Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Portland


Portland gets a "bike barometer"

Portland is the latest US city to get a "bike counter," which keeps track of cycle traffic at busy spots. Arlington has actually had bike counters for some time, though the Portland one adds something else: a visible display of how many people have ridden past.

At the start, Portland transportation director Tom Miller calls this "North America's first bike counter." Actually, Arlington, Virginia and some other places have had automated counters for some time. Arlington's track traffic on several trails, which let us better understand usage patterns, such as what happens in the winter or summer.

Those counters are small and nondescript boxes, so riders don't see anything. The data also is not available in real-time, just somewhat later; Arlington has expressed an interest in getting it out more quickly. All of this means it's great for policy analysis, but has less of an immediate psychological impact.

"I think it's going to guve us all a little jolt, as we go across, of excitement to see that we're one of thousands who go across the bridge," says commuter Leslie Carlson in the video.

Toronto bike advocate Yvonne Bambrick said, "I went by the counter last night, and I was cyclist 10,361. That is amazing! It just feels really empowering to know what's possible."

It would be interesting to know more about the relative costs of the "bike barometers" compared to the simpler boxes. Is it worth more to have a counter that brings a smile to people's faces? It may well be, if such counters give riders, walkers and, on bridges, drivers a greater awareness of how heavily used a particular trail or path really is.


Amsterdam proves bikes and streetcars are allies

Cyclists and streetcar tracks don't always get along, but the two should not be enemies. On the contrary, cities with large streetcar networks also tend to be the most bicycle friendly.

Photo by Gerard Stolk PCproblems on Flickr.

This is because streetcars contribute strongly to the development of more dense, urban, less car-dependent citiesthe same characteristics that produce the most friendly urban bicycling environment.

Amsterdam is widely considered to be one of the bicycling capitals of the western world, and rightly so. Its mode share is a whopping 38%. That blows away America's top biking city, Portland, which has a mode share of around 4%. Simply put, Amsterdam is a better city to bike in than any large city in America, by far.

And guess what: Amsterdam also has a huge streetcar network. There are currently 16 operating streetcar lines there, reaching all over the city.

Amsterdam streetcar network map, via Wikipedia

It's also no coincidence that Portland is both America's top cycling city and home to our country's streetcar renaissance. The same city that most agree is the best urban cycling experience in the country is also home to the largest modern streetcar network.

To be sure, integrating bikes and streetcars takes a bit of extra planning. Amsterdam and Portland both have extensive bikeway networks so that mixing is less necessary. That extra planning is important, and is needed to build the sort of sustainable city that Portland, Amsterdam, and Washington aspire to be.

Nevertheless, the point is clear: Streetcars and bikes are not enemies. They work together all over the world, and they can work together here.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Portland gets excited about transit with a Mobile Music Fest

DC residents can get fairly energized about improving transit, but Portland did us one better. They held a Streetcar Mobile Music Fest, featuring 8 bands on 6 streetcars. Here's a video of the sights and sounds:

Portland is actively trying to "bring greater enthusiasm that we have transit in our city," says Art Pearce of the Portland New Rail~Volutionaries, which bills itself as "a group of folks who are very excited about Streetcar."

The video was featured in Rail~Volution Filmfest 2011, co-hosted by the DC New Rail~Volutionaries and Coalition for Smarter Growth in conjunction with the Rail~Volution conference held here October 16-19.

Public Spaces

Bookstores create public places

What do downtown Silver Spring and Portland have in common? They both know the power of a good bookstore. It's not just about literacy and education and having places for teenagers to hang out after school. It's also about making urban space a little brighter and more interesting.

Sunny Days & Starry NightsPowell's Books, Portland
Left: Borders on Ellsworth Drive in downtown Silver Spring. Right: Powell's Books in Portland.

Powells is perhaps the best bookstore you or I will ever go to. The selection is extensive (many, many floors), the staff knowledgable, and the prices reasonableas everything is in Portland, despite the city's reputation for being trendy.

At both Powell's and Borders, the big, lighted windows connect inside and outside, giving people on both sides something to look at. Both places are open late, keeping the areas around them busy in the evenings. And they each attract their own kind of street life.

You'll usually find teenagers hanging around outside the Borders in downtown Silver Spring, it being one of the few places (outside City Place Mall) that's not a restaurant and has things someone in high school can actually afford. When I visited Powell's last winter, I noticed a lot of homeless youth around the store. Again, that's because it's open late and a fairly cheap place to "earn" time inside.

It's not necessarily a bad thing for these stores to attract young people. After all, they provide an amenity for everyone else, and the presence of more people, regardless of status, makes their respective areas safer and more enjoyable. I know I'd rather spend a day poking around Powell's than visiting Borders' store at Columbia Crossing in Howard County, a typical big box:

Borders, Columbia Crossing

The Borders in downtown Silver Spring is, of course, a chain. Unlike Powell's, it isn't a unique local resource (though Powell's does have a website and delivers goods nationwide) and the money made there may not stay in the community. But I'd bet that its urban form earns it the status of Neighborhood Bookstore for more people than the Borders in Columbia Crossing. For a chain store, that kind of relationship is worth its weight in gold.

Certainly, this kind of post would earn me some hackles from folks who prefer to patronize locally-owned businesses for exactly the reasons I state above, so to appease them, I'll also mention Silver Spring Books on Bonifant Street, a real-life local bookstore just a block away from Ellsworth Drive and favored shop of local crime writer George Pelecanos, who complains that dumb kids like me and others under 25 are "programmed" to visit chain stores exclusively.


Bike boulevards

A new Streetfilm explains Portland's bicycle boulevards, streets where bicycles get priority and traffic generally travels at bike speeds, and advocates for some in NYC. Ben W writes, "How about doing some bicycle boulevards in DC, starting with 10th Street NW?"

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