Exploring Portland’s innovative bike network
As we posted on Friday, we recently visited the famous bike city Portland, Oregon. We didn’t have a car with us (no need to rent one to get from the airport—a train takes you straight from baggage claim to downtown). Having to get everywhere by bike (and foot) was a blessing in disguise, as it let us experience navigating the city’s bike network, rather than blindly riding in a cab or following a car’s GPS system.
One of the most remarkable features of Portland’s bike system is its “bike boulevards.” Rather than carving out space for bicycles on busy, popular streets—an expensive, difficult, and often contentious task, especially when you remove car parking—planners in Portland designate a parallel route as a “bike boulevard.” These bike boulevards are low-traffic residential streets, with frequent, easy to spot symbols that mark it as a bike route. Some bike boulevards will have speed bumps to calm traffic. Instead of separating bicyclists from traffic (a relatively costly maneuver), bike boulevards let bikes and cars share the road safely and without much stress.
Besides their low cost and ease of implementation, the beauty of bike boulevards is that they are easy to navigate. You don’t even need to have a map or a specific route planned for how to get to point A to point B. You just wiggle your way in the approximate direction you need to go, following the bike symbols.
Sometimes the bike boulevards have to cross busy roads. Because they are minor, residential streets, they often don’t have a stoplight to help get across the major road. We came across this genius crossing pictured below, where all you had to do was press a bike-specific signal to stop traffic on the busy street and continue on the bike boulevard.
The innovative bicycle facilities in Portland make it easy, efficient, and fun to get around by bike, which is why Portland has one of the highest bicycling levels in the country. During rush hour on the most popular roads, like the Hawthorne Bridge pictured below, you see a constant stream of bicyclists.
Here’s another nifty feature that we encountered during the commute home on Monday afternoon. As you can see in the photo below, the bike lane off of Hawthorne Bridge has to jog left to avoid the off-ramp. Traffic speeds are relatively high, so it’s a bit tough to look behind and make sure you aren’t crossing paths with any exiting cars. The green colored pavement and Yield to Bikes sign let motorists know that they should expect to wait for you. This makes navigating this section much less stressful for bicyclists than it would be.
Next time you are visiting Portland, be sure to grab a bike and explore town. It’s amazing to see what the city has accomplished in terms of making bicycling easy and lower stress. There’s still a way to go to bike paradise, but it’s an example of how a little paint and a few neat tricks can transform your experience getting around without a car. (Learn more about Portland's work building its bike infrastructure here.)
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