At their Annual Meeting at the Oregon Center Ball Room on Tuesday morning, the Portland Business Alliance gave a special award of recognition to some unlikely members. The PBA — long a thorn in the side of city bike planners (and others) for their positions on bike projects — gave their Transportation Award to two of the city’s most high-profile bike advocates; former City of Portland bike coordinator and now CEO of Alta Planning Mia Birk, and owner of The Bike Gallery stores, Jay Graves. David Knowles of CH2M Hill, chair of the PBA’s Transportation Committee, received the award along with them.
“At first, I was puzzled, even amused. PBA is giving us an award? Surely this is a joke…”
— Mia Birk, author, advocate, and CEO of Alta Planning
Nearly 1,000 of the region’s business luminaries, including Portland Mayor Sam Adams and Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski, were present to see the PBA honor the trio for their work on the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030. Birk says she sees this award as a sign that the PBA is finally coming around in their support of biking.
Given a past marked with disagreements and battles with the PBA over a variety of bike projects, Birk says she was caught off guard when she first realized she and Graves would be honored. In an email to friends to break the news, Birk wrote, “At first, I was puzzled, even amused. PBA is giving us an award? Surely this is a joke…”
But Birk quickly changed her tone the night of the dinner. As she walked on stage to receive the award, Birk says she came to the realization that perhaps her and her fellow award winners’ many hours in PBA Transportation Committee meetings extolling the virtues of biking were finally beginning to pay off:
“The PBA truly appreciates what we – all of us – are doing to create a more sustainable city. Jay, David, and I put in a ton of time at meetings and countless behind-the-scenes conversations that led, ultimately and after much consternation, to a positive PBA stance [on the 2030 Bike Plan]. And it was all worth it. The business community is evolving to a place where it celebrates bicycle transportation.”
Birk says she’s grateful for the PBA’s “vote of support,” but acknowledges the organization’s evolution to being a full partner for adding bikes into our transportation mix still has a long way to go.
In fact, it’s a stretch to say that the PBA supported the 2030 Bike Plan. In their six-page statement on the plan, PBA President Sanda McDonough said they support it’s “overall goals” but the tone was measured and lukewarm in terms of supporting bicycling. Among a list of concerns were calls for people who ride bikes “to share some of the burden of paying for the infrastructure they use.”
There is indeed a long way to go before the PBA is a full and productive partner to people working to promote bike use in this city. But, with the kind of weight the PBA can throw around City Hall, there’s good reason to celebrate these baby steps.