A Bikeable City is a Beautiful City

I’ve been reading the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030, which was approved by the city this last February.  It is the vision of what Portland will look like in 20 years, and the role of the bicycle in that vision.  Portland mayor Sam Adams (below) writes in the forward, “a Portland with the bicycle as a pillar of its transportation is truly a beautiful city.” 

I am struck by two aspects of this statement – first, the concept of biking as a pillar of transportation, which has all kinds of implications, and second, the linking of transportation mode with the beauty of a city. The Plan is very clear: the goal is to make biking a critical component of the city’s transportation system, so that Portland will be cleaner, healthier, attracting tourists and business and keep more money circulating in the local economy.

“Pillar of Transportation”:

To do this, the Plan proposes the city create “conditions that make bicycling more attractive than driving for trips of three miles or less.”  More than half of trips in Portland are currently less than 3 miles, a trip that can comfortably be met with a bicycle. 

Think of the implications of this bold vision:

  • The city will triple the number of miles of bikeways, from the current three hundred to 962 miles; density of bikeways encourages ridership for short trips.
  • With the goal of 25% of trips taken by bicycle, there will need to be a strong consideration of road space for these large numbers of riders, including new paths that separate the riders from traffic.  Another great phrase in this plan: “safe and comfortable”.  Riders need to feel safe and comfortable if a large proportion of residents are going to use their bike.  Bikeways need to be designed to provide this sense of saftey and comfort.
  • The 20 minute neighborhood: the Portland City Plan promotes mixed use neighborhoods, where residents live within a short walk or bicycle ride to daily destinations.  This requires city zoning that allows shops and homes to coexist – a challenge for many neighborhoods.
  • Where there are more bikes, there need to be more bike parking.  Bike garages, corrals, racks all need to be expanded.  I hadn’t given this much thought before, but bikeway development and bike parking development have to go hand in hand.  Cities have to use space typically planned for car parking and convert it to bike parking.
  • The city will need to convert residents who currently are not riding into routine bicyclists.  This means increasing ridership among the young, among women, and among seniors.  Teaching children bicycle skills at school, and building neighborhoods with safe routes for biking and walking will be important.  Many schools today don’t have bike racks nor do they encourage kids to bike.  Encouragement of biking will require campaigns, resources and cityscapes that feel safe and comfortable.

So there are all kinds of implications about the work of the city that lie underneath the phrase, “bicycles as a pillar of transportation.”  It requires strong political leadership and a commitment to fundamental change to make this happen.

And it’s all worth it, in order to build a beautiful city!  Bikeable streets are often calmer streets, with people on the sidewalks, interesting shops to see, and slower car traffic.  Building places that bicyclists and pedestrians want to visit make for a more beautiful city, which is what everyone ultimately wants.

Does your city have a bold vision for bike transportation?  A simple phrase with profound implications for city building?

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5 Comments on “A Bikeable City is a Beautiful City”

  1. David Says:

    Hi there, I am a physician at denver health and also have an interest in active transportation as a means to improve public health. I moved from NYC one year ago and was very impressed with the changes occurring in their streets. Are you familiar with the “Denver Moves” initiative working to improve non-motorized transportation? I think your input would be very valuable. Their website is at http://from-ian.com/denver/

    • ekfrance Says:

      Thanks for sharing the news about Denver Moves and their web site! I am familiar with the project, which is hoping to improve the connections between where we live and our destinations, using our current trail and bikeway assets. The first event is scheduled for July 10th at Confluence Park, 10 am to 2 pm. It will provide us all with an opportunity to point out the current hot spots in the city which need attention.

      My initial reaction to Denver Moves is that it is too small of an effort, too tactical in nature. When I read the objectives on the web site, they are rather limited to fixing specific problem areas. I am looking for the city to commit itself to a bold vision of bicycle transportation. I had hoped that Denver Moves, which I understood to be the city’s version of an updated bicycle plan, would have us work to a shared vision on bike transportation. I think instead it will try to improve connections – which is great – and remain rather tactical rather than strategic. It’s our job to ask for more! Thanks for your comment and hope to hear from you again.

      • David Says:

        Hi again, I just got back from July 4th vacation in new england and unfortunately missed the first denver moves event. We will have to see how much ambition this project has. Most denver streets outside of downtown are low volume enough that they are comfortable to bike on without protected bike infrastructure. The problem is that they are broken up by I25, speer, civic center, etc which makes it very difficult to travel between neighborhoods. Improving these intersections could make a great difference. Even better would be to add bike infrastructure to the arterials which are not obstructed by speer and the highways. For example, broadway and lincoln already have a designated bus lane during rush hour. If these lanes are not needed to accommodate traffic during rush hour why are they needed during low volume times? these could be turned into permanent bus/bike lanes and make traveling north/south across I25 and speer towards downtown much safer.

  2. Eric France Says:

    Sorry I missed your comment in my email list. Good points regarding the connectivity of our neighborhoods and how our street arterials get in the way. I would differ with you on the low volume bike lanes; my own experience is that even these roads have more volume than is comfortable, and have many stop signs that reduce convenience.
    Do you think that there would be many riders in the bus/bike lanes if they were available only during off-peak hours?

    • david Says:

      the bus/bike lanes would be permanent. currently there are bus only lanes during rush hour, but this could be expanded to include bikes. i agree that the arterials rather than the side streets with their many stop signs would make better travel corridors if they were rehabbed to allow for protected bike lanes. but this doesn’t seem to even be on the city’s radar. for example, 15th street which connects lohi and lodo is being resurfaced and would have made for an excellent bikeway but obviously this was not included in the plan. this street is shown as a bike route on the bcycle map, but traffic moves way too fast for anybody but the bravest riders.


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