Portland bike insiders are wondering how we can go beyond the confines of U.S. standards for bike-friendliness and begin to adopt infrastructure and policies already in use in places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen.
But before Portland can become a world-class bicycling city, we must first have a plan to get there.
A key component of that effort is the City’s Bicycle Master Plan, which is in the midst of it’s first update in over a decade.
The Bicycle Master Plan is an important, guiding document. It creates (but does not enforce) policies and is an essential tool for planners, advocates and city bureaucrats in keeping with the City of Portland’s official goal of, “making the bicycle an integral part of daily life…especially for trips less than five miles.”
When our current plan was adopted in October of 1995 it was considered a seminal document and was modeled by cities across the country.
The current effort — dubbed by Commissioner Sam Adams as the “Platinum” Bicycle Master Plan — is being led by the current and former City of Portland bike coordinators, Roger Geller and Mia Birk. Birk is now a principal at Alta Planning + Design and she has been hired to assist in the new Plan update.
Birk is beyond capable for the task. Since creating Portland’s back in ’95, she has worked on 120 bicycle master plans in cities around country and is currently developing plans for Los Angeles, San Francisco, Bozeman, and others.
Birk recently assembled the Platinum Bicycle Master Plan Steering Committee. The 25-member committee is made up of a broad range of perspectives and includes citizen advocates, politicians, academics, transportation professionals, and business leaders.
From L to R: Mia Birk, Alta Planning; Roger Geller, City of Portland; Elicia Cardenas, Alta Planning
In an email Birk sent to committee members she stated:
“This committee will provide strategic direction, oversight, advice on plan process, content, quality. This committee is intended to be the creative team overseeing all issues and ensuring that we have a thorough, excellent, embraced plan.”
Last month in City Hall she held the committee’s first meeting. At that meeting, Birk said she hopes the Steering Committee will provide the “big picture vision” to take Portland to the next level. She relayed thoughts from Commisser Sam that he wants this committee to be a “momentum builder.”
According to Birk, one of the driving motivations of the new Plan is to create a city wherein the 70% of the population that is currently “interested but concerned” about riding will feel safe enough to get on their bikes.
To get there, Birk described a three-pronged effort that includes this steering committee, an internal PDOT working group (focusing on technical components of the plan), and a large, intra-agency coalition that includes TriMet, Metro, Parks Department, the Bureau of Environmental Services, various counties, and so on.
Birk said she and Geller are working on a 200 page Existing Conditions Report. As part of that, they are identifying 26 different “cycling zones” within the city. These zones will allow them to compare and contrast what has worked, what hasn’t, and why.
Besides official involvement, the public will play a major role in the Master Plan update. Birk said the 1995 effort had a “great public process” and that they engaged any and every community group they could; from Boy Scouts to churches, neighborhoods, and schools.
Roger Geller said one of the main things he hopes to achieve is “a public conversation about bicycling,” which he is on his way to doing with his monthly Bicycle Master Plan rides.
Commissioner Adams’ Chief of Staff Tom Miller spoke up and said bicycle use in Portland is “at a tipping point” and that he thinks land-use policy should be an important part of the puzzle.
This is truly a historical effort that will lay the groundwork of our bicycling future. The committee meets for the second time tomorrow. Stay tuned for more reports and updates as the process moves forward.
UPDATE: To learn more about Portland’s Bicycle Master Plan update, attend PDOT’s upcoming Brown Bag discussion on April 19th. Roger Geller will be the featured presenter. More details here.