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Portland takes the ‘bad ass’ out of biking, part 1: The Going St bicycle boulevard

While riding around Portland this weekend (my first time seeing the city by bike), I came to one big conclusion: Seattle bikers are bad asses. Biking in Portland is so easy that there is hardly any excuse not to bike (before you get upset, I’m joking. Portland bikers are bad asses, too). The things Portland has done to make biking easy are incredible, but many of them are also simple. I’ll be writing about some of those features and how Seattle could perhaps learn from them in a short series this week. First up: Bike boulevards.

I was staying with friends in a house on NE Going St in the Alberta neighborhood. Going was recently turned into a bicycle boulevard, which PBOT bike coordinator Roger Geller called the “best bike boulevard in the city.” It changed my whole perspective on the potential of bicycle boulevards.

First, almost all of the stop signs were turned away from Going, meaning you can ride uninterrupted. All traffic on the smaller neighborhood streets yields to the bikes on Going. This makes the route very fast. At larger intersections, concrete barriers prevent vehicles other than bicycles from continuing straight through or turning onto Going. The result is a street with significantly more bicycles than motor vehicles (and more children safely playing right in the middle of street).

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I was originally skeptical of whether Seattle could create good bicycle boulevards, since so few side streets continue uninterrupted. But Portland shows that interruptions can be dealt with and made easy and intuitive. For example, Portland installed a short two-way cycle track on 33rd where Going does not continue straight through (see photo above). Bikes turn from the boulevard to the cycle track, then cross straight from the track to continue on the boulevard. No riding a half block on a busier street necessary. Cars on 33rd are prohibited from turning onto Going. Here’s a video from Bike Portland showing how it works:

Making crossing improvements like these would make bike boulevards possible in areas where current arterial alternatives are slow or difficult to access. Bike boulevards are great for commuting, sure, but they also make inter-neighborhood trips much more appealing by bicycle. Those trips to the grocery store or your neighborhood taco truck are more appealing to try by bike if a street like this exists, especially if you are have children with you. I saw many more families riding on Going than you will see in a standard bike lane.

Dylan from Beacon BIKES! has an idea for what appears to be good route for a Beacon Hill boulevard (I have been meaning to give it a shot). As a biker who typically prefers neighborhood streets to arterials when possible, I used to think Seattle’s geography and wonky street layout were big impediments to creating good bike boulevards. But the more I think about them, the more places I can think of where they could work.

Anyone out there have a neighborhood bike route that, with a few touches, could be a good bike boulevard? Write about it in the comments.

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8 responses to “Portland takes the ‘bad ass’ out of biking, part 1: The Going St bicycle boulevard”

  1. Kevin

    See also Vancouver, BC which implements similar bicycle expressway measures on their bike boulevards (Adanac, 10th, etc.)

    As much as I dislike bike boulevards because they “hide” cyclists from the main drag (e.g. 2 blocks west of The Ave, 3 blocks west of Eastlake, 1 block west of Westlake, 1-2 blocks west/south of Leary, etc.) as if we don’t care to visit any sort of commercial establishment, if they’re going to exist they might as well be done right like in this clip so that they can become safe & speedy cycling highways.

    1. neil

      any way…. i still think that 1 or 2 wont be bad to have around…. that way I can convince more friends to just “ride around” jeje.

    2. mike archambault

      I see what your saying, but the whole point is that they hide people from the main drag! The main drag usually means lots of cars, which you and I are probably ok with, but not so for new and young riders. I rode on Going st two weekends ago and would let a child ride on it in a heartbeat. Its just a matter of turning at the right street to get to where you want on the main drag (Alberta, in the example of Going St). Or better yet, if your destination is not on he main drag, these blvds provide much more safe, relaxing, inviting rides through town. Not to mention the awesomeness for the folks living on these low traffic streets.

      1. Yes, exactly. I would much prefer to have a bike boulevard–preferably just 1 block from the main drag, which seems to be the standard in Vancouver–and only use the busy road for the last block or two.

    3. eric.br

      plus, you’d be surprised to see the stuff that pops up just because it ends up being on a bike boulevard. these designations, and adoptions by cyclists and the local community, is the stuff that changes neighborhoods. like real change.

      one day its the “secondary” street, next thing ya know its where folks and businesses want to be…

      1. I love this idea, but have you seen it actually happen anywhere? Bear in mind that even in Amsterdam and Copenhagen, only a third of people commute by bike, so it’s still not the dominant mode that will draw businesses away from non-bike arterials….

  2. Funnily enough, I just got back from a weekend exploring Portland by bike. It wasn’t the first time I’ve biked there, but it was the first time I’ve really explored much outside downtown and the Pearl District. I was similarly impressed, and actually had intended to write about it for a Sustainable Cities group blog. I like your post – how would you feel about cross-posting it there?

    In general, it was really impressive how much easier the city is to explore by bike, even without relevant local knowledge, and in turn how many more people are cycling. I don’t really know, but I got the impression that the commute mode share numbers actually underestimate the number of Portlanders who use their bikes to run errands and go out at night.

    On bike boulevards specifically, what really impressed me is that they are infrastructure that supports slow, unconfident riding and allows those who want to ride fast to do so, because the whole width of the road is there for us most of the way.

  3. Paul

    For Capitol Hill a nice one would be along 16th Ave E between E Galer and E Madison. It’s well paved and it’s close to the top of the ridge and get much less traffic (and lights) than 15th Ave E. Extending down to Jackson or Yesler 18th Ave E is good too.

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