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Colville-Andersen: “Portland is completely overrated as a bike city”


One of the most well-known bicycling and urban planning consultants in the world had harsh words for Portland after a visit over the holidays.

In an Instagram post yesterday, Mikael Colville-Andersen wrote that, “Portland is completely overrated as a bike city” and that “It is a car city that squeezed some bike facilities in. Almost reluctantly, it seems.”

Colville-Andersen was in Portland to visit family; but he couldn’t resist sharing what he saw while walking our streets. The lack of people on bikes in general is what seemed to stick with him most. “In the course of 6 days I counted 26 people on bikes and I was all over town. TWENTY-SIX. Even in half-ass bike cities like Oslo (cold, hilly) and the like you would see more,” he wrote.

Colville-Andersen is known for his Copenhagenize blog, which rose to prominence about 10 years ago for its documentation of the people and infrastructure of one of the world’s most bike-friendly cities. Colville-Andersen has since built his blog into an urban design and planning firm that has completed projects around the world. He has also recently launched a TV series called “Life-Sized City”.

In 2009, Colville-Andersen visited Portland as an emissary of the Danish Embassy. He spoke at an event where he shared the stage with then Mayor Sam Adams. At that event nine years ago, Colville-Andersen said it would only take Portland 5-10 years to achieve what it took Copenhagen 30 years to achieve in part because all the (planning and engineering) mistakes have been made and the case for bicycling is stronger now than it has ever been. He also pointed out that to do that it would take, “visionary political decision-making.”

In 2011, the Copenhagenize Index of the world’s best cycling cities ranked Portland 11th — and we were the only U.S. city to make the list.

Here’s the full text of his Instagram post:

I know I’m not the first to say it but Portland is so completely overrated as a bike city. Strikes me each time I visit. The city in general is nice and I love hanging out there. But time and again I realise that Bike Hype has clouded the reality. If a city is bike friendly, bicycles are a fifth limb for the citizens. You see them everywhere and at all hours. Bikes are spotted in racks.

The first time I visited for work it was late October and I wondered where the bikes were. A gent from the City, Roger Geller, admitted that the modal share was counted in June, during bike month. Not fair data for year round. Sure, in the American context the city is a bit ahead of the curve. Bike corrals here and there. Cool bike parking facilities now and again. But then bike lanes in the door zone. What a facepalm. And painted green – but not through the intersections where it’s needed. “Bicycle Boulevards” that are a product of lazy planning to keep bikes off the main car-centric streets and the natural Desire Lines for all citizens. Fragments that suggest the city has thought about bikes but when you don’t see cyclists, it doesn’t mean much. It is a car city that squeezed some bike facilities in. Almost reluctantly, it seems.

Go to Portland for the transit. It’s a brilliant work in progress. But biketown? Don’t buy the hype. Development has plateaued. Go to Minneapolis. Montreal. San Francisco. Places that are at least trying.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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