Although I have access to a car and ample public transportation here in Portland, Oregon; every trip I take is by bicycle. Even if it is 40 degrees, raining and windy — I prefer to bike. Why would I chose to be miserable biking in this uncomfortable weather when I can be driving in a warm car sitting on a soft seat listening to my favorite music? The truth is that I truly enjoy it.
To me, driving is dulling to the senses and boring. While bicycling I feel and experience the many characteristics of the changing weather throughout my trip, and across the seasons. Yesterday it was wonderful to feel the misty rain on my face, and today riding in the rare winter sun was a treat. Pouring down rain? Easy, I just wear a brimmed hat and water resistant clothing. Too cold outside? Don’t worry, after a few minutes of riding I warm right up.
It is also an enjoyable challenge for me to ride amongst the cars. This probably isn’t true for everyone — I just have an adventurous spirit. I lived and biked in The Netherlands for a few months and I actually missed the challenge of creating my own route and maneuvering around cars. It is still important to aim to achieve the level of safety the Netherlands has accomplished; to offer the option of safe routes for less experienced riders, children and the elderly. Of course biking in Portland is very different from biking in most other cities. Portland has many bike amenities that make it safer and more convenient to bike.
In the 1960’s, The Netherlands discovered that the volume of cars was increasing and along with that, the number of bike and pedestrian injuries and fatalities. As a result, they poured money into bike and pedestrian infrastructure. In many cases they restructured entire towns. Many city centers were made car-free except for buses, taxis and delivery trucks (at specified hours). Physically separated bike paths were installed like this one in Groningen, NL.
This made bicycling and walking very safe. Rutgers University urban planner John Pucher and Lewis Dijkstra of the European Commission found that “Per-km and per-trip cycled, American bicyclists are twice as likely to get killed as German cyclists and over three times as likely to get killed as Dutch cyclists.”
They also found that in the US while bicycling you are 12 times more likely to have a fatal crash versus driving, per kilometer. Walking, is 23 times more dangerous. However, to put this in perspective , in the US there were 785 bicycling fatalities in 2005, 4,881 pedestrian fatalities and 43,443 automotive fatalities. On the other hand, a Danish study found that people who do not bike to work suffer a 39 percent higher mortality rate than those who do.
In Portland, the addition of bikeway miles has not increased since 2004, yet cycling has more than doubled since 2001, and the number of bike crashes has remained constant . This is consistent with the study that found the more cyclists and pedestrians on the roads, the safer the roads become.
It is very helpful that the City of Portland recognizes the value of investing in bicycle infrastructure. One of the main policy forces that is shaping and has shaped Portland is the Central City Transportation Management Plan. A main facet of that plan is that “Encouraging economic growth and housing in the Central City will increase the use of alternative transportation modes that result in less vehicle miles traveled by workers and residents.” Another main goal is “Increasing the use of mass transit, biking, walking, and carpooling as alternatives to single-occupant vehicles.” Thus, any development plans that filter through the city take into account these overarching goals.
In the next 15 years, the City of Portland is expected to grow by 300,000; from 560,000 to 860,000. The population of the metropolitan region is estimated to grow from 2.3 million to 3.3 million. Portland recognizes that investing in bicycle infrastructure achieves the set goals to increase the livability of the city. More cyclists on the roads decrease auto congestion, air pollution and traffic noise. It facilitates community interaction, which has been proven to benefit mental health. Cycling is also great for physical health. A Portland consulting agency found that Portland bicycle infrastructure brings in $63 million to Portland’s regional economy (which has a total value of $17 billion) and the bicycle industry accounts for 800 jobs.
There is also a wonderful bicycle culture in Portland. Group rides that are held nearly every day , bike festivals , bike blogs , bike advocacy organizations , bike film festivals and other bike fun encourage and support people to get on a bike.
I am but one of many tree-hugging vegetarian bicyclists living in progressively green Portland, Oregon. I have a Master's of Urban Studies and Planning from Portland State University, and I worked for a bit at the Portland Office of Transportation. I have lived, traveled and studied in many European cities and towns to learn about their compact, pedestrian-scaled and bicyclist friendly infrastructure. My goal is to create communities that are socially cohesive, beautiful, and easy to travel by bike and foot; thereby reducing pollution, improving physical health and building community.