(Photo © J. Maus)
Introduced by Portland’s own Joe “Metal Cowboy” Kurmaskie, Birk informed the crowd of about 60 VBC members that Portland’s famous bicycling atmosphere didn’t happen overnight.
“People have this myth that people just woke up one day and everyone was biking and there were bike lanes everywhere… it didn’t happen that way. It was hard work that got Portland to be Portland,” Birk told the crowd.
“Vancouver has to make it uniquely Vancouver. Don’t be Portland, be your community.”
— Mia Birk
Telling the crowd she wanted to avoid discussing the controversial Columbia River Crossing project, Birk briefly pointed out the cost difference between freeways and bike projects. “Everything Portland has done cost less than one mile of urban freeway,” she said.
According to Birk, a former City of Portland bicycle coordinator, three things are required for bicycling to succeed in a community:
“First, you have to have really strong political leaders that embrace bicycles; second, you need strong advocates that are organized and galvanize the community; third, you have to have really good staff in the city. When you have all three things in place, really amazing things can happen.”
During the presentation’s Q&A, the crowd asked Birk for advice on a wide range of topics from getting street sweepers to clean bike lanes to obtaining funding for bike projects. But as much as Birk offered advice on how to tackle Vancouver’s bike issues, she encouraged Vancouver to find its own identity. “Vancouver has to make it uniquely Vancouver,” she advised, “don’t be Portland, be your community.”
After the presentation, Birk said Vancouver’s next step should be completing its bicycle path network and continue to work on its Downtown Vancouver Growth and Transportation Efficiency Center Plan (PDF) (known locally as “the GTEC plan”). According to City of Vancouver Senior Planner Jennifer Campos, Birk’s company, Alta Planning and Design, has just signed a $70,000 contract to manage the public outreach effort for the GTEC plan. When asked about a possible conflict of interest between her community advocacy for bike projects and her company’s contract work, Birk said no such conflict exists. “Most people have a job that feeds their bellies or their souls, I’m honored to have a job that does both.”