by A.K. Streeter, Portland, Oregon on 10.10.11
Twelve thousands cyclists in Portland - two thousand of them new cycling commuters - logged 1.3 million commuting miles in September's cycling commute challenge sponsored by local advocacy organization the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. That's a corresponding savings of 1.3 million pounds of carbon dioxide from being emitted by the cars those commuters otherwise might have driven. But what motivates Portland cyclists to brave the city's famous endless drizzle in order to get to work in an eco-friendly fashion?
Perhaps it's the caloric savings. Portlanders are famous for loving their craft beers, and this year's commuters burned 67 million calories in their bike-based commutes. As Bike Portland noted, that's the caloric equivalent of more than 95,000 Big Macs.
Or, it might be the sheer competition. This year, Oregon Health & Science University had the biggest number of new bike commuters to sign up to do the commuting challenge (and simultaneously received the League of American Bicyclists "Gold" designation as a bike-friendly business). Local Reed College had the highest percentage of participants for an organization of more than 500 people (10% participation rate), while tiny Cast Iron Coding, and Grapheon Design both with under 25 employees, had 100% participation.
But more likely than not, the reason for Portland's strong percentage of new and ongoing bicycle commuters is probably due to simple, basic and important bicycle infrastructure. Portland isn't even in the same league as European cities such as Groningen, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, etc. And in terms of raw numbers, 12,000 cyclists is a puny statistic - New York City probably beats that by a magnitude of 10 every weekday morning. In most of the U.S., however, Portland's bike culture and its bike infrastructure still reign supreme.
And while you can't say they are zealous revolutionaries, Portland's transportation officials aren't resting on their laurels, either. Recently, the Portland Bureau of Transportation received permission to regulate speeds on residential roads, which allows the Bureau to drop speed limits on "neighborhood greenways" to 20 miles per hour and hope painted sharrows encourage motorists and bicyclists to peacefully coexist. In addition, another project called the "50s bikeway" - 4.3 miles of north to south "safety" corridor that will encourage cyclists and try to better protect pedestrians, too, received approval from the City Council and will likely be implemented within a year.