Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

A shot in the arm from Enrique Penalosa

Posted by on October 31st, 2006 at 4:36 pm

[Enrique Penalosa]
Photo: Clarence Eckerson

Last Saturday, I sat in the Bagdad Theater and heard over and over again how fantastic Portland is. The films and the speakers at a Film Celebration of Portland Transportation heaped praise upon Portland’s progressive bicycle and transportation achievements.

And then along came a Clarence Eckerson film with an interview of Enrique Penalosa.

As Mayor of Bogota Colombia from 1998-2001, Penalosa radically altered the social and cultural landscape of that city by taking bold steps to encourage use of public transportation and bicycles.

Since Clarence first sent me a preview of that interview back in April, I’ve had a post titled, “Enrique Penalosa is my hero” sitting in my “Drafts” folder. On Saturday, his words were just as powerful as when I was inspired to start that post.

I’ll let you research the man yourself (start here), but I want to share his words below. I think they’re important for us to hear because while we’re doing great things in this city to encourage alternate modes of transportation, much of the low-hanging fruit has been picked.

Now it’s time for the big projects and risky moves that will help us be the first US city to really tip the scales away from private motor vehicles.

“We cannot continue to deceive ourselves into thinking that to paint a little line on a road is a bikeway. A bicycle way which is not safe for an eight year-old is not a bicycle way.”

“Mathematically it is totally impossible to solve the transportation problems of a city using cars.”

“I think that what changes cities are things that are different…I would almost say crazy.”

“The essence of the conflict today, really, is cars versus people…We can have a city that is very friendly to cars, or a city that is very friendly to people. We cannot have both.”

“We give priority to public transport in the use of road space. So public good prevails over private transport.”

[Progress. A vision realized by Penalosa’s bold moves.]
Photo from StreetsBlog

For more of Penalosa, check out the full interview (12 min.) or a shorter version on YouTube.

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  • tonyt October 31, 2006 at 4:44 pm

    “The essence of the conflict today, really, is cars versus people…We can have a city that is very friendly to cars, or a city that is very friendly to people. We cannot have both.”


    Amen hallejujahahaha (how the heck do you spell that?)

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  • J-On-Bike October 31, 2006 at 4:53 pm


    David Byrne met Penalosa in NYC. Link above is Byrne’s take on Penalosa’s msg/philosophy and his challenge to reimagine the streets of Manhattan.

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  • Macaroni November 1, 2006 at 1:21 am

    Great quotes. Can this man run for mayor here?! I will have to read up on how he accomplished everything. The picture shown above is what I wish downtown Portland looked like. It seems so ridiculous to me that cars are allowed downtown.

    We can always dream.

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  • vj November 1, 2006 at 8:50 am

    I really enjoyed the films on Saturday, but especially getting to listen to Penalosa. Really inspirational. Thanks for posting that here, Jonathan.

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  • Cate November 1, 2006 at 9:41 am

    Macaroni said “Can this man run for mayor here?!” Could he get elected here? Is Portland ready for leadership like this? (Has any city in the US has been willing to take an anti-car stance like he suggests?)

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  • Jonathan Maus November 1, 2006 at 9:42 am

    Cate said:

    “Has any city in the US has been willing to take an anti-car stance like he suggests?”

    No! That’s why we all need to vote for Sam Adams when he runs for Mayor!

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  • Cate November 1, 2006 at 10:10 am

    Jonathan, wasn’t it Sam’s office that helped with the Benson Hotel Zone “solution”? Where was the anti-car/pro bicycle stance in that?

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  • Elly November 1, 2006 at 10:55 am

    We can *all* take this stance…. I’d encourage anyone inspired by Penalosa’s work to get involved now in the new pro-people transportation group that’s forming.

    We’ve already put on the Carfree Days street fair, are working with Sam Adams’ office to make Last Thursdays car-free, and have other ideas in the works.

    Think we should be even bolder? Want to have a city-wide carfree day next year? Come join the action — head to:


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  • Ian November 1, 2006 at 12:15 pm

    This page about the thoughtful design of the Bogota bikeway system is also worth a look:


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  • Lenny Anderson November 1, 2006 at 1:32 pm

    As someone who worked on the design of the Tillamook “Bikeway” and rides it everyday, I don’t even want to look at what has been done in Bogota…its so discouraging. After years of waiting, we finally get “bike dots” and the occasional way-finding sign and are still dodging too fast autos who don’t have a clue.

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  • SKiDmark November 1, 2006 at 2:08 pm

    Being anti-car is counter-productive. You will never get people out of their cars and onto bikes by being anti-car.

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  • Jonathan Maus November 1, 2006 at 2:14 pm


    I’m not anti-car, I’m pro-people.

    I drive a mini-van actually. It comes in handy sometimes.

    The problem is that far too many people commute into the city every day and make unnecessary trips with their cars. This has a very negative effect on people (remember I’m pro-people).

    What I mean is that cars have a disproportionate footprint on our city. They take up too much space, they isolate people from each other and they are quite dangerous in many ways (people die because of them very frequently).

    The more we can do to discourage unnecessary car trips and encourage more walking and biking, we’ll all be better off.

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  • Tree November 1, 2006 at 2:29 pm

    I didn’t get a chance to read the recent article in the O and I can’t stomach their website to read it, but I did HEAR about the extremely high benzene levels downtown and in all the Portland neighborhoods because of the internal combustion engine. This is just one negative effect on people. I sometimes wonder what my lungs look like and if my life is being shortened by biking to work 365.

    Lenny Anderson: The Tillamook bikeway is a great accomplishment. I use it all the time. Good on ‘ya.

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  • SKiDmark November 1, 2006 at 2:39 pm

    Sorry Jonathan, that wasn’t specifically directed at you. We have a car too, because it’s hard to get everything done by bike, like getting home in time for the kids to come home from school. Like you we try to minimise the use of the car and combine trips. Sometimes I’ll be out in the garage and I will amazed at how many times my neighbors’ cars go in and out of their driveways.

    What I was getting at is taking a negative stance about cars and treating people who own cars with disdain does not make them want to go to fun bike events. It makes them want to reject cycling altogether. The cycling community needs to appear to be welcoming to new riders or people will continue to drive their car a half-mile to Plaid Pantry. I also think they need to run more MAX trains at rush hour to encourage using public transit.

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  • J-On-Bike November 1, 2006 at 3:22 pm

    I think the transit issue needs to take a concrete strategic direction. One sentence in the david-byrne blog post that interested me was:

    (The fact that NYC businesses don’t rely much on car access and on having massive parking lots out front like in the suburbs makes this all within the realm of possibility.)

    To me, that sets up the situation for a concrete strategy – to identify areas/zones with high volumes of people on foot, buses, bikes, cars, trains. And – in a Penalosa-esque way, eliminate or minimize car-traffic (with efficient redirects for autos) in those zones.

    The bus mall *would* have been a great opportunity. But as it stands, I’m pretty sure that I won’t be riding in the auto/bicycle through lanes on 5th/6th.

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  • Clarence November 1, 2006 at 10:39 pm

    Hey all, I am so glad you love the Penalosa video. It was amazing to sit in the same room with him. I think every city in the U.S. wants him to be their mayor!

    If you want to see Penalosa ride bikes with David Byrne, here is another video I did…

    Low quality on YouTube (yes, T.A. misspelled):http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24YY3Qq01Ic

    Higher quality on my site: http://homepage.mac.com/trorb/T.A./iMovieTheater183.html

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  • Macaroni November 2, 2006 at 11:55 pm

    Just curious…how does Sam Adams get to work?

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  • Cate November 3, 2006 at 8:43 am

    Jonathan said “…much of the low-hanging fruit has been picked”. I suppose it depends on your definition of low-hanging, but I think there are some opportunities on the westside that haven’t been explored or considered. The City’s focus has been (and is) on the eastside and downtown.

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  • adam November 8, 2006 at 5:09 am

    coming to portland in 2008, car free conference?


    personally, I am tired of asking people to do stuff for us. and, my friends don’t like it when I use bad language. so, can we, as a community, make this happen?

    I see so many great ideas here in portland happening everyday. and, people keep telling me about all these new great ideas. I bet that we could host a very fun pedalpaloozabombpeoplesridesshiftbtanakedbikeridebikeportland show off conference in 2008. we can do it our way. it will be the best one ever in north america, I promise. and, I don’t want to lose to sanfrancisco or davis.

    What are your ideas??

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  • Elly November 8, 2006 at 9:12 am

    The World Bike Fun conference? Bring it on!

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  • […] of their existence. His talk of a “positive environment for people” brings to mind Enrique Penalosa’s famous quotes that we can create cities that are good to cars or for people, but not […]

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