Portland: Doing it Right!

Bike lanes and other bicycle facilities have been absolutely instrumental to the success we’ve had in increasing ridership. Our city auditor now reports that 8% of Portlanders identify the bicycle as their primary commute vehicle and another 10% identify it as their secondary commute vehicle. That’s up from 6% and 10%, respectively last year. – Roger Geller, Portland Bicycle Coordinator

Roger Geller, Head Bicycle Coordinator for Portland, Oregon, forwarded us a recent presentation he’d created which outlines what his city has learned is necessary to create a successful bicycle infrastructure, that not only focuses on safety, but also increases ridership. Portland recently attained the The League of American Bicyclists highest rating of “Platinum”, due to the successful bicycle infrastructure that has been placed in the city. In August, a team of us went to Portland to review the planning and work this group had put together, and we were left in awe. Not only were cyclists everywhere, but it was actually easier to get around by bicycle rather than car. The increase in economic development related to cycling was all too apparent, and made obvious how a similar approach to bicycling in Oak Cliff could radically improve our community.

The following chart from the presentation notes the exponential growth in ridership, and compares it to the percentage drop in accident rates:

The driving points of Portland’s presentation are exactly what Bike Friendly Oak Cliff plans to achieve for our area:

• Cycling Requires Bicycling Infrastructure
– to achieve world class levels of cycling you’ll need a world-class
• Bicycle Infrastructure Must Appeal to the Average
– (though appealing to “cyclists” is a good start)
• Bicycle Facilities, Bicyclists & Bicycling must be
• Make Bicycling Irresistible


  1. 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.

  2. Thank you for contributing. We at Team BFOC wholeheartedly disagree with your stance, but recognize the importance of having an opposing view.

    We forwarded your comment to Geller for a response. Team BFOC would be very excited to host an informative debate on the matter in late winter if this is accommodating to all parties.

    We’d be happy to invite Mr. Geller to the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce, to discuss his work to implement bike lanes, and would very much appreciate having you attend to counterpoint, and discuss why Portland is a failed model.

  3. What exactly would constitute a rash? Portland had six fatalities in 2007, two of which were right hook. All of this while quadrupling ridership.

    We had close to that number in a span of two months this year alone…and we have 1/10 the ridership they do.

    Are you actually insinuating there’s a method of bicycling that will result in 0 fatalities a year?

    The two right hook deaths that occurred last year in Portland is what created the Bike Box program. These people seem to think it works: http://www.streetsblog.org/2008/06/27/streetfilms-return-of-bike-box/

    Maybe you know something they don’t?

  4. […] 14, 2008 · No Comments In our article titled Portland: Doing it Right!, Dallas Bike Coordinator, PM Summers, objected to Portland bike coordinator, Roger Geller’s, […]

  5. Portland Bike Coodinator, Roger Geller’s, response to PM Summer’s charge:

    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:

    Click to access Dill%20CTS%20Friday%20Seminar%205-16-08.pdf

    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
    bicycle use.

    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.

  6. […] With increased awareness come decreased accident rates. It’s as simple as that…the data doesn’t lie. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)City of Dallas Hates People With Two Wheels.The […]

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