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Jonathan Coopersmith j-coopersmith at
Tue Jan 22 11:26:02 CST 2008


January 10, 2008

Portland, Ore., Acts to Protect Cyclists

NY Times


"Ghost bikes," riderless and painted white, were placed at two busy 
intersections in Portland, Ore., last October, makeshift memorials to 
two bicyclists killed when they were hit by trucks in accidents that month.

This spring, at those same intersections and at 12 others across the 
city, "bike boxes" will be laid out on the roadway to provide a 
clearly designated place for cyclists, in front of and in full view 
of drivers, to wait for traffic lights to change. The boxes will be 
marked with signs and wide stripes alerting drivers to stop behind 
them at red lights.

Portland, which has a higher percentage of people who bike to work 
than any other large American city, is already considered one of the 
country's most bike-friendly urban centers. But the boxes, believed 
to be the first such to be put to use by any city in the country, 
will make cyclists even safer and more comfortable on the street, 
biking advocates and transportation officials say.

"It's something the city has been talking about for a long time, but 
these two deaths have certainly given an added sense of urgency," 
said Jonathan Maus, whose <> 
is a focal point for Portland cyclists. "The community has just made 
it so clear that this is very important, that they're very concerned 
following these fatal crashes that things need to change."

By allowing cyclists to wait in front of motorized traffic, the bike 
boxes are intended chiefly to reduce the risk of "right hook" 
collisions, the kind most frequently reported in Portland, in which a 
driver makes a right turn without seeing a cyclist who is in his 
path. Drivers will not be allowed to pass through the bike box to 
turn right on a red light, although many right hooks now occur after 
the light has turned green, when traffic quickly accelerates.

Right hooks were what killed the two cyclists in October, a college 
student and a bike racer hit by large trucks. The drivers say they 
did not see them.

"In a lot of people's minds they weren't doing anything wrong and 
they were just run over," said Roger Geller, bicycle coordinator for 
the Portland Office of Transportation.

Another feature of the new project is that on the approach to an 
intersection with a bike box, the bicycle lane will be the same color 
as the box. "We want them to have that visual cue to take a look over 
their shoulder," Mr. Geller said of drivers, "and we want cyclists to 
know this is an area for potential conflict."

The city will spend about $150,000 on the bike boxes and also plans 
to pay about $50,000 to retrofit larger trucks in the municipal fleet 
with new mirrors to reduce blind spots and with guard bars to prevent 
cyclists from falling into the trucks' big wheel wells.

The trucks involved in the October collisions were not city vehicles. 
"We're just setting a good example," Mr. Geller said.

There were six cycling deaths in Portland in 2007, an unusually large 
number, though Mr. Geller and others say that with bicycle use up 
fourfold since the early 1990s, the rate of collisions has actually 
declined. Mr. Geller credits driver awareness.

While the city is installing the bike boxes at certain busy 
intersections, it is also trying to shift more riders away from bike 
lanes on busy streets to what it calls bike boulevards, quieter 
streets with less potential for collisions. The city is weighing a 
proposal to spend about $25 million over 10 years to designate 110 
additional miles of bike boulevards, for a total of 140, and make 
other improvements for cyclists.

About 4 percent of Portland workers already commute by bike, and city 
officials and biking enthusiasts say they believe the number can rise 
much higher.

"Bike advocates around the country are looking to Portland to create 
a model of how an American city can be a bike-friendly city," Mr. 
Geller said. "We feel that, and we take that seriously."

Jonathan Coopersmith
Associate Professor
Dept. of History
MS 4236
Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas  77843-4236
979.862.4314 fax

History & Philosophy of Science Section (L)
American Association for the Advancement of Science 
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