Category Archives: Infrastructure

A Bike Map is a Wonderful Thing to Have

When you’re trying to get somewhere by bicycle, a bike-specific map is a pretty amazing resource. Granted, in a pinch any map will do, but a map that specifically delineates the lower-traffic routes, the multi-use paths, and the streets that are to be avoided at all costs (or at least that are likely to be supremely unpleasant) is a great thing to have.

In Portland, we have this map put out by Metro:

bike there

Like any map, it won’t ever be every single thing that every single person on a bike wants it to be, but it does a pretty darn good job of laying out the bike-friendly streets in the Portland Metro area, with detailed city views on the back side. Plus, it’s on rain- and rip-resistant paper, perfect for Portland:)

I love this map. When I’m looking for adventure but don’t have anything specific in mind, I just look for somewhere that sounds interesting or a place I’ve never been, then plot out a route, looking mostly for the green (neighborhood greenway), blue (bike lane), or purple (multi-use path) lines to get there. Sometimes, I just try to weave together as many multi-use paths as I can. Sometimes, I try to take as zigzaggy a route as I can. Whatever sounds fun. To me, this is what maps are good for and why I love them so much: they represent infinite potential, a million places just waiting to be discovered, and the means by which to get to them.

bike there back

For how much I love this map, it is a point of infinite humor to James that I often don’t have one lying around. Why? Because any time I talk to anyone about bike routes and they don’t already have a bike map, I give them mine. I have bought and given away this map at least 10 times. In fact, when I buy a new one, I’ve recently taken to buying two, figuring that that way I can give one away and still have one left at home when I want to adventure.

But now here I am, having–again–just given away my last map to a coworker who I learned is interested in biking to work but hasn’t the faintest idea how to get from Rock Creek to the Oregon Zoo. I brought in my map, we looked at options, and he’s ready to roll.

To me, this is worth the cost of buying a map over and over and over. No, not everyone who I give one to will necessarily use it, but the potential that someone out there might pick it back up one day and decide that today is the day to bike to work or school or the store for the first time? That’s why I keep giving it away. Even though I know James is going to laugh at me. heh.

I’m infinitely grateful to have this resource available, and thankful that I can do my part to get it in people’s hands. Removing the barriers to biking, one step or map at a time:)


Pay to Play (are fees really the answer?)

Earlier this month–January 10th, to be exact–Washington Park officially became a pay-to-park destination. The Rose Garden, Japanese Garden, Children’s Museum, Oregon Zoo, the huge playground and the archery range: all of those have parking spaces that fall under Portland Parks and Rec jurisdiction, and now they all cost money.

Washington Park pay to park meters(a new addition to Washington Park parking)

At first, I thought it was a good idea. If you drive to the Washington Park, why not pay for it? It seems like a good way to incentivize transit use or alternative transportation, and the money collected gets reinvested into improvements for the park. It’s not that different from parking meters downtown: if you bring a car, expect to pay for the space it takes up.

The more I think about it, though, the more I think it’s setting a bad precedent.

First of all, this seems somewhat akin to saying “hey, if you have disposable income you’re welcome to use Washington Park; if not, go play somewhere else.” There are some transit options, of course. The MAX has one stop that serves the Oregon Zoo and Children’s Museum, though from there it’s quite a hike to other Washington Park attractions. And the 63 bus runs through the park, but only every hour, and only on weekdays between 7am and 5pm (i.e. not when many people are likely to have free time to go to the park). Until transit throughout the park is a viable option, I’m not convinced that this isn’t a somewhat classist (even if inadvertently so) policy.

But other than that, it just seems like the wrong message to send: Washington Park improvements and upkeep will be paid for by the people who drive there and use it. That is, the responsibility of the upkeep falls to the users–sort of like saying that if you have a kid in school, you should pay for school, but if you don’t there’s no reason to put your money toward something you don’t use, right? It seems like more and more things in Portland are funded this way, where one specific fee goes toward one specific thing, and we’ve lost track of the idea that some things might be public services that everyone has a part to uphold. Maybe parks aren’t one of those things, but I wish that would be the conversation.

I’m all for paying for parking. Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s great that there are meters in Portland and I think it’s reasonable to expect that you might pay to use space. But I guess I’m a little worried that it seems there’s no coherent whole about how money gets apportioned, and I don’t like the super-individualistic idea that you only pay for what you use, everyone else be damned. Certainly there are things that we, as a civilized society, have decided are for the common good, and those things should be paid for by everyone via taxes, not user fees. Again, maybe parks and greenspaces aren’t one of those things–and maybe I just don’t understand how this works (the city’s finances are definitely not my forte)–but this strikes me as a step in the wrong direction.

Push me on this. Any thoughts?

New bike infrastructure!

Sometimes, a bike route I take a lot falls out of practice for me. Generally, it’s because I stop doing something that I have been doing, like when I graduated from school and stopped going to SW Portland as much, or when I stopped teaching Bike Club and thus stopped biking to various Portland elementary schools.

Bike routes come and go as life changes, I suppose, but one of my favorite things ever is to retrace a well-worn but neglected route and find new and exciting things along it. That’s what happened this weekend when I took a class up in St Johns about three blocks away from one of the places I used to teach Bike Club. I rode up a way I used to go very, very often, and found two new exciting things:

1. A way to turn left across N Greely

The first thing I noticed after the long Greely hill was a big orange sign indicating a “new traffic pattern ahead.” Curious, I proceeded up to N Killingsworth instead of turning left on the street before it like I usually do–and discovered that the new traffic pattern wasn’t for cars, it was for bikes: a left turn box.

killingsworth left turn box(check out the new buffered bike lane, too! If you look carefully, you can just barely see the green paint of the left turn box on the ground across the intersection.)

I guess since it’s an unprotected left on a busy street and there’s no particularly good place to wait for a break in the whizzing cars–I guess because of that they’ve put down a “box” which, by virtue of being green and painted, confers upon it the powers of keeping you safe while you wait. I didn’t actually use it, since at 8am on a Sunday there wasn’t any traffic to worry about; consequently, I’m not sure sure why a left turn box is much better than simply doing what I call “the cross-and-cross”–crossing the street twice, like a pedestrian, to make a two-part left turn. I’m not sure that this is a particularly groundbreaking piece of biking infrastructure. Regardless, it’s nice to see that someone was thinking about how to help cyclists safely turn left here.

2. A better bike boulevard

The next thing I noticed was on an old bike boulevard haunt of mine, N Central Street. This street goes by Roosevelt High School and the St Johns Community Center, and it’s also just a block away from James John Elementary School. Sadly, it also used to have some pretty heavy car traffic, making it one of those neighborhood greenways that’s safer in theory than in practice.

But this time, as I was biking along it, I came across this:

n central street(huh! Not a through street anymore!)

Heck yeah! One of the best ways to decrease car traffic on a street (according to my totally anecdotal personal research;) is to make it a street that doesn’t go through anymore. Cyclists and pedestrians still have unfettered access; for drivers the road suddenly becomes less appealing than the nearby arterials. Which hopefully means that it’s a street more in line with what it’s supposed to be: a safe place for all those kiddos and families going to school and the community center. Awesome!

So I was pretty psyched this weekend to find these two little presents from the keep-people-safe fairy. Especially since when I find stuff like this I also imagine that there are comparable improvements going on for many other roads that I don’t generally frequent. Way to go, Portland:)

On multi-use trails, infrastructure makes all the difference

There are some excellent multi-use trails in and around Portland. The Springwater Corridor comes to mind, for example: over 20 miles of awesome, paved, off-street path that will take you all the way from Portland to Boring.

The Springwater’s kind of a pathy institution, a sort of jogging-walking-biking superhighway on any nice weekend. But there are tons of other paths around too. Some are also somewhat longish and can provide actual means of getting places (even if they’re not always super pleasant), like the I-205 or the Marine Drive paths; some, like the Fanno Creek Trail, are nice but just too short to do much for real transportation.

Last week, I found myself on the Rock Creek Trail somewhere around Hillsboro, a lovely path I’d never yet explored, and it reminded me how much of a trail’s success (and usefulness) depends on the infrastructure along it.

Before I found the start of the real Rock Creek Trail, I took what I thought was the Rock Creek Trail, a multi-use path that runs north/south between NE Butler Street and Rock Creek Blvd. That trail definitely throws you to the wolves. I was super psyched, biking on a pleasant little path along a creek, and then BAM! Four lanes of very fast traffic to cross!

Rock Creek Path(the end of the path–until it starts again on the other side, further down the block)

As you can see from the picture there, the path leaves you mid-block, with no safe way to cross other than biking or walking the quarter mile to the next signaled intersection. The other side of the trail actually continues much further down the road to the left of this picture, which means that to get to it, you have to bike the wrong way down the sidewalk until the intersection, wait for the crosswalk there to turn in your favor (which takes a looooong time on these big suburban streets), then bike down the wrong side of the sidewalk on the other side to get back to the path that you had to pass to get to the crosswalk in the first place.

No one really takes that kind of effort. They just wait and run across the street when it seems “safe”–relatively speaking, of course, since traffic is going fast, and there are many lanes of it. That’s certainly what I did. And while it worked out fine for me, I can’t help but think that if the point of a multi-use path is to make space available for families, kids, people out for pleasure, these humongous mid-block crossings that chop a trail into small and disembodied segments make it essentially useless.

On the other hand, the real Rock Creek Trail has lovely intersections like this:

Rock Creek crossing(ahhhh:)

How nice to get to a mid-block crossing and find a crosswalk! No need to make a choice between either walking or biking down to a distant intersection or taking your chances darting across multiple lanes of traffic–just push the button and wait for traffic to wait for you!

This kind of thing makes a path actually useful. You can follow it for more than half a mile without having to spend 10 minutes detouring just to get across to the next segment of trail. You still have to wait for traffic sometimes, but at least the infrastructure reminds you (and the people driving across the intersection) that walking or biking or running is also a viable use of public space. Trails with infrastructure like this can actually be useful for people who want to go further than the next big intersection.

I think Portland (and the Portland metro area) is going the right direction here–more and more there are signaled intersections like the ones on the Rock Creek Trail; there’s definitely a push to connect all the little orphan pieces of trail scattered about the city. Maybe someday I’ll be able to take a trail all the way from Portland to Hillsboro, the way I can go from Portland to Boring. And then maybe I’ll be able to turn around and get to Mt Hood. That’ll be awesome:)