I had a whirlwind day in Portland, Ore., on Friday, beginning with chirpy morning TV, then a chat with Mayor Sam Adams (who is fantastically engaged and forward-thinking on transportation), followed by a talk, then a panel discussion, then a bike to and from dinner with Jeff Mapes (Pedaling Revolution), planner and soon-to-be author Mia Birk, and Greg Raisman, with the city’s Bureau of Transportation (check out his more comprehensive tour of Portland cycling facilities here).
I made an offhand remark during the talk that when I first began researching Traffic, I would talk to U.S. transpo people about things I had seen there, and I would get a standard refrain: Well, that might work in the Netherlands, but it would never work in the United States. But in the last year or so, I now feel like I’m hearing a new version of that: Well, that might work in Portland, but it would never work in the U.S. Maybe down the road, there will be one last city, holding out, saying, well that might work in Las Vegas, but it would never work here.
In any case, Portland really does have the feel of some kind of transportation theme park — or a multi-modal mecca — with its aerial and city trams, its expanding light rail, its real-time transit tracking iPhone apps, and its impressive 8% — yes, 8% — cycling mode share (with zero fatalities last year). I saw a parking enforcement officer on two wheels, and an item in the local city magazine noted that banks offer special bike financing. The morning I left, the city was kicking off its new Green Line, part of a strategy to reduce the percentage of students commuting to Portland State University — from 1996 to 2009, the share of students driving alone to school has dropped from 44% to 25%.
It was quite striking to be out on a beautiful late summer Friday night and see cyclists everywhere, from neighborhood streets to busier arterials to the “floating bridge” along the river, with “bike corrals” jammed outside of local businesses and half the pedestrians seeming to clutch a helmet. I quickly had to adjust my New York City mentality, and I tried, with Mapes and company, not to violate signals. Given that I was suffering from an insomnia-and-jet-lagged kind of fugue state, I should have at this point been exhausted, but the whole effect was exhilarating. Here’s a short photo tour — via iPhone, hence the quality.
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