Bicycle Boulevards have proven to be incredibly successful in Portland and other cities where they have been installed. They offer a lot of advantages that bike lanes don’t. In addition to providing a pleasant place to ride a bike, they slow motor vehicle traffic, making neighborhood streets more pleasant and safe for the residents.
This new video from the folks at Streetfilms takes a close look at the bicycle boulevard network in Portland. It shows how they have evolved from bikeways into greenways that not only calm traffic, but treat storm water runoff and provide park-like corridors through urban neighborhoods.
Both Milwaukee and Madison include bicycle boulevards in their bicycle planning, but neither city has yet to implement one comparable to a Portland bicycle boulevard. Madison has three streets signed as bicycle boulevards, but many still have stop signs turned the wrong way, so they can’t really be put in the same class as the facilities described in the video above. Milwaukee has a number of streets with traffic calming every block, but has not yet labeled the streets bicycle boulevards, and those streets also still have the stop signs turned the wrong way.
Bicycle boulevards are inexpensive to construct, reduce crashes, improve the quality of life for the residents, and decrease the cost of speed enforcement; so why the slow implementation in Wisconsin? I think it may be because the community buy-in necessary to approve traffic calming and diverters within bicycle boulevards is much more difficult to achieve compared to bike lanes.
When a Dept. of Transportation stripes a bike lane on an arterial street, they don’t need to ask everyone their opinion because the bike lane typically has no impact on motor vehicle traffic operations, parking or access. When you install traffic calming for the bike boulevard, it changes traffic operations on streets for every resident, which means you need to have neighborhood meetings and public approval for every block. That is time consuming to organize and, sadly, the residents of most cities in Wisconsin do not share Portland’s zeal for cycling. The residents of Madison are closest in their acceptance of bicycle facilities - perhaps that is why they are closest to having a true bicycle boulevard.
The major bicycle advocacy group in Portland, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, has a focused bicycle boulevard campaign. Perhaps once Madison’s Wilson Street Bicycle Boulevard has the stop signs turned to prioritize bike traffic over motorized traffic, our members there will sing the praises loud enough for the rest of the state to hear.