All Eyes on Portland at Bike Summit

An organized ride on one of Portland’s bike boulevards.

If there was a star at yesterday’s National Bike Summit, it was Portland, Oregon. After Earl Blumenauer, one of the city’s congressional reps and a former county commissioner, delivered the morning address, Portland’s bike planners and advocates shared their strategies at some of the more urban-focused panels. Portland’s transportation commissioner, Sam Adams — who is now running for mayor — was scheduled to deliver a post-lunch plenary, but he canceled with the flu. Instead, a contingent of five other Portland bike luminaries shared the podium.

Two things stood out about the city that has achieved a cycling mode share of six percent and is aiming much higher:

They’re big believers in bike boulevards.

Streetsblog and StreetFilms have covered Portland’s bike boulevards before, but I wanted to share some of the reasoning behind them. Portland has essentially set the goal of becoming the Amsterdam of the U.S. (as far as bikes are concerned), and they don’t think that’s possible if they rely mainly on bike lanes on heavily trafficked roads. According to their surveys, only one percent of people making trips (all modes) on Portland streets fall under the category of “fearless” cyclists. The bigger chunk of bike mode share comes from people who have safety concerns, and another huge portion of travelers — 55 percent — say they would cycle if conditions were even safer than today.

Their surveys also tell them that what makes people feel safe is biking on low-traffic streets, leading them to convert more streets into bike boulevards. By building facilities where bikes outnumber cars and riders seldom have to stop, Portland’s bike planners believe they can make cycling a desirable mode for trips like, say, taking your kids to the library.

They do intensive education and outreach.

The Portland Office of Transportation runs an outreach program called SmartTrips, which Streetsblog first covered last September. Here’s a little more about how SmartTrips operates.

Every year the program selects an area of the city to target for outreach. Beginning in April, they send out information about walking, biking, and transit to everyone in the area, contacting each household at least five times. The first thing they send is an order form, which people fill out to request things like bike maps, a schedule of rides, and leg bands. When the SmartTrips office receives an order, interns deliver the goods by bike within three days.

"People are shocked
that interns get there by bike, and that the city is actually doing it," said SmartTrips’ Dan Bower. "Every year we get a 8-10 percent reduction in drive alone trips in the target region." Noting that ridership is skyrocketing in Portland despite the fact that the city hasn’t built many new bikeway miles in the past five years, he summed up his program’s raison d’etre: "If you build something, it’s worth your
while to tell people about it."

Also worth noting — this list of “five things you don’t know about Portland,” presented by the crew who spoke at the lunchtime plenary:

  1. The growing social acceptance of biking
    Even residents who don’t bike say they like living in a city that is so bike-friendly.
    Store owners are calling the city and asking to have on-street parking removed and replaced by bike parking.
  2. Financing – they haven’t spent big bucks, yet
    Only one percent of Portland’s transportation budget is spent on bike facilities. Ridership is way up nonetheless. Now that cycling is at six percent mode share, there is talk of allocating funds based on mode split.
  3. Biking boosts tourism
    According to Travel Portland, being named the nation’s top cycling city has been very valuable for tourism. Portland is now attracting conventions based on its bike infrastructure. The North American Handmade Bicycle Show, a convention that draws 15,000 participants, is a case in point.
  4. Low-cost publicity and lobbying
    Every year, Cycle Oregon stages a policy-makers’ ride, inviting influential people to get away from their desks and see what’s working for bikes in the city and what’s not.
  5. The economic development crowd is getting behind biking
    There are now 10-15 bike manufacturers in Portland and new bike shops popping up all the time. It’s a stretch to call this a “thing you don’t know.” Portland’s bike industry has actually gotten national press.

Photo: / Flickr

  • Paddy Mcguire

    This article is entirely not true.

    Portlanders are not big beievers in bike blvds. There is no intensive education and outreach. Bike riders are just as stupid in Portland as everywhere else. There is no growing social acceptance of biking. There is no fiancing. Bike riders do not pay their way. Bikeing does not encourage tourism. Thet are no Hertz rent a bike lots opening up. And bicycling sure as hell is not encouraging economic development.

  • Jessica Roberts

    Well, I live in Portland and:

    a) I love bicycle boulevards. Even though I’m a 10-year carfree veteran, I simply find low-traffic streets that are optimized for bicycling to be calmer and lovelier…especially for biking with others.

    b) I love the SmartTrips program. I’ve been lucky enough to live in two of the target areas (for a while I thought they might be stalking me), and it’s fabulous to receive biking, walking & transit tools and gifts at home, not to mention all the fun rides, walks & classes I’ve benefitted from. And as far as I’m concerned, a ten percent reduction in cars on the street in front of my house is worth its weight in gold (and a bargain at $20/household).

  • I live in Portland and:

    1. I love bike boulevards! I sometimes think drivers don’t realize how many people bike because we aren’t often on the same streets.

    2. I live on a bike boulevard and me and my neighbors are happy to have it be cause it feels safer. i.e. you can let your kids play in the front yard.

    3. I own a car and drive much less than I used to. What with the path on the east side of the river I can get to work fast in the morning if I ride my bike. Especially since I have trouble finding parking for a car.

    I think more people need to know about the bike boulevards but then thats the whole point of smart trips. I usually carry and extra bike map to give to people when there new to biking and a bit confused.

  • I also live in Portland, and I also love bike boulevards (Fakey McFakename is getting quickly outnumbered). Ankeny, Salmon, and Lincoln Streets could serve as models for how to encourage cycling. It’s way more pleasant on a beautiful day to cruise down Ankeny than to get in your hot car and get stuck in traffic.

    Robin’s point about parking is a great one. Over the years, I’ve saved thousands of dollars I’d have spent on parking permits (or tickets).

  • brett

    So, we have a city agency with policies backed by surveys and facts, and five Portlanders (including me) agreeing that the city officials’ statements are true … vs. one crank who simply asserts negatives without submitting any evidence whatsoever. I have firsthand evidence of the extensive outreach by the city’s bike and transportation officials, and I don’t even live in one of the commuting target areas. I know half a dozen people who moved here specifically because they wanted to live car free. And I know that biking here is much easier than anywhere else I’ve lived. Even the NY Times recognized the economic value of Portland’s booming bike industry and associated spinoffs. I think Roger Geller and the other city bike planners are doing a fabulous job negotiating among various constituencies, but much more needs to be done, starting with allocating transportation spending on bike facilities in proportion to the percentage of trips by bike i.e. quintupling or sextupling what’s spent now. The boulevards are a great first step, but I’d love to see Amsterdam/Copenhagen style separated paths downtown; once riders feel safe riding most places, we’ll really see a huge expansion in bike usage, as those European cities did when they installed the needed infrastructure.

  • Moser

    So what is a bike boulevard? How is car traffic kept low? Is it essentially something possible only in low/medium density areas (essentially, urban fringe of medium/small cities?

  • Jeffrey Hyman

    I don’t live in Portland but I visited there. I really dug the surface light rail system, but that’s another topic. I’m sending out some love to Paddy Mcquire.

  • El Bici

    “Bike riders do not pay their way.”, he said indignantly as he cruised by in an AWD SUV, four studded snow tires crackling away underneath…

  • Moser, here’s a Streetfilm that explains bicycle boulevards:

    Essentially, they’re streets that are wide enough for cars and bikes to share, and convenient through routes, but the through car traffic has been diverted by some kind of barrier that bikes can get through but cars can’t. This can be a physical barrier, or a block of traffic can be made one-way in the opposite direction of all the other blocks on the street, while bikes are allowed to travel through. One of the ones I know is Silver Avenue in Albuquerque.

    They don’t have to be confined to low or medium-density areas; many of the Quartiers Verts (Green Neighborhoods) in Paris use these kinds of improvements without calling them “bicycle boulevards.”

  • I meant to add a link to the Paris website about Quartiers Verts:

  • Moser

    Thanks Angus – I’ve ridden one of these in Berkeley in fact, w/out getting that it was a bike boulevard (thought it was just cool traffic calming).

  • john deere

    Cyclists in fact do pay our way. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that license and registration fees even begin to pay for the costs of our roads, and all the other social costs of driving. I pay income and sales taxes, and these revenues pay for our roads. I’m also a licensed driver. So you bet your buns I pay my way as a cyclist.

    Now Paddy, since you are accusing cyclists of not paying, I’m going to assume you are a driver, and your driving is spewing co2 and various pollutants into the air. Can you please email me a copy of the receipt where you paid the environmental and health costs to your city, country, and planet, that resulted from your driving. Please include an itemized receipt for health care costs borne by others as a result of your driving. And since my taxes are paying for these various costs (health care, environmental protection, etc), can you please send me a check as a tax refund for problems I’m currently not contributing to.

  • CyclingCal

    Yes, the article is very accurate. PaddyMcGuire is a spam artist, who spends every waking hour posting at’s forums under dozens of monikers. He is troll. That is his life’s mission. Don’t worry about him.

  • Lisa

    Paddy you are so right.

    I have never in my life read, heard such whining and excuses that the bicyclists give for not paying their fair share or riding safely. And when they flub up run a stop, fail to signal and get killed it’s always the motorists fault even when one doest exist they turn and start pointing fingers. “The curb jumped out and got me. Move the curb”. And the stupid bicyclists feel they can flood the streets with more and more of their unlicensed uninsured helmetless unsafe no brakes, lights or safety devises on the streets and then ask for safer street improvements for them to ride. If streets are safe enough to attract more riders then why are we asking the legally licensed and insured motorists to fund their improvements?

    With a bike rack ten feet outside our Portland downtown office door why does the dripping wet foul smelling forgot to shave my pits this past decade messenger girl insist she must bring her bike into the building and onto the elevator several times a day when signs clearly posted “no bikes allowed in building”. Clearly a sign of no respect for others. Maybe we should change the sign to read “no dogs allowed.

  • Ron

    I live in Portland, and find the responses above both operating at the extremes of reality. Yes, Portland is very encouraging to bike transportation, and at the same time, very discouraging to motorized transportation. Portland motorists, through registration and fuel taxes, pay (unless it is siphoned away for other projects) to maintain the roadways. Bicyclists use these same roadways, but do not pay the upkeep. Bicycle operators, to pay thier “fair share”, should be licensed and registered the same as motorists.

  • It’s interesting to watch the spread of the myth that “cyclists don’t pay their fair share.” I can sort of see why it’s an appealing argument but it is 100% false.

    Part of road maintenance and building does indeed come from gas taxes and registration fees, but building and repairing roads is expensive, so quite a bit of the money comes from the general fund, which in Portland cyclists pay into through income and property taxes just like everyone else. I’ve seen the numbers run a few ways, and any way you add it up, cyclists are actually subsidizing the motoring population. That’s right. We are paying, literally, for people to drive.

    This is not even taking into account the fact that much road spending is for freeways which cyclists don’t directly use (though yes we rely on freight as much as anyone) and for maintaining roads that are worn down by multi-ton vehicles (ie, even the smallest car). And that’s also not getting into the many externalities of widespread automobile use such as the cost of caring for an increasingly obese population, the lung problems caused by living (especially as kids) near major roads and freeways, and the high cost car crashes in courts and hospitals and general productivity.

    The thinly veiled implication in these “don’t pay their way” arguments is that cyclists don’t have jobs, don’t pay taxes, aren’t licensed to drive, and aren’t insured (even on our bikes) when we own a motor vehicle. This implication is in direct contradiction to another common argument that cycling is an elite luxury that most people can’t afford to mess around with.

    And I could go on. The argument that cyclists don’t pay their way is just as hackneyed as the one that we cause pollution by slowing down traffic. Though the connection of cycling with unshaven armpits is new to me. Congrats, Lisa, for reminding us that cycling has become a civil rights issue whether we’re seeking that or not.

  • Lisa

    False : the money comes from the general fund

    False : subsidizing the motoring population

    False: much road spending is for freeways

    False: maintaining roads that are worn down by multi-ton vehicles

    False: licensed to drive, and insured (even on our bikes) when we own a motor vehicle.

  • Bob Sheen

    I would like to see bret back up his post with facts and the links to supporting such facts. At this point all he has done is blow smoke into the wind. What a joke. And hey Elly what weed you smoking?

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Well! Thanks for clearing that up, Lisa.

  • CyclingCal

    Elly, Lisa, BobSheen And Angus are all the same person as Paddy McGuire above. It’s a troll artist who posts most of the time at He has so many monikers that no one can keep track.

    Here is a sampling of them:

    JuanJalepeno, BusMallBob, blondbarking, MrBergis, TedKSucks, rotaxmax126, MEXCIANPride, TwoBuckChuck, Dually, TryingSkills, prostatepete, bipolarbear, BobbinWeaver, PaulLip, wereakingball, bedfordfalls, PuTtyIsDeAD, PDXDriver, COregon, JoeCOOL, LordofChaos, PaddyMcGuire, OregonTiger, GoDucks, TypicalJoe, Interest55, and on and on…

    Ignore the troll.

  • CyclingCal
  • I can’t speak for Lisa, Elly, Bob or Paddy, but I’m a real person, and I’m not Paddy. I posted all of the posts so far on this thread that have my name, and I’m willing to confirm it by any means.

    I don’t consider myself a troll, but trolling is all really a matter of opinion.

  • Bob Sheen

    Who is cycling cal? The authority? Anyone not on his planet is wrong?

  • Lisa

    I see cal has some loose spokes. He has grouped everyone with an opinion different than himself as one person. There just cant be more than one person in his little world with an opinion different than himself.

    I bet he doesnt wear a bike helment.

  • Lisa

    Naked Bike Ride Interrupted By Police

    EUGENE, Ore. – Roughly 100 bicyclists either naked or almost naked rode through the streets of Eugene this weekend in an event that turned confrontational.

    The riders cheered, chanted and stopped traffic as they pedaled through the streets. But police officers stopped naked cyclists several times for failing to obey traffic laws and ordered some women to put tops on.
    At one point, the officers tried to make arrests. But as the crowd grew angry, they decided to let the riders continue rather than risk a potentially dangerous situation.
    Naked bike rides have been staged in dozens of cities around the world in recent years, including Portland.

    The purpose is to protest global oil dependency and celebrate cycling and the human body.


    Police tried to do the right thing

  • Gavin

    I too live in portland and am not a troll or spammer or w/e, but i agree that bicycles used as a main mode of transportation should be licensed and i have a different reason as to why as opposed to some of those others (which i agree and disagree with).
    If a person (driver, pedestrian, cyclist, whoever) sees a violation of a car or has a run in with a car, they can take a picture of the car/license plate and have it sent into the police for further disciplinary action. I constantly see bikes run stop signs, red lights, etc and there is nothing that can be done cuz they have no identification attached so they are immune to it all

  • Would the same apply to pedestrians—must we all display a large identification plate when we go out in public, just in case we break some law and need to be reported?

    There is a very compelling reason cars require registration, insurance, and licensing: they grossly augment mortal danger to others. While bicycles and air conditioners falling out of windows kill on occasion, nothing comes close to the over 40,000 yearly American deaths caused by the automobile. Our procedures to mitigate that risk have proven sadly inadequate, but they are in fact necessary in a way that they are not for bicycles. It’s not just a case of annoying costs and paperwork that everyone should have to deal with for some imagined principle of equal suffering, there’s a lot more at stake. And from a greater good perspective, adding unnecessary hurdles to “transportation” bicycling (I don’t know how this would be distinguished from recreational use) is only going to discourage cycling, keep potential cyclists in their cars, and perversely increase the transportation death toll. It’s a big net loss for safety and public health.

    Also: since when can you take pictures of cars running stop signs, red lights, and doing other illegal stuff and have the driver face consequences? As a New Yorker witnessing regular traffic violations that put me in grave danger, I would love to be able to just report dangerous drivers and have them be penalized. But if the police are not around (or inclined to act), motorists are just as much “immune to all” as bicyclists. As a pedestrian, I’m unfortunately not immune to cars crashing into me.

  • Erin

    I moved to Portland seven years ago specifically because it was becoming a great city for biking. My car broke down on during my cross-country move and, while it was horrible in the moment, it ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me. The entire six years I lived there, before moving to NYC, I rode a bike as my primary form of transportation and used transit too. I was lucky to have had the opportunity to work in the City’s Office of Transportation on some bike boulevard related projects. Bike boulevards really are the way to go, and I remember nightly rides with friends, riding together from place to place, with relatively little fear of being hit by cars, just enjoying life and the breeze through our helmets. Sometimes I almost want to move back, just because biking there was so much easier than it is in NYC, but it was time for a change. Although I don’t feel Portland’s public transit is as worthy of the national praise it’s been showered with, I do feel that its bike infrastructure implementation is.

  • Generally, the rule of thumb (see Martin Wachs’ work, he has a paper published by Brookings, mentioned in a Neal Peirce column in 2003) is that 50% of the cost of roads comes from general funds.

  • Chuck King

    For those of us from other states, who already consider Portland “cycling heaven,” it is encouraging to see that the city is not content to just be at the top, but to press on even farther. Thank you! I am on my way again this summer, to enjoy cycling Portland streets and environs.



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