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.
Thus, my negativity 😉