“Is it safe to ride a bike in Portland?”
Day after day, visitors of Portland come in to the shop and ask if its safe to ride a bicycle in this city. Take a step back and think about this… You pose this question to a tour guide in a bicycle shop in the heart of the bike capitol of the USA where my job is to rent a bicycle to you. What do you think my answer will be? So, after I tell them, “Of course it’s safe!” I explain why. Portland, Oregon is one of the most bike friendly cities in the United States and that’s in large part due to our bicycle infrastructure. As the bike paths and culture have developed, strategies are implemented for making travel easier for motor-less pedestrians. Before long I open up the city map and delve into the purpose of the Neighborhood Greenway.
According to the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), “Neighborhood Greenways are residential streets with low volumes of auto traffic and low speeds where bicycles and pedestrians are given priority.” Essentially, these streets are placed to allow pedestrians a travel option. This system of paths comes with less interruption and frustration. Portland has bright and knowledgeable city planners consistently developing infrastructure. With careful thought and creativity, Portland regularly improves its bikeways! But how does the Neighborhood Greenway work?
Throughout the city there are multiple signs (usually green) indicating the path of the Neighborhood Greenway and where it will take its followers. Roads are also highlighted by the white painted bicycles with arrows. Despite popular belief (and personal dream) that these are dash panels offering a speed boost, this is not its true purpose. Consequently, these street designs are used for directing traffic and reminding cars that they are traveling on a shared road. Hence the name “sharrows”. However, if you close your eyes and shout “WAHOO!” or any of these sounds I’m pretty sure you get a little power up from the Mario Kart gods. Divine Nintendovention.
Highlights of the Greenway
Firstly, the Neighborhood Greenway contributes to the flow of traffic and promoting transportation culture. Initially, these streets once served as ordinary automobile passageways. Subsequently, they were re-designed for multi-modal transportation. As a cyclist it can be incredibly frustrating to have to hit the breaks every other block. Luckily, cyclists and pedestrians are able to travel more freely by reducing the amount of stop signs traveling across the Neighborhood Greenway.
Signage and Speed Bumps
But wouldn’t that encourage cars to use these paths more often? A lack in stop signs sounds like a shortcutting drivers paradise. Speeding past bikers and steering clear of rush hour traffic must be an obvious solution to any Portland car commuter. The city has taken steps to avoid this recklessness and preserve the road for cyclists. In fact, streets contain multiple speed bumps to slow cars and traffic diverts that allow space for cyclists to pass but are too large for cars. These techniques keep the amount of cars traveling on them to a minimum.
Additionally, the speed maximum is much lower on these streets! As the Neighborhood Greenway mostly travels through, well, neighborhoods, cars commonly travel on the higher speed roads. Reduced speeds keep Portland neighborhoods safer. Families, joggers, and other outdoor enthusiasts rely on the safe speed limit. Plus, many greenways are located next to or near popular driving streets and districts that are frequented for their busy storefronts. Bikes have a free space to ride near goings-ons while presenting cars with a more mobile form of transit. Everyone is safer and faster!
Next we arrive at those tough intersection. Frequently, cars will speed down busy streets, ignoring pedestrians and cyclists looking to cross the intersection. Not cool cars. On the Neighborhood Greenway, intersections are highlighted with bright colors, signage and sometimes even cross signals. Comfortable crossing is crucial. On the busiest streets at the busiest times of day, Greenways provide safe passage. Additionally, at multiple intersections there are also signs that help direct traffic by letting folks know what is nearby. By chance, I have visited multiple parks throughout the city due to Neighborhood Greenway signs. Portland ensures cyclist know where they are going.
“So… is it safe?”
Above all, Portland considers itself “the city that works”. Yes. Between the Neighborhood Greenway, car free paths and divided bike lanes, there is almost always a safe space for cyclists to travel. Given that you are riding cautiously and respect the rules of the road, it is safe. Be courteous, be friendly, be aware. Then bike travel will be your best friend.