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Oregon ranks fourth in new Bike Friendly State rankings

Posted by on September 4th, 2008 at 7:33 pm

ORegon Bicycle Summit

A dream deferred.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Oregon placed fourth in a new ranking of Bike Friendly States that was released tonight by the League of American Bicyclists.

Washington took top honors, followed by Wisconsin and then Arizona. At the bottom of the list were Alabama and Georgia, with West Virginia coming in last.

Yesterday, I sat down with the League’s executive director Andy Clarke and Bike Friendly State program manager Jeff Peel to learn more about the rankings.

In this initial ranking, each state’s bike coordinator was sent a 75-part questionnaire that probed into six different categories: Legislation, Policies & Programs, Infrastructure, Education & Encouragement, Evaluation & Planning, and Enforcement. Each question had a point value from 1-3 (all questions were weighted equally) and the overall rankings were based on that cumulative score.

“There’s something good in all the states, but in some it’s just a little harder to find.”
— League of American Bicyclists Executive Director Andy Clarke

According to Peel, the Legislation category included questions about where cyclists are allowed to ride, whether or not the state has a vehicular homicide and/or cell phone law, what the blood-alchohol content limit is, and so on.

The Evaluation & Plans category included questions about whether or not a state has a bike master plan (and if it’s being monitored for progress), if bike usage data is known and whether or not the state has an official and active bike advisory committee.

States that ranked high in the Infrastructure category scored well on questions like how many miles of dedicated bike trails they have and how much of their federal Transporation Enhancement funds are actually spent (unspent TE funds are sent back to the Feds).

In the Enforcement category, program manager Peel said, “Across the board, with all 50 states, the Enforcement category was really lacking in quality. Everyone needs to improve in this area.” The types of questions in this category included whether or not bicycling enforcement is a police academy requirement, whether bike laws and information about the rights and responsibilities of cyclists are put in the hands of traffic court judges, and so on.

Oregon ranked high in most of the categories except for Legislation (27th) and Evaluation & Planning (18th). Peel said Oregon’s bike master plan hasn’t been updated since the early 1990s and that our statewide advisory group (the Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee) only meets quarterly, unlike the monthly meetings of some other states.

Washington is ranked #1 in four of the six categories. I’m sure the Cascade Bicycle Club, one of the largest (over 10,000 members), deep-pocketed (they get 60% of their revenue from popular events like the Seattle-to-Portland Classic and the Seattle Bike Expo) and most politically active (they do a ton of lobbying) advocacy groups in the country, has a lot to do with that.

On the other end of things, West Virginia came in dead last in all but one category (where they ranked 49th).

But what about Oregon? Fourth?!

I bumped into Oregon’s state bike coordinator Sheila Lyons at the conference and she was dreading having to defend that placing. She said she spent 20-30 hours completing the questionnaire and thought we’d rank higher. “I thought we’d do better, but it will be helpful for us to look at some areas we need to work on.” That being said, Lyons feels there are, “Some things that are happening in Oregon that just can’t be captured by a questionnaire.”

Clarke said that initially, “We were a bit nervous how people would feel about getting ranked.” He then emphasized that the rankings are meant to be purely constructive. “We’re not doing this to make anyone look bad,” he said.

Like their Bicycle Friendly Communities program, Peel said that he hopes states begin to use the rankings as a way to compare and outdo one another. He said the League is, “Hoping to create some stiff competitions.”

From now on, Peel says the Bike Friendly State program will have two parts. They’ll continue to rank each state annually, with the state bike coordinators able to update their answers as improvements are made. Then, the second part of the program will mimic the League’s successful Bicycle Friendly Community program. Peel says in the next month or so they’ll have an application ready that will give states an opportunity to apply for medal rankings (from Bronze to Platinum) by answering more in-depth questions about their policies and activities.

With these rankings sure to raise the ire of some transportation officials, Clarke offered this politically safe statement, “There’s something good in all the states, but in some it’s just a little harder to find.”

Look for the full results to be posted online soon at the Bicycle Friendly State website.

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • sad September 4, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    Arizona?! Wow. Doesn\’t climate figure into whether a state is bike friendly or not? I\’m thinking the survey lost all credibility right there.

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  • Eileen September 4, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    Interesting. I\’m glad that Oregon didn\’t come in first – it drives the thirst. (and I did not mean to rhyme there, sorry for extreme cheesiness!) I think it\’s important to remember that we are a whole state, not just Portland. I don\’t see a lot of bicycles out where I work just 20 miles south of here. I still hear people out there say stuff like \”why don\’t you wipe your a** with a spotted owl.\” Which is why I can\’t live there and must commute.=) Jonathan, I\’m not sure if you\’ve lived through enough Bill Sizemore-driven elections to realize what a strongly conservative element there is in the rest of Oregon. Drive 20 miles in any direction and you are basically in West Virginia.

    Very funny that West Virginia came in last. Apparently their governor is a cyclist, but maybe cycling is not such a safe thing to do there:

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  • Oh Word? September 4, 2008 at 9:31 pm

    Any idea what Sheila Lyons had in mind when she said some thing couldn\’t be captured in a questionnaire?

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  • Bjorn September 4, 2008 at 10:51 pm

    I have a feeling that bike boulevards are definately one thing that is not captured on the questionaire. As someone who rides on both a low traffic bike boulevard in pdx and on the signed bike route that is 34th in Vancouver Washington it is frightening that those two streets probably appear as equal on this questionaire because neither is a separated bike trail or a street with striped bike lanes. In reality Vancouver WA considers 4 lane arterials with a curb but no shoulder and traffic speeds in excess of 50 mph to be viable bike routes. I hope that the rankings will add a category for bicycle boulevards in the future.


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  • G.A.R. September 4, 2008 at 11:08 pm

    We do need to put a stop to talking on the phone while driving. This is an item that was apparently on the questionnaire. Oregon is not controlling this obvious problem.

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  • Peter W September 5, 2008 at 12:55 am

    One thing that makes states bike friendly is how well you can get between cities without a car.

    City-to-city bike connections are important, but for folks who can\’t bike long distances, there should be a category in the scoring system for how well the state supports passenger train service.

    Currently, I think Washington is putting a lot more money and effort into supporting and enhancing Amtrak than Oregon is.

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  • n8m September 5, 2008 at 1:01 am

    If only Oregon was progressive enough to construct a statewide network of cycle tracks like what the Netherlands has. We would get serious international tourism, and Europeans,etc. would flock here for bicycle camping and tourism. Such a simple system would easily pay for itself over and over again. It could be the ultimate \”Oregon Trail.\” Unfortunately our unimaginative & reactionary market economy (and all her politicians) could care less.

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  • Steven J September 5, 2008 at 2:56 am

    I\’ve ridden Virginia…and it\’s dangerous there…ranked 23? while W.Virginia ranks dead feel for my brothers and sisters there, where you don\’t even get the lane if there\’s no shoulder.

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  • Refunk September 5, 2008 at 3:26 am

    I dunno, Peter (@ #6). That hang-yer-bike-in-the-AMTRAK-Cascades-baggage-car thing for $5 extra fare between Eugene and Stumptown is pretty sweet.


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  • joel September 5, 2008 at 6:22 am

    sad: climate cant be friendly or unfriendly. it just is. you cant rank states based on something they cant control.

    and remember people, this is *statewide*, not just focussed on portland or eugene or something. theres a lot of areas where it isnt quite the comparative paradise it is here in the rose city.

    i, for one, am happy we arent getting #1 handed to us. it will, hopefully, make us work harder. and i mean really – statewide advocacy group meeting quarterly? thats kinda weak, considering how much potential there is right now.

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  • Jeff September 5, 2008 at 6:54 am

    People, don\’t tie your sense of self-worth too closely to these rankings. I think it\’s easy to get caught up in getting a
    \”Platinum\” in this and a #1 in that, etc.

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  • BikingViking September 5, 2008 at 7:38 am

    Perhaps we could use this to push for more useful bike-friendly legistlation and infrastructure.

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  • bArbaroo September 5, 2008 at 7:55 am

    These rankings just CAN\’T be a reflection of how easy or pleasand it is to ride in a state. Arizona, #3?????? Maybe it looks good on paper but in practise, no way. I rode across AZ last fall and I was so relieved to hit the NM state line. AZ is about the worst riding I\’ve ever experienced. There were pockets of well-marked, bike frinedly places (Hello Mesa!) but the highways and most towns were donwrigth harrowing. Arizona is in my bottomw 3 not top 3 for bicycle-friendliness.

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  • E September 5, 2008 at 8:00 am

    Given the enforcement problems we have in the city, and the lack of bike infrastructure and awareness in other parts of the state, I\’m not surprised we didn\’t get 1st. I\’m a little surprised we got 4th – I guess most other states are even worse. I agree that this ranking gives us something to work towards. What does it take to be #1? Change laws? Enforce laws? Increase bikeability outside major metro areas? Let\’s do it!

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  • Donna September 5, 2008 at 8:18 am

    Actually, I was surprised at how high they ranked us. I thought Wisconsin would get #1, but I was close.

    In many ways, I\’ve felt like our legislature & governor has been doing a whole lot of nothing over the last 8 years or so. That\’s has an effect on many issues I care about and not just bicycling.

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  • Kt September 5, 2008 at 8:38 am

    Did this survey take into account the opinions of the actual cyclists in the actual state?

    Because it sure doesn\’t seem like it\’s a realistic view of things.

    And yeah… 30 miles outside of the Rose City, and it\’s a whole new world. Take a look at how the last presidential election did; only the larger metro areas voted mainly democrat, the entire rest of the state voted mainly republican.

    We\’re a state with a split personality; that\’s hard to build a tourism ad around. Yes, we\’re bike friendly– but only if you bike in certain areas or at certain times of the year.

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  • poser September 5, 2008 at 9:29 am

    Oh Word? (#3) asked: \”Any idea what Sheila Lyons had in mind when she said some thing couldn\’t be captured in a questionnaire?\”

    I have an idea… how about what it\’s actually like to ride a bike in these states. It\’s easy to look at WA state\’s infrastructure, legislation and organizations and award it the #1 spot; but try riding your bike there. I lived in WA for 16+ years, and the general attitude towards cyclists is crummy – in and outside the cities.

    Sheila Lyons expressed that perfectly. These states all look good on paper. I\’d rather ride a bike in OR. You can only ride your bike up and down the Burke-Gilman trail so many times before you wish you could ride somewhere else without risking your life.

    The ranking does provide some valuable insight though – namely that our legislation and enforcement could be much better (especially the enforcement in my opinion). My old riding partner won a $70k lawsuit after breaking his shin being doored in Seattle. Not sure that would happen here in Portland. Also, the police in OR are ill equipped to prosecute drivers who maim or kill cyclists on OR roads (read about Eric Kautzky to see a case and point).

    but this is good. Gives us something to work for. It\’s hard to improve your community without a clear vision and goals – this ranking should help us all visualize where we need to improve.

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  • Russell @ Upper Echelon Fitness September 5, 2008 at 10:11 am

    I grew up in Oregon, and went to school in Arizona, and Wisconsin, and lived in Seattle for 5 years. All the time, racing and training seriously. Really, ALL are good states for cycling. I think rakings like this need to be looked at more in a general sense that the sates at the top are good, and the ones at the bottom not so much. I will say that the back roads of Arizona are where I have encountered the most unfriendly drivers in my life. But the cycling is great, just in spite of angry autos. Wisconsin, baring the weather, has great cycling and good cycling laws, and is politically active. It doesn\’t surprise me that they are ranked high. Cascade Bicycle Club is huge and very powerful. But riding a bike in Seattle Vs Portland is NO comparison. Seattle has one bike path that isn\’t big enough, bad bike lanes, and is about 10 years behind Portland. Portland is the best city I have ever ridden a bike. I think there are some other factors that must have skewed the rankings, as mentioned. Some things are not as tangible or objective when ranking things on such a broad scale.

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  • steve September 5, 2008 at 10:31 am

    Having lived in Washington and Arizona, I agree that they are both better to cycle in than Oregon. Go to Tucson in the winter to see riders from many top International teams enjoying the perfect climate and solid infrastructure. We need to be less interested in patting ourselves on the back and more into creating real change.

    From the post- \’Oregon ranked high in most of the categories except for Legislation (27th) and Evaluation & Planning (18th).\’

    Seems like eval/planning and legislation are both terribly important. We are barely middle of the road there. Platinum my ass!

    I think we are lucky to be in the top ten and am curious as to why others feel differently. Even Portland proper is lucky to be in the top 5 cities and we are talking entire states here, not just cities.

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  • Adam September 5, 2008 at 10:51 am

    I don\’t know about the rest of Arizona, but Tucson is a great place for cycling, especially between October and April. In the city itself there are lots of bike lanes and some nice trails, and it is mostly nice and flat. When you get tired of flat rides, there are a lot of scenic rides with varying degrees of hilliness within minutes of the city. There is a cool bike shop (Bicas), a good city-sponsored new rider program, and a couple of good framebuilders.

    I think Portland has a more interesting overall bike culture – Tucson\’s bike scene seems to be mostly about racers and racer wannabes – but if other parts of Arizona are even remotely like Tucson, it doesn\’t surprise me that the state would rank high on the bike-friendly list.

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  • Icarus Falling September 5, 2008 at 11:02 am

    I think that Washington is a great place to bike, and I will ride here long into my old age.

    I also think that the rankings and even metallurgy statuses that come from the League of American Cyclists, or really anything that comes from this organization, should be taken with a grain of salt.

    The well explained example of how these rankings come to be is a perfect example of what the L.O.A. really doesn\’t do for cycling.

    Luckily, we did not get the 1st place ranking. For one, we don\’t deserve it. Second, we do not need the L.O.A. telling us how well we may or may not be doing.

    And third, I don\’t think I could handle the headache of seeing or reading about another glad handing, \”We are so bike cool\” press conference.

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  • Brad September 5, 2008 at 11:21 am

    \”Bike friendly\” depends on who you are and how you ride. Urban commuters seem to love Portland but think outlying \’burbs and counties are scary wastelands. Recreational and sport riders love those area\’s backroads for their lack of traffic (who needs bike lanes in rural areas?) but hate the city for its stop signs every block and inattentive cell phone fixated drivers.

    Some of the most enjoyable rides I\’ve ever had were in some bottom tier states where I didn\’t see another rider or cars for hours. Some of the most dangerous were right here in Platinum City, OR.

    Another silly survey. More meaningless awards from the League.

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  • John September 5, 2008 at 11:45 am

    I think the recent posts on other topics like the Police Officer telling the cyclist to get off of MLK and the DA dropping the reckless driving charges shows why Oregon doesn\’t deserve 1st and shows where we need to improve.
    IMO anyone that hits anyone with a motor vehicle should face vehicular manslaughter or an attempted murder charge.

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  • casey September 5, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    So \’bike friendly\’ still doesn\’t have anything to do with mountain bikes? I continually feel discriminated against… it\’s really time for a
    bicyc-tual revolution.

    If the study did include mtb, Oregon would fall way lower in the ratings, I\’m guessing mid-20\’s.

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  • mike September 5, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    Man, is this true. The state has to start getting it together about this cell phone crap when driving. It seems like everytime I have a \”close encounter\” with a car/truck, the driver is on the phone.

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  • brian September 5, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    Yeah. Isn\’t this the land of endless forests and soaring mountains? Then, how come no mountain bike scene. We have to start working together to protect our right to recreate on natural soil.

    It can\’t all be about commuting to work.

    The bike is a way to feel young and free.

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  • Eileen September 5, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    \”our right to recreate on natural soil. \”

    I don\’t think that\’s a right unless you own the soil. I think at this point preservation is more important than recreation, but that\’s just me.

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  • […] reports that Oregon is the fourth most bike-friendly state in the U.S.  Washington, Wisconsin, and Arizona are ahead of us. […]

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  • Deborah September 6, 2008 at 11:52 am

    How do we build and enhance a bike club in Oregon to compete with Cascade Bicyle Club in WA?

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  • John Reinhold September 7, 2008 at 9:13 am

    One thing I have noticed is a very different ability to use bicycles as transportation.

    Many states have great recreational bike facilities but very little in the way of infrastructure to use bikes as actual transportation.

    That is one thing which seems to not be captured very well in this ranking – and I am not saying that Oregon would have done well in this category either… Just that it is something which differentiates Portland from say, Tuscon…

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  • Badass September 7, 2008 at 6:55 pm

    Its called Zoobomb.
    No 501(c)3 needed.

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  • Anonymous September 8, 2008 at 11:02 am

    I lived in Phoenix, AZ for 10 years, Portland, OR for 12 years and now just north of Vancouver, WA for 5 years.

    My 17-mile commute (35th and Bell Rd to Sun City West) in AZ was WAY better than my 15.5 mile commute in Portland (24th and Prescott to I-5 and 217).

    With trail 100 cutting through the heart of PHX, I\’d say the mountain biking within the city limits was WAY better there too.

    There are things I love and hate about every city I\’ve been in.

    The things I miss about Portland since moving up here are how MANY MORE people down there are avid cyclists and how many more bike shops exist down there.

    The things I miss about PHX are the trails, the flat roads and the insignificant amount of road bike maintenance required. The heat ain\’t that bad once you get used to it, the smog is the lamest part about the weather there.

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  • […] Oregon ranks fourth in new Bike Friendly State rankings, Bike Portland (Texas is 30th, and in all honesty we should probably be ranked lower) […]

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  • Duncan September 8, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    I was just walking along 101 between N Bend and Coos Bay and saw a lot of the reasons why we are not number one- dissapering bike lanes, sidewalks, bike lanes one way but not the other- Traffic zooming around at 40 MPH right up to the edge of town, people parking their cars on the sidewalk etc. Ran into one cyclist who called biking that stretch of road \”suicide\”. Very un Portland like.

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  • Sheila Lyons September 8, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    \”Any idea what Sheila Lyons had in mind when she said some thing couldn\’t be captured in a questionnaire?\”

    I happen to know Sheila quite well. She was thinking that the specifics of the questionaire did not necessarily reflect how much enthusiasm and support there is for bicycling STATEWIDE. We have poor statistics on ridership (no state has good statistics) and we don\’t know how many miles of separated path the DOT maintains and the \”sidepath\” law may be misinterpreted by some law enforcement officers, but none of that reflects how well integrated and supported bicycling in Oregon really is.

    I\’ve just returned from a three week trip around Oregon to review grant applictions. It seems that every corner of the state is interested in improving the climate for bicycling and walking. If I had $1000 dollars for every community that\’s contacted me about their bike trails plan, I could fund an entire system.

    We have a very high degree of motor vehicle driver awareness and courtesy. (We really do.) I came back to work this morning and joined a discussion about accomodating bicycles thru an interchange just north of Roseburg, a conversation not even concieved of in many other states.

    Statewide interest in and support for bicycle tourism is stronger than ever, with Travel Oregon and Oregon Parks joining with ODOT and Cycle Oregon to support and promote bicycle tourism.

    After having met with about 20 of my counterparts from around the country at Pro Walk Pro Bike I\’m very encouraged about where we are at, where we are going and confident that we\’ll get there.

    The biggest thing we have going for us in Oregon: ORS 814.400 – A bicyle is a vehicle for purposes of the vehicle code. On this basis we have many legal rights bicyclists in Illinois, for example, do not.

    Oregon is GREAT place to ride a bike and with our collective interest in making it better, it will get better and better.

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  • Duncan September 8, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    Funny and informative Sheila….

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  • matt picio September 9, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    Deborah (#29) – I don\’t know if you can, we\’re not Seattle. Our bike community is more vibrant (no offense to the Dead Baby crowd) – we have less than half their population yet we have a LOT more bike groups, it\’s just that they\’re so varied. You can\’t structure them all under a single banner. The only time you see them all come together is Pedalpalooza.

    If you want a mainstream group, the largest in Portland that I know of is the Wheelmen. If you want a REALLY big group, brainstorm a way to form a bike club from all the attendees of the Bridge Pedal – then you\’d have a 12,000-20,000 member organization.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) September 9, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    RE: building an advocacy group the size of Cascade.

    I got a behind-the-scenes look at Cascade during my trip to Seattle last week.

    Only 8% of their revenue is membership based and the reason they are so big is in large part because of their close connection and management of all the largest bike events in Seattle.

    Cascade puts on the STP, Chilly Hilly, Bike Expo, and many other rides/events… many of those rides sell out and Cascade offers early, guaranteed registration for anyone that becomes a member. At only $25 bucks, I assume many people become members just for these events.

    The events tie-in is an awesome tool for Cascade and it opens them up to a built-in mechanism to increase their membership base.

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  • matt picio September 10, 2008 at 1:47 am

    That would seem to indicate the best way would be to partner with a group like ORBike / Good Sport Promotions, who sponsor a number of Portland\’s bike events.

    Again, that one of the things about Portland – we\’re not real centralized. There are so many smaller groups, the effort is spread out among a much larger number of much smaller groups. And I\’m not sure that\’s such a bad thing – decentralization promotes resilience. I think you really see it whenever cyclists are faced with an outside threat, and many groups band together.

    Portland\’s diversity has always been a major strength.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) September 10, 2008 at 8:13 am

    I agree with you Matt that our diversity is important and I think it\’s a connected diversity that makes Portland\’s bike culture so distinct (and powerful).

    \”That would seem to indicate the best way would be to partner with a group like ORBike / Good Sport Promotions, who sponsor a number of Portland\’s bike events.\”

    \”partnering\” means you get less money and less leeway to do things your way… the strength of Cascade is that they don\’t partner with anyone… they themselves do the events… that means more cash.

    the BTA already partners on a number of large events.. but it\’s the nature (and details) of that partnership that is important.

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