Thursday, December 2, 2010

How Portland Is Planning to Become the First World-class Bike City in America

Portland may be the only large city to earn the League of American Bicyclists' coveted platinum status as a bicycle-friendly city, but they have even bigger plans.

It’s become a cliché that Portland is America’s most livable city, a hotbed for innovative ways to support green policies, public spaces, pedestrian amenities, transit, and, of course, bicycles.  In fact some people are growing weary (and the rest of us envious) of hearing about how great things are in Oregon’s largest city.

When it comes to bicycling, at least, the cliché is true. Today Portland sports the highest share of bicycle commuters (6-8 percent) of any large U.S. city.  It’s also the only large city to earn the League of American Bicyclists’ coveted platinum status as a bicycle-friendly city.
But Portland wasn’t born with bike lanes. “No one in the 1970s or ‘80s would have singled out Portland as a great town for biking,” admits city Bicycle Coordinator Roger Geller. Its current success is the result of 20 years of transportation planning with bikes in mind.
That knowledge makes the city pretty ambitious about what it can accomplish over the next 20 years.
Earlier this year, the city council unanimously approved the 2030 Bicycle Master Plan, which envisions Portland as “a world-class bicycling city” with three times the bikeways it has now.
Meanwhile, Metro, a government body elected by the entire metropolitan area, is enacting a plan to triple the number of people who bike over the next 30 years. Their goal is for 40 percent of all city and suburban trips of three miles or less to be done atop a bicycle by 2040.
“In some neighborhoods in Portland, 10-15 percent of people already bike each day,” notes Lake McTighe, manager of Metro’s Active Transportation Partnership, “which means that we could bemaking parts of Portland into a mini-Amsterdam or Copenhagen.”
I recently spent several days exploring Portland as part of a transportation workshop, sponsored by the Bikes Belong Foundation, for city officials from around the country. We wanted to find out what Portland could teach us about promoting biking in our own cities: Chicago, Houston, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Salt Lake City.