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Cycling helps earn Portland ‘Fittest City in America’ title

Posted by on March 11th, 2014 at 8:45 am

Men’s Fitness magazine has named Portland the “Fittest City in America.” While that’s certainly something to be proud of, what makes this national recognition even more notable is that cycling got top billing in the magazine’s report.

The online version of the story opens with the author sharing his first-hand experience competing in a cyclocross race at Portland International Raceway last fall. The lead photo on the story shows a row of people riding bikes across the Broadway Bridge. There’s also an image in the story of the mural in downtown Portland that reads, “Welcome to America’s Bicycle Capitol.”

How’d Portland beat out cities like San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and New York City for top honors (and for the second year in a row no less)? Here’s an excerpt from the story:

There are dozens of ways to measure “fitness”—our 15-point proprietary formula accounts for conventional fitness as well as air quality, pedestrian and bike friendliness, obesity rates, general wellbeing, and other factors—and, all things considered, the Rose City topped our Fittest Cities list fair and square…and for the second straight year, no less. Clearly, Portlanders are doing something right.

In addition to glowing praise of how Portland’s culture encourages fitness, the magazine says being bicycle friendly is one of seven key ways cities can get more fit: Cities should “Two-wheel it at every opportunity” is how they put it.

In addition to a cyclocross race, the author also joined an evening rush-hour commute from downtown to southeast via the Hawthorne Bridge. “Crossing eastbound over the Willamette River,” he wrote, “I feel as if I’ve just merged onto a bike commuter superhighway… This bridge averages an astonishing 8,000-plus cyclist trips per day—and it’s only one of four downtown river crossings.”

While we like to debate how well our infrastructure works for bikes, or whether or not Portland’s bikeway network is as robust as it should be, I always find it interesting to read how bicycling around here feels to visitors (especially those who write for national magazines). Here’s an excerpt where the author shares his perceptions of biking around the city:

Once I’m on the road, it’s even clearer why so many people are out riding. The city practically trips over itself to accommodate bicycles, and it shows in the infrastructure. Cruising the Southeast District, I encounter signs every few blocks pointing the way—with distances and ride-time estimates—to nearby neighborhoods and major landmarks, making navigation intuitive. Bike lanes and boulevards extend in all directions, like red carpets inviting me to explore the city, safe from traffic.

In front of bars and coffee shops, bike corrals that accommodate a dozen bikes occupy what were once single-car street-parking spots. Green-painted “bike boxes” allow cyclists to wait ahead of cars at red lights, giving them a few feet advantage when the lights change. Even motorists seem genuinely concerned for my welfare.

It’s nice to see Portland singled out for being healthy, and the fact that the bicycling connection is made so blatantly clear, reinforces one of the major reasons why — when it comes to setting priorities for transportation investments — there’s simply no mode with a better return-on-investment.

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  • Jeremy Cohen March 11, 2014 at 9:06 am

    I love this! I have only lived in Portland for 4 years–Eugene before that, and a host of other places including Indianapolis, Phoenix, Santa Barbara and Western Colorado–but I appreciate when someone comes here and recognizes, despite all of our grousing about a less-than-perfect version of bike friendlyness, we are pretty dang good. There is not a single day that goes by where I don’t thank the stars at how enjoyable/safe my 14 mile, 2 kids on back urban commute is. No, we are not perfect, but compared to the 7 lane “surface” streets in Phoenix, the unplowed, sketchy shoulders of Colorado roadways and the patchy “network” of bike lanes in Eugene, I will stay right here in PDX for the long haul.

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    • J J Jr. March 11, 2014 at 3:09 pm

      Totally agree with you. It’s one of the reasons I moved here from the East Coast. Yes, there are bad apples on both sides, but, in general, I’m still extremely pleased with how Oregon (PBOT, ODOT, Metro, etc.) and Oregonians have either embraced cycling – or at least accepted it as a Portland cultural institution.

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  • gumby March 11, 2014 at 9:12 am

    All you have to do is stray into Vancouver or Beaverton to appreciate Portland’s bike friendliness.

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    • Chris I March 11, 2014 at 9:40 am

      Or go east of I-205…

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    • Lazlo March 11, 2014 at 10:46 am

      Clearly you’ve never ridden in Vancouver; it’s not bad.

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      • Cold Worker March 11, 2014 at 1:50 pm

        Having bored suburban youth scream “FAGGOT” at you is pretty cool too.

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        • GlowBoy March 13, 2014 at 12:39 pm

          Although that problem is probably worse in the suburbs, I’ve had that exact thing happen to me in downtown Portland.

          And I wouldn’t pick on Beaverton just because it’s one of the larger and better-known suburbs. Beaverton is probably the least bike-unfriendly suburb around.

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    • Todd Boulanger March 11, 2014 at 12:22 pm

      Yes and no…it all depends on what part of the “City” you ride in…Portland’s East of 205 or say downtown Vancouver. The Portland Wheelmen and other roadie groups spend a lot of their group conditioning ride time over here from what I see.

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  • JRB March 11, 2014 at 9:17 am

    I get to spend a lot of time with Europeans through my volunteer work and I often say how much better Portland is at quality of life measures than other American cities, but than I always qualify that by saying we are talking about American cities, which puts the bar really low.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love this town, moved here for a three-year stint 21 years ago. While other American cities show us how much worse it could be, however, there are a number of European cities that show us how much better.

    There’s is nothing wrong in taking a little civic pride in what we have accomplished so far just so long as we don’t lose site of the fact that we have a lot farther to go.

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  • paikikala March 11, 2014 at 9:52 am

    Sounds like the writer didn’t venture north of Broadway, east of the 70′s, west of 405, or south of Powell.

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  • Nick March 11, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Yes! Plenty of work remains to be done, but it is always helpful to travel around the country and see how much better our infrastructure is compared to so many other cities.

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  • kww March 11, 2014 at 11:59 am

    I do my part, despite the best efforts of my frenemy – bacon, to slow me down…

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  • Todd Boulanger March 11, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    Yes, Congrats to Portland. (But, don’t keep stopping to smell the roses though! Its time to stretch and reach for the next level.)

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  • Todd Boulanger March 11, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    As a transportation Planner…I used to have to travel to the suburban Netherlands in the early 90s to experience bike traffic flows like the Hawthorne…or ride in SF critical mass rides in the early 2000′s…now kids can come to Portland [and other US cities] on any sunny commute day to experience bike commute peloton mass ride.

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  • dwainedibbly March 11, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    I moved here almost 4 years ago from the edge of the Bubba Belt. People here are definitely thinner.

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  • erin g. March 12, 2014 at 7:22 am

    Well-deserved Portland appreciation! After 10 years as a PDX resident, almost everywhere else in the U.S. where I live and travel feels less bike-friendly and thus a bit tougher to go about daily rides, commutes and errands with comparable ease/minimal close-calls. I hope other growing bike cities will continue to look to Portland for examples of leadership (advocacy, infrastructure, and community), while getting creative in their own ways to achieve unique bike culture recipes that work for them.

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  • Jeff March 12, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    I grew up in Tampa Florida and I simply could not ride if I still lived there..we have it really good here and I think its important to realize that but I don’t think we should just settle for what we have right now despite how good it currently is

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