SaferClinton Op-Ed

Imagine you’re getting ready to take your child to their 5th grade class at Abernethy Elementary in Southeast Portland. Since you live only a mile away, you two have travelled there by bike for years, just like many of your neighbors.

However, as you proceed down Clinton Street you hit morning rush hour. Clinton is a “Neighborhood Greenway” – a route which the city has designated as a safe and calm space for biking, walking, and playing. However, over the years, your trips to Abernethy Elementary school have become stressful and sometimes even frightening.

Almost every week, someone drives past you and your child far too close for comfort. A few weeks ago someone yelled at you, “share the road!” even though you left plenty of space to pass. Every time you hear a car behind you, you wonder if the person driving it is going to buzz you, shout at you, or worse. You and your child love the fresh air, the exercise, and your time together, but you’re considering just driving to school because cycling has become so stressful. Of course, then you would be one more person driving on increasingly congested Clinton!

At BikeLoudPDX, we believe that there is a better way. Going short distances on foot or bike is certainly frugal but it also enriches our city in less obvious ways. Less money spent on gas means more money in Portlanders’ pockets, which means more spent at local businesses. Trips taken walking and biking rather than sitting in a car translate into lower healthcare premiums thanks to a healthier population. Children who walk, bike, or take transit to their school and other destinations can experience independence much sooner than kids who have to wait until age 16 to drive.

Recently, other cities have done a better job at enriching their cities through biking and walking, while Portland has stalled. For example, Washington DC bike mode share increased from ~2% to 4.4% in the past 5 years. Portland, on the other hand, recently saw a small drop from 6.1% to 5.9%. We believe that the increased conflict for cyclists and pedestrians on streets like Clinton play a role in this lack of progress.

How do we help Portland increase its transportation wealth again? It starts with everyone on Portland’s streets. We play a part, when we’re walking, driving, biking, rolling, or cartwheeling around town. Here are our tips:

  • Pay attention and don’t exceed a reasonable speed when biking or driving.
  • If you’re driving or biking, yield to pedestrians. Under Oregon law, every corner is a crosswalk!
  • Choose your route with courtesy to others in mind. Don’t walk through a soccer game, bike in a rush down the Hawthorne District’s narrow sidewalks, or drive many blocks down Neighborhood Greenways (please use the arterials that are only a few blocks away!)

Unfortunately, not everyone is courteous and conscientious enough to follow even these simple guidelines; some people need encouragement. Speed bumps encourage us to slow down. Crosswalks remind us to yield to pedestrians. The “diverter” that requires us to turn from Clinton onto Chavez when driving encourages us to drive on Division or Powell instead. A multitude of studies (see Cavill et al in Transport Policy, 2008) have shown that this type of “encouragement” to travel safely and considerately is inexpensive compared to its individual, economic and societal benefits.

This year marks Clinton Street’s 30th birthday as a “greenway” (or “bike boulevard,” as it was known in its early years). The city has not installed any more infrastructure “encouragement” on Clinton for a number of years, even though car traffic on Clinton exceeds national standards for greenways. For Clinton Street’s 30th birthday, we urge Steve Novick and the Portland Bureau of Transportation to change that trend by installing “diverters,” which are the single most effective tool for reducing conflict and stress on Greenways.

We also believe that all our treasured neighborhood greenways (they’re the streets with the big white bicycle stencils on them every few blocks) need more “encouragement” infrastructure. Many of them like Clinton have problems with speeding, high car volumes, and aggressive drivers, while others suffer from difficult, un-signaled intersections at major streets or from indirect and confusing routes. These concerns are especially poignant as the City builds more greenways in historically-underserved, infrastructure-poor East Portland. We at BikeLoudPDX want to see plenty of “encouragement” integrated into our greenway infrastructure at the time of construction and not years later after conflict has escalated to the boiling point.

This May, as we celebrate Bike and Walk Month and Clinton’s 30th birthday, let’s all take a new approach to travel on shared roads. When you’re going somewhere, just slow down and breathe. Getting there 30 seconds faster isn’t worth stressing yourself out. And it certainly isn’t worth stressing out a 5th-grader.

Alex Reed, founder, BikeLoudPDX

Kari Schlosshauer, Abernethy mom and organizer, Safer Clinton