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Q&A: NYC’s top biking advocate wants you to talk more about death

Friday, March 27th, 2015
Paul Steely White at the 2010
National Bike Summit.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Talking about “livable streets” is out; talking about “safe streets” is in.

That’s the advice from Paul Steely White, executive director of the country’s largest local transportation advocacy group. The executive director of New York City-based Transportation Alternatives since 2004, White was a major force behind the city’s emergence as a national leader in reimagining streets as pleasant public spaces.

But as he heads to Portland for a keynote address Monday to the Oregon Active Transportation Summit, White is urging his fellow believers in livable streets to readjust their message when talking to politicians and the public. We spoke by phone on Thursday about why and how his organization has put Vision Zero, the campaign to completely eliminate road deaths, at the middle of their message.

Are you on a national Vision Zero tour, or is this a one-off thing?


Five ideas from NYC’s ‘Vision Zero’ plan that Portland could steal

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Tomorrow, Portland’s city council is expected to approve a project (item 234) that’s likely to chart the city’s shift to “Vision Zero,” the philosophy that nothing — not vehicle speed, not road capacity, not even economic productivity — is more important to the transportation system than preventing the serious injury or death of a person on the road.

It’s a provocative idea. But what exactly does it mean the city would do that it doesn’t already do today?


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.


The Monday Roundup: NYC’s CitiBike and more

Monday, May 27th, 2013

Happy Memorial Day, Portland. As you might have noticed, Jonathan and I will be serving up bike-related reporting for the next two weeks by way of a transcontinental tag-team. Let’s start things off with the national bike news that caught our eyes in the last week.

New York City’s long-awaited CitiBike sharing system launched today, and it’s the talk of the town and the bike world in general. With 14,000 annual memberships presold at about $100 apiece, it’s poised to be the biggest win yet for Portland-based Alta Bicycle Share, which operates the systems. Here are some interesting tidbits from this week’s coverage of CitiBike:

— The New York Times showed how the modern bikeshare system was invented in Paris, improved in London, priced in DC and built on station hardware from Montreal. In another piece, the paper reports that experts seem to agree that bikesharing will be remembered as the key achievement of Michael Bloomberg’s 12 years of transportation reforms. “If this is the playoffs, what’s the finals?” says Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. “As far as I’m concerned, we’re there.”


Video of the Week: Scenes from a New York City bike lane

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Just finished watching My Commuted Commute, a video that I think everyone should spend five minutes to check out. A woman from New York City, Rachel Brown, shot helmet cam footage and offers commentary about what it’s like to ride in one of the new, green-painted, curbside bike lanes. For all the positive buzz NYC is getting lately, this video shows that it takes much more than paint to create a truly functional lane for bike traffic.


Blumenauer takes a ride in New York City

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009
Blumenauer (in green jacket) avoids
a taxi while riding on Sixth Ave.
-Watch video below-

U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer went for a ride with bike advocates in New York City over the weekend and Streetfilms was there to capture the action.

Blumenauer rolled down the bike lane on Sixth Ave, calling the experience “pretty grim”. However, when he turned onto the cycle track on Ninth, his feelings “changed completely”.

Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, shared how far New York City has come in recent years:

“We started years ago aspiring to be Portland, looking to Portland for best practices, now we’re at the point in New York where Portland is actually borrowing from us.”


From NYC: Behind the scenes of the Livable Streets Network

Friday, January 30th, 2009

[Publisher's note: This story was written by Managing Editor Elly Blue during her recently concluded East Coast Tour.]

Sarah Goodyear, Livable Streets
Network editor and community manager
(Photos: Elly Blue)

While I was in New York briefly, I met up with Sarah Goodyear, editor and community manager of the recently launched Livable Streets Blog Network. Billed as “the national blog network for sustainable transport, smart growth, and livable streets,” the network is the brainchild of Aaron Naparstek, editor-in-chief of (Both the network and StreetsBlog are part of umbrella organizaton The Open Planning Project.)

A sampling of New York’s new livable streets infrastructure

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

Before heading out for lunch with Livable Streets Network editor Sarah Goodyear, we took a couple of quick detours to check out some of the more interesting livable streets initiatives in the West Village.

This is my favorite moment on the 9th Ave cycle track — this didn’t make it into my other post about the track and its many uses. (Photos: Elly Blue)


On the street in NYC: Checking out the 9th Ave. cycletrack

Friday, January 9th, 2009

“Over the few blocks that I rode, I saw it used in a number of ways, including actual cycling.”

While I was in New York City for a few hours on Wednesday on my way from New Haven to Baltimore, I took the Brompton for a rainy ride down the new 9th Avenue cycletrack. The cycletrack, common in Copenhagen and Amsterdam but still relatively rare in the US, is a bike lane that is physically separated from motor vehicle traffic.

Portland is building a cycle track in the Northeast Cully neighborhood, and new mayor Sam Adams has pledged to build a higher-profile one in his first 100 days in office.

StreetFilms captured some New Yorkers’ first reactions to this cycletrack, the city’s first.

Since then, New Yorkers have incorporated the cycletrack into their daily life. Over the few blocks that I rode, I saw it used in a number of ways, including actual cycling. Below are some photos and more of my thoughts: (more…)

A video and a visit from NYC’s DOT Commissioner

Monday, October 27th, 2008

The city famously known for blaring horns, torrential traffic and crazy cabbies has become a national leader in creating livable streets. Leading that charge is Janette Sadik-Khan, head of the NYC Department of Transportation.

Sadik-Khan is fast-becoming a rock star in transportation circles.

Supported by effective advocacy, Sadik-Khan has begun to establish a new transportation hierarchy in her city where she has “revamped streetscapes designed to encourage carfree movement and foster social activity.” (according to Streetfilms). (more…)

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