More bikes increase driver awareness
By Cari Hachmann/ The Portland Observer
With sunny skies, dry pavement and high gras prices, its little surprise that more and more bicyclists are seen riding about the city and inevitably sharing roads with cars, trucks, and all other modes of transport.
While the summer months bring out cyclists of all maturity –from family peddlers and sun-glassed cruisers to fixed-gear fanatics and rush hour riders– more folks on bikes is hardly a seasonal trend.
According to the 2010 Bicycle Count, conducted each year by Portland’s Bureau of Transportation since the early 1990s, bicycle traffic has nearly tripled over the last 10 years with a 190 percent increase since 2001, while city-wide, bicycle trips are up 8 percent since 2009.
As more bicyclists ride alongside their two-ton metal counterparts on commercial and residential roads, many fear a greater probability for conflict.
However, safety experts expect the opposite.
“As the number of bicyclists goes up, the likelihood of a crash on any given trip goes down,” said Greg Raisman, PBOT’s chief traffic safety expert.
Raisman explains that with more bicyclists on the road, motor vehicles have to be more attentive, drive cautiously and slower and thus, lessen the chance for crashes.
Safety in numbers, a common-sense theory used widely in the human and natural realm to lessen the risk of a solo traveler falling victim to a predator, also applies to bike traffic.
Jonathon Maus, editor and publisher of BikePortland.org, confirms that roads are safer with more bikes. He says that as cars begin to get used to seeing bikes, they adapt their driving behavior accordingly and operate their cars more safely.
“[Cars] begin to expect the presence of bike traffic,” said Maus. He points out that a majority of bicyclists also drive and having that bike perspective and sensibility makes them safer drivers.
More than ever, Portland drivers are conforming to the safety expectations of bicyclists.
The recent death of Dustin Finney, 28-year-old biking victim of a hit-and-run on Southeast 85th and Division, was Portland’s first bicycle-related fatality in nearly two years. At 1 a.m., Finney was struck from behind when an intoxicated 18-year-old drove his SUV into the bike lane.
Though in six of the past 12 years, there have been zero bike fatalities, with 2008 having the lowest number of total fatalities in recorded history, Finney’s tragic death reminds us that cyclists’ fate rely on more cautious drivers, safer roads, and smarter cycling.
By creating a city that is safest for the most vulnerable travelers –cyclists and pedestrians– Portland’s Bureau of Transportation hopes to see crash rates continue to decline.
“One issue is getting people to follow the rules of the road,” said Raisman, referring to both autos and bikes. Educating the public and funding projects that will improve the streets are two ways the city plans to go about decreasing accidents for not only bikes, but all modes of transportation.
For bikes, the most common accident is the right hook crash, where a bicyclist riding straight conflicts with a car turning right into an intersection or driveway. However, a rider is six times more likely to be seriously injured in a T-bone crash, when a car or cyclist fails to stop at red light or stop sign.
Bicycles, regulated as a traffic vehicle under law, are expected to follow the same rules of the road, which means stopping at red-lights and stop signs, signaling turns, and not riding under the influence.
Though it is not required for cyclists over the age of 16 to wear a helmet, it is strongly encouraged.
City safety experts say that Portland has not needed a mandatory helmet law in order to get people to wear helmets and instead, have found education and encouragement to be just as effective as a tool to relay the importance.
In June, the Bureau of Transportation kicked off the “Street Smart: Go Safe’ campaign,” in an effort to improve traffic safety in the city.
Through greater enforcement, the movement intends to curb distracted driving like cell phone use and texting as well as red light running by upping. For example, police have located problem intersections downtown where both cars and bikes frequently run red-lights and are issuing more tickets.
Aside from educating drivers and bikers of how to co-exist on the road, Portland is making significant headway in creating more bike-friendly streets and safe route alternatives.
Portland’s bicycle plan for 2030 calls for a network of “low stress bikeways” on residential streets that provide connections to schools, parks, homes, transit, and commercial areas.
In east Portland, the Neighborhood Greenways system has begun to take shape on many residential streets, where bicyclists and pedestrians are given priority to low traffic and low speed streets.
For example, streets stamped with white bicycle arrows, like Northeast Going and Shaver Streets, and 9th, 17th, and 30th Avenues, act as safe bike boulevards that run parallel to busier, commercial corridors like Alberta Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Early Monday around 7:30 a.m., a local resident named Jack watches the morning rush of cyclists whizz past his front porch on Going and Rodney, an established connector from Vancouver Avenue east towards MLK.
“The throughways are great for cyclists,” he says, “We hope they bring more bicyclists and slow down the car traffic.”
Often, Jack watches drivers swerve around bicyclists and wishes for better enforcement. Although he’s not entirely pro-cyclist, he says living in Portland, “You have to be.”
“If you can’t learn to drive along side bikes, you might want to live somewhere else,” said Jack.
PBOT plans to tailor more facilities on busy roads, especially streets where more than 3,000 cars pass per day, with wider bike lanes, buffered bike lanes and cycle tracks that provide separation between bicyclists and motor vehicle traffic and allow cyclists to travel more safely.