Earlier this month, Roger Geller, the City Bicycle Coordinator for the city of Portland, paid Minneapolis a visit to learn what has made us the #1 Bike City in America, and to present on how Portland is building it’s infrastructure to win back the title for themselves. His presentation was titled “Why Portland is the #? Cycling City in North America”.
The City of Portland is focusing its efforts mainly in developing its incredible bicycle infrastructure even further, putting more emphasis on education programs, and reaching out to local businesses. Portland currently has a much larger and more advanced network of bikeways than Minneapolis. Portland has over 343 miles of bikeways – that includes trails, boulevards, and on-street lanes. Minneapolis only has 130 miles of lanes and trails – despite having over 1 million more people in the metro area. Geller explained that Portland has seen ridership and bicycle mode share increase dramatically since 1997 when the city began to aggressively expand it’s bikeway network. Despite this growth, mode share for bicycles in Portland is only 3.9%, compared to 3.8% in Minneapolis – imagine what we could do if our bikeway network was as expansive!
Geller credited the quick growth in Portland’s bicycle use to “encouragement events” put on by the city and private groups (group rides, themed rides, races, etc), a policy of engaging businesses on bicycling issues, and the strategy of outlining “Bicycle Districts” in the city.
To encourage residents to bike to work and local businesses, Portland launched SmartTrips, which “encourage diverse communities, new to the Portland area, to explore Transportation Options.” The city provides free on-street bicycle corrals to businesses who request it; removing one car parking spot to build a bicycle corral. Currently over 60 businesses have received corrals, while over 60 are waiting for theirs – the city requests three requests a month! Minneapolis has a more limited Bicycle Rack Cost Share program which asks businesses to shoulder half the cost of new racks, and only covers certain types of on-sidewalk bicycle racks.
Portland’s strategy of building “Bicycle Districts” involves mapping out what sections of the city are major commercial areas with a higher than average bike mode share, and then trying to mold them into hubs of commerce where all streets emphasize cycling. The strategy has been paying off. While traffic has increased 12% on the four main bridges into downtown since 1991, car use on them has stayed flat. All of the extra traffic has been bicycles and pedestrians. This has meant more businesses and population in the central Portland area without a need to expand infrastructure to accommodate more automobiles.
Roger closed the presentation by presenting the hard facts on the financial benefits Portland has realized from building its bikeway network and promoting active transportation. In the past 15 years the city has spent $153 million on active transportation, compared to $4.23 billion on automotive transportation and $2.1 billion on transit. Despite that imbalance, active transportation has seen the best return on the investment due to quickly increasing numbers of bicyclists, walkers, and other active people. Geller highlighted that the $60 million it would take them to build a single mile of urban freeway could also buy 300 miles of bikeway networks.
Portland has also calculated that due to lower driving averages per capita the region is saving $1.2 billion annually in transportation. Part of that is savings on road maintenance and upgrades due to lower useage, but the majority is individual household transportation savings. The average Minnesotan drives
over 1,000 miles more over 2,000 miles more than a person in Oregon – more options means more savings for Portland residents!
The main takeaway from the presentation was that despite currently being the #1 Bike City in the US, we can’t sit on our laurels – Portland and other cities (here comes Chicago!) are making the investments they need to build a robust 21st century transportation network. While it may be hard to argue for more investment in bikeways in this time of cuts and austerity budgets, it’s important for us to point out the savings smart investments in our bike and pedestrian infrastructure can bring. With smart growth and more Complete Streets we can stay #1!