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Boulder eyes Portland's green 'bike boxes'

The Daily Camera: Boulder eyes Portland's green 'bike boxes'

One of several transportation ideas local leaders may implement

By Heath Urie, Camera Staff Writer
Posted: 08/27/2011

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Hanging in the front lobby of Portland's transportation office is a series of plaques, one after another, touting the city as one of the most bicycle-friendly in the country.

In fact, Portland is one of only three cities in the country to be certified by the League of American Bicyclists as being platinum-level bicycle friendly communities. Boulder and Davis, Calif., are the other two.


One of the ways Portland got to that point is by developing a network of cutting-edge bicycle amenities that are designed to make it safer for cyclists to mingle with traffic.

Boulder officials have taken notice of Portland's system, and now are exploring several Portland-style street treatments.

One of the projects under consideration is to use colored bike lanes.

"There's the Dutch approach, which says you're going to cover (the bike lane) with colors," said Greg Raisman, a traffic safety specialist with the Portland Bureau of Transportation. "The other approach is the Danish approach, where you use color to highlight conflict points."

Portland has applied the Danish method, using green paint to highlight areas on the street most likely to see problems between cars and bikes. Colored sections of pavement can be found in most downtown intersections.

Portland has used colored highlights for about a decade, and officials say traffic studies prove they are effective at increasing driver awareness of bikes on the road.

"They've been successful at reducing conflict in places that have been high conflict points," Raisman said.

Marni Ratzel, the bicycle and pedestrian transportation planner for Go Boulder, said adding paint may also help increase awareness on Boulder roads.

"It's something new and more visible, and that helps raise the awareness of all users of the presence of bicyclists," she said. "I do think there's a fairly significant population of folks who may be interested in biking who don't today because they feel others aren't as aware of their presence."

'Bike boxes'

Boulder also is looking at Portland's use of "bike boxes."

The most common type of crash for bicycles is when a driver turns right in front of a rider. A bike box is designed to eliminate those incidents by designating a colored bike lane that ends with a green box painted where drivers normally would stop at a traffic light.

During red lights, bikes pull ahead of waiting vehicles into the box. Drivers are not allowed to turn right during the red light, and must wait for the bikes to exit the box on a green light and cross the intersection before turning right.

"We are currently evaluating, 'Is there a problem here in Boulder that a bike box would address?'" Ratzel said.

She said the city is in the midst of a traffic study that could answer that question. She also encouraged cyclists to report "close calls" on the roads by visiting bouldertransportation.net, to help identify high-conflict locations.

'Moving people'

Boulder and Portland have shared a host of other innovative ideas on transportation in recent years.

Boulder recently adopted Portland's program that allows neighborhoods to paint murals on certain residential intersections, and currently is piloting the use of bike corrals on Pearl Street -- in which traditional parking spaces are turned into bike racks.

Portland has taken from Boulder's experience in developing multi-use paths and is looking into a public bike-sharing system, which Boulder recently launched through the B-Cycle program.

"We definitely are always happy to be sharing information between cities and to be learning from each other, and that definitely happens between Boulder and Portland," said Raisman, the Portland traffic safety specialist.

Go Boulder's Ratzel agreed, saying the two cities share a common vision of "moving people, not cars."