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City lunch panel this week recalls ‘Portland before Platinum’

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015
Earl Blumenauer in Portland-5.jpg
Mia Birk of Alta Planning + Design
is one of four speakers.
(Photo: J.Maus/bikePortland)

The Portland Bureau of Transportation’s monthly bike-themed lunchtime speaking series has a particularly intriguing agenda this Thursday.

Four local women who’ve been riding the city for quite some time will be sharing stories about Portland’s biking history. The panel includes Anndy Wiselogle (founder, in 1976, of the Bicycle Repair Collective, among other things); Mia Birk, Portland’s first bicycle coordinator and an early principal at pioneering bike-infrastructure firm Alta Planning and Design; Jessica Roberts, an onetime Bicycle Transportation Alliance employee and more recent principal at Alta; and Barb Grover, a onetime Bike Gallery marketer who cofounded cargo-bike specialty shop Splendid Cycles.

Here’s the official description from the PBOT Bicycle Lunch and Learn page:


NYC investment company buys Alta Bicycle Share, hires former transit CEO

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014
Bike share ride with Oregon team-1
DC’s Capital Bikeshare system was a hit – a bigger one, it turned out, than an independently owned Alta Bicycle Share had the capacity to capitalize on.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

You might have heard by now: A local bike business that bootstrapped its way to the national stage, and then suffered a dizzying series of problems, has sold.

Alta Bicycle Share, a startup that unexpectedly became much larger than the bike planning company that birthed it after launching popular and successful systems in Boston and Washington DC, announced Tuesday that it has been purchased by New York City real estate developer REQX Ventures.

Terms of the deal haven’t been disclosed. In July, the Wall Street Journal pegged the deal at $40 million, but it’s not clear whether any of that money went to Alta’s founders or will be invested directly into the company. It’s also not clear whether Alta’s six cofounders (including local executive and former Portland bicycle coordinator Mia Birk) retain any ownership in the firm.


Alta releases statement on employee wage inquiry

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

Portland-based Alta Bicycle Share has released an official statement about an inquiry into the companies employee labor practices. At the end of last month, sixteen current and past employees of the Alta-run Capital Bikeshare system in Washington D.C., went public with allegations that the company had underpaid them and failed to provide federally mandated health benefits. An online petition in the form of a letter to Alta VP Mia Birk has over 1,500 signatures.

Alta released a brief statement on May 27th and Birk commented on the issue in a BikePortland story on June 11th; but today’s statement offers their most detailed explanation of the issue to date.

Mia Birk, Alta Bicycle Share face scrutiny over labor practices, Citibike hiccups

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013
Behind the scenes at Capital Bikeshare-30-2
A Capital Bikeshare employee “rebalances” bikes
at a docking site near Union Station. Some past and
current employees claim they’ve been underpaid
by Portland-based Alta Bicycle Share.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

It’s been a rough few weeks for Alta Bicycle Share VP Mia Birk. The roll-out of the massive and high-profile Citibike system has by many measures been a huge success. But it has also been marred by public allegations of illegal labor practices in Washington D.C. and software glitches and poor customer service in New York City. This bad PR isn’t new for Alta as they’ve come under fire in the past for delayed launches and last year a rival company accused them of unfair conduct while competing for a bikeshare contract in Chicago.

In Washington D.C., a former employee of Alta’s Capital Bikeshare says he was underpaid and not given the health benefits he’s due under federal contract law. Alta operates the Capital Bikeshare under contract with D.C.’s Department of Transportation. Here’s an excerpt from a Washington Post story on May 6th: (more…)

As CitiBike launches, what’s next for Portland’s Alta Bicycle Share?

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013
Alta Bicycle Share principal Mia Birk explains Portland's future system to possible sponsors
Alta Bicycle Share principal Mia Birk explains
Portland’s future system to possible sponsors
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Portland-based company that leads the nation in bikesharing just enjoyed its biggest launch yet, kicking off a 6,000-bike deal worth tens of millions of dollars over the next few years. And for Alta Bicycle Share, 2013 is only going to get more interesting.

Alta’s system is planning to launch in Chicago in “late summer.” San Francisco and the Bay Area are slated to join Alta’s empire in August with 350 bikes, and Columbus will get a 300-bike fleet in July. Alta already operates systems in Washington, Boston, and now New York City, meaning the company’s municipal bikeshare systems will be in five of the country’s 10 biggest metro areas by year’s end. Waiting in Alta’s wings: Vancouver BC, Seattle, and of course Portland. (Atlanta and Philadelphia, two more top-10 metro areas, seem to be on their way to bikesharing, too, and Alta will be a strong contender.)

This sort of growth is huge for a company that’s less than four years old — and also risky for a company that just lost a top executive to a possible competitor and has had to weather serious technical delays and complicated labor issues in the middle of its rapid expansion.

So I decided to talk to two national bikesharing experts about Portland’s locally-grown industry leader and the future of bikesharing in general. The two were Matt Christensen, managing editor of, a Santa Monica-based website that posts jobs and other news about the bikesharing industry; and Paul DeMaio, founder of DC-based bikeshare consulting firm MetroBike LLC, who’s been publishing The Bike-sharing Blog for six years now.

bikeshare experts Matt Christensen and Paul DeMaio’s Matt Christensen and MetroBike LLC’s Paul DeMaio.

Both of these guys were thoughtful, frank and upbeat in their assessment of where Alta and the concept of bikesharing are headed. The questions and answers below have been combined from separate interviews that covered many of the same subjects.


Mia Birk of Alta Bicycle Share says Portland’s system “Will allow us to fulfill the 2030 vision”

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012
Capital Bikeshare-3
Get ready Portland, it’s coming!.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

On Friday afternoon, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) announced that Alta Bicycle Share had won the contract to operate the Portland Bike Share system. Given Alta’s Portland headquarters, their success in nabbing major bike share projects around the country, and Birk’s own close connections with the City of Portland (she used to run the City’s bike program and her other company Alta Planning + Design is a frequent contractor), the decision wasn’t a huge surprise.

But while Birk’s company had a huge head start in the race for this contract, PBOT must have also been aware of the flood of headlines about software problems and delays that have dogged Alta Bicycle Share for the past few months.

To learn more from Alta’s perspective, and to get an update on the issues underlying that publicity, I asked Birk a few questions via email… (more…)

In Vancouver, Mia Birk rallies members of local bike club

Monday, November 14th, 2011
Mia Birk
(Photo © J. Maus)

Author and CEO Mia Birk presented her book, Joy Ride, to the Vancouver Bicycle Club (VBC) on Wednesday at the new downtown Vancouver library.

Introduced by Portland’s own Joe “Metal Cowboy” Kurmaskie, Birk informed the crowd of about 60 VBC members that Portland’s famous bicycling atmosphere didn’t happen overnight. (more…)

Mia Birk: New York City bike share is game-changer on many levels

Thursday, September 15th, 2011
Mia Birk, President of Alta Planning + Design and Principal of its sister company Alta Bicycle Share photographed yesterday at a celebration of their selection as operators of New York City Bike Share.
(Photos © J. Maus)


How two leaders respond to thorny bike issues

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

“Together, let’s say, ‘I solemnly pledge to behave as considerately as possible no matter how I get around.’”
— Part of a crowd exercise led by Mia Birk in response to a fired up citizen

One of the many things that keeps my fire burning here at BikePortland is a sense that knowledge is power. I know it’s almost trite, but from where I sit, it’s something that proves itself almost every day. Bottom line is that when you know the context of an issue and you know how to respectfully convey your opinion, you can have a huge influence.

On that note, I wanted to bring to your attention two very smart people who have recently shared how they responded to two issues that have a long and storied history of thorniness in the bike world — helmet use and the ‘all-cyclists-are-scofflaws-and-we-need-to-start-enforcing-laws-against-them’ thing.

Mia Birk brings her ‘Joyride’ to Powell’s Books

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

This just in… our friend Mia Birk is set for a special author event at Powell’s Books:

“Joyride, Pedaling Toward a Healthier Planet” tells the dramatic and enlightening behind-the-scenes story of how a group of determined visionaries transformed Portland into a cycling mecca and inspired the nation, over the course of 20 years. Featuring local projects and people in Portland, author Mia Birk shares the fascinating history of the Steel Bridge, painting stripes on Southeast 7th Avenue, and other pivotal moments in bicycle history, accomplished while convincing a skeptical public.

Mia Birk, President of Alta Planning + Design
Founder of the Initiative for Bicycle and Pedestrian Innovation
Adviser to the Post-Carbon Institute
Author of Joyride, Pedaling Toward a Healthier Planet

Mia Birk will be giving a free talk about her book and the experiences that led to writing it. Q & A and raffle to follow.

Tuesday, January 4th, at 7:30 pm.

Powell’s Books, Downtown, 1005 W Burnside, Portland, OR 97209

Mia Birk was the City of Portland Bicycle Program Manager from 1993-99, where she led a period of rapid growth of Portland’s bikeway network. As a consultant, she has been involved across North America in hundreds of bicycle, pedestrian, trail and corridor plans, and has managed the public process, design and implementation of many new bikeways and walkways, as well as programs such as Safe Routes to School, bike-transit integration, bicycle and pedestrian-friendly development and bikeway/walkway maintenance. She has led numerous groundbreaking studies in the field of non-motorized transportation and is a co-founder of the Cities for Cycling project of the National Association for City Transportation Officials, and the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals.

Mia has 20 years experience in sustainable transportation focused on pedestrian, bicycle, trail and greenway planning, design and implementation. She is also Adjunct Professor at Portland State University, where she co-founded the Initiative for Bicycle and Pedestrian Innovation in the College of Urban Studies.

Mia’s been featured on the cover of Momentum Magazine; been written up in media sources ranging from blogs such as BikePortland, Bike Intelligencer, and CarFreeAmerican, to top sources such as The Huffington Post,The New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Oregonion. She’s appeared on the Sundance Channel, Streetfilms, CBS News, and KBOO. A longer media list is available here.

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