More from the Tyee!  Christine McLaren has an excellent run-down of how Portland’s city planners think about promoting cycling, something I happen to think they’ve done very well.  McLaren spends a lot of time explaining Portland’s strategy of building bike infrastructure that’s meant to appeal to people interested in biking for all the usual reasons, but who are–completely rationally–terrified of getting mowed down in traffic.  These people want some space, and maybe even a barrier, between them and car traffic.  These are exactly the potential cyclists who aren’t going to ride on the hundreds of kilometers of “bike lanes” in Vancouver that are, in reality, just the four feet of road closest to the curb, except with little bikes painted on the asphalt.

But while Vancouver can learn a lot from Portland, there’s also a lot of hype about the city, and you should never believe the hype.  McLaren asks,

Why is it that, while a city like Portland has bridges backlogged with bike traffic-jams, Vancouver remains choked in car traffic, and I, nearly alone on my bike route to work? A mere 2,700 cyclists trickle into Vancouver’s downtown every day, while over 9,000 daily cross over Portland’s bridges.

Well, part of the answer is the one McLaren gives.  Portland’s good bike infrastructure plays a role here.   Another part of the answer is that McLaren’s comparing apples and oranges here.  Portland’s U district is just south of downtown, so cyclists are crossing Portland’s bridges to get there as well as downtown.  But UBC is way hell and gone from downtown Vancouver, so a measure of who’s biking downtown is missing a huge chunk of Vancouver’s bike commuters.

But the most important thing to remember about Portland is that it is, fundamentally, a freeway-centric, car-dependent city.  And there’s isn’t any part of Portland’s transportation planning that isn’t affected by that basic fact.  Think of Portland’s 5, 84, 405, and 26 as really massive “car-only lanes” that move cars into, through, and out of the city.  Well, if you’ve already got those big car-only lanes diverting traffic off your downtown and neighbourhood streets, it’s going be a lot easier to build big, safe, and inviting bike lanes on those streets.  The bikes don’t need to share those streets with as many cars.

But Vancouver can’t do that.  It doesn’t have freeways in the city, and it shouldn’t have freeways in the city.  So Vancouver’s going to have a harder time figuring out how to make space for bikes on its roads.

In other bike-related reading today, Gordon Price wonders if the success of the Burrard St. bridge bike lane signals a shift in Vancouver’s transportation culture.  Let’s hope so.

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