Talk in Portland, action in Chicago

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on December 4th, 2012

Source: BikePortland

New bike lanes on Dearborn; just in time for holiday shopping.
(Photo: Green Lane Project)

Like New York before them, Chicago has just taken a major step forward in becoming a city where biking is given equal respect to driving.

Advocates are buzzing today as the Chicago Department of Transportation has striped a new, two-way bikeway on N. Dearborn St between Polk and Kinzie. That’s a segment of over one mile on a high-profile downtown street in one of America’s largest cities.

“That’s huge and symbolic,” tweeted Portland Mercury News Editor Denis Theriault upon hearing the news, “[Would] Be like putting one here on Washington or Everett.”

Yeah. If only.

While excited by what’s happening in Chicago, I can’t help but think how great it would be if Portland could muster something this big.

Tonight, the director of the Green Lane Project will host a panel discussion with local transportation officials about how to bring world-class bikeways to Portland. It’s a talk, which is something we’ve done an awful lot of the past several years. Unfortunately, when it comes to protected bike lanes downtown, we haven’t seen much action.

Mayor Adams came into office guns a’ blazing, with a promise for a downtown cycle track within his first “100 days.” He lived up to that promise, but a few blocks of curbside bike lanes protected by parked cars on SW Broadway that leaves users in a lurch at both ends has hardly been a game changer.

“The Dearborn Street two-way protected bike lane project will balance roadway space to ensure pedestrians, transit users, bicyclists and motorists can travel along and across the street safely.”
— Gabe Klein, City of Chicago

In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has re-allocated a lane of the roadway to make room for the new protected lanes. The design of Dearborn is a two-way bikeway that is protected from moving traffic by parked cars. Along with the new striping are new bicycle traffic signals at every intersection to manage traffic flow.

In an official statement, head of Chicago DOT, Gabe Klein said, “The Dearborn Street two-way protected bike lane project will balance roadway space to ensure pedestrians, transit users, bicyclists and motorists can travel along and across the street safely.”

Portland has many gaps in its downtown bike network. The streets are out of balance. Each time another U.S. city does a project like this it just becomes more and more obvious that we have plateaued. Beyond the island of protection provided by the Broadway bike lane, the only other bike-centric changes on major downtown streets have come in the form of bike boxes. And, as recently reported, those have had mixed results in preventing right-hooks (and PBOT says people on bikes need to be more careful when riding through them).

It’s clear now that Mayor Adams doesn’t have any major, downtown bike access improvements up his sleeve for his last few weeks in office, so the conversation now is: How can we best help PBOT and City Hall do what needs to be done? We have seen glimmers of hope recently. The bike lane lanes on Stark and Oak have been widened and painted green, and PBOT is putting finishing touches on a major redesign of NE Multnomah (which is not downtown, but is still a noteworthy project).

I’ll hope to hear more reasons for optimism at the Green Lane Project/PBOT event tonight.

— We’ll be talking about the future of bikeway design in Portland and much more at the BikePortland/Lancaster Engineering Wonk Night event tomorrow (12/5) starting at 6:00 pm. I hope you’ll come and add your thoughts to the mix. (Did you hear that Omission Beer is an official sponsor?)