Fixing Greenways (or Bike Boulevards?)

Ok, so it seems the names change, so I will kick off this blog entry with a definition of what a greenway is.

Neighborhood Greenways are residential streets with low volumes of auto traffic and low speeds where bicycles and pedestrians are given priority.

Here is some more information on the Multnomah County Site. I’ve posted a screenshot of the map on that page below.

2016-03-12_17-05-24

There’s also a useful video, produced a good while ago, that explains when the bike boulevards became neighborhood greenways.

The goals of these greenways are simple: (PBOT description on the left, my translation on the right)

  • Reduce auto cut-throughReduce dangerous cut-through behavior unfamiliar with neighborhoods endangering people in those neighborhoods.
  • Safer cycling and pedestrian connectionsInsure motorists don’t kill more pedestrians, cyclists, and those in their homes (not joking, motorists keep running into stationary builds with people inside), and generally create safer ways to get where we all are trying to go.
  • Reduce auto speedsbecause seriously, slow down on neighborhood streets asshole. Whoops, that was a little aggressive, you get the point.
  • Help people cross busier more dangerous streets – Where streets are designed where motorists have killed people, improve the intersections and crossings to prevent motorists from killing more people.
  • Provide easier guides on the routeMake it easier to figure out where you’re going, even when you haven’t checked your google maps route.  😉
  • Provide more “eyes on the street”I think this means more people biking and walking means safer streets, as the data proves, as motorists tend to chill out when lots of people are out and about keeping an eye on their bad behavior. Or it just means more people are staring at the street. I’m not 100% sure about this one.

Ok, so now we have a shared understanding of what a greenway is and generally where they are in the Portland city limits.

But where are we now? There are problems…

A few events have taken place in Portland that have led to some pretty serious problems on the greenways that need to be resolved sooner rather than later.

First Event: There have been thousands upon thousands of new residents that have moved to Portland. Hello to all of you that have moved here over the last decade, welcome to the city! That’s all fine and dandy, this has had profound changes on the city – for better or worse – and the one big change I’d like to point out is that this influx of people have led to more people on the streets. It isn’t just cars, but all modes, however the mode taking up the most street space by orders of magnitude that moves less people are — drum roll please — cars, you guessed it. Because of this there is increased traffic. This leads to more people trying to take shortcuts. Taking shortcuts leads me to the next big event…

Second Event: This app called Waze happened. It’s great for the motorist stuck in traffic, but it enables the stuck like a pig in a cage driver to use the road system in a way it WAS NOT PLANNED TO BE USED. A motorist is NOT supposed to be cutting through neighborhoods (at 20mph or 50mph for that matter) to get from one highway or major arterial to another. But this app enables exactly that. It’s made once pleasant and low traffic neighborhood streets (i.e. greenways and such) into traffic sewer bypasses and cut throughs.

Third Event: The economy improved, yay! Good for us, good for you, good all around. It’s a good thing when the economy is enabling us to feed, eat and clothe ourselves along with enjoying life! However there is a dark side to this, because about 49% of trips into downtown Portland are not made by biking, walking, or transit, but by a single person in a single car, which creates a maddening and dangerous rush hour. Every single day the pollution skyrockets and the air quality decreases dramatically because so many people want to drive, drive, drive. So they do, and hey, we’re America land of freedom and stuff so we subsidize the hell out of that and enable as many people as possible to drive… but, a lot of these now employed people are out there driving, using things like Waze, moving here for work, and generally being a motorist sucking up a bunch of space in their private car and dirtying up the air in spite of the other 51% of trips into and out of downtown that are not done in such a selfish way.

So that is the root of our big issues. But now, how do we fix such issues? It’s actually super easy!

Solution #1: Diverters

Physical diverters direct auto traffic out of neighborhoods onto primary arterials where higher speeds and higher throughput of automobiles is possible. Instead of buzzing through neighborhoods for long trips automobiles are sent into the key automobile sewers like Highway 99 (MLK), Highway 26 (Powell), I-5, I-84, I-205 and other main drags like Hawthorne, Cesar Chavez, Rosa Parks, and others.

These diverters do this and make neighborhoods better for those that live in the neighborhood. Diverters make the neighborhood safer for the children, the elderly, and all the rest of us just walking along the sidewalks, biking down the street, crossing to the local neighborhood coffee shop, or otherwise.

Implementing these is the key, there are some, but we’re in desperate need of many more. So many greenways have no diversion and easily fall prey to Waze and turning into a car sewer. Recently my wife and I stopped biking toward our destination and returned home because of the incessant motorists passing (most safely, but some unsafely with unclear motive or going straight, turning, or whatever they’re doing). Many of the motorists were clearly confused about where they were going, how to return to the Interstate (Avenue or I-5) and were overall, clearly perturbed that they’d taken a cut through and ended up getting stuck and routed back toward the road they were already on – stuck in rush hour traffic.

I learned two things, one is that rush hour is not a good time to ride to a location for dinner or drinks unless you’re a confident and fast rider (then you’re just always ahead of the motorists anyway) and two, the bicycle infrastructure leaves cyclists in a position prone to aggressive motorists and motorists are in a position that they’ve put themselves in – in traffic stuck. So in the future, I’d love to see some diverters to keep those aggressive, confused, and perturbed commuting motorists out of the neighborhoods. In the end, it’ll help the motorists and everybody in the neighborhood.

 

Solution #2: Bikeways, Cycle-tracks (Euro style), and the like need expanded dramatically.

The west side is perfect and can easily take on cycle-tracks and bike ways. But so can downtown Portland and the inner east side (re: river to about 20th should be easy to implement). So far though we’ve fallen short of what we can accomplish. To insure that the greenways can appropriately feed the city and people can bike to and from safely, the greenways need connected by cycle tracks and bikeways. Without we will not be able to go much beyond what we have now. The 8 year olds to the 80 year olds won’t bike. Regardless of the stats, it is simply to scary on the roadways for the somewhat less confident riders.

To summarize, adding real cycle-tracks and bikeways to the major hubs we bike to, would enable the greenways to truly thrive. The planners know it, the stoned guy on the corner knows it, anybody that connects any kind of simple thoughts knows it! The question is, will we act on it as a city and get diverters put in place and get some real greenway connections into and out of the city core. The possibilities are numerous, the only action left is to implement.

National Transit Ridership

Cycling at 6% of Commute, Transit at 8% and … Blagh, Blagh, Blagh…

Let’s talk numbers and the real world. I’m going to lay out a few things in this post.

  1. Why the way we measure auto versus cycling versus transit versus walking commutes in metropolitan areas is an absurd, myopic and broken way to set policy around roads and systems in which modes are used on those roadways.
  2. Why the 6% bicycle commuting number is barely the tip of the iceberg of cycling in Portland.
  3. Why measuring commutes for the entire metropolitan area is counter productive for the city of Portland the surrounding cities of Hillsboro, Gresham, Beaverton, Tigard, Milwaukie, and other places in the metro area.

#1 – Measuring The Commute for the Metropolitan Area

The way urban planners, traffic engineers, and others measure the daily commute is usually by modal splits. What that means is each mode is assigned the percentage of the trips taken with that particular mode.

Let me detail the current way this is measured with an example. There are 2,314,554 persons in the metropolitan area of Portland. At the current labor force participation rates in the Portland metropolitan area we can safely assume that about 50% of these persons would be commuting to work. That gives us about 1,157,277 persons traveling to a place of employment and back every day.

Based on the 1,157,277 daily commutes in the metropolitan are of Portland, at 6.1% the area has about 69,436 people cycling to work everyday. Just think about that for a minute, that’s a sizable number of people bicycling. But is this an honest measurement of Portland commuting as a city? Does the metropolitan area really represent the city? Does that 69k+ people represent cyclists in Portland?

A quick side note…

For the actual city or Portland the population is 609,456 with the commuters coming to about 304,728. Here’s a map of the actual city of Portland, note the red outline around the city.

The City Limits of Portland

The City Limits of Portland

I won’t write about these numbers just yet, but I’ll bring them back up further along in this blog entry.

Is Gresham Portland? Is Hillsboro Portland? Is Salem Portland?

Let’s dive in on what exactly the metropolitan area actually is, then we can look at how ridiculous this measurement really is. Here’s a map of the metropolitan area of Portland.

The Metropolitan are of Portland

The Metropolitan are of Portland

Do you see how big that red area is? That is the metropolitan area of Portland. Does this strike you as a bit odd? Based on what is included in that area, the 6% measurement is absolutely amazing. It’s super impressive when the area is, by a huge order, completely suburban and rural areas that happen to all fit inside of this giant metropolitan area. Wikipedia even has a completely stand alone page dedicated to Portland’s metropolitan area (as it does many other metropolitan areas). This is the normal area that many statistics are derived for policy and decision making at federal, state, county (parish), city and even at the neighborhood level sometimes.

The metropolitan area of Portland includes;

  • Vancouver, Washington @ 161,791 people
  • Gresham, Oregon @ 105,594 people
  • Hillsboro, Oregon @ 91,611 people
  • Beaverton, Oregon @ 89,803 people
  • …and many others.

The 6% number is completely irrelevant, as are any modal splits, based on the metropolitan statistics for each of these cities. Including the city of Portland itself at 609,451 people. So why do we measure at the metropolitan level and then attempt to make quotes and other speculations or even decisions for our city this way? It’s a very valid question considering how often many of the cities surrounding Portland and Portland itself make decisions based on these metropolitan measurements.

There is some use of these statistics that are valid, but time and again they’re brought up to say “the majority of people drive” and “nobody rides bikes” and “barely anybody walks” when that might be true for some auto-dependent neighborhood in Vancouver, Washington but it is absolutely not true for the actual city of Portland. So why hold Portland to the condemnation of the metropolitan area’s statistics? It comes up all the time, people making pro- or anti-biking arguments based on the 6% number. Sometimes people even compare the 6% metropolitan number to the plan to get 25% mode share in Portland (the city) by 2030. Who’s kidding who, we aren’t getting anything positive out of the suburbs in this regard, they’re going to still be polluting the inner city with their commutes and killing each other with their cars by the time Portland gets to 25% mode split.

One last reason to toss this whole metropolitan area focus, especially for the 6% cycling mode split, or the 81% automobile mode split, or whatever number you’re comparing. Let’s get down to the business of the actual communities. Portland is not Gresham, Gresham is not Vancouver, and the others’ are not this or that part of the city. They each have different metrics. But the city of Portland itself has a bicycling mode split for transit that is huge and one for cycling that is also much higher than the metropolitan area. The city of Portland also has a minority use of single occupancy vehicle trips. This might be painful, but give this report and good review. Yup, that’s 43.9% auto use for trips in the CBD. CBD stands for central business district. That’s down from 58.4% in 1994, a pretty damn good improvement. In the CBD transit usage is at 44.5% of trips, up from 33.6% in 1994. These are the types of numbers we actually need to look at to determine goals, not the misleading data of the metropolitan numbers.

#2 – Tip of the Iceberg of Bicycle Usage

I’ve talked about the absurdity of following metropolitan numbers in determining policy in Portland, now I’m going to take a stab at this 6% nonsense. The 6% number is great for the metropolitan area, like I was saying, that’s an impressive achievement when you factor in all of the blatantly hostile areas where some of the riders come from. As anyone who rides regularly knows, a bike lane right beside 30mph+ traffic is tantamount to insanity. There is zero comfort when you know one cell phone talking motorists swerves a little and your life is over. The vast majority of our roads and ways to get into and out of the city of Portland area are still these types of roads. There are very few dedicated paths or cycle-tracks that would encourage the mythic 60% “interested” population to jump on a bike and ride into town. Albeit among all of this frustration with the current 6% number being stagnant for several years now, there are a few trends that lead me to believe that this 6% isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Here’s my list of why the 6% number is illegitimate at this point:

  1. The first reason, goes back to the first thing I wrote about in this blog article – metropolitan numbers aren’t representative of the area we’re trying to measure, which notable is the city of Portland, not the metropolitan area. So let’s measure Portland, not Gresham and Hillsboro and the other areas. PBOT and the city have almost zero net impact on how those cities determine and act to improve cycling, so we really should focus more specifically on Portland’s numbers instead of the averaged number across the entire metropolitan area.
  2. Who’s ridden across any of the bridges that have cycling measurements lately? Notice how on Hawthorne this year (2014) the same drop off didn’t occur in cycling commuters during the winter time as in previous years (2013, 2012, 2011, etc)? It looks like, and I’m waiting to get hold of the actual data, that the drop off was only about 10-30% off of the peak summertime commuters instead of the traditional 40-60% drop off! That’s huge. If that is being maintained, it would appear that somehow there are more consistent riders – which wouldn’t show an actual increase, but it would also lead to a ground swell of advocates that are really holding to it. But that leads me to the next observation…
  3. Who rides around on the east side on weekends or during the week? Ever noticed how there are steadily more and more cyclists going about their business on the east side during the day? I did a couple of measurements: 34th and Clinton, 35th and Hawthorne, 35th and Belmont and Going at the 15th Street Diverters. At each of those locations I saw a steady increase in ridership over the year that I was riding across these areas during the day to do business. I’d stop and count for 15 minutes at a set time each day. After the year and numerous measurements I saw an increase of about 15-20% at each intersection. Even though the results weren’t done in a rigorous way, I did follow a scientific approach. Even without the rigor, and doing this out of pure curiosity, I can’t really ignore them since they were consistent over time.

The simple observation is this. Something is happening within the biking movement in Portland, and it isn’t a decreasing bike share of commuters. There is instead a ground swell of advocacy, an increasing frustration with the speed infrastructure is being built and the kind, and there is a growing love of biking among many in the city. They may not be bike commuters yet, but there is a huge percentage of people out there biking in other ways, and the simple fact is we aren’t measuring them, even though they should indeed count!

#3 – Why measuring commutes is … not a good measurement!

I’ll dive straight into these reasons.

  1. Commuting makes up a trip to work and a trip from work. That’s it, two trips. The average household makes 9 trips per day (see references below, there’s tons of data on this). Why is the measurement we use that dictates the vast majority of transportation policy dictated off of trips that only make up 2 our of 9 trips a day for a household? Fortunately in many cities, the cities take it upon themselves to determine what these other trips are and focus on these trips instead of commutes. However much of US policy at a federal, state, and even many cities, is entirely focused on commutes first.
  2. Commutes leave out everybody that’s not in the workforce, which in the Portland metro is hundreds of thousands of people, and even in the city limits of Portland itself is over a hundred thousand people. That means transportation policy dictated by “commuting data” leaves out an absolutely massive percentage of people. Are you a stay at home mom? Generally not included. How about a student in school? Yup, you’re not really included either. How about a retired person or someone looking for a job? Nope, you’re out too. That’s just absurd.
  3.  The ideal commute is not having a commute. We as a society often encourage remote worker situations, which completely removes someone from commuting. However a remote worker still makes the average number of trips based on household data. This means we’re pushing for people to work from home, remove themselves from the commute, but ideally we’d shift away from the daily commute dogma altogether! So why do we use it as the core policy planning and decision making metric? If anything we should take hold of the data from the OTHER trips and work with that data, the 7 instead of the 2. One might say it’s because everybody commutes and it is the easiest and most problematic event of the day – being it causes rush hour. But really, think about that for a minute and why do we still encourage rush hour with such zeal and gusto? If there’s a problem with the game, maybe we need to change the game!

Summary

Data is a fickle thing. There’s a reason the saying, “lies, damned lies, and statistics” exist. Numbers and data can be used to derive solid, intelligent, and wisely built solutions to problems. But they can also be used to do the exact opposite. When we discuss things we need to form real stories and cast out the absurd misinformation that is spread around by using single metrics. Stories need told with multiple measures identifying the full point of view of individuals in society. A single metric never produces an intelligent and well structured system of solutions, it just leaves us behind.

I’d like to see us move forward more in the United States. Understanding the systemic nature of measurements (the Research Center OHAS 2011 summary is a good starting point) and how they interact and work together will help us actually do that. Cheers, and happy number hunting!

References

Where do Jane Jacobs and Wendell Cox Intersect?

I have been pondering lately, there is an intersection at life itself, but where do these two thinkers actually have intersections of thought?

Any ideas? Thoughts? Throw in some comments on anything that pops into your mind and we’ll get a conversation going.

Context: Follow the links for context on who Wendell Cox is and who Jane Jacobs are.

Division Street

Town Centers, Lents, Division Street and Portland Chaos Machine, Nobody’s Happy (Which Isn’t True)

Today I dove into the middle of a conversation on twitter. Twitter, it seems to be the conversation machine of short blurbs and broken context. So this blog entry is actually dedicated to the conversation that started off, at least for me, with this tweet.

The Mount Hood Freeway Gave Us Modern Day Division

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28th & Clinton

Clinton Street @ 28th : Commenting on the 2035 Comprehensive Plan

28th & Clinton (click for full size image)

28th & Clinton (click for full size image)

Another comment I left on the Comprehensive plan went like this,

“This is another node that is great now. However it is another reason I left the neighborhood because the commute through this area on bike just got to be too frustrating. Traffic would pile up coming from Powell and from Division, sometimes diverted or just people cutting from 39th/Cesar Chavez through Clinton as a bypass from Division. In the process adding traffic that isn’t stopping at the businesses and decreasing the safety and calmness of the street as a regular residential street. It made commuting and actually enjoying a cup of coffee out on some of the sidewalk tables less than enjoyable some days. On a calm Sunday with low traffic the ideal condition of the street with cyclists calmly riding up for coffee, a movie showing or such at Clinton St Theater or other activity is great. But the last 2 years has been annoying (and that’s putting it kindly) to be able to enjoy the area with the rush hour traffic dragging on throughout the week.

Summary: A diverter here is need desperately to make this NOT a cut through street for Powell to Division AND to prevent the through traffic using Clinton as an arterial instead of Division (or Powell).”

2035 Comprehensive Plan

Get Involved in Helping to Plan the Future of Portland! The Comprehensive Plan 2035…

The 2035 Comprehensive Plan is currently being commented on for the city of Portland. The idea is to go to the plan site located at http://www.portlandmaps.com/bps/cpmapp2/. The main page when you arrive will look something like this…

View the Map

View the Map

Click on “View the Map” and the map will then render. Zoom in to the area you’d like to leave comments, such as your neighborhood. You’ll see color coded spaces within the various areas of town that are up for rezoning and new possibilities. This is where we, the citizens come into play to give input and help provide direction to our city.

Continue reading →

Better Block PDX

Building a Better Block, Portland’s 3rd Avenue Reimagined!