Posts Tagged ‘Portland’

Keeping the invisible bicycle riders invisible

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

From what we’ve heard, Portland is a fine U.S. bicycling city, but that doesn’t mean it’s a relevant model for all cities. That’s a point many national bicycle advocates seem to miss.

We were reminded of that with this recent post by Bikes Belong embracing the city of Portland’s four distinct categories of bicyclists:

  • Strong and fearless
  • Enthused and confident
  • Interested by concerned
  • No way, no how

These categories have limited application in some parts of Detroit, like Midtown or the Central Business District, but for much of the city, they don’t apply. It’s not an inclusive model.

We love the folks at Bike Belong, but embracing this Portland model for all for all of America shows a disconnection with urban areas like the city of Detroit as well as invisible bicycle riders.

Who are the invisible bicycle riders? They don’t fit the stereotyped bicycle rider model that you see in bicycle magazines or on web sites. They use bicycles as transportation but if they could afford a car, they might choose one instead. They don’t have the latest and greatest bicycle — it’s a tool not a lifestyle. They probably don’t wear a helmet. They may be new arrivals to this country and they’re likely to be male. We wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they were more likely to suffer from crashes.

And they probably do not complete the surveys or studies used to create and support the Portland bicyclist model — certainly even Portland has invisible cyclists.

It’s not just about the cars

The other disconnect is this model’s focus on sharing the road with cars.

Survey after survey and poll after poll has found again and again that the number one reason people do not ride bicycles is because they are afraid to be in the roadway on a bicycle. They are generally not afraid of other cyclists, or pedestrians, or of injuring themselves in a bicycle-only crash. When they say they are “afraid” it is a fear of people driving automobiles. This has been documented and reported in transportation literature from studies, surveys and conversations across the US, Canada, and Europe.

Detroit has very low motor traffic volumes on a majority of its streets. Sharing most roads is not a big deal when you have your own travel lane or two. Certainly there are exceptions such as the major spoke roads (e.g. Jefferson, Gratiot, Woodward, Grand River, Michigan, and Fort.) Arguably, Detroit bike lanes in many cases serve more as advertisements and for driver education.

At Complete Streets workshops and focus groups, Detroiters have said their primary concern is public safety, not from cars but from insecure vacant structures, stray dogs, the lack of public lighting, etc. Perhaps this helps explain our rapid growth of neighborhood group rides on well-lit bicycles.

Of course, another major issue is most Detroit neighborhoods do not have a bike shop.

These are issues can found in varying degrees in urban areas across the U.S.

If we are committed to building an equitable transportation system, we must be committed to being inclusive, not just of all bicycle riders, but of all parts of the country.

Public bike sharing in Detroit

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

A couple years ago, NYC’s Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said public bike sharing would transform urban transportation.

Given the number of cities investing in such systems, that seems to be coming true.

There have been a number of discussions about a Detroit system over the past years. Such a system would complement the Woodward light rail investment by expanding its reach into the surrounding neighborhoods and connecting with places such as Corktown, Eastern Market, and Hamtramck.

Typically, bike share systems are city-led efforts. However, that’s not typical of successful Detroit projects which are collaborative public-private partnerships.

One exception is the Twin Cities Nice Ride system. This seems to be the public bike share model that best fits Detroit.

Nice Ride Minnesota was formed through the Twin Cities Bike Share Project, an initiative started by Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and the City of Lakes Nordic Ski Foundation in July 2008. After meeting with stakeholder groups and evaluating bike share systems, the Project prepared a non-profit business plan and sought public and private funding. Bike/Walk Twin Cities (a program of Transit for Livable Communities funded through the Federal Highway Administration) announced its financial support in March of 2009, responding to a major funding commitment by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Center for Prevention (funded through the historic tobacco litigation settlement).

One likely reason for their success — over 100,000 rides in 2010 — was their impressively detailed business plan. The plan’s Phase I estimated the system startup costs at $3.4 million with $680K of in-kind donations and an annual operating budget of $1.6m. Modern public bike share systems are not cheap!

This Phase I plan was for 75 kiosks and 1,000 bikes over the 7.75 square mile service area. (Their actual installation was lower.) This provides 9.7 stations per square mile, which is a somewhat lower density than other systems.

Nice Ride is now expanding with help from the McKnight Foundation to 116 stations throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The city of Portland is also beginning a bike share and they’ve reviewed other systems. They note that station density is a key to success.

Dense systems tend to increase bike utilization rates, whether the systems are large (e.g., Montreal 500 stations at 27 stations/sq mile with 2.5 trips/bike/day) or Dublin 37 stations at 15 stations/sq mile w/ 10 trips/bike/day). Conversely, Minneapolis system has about 9 stations/sq mile which allows more districts/neighborhoods access to the system but has a much lower utilization rate at roughly 1 trip/bike/day. Portland plans to mirror Montreal in station density. Effective utilization not only requires a density of station but a high density of uses within the service area to be successful. Portland has chosen to locate the vast majority of stations in the city’s highest density districts related to employment, residential, commercial activity and tourist destinations.

Given Detroit’s greatly varying density, some analysis would be required to help determine optimal station placement.

Funding a Detroit System

Where could Detroit get the funding to build a Nice Ride system in the Motor City?

One likely target is Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funding, which is sub-allocated to SEMCOG. Those federal dollars require applicants to show how their respective projects improve air quality. A Nice Ride system can do that by reporting on the number of bike trips taken, many of which would be replacing car trips.

With CMAQ funds only paying up to 80% of the total costs, private funding would likely be required. Finding private funding might not be too difficult if the bike share connects downtown employers to the light rail and elsewhere. For example, imagine the value of having bike share stations at the Blue Cross Blue Shield campus and their other offices at the Renaissance Center.

Other Federal Transit Authority (FTA) grant funding may also be a possibility. The FTA recently announced that “all bicycle improvements located within three miles of a public transportation stop or station shall have a de facto physical and functional relationship to public transportation.” It’s likely that nearly all of the bike stations in Detroit would be within 3 miles of the Woodward Light Rail.

Bike Share Detroit

A Detroit bike sharing web site and proposal has been recently proposed. While we applaud their enthusiasm, we don’t see enough details or funding to have a working system like the Nice Ride. A proposal of this scale might work on a much smaller service area (e.g. a college campus) rather than Downtown and Midtown.

The stations density appears to be about 1.5 stations per square mile — a fraction of what others consider as the minimum. Phase 2 expands north along the Woodward corridor to 11 Mile with an even lower station density.

Our preference is to take advantage of the Twin Cities’ experience, learn from their mistakes, and through a collaborative effort, invest in a system that gets more people in Detroit on bikes more often.

Moving Beyond the Automobile: Biking

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

StreetFilms has posted another really interesting video (below) showing improved bicycling infrastructure in cities like Portland, New York, and San Francisco. These cities have made huge investments in bike lanes, and now physically separated bike lanes. The result has been a large increase in choosing to bike for transportation.

One great quote from Congressman Earl Blumenauer.

It’s important that people have choices. They shouldn’t have to burn a gallon of gas to get a gallon of milk. Half of the trips that are taken everyday in America are within 20 minutes on a bike. A quarter of them are a 20 minute walk.

Portlandia: the militant bike messenger

Friday, January 14th, 2011

The Independent Film Channel (IFC) is debuting a short six-part series called Portlandia next Friday.

Each episode’s character-based shorts draw viewers into “Portlandia,” the creators’ dreamy and absurd rendering of Portland, Oregon.

Included among the characters is the “militant bike messenger” who’s shown rather humorously in the video snippet below.

Ugh… cars… MAN… WHY???

An introduction to Neighborhood Greenways

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Streetsblog released this engaging video from Portland, Oregon that shows their neighborhood greenways – something that might work on many streets in Metro Detroit.

As far as we know, it’s not a greenway design we’ve seen around here yet. There are some ongoing planning efforts in the city of Detroit that may incorporate these designs on some key residential streets.

The video also shows Portland’s Green Streets with stormwater management, wayfinding and some interesting intersection treatments.

Portland’s Bike Boulevards Become Neighborhood Greenways from Streetfilms on Vimeo.