Portland’s Bike Coordinator, Roger Geller, responds to Dallas’ coordinator’s claims
November 14, 2008 § 13 Comments
In our article titled Portland: Doing it Right!, Dallas Bike Coordinator, PM Summers, objected to Portland bike coordinator, Roger Geller’s, data as being unscientific, and collected by dubious means. We have noted that this a common response from bike lane opponents. First off, a recap of Summer’s charge:
Oddly, Geller doesn’t mention the rash of deaths and serious injuries from right-hook collisions caused by Portland’s “experiments” on unsuspecting cyclists.
The graph is misleading, as it refers to traffic across a bridge on the Multnomah River that formerly had only a travel lane, but now has a separate path. Portland’s existing high mode-share has now been channeled unto the one (better) bridge. I was there when it opened, to much deserving fanfare.
Geller has been presenting many statistics that have not stood up well to scrutiny, having often been collected in unscientific ways, based upon volunteerism and boosterism.
Bike lanes remain in all places what they always have been: bicycle control devices to keep bikes out of the way of cars. In some cases, they will channelize traffic that otherwise might have used different streets, giving the illusion of an increase in traffic that doesn’t exist.
Oak Cliff already is very bicycle friendly, unless you believe that a bicycle is really a toy vehicle. Attempts to emulate what Portland has done, out of context (it’s called “Context Insensitive Design”) will make Oak Cliff bicycle unfriendly by creating numerous conflict points where none currently exist.
The prevention of being struck from the rear that a bike lane supposedly provides has not been proven by accident data. The vast majority of rearward collisions occur on rural roads, and at night with unlit cyclists and drunk drivers. The incidence of overtaking collisions IN bike lanes is statistically very close to the incidences on streets without bike lanes.
Basically, bike lanes are a product for consultants to sell, and sell them they do. We have consultants… what we need are pragmatic bicyclists.
Being fans of a debate, we quickly contacted Roger Geller for his response:
As the crash graph shows, the number of reported bicycle crashes in
Portland–city-wide–has held relatively constant over time. What we have
seen is increased bicycle ridership, also city-wide. We do create a crash
rate by indexing the number of reported city wide crashes to ridership on
the FOUR bicycle-friendly central city bridges as we believe that ridership
levels on those bridges is representative of what we see going on around
town. As our 2008 crash report shows (link:
http://www.portlandonline.com/shared/cfm/image.cfm?id=217489), that is a
good assumption as ridership in all part of Portland have increased
dramatically. That’s true whether the increase we’re looking at is a
one-year increase or since 2000/2001. This year we counted at 121 locations
throughout Portland, using the criteria spelled out by ITE (Institute of
Transportation Engineers). We conduct two-hour peak hour counts at most
locations, and also do 24-hour hose counts at our bridge and other path
By this time next year we’ll have a fifth central city bridge with a good
bicycle facility on it.
We currently have approximately 174 miles of on-street bike lanes (center
line miles), 70 miles of off-street paths, and 30 miles of bicycle
boulevards. A gps study conducted by a researcher at Portland State
University (Jennifer Dill) found that cyclists disproportionately choose
developed bikeways on which to ride, even if they have to go out of
direction. You can find a presentation she gave on her results here,
http://www.cts.pdx.edu/seminars/subjectarchives.php#bikeped (It’s titled
“Where Do People Bicycle?” and her presentation slides here:
In 2006 we did see some a high number of fatalities in Portland, relative to
previous years. Two crashes in particular were right-hook crashes that
occurred at intersections that did not have bike boxes. It wasn’t until
after these crashes occurred that we installed the bright, green bike boxes.
We’re doing the bike box experiment under auspices of the FHWA experimental
process. We’re quite pleased with the initial results and will be conducting
a thorough evaluation that involves collection of before and after data at
both the experimental locations as well as at control locations. The
experiment is being paid for by us but conducted by the Center for
Transportation Studies at Portland State University here in town.
By the way, and hopefully I’m not jinxing us, since we installed the bike
boxes, and despite seeing an annual increase of 28% city-wide in bicycle
traffic, we’ve had no fatalities so far in 2008…
We’re also soon to see a city auditor’s report come out reporting that 8
percent of city residents identify the bicycle as their primary means of
transportation to work and another 10% identify it as their secondary means
of transportation to work. This is based on a survey of, I believe, more
than 20,000 city residents and, according to our Auditor’s Office is +/- 1%
for the city-wide numbers at the 95% confidence level.
When your bike coordinator says that Portland’s data has “not stood up well
to scrutiny,” I wonder what scrutiny he’s talking about. What specifically
are his objections to the data? If he’s talking about “unscientific ways”
what does he mean? We have people standing at corners ticking off each
cyclist that passes a spot over the two-hour peak period (4-6pm). We make a
relatively standard assumption that the two-hour peak represents
approximately 20% of all daily traffic at that location. This assumption has
been repeatedly borne out by our hose count data at several locations, which
gives us bicycle counts (by number and direction) in 15-minute increments
around the clock for multiple days in a row. What we are reporting is
average Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday bicycle traffic in non-holiday weeks
during the summer. We have been using the same methodology consistently for
more than two decades. So, even if he doesn’t like the methodology, it is
still an apples-to-apples comparison and it has shown tremendous growth in
I should also point out that our count data is just one of three indicators
we use to assess bicycle use in Portland. The other two are the US
Census/American Community Survey and an annual survey (conducted on a range
of topics) by the city Auditor’s Office. All show strong upward trends in
Your bicycle coordinator is representing an older system that works for perhaps only 1% of the population: what we call the
“strong and fearless” cyclist. You can find a discussion about different
types of cyclists here:
http://www.portlandonline.com/transportation/index.cfm?c=44597 (scroll down
to “4 types of transportation cyclists”). You might also want to look at
what we’ve heard from Portland cyclists by reading a report on what we hear
from people attending some open houses we held a year ago. It’s at the same
page as above in the right side bar.
Basically, we credit the development of our bicycle infrastructure with
encouraging more people to ride bikes. There will always be a small fraction
of people willing to ride on the roadway in a shared travel lane. But more
people will ride if they can get out of the traffic stream and ride in their
own dedicated space. Those people are still a small minority–perhaps 7-10%
of the population, but they create a presence. In Portland, that’s the group
that’s largely responsible for Portland being such a bike-friendly city.
They wouldn’t be there without bicycle lanes on the street and other
dedicated bicycle facilities. It’s the same story in Amsterdam, Copenhagen,
Meunster and Beijing: build great facilities where people feel safe and
comfortable and people will ride. There is a difference between “safety” and
“comfort”. A person riding in the middle of a busy travel lane is likely
quite safe. They are not likely to be rear-ended. However, it is also more
than likely that the average person is anything but comfortable in such a
situation. Likely, they are intimidated by the cars streaming around them,
or following them closely while waiting for an opportunity to pass. The
cyclist feels like they are holding everybody up. The Dutch emphasize both
comfort and safety in the development of their facilities (as well as
“attractiveness). Comfort is different from safety.
One story I like to tell is that I’ve ridden the same street to work for
years. Before it had bike lanes I wore lycra, rode my road bike, carried my
work clothes in a back pack and rode like hell. Once we striped bike lanes
on the street I took out my clunker, wore my work clothes, slowed way down
(so I don’t work up a sweat) and feel very comfortable doing so because I
then had my own dedicated space. It felt great.
Our story is build it and they will come. We’ve built it and we now are
approaching 6-8% mode split.