Politics, Power, and Bicycles

It's not a surprise to anyone that bicycling - for both commuting and leisure - is growing in Portland.

It's also growing as a political force -- from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, to Bike/Walk PAC Bike Walk Vote, to our own Congressman Earl Blumenauer's chairmanship of the Congressional Bicycle Caucus.

The Oregonian editorializes today about the rise of bicyclists as a political power:

How do you convert biking muscle into political muscle? It's a longstanding question in Portland. But more people all across the country are now asking it, too. And as some of them converge in Washington, D.C., this week [for the National Bike Summit], they're looking to Portlanders for answers. ...

The group will be delivering a powerful message to Congress, though: It's time for the nation to invest more transportation dollars in bicycling. The good causes that converge behind this banner are becoming almost too numerous to list, from reducing global warming to reducing the nation's waistline....

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., looked rather lonely when he first went off to Washington, D.C., with his bicycle in tow. Not anymore. Founder of the Congressional Bike Caucus, now more than 170 strong, he's starting to look prescient with his conviction that the greatest cities on Earth are built around bicycles and pedestrians, not cars.

Increasingly, the question is whether this region will be ready for the next wave of commuter bicyclists, drawn to biking not as a craze or cause or sport, but as a bargain. It's just plain cheaper. According to Blumenauer, bike commuters annually save on average $1,825 in auto-related costs, not to mention reducing their carbon emissions by 128 pounds, conserving 145 gallons of gasoline and sparing themselves 50 hours of gridlock.

For blow-by-blow coverage of the National Bike Summit, be sure to check in with BikePortland.org, where editor Jonathan Maus has once again made the trip to DC.

  • Jason Skelton (unverified)

    Yeah! Great to see bike political power growing. I moved to Portland specifically because I wanted to live where I could ride my bike everywhere and get rid of my car. Also, it was neat that instead of a mere "association" of bike-riding people, Portland had an "alliance" of bike riders. Kind of like the rebellion but without Luke whining about going to Toschi station.

  • BCM (unverified)

    ...he's starting to look prescient with his conviction that the greatest cities on Earth are built around bicycles and pedestrians, not cars.

    Great cities are also built around public transportation.

    As for bikes, if you've never been to Amsterdam, it's really a site to behold. They have a three story bike garage near the train station. Obviously, by the number of bikes in there, you can tell biking is part of the culture itself.

    We have some ways to go before we need a bike garage in Portland, but with rising gas prices making cars more and more uneconomical, perhaps we'll see the bike culture start to go mainstream. I don't know what the breaking point is, but somewhere past $4.00/gallon people are going to start jumping ship and looking for alternative forms of transportation. Thankfully Portland -- unlike most US cities -- has a host of viable options for its residents to choose.

  • Garlynn -- undergroundscience.blogspot.com (unverified)

    This is great news -- bicycles simply make sense as an efficient way to get around town. You can sell your car if you don't leave town much or haul stuff around, but you don't have to -- just leave it at home and hop on your bike for some trips! I think that's the evolving message of the movement, that and make it easy for people to do so by building infrastructure that makes riding a bicycle safer.

    I like that Portland is bicycle-friendly, but I don't like that it's alone in this category. As much as I would like to see Portland achieve Platinum, I'd also like to see every city become bicycle-friendly. You shouldn't have to move to Oregon if you want to ride a bicycle!!! And I think that's the point of Earl's efforts, and the national bike caucus -- this movement needs to become institutionalized as an essential part of our national transportation system. Bicycles for trips within the city, high speed rail for trips between the cities, and cars for whenever you don't want to walk, ride a bike or take the train.

    It's all about balance.

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    And don't forget the growing evidence that our shorter commutes and our alternative transportation investments are proving a boon to local businesses.

    By biking more, we're leaving more money in our wallets that stays here, rather than sending it to auto companies in Detroit or Tokyo or oil companies located who know where.

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    Correction: The Bike/Walk PAC is now known simply as Bike. Walk. Vote. (...despite the fact that the punctuation makes putting their name in a sentence next-to-impossible.)

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    The great thing about the Portland area is that you do have the option of going without a car, as you can get a membership to Zipcar (formerly Flexcar) to use during those times when you need a car.

    I was excited when we moved into our new place, as we're withing walking distance of a grocery store, several restaurants, some fast food places, a movie theater, and more. On nice days, Abby and I walk down to eat and grab some groceries. We're working on teaching her to ride a bike so we can ride instead. My husband and I don't have bikes yet, but we plan on buying us each one a little later this year so we can all ride together.

    With gas getting closer to $4/gallon, that bike will really come in handy in my husband getting to work (he can ride the bus halfway there) and in taking our daughter back and forth to school (we live up the street, and therefore ineligible for bus service through the school).

    I'm looking forward to having a bike again, as it won't aggravate the injury above my knee near as much as walking.

  • Gil Johnson (unverified)

    Jenni--I don't know what kind of injury you have, but when I had knee surgery last year, I asked my orthopedist if I could continue riding my bike and he said it was the best thing I could do for it.

    Aside from all the environmental and economic benefits, bicycling has psychological benefits. A ride to work on a crisp morning really clears the head. The exercise makes you fitter and makes your mind work better, too.

    Besides, it's just fun to ride a bike.

    Portland's conversion of side streets to "bike boulevards" by mainly getting rid of most of the stop signs and adding speed bumps is a good idea--if only the city would let the public know where they are. It makes a commute a lot more pleasant than dealing with cars adjacent to your bike lane. I'm still lobbying for elevated bike freeways, though.

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    if only the city would let the public know where they are.

    Gil, Google is your friend. Try Googling "portland bike map" and you'll land on this rather helpful page.

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    I don't know what type of injury it is either, so we're even. After a MRI and two different ultrasounds, the doctors were clueless. There's an obvious lump just above my knee, which regularly hurts and becomes painful if I do too much walking. Their response was that I must have injured a ligament or something and that it would heal over time. That was about a year ago, and it's still there. I may have to see about getting a referral to a specialist to see if they can figure something out.

    But I'm pretty sure that biking will be easier on it than walking since I won't have the impact of walking going through my leg.

    And you're right - a bike ride on a nice day is great for clearing your head. The only thing I miss is having my music to listen to - and having car windows to insulate the sound of me singing along. ; )

  • Gil Johnson (unverified)

    Kari--Looks like they upgraded the map since I last looked at it a few months ago. However, though the city bike people are talking about "bike boulevards," those streets are labeled "shared roadway" on this map, a nomenclature that doesn't give me the impression of a safe and fast bike route.

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    Well, it all depends. The shared roadways marked on the City's bike map aren't all designated bike boulevards -- theoretically those have crossings of major streets as well as turned stop signs and discouraged cut-throughs (not just speed bumps but diverters, such as 16th and Tillamook or 39th and Clinton).

    We only have a few official boulevards so far, and even those need to be improved (for example, the stop sign at SE 23rd and Salmon and the stop signs at Ladd's Circle need to come out).

  • Lenny Anderson (unverified)

    Dispite all the talk in Portland about Bike Boulevards, we actually have a few Bikeways...no real Boulevards, and these still have plenty of cars, few signs, mostly just the little "bike dots." If Portland is the wave of the future here, I'm a bit skeptical; we have yet to built a single true Bike Boulevard. PS for tired knees, just keep gear down and enjoy the ride.

  • Gil Johnson (unverified)

    There's a bit of a debate among cyclists as to whether bikes should be treated like other vehicles on the road and thus share any given street with automobiles--or, be given some different status and perhaps segregated bikeways.

    As an experienced rider, I prefer to ride on as direct a route as possible, which means riding on main thoroughfares quite a bit (though I don't ever ride on southeast 39th Ave. except for a block or so on a sidewalk). If Portland is ever to get its percentage of commutes by bike up into double digits, however, the infrastructure for bicycling needs to be vastly improved and more true bikeways need to be built.

    <h2>And for those of you who grouse about spending money on bicyclin amenities, the return on investment for bicycling infrastructure is way higher than for any other means of transportation.</h2>
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