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Portland Recognized in National Geographic

I just saw a great little article applauding Portland’s bicycle friendliness in an issue of National Geographic.

It’s a short article in the “Technology” section but it highly praises Portland’s bicycle infrastructure and how tolerant people are towards bicyclists here. The article cites our 171 miles of bike lanes, bike boxes (which allows bikes to be visible to cars at stop lights) and bike-only traffic signals.

A bar graph on the side shows the increase in bikes being put on bus racks in various US cities, with Houston increasing 235%!

The article concludes other cities could become as bike friendly as Portland simply by repainting street to include bike lanes. As interior decorators say, paint is cheap! It’s a little more complicated than that, many bicyclists in Portland prefer to ride on low traffic streets. This is an even cheaper solution, since it costs nothing to simply choose to ride on quiet streets with few cars. However, it’s Portland’s conscious effort to promote bicycling as an alternative to cars and commitment to improving bikes’ access to streets that has given so many people the confidence to ride around the city.

And every little bit of biking counts! Maybe you can’t ride the whole way to work, or want to get out on a bike while you’re traveling. When people see others riding and smiling it’s likely to spread, and that can also translate into more infrastructure, both for the benefit of tourists and locals. If you’re thinking of taking your bike along for your next adventure, or partial commute to work, check out this article about the 9 Best Car Bike Racks.

Now, let’s get riding!

Rollin down the river

MMM bike paths.  They make me salivate with happiness.  I used to live in Seattle, steps from the Burke Gilman trail, which runs for many miles almost from the Puget Sound all the way out to the Redhook brewery in the countryside.  Along the way it passes the Gasworks park on Lake Union,  UW, Soundgarden’s Soundgarden, and Lake Washington.  It’s one of the greatest places and experiences in Seattle.

Portland has the Springwater Corridor running approximately 30 miles along the Willamette river and east toward Mt. Hood and the pathway running several miles along Marine Drive.  We also have the 2.5 mile loop of Tom McCall Waterfront park and the Eastbank Esplanade, connected by two bridges, and it is a fantastic way to see the city and get in a ride or a walk.  Until these paths went in, Portland’s rivers were mostly taken over by industry or freeways.  All these paths are part of the 40 mile loop, envisioned to provide access to green space for city-dwellers almost a century ago and all but forgotten until recently.

Now that we have public non-motorized access to some of the river, people are hungry for more; that’s where npGREENWAY comes in.

From their website:

“npGREENWAY envisions a trail system providing access to and along the Willamette River enveloping the north riverfront from the Steel Bridge in downtown Portland to Cathedral Park near the St. Johns Bridge and extending through Baltimore Woods to Kelley Point Park.

Our goal is to link North Portland neighborhoods with the Willamette River for recreation and access to jobs. This expansion of the Willamette River Greenway will include a network of trails used for activities such as walking, running, cycling, skating, skateboarding, fishing, boating and wildlife viewing. The North Portland Greenway trails will connect with the existing Willamette River trail system serving residents and visitors throughout the region.”

It’s already been a long road and probably has years or possibly decades to go, but you have to start somewhere and the citizens of npGREENWAY are in it for the long haul.

It’s great to see Portlanders are continuing to realize the Willamette river’s importance to the overall health of our natural surroundings and by extension to our own health, not to mention the benefits of exercise and the public’s right to access to our common spaces.

I look forward to the day you can ride from the Sellwood bridge to the St. Johns bridge along the river without vying for space with a car.  Dare to dream…

Cargo Bikes

Holly is unimpressed with being treated as cargo

Holly is unimpressed with being treated as cargo

So I’m walking down the sidewalk when I sense a presence behind me. I turn around and there, like the mythic Yeti, is an apparition much heard of but seldom seen, it’s Phil from Metrofiets riding one of his handbuilt in Portland cargo bikes.

Phil is actually coming to the shop to show us what is only the third of their new creations. You can certainly understand why there’s only three, the thing is almost 10 feet long and features a wooden box mounted in the middle, big enough to hold almost 2 adults, or 2 kegs. Phil says it will hold 200 pounds while still being easy to maneuver and up to 600 pounds maximum. He let me take it for a spin and it did take a moment to get the balance down (the key is to look where you’re going, not at the box!)

Ever since Clever Cycles brought the dutch cargo bike Bakfiets to Portland a couple of years ago, interest in these utilitarian bicycles has been growing. Over the last six months news of new companies and products has been springing up. The Xtracycle is a bolt on rear wheel which creates basically a long bicycle with a long rear rack. It’s been around for a while, but now there’s the Yuba Mundo, based on the same concept. Surly has also come out with their own version called the Big Dummy.

Cargo bikes have a bin mounted somewhere allowing you to put things in without securing them down like on a rack. In addition to Bakfiets and Metrofiets, which have the box mounted in front of the rider, a company called Madsen just began building their own version. Madsen’s bike has the box mounted behind the rider with a well in the middle for the rear wheel.

In Eugene, Oregon, the Center for Appropriate Transport has been making their own cargo bike for years. More recently, another Eugene company, CETMA is about to launch their own version. And last but not least out of Europe is the Long John, possibly the oldest of the cargo bikes.

The point is, while not new, cargo bikes are becoming hot in the US and it will be interesting to see where the interest goes. With a 200 pound cargo capacity they are excellent for much more than just a quick trip to the grocery store. People here in Portland are even using them to move with. Their growing popularity will allow more people to get out of their cars more often and further reduce our dependence on cars, which as you know, I think is great!

Bikeable Bend

It sure is. Bendians (Bendites? Benders? Bendies? Bendos?) People from Bend, Oregon have one more thing to brag about besides skiing, rock climbing, Deschutes brewery, exquisite views of the cascade peaks, high mountain lakes, a lot more sun and a lot less rain than Portland- a great bike path network. We went over for the weekend and the weather was cool, crisp and fragrant with the spicy smell of woodsmoke. Meanwhile on the west side of the mountains the rain fell in dense sheets.

On previous trips I had noted the multitudes of mountain bikes and road bikes alike, all gleefully riding on magnificent paths often separated from the road by a lushly landscaped median. This trip we brought our own city bikes, intent on experiencing the paths for ourselves.

I’m happy, very happy to report we hardly had to ride on a bike pathless or laneless road the entire time. Even the main road right in front of our hotel, which was a mile outside of downtown in the big box store and mini-mall zone had a bike lane. The desk attendant hesitated only a moment when asked how to ride up the Deschutes river, (which I knew you could do at some point for several miles). Although her directions didn’t work out, we still had a lovely time getting lost, and she got points for not staring at us for asking what is, in most small towns in America, a flabbergastingly stupid thing, biking being strictly for children and those too poor or witless to buy a car.

Even in Portland, it’s not uncommon for a fat, luxurious bike lane to suddenly disappear, casting the hapless cyclist into the teeth of his deadly steel neighbors. Naturally it was the same in Bend, but less so than Portland which is one of only three platinum level bicycle friendly communities in the country! Like Portland, bike lanes ended without warning, but invariably once we turned the corner, hurray, there’s another bike lane!

Bend is full of traffic circles. Rich, retired Californian emigres plus tiny cowboy town equals instantaneous and massive town planning, emulating Europe on the scale of the reconstruction of Dresden after WWII. The result is a well thought out master planned town complete with a mall built around an old lumber mill and a river famous for its fly-fishing and world-class rapids meandering through downtown.

City planners didn’t forget bicycles when they put in these alternatives to intersections. As the bike lane approaches the traffic circle, it merges onto the sidewalk and the cyclist proceeds around the circle until choosing their direction, whereupon the path reappears. This kind of thought and, more importantly, expense is awfully impressive and almost unheard of. Combine this infrastructure with the restaurants, parks and brewpubs in town and great riding outside of town and you have bicycle nirvana. Good for you Bend!

Portland Bicycle Counts 2008

Very exciting stuff! The numbers are out and, yet again, a lot more people are riding bikes in Portland than ever before. Some highlights:

• Compared to 2007, overall bicycle use in Portland increased 28%.
• Bicycles represent 13% of all vehicles on the four bicycle friendly Willamette River bridges.
• Bicycle traffic in Portland has nearly tripled since 2001.
• Bicycle counts conducted in March 2008 were approximately half those of the summer, but are
nearly identical to the summer counts recorded in 2002.

The people are speaking and city government is listening; people want it to be easier to get around by bike and the city is providing programs and infrastructure to match.

It’s really stirring to stand in any one of the highest traffic spots and watch the swirl of bikes zip past, each one carrying someone with, if not a smile, at least the look of satisfaction which comes from getting some fresh air, exercise and moving yourself somewhere without the use of an engine.

This, along with the knowledge that the more people who ride, the more will join, gives me spasms of joy. This town is increasingly bicycle crazy. Have we hit critical mass? I think that’s an arguable point, double digit increases for the last 4 years is awfully impressive but can it continue, or even increase? Maybe, either way it’s very exciting to watch and wonder.

In other news, I saw an article in today’s Oregonian about redeveloping inner city strip malls into mixed use retail and residential communities. The article claims the combination of the large flat lots on main arterial streets on public transportation and the preexisting utilities make older strip malls, which at a certain age need to be redeveloped anyway, the perfect place to accomodate the more than 1 million people expected to move to Portland over the next twenty years.
Their placement on public transport routes would allow developers to put in less parking and more shops and apartments and bring in more residents, many of whom would surely ride bicycles! I myself have been watching a set of apartments being built on top of a row of elegant older shops with brick facades, a strip mall is just the next logical step.

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