I have an uneasy feeling about sharrows, those white chevrons that have been sprouting faster than crabgrass on Portland streets recently. Sharrows (and in Portland we even have "sharrow flowers" - four chevrons arrayed around the bike icon) seem like a bit of a cop-out. They are neither the traffic-separated cycle tracks that skittish cyclists love or even your basic bike path. Sharrows are a whole other beast, sort of like the poor man's bike path. But what is also true is that mode share is holding steady in Portland. The recent Auditor's Report confirmed from its survey that bike use in the city tops 7% (other surveys, like the Census, say Portland is at 5.8% with bike commuting, while the city's bike count last year had showed a small drop in bike trips). So perhaps sharrow-marked streets, which in the Rose City now get the fancy designation of "neighborhood greenways" will bring about the big upturn in biking the city says it wants.
Portland's Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) planners say neighborhood greenways are much more than just chevrons painted on the asphalt. In addition to being on residential streets, Neighborhood Greenways are getting lots of traffic calming devices, such as speed bumps and the extended curbs and stormwater management planters that caused such fury when Portland first released its twenty-year bike plan earlier this year.
Greenways will also be first in line if Portland is successful with its attempts in this year's legislative session to wrestle control of speed limits from Oregon's Department of Transportation. PBOT isn't trying to rule the whole speed limit world - it just wants the ability to knock speeds on these residential Greenways down to 20 miles per hour.
The stakes are pretty high. Portland wants to get from its current 7-8% modal share to a total of 25 percent of all trips taken by bike by 2030. That's a steep increase, and it means that some of the big bulk of people who don't yet ride will need to start to feel like it is safe enough to do so.
One of the best features of the recent Neighborhood Greenway expansion on Portland's NE Going Street was the fact (mentioned in the film) that 19 stop signs were "flipped" to make the route more of a throughway for the bikes. Having experienced Copenhagen's grone bolge (green wave) where cyclists get long red-light-free stretches of road, I can say that this Greenway feature is truly fantastic.
At big intersections, PBOT extended some "median islands" to allow bikes and pedestrians to pass through (and stop if necessary), which makes it much safer and more pleasant to cross a high-traffic street.
If you want to know what the difference is between a bike boulevard and a Neighborhood Greenway, it seems to be the effort on the part of PBOT to reduce car volumes from what can be as high as 1,000 vehicles travelling these bikeways to 500 cars or less.
One of the most beautiful parts of the film is the appearance of the Beach School bike trains and all the parents and kids participating in these bike to school rides.
If you are in the NYC area, there's a Streetfilms fundraiser on November 16th. Check ou the details here: Support Streetfilms: Come to our Fundraiser, Tuesday Nov 16th
Read more about Portland and biking at TreeHugger:
George Will is Just Plain Wrong...Here Are Five Cities Where More Than .01% Ride Bikes to Work
Does Green Box Biking Reduce Right Hook Collisions?
Creating Green Commuters From Scratch in Portland