One of Portland’s most unusual experiments in privately funded bike promotion keeps growing and growing.
With a tram flying overhead, a raised bike lane across the street, a traffic signal shipped in from Europe and a streetcar running right through the middle of a two-lane street, the intersection next to Go By Bike Valet would be one of the most unusual locations in the United States even without 378 bikes valet-parked next to it — but that’s exactly what happened May 10 and 11, setting a new volume record for the valet launched in 2012.
Powered by improvements to Moody and the new Tilikum Crossing, valet usage is up 23 percent in the first four months of this year. But it had already been growing steadily every year — and the reasons for that success are relevant to any city looking for ways to deal with auto congestion and car parking shortages.
The valet is largely the creation of two creative Portlanders: John Landolfe, transportation options coordinator for Oregon Health and Science University, and Kiel Johnson, owner of the Go By Bike Shop.
Back spring 2010, soon after the Aerial Tram opened connecting the South Waterfront to OHSU’s hillside campus, Landolfe noticed that people had begun biking to the base of the tram and wrote an email to BikePortland pitching it as the perfect location for a new bike shop:
Landolfe says he can imagine a doctor or EMT or office assistant dropping off his or her bike at the waterfront, riding the tram up the hill, and returning to a tuned up ride on the way home. “It’d be a great arrangement for the cyclist, the shop owner, and the local economy.”
One of the people who saw our post was Kiel Johnson, a 23-year-old recent graduate of Lewis and Clark College who had traveled to Copenhagen as a student and started reading BikePortland soon after. He’d then become deeply interested in bicycles, founded something he called a “bike train” for Beach Elementary and was looking for a way to combine his belief in biking with a job that could get him through the recession.
What started as a no-frills pitch to Landolfe to operate a bike shop out of an old camping trailer evolved into a combination bike shop and valet inspired in part by similar services in Europe. Open from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and free to the public, it operates on otherwise hard-to-use space beneath the tram, which it rents from the City of Portland for $2,500 a year.
OHSU, eager to maximize ridership of its tram and take pressure off Marquam Hill’s pricey, crowded parking garages, covers some of the costs for Johnson and his four employees, and shop revenue covers the rest.
As of this season, the valet has capacity for 400 bikes, which will be barely enough to get through this summer if the 23 percent growth trend continues. These figures don’t include what Johnson estimates as 100 to 150 non-valet bike parking spaces near the tram, which are frequently full.
I asked Johnson why he thought valet usage keeps rising.
“Everybody who rides the tram has to go over and see all those bikes parked there, and at least for a moment every day, think about, Oh, it’s so cool that all these people ride their bikes. Maybe I should do that too.“
— Kiel Johnson, Go By Bike owner
“I think a lot of it has to do with the city’s investment on Moody and the bridge,” he said. “And I think there’s something also to just not having to worry about repairs. You know, if you get a flat tire, there’s somebody there who can fix it for you on the spot. And we probably see between two and five flat tires every day. That’s two and five people who if there wasn’t a bike shop right there would be like, riding a bike sucks and I have to figure out how to get me and my bike with a flat tire home.”
“And I think that it’s just becoming a lot more sort of socially normal at OHSU to ride your bike to work,” Johnson went on. “I think the valet is very visible advertisement that everybody who rides the tram has to go over and see all those bikes parked there, and at least for a moment every day, think about, Oh, it’s so cool that all these people ride their bikes. Maybe I should do that too.”
(Video by Johnson, who obviously thinks they should do that too.)
— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.