Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Does Portland need a bicycle lift?

Posted by on October 25th, 2006 at 11:22 pm


[The Bicycle Lift in action]
Photo: Trampe

Vancouver (WA) transportation planner, Europhile, and innovative bike infrastructure guru Todd Boulanger just sent me a link about an interesting device called The Bicycle Lift.

The lift operates with a key card purchased at a local bike shop. Then you, “put your right foot on the foot rest and sit back on your bicycle seat while you glide up the 130 meter hill at a comfortable speed of 2 meters a second.”

It’s made by a Norwegian company and so far there’s only one in everyday use. It’s in a Norwegian college town called Trondheim, which is the third largest and most bike-friendly town in all of Norway (coincidence?). Here’s more on the town’s website.

I was struck with the simplicity and utility of The Bicycle Lift because I know that, for many people, hills are a huge barrier to cycling. Sometimes, one significant incline is all that stands behind a potential bike commuter and another car on the roads (sad, but true).

According to the manufacturer they’ve had over 220,000 people use the lift since 1993 with no accidents.

I can think of at least two places in Portland where this would be absolutely perfect; the Mississippi/Albina hill and Interstate Blvd. from the Widmer Brewery to Kaiser Hospital.

It may not be as cool or high-profile as the new Tram, but it wouldn’t cost nearly as much either.

[UPDATE: Back in August, Portland Transport posted a video of this thing in action.]

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  • Shawn Kielty October 25, 2006 at 11:29 pm

    Is that better than riding?

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  • Chris Smith October 25, 2006 at 11:37 pm

    A while back on Portland Transport we had a link to a video of this thing in operation.

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  • SKiDmark October 25, 2006 at 11:56 pm

    I’ve seen it in use on Globetrekker. It is a great idea but sadly I think the average American cyclist doesn’t have the coordination for it. I think it would be a lawsuit waiting to happen.

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  • Andre October 26, 2006 at 12:15 am

    I doubt it would work on interstate because what space there is, is bounded by the hillside and the max tracks. So unless you would push the retaining wall back (sounds quite difficult) or push the max tracks over and as such the southbound lane (sounds difficult) there would never been enough space for both cyclists cycling and cyclists getting a lift.

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  • no one in particular October 26, 2006 at 12:31 am

    4.5 mph? yeek. I could beat that with a brisk walk.

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  • Carl October 26, 2006 at 12:48 am

    Those are fun/a little scary at first. Portland would need some real, high-traffic, downtown hills, though. I’m holding out for the Zoo-Mt. Tabor zipline.

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  • JE October 26, 2006 at 12:58 am

    Vote #2 for Interstate from Widmer to the hospital. Maybe another up the west hills somewhere to connect Portland with Hillsboro & Beaverton.

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  • chris October 26, 2006 at 2:17 am

    that’s kinda cool. for portland i think it’s a pretty silly idea though. i live on interstate and alternate between going up interstate and albina/miss. and still think it’s silly (and i go up more often than not on one of my fixies geared at over 3:1).

    and yeah, a lawsuit waiting to happen is right…

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  • Eric October 26, 2006 at 5:33 am

    It would make my commute up Corbett so much eaiser. I really hate that hill.

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  • ben October 26, 2006 at 6:05 am

    i second the zipline!

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  • Jonathan Maus October 26, 2006 at 7:07 am

    That’s a great video Chris. Thanks for sharing. Somehow I missed it on your site. I’ve added it to the post.

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  • Gregg October 26, 2006 at 9:22 am

    The best way to get up Interstate would be to just install handles on the sides of the MAX that cyclists could grab on to. Problem solved!

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  • Carye Bye October 26, 2006 at 9:26 am

    I was in trondhiem, Norway two years ago and saw the bike lift with my own eyes -( I took extensive photos but they were put on CDR that I unfortunately can’t read, and the photos are most likely lost) I read about the bike lift in a travel guide. No one was using it, and the hill didn’t seem so bad (though I didn’t go up it to see how far the lift went). It seemed overly complicated, I couldn’t figure out how to ride it and hung around hoping someone would, but no such luck. I saw bicyclists go up the hill themselves, and maybe they either don’t want to pay for the lift or feel it’s too “wussy” to need to lift. But perhaps it is used more in the winters – It was a glorious summer day when I was there. I’d say it’s better if you can just pay when you get there as well, otherwise you have to find a bikeshop to use it – which means if you are not familar, you wouldn’t use it. I’d pay at least once just for the novelty. Also Trondheim had the yellow bike program, but all the bikes had been stolen, and there were just empty stands everywhere. It’s a beautiful bike friendly town anyway and definitely worth a visit if anyone is going to Norway.

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  • mykle October 26, 2006 at 11:01 am

    hey, the Alameda Ridge is a way bigger hill than that wimpy Mississippi Ave one.

    i’d love to know what one of these really costs. i think it’s likely that the bikers with keys have signed a liability waiver so the lawsuit problem doesn’t worry me so much.

    but it’s the people who aren’t fit enough to climb the hill on their bikes who i worry might not be fit enough to work the lift …

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  • pdxrocket October 26, 2006 at 12:55 pm

    No thanks, I’ll use good ol’ fashion muscles to get up the hill. Even on the hilliest of hills I can at least take a pace of 6mph.

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  • Dabby October 26, 2006 at 1:12 pm

    Save the city a bunch of money and pedal your ass up the hill.
    These are quaint, yet useless, except for the old and the sheepish, walking up a hill is faster.
    I could see the city spending 1 million dollars on such a thing.
    Let’s build another homeless shelter or something.
    Something realistic.

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  • Cecil October 26, 2006 at 1:34 pm

    Gotta say I agree with Dabby on this one – I can’t think of any hill in this town that is both steep enough and traveled enough to merit a lift, and to construct one would be more for good publicity than for the good of the public.

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  • Jonathan Maus October 26, 2006 at 1:38 pm

    I don’t know, I still think the Mississippi hill is steep enough and well-traveled enough that this could work. Maybe we could order a turbo-charged version ;-).

    And just think, if Fabian Mills had used one on his way to work, he might still be working at Starbucks ;-).

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  • stereo October 26, 2006 at 1:38 pm

    The cost as shown would be 160 to 200k according to their website. Also they charge 15 dollars for a 1 year pass to use it so I doubt that cost is that much of an issue as to whether people choose to use it or not.

    For comparison adding a traffic signal for cars costs around 115k, 500k with signal improvements.
    (source http://www.arkansashighways.com/Roadway/Costs%20per%20Mile.pdf?Record_Number=8 )

    I’d rather we spent our transportation dollars on bikes than cars, although I think there may be higher priorities. Also it never says how steep the hill is but in my experience european and scandinavian roads are often much steeper than anything you’d find in the US, and Portland overall is pretty flat.

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  • Cecil October 26, 2006 at 5:39 pm

    Now this hill could use a lift


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  • Paul October 26, 2006 at 8:48 pm

    Actually these sorts of improvements might seem silly – but think of other ways to accomplish it. Like a dedicated bus system for cyclists getting over the West Hills – just a shuttle over the steep stuff. Maybe some sort of low floor thats open in the back and allows cyclists to ride on and off. (Like a ferry)

    Random brainstorm…..

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  • Dabby October 26, 2006 at 11:40 pm

    We don’t need to use anymore money towards bicycling if we just pay attention, and ride our bikes, even up hills.
    Millions of dollars being spent on bike lanes and bicycle boulevards.
    Millions, and millions being spent on more trains, and more trolleys, and of course, the Stupid Tram.
    We don’t even need more bike lanes. We just need more attentive drivers.
    Paul, I could imagine a “Ferry” style bus costing as much as one Tri Met Death trolley, whether your thought was in folly or not.
    But, what is the cost of a little more pedaling?

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  • josh m October 27, 2006 at 1:01 am

    if my fat ass can make it up every hill on a fixed gear bike, or find a route to bypass the hill, anyone can.

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  • Sam Livingston-Gray October 27, 2006 at 10:21 am

    The video made it sound pretty loud.

    Meh. Maybe if there were a pull handle like a snow tube lift, I could use something like that on my recumbent… but with my bike not fitting on Tri-Met’s bus racks, and weighing something like 40 lbs plus cargo, I guess I’ve just got used to grannying it up hills or finding an alternate route.

    File under “gimmicky, but not terribly useful.”

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  • Brad October 27, 2006 at 5:03 pm

    Can’t pedal up hils? Then buy a motorcycle! I ride over the West Hills from Hillsboro and back every workday. My toned quads are a freakin’ badge of honor!

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  • tonyt October 27, 2006 at 5:19 pm

    “Gimmicky but not terribly useful.” Hmm, perhaps when you’re young and healthy. Anyone notice the age of the man using said bike lift?

    You know, one of the coolest things about bike culture in Europe is that everyone is represented, including old people. It’s something that you don’t think of until you go there and you see some old lady, and I mean OLD, riding her bike down the street and it just blows your mind.

    I for one would like a survey of the ages of all those poo pooing this idea. Yeah, I’m not so sure this is THE answer, but being someone who plans on spending a good majority of my life here, there will come a time when I still want to ride my bike all over the place, but probably won’t be able to handle many of the hills. Now that I think of it, maybe I’ll install an electric assist by that point, so maybe I’m contradicting myself. I don’t know.

    Anyway, my real point is NOT what will help me when I get old. I just think perhaps we need to widen our vision when we talk about making this town bike friendly. Perhaps we shouldn’t forget our elders and their needs. We shouldn’t just assume that they love to take the bus.

    I’d just like us to open our minds and perhaps entertain this, and other ideas, and not be so eager to dismiss it and brag about our own physical prowess.

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  • SKiDmark October 27, 2006 at 7:29 pm

    There is already a way over the West Hills ( if you are not Mr. Uberquads) it’s called the Max. Works fine for me.

    I am poo-pooing the idea and I am 40 and so is Dabby. There aren’t that many hills in this city that you can’t get up even on a singlespeed or a fixed. It’s easier to climb with a fixed anyhow.

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  • Dabby October 28, 2006 at 2:21 am

    Truly I will admit that in Europe, there are a lot more older, I mean much older, cyclists on the road.
    Yet, this is not even close to the case here in Portland.
    So, comparing cycling in Europe to cycling in Portland is a mute point.
    There is no comparison. We lose.
    With the drivers we have here in Portland, and with slower, older citizens riding more bikes on the road, would come higher death rates for cyclists.
    We do not have attentive enough drivers.
    Hell, we don’t even have attentive enough cyclists!
    But we do have a city willing to spend mucho useless dollarino’s to increase ridership.
    A deadly combination?
    You make the call.

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  • amanda October 28, 2006 at 9:52 am

    I second tonyt’s comments. While such a thing might not be feasible in Portland, it is an interesting idea and cyclists wanting to keep improving Portland for biking should keep thinking outside the box. I recently moved back to Portland from Eugene and, in my unscientific sampling, the range of ages among cyclists is far greater there than in Portland. I think that can be attributed, in part, to the terrain of Eugene and the lower traffic. Both terrain and traffic can pose more of a barrier in Portland so you need to think more critically about how to overcome them (which, I think, bikeportland.org does a great job doing).

    I’m still learning to be a more avid cyclist. For instance, I will start commuting to my new job in a week. The only thing between my house and work is downtown Portland. I’m daunted. Hopefully, in a year, I’ll be among those poo-poohing those wimpy cyclists afraid to brave downtown morning traffic but for now I’m still testing the waters. In order to encourage cycling and keep building that critical mass you’ve got to recognize the barriers that people face.

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  • Random girl October 28, 2006 at 10:14 am

    So Dabby, what I’m hearing from you is that we shouldn’t put any money into making cycling safer and we shouldn’t encourage people to ride their bicycles more. You want cycling to just be for you and your friends? What is your solution? Just curious.

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  • Macaroni October 28, 2006 at 6:42 pm

    Oh, brother…

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  • SKiDmark October 28, 2006 at 8:05 pm

    They should make cell phone use while driving a car illegal. Almost every time someone turns without signal and/or “doesn’t see me” there are blathering on the phone. We do have some of the worst drivers I have EVER experienced.

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  • Frankie October 28, 2006 at 8:58 pm

    This would be terrific in San Diego. I was actually just thinking of this type of lift a few months back but I finally decided that its not gonna happen anytime soon so I got an electric bike instead. I was actually thinking along the lines of using your hands and grabbing a rail to pull you along but this one looks simpler.

    The hill on University Ave under the Georgia bridge is a very good candidate for this. 5th, 6th and Park Boulevard coming from downtown would also benefit from this.

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  • SKiDmark October 28, 2006 at 10:12 pm

    They should have just kept the trolley going from downtown to Hillcrest. It used to go up Park Blvd.

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  • Macaroni October 29, 2006 at 12:17 am

    I’m still trying to figure out what hill on Mississippi/Albina you’re talking about. I think there is a slight incline. And the Alameda Ridge hill – Ridgewood – that’s a piece of cake. We’re at sea level pretty much, can’t get more oxygen than that.
    A few years ago I toured Hell’s Canyon and we rode fully loaded, front and back, up two 10-mile long hills, no exaggeration, at 2 mph. I had a bike computer to measure it. I know I’m bragging, but that’s something I’ll never forget, going 2 excruciating mph for so long, in the heat.

    BTW I’m a 49 yrs young female. Shoot me if I ever need a machine to assist me up a hill. I’d walk my bike first even though my motto is “never walk your bike!” When I’m 85 and decrepit, I’ll ride a Ducati. I’m pretty sure we won’t have gas/diesel powered vehicles by then, however. Only for the very wealthy, maybe.

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  • Jill October 29, 2006 at 12:49 am

    How lazy can we get? We’re cyclists, remember?

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  • SKiDmark October 29, 2006 at 11:59 am

    Do you really lose that many hardcore points by getting off your bike and pushing it up a hill? I guess I have no shame.

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  • josh m October 29, 2006 at 4:30 pm

    hey, i walked my ass up 17th to prescott last night, no shame here.

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  • Cecil October 29, 2006 at 4:40 pm

    Rather than push your bike up the hill, it is better to just stop for a few moments, stand there, recoup, get back on the bike and start pedaling again. I’ve done both methods more than a few time in my life and have learned from experience that it takes less effort to stop, rest ,and continue pedaling than it does to walk up while shoving your bike. You get to the top faster, you don’t have to deal with other riders either asking if you are okay or jeering at you, and you don’t run the risk of whacking the back of your calf with your pedal or chain ring :-).

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  • tonyt October 31, 2006 at 5:42 pm

    Hey Skidmark, I’m 39 so when I say OLD you don’t count. (And I agree, it is easier to climb on a fixie.)

    Seriously, stretch your mind and entertain the dumb ideas for just a little while, talk about them, try not to just one-up each other and stop putting people’s ideas down. Sure you can argue about them, but dismissing them out of hand is just lazy. Isn’t that the mentality that makes most cities from getting better? Isn’t that closed-mindedness the problem?

    Yea! We’re young and strong! Let’s all pat ourselves on the back for that one. Whoopee! But we will one day be old, or dead. Two options there. And there are older people who could benefit greatly if we, the cycling community expanded our vision beyond our current youth. And just telling them to take the Max is a cop-out.

    We need to see the absence (for the most part) of older (and I’m talking 60s, 70s, and 80s) as a challenge to change things, not as an excuse to keep things the same way.

    And anyone who thinks that Portland has the worst drivers needs to freakin’ commute for 10 years in Ohio and elsewhere. Hardly a day went by when I wasn’t flipped off or honked at and had things thrown at me. Compared to Ohio, NY, or North Carolina, all places I’ve lived and commuted, Portland is Nirvana. Not that the cell phones don’t piss me off too.

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  • SKiDmark October 31, 2006 at 6:08 pm

    Hey tonyt, I am one year older than you. I have seen a video of exactly how that device works and I honestly think that the average American cyclist would fall, screw up their ankle and call a lawyer.

    I recommended taking the MAX from the west side to downtown because that is what I do most of the time. I minimise the stops by riding 5 miles to Beaverton Transit Center and I get off at Goose Hollow, because at that point I can beat that train across downtown.

    I lived in Boston and in Southern California and Oregon drivers are the least skilled and the most inattentive I have ever run into. I have also driven cross-country twice. I will take aggresive drivers over these autozombies any day.

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  • tonyt October 31, 2006 at 6:34 pm

    Hmm, aggressive drivers v. autozombies. Sounds like a short bike film in the making.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on the Oregon drivers thing. I feel MUCH safer here. My record for being hit here stands at one autozombie, one aggressive driver. The aggressive driver incident (running a red light) was much, much scarier. And no, she wasn’t inattentive, she was aggressively running that light. A nurse at Emmanuel no less!

    Speaking of age, I’d like to give a shout out and full props to Dean who at 49 is placing in the top 5 in the Cross Crusade single-speed category against guys half his age. Go Dean!

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