Building Portland’s Bicycling Future: If Not Now, When?

NYC transformed in just 3 years.

To find examples of 21st-century bike infrastructure, coupled with a serious dedication to dial back the dominance of the SOV, we now have to look well beyond Portland.

There is a great piece on BikePortland that sums up many of the challenges our local political leadership has faced (and created) when it comes to our bicycling future.  Some reactions to the story paint Jonathan’s article as overly negative or feel that it ignores the many bike improvements we’ve enjoyed in 2010.

I have no doubt that Mayor Adams has made great strides forward for biking and walking in this city, but that does not mean we should not be disappointed. If we look to what other cities are accomplishing, I can’t help but feel Portland is moving at a glacial pace, and it seems clear that Adams is in some sort of holding-pattern when it comes to pushing forward on systemic bike network  improvements.

Call me crazy, but we’re at an intersection of many local and global crises that we must mitigate, and these challenges require a radical shift in not only our travel habits, but our lives as we know it. Portland leads the way in this regard when it comes to mass transit, but our current leadership is uncomfortable pressing forward on this perceptibly contentious issue. Yet Portland’s vanguard role in the building of new transit means little if we refuse to dial down our inequitable support and subsidization of the SOV, which is clearly not a priority in our region, let alone Portland.

I like bike boulevards, but we can do a lot better. Our mode share has quickly outgrown our previous investments. If bikeways were like highways, we would be pushing for bigger and better, but somehow we’ve been conditioned to believe we only deserve a small sliver of the right of way.

Without decisive political leadership on this, we will never reach our long-established goals of higher ridership, real environmental & economic sustainability, improved health & happiness and true world-class status.

Maybe there will be a special moment in the future where a paradigm shift will occur and real support for urban bicycling will become much easier to achieve, but we simply can’t afford to kick that can down the road any longer.  We understand that without better infrastructure, we won’t be able to get a larger chunk of the population out of their cars and onto bicycles.  If there is currently not enough “public support” for better bikeways, as our political leadership says, then when will there ever be? If not now, when?

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