My View: Public ideas help shape projects that will make streets safer for everyone

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance recently released “Building Our Future: A Blueprint for World-Class Bicycling.” The blueprint is the latest set of recommendations from the BTA on how we, as a community, can make getting around on a bicycle safer and simpler.

Developing the blueprint was an exciting process. We talked with hundreds of residents, we collected thousands of comments about what people wanted to see in their neighborhoods, and we collaborated with regional partners to understand what projects would be the most cost-effective solutions to challenges on our roads.

As we worked to distill public input down to a clear set of recommendations, something funny happened: We talked less and less about bicycling.

It sounds strange coming from an organization with “bicycle” in its name, but the projects that emerged are simply about applying proven solutions in more places to make our streets safe and streamlined for everyone. People who want to ride a bicycle are simply one piece in the puzzle of how we can help everyone who drives, walks, rides a bicycle or gets around any other way.

Projects in our blueprint fall into four categories: making high-traffic streets safer with streamlined road design (“Make Big Streets Safe”), upgrading existing facilities to meet current demand (“Fix What We Have”), calming traffic in residential neighborhoods (“Create Neighborhood Greenways”), and building off-street trails that work well for both recreation and transportation (“Build Inspiring Trails”).

One project that has received a lot of attention — improving safety along Northeast Broadway in Portland — calls for a physical barrier to define space on the road for people on bicycles and people in cars. Yes, it will make the street safer for people riding bicycles, but it also will make the street less stressful for people driving by encouraging predictable behavior on the road.

Northeast Multnomah in Portland and Veterans Drive in Hillsboro are just two examples where physical barriers already help by defining space for different types of traffic.

Making Northeast Broadway less stressful also will boost business. Improving sidewalks and adding physical barriers to streamline traffic will make the street less chaotic, encouraging customers to spend more time in the area. Sidewalks, better definition of space on the road, and additional bike parking also will increase the overall capacity of the street, both for people traveling through the area and for customers visiting local shops.

Two projects in the “Let’s Fix It” category (improving crossings over Highway 26 in Beaverton and Hillsboro, and creating connections over Sullivan’s Gulch and Interstate 84 in Portland) will tackle spots where people are forced into conflict by the design of the road.

Right now, there are three different types of traffic using overpasses (motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians) that have to share the same space while all traveling in different directions at very different speeds.

Solutions to the conflicts on Highway 26 and I-84 don’t have to be complicated or revolutionary. Bicycle-specific traffic signals and other treatments already have been used successfully around the Portland metro region to give a better indication of whose turn it is to safely travel through an intersection.

Smarter signals and better lane design over Highway 26 and I-84 are good solutions for everyone’s traffic headaches, whether they’re on foot, on a bike or in a car.

The other two categories in the BTA’s Blueprint, “Create Neighborhood Greenways” and “Build Inspiring Trails,” don’t need a lot of explaining as to how they benefit a large number of people, whether they want to ride a bicycle or not.

Portland’s Neighborhood Greenway network allows people to find their way around local neighborhoods without the danger, noise or pollution that come from large volumes of high-speed traffic. Unfortunately, many families in East Portland and Washington County don’t have access to such a network and are forced into the expensive proposition of using a car for all their transportation needs.

Many families in these areas are stuck in a car even in situations where walking or riding would be healthier, cheaper and more enjoyable. Adding directional signs, speed bumps and other simple, cost-effective solutions to neighborhoods in Washington County and East Portland will give families safe, intuitive options for getting around their own neighborhoods.

Finally, there are many existing trails in our region that already are popular destinations. The Fanno Creek Trail, Springwater Corridor and Interstate 205 path are all examples of direct, practical routes where anyone from age 8 to 80 can travel at a speed they’re comfortable.

Projects in our blueprint, including the Westside Trail and the North Portland Greenway, will create new connections in our trail network, giving people a better option for getting to school, to shopping centers, or just getting outside for the fun of it. We must build these new trails in a way that accommodates all ages, abilities and speeds of traffic they will inevitably attract — whether that’s bicycle traffic, foot traffic, wheelchair traffic, or anything else.

Now, looking back on the challenges and needs expressed by the public input we collected, it’s not all that surprising the blueprint grew to be more than a list of “bicycle projects.” Our streets and trails are too important and too dynamic to pit one type of vehicle against another.

We already have solutions to problems that we face every day on our streets. All we need to do is continue on the success of proven solutions. We can build smart, safe, practical roads that let everyone get around safely, and bicycles will be just an afterthought.

Will Vanlue is communications manager for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance in Portland.

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