Playing the Numbers Game, Part 1

I was recently in Portland, Oregon on a vacation. I did not rent a bicycle and ride it around on the various types of infrastructure, but I did walk around and take pictures. This is the first in a short series examining what I saw.

As I have discussed before, I believe there are generally two types of bicycle advocates: those primary concerned with safety in traffic and those primarily concerned with increasing participation. There are, obviously, many nuances and complications to this bifurcation. But it works for sake of discussion.

Portland has achieved a bicycle mode share in the neighborhood of 7 percent — best in the United States.


My answer, the one I’ve also discussed here many times, is culture — the same as Amsterdam and other places that have achieved high mode share. In other words, I think participation is far more a matter of the cultural value a particular people place on bicycling than it is a matter of offering bicycle lanes or other dedicated infrastructure.

That is not to say that infrastructure won’t or cannot lead to an increase in participation. I’m not sure a good study of this yet exists. And, further, I don’t think it matters much from my perspective as a traffic safety advocate. I’d rather have fewer people ride bicycles if the alternative is to build dangerous infrastructure.

I saw dangerous infrastructure in Portland, i.e. infrastructure that created situations more dangerous than if nothing had been built.

I am not claiming that all bicycle infrastructure in Portland is bad, just as I have never claimed that all infrastructure in Amsterdam is bad. The larger point for me is this: If these two cities, and others, allow bad stuff to be built or stay built, then other cities may copy the bad stuff.

This happens. And it should not happen. Examples: Door-zone bicycle lanes and bicycle boxes.

Thus, my negativity 😉

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Comments 5

  1. Max Power wrote:

    Isn’t it odd that anyone advocates education and lane control is derided as a “VC extremist,” despite the fact that “VCs” only object to infrastructure that creates dangerous conflicts; while the “separated infrastructure or nothing” crowd considers itself moderate and reasonable.

    Posted 16 Jun 2014 at 7:12 pm
  2. Khal Spencer wrote:

    I wonder if infrastructure follows culture rather than the other way around. People have to vote for this stuff being built, which presumably means someone wants it because the culture supports it.

    Posted 16 Jun 2014 at 10:09 pm
  3. Michael wrote:

    Culture and economics. I see plenty of poor folks on bicycles.

    You can see the culture aspect in Minnieapolis as well.

    Posted 17 Jun 2014 at 8:51 am
  4. Steve A wrote:

    Based on the way I see most people ride, I’m not convinced that even BAD infrastructure increases their danger. It is good that cycling is so inherently safe. While Andy (and I) may not like a lot of the dim bulb facilities that get put in by people that don’t understand how bikes should operate, at least a few more people may stop for a red light when there’s a bike box and people are safer in a DZBL than tearing down a crowded sidewalk against traffic while chatting on a cell phone.

    Posted 17 Jun 2014 at 7:33 pm
  5. Andy Cline wrote:

    Khal… I use the Dutch situation to argue the culture point. They were bicycling in great numbers long before they built infrastructure for it. What gets built nowadays seems to be a bit more driven by bicycling-is-good-business — at least here in Springfield.

    Posted 18 Jun 2014 at 4:07 pm