The bike chapter from “Cool Planning Handbook” issued by the Oregon Transportation and Growth Management Program, a partnership between the Department of Land Conservation and Development and the Oregon Department of Transportation.
We wrote this handbook to help local governments and communities throughout Oregon understand how specific community development, land-use, and transportation planning techniques can enable us to reduce our carbon footprints. The desired outcomes of such planning often are described as “smart growth” or “sustainable development.”
The handbook is aimed at local elected officials, planning commissioners, planners, community organizations, and developers. It describes planning tools currently available as well as new climate action plans that can advance local efforts to reduce transportation related GHG emissions.
Make Your City Bike-Friendly for Everyone
Four decades ago, Oregonians decided that bicycles merit a place in our state and local transportation systems when they passed the now famous “bike bill.” This law, enacted by the Oregon Legislature in 1971, requires the inclusion of pedestrian and bicycle facilities wherever a road, street or highway is built. The Oregon Department of Transportation as well as Oregon cities and counties must spend “reasonable amounts” of their share of the state highway fund on such facilities, which must be located within the right-of-way of public roads, streets or highways open to motor vehicle traffic.
Thanks to this legislation as well as leadership and bike advocacy at the local level, Oregon is ahead of most states today in encouraging bicycling. Many Oregon cities now have the basic elements for a bike- friendly community: design standards, requirements for construction of bicycle facilities in new developments, and public investment in bikeways.
Eugene, for example, now has 30 miles of off-street paths, 89 miles of on-street bicycle lanes, and five bicycle/pedestrian bridges spanning the Willamette River. The city initiated a city-wide system of bike routes in the early 1970s and its efforts to promote cycling continue to this day.
Other Oregon cities have followed in Eugene’s footsteps to create networks of bikeways that work well. The League of American Bicyclists gives Portland its highest rating: “Platinum.” It rates Corvallis and Eugene “Gold,” and Ashland, Beaverton, Bend, and Salem “Bronze.”
Having a basic bike infrastructure in place, however, does not guarantee success. Bicycling remains impractical or intimidating in many Oregon cities – even in sections of cities recognized for their bike-friendliness.
Many communities still lack well-connected, continuous systems that connect bikeways with each other and with major destinations. Too often, those who would bike to work, stores or school face challenging routes when a designated bikeway suddenly ends, forcing the cyclist onto a street full of speeding traffic. Gaps in bike systems expose cyclists to fast-moving cars, unexpected car-door openings, collisions, and other hazards.
For bicycling to become more commonplace, cities must form safer, more convenient networks in which routes to destinations are shorter and more direct. In order to contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions, bike systems must enable people to employ the bike as an effective alternative to the automobile. They must enable cycling to “graduate” from being merely an occasional form of recreation for some to being a practical and reliable mode of transport for many.
Toward that end, cities are using a variety of tools to refine and complete their bike networks:
Bike plans and gap identification. The community should have a clear vision of how it wants to connect job and housing centers by bicycle. Through the creation (or updating) of comprehensive bike plans, communities can create this vision, identify gaps in the local bicycle network, and formulate a plan to fill the gaps. Having a well- thought through plan also enhances the prospects for obtaining grants to help implement the plan from state and federal agencies. The Oregon Transportation and Growth Management Program (TGM) awards grants to local governments in this state to help them do exactly that.
Bike lanes. Adding striped bike lanes along major streets is the most common and cost-effective way to expand a city’s bicycle network. Corvallis has installed bike lanes on 97 percent of the city’s arterial and collector streets. These lanes have been financed in large part by system development charges paid by developers of new homes and subdivisions. Corvallis’ now standard practice of integrating bicycling facilities into existing road repair projects as well as new road projects dates to the 1970s, when the city made a commitment to safer bicycling conditions.
Bike boulevards. While bike lanes work well for the more intrepid cyclists, many people who would like to bicycle choose not to because they don’t feel safe cycling on busy streets, even where there is a bike lane. Bike boulevards provide safe and secure bike routes for these cyclists. The boulevards are shared streets on which vehicular traffic is light, car speeds are slow, and biker-activated signals enable safe crossings at intersections. Stop signs are turned to keep cyclists moving, and cars are discouraged from using boulevards as cut-through routes. Bike boulevards are being expanded in cities such as Portland and Eugene, Oregon, and Vancouver, British Columbia.
Off-street bike trails. Bike trails, many of which adjoin abandoned railroad tracks, are gaining popularity. One example is the 21-mile Springwater Corridor (shown here) that will eventually link the cities of Boring, Gresham, and Milwaukie to each other as well as to neighborhoods in southeast Portland, where bikers can continue on downtown via the Eastbank Esplanade. Another example: the Ash Creek Trail slated to link downtown Independence to Western Oregon University in nearby Monmouth. When completed, this four-mile trail will give people an alternative to driving on Oregon 51 and provide better bicycle access to local parks and shops. It will also enable more students to bike safely to school by connecting residential neighborhoods to five public schools.
Bicycle parking. The Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Program recommends the installation of simple “staple racks” as a way to expand bike parking inexpensively and easily.
A growing number of cities have amended their codes to require bike racks or other storage facilities for bikes. Milwaukie, Oregon, for example, requires that bicycle parking spaces comprise at least 10 percent of the required automobile parking in all new commercial and multifamily development. Private developers can get a credit for bike parking under the LEED program for green buildings.
Bicycle wayfinding. A consistent, logical and comprehensive wayfinding system makes bicyclists feel safe and comfortable by guiding bicyclists along the best routes for riding in a particular direction or to a desired destination. Elements of a wayfinding system may include bicycle boulevard pavement markings, destination signs and bike route signs. These facilities increase the visibility of the bicycle network, and make bicycling easier.
Bicycle connections to transit. Effectively linking bicycling with transit increases the reach of both modes. It allows longer trips to be made without driving and reduces the need to provide auto park-and-ride lots at transit stations.
Cities should work with their local public transit agency to connect bicycling and transit through tools such as secure large-scale bicycle parking at transit stations, on-board accommodation of bicycles on transit vehicles, and routes that provide direct and safe access to stations.
Employer incentives and facilities for bicycling. Larger employers should be required to provide facilities and incentives for bicycling. People who commute by bike need safe, enclosed bike storage and access to lockers and showers. An example of one large firm’s voluntary application of this concept is found at the David Evans & Associates’ Portland office. It provides shower facilities and a secure bike cage for bicycle commuters. The company’s Bellevue, Washington, office gives its employees cash incentives for commuting by means other than single-occupancy vehicles. Under DEA’s company-wide Guaranteed Ride Home Program, employees who commute by alternative modes are provided transportation (cab, company car, etc.) in the event of a personal emergency.
Simple information. Inexpensive measures, like simply providing useful information, can also boost bicycling. For example, city-wide bike maps help people identify the fastest, safest routes to their destinations. When such maps are placed on the internet, cyclists can enter their trip origin and destination into the computer, which brings up the optimal route on a map, along with information on travel times, bike parking availability, and public transportation connections.
Skeptics discount the bicycle as a meaningful form of transportation, but that tends to be a self-fulfilling prophesy. If a community doubts the feasibility of cycling and therefore provides no bike lanes, paths, or routes, cycling will indeed not be very feasible. But in communities that have developed such facilities, the bike has proven an effective mode of transport – even in rainy western Oregon. Local plans, policies, and funding priorities do make a difference. When it comes to bicycle improvements, if communities build them, people will indeed use them.
Consider these facts: 8.5 percent of Eugene residents now commute to work by bicycle. 77 In Portland, the percentage of work commute trips taken by bicycle soared by 146 percent between 1996 and 2006, a rate increase that dwarfs those of all other modes. 78 Portland aims to increase the percentage of trips taken by bike to 25 percent over the next 15 years.
Boulder, Colorado, today enjoys an 8.8 percent bike mode share. 80 One factor behind this city’s success in expanding transportation options may be the attention given to alternative transportation modes in the local budget. Boulder devoted 49 percent of its transportation budget to bicycle, pedestrian, transit and transportation demand management projects in 2007 and 2008.
Lessons from abroad
One should not suppose that the bike ridership of such cities as Eugene, Portland, or Boulder marks the upper limit of what can be achieved. To understand the bicycle’s full potential as a practical and convenient mode of transport, we must look abroad.
In Amsterdam, widely regarded as the “bicycle capital of the world,” 40 percent of the traffic on city streets is bicycles. In Copenhagen, more than 30 percent of the work force commutes by bike. These northern European cities demonstrate that cycling is not just a fair-weather phenomenon or casual form of recreation.
One European concept starting to gain attention in this country is the “cycle track.” Like bike lanes, cycle tracks are special lanes dedicated to bicyclists. But instead of being sandwiched between the main road and parked cars, they are buffered from vehicular traffic by the parked cars – or by a curb or narrow median. This arrangement reduces bicyclists’ exposure to dangerous traffic and sudden car- door openings. Cycle tracks are common in Holland and Denmark, where bicycling rivals motoring as a transportation mode for shorter trips. Some experts believe that many American streets, especially in the suburbs, are wider than they need to be and could be refitted over time, as they require repairs, to accommodate cycle tracks. Portland recently opened cycle tracks on a major arterial.
Perhaps the most important thing for cities to do is to define transportation challenges in a way that taps the creativity of traffic engineers. As Boulder engineer Michael Gardner-Sweeney, says, “Engineers are problem solvers. If the problem is to move as many cars as possible through an intersection, that’s what they’ll do. If you define the problem differently, you get different results.” Boulder has redefined the problem to be one of moving people in a multi- modal system, with a strong emphasis on bicycles, pedestrians, and transit. This mindset has yielded encouraging results in Boulder and could do so in other cities as well.