The Portland Bureau of Transportation is trying out a new strategy to encourage people to commute downtown by biking, walking or public transit: free coffee. Every Wednesday morning in March and April, PBOT staff will hold a pop-up somewhere downtown with coffee and $50 Kuto gift card credits for anyone who traveled downtown without a car.
PBOT’s “Ride Every Wednesday” initiative is part of Here for Portland’s larger “Every Wednesday” program, which intends to highlight Wednesday events happening in Portland’s central city to encourage people to get out of the house and visit some places downtown that could use some love.
“‘Every Wednesday’ is a new tradition we hope you’ll embrace,” the Here for Portland website states. “It’s a series of perks and pop-up events to brighten up your midweek and make your time in town as fun and productive as possible.”
Knowing the divisive reactions that are quick to follow most discussions about downtown Portland, Here for Portland offers a disclaimer about their new initiative:
“Every Wednesday is not a cover-up or Band-Aid for the very real challenges facing our city. Revitalization requires structural change,” the website says. “But at the same time, we recognize change is only possible if people show up and spend time in affected neighborhoods.”
It’s good to see PBOT encouraging people to commute with active transportation — though it might not seem like much, some free caffeine really can be a game-changer for overcoming your late-winter hump-day blues. However, given this initiative is happening in the midst of a concerning decline in bike ridership, one wonders if programs like this will really make a dent. Like Here for Portland said, revitalization requires structural change, not just coffee pop-ups.
At a Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) meeting earlier this month, members discussed strategies to prompt PBOT to more assertively incentivize cycling for transportation, and how doing this might mean some hard decisions for the bureau.
“It doesn’t seem like there’s a lack of information on PBOT’s part [about declining bike ridership],” BAC member David Stein said. “It’s more the the willingness to go out and do work that might not initially be politically popular.”
There’s also the question of how many people are actually physically commuting downtown given the prevalence of working from home. At the February meeting, BAC Vice Chair Joseph Perez asked whether PBOT should rethink how they measure bike ridership in the age of remote work.
“It’s somewhat challenging to conceptualize that ridership is actually declining in Portland if people are working from home and not commuting to work,” Perez said. “So why are we exclusively measuring commuting relative to Portland ridership?”
Advocates think tactics like closing streets off to cars on a weekly or monthly basis and improving safety for people walking and biking would be the most effective measures for reversing declining bike ridership. It’s an ongoing problem on which the BAC will continue to focus. But hey — I’m sure they wouldn’t say no to free coffee, too.
So, back to the coffee: PBOT will hold the kickoff “Ride Every Wednesday” event this Wednesday, March 1st. You’ll be able to grab coffee and download the Kuto gift card (which you can use at a variety of downtown establishments) from 7:30 to 10:00 am at the Congress Center at 1001 SW 5th Ave. Find out more about the program at PBOT’s website.