A recent article at Atlantic Cities, a subsection of The Atlantic magazine’s website, looks at efforts to make American cities more bike-friendly. Its focus is the Green Lane Project (GLP), which is organized by the national advocacy group Bikes Belong.
As the magazine explains, the GLP’s goal is to help cities “adopt high-quality bicycle infrastructure – bike lanes where people can ride with at least some protection from car traffic in the form of bollards, parked cars, raised pavement or other separation.” The project is focusing its efforts on Austin, San Francisco, Chicago, Memphis, Washington D.C. … and Portland. “The GLP hopes to educate municipal planners and engineers, increase the visibility of such lanes, and make them part of a mainstream approach to designing urban streets.”
As we know here in Portland – and as a photo from San Francisco’s Market Street accompanying the article illustrates – green-painted bike lanes are not always separated from motorized traffic. The broader point of the project, however, is to rethink city streets in ways that make it less intimidating for casual cyclists to share the road with cars and trucks. Activists hope that, in turn, will make urban biking more mainstream and less about “messengers and Lycra-clad road riders.”
Even in a city as bike-friendly as Portland this can involve major changes in local culture. As I noted last fall, the initial data on bike boxes painted at some of our city’s “problem intersections” indicated that dedicated bike areas at some traffic lights might not be improving safety as much as had been anticipated. Cutting down on Portland bike accidents, however, is a complex, multi-stage process. Obviously, drivers need to take greater care around bikes, but for them to do so it helps if there are more cyclists on the road: drivers who expect to see riders on the road every day are more apt to notice them and take care around them. To the extent that green lanes give riders a greater feeling of safety and, in the process, increase their numbers the project, and our city’s overall safety culture, can build on themselves.
As a Portland bike accident lawyer I would rather see fewer bike and car accidents. We need laws and courts because people are not perfect and there will always be reckless and negligent drivers who will need to be held accountable for their actions. To the extent, however, that public policy and our legal system can make riding a safer, more pleasant, experience that is good for cyclists and drivers alike, good for the environment, and good for Portland.