I ain't one of these knee-jerk anti-facilities idealists, but this next entry might make me sound like one. Fact is I love well-designed bicycle facilities (like Denver's Cherry Creek path) because I know they can make riding -- different kinds of riding -- easier, faster and more pleasant. This isn't one of those. Portland's latest plans to install Dutch-style 'cycle tracks' along streets that almost everybody agrees are pretty easy to ride as-is reminds me of the Bush/Paulson/Geithner/Obama plan to save the insolvent banks with unlimited public money -- slow-motion train wreck. I can't believe they're really doing this.

 

 

Diagram lifted from BikePortland's discussion.

Sure looks pleasant on the diagram. A six-foot path, however, is not one on which a beginner adult and a wobbly child will often be found riding side-by-side as pictured here. And if you were to encounter such a duo on this pathway, defying the odds with their precarious handlebar-to-handlebar positioning, one of them would be riding in the Door Zone of the parked vehicles. The Door Zone, I say. Portland's planners, first of all, will have to go back and find another foot for that so-called 'shy zone.' Because suddenly flung-open car doors are not shy. And you would certainly find it a bit of a pickle to pass these characters riding down the path. Whoa to the commuter in a hurry sequestered to a six-foot sidepath packed with beginner cyclists, and an intersection with auto traffic every block. Man I sound like one of those cantankerous Vehicular Cyclists from North Carolina.

Six feet makes a rather minimal path. It's good for the single rider but quickly gets dicey with any congestion. When they imagine a six-foot-wide path, people tend to picture a path about eight feet wide, it seems like no problem. They think fifteen feet is ten feet, ten is eight, six is four or four and a half, etc. Turns out that six feet is not wide. Six feet is the width of the standard suburban sidewalk that many of us rode on our first bikes (most of you would probably guess these sidewalks are about four and a half feet). I think this misperception of space on the ground comes from our misperception of human stature. Seven feet is supposed to be really tall, right? But if a seven-footer lays down across the suburban sidewalk, he's just six inches over on either side. W'e're just not as tall as we like to think is what it comes down to.

In my new book The Cyclist's Manifesto I warned a bit about the trap of trying to apply Euro-style cycle tracks to an American landscape. The exact things I predicted -- that bicyclists would be left with a few high-profile sidepaths that look good to beginners and to the politicians who champion them but don't improve conditions and end up standing in the way of future projects that could -- seem to be playing out in Portland. It's difficult to tell if Portland's planners are falling into an honest trap with well-intentioned motives or if the city is being taken for a ride over someone's baser political ambitions. I have taken Roger Geller's side in the past (see THE BIKE LANE DID IT), but not this time. His defense of this track and its location and the motive behind it doesn't hold water.

Please read if you get a chance: BIGGER THAN BIKE LANES, suggestions for more ambitious goals.