NY Times, KATU Examine Portland Bicycle Culture, Safety

In the two weeks since Blue Oregon looked at Sam Adams on Bike Safety, Portland's bicycle culture has been the subject of two major news stories. Last week, the New York Times profiled Portland's "culture of two wheels." The upbeat assessment detailed Portland's thriving bicycle culture and noted the city will be hosting next year's North American Handmade Bicycle Show:

Sam Adams, a city commissioner in charge of transportation, joined development officials to help lure the show to Portland. It seemed a natural fit. The city regularly ranks at the top of Bicycling Magazine’s list of the best cycling cities and has the nation’s highest percentage of workers who commute by bike, about 3.5 percent, according to the Census Bureau. Drivers here are largely respectful of riders, and some businesses give up parking spaces to make way for bike racks.

On Monday, KATU released a report examining bicycle safety in the wake of two recent fatal accidents in the city. Looking at Oregon Department of Transportation data for over 1,500 Portland metro area accidents involving vehicles and bicycles between 2002 and 2006, the KATU examination concluded that drivers and cyclists share responsibility. Drivers were at fault in over half the cases, with cyclists responsible for 41.5% of the accidents overall, and roughly a quarter of the fatalities:

  • Overall Fault:  51.8 percent - driver at fault; 41.5 percent - bicyclist at fault; 6.7 percent - blamed on both drivers and cyclists, or were inconclusive
  • Fatal Crashes:  73.7 percent - driver at fault; 26.3 percent - bicyclist at fault

For more on the KATU findings on vehicle/bicycle accidents and the rights and responsibilities of drivers and cyclists, see "Special Report: Who's to Blame – Drivers or Cyclists?"

  • (Show?)

    First, they're crashes, not accidents. As noted by this study, usually they're avoidable occurrences that someone's to blame.

    Second, these are often analyzed by people who don't bike -- and don't understand the rules of proper positioning needed for safety. Thus, data are often skewed against bicyclists.

    Third, if you exclude child cyclists (at fault in two thirds of crashes they're in) adult rates of blame change.

    Anyway, we've all known and said that people share responsibility. Sometimes we drive poorly, sometimes we bike poorly. There are bad cyclists, there are bad drivers.

    But what's also to blame is the public and infrastructure at large. We haven't yet created a complete system for bicyclists, so we're forced to interact in systems designed for cars. We haven't set up a legal system that prioritizes safety.

    Unlike Europe, Canada, and Australia, our crashes stay constant, rather than falling almost in half in a decade.

    So, yes, share the blame among irresponsible road users of various types. But also acknowledge our leaders and our society could be doing much better.

  • Sid Leader (unverified)

    I will say that in Hawthorne, the message is out!

    Before people started dying all over this town, on their bikes, about 1/4 to 1/3 of all the bikers I saw, in Hawthorne, ignored red lights and stop signs, laughing at the world. Pretty funny stuff. For them.

    Now that we have buried two, fine young cyclists, the serious AND stoner, goofball bikers have suddenly noticed me and my rolling 5,000 pound hunk of metal.

    And that is a good thing.

    Too bad people had to die, but what do they call the FAA? "The Tombstone Agency", because nothing ever changes until someone dies.


    So, let's keep our eyes open because the rains are here.

  • (Show?)

    I don't know if you watched the report, but I did. Not only did they look at the reports, but they also had videos from around town where there are a lot of bike riders.

    In one instance, a city of Portland vehicle almost hit a bike rider when it turned into the bike lane.

    The big problem we have out here in Gresham is people riding on the sidewalks. It is illegal in all parts of the city to ride your bike on the sidewalk. You're also not allowed to use the crosswalk unless you are walking your bike across. Police and parents encourage kids to ride on the sidewalks since it's safer for them.

    People fly down the sidewalk with no concern to pedestrians. My 5 year-old and I have almost been hit several times.

  • (Show?)

    As someone who has had near-misses as a pedestrian and as a biker, I have to agree with Evan that the infrastructure is not right yet. It's designed to let cars move quickly and efficiently, but everyone else has to work around the cars. For example, I can't tell you how many times I've been riding in the bike lane somewhere when the bike lane suddenly ends, forcing me to merge into car traffic. It's unworkable and unsafe.

    Somehow, we've got to get the rules and the design of roads right so we can share them more safely. As a biker, I'd be willing to pay more (bike licenses, anyone?) to pony up for infrastructure changes and better road design.

    I'm a bike commuter when I'm on my own, but I don't ride around with my kids very often. Yet. I'm hoping that someday, Portland will be safe enough for my family to run errands on two wheels rather than four.

  • (Show?)


    That's what I was thinking - bike licenses. Then you could show you understand the basic rules of riding a bike on the road while at the same time adding a dedicated funding source for bike lanes and safety improvements.

  • Amanda A (unverified)

    Yeah, when I'm commuting by bike regularly, there's an intersection that is always challenging, on 47th and Stark. It's one of those "everyone turns" intersections like at 57th and Halsey. The people going straight have to jog to the right a bit to do it, and the people turning left onto Stark never seem to notice the oncoming traffic. Dangerous in a car, but possibly fatal on a bike. Because motorists turning left are typically looking to their left, I scoot over to the cross walk and ride across that way, in their line of sight, so I can go straight as the "vehicle" with the right of way, but in a safe way that gets me seen. The signals at those intersections probably should've been re-engineered years ago because they are car-on-car collisions waiting to happen, but now with the prevalence of cycling as viable transport, I think the city really needs to look at places like that and improve existing infrastructure.

  • (Show?)

    Unfortunately, unless you price bike licenses hugely high, they don't even pay for the administration of the program. The 2003? Legislature looked at it (Marilyn Shannon, among others) and realized that it would cost more than it brought in.

    And that said, I don't like the idea of creating barriers to bicycling -- I think we can educate cyclists well enough without licenses (kids in schools, others through the drivers license program). We also can find plenty of sources of funding for bike infrastructure, which is very cheap in the scheme of things. We just need a little more political will and leadership, and maybe one less $500 million highway widening or $6 billion overengineered bridge.

  • (Show?)

    Yes, but there are a large number of cyclists who are adults and do not have drivers licenses. My sister and her husband are two, but I know of others.

    And I'd much rather educators spend the time training people to follow the rules of the road as a driver of an automobile, how to yield to pedestrians, how to drive safely along bicycles, etc.

    Educating people through the drivers license program will only really affect those without a license or who have to take the class to get back their license or keep the one they have. It's not going to affect the million plus drivers in this state.

    Plus there are a lot of people like myself who come from other states. Even if we change the rules here, it's not going to affect everyone. When I moved here, I skimmed the book enough to pass the test. There were a few rules that were different that I needed to know about (such as passing to the right when people are making a left - which is illegal where I'm from - and the rule about refusing tests to see if you're drunk). I then went in and got a perfect grade on my computer exam, and viola, I had an Oregon drivers license.

  • Theresa (unverified)

    As a cyclist who supports expanded infrastructure and safer roads for riders, I worry that we're losing drivers and pedestrians as potential allies every day.

    Every we time we run a red light or a stop sign on our bicycles, we lose allies. When we ride against the traffic, we hurt our cause. When we barrel down sidewalks, we're not only risking other people's safety. We're just making them mad. And when we don't ride single file down busy streets, we're just making traffic worse and more dangerous. Just because we may have the right to do something doesn't mean we should.

    Not all drivers are villains and not all cyclists are virtuous. Bike safety is a two-way street.

  • Dave O'Dell (unverified)

    I'm with you Evan. Putting up barriers (like licenses against bicycling is a bad idea. It's in everyone's best interest to encourage more people to get on bikes because it reduces traffic congestion, pollution and road maintenance costs.

    Riding on sidewalks is legal in Portland except for a small area in the core of downtown, but you must ride at a walking pace. I don't recommend it except for very short distances because it is not as safe as riding in the street. Drivers don't expect to see bikes on the sidewalk.

    As a long time bicycle commuter I heartily recommend trying it yourself. Wait 'til the weather is nicer if you'd like and then ride just one day a week to start. You'll find your commute is actually relaxing rather than stressful. If you take everything into account (reduced risk of heart attack for example) commuting by bike is actually safer than by car!

  • melissa (unverified)

    My sister's brother-in-law was hit and killed on a bike while running a red light just a month ago.In my lifetime, I have almost hit numerous bicyclists.Some children , some adults. I will continue to do my best to watch out for them as well as pedestrians.However, I would like to point out that my car will "win" in any physical confrontation.God willing it will never come that.

in the news 2007

connect with blueoregon