Comment of the Week: Bicycling and the future ‘Golden Age’ of Portland

Cherry blossoms in Waterfront Park-18-17
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

“In a city where two-thirds of people surveyed support safer bike routes, we aren’t falling behind because of opposition, we are falling behind due to a failure to execute.”

Reading my share of the hundreds of terrific comments here over the last week, I’ve noticed a few assuming that because someone is advocating for biking improvements, it must be because those improvements would directly improve their own lives.

It’s hard to dispute that most of us here are motivated in part by self-interest. But this afternoon, reader Chris Anderson made an eloquent case for two big ideas:

It’s a bold couple of claims, but I was inspired. See what you think.

My comment comes after doing a couple of years of on-the-ground research. There is no coherent opposition to biking in Portland. There are a bunch of reasons bike infrastructure gets shafted, but they aren’t coherent and there is no one who’s putting them together as a coalition.

Low mode share is not an argument. It may be a premise to an argument, but one could argue that funding split should equal (desired) mode share split as they have in San Luis Obispo. Even matching funding to existing mode share would be a step forward in Portland.

Some bike activists (myself included) are guilty of thinking and acting like there is an organized opposition, but the status quo is a much trickier foe than an organized opponent.

What I’m getting at by my comment that there is no anti-biking coalition in Portland, is that I think our failure to roll out infrastructure has to be looked at as a process failure. In a city where two-thirds of people surveyed support safer bike routes [pdf] we aren’t falling behind because of opposition, we are falling behind due to a failure to execute.

To make progress we need to keep the conversation on the big picture wins for Portland if we can successfully transition to a world-class bike system. To me there is nothing more economically valuable than quality of life: it’s how Portland will attract the best people (from around the world) to create the arts, culture and businesses, that mean winning in the 21st century.

When everyday Portlanders can easily picture all the ways they are missing out because we are stuck with 20th century infrastructure, those survey responses will become even more favorable. We can’t send everyone on study tours to Europe, so communicating and inspiring people about this vision falls to those of us who can see it. When folks finally realize that bike improvements cost a negative amount of money and benefit everyone (not just riders) we might be able to find a process that doesn’t focus on details like parking.


Anderson immediately followed up with this:

TLDR, the missed opportunity to me is the saddest. If we spent what we routinely spend on a single suburban highway exchange — let’s call it $100 million — on citywide awesome bikeness, it would lay the foundation for a golden age in Portland. Not just a biking golden age, a real generations-long worldwide leadership role for the city in arts, culture, technology, etc.

And we aren’t doing that bc local retail can’t see past “their” parking spots? Can we elect someone with spine, please?

Anderson’s plea for people who believe in bicycling and low-car life to look around us and see that (in his view) little is actually standing in our way reminded me in the best way of the end of one of my favorite Terry Gilliam movies.

Open the gates.

Yes, we pay for good comments. We’ll be mailing a $5 bill to Chris in thanks for this great one. Watch your email!

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