Portland Has a Greenway They’d Like to Sell Seattle

"Ghost bike" (Photo: +Russ from The SunBreak Flickr pool)

Greenway,” like “bike boulevard” is one of those terms that may hinder conversations as much as it helps–you always have to be on guard against tribalistic jargon. What’s wrong with just calling them family-friendly streets?

The general principle is to apply a little jiu jitsu to the bikes v. cars debate. Rather than trying to squish bikes and cars onto the same heavily traveled arterials all over town, you create stretches of family-friendly streets in neighborhoods by taking streets without much car traffic, and dedicating them to biking and walking first. Cars can still travel on them, but slowly, thanks to speed bumps.

It changes the whole personality of the street when it’s safe enough for kids to bike on. And it’s quick and easy, relative to other transportation solutions. On Thursday, September 22, you can get the details from Mark Lear and Greg Raisman, who are visiting the University of Washington (Savery Hall 264, 7 p.m.)  for a talk about Portland’s Neighborhood Greenways program.

In the span of just five short years, Portland will have transformed itself into a city where 80% of residents live within a half-mile of a “Neighborhood Greenway”–a special family-friendly street where it’s common to see families enjoying a bicycle ride together, kids walking to school or to the park, and even the occasional on-street basketball game.

Here’s a video that gives you a better idea of what it looks like.

Portland’s Bike Boulevards Become Neighborhood Greenways from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

Anyone who’s lived in Seattle for very long knows that if you want to change something citywide, you have first to sell it to the neighborhoods. It’s heartening to see the bottom-up approach taking off. Here’s the requisite Facebook page for Seattle greenways organizers.

It’s also nice to have a City Council member who’s already been sold on the idea; Sally Bagshaw came back from a Portland trip having seen the greenway light. She’s created a whole page of information on how greenways work, and she underscores that greenways aren’t just about bikes:

Neighborhood Greenways are for all of us, not just for bicyclists. Greenways are for those who want to live in a quieter, calmer neighborhood. They are for those of us who want to let our children play outside safely, where neighbors like to walk and ride in front of their homes in relative peace. Greenways are for people who like green and flowering trees and want to recreate how their neighborhoods look and feel.

These family-friendly streets limit traffic speeds to 20 mph or slower, while reorienting intersection stop signs to give priority to cyclists traveling along them. (Someone must have suggested marking these streets Local Access Only, but so far as I can tell, that’s not implemented in Portland. It’s the speed of car traffic that’s being discouraged, not cars. As it turns out, that’s usually good enough at reducing traffic volume.

That still leaves, of course, work to do in areas where bikes and cars have to share the available road area, but if you consider how many people might prefer to bicycle around their neighborhood as opposed to across town, this seems to be a good low-hanging fruit approach.