With a real focus on ‘going green’, many people in Portland are looking for ways they can help to save the planet – and cycling is one such thing that is increasing in popularity as a result. Going by bike is not only eco-friendly, but it’s enjoyable and efficient. It’s even possible to beat the traffic in rush hour thanks to bike lanes in Portland!
Over the last two decades, the use of bikes in Portland, Oregon has almost tripled. In this city, around 6% of workers commute by bicycle, which is ten times the U.S. national average and the highest percentage of cyclists in any major city in the United States.
Portland has earned lots of awards for being “bicycle-friendly”. The League of American Bicyclists awarded Portland ‘platinum status’ and CNBC ranked Portland as the second most bicycle-friendly city in the United States in 2019.
However, if you’re new to cycling or new to commuting by bike, there are lots of things you should think about before setting off on your bike in Portland. This guide to cycling safety in Portland is suitable for both newbies and expert cyclists alike. With a bit of luck, our tips and advice will save you from problems on Portland’s roads.
What the law says
Before setting off on your bike on Portland’s busy streets, you need to make sure you’re up to date with all the latest cycling laws and regulations of Portland and Oregon.
Portland’s streets are unique in the way they manage their cyclists. Let’s take a look at some of Portland’s features.
Green Stripe Pavement Markings
These new green stripes called “cross-bikes” are there to highlight that a bikeway is crossing a busy street. This helps tell drivers that they should be aware of cyclists in and around the intersection. It doesn’t, however, require cars to stop so cyclists still need to proceed with caution. Some drivers might decide to stop for you, though, in which case, give them a wave of thanks!
If you wish, you can use the white crosswalk on your bike. You have the choice of dismounting and walking or you can ride your bike at the speed of a walk. The law in Oregon State requires drivers to stop for anyone walking or cycling slowly on a crosswalk, provided they are given adequate time to do so.
Portland Bike Boxes
In Portland, there are green pavement markings called bike boxes. These are typically installed at an intersection when there might be conflicts between drivers and cyclists. The green box is adjacent to the road and has a white symbol of a bike inside it. There are green cycle lanes before and after the bike box.
Cyclists can use the bike box when they are waiting for the lights to turn green. Drivers can’t enter the green box and need to stay behind the bikes. A driver isn’t allowed to make a right turn when the lights are red and there is a bike box.
The idea of bike boxes is to stop collisions between bikes and cars when cars turn right, and bikes are going straight ahead. With a bike box, cyclists become more visible to cars. Cyclists can also clear intersections more quickly.
Sharing roads with car users
As any cyclist will tell you, you need to be comfortable in sharing the road with drivers. In fact, the majority of drivers in Portland are great at sharing the space. However, it’s still important for cyclists to ride with caution.
Some streets in Portland are much more accommodating towards cyclists. The Portland Bureau of Transportation has biking maps that will show you where the best cycling areas are.
Portland has a development of bicycle boulevards which are designed to make bike travel safer and easier. The east side of the city is ideal for these developments, and it has a grid of east/west and north/south streets. Bicycle boulevards have street signs, markings, and improved intersection crossings.
Get the gear
If you’re new to cycling or want to think about upgrading your cycling equipment, here are some considerations.
- Get the right-size bike – if you have a bike that is too big or too small for your stature, you will be more prone to crashes and injuries – not to mention your rides will be less enjoyable. As well as having a bit that fits, you should make sure you understand how to use the gears. Single-speed bikes aren’t suitable for Portland, especially in Bridgetown.
- Always put on your helmet – this can never be emphasized enough! Even if you’re the most careful of riders, there’s no guarantee that you’ll come across the most careful of drivers. Never cycle without a helmet!
- Be visible – even if you’re cycling in bright sunshine, you can never be too visible when it comes to being a cyclist. Wearing bright clothes with reflective stripes will really help you to be seen. You just never know when the weather will take a turn for the worst or if you’ll be delayed and be cycling after dark.
- Light up – as well as you being visible, your bike needs to be. By law, you must have lights on your bike for when conditions mean visibility is limited. It’s highly recommended to have both rear and front lights as well as reflectors. If you can get lights for your helmet or clothing, all the better. Even on sunny days, lights can make a big difference to how visible you are to drivers.
- Install good fenders – even if you only cycle when the weather is nice, you might still get caught in the rain. You’ll be grateful for your fenders if you do!
Before you hit the road
If you’ve got all the gear sorted, you’re halfway there. The next thing to consider is your preparation before you hit the road.
- Pumping tires – check your tire pressure at least weekly, if not daily. Don’t just go by a quick squeeze of the tire. Remember that when you’re sitting on your bike, your entire body weight will go through those tires and so you won’t be able to tell if your tire has enough pressure just by giving it a quick squeeze with your hand.
- Lube up your chain – this is important as without it, your chain becomes noisy. If you’re unsure when or how to do this, you’re in a great situation in Portland because there are around 75 different bike shops that will be able to help you out.
- Plan your route – when it comes to infrastructure, Portland cyclists are spoiled. No matter your destination, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to use a greenway or established bike path.
- Don’t wear headphones – when cycling, you need to be able to hear what’s going on around you. With earphones in, you won’t hear other cyclists, pedestrians, cars, or dogs.
Communication on the road
As a cyclist, you’re not blessed with indicators or a horn and you often have to share your path with pedestrians too. Whenever you approach a pedestrian or another cyclist from behind, make sure you call your passes. Use a loud voice to say “on your right”, for example. You need to be louder than you think, especially if a pedestrian is listening to music or talking on the phone.
If you prefer, you can buy a bell to signal your approach, but many pedestrians and cyclists prefer you to say the side you’re approaching them on too.
As well as communicating to other cyclists and pedestrians, you have to communicate to drivers too. Signaling your turns is essential. Use your hands to show which direction you’re intending to turn.
Yielding as a cyclist
You’re vulnerable as a cyclist, but not so vulnerable as a pedestrian. Cyclists have to yield to pedestrians – and it’s also polite to do so.
As for car drivers, always assume they haven’t seen you. Even if you have all the flashing lights, are wearing bright colors and it’s the middle of the day, still assume they haven’t seen you.
Also, never run a red light. Lots of drivers don’t like cyclists much as it is, don’t give them excuses to generalize!
The History of Portland’s Bike Plan
It was way back in 1973 when Portland adopted its first plan. Called the 1973 Portland Bike Plan, the idea was to create almost 190 miles of infrastructure for bicycles, a Bicycle Program in the Transportation Bureau, and a Bicycle Advisory Committee for Portland citizens.
It took around 23 years for all 190 miles of bike infrastructure to be completed. In 1996, therefore, Portland adopted the “Portland Bicycle Master Plan”, which would add 445 additional miles to the infrastructure.
This second plan was revised in 2010 when the City Council created the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030. This plan expanded Portland’s bicycle mileage target to 962 miles.
Finally, in 2012, the speed limit was lowered to 20 mph along 70 miles of neighborhood streets in order to maintain the safety of cyclists and pedestrians as the number of cyclists was rising.
Final thoughts on cycling safety in Portland
Cycling in Portland, Oregon is great, but you should always know where to turn if you have any questions or concerns. Portland has a telephone number called Portland Bikeline (503 823-CYCL). When calling this number you can talk to someone about bike path maintenance by pressing 1, bike maps and cycling information by pressing 2, and request a bike rack installation by pressing 3.
As well as Portland Bikeline, you can contact TriMet if you’re a cyclist who has had a bad experience with a bus. It’s a good idea to note down the location, time, and vehicle ID for these sorts of complaints where possible.
If as a cyclist in Portland you notice some street concerns or maintenance issues, there are a few numbers you can call. For repairs to streets or pavements, you can call (503)823-BUMP, for traffic safety concerns, (503) 823-SAFE, for parking issues (503) 823-5195, and for maintenance emergencies 24/7 (503) 823-1700.
Finally, if you’re unfortunate to experience a hit-and-run incident, you need to report this to the Traffic Division of Portland Police by dialing (503) 823-2103 and pressing “1”.