Walking, Biking and Riding Transit in Portland, OR vs. Washington, DC

Since my car-free travel behavior has changed dramatically between Portland and DC, I want to compare how my walking, biking, and transit riding habits have changed between living in Portland and now living in the DC region.

Except for the few months in late 2015 and early 2016 where I fully depended on walking and riding transit in Portland because I felt too anxious biking, I mostly walked and biked for all my trips in Portland. I was planning to also mostly walk and bike throughout the DC region because transit is expensive (not as expensive as owning and maintaining a car). While I still walk and bike in the DC region, my boss provided me with a transit card for work trips so I have been riding transit much more than I planned to when I moved here. My boss also provided me with a Capital Bikeshare maintenance key (no time limits like normal keys) for work and personal trips so I haven’t been riding my private bike as often. Since I can’t carry my panniers on Capital Bikeshare, I have been mostly using my private bike for getting groceries and other shopping trips.

Biking in Portland vs. DC region

I don’t live in DC so, while DC has bike racks almost everywhere and the bike racks are usually designed correctly, I have experienced no bike racks or poorly designed bike racks often in Arlington. The below photo shows a ladder or wheel bender rack at a grocery store near my home in Arlington. Thankfully, I don’t have to deal with bike parking issues when parking a Capital Bikeshare bike because I have always found an empty dock.

 

Since I depended so much on the DC region’s great trail systems when I lived in the DC region during summer 2014, I was looking forward to depending on the DC region’s great trail systems again. Even though I rode a road bike last time I lived in the DC region, anxiety from my extreme fear of heights has gotten much worse so I have been struggling to ride on hilly trails like the Custis Trail and trails along steep cliffs like the Four Mile Run Trail. Since I doubt I will conquer my fear of heights soon, I’m planning to buy a $3-4,000 recumbent trike so I can reduce the anxiety I feel when biking on hilly trails and along steep cliffs.

 

While the trails are great for long-distance trips, they don’t go everywhere so I still have to use on-street bike routes. I forgot how bad most of the on-street bike infrastructure is in the DC region. Yes, I know DC has protected bike lanes, which are actually better than any protected bike lanes in Portland. However, protected bike lanes in the DC region are on very few streets so I rarely ride on them.

I’m missing Portland’s neighborhood greenways. I used to live at SE 27th and Salmon, which is on a neighborhood greenway, so I memorized the neighborhood greenways. I rarely had to ride on busy roads outside of downtown Portland because neighborhood greenways went almost everywhere. Thankfully, I have found one element of neighborhood greenways in the DC region. Sharrows are found throughout the DC region. Even though the DC region has installed sharrows, which is a critical and cheap element to Portland’s neighborhood greenways, the DC region has horrible wayfinding for cyclists so the sharrows aren’t part of a neighborhood greenway. Due to this, I feel sharrows are only used in the DC region to communicate to cyclists that the government believes that the street is safe enough for biking and to communicate to motorists that they should expect to see cyclists using the street. Sharrows do much more than this in Portland so I miss biking on Portland’s neighborhood streets.

Before I totally dismiss the DC region’s on-street bike network, I’m excited to share that the DC region has several Level of Traffic Stress (LTS) maps. As all the below maps show, the DC region has plenty of work to do to make their on-street bike network feel more comfortable and less stressful. However, I find these maps much more useful than normal bike maps. This is mostly because a normal bike map shows all bike lanes the same while a LTS map shows bike lanes by how comfortable or stressful they are to ride on.

Arlington County, VA 2017 Bicycle Comfort Level Map (click to download front and back of map)

Montgomery County, MD Bicycle Stress Map (click to view map)

montgomery-county-lts-map

According to a presentation by Stephanie Dock, who works for District DOT, at the Transportation Techies meetup in October 2016, District DOT will be publicly releasing their LTS map soon so I’ll add their map when it’s released.

This blog post is getting long. I try to keep my blog posts under 1,000 words and will go over 1,000 words if I keep writing this blog post. While I still want to compare how my walking and transit riding habits have changed between Portland and DC, I may have to write about them in a new blog post. Readers, do you want me to write about my walking and transit riding habits in this blog post or start a new blog post?

What should I do to avoid being left and right hooked?

I was almost left and right hooked several times last week while riding in bike lanes in downtown Portland, Oregon so am planning to buy a $65 Orp. The below video and photo show how an Orp works.

Unfortunately, I can’t use the Orp to communicate with motorists waiting at a stop light that I’m planning to continue straight from the bike lane. The Orp just alerts motorists that I don’t want to be hit. It doesn’t inform motorists whether I will be turning or continuing straight. Since I can see whether the motorist’s turn signal is on, I know when I need to communicate with the motorist that I plan to continue straight. In order to inform motorists that I plan to continue straight, I have been pointing straight, trying to make eye contact with the motorist and yelling “straight”. Even with all of this, I had two motorists almost hit me while I was biking in the door zone bike lane on SW 5th Avenue in downtown Portland on Thursday, October 22. I kept trying to make eye contact with the motorists and yelling, but their windows were up so they couldn’t hear me and they didn’t see me until I heard their brakes squeak. Thankfully, they both were going slow, which allowed them enough space to stop in time. However, I felt my heart beating very fast so know it was way too close for my safety and comfort.

Since my strategies aren’t working to keep me safe from being left and right hooked, what should I do to avoid being left and right hooked in the future? Vehicular cyclists (according to this discussion, I have now learned that they prefer to be called bike drivers) keep telling me in the Cyclists are Drivers! facebook group that I need to “just line up with the rest of the traffic that’s going straight.” Unfortunately, as I wrote in this blog post, Oregon law requires me to use the bike lane in most situations and doesn’t allow me to impede traffic so I am forced to feel unsafe and uncomfortable in the bike lane. I have copied the Oregon statutes to show you why the law needs to be changed. Section 814.420.3.e is copied below.

“A person is not in violation of the offense [of leaving a bicycle lane or path] under this section if the person is able to safely move out of the bicycle lane or path for the purpose of: (e) Continuing straight at an intersection where the bicycle lane or path is to the right of a lane from which a motor vehicle must turn right.”

Note the phrase: “where the bicycle lane or path is to the right of a lane from which a motor vehicle must turn right”, as this only applies to bike lanes to the right of right turn only lanes, and not lanes where motorists can go through or turn right, which is the overwhelming majority of cases on the streets.

After receiving more advice from the Cyclists are Drivers! facebook group, I am planning to break several Oregon laws starting on Monday by controlling the full travel lane on roads with a bike lane and impeding traffic. Since I value living another day more than following unsafe Oregon laws, I am open to being arrested and receiving a ticket. Do you see any safe and comfortable options that are permitted under Oregon law so I don’t risk dying while biking?