980, car use today in Portland is anything but practical. In 1980, my commute from 33rd and Division to Kerby and Stanton took 20 minutes by car and 25 minutes by bike. In 1992, just before I moved away, it was 40 minutes by car and 25 minutes by bike. What it takes now.... I don't know but I suspect that the car time is longer and the bike time about 25 minutes.

    As to parking, it is now much more expensive and a lot harder to find a space. In 1980, there were no parking meters:
    1, East of the Willamette River
    2, West of I-405 (14th Ave.)
    3, North of W. Burnside St.
    4, South of SW Lincoln St.

    Portland is not, today, on a par with Amsterdam with regard to bike use and acceptance by the non biking public but significant progress has been made and continues to be made, which is the point of the article.

    Dogbait

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    Quote Originally Posted by Helmet Head
    That makes all the difference.
    Note that the article does not mention what percent of their trips were on bicycle before all the facilities were added starting in the 70s. I bet it was already about 40%, and that there is little if any basis to attribute high bicycle use in Amsterdam to the special facilities.

    If the Portlanders think adding Amsterdam-like facilities will Amsterdamize the use of bicycles in Portland, I think they're in for a shock.
    Which part of "up from 30% in the 90's" did you not understand.

    As someone that has toured in Holland, Belgium and France. Commuted in London and plenty of other places in the U.K. (I'm a Brit) and now actually resides in Portland, all I can say is I see a lot of opinion and not much actual (Amsterdam) experience in the tone of your post.

    I would say that Portland is one of a very small set of U.S. cities that has any chance of modifying its car / bike culture. To scoff and call it "wasted money" smacks merely of sour grapes.

    Your VC (Vehicular Cycling) extreme fundamentalism is showing.
    LOL The End is Nigh (for 80% of middle class North Americans) - I sneer in their general direction.

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    Quote Originally Posted by HoustonB
    Which part of "up from 30% in the 90's" did you not understand.

    As someone that has toured in Holland, Belgium and France. Commuted in London and plenty of other places in the U.K. (I'm a Brit) and now actually resides in Portland, all I can say is I see a lot of opinion and not much actual (Amsterdam) experience in the tone of your post.

    I would say that Portland is one of a very small set of U.S. cities that has any chance of modifying its car / bike culture. To scoff and call it "wasted money" smacks merely of sour grapes.

    Your VC (Vehicular Cycling) extreme fundamentalism is showing.
    Good call. There's definitely truth in what you say. For example, I totally missed the "up from 30%" line, thanks.

    I don't think my lack of Amsterdam experience (I've never been there) is very relevant.
    Now, my lack of Portland experience (once in the 80s),... that matters. I can't even picture downtown. I've gathered that car use has gotten more difficult, but so it has in many other cities. Many New Yorkers don't even own cars.

    I still think that until bikes become the most practical alternative to many Portlanders, not much will change. I do continue to question how much a difference the facilities can make relative to their cost in terms of making bikes more practical.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Helmet Head
    I do continue to question how much a difference the facilities can make relative to their cost in terms of making bikes more practical.
    Paint (e.g. for bike lanes, sharrows, etc.) is incredibly cheap compared to the cost of separated facilities. I have criticized the city for some of the bike lanes they have installed due to safety issues, and will continue to do so, but I can also say that improvements to the city's bikeway network have definitely made a difference in increasing ridership. Mode splits for bicycles in many inner east side neighborhoods with good access to downtown and other destinations are approaching 10%. The Hawthorne Bridge is a major route into downtown and bicycles make up fully 14% of the traffic on this bridge. I personally prefer sharrows over bike lanes where applicable, but the city has been slow to adopt this treatment (that's currently in the process of changing) and I applaud the citys efforts to traffic-calm 'bike boulevard' alternative routes to the main arterials. The city's 'Transportation Options' program is top notch as well. You should really investigate the city's programs before you criticize them:

    http://www.portlandonline.com/transp...ex.cfm?c=34772
    Last edited by randya; 12-01-05 at 08:39 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Helmet Head
    I still think that until bikes become the most practical alternative to many Portlanders, not much will change. I do continue to question how much a difference the facilities can make relative to their cost in terms of making bikes more practical.
    The most practical alternative will be mass transit and Portland has been agressively moving in that direction since the late '70s. Bikes are integrated into the mix. You can bring your bike on the MAX train (light rail system) and most busses have bike racks on the front.

    The money is there.... has been since 1971 . Some cities just ignore it but Portland uses it all and adds to it from their own pockets. I can't tie it directly to Portland's bike policies, but the number of bike shops in Portland has grown immensely during the last 25 years of the 20th century.

    Dogbait

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    Quote Originally Posted by Blue Order
    Which is what the BTA was needling Adams about. I live in Portland-- the biggest single problem with making the downtown less car-friendly is the Portland Business Alliance. They want every square inch of dowtown accessible to the automobile, because it's "good for business."
    yeah I wish downtown was more bike-friendly. Every time I've had to ride through there has been, lets say, unpleasant


    Anyway, from my experience in passing through more than 30 states and many US cities, I think Portland is (although very bicycle-friendly), still quite car-friendly. I just hope that adding more facilities would actually encourage more people to ride because they might feel it's safer for them on the street. Not sure if it'll work though 'cause it seems most people don't ride for other reasons.

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    Actually, I don't find downtown Portland hard to ride in at all, and I prefer it to be bike lane-free. The traffic signals are timed to 12-15 mph and it's pretty easy to keep up. It would be nice if there were less cars, though.

  23. #23
    commuter all star peregrine's Avatar
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    many cars operated by distracted drivers in a hurry/looking for place to park = unpleasanties for peregrine in downtown


    oh, and I agree it's better/safer to be bike lane-free

  24. #24
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    On the down side, 10% of the bicycles are stolden each year. If you are riding a bike of any quality the junkies will get it.

  25. #25
    Senior Member randya's Avatar
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    Getting good bike parking is an ongoing challenge. The theft rate in Portland is pretty high, too.

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