2012 Bike-Friendly Cities
America's Best Bike City: Portland, Oregon
The paragon of bike-friendliness regains the top spot in our rankings
ADVOCACY: America's Top Bike-Friendly Cities
Sit down, please, and take a deep belly breath now, for the truth is harsh: When a bicyclist pedals down toward the Willamette River, which divides Portland, Oregon, the waters do not part. The automobile traffic does not cease. Cars honk, and in a city obsessed with green transit, there are train rails—a gleaming cyclist’s nightmare—crisscrossing everywhere.
And it rains. The sky is a brooding gray between October and May, and in winter the rain, falling as a fine, gentle mist, can be so cold that your gloves almost freeze on your handlebar. And as you near the river, you may find one of Portland’s five drawbridges raised high so a giant steel China-bound cargo ship can come churning through.
Wait there, high up over the water. You can feel the thrum of the boat in your bones now, and you are not alone, for every bridge raising is a sort of festival in bicycle-mad Portland. Some guy will roll up beside you, probably, on a lime-green-wheeled fixie. Here, now, is a stolid commuter in a yellow rain jacket, with all sorts of earnest straps lashed to her rack, and here is a mangy, helmetless youngster on a homemade tall bike, two normal frames welded together, so that he looms 6 feet above the melee, quietly plucking his nose ring.
There are, inevitably, subtle flickers of intratribal tension there by the bridge—in Portland, a mere raised eyebrow can convey a nuanced diss like, “Shimano 105 derailleurs? Really?” But there is also a deep—and, yes, smug—solidarity. Those of us who ride daily in Portland, we know. We know we are the vanguard of American cycling. No other city in the United States has more cyclists per capita, and no other town has a coffee shop like Fresh Pot, which boasts 25 chairs and parking for 26 bicycles. We have trains of elementary-school bike commuters, and we have Move By Bike, a relocation-company that trundles couches across town on overstacked bike trailers. Even our city’s noncycling Lotharios know it is a deal-killer to ask, at the end of a sprightly first date, “Can I throw your bike in my car and give you a lift home?”
Minneapolis? Please. Let’s ride—along the Willamette now, on the paved Springwater Corridor, where, off to the east, great blue herons and snowy egrets pick about in the reeds and the mud of Oaks Bottom. Three miles on, amid the grain silos and rail yards of north Portland, you can feel the industrial heft of the city, built a hundred-odd years ago on shipping and logging. In Forest Park—which, at 5,000 acres, is the nation’s largest urban preserve—there is a growing network of singletrack on the slopes of Portland’s west hills. But me, I like to take my road bike higher in those same hills, past gracious manses built by long-ago timber barons, until I am up on Skyline Boulevard with its horse pastures and country-road dips and turns. It is cooler up there—sometimes in winter snow whitens the bows of the evergreens.
But it is the locals’ bike zeal that is most dear. Once, when I called the city’s Transportation Options office to ask about airport bike parking, a guy there responded 45 minutes later via e-mail, with a 500-word personal treatise. (“There is a specific bike parking area,” he began, before discussing option B, the bike lockers, and riffing on the bike-guarding aplomb of Homeland Security.) Another time, when I found myself stooped by the roadside, muttering cuss words over a broken chain, a random savior materialized to offer assistance gratis. “I’m a professional bike mechanic,” he proclaimed, superhero-like. “What can I do?”
A mass ride in Portland is a Dionysian rite. Witness the Naked Bike Ride, through downtown, or the Cross Crusade Series, an autumn-long mud bath that last fall drew more than 1,500 competitors, including one whip-lean, bearded maestro who wore pigtails and a pink jersey reading “Keep Cyclocross Weird.” The Worst Day of the Year Ride, meanwhile, is a 17-miler which brings some 4,000 hardcores out into the gray gloom each February, to celebrate misery and self-flagellation. The route ends, of course, at a brewpub.
The party is on every single day. I know this because I happen to live on a designated bicycle street, and on summer evenings sometimes I sit out on my porch and listen as the bikes roll by, singly and in groups. There is a certain delight in the air then—the warm, dry days of summer are a sweet reprieve in Portland—and the riders’ voices seem silky somehow: soft and murmurous. I’m able to catch only a word or two at a time. I hear, “so anyway,” “and then he…” But always the larger story sings out in the dusk and the dark: We dreamed ourselves a strange and lovely city out here on the green edge of the continent, and we shook free.
1. Portland, OR Population: 583,776
After being named runner-up in our last round of best bike city rankings in 2010, Portland reclaims the top spot. The only large city to earn Platinum status from the League of American Bicyclists is a paragon of bike-friendliness, with 180 miles of bike lanes and 79 miles of off-street bike paths. Always quick to embrace cyclist-friendly innovations, Portland was the first city in the United States to implement bike boxes
at intersections and elementary-school bike commuting trains. Among the city's many bike shops is newcomer Go By Bike, which is located under the aerial tram and offers valet parking, rentals, and repairs.
NORTH AMERICA > UNITED STATES > OREGON > PORTLAND
Portland, Portland Style: Touring by Bicycle
David N. Seelig for The New York Times
On St. Johns Bridge over the Willamette in Portland, Ore.
By MATT FURBER Published: April 2, 2009
“A LOT of good cyclists come out of Portland just because you can ride year-round,” said Bruce Rogers, an athletic-shoe designer visiting from his home in Hailey, Idaho. “I love coming back because I love the biking, no matter what time of year it is. More than fitness, it’s a fun outlet. As long as you have decent rainwear you can ride in any weather.”
Careering through streets on a bicycle in Portland, Ore., this time of year can be an easy weekend adventure that mixes showers, sunbursts, cafes and a robust bicycle culture. And equipped with a sturdy rain jacket, booties, fenders and a bike map (a waterproof version that folds to the size of a credit card is handy), visitors can enjoy the city the way locals do.
On a recent misty Friday evening, bicyclists wearing blinking safety lights formed a spontaneous, festive parade across the Hawthorne Bridge. The impromptu peloton flashed by like a line of flickering fireflies.
Tourists will find that Portlanders seem to know how to avoid the biggest gushers, perfecting the art of ducking into a cafe at the moment that passing showers soak the streets. “I’ve seen a lot of double rainbows this winter,” said Andrew Butterfield, a teacher at da Vinci Arts Middle School, who was drinking a coffee in the Hollywood neighborhood during one cloudburst.
For visitors, it’s possible to land at Portland International Airport and hop the MAX Light Rail to start a city tour.
“You can just load your bike on the train and head into town,” said Don Shepler, a Portland-trained chef who, together with his wife, Erin Zell, runs Galena Lodge, a Nordic skiing retreat and summer hiking stop in southern Idaho. The couple enjoy returning to Portland for biking-and- food tours.
“The last time we were there we rode to a bunch of different restaurants on Alberta Street,” Ms. Zell said. “We’d enjoy a drink and appetizers and ride somewhere else.”
Days of clear weather come and go this time of year, but it never really rains that hard, Mr. Shepler said, adding that he liked the flow of bicycle traffic in Portland. “On the side streets with bike lanes you’re on the grid, and you can just go,” he said.
It helps to have a Bike There! map, published by the regional governing body known as Metro and available at bike shops and the downtown visitors center. A mapping program, found at byCycle.org, can help visitors pick the best biking route to markets, galleries, museums or other destinations.
Locking up at on-street bicycle parking stands downtown near the Portland Museum of Art, cyclists also take advantage of Benson Bubblers, drinking fountains in various locations around town. While filling a water bottle, it was impossible not to notice how many people are on bikes despite the rain.
“Portland is a really easy and comfortable city to use a bicycle as transportation,” said Roger Geller, Portland’s bicycle coordinator since 1994. “There is a lot of energy around cycling right now and it’s not just 20-year-old men racing. I see average people out biking.”
Mr. Butterfield, who has been a bicycle commuter in Portland for 20 years, suggests that visitors take a tour over the four bicycle-friendly bridges on the Willamette River (the Broadway, Steel, Burnside and Hawthorne Bridges) as a good way to get oriented. But a bridge tour only scratches the surface of biking opportunities in and around Portland. A trip on the tram from the river to the hillside campus of Oregon Heath & Science University reveals a compelling green landscape. Fresh snow on the volcanic peaks of Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens in the Cascade Range makes the view of the city hardly seem urban.
Riders who wish to delve deeper into Portland’s diverse bicycle culture can simply drop in on pubs like Hopworks Urban Brewery in Southeast, a tavern decorated with spare bike parts that serves organic beer.
Stopping at Hopworks pub was Brian Schultz, an engineer with Chris King Precision Components, a manufacturer of bike parts, transplanted to Portland from California, and his wife Molly Mattecheck Schultz, a former employee of Team Estrogen, an Oregon-based company specializing in fitness apparel for women. Conversation quickly turned to tales of their recent 5,000-mile coast-to-coast bicycle tour, inspired by their love of cycling in Portland.
“People were amazingly generous and trusting,” Ms. Shultz said of their trip, adding that it helped her gain a new appreciation for the commitment to bicycling in Portland. It’s not unusual to see women riding through the winter in skirts and knee-high boots, followed by athletes training in winter riding clothing, she said.
Portland’s embrace of bike culture means that there are hundreds of miles of bike lanes and multiuse paths already in place.
“The goal is to become a world-class bicycling city,” Mr. Geller said. “There has been a linear rise in bike use, but in the last four years it’s been exponential.”
The steady flow of bicycle traffic also makes it easy for visitors to commune with fellow cyclists or at least to ask for directions. Street signs indicating the distance between points, including an estimated bicycling time, make Portland a logical city to navigate on two wheels. The signs are posted on streets commonly known as bicycle boulevards — quieter, safer alternatives to busier roads with bike lanes.
Visitors will find that special bike-crossing signals and bike lanes highlighted in bright green help to guide traffic in the most complicated intersections. Breaking up a ride with a stop at a cafe or a pub adds to the pleasure, said David Lord, a bike racer and elementary school teacher, who commutes by bike more than 4,000 miles each year. Bicyclists might also find themselves steered toward a slice at Mississippi Pizza Pub, chased by a beer down the road at Amnesia Brewing.
“There is an amazing selection of restaurants and brewpubs like the Lucky Lab and the Bridgeport Brewery, but my favorite thing to do is hit Powell’s Books,” said Mr. Rogers, the shoe designer. “Every trip I spend a few hours there, not only to check out books, but to check in with the world.”
Back on the road, Portland can sometimes look like an elaborate model railroad table with everything in motion, especially if viewed from one of the Willamette bridges. Riding toward North Portland on the Broadway Bridge, it is not unusual to see the Amtrak Coast Starlight train crossing the Steel Bridge headed for Union Station a little after 3.
“The thing about Portland is there are so many world-class rides at your fingertips,” Mr. Rogers said, as he prepared to ride with his best friend across the Willamette to Council Crest, said to be the highest point in the city, with a panoramic view of the Cascade volcanoes. “Portland’s pretty much roadie heaven.”
IF YOU GO
byCycle.org (http://www.bycycle.org) is an interactive trip planner that integrates the regional bicycle map.
BikePortland (http://bikeportland.org) covers the Portland bike scene.
The Bicycle Transportation Alliance (http://www.bta4bikes.org) is a nonprofit organization that works to promote bicycling and improve bicycling conditions in Oregon and southwest Washington. Its Web site has plenty of links to resources for bicyclists.
The Community Exchange Cycle Touring Club (http://www.exchangecycletours.org) promotes cycling as “a means of cross-cultural interaction and earth-friendly transportation by providing bicycle maintenance and bicycle touring resources.”
Shift (http://www.shift2bikes.org) calls itself a “a loose-knit and informal bunch of bike-loving folks” who organize bicycle events, including social rides, educational tours and art-bike parades.
“Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities” (http://oregonstate.edu/dept/press/o-p/PedalingRev.html) by Jeff Mapes investigates how cyclists in Portland and other cities and college towns work with the support of local government.
“Veer” (http://www.veerthemovie.com) is a film that looks at the lives and bike-centric social groups of five people in Portland over the course of a year. It is to be shown the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center in New York on May 5 at 6:30 p.m.
Portland Travel Guide
Biking Interest Guide
Denver Colorado Program against Hit&run
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It wastes no time sending the suspect's vehicle description to the more than 1,200 cab drivers, and 7,500 UPS trucks already enrolled in the system.