Portland: Time-lapse video shows a beautiful intersection at work

September 14, 2012

Michael Andersen

What do you get when you combine a separated green lane, a streetcar stop, a free bike valet service and a 3-minute-long aerial tram ride that goes over a highway and up a big hill to the city's largest employer?

A multimodal paradise:

The video shot on Wednesday by Kiel Johnson, owner of the Go By Bike shop and valet service in Portland's South Waterfront, shows what a hub of activity served by great infrastructure looks like. In the first shot and various others afterward, you can see people on bikes shooting around the bend of the grade- separated bikeway at the bottom of the screen. At 1:14, there's a sequence shot inside the Portland Aerial Tram, a five-year-old lift funded mostly by Oregon Health and Science University, whose campus is split between top and bottom of the hill.

Feeding this hub is one of Portland's handful of true green lane projects: a 3/4-mile cycletrack built last year on Southwest Moody Avenue with somewhere around $1 million from the 2009 federal stimulus bill. Check out this cross section of the $54 million project, which combined streetcar, auto pedestrian, bike and utility line improvements to link downtown Portland with the recently developed South Waterfront:

"This is the closest thing Portland has to a European-style bikeway," BikePortland's Jonathan Maus wrote the day after the track opened. The Moody bikeway actually has elements of an off-road bike path, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance's Carl Larson said Thursday: as you can see from the cross section, a series of paving stones and trees separates bicyclists going opposite directions from each other. And as Johnson's video shows, this directional separation in combination with the separation from pedestrians and cars makes it a great track for shifting into top gear.

Summer business at the shop has doubled since the cycletrack opened, Johnson said.

the South Waterfront neighborhoodThe success of this intersection isn't just about infrastructure, though. OHSU's excellent bike commuting program includes cash rewards for bicyclists and funding for Go By Bike's free valet service. The bike shop itself is a self-supporting venture by Johnson, 26, whose team operates out of a cart parked on the property. Johnson credits the City of Portland and OHSU for working together to green-light what could have been a complicated land-use process.

For the city and the university, the benefit is a dense, liveable urban neighborhood, free of huge, low-value parking lots. That efficiency is what's allowed the area to convert directly from undeveloped World War II shipyards into a high-rise district with room for 10,000 jobs. It's possible to get to the South Waterfront by car, but the neighborhood "won't work if people drive," city spokesman Dan Anderson told The Oregonian when the rebuilt Moody Avenue opened.

That promise of economic bang for buck is what made the Moody project attractive to the city, university, and federal government.

Kiel Johnson helps commuters at the Go By Bike valet service in Portland's South WaterfrontAs for Johnson, he said Friday that he wanted to make the video because he wanted to share the experience of watching an intersection that could theoretically exist in any U.S. city -- but doesn't.

"I think it's one of the most interesting intersections in Portland," Johnson said. "It's really cool to be there and watch it operate every day."

Johnson's enthusiasm for bikes began after a college stint in Copehagen.

"Before that, I never even rode bicycles or was very interested in them," Johnson said. "Going to Copenhagen and seeing a city where 40 percent of the trips are made by bicycle -- it really changes the dynamics of the city. It's a cleaner city, and makes it a more vibrant and accessible city. I don't think there's much of a reason why we can't do something really similar in the United States."

See all Protected Bike Lanes blog entries

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