April 25, 2012

Portland's Bicycle Boulevards, Where Bikes Take the Lane

By Peter Herreid

Portland’s local streets are a showcase of bicycle boulevards, streets “with low vehicle traffic volumes where the movement of bicycles is given priority” (Portland City Code). A bike boulevard is a shared street with no specific bike lanes or paths, yet is inviting to bicyclists because of a variety of design features:
·   Sharrows (shared lane markings) remind bicyclists and motorists that bicycle travel has priority, as well as invite bicyclists to ride down the middle of the lane and not hug a row of parked cars where they are at risk of being doored.  

·   Flipped stop signs give bike boulevards the right of way (meaning stop signs face cross streets).
·   Traffic diversions reduce vehicle volumes – a variety of means adapted to specific sites are used to block or divert vehicular traffic, yet the barriers let bikes through.

·    Traffic calming measures, including:
o   Speed bumps
o   Roundabouts 
o   Curb extensions or bulb outs
o   Tree plantings

·   Facilitation of crossing at busy intersections with curb extensions to narrow crossing distances and extended traffic medians to serve as refuge islands
·   Signs that identify a street as a bike boulevard
·   Wayfinding signs that list destinations in miles and minutes by bike

·   Plentiful bike parking, including on-street bike corrals

Portland has established a grid of bike boulevards overlaid on a traditional street grid with a total of 59 miles already built and 15 more miles in the works. From a planner’s perspective, an advantage of bike boulevards is that they do not require a radical renovation of existing streets. Not only are they cheaper than cycle tracks and off-street paths, but most bicyclists also prefer them to bike lanes on major roads. Bike boulevards can also retain much of their original car parking, which avoids a political obstacle to their implementation.  

Portland’s bike boulevards offer a tourist a chance to better get to know neighborhoods and view the well-landscaped lawns and gardens of Portland’s residential streets. They are also very popular with locals. According to Portland’s Bicycle Plan for 2030 (adopted in 2010):
Bicycle boulevards, in particular, have proven to attract high numbers of riders due to the level of comfort they provide, the mobility function they serve and their proximity to where people live and travel. Indeed, bicycle boulevards have become among the city’s most popular bikeways. 

The Portland Bureau of Transportation prefers the term “neighborhood greenways” for the city's bike boulevards, because Portland has been upgrading basic bike boulevards with stormwater treatment, tree plantings and greening of private residences, community programming, and artwork at intersections. Portland will also be lowering speed limits to 20 mph on neighborhood greenways. They have been described as “park-like,” because the benefits extend beyond better bicycle infrastructure to make streets more pleasant for jogging, walking, and socializing with neighbors.  

For more information on Portland’s bike boulevards, visit the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Neighborhood Greenways webpage, watch this Street Films video, and check out this bicycle boulevard planning and design guidebook

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