Is anyone as tired as I am hearing about how Portland, Oregon is some sort of angelic eco-city? PDX is an American bicycle nirvana, leaving everywhere but Davis, CA in the dust-allegedly. Am I the only one who remembers a toxic Willamette River, Skinheads who killed people, and Portland drivers so hostile to cyclists that a good friend of mine used to bike around with an extra chain to retaliate against anyone who tried to run him off the road?
I hadn’t been to Portland in three years and hadn’t biked there in longer. I was going to a conference at Portland State and decided to bring my bike and witness the city’s bike miracle first hand.
I stayed with friends in South East. The street they live on is a designated bike street. That means signage, bike lane connections, and roundabouts at intersections that discourage car through-traffic. They are professionals who have a 3-year-old, and both work downtown. They just bought a bike-trailer to take the their kid into daycare on the way to work. Their bike commute takes all of seven minutes and includes great bike lanes on big arterials and a trip across the Hawthorne Bridge.
Shadowing them across the bridge I felt like I was riding on a bike route actually designed by a cyclist; entrance and exits worked great, separation from pedestrians was logical, everything seemed well-maintained.
Portland cyclists come in all shapes, sizes, genders, and ages. Regular folks-not just road warriors. Other cyclists actually smiled at me while I was riding, as if to say “Hey, isn’t it great we’re all riding bikes?” This doesn’t happen to me in Spokane, not because of a lack of cycling solidarity, but because if I see another cyclist here it’s usually across four lanes of car traffic. In Portland I was actually in bicycle traffic, with riders all around me.
I did encounter a few things that made me feel right at home: bike lanes that went nowhere, lack of signage, a trail that dead-ended unexpectedly. But in general, with bike racks all over, a coherent network of bike routes, and lots of fellow cyclists, Portland felt like a different two-wheeled universe than Spokane.
I was told the biggest changes there have happened in last five years. How much more bike-friendly could Spokane be in five years? It’s time to find out. We could learn a lot from our neighbor PDX.