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Yahoo: Portland #1 green city; a “role model for the nation”

Posted by on January 21st, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Air quality, access to parks, good public transit, and bike facilities were some of the reasons Portland got #1.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Yahoo and eco-guide/website Sustain Lane have ranked Portland #1 in their annual list of sustainable cities.

The Top 10

Not surprisingly, there were several transportation and bike-related bits that figured into their decision. I share some of those, along with a bit of fact-checking below.

From the introduction on the Yahoo website:

“…Portland offers plenty of parks and bike paths as well as stunning views of Mt. Hood. Cafes, restaurants, and markets are integrated into most neighborhoods, encouraging people to walk rather than drive.”

They also mention that the Pearl District is an “urban model for cities across the nation”. (The Pearl, by the way, is being eyed as a possible “bicycle district” by City planners due to its dense development and it’s connected grid of narrow streets. More on that in a separate story.)

Story continues below


In the “Getting Around” section they write:

Portland is a great place if you’d rather ride your bike. Some 10,000 Portlanders, or 2.8 percent, commute on bike, taking advantage of more than 700 miles of bicycle paths around the city.

It’s interesting to see that 10,000 number. Usually folks refer to a percentage. I often get asked just how many commuters there are and my (highly unscientific) answer is around 50,000.

And “700 miles of bicycles paths”? I’m not sure how they came up with that one. Here’s the breakdown of street lane bikeway miles according to Denver Igarta with the City of Portland Bureau of Transportation:

  • Bicycle lanes: 173.8 miles
  • Off-street paths: 73.5 miles
  • Bicycle boulevards: 29.5 miles
  • Signed connections: 28 miles

Even if they counted the 36 miles of bike lanes maintained by ODOT and the few miles of bridge bike lanes managed by Multnomah County, it still wouldn’t add up to 700.

(Over on the Portland Water Bureau’s “Water Blog” PIO Jennie Day-Burget points out that they got one other fact wrong — Portland’s water comes from Bull Run Lake, not Mount Hood.)

Read more about the rankings at Yahoo.com.

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  • Jeremy Robillard January 21, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    It is great for the city to receive positive press, and Portland is cleaner than many major metropolitan areas I have visited. However, it is hard to believe that any major metro center is really that green.

    We have green companies and environmentally conscious citizens who work to help the environment, but we are still a densely populated mass of concrete with numerous polluting buildings, people, cars, etc.

    I think pdx is making a positive impact, but I always find the distinction and a list of major green cities a little on the fishy side. It seems like many small towns (perhaps, with little empirical evidence, Eugene or Bellingham, WA) are just as green and by default of their footprint have less of a negative impact on the environment.

    Anyone else have other thoughts?

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  • Zaphod January 21, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    The measurement that makes the most sense is per capita use of resources. A huge building of cement and glass may look and feel more wasteful than, say a small home with a small garden and solar panels but it is likely that the building will handily school the single family dwelling in its how green it is. The conversation goes well beyond a blog post so I’ll just leave it there.

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  • Dana January 21, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    I would like to see Portland at #5, with the top four spots empty.

    Although what we have done here is astounding, we are nowhere near as “green” as we could, and should, be.

    Being placed at #1 gives a sense of reaching the top, attaining our goal, and being done. We need something to strive for. Something to live for. Something to believe in.

    Obviously, I don’t need to be saying this to most of the people who read this news site, but we are the minority. Let’s work together, with everyone else, to be a true #1 city.

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  • bikieboy January 21, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    perhaps the “700 miles of bike paths” refers to the entire Portland Metro area..?

    or, they just picked a nice number.

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  • toddistic January 21, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    Obviously the 700 mile figure came from a VCer. 🙂

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  • damon January 21, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    I believe that Zaphod’s emphasis on per capita use of resources is the proper way to analyze whether a region is green. An article a few years ago “GREEN MANHATTAN:
    Why New York is the greenest city in the U.S.” by David Owen lays out a good argument for how the density of New York makes it so green.

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  • bahueh January 21, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    again…PDX isn’t as green as a lot of people would like us to believe, although we’re better than a majority of large cities.

    the second my untreated, raw sewage stops spilling out into the Willamette after about 1/4″ of rain, I may start believing such claims a little more…
    out of sight, out of mind I guess.

    sure, the air is descent…unless you start counting lead pollution from China…and the ground and water are in good shape, if you ignore the superfund site….

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  • Todd Boulanger January 21, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    Re: post #4

    Yes they were including Vancouver’s (etc)bikeways in the calculation.

    It is an easy error to make 😉

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  • peejay January 22, 2009 at 7:40 am

    Density is absolutely the key to reducing human impact on the land. And the great thing about smart density is that it still leaves room for great public spaces. Contrast this with the typical suburban location: fewer people, bigger yards, but lots of roads and paving per capita. And few – and usually poorly utilized – public spaces.

    Now, small towns don’t have to fit the suburban model, but they don’t have the people that a larger city has. So if you want to make comparisons, you’d have to take three or five Eugenes and compare their net green footprint to Portland’s.

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  • lacorota January 24, 2009 at 1:20 am

    Still, after living across the western U.S., and midwest, I think Portland is peachy-king. Within few bike trips I discovered I can network to the far margins, and inbetween by paths, bike lanes, and the quiet “green” streets such as Ankeny or Tillamook. It all pieces together in a natural, nearly seamless web that puts me anywhere I please.

    Either I’ve been out of the loop too long, or possibly other places have stepped up to the plate. However, most places I recall you’re lucky to get some short path near an abandaned rail track, and that’s it; no dedicated bike lanes or signage on the side streets as we have here. Glad I live here and glad I can contribute to the biking scene.

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  • matt picio January 26, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    My best guess is that Portland has about 16,000 “regular” riders – i.e. those who ride primarily for transportation rather than recreation (most of them of course ride recreationally too).

    50,000 is a good ballpark figure IMO for the number of people who ride bikes more than a handful of times per year. My guess is the majority of them ride recreationally with the occasional transportation trip – but mostly they’re the sort who ride Bridge Pedal and a couple dozen recreational trips per year or less.

    Note that this is completely unscientific and subjective.

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