Portland Tribune Guest Opinion
Put money where the bikes are
MY VIEW • Improving infrastructure will draw more riders
By Gil Johnson Aug 3, 2007 (4 Reader comments)
http://www.portlandtribune.com/opini...09842462225700

Your tastefully headlined article “Wanted: More butts on bikes” never really addressed the reality of getting 300,000 people to ride bicycles. It’s simply not going to happen with the half-measure the city is planning.

Currently, bicycling accounts for about 5 percent of all commutes in the city.

Bicycling amenities — from bike lanes to signage — account for a small percentage of the money spent on transportation in the Portland area.

Compared with light rail and bus service, our public investment in bicycling is a bargain. Compared with highways or transit lines, bike resource costs are microscopic.

If bicycling received the same ratio of public dollars per user that light rail does, we might see elevated bike freeways crisscrossing the city. I say, Why not?

Here is what should be done:

1. Dig underpasses under major streets that cross bike boulevards.

This was done in Eugene years ago on one of its bike paths. It makes the bike path almost a freeway.

If digging a tunnel is not feasible, install a traffic light. Safety is a prevalent concern of people who want to bike, but don’t.

2. Get serious about bikes on the MAX.

With a bike and the MAX, you can get almost anywhere in the metro area. But can you get your bike on the MAX?

Designated bike areas on MAX cars usually are full during rush hour. TriMet needs to add more cars to accommodate growing demand.

3. Bike freeways.

I’m sure creative engineering can carve out enough space for a big bike freeway along Interstate 84, the Sunset Highway, or the MAX lines that run in these directions.

A bike freeway — if covered for riding during inclement weather — likely would never get maxed out.

According to the Bicycle Transportation Alliance’s Blueprint for Better Biking, 60 percent of Portland residents would ride their bike but are concerned about their safety. That’s a big deal.

Providing a satisfactory network of bicycle paths, segregated from automobile traffic as much as possible, enhances bike safety and offers smoother commutes.

The infrastructure changes I’m proposing will cost much more than what our local government proposes for bike resources. But it’s likely less than what’s spent on other forms of transportation.

Why should anyone who doesn’t bike support this spending? Simply put: a return on investment.

With the cost of land continuing to rise, building new roads or widening existing ones is becoming prohibitively expensive.

Light rail and streetcars have such costs as right-of-way acquisition, laying track and signals, buying the trains, hiring well-paid employees and maintaining the system.

In my view, building segregated bike lanes and underpasses and adding more bike-specific traffic signals won’t cost nearly as much as a widened highway or a new light-rail system.

If you still think this is a waste of money, think about this: If everyone else is biking, you’ll have more road to yourself. With fewer cars on the road, the remaining motorists could get where they want more quickly — and the rest of us would be much safer and happier.

Gil Johnson is a former board member of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, a former chairman of the City Club’s Growth Management and Environment Committee and a daily bike commuter.