Portland, Oregon is one of the most bicycle friendly cities in America. I recently spent a few days out there exploring the city via bicycle and was amazed at the amount of cyclists I saw on the streets of that city. They seemed to be everywhere I rode: in the downtown area, the hilly, tree-lined neighborhoods, along the outlying commercial districts, at the airport, and throughout their many parks.
With a population of about 580,000, it is estimated that at least eight percent of those living in Portland (close to 46,000) bicycle to work. Five thousand bikes alone cross the 1,300-foot Hawthorne Bridge (one of half-dozen or so bridges spanning the Willamette River) into downtown Portland on a daily basis. That is a staggering amount of riders as compared to other major cities such as Detroit.
Not only do people use bicycles to commute, many of the residents use them as their main form of transportation. Others use them for basic recreation, shopping, running errands or going out to dinner at one of the city’s many popular outdoor cafes that seemed to line the streets in just about every neighborhood I rode through.
The city of Portland has embraced the bicycle culture in a big way. All through the city I saw hundreds of bike lots, U and Wave shaped street racks and other secure areas for bicycle use only. Even the city’s well designed, efficient mass transit system called the TriMet, (which includes a commuter and light rail system; streetcars and local buses that crisscross the city), are well equipped to carry thousands of bikes. There’s also a workstation located in the airport where people traveling with bicycles can easily assemble and dissemble their bikes before and after flights. As expected, the city has plenty of bike shops.
One of the best things I liked about cycling in Portland was the bike lanes. The city has something like 325 miles of bikeways. There are bicycle street graphics, directionals and wide, defined bike lanes incorporated onto the roadways. There are also cyclist’s street signs listing destinations, estimated biking time and distance to all major sections of the city and to local transit centers. Not all streets have bike lanes, especially some of the city’s busiest. But Portland planners came up with a very creative and safe alternative for cyclists wishing to travel along those roads. On the major streets without lanes, cyclists are directed through residential streets where well-marked bike routes parallel the high traffic street.
Car and truck drivers are courteous and give plenty of room to riders zipping along the well-marked bike lanes. If no lanes are available, bicyclists hug the curb or pedal close to parked cars, and drivers wait for oncoming traffic to pass before they swing out to pass the cyclists. I was never beeped at or felt in any danger of being squeezed into parked cars or curbs like I have so many times while riding the streets of Detroit. Portland is a great bicycle city, and other cities should look to their model when designing bicycle friendly streets.