Portland, Oregon has been a bit of a punchline city in recent years, especially due to the popularity of IFC’s quirky TV show Portlandia, in which Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein make fun of the area’s quirky hipster characteristics. However, one thing the city is doing right is its growing emphasis on biking–Portland has the highest bike commuting share in the United States compared to all other major cities, and it’s working towards a goal of having a 25% bike mode share by 2030.
Tom Miller, director of the Portland Bureau of Transportation, cited a “crisis in transportation” as the reason for the department’s growing emphasis on biking and walking. The city, as with other major metropolitan areas, has a “21st century transportation vision” that officials are unsuccessfully trying to manifest with a “20th century funding model.” Obviously car commuting is more of a burden to the city’s budget than cycling or walking, but it’s refreshing to see Portland attempting to resolve their budget problems by embracing a solution that’s environmentally friendly and promotes exercise as well as being more fiscally sensible.
Also refreshing is Miller’s emphasis on transparency and accountability. He encourages Portland residents and bike advocates to keep track of the city’s progress with regards to bike commuting and hold the transportation department as well as elected officials accountable for any missteps or failures:
“If the funding is there, and you know the engineering expertise is there… The only thing we lack is political will.”
It’s a smart move if Miller wants to move the city towards his 25% bike mode share over the next 18 years. By keeping the public engaged and updated, they’ll become more passionate about the program and more interested in seeing the plan carried out. Public support will strengthen his position politically and can thus help him move his projects along better than if the public were to show disinterest or hostility towards his ideas.
Portland is setting a great example for other major cities. By investing in an alternate mode of transportation, the city is creating a better, healthier future for its residents and is also bringing awareness to bike and pedestrian safety. If more people start commuting via walking or cycling, there’s a better sense of “sharing the road” regardless of the transport method. People may snicker or roll their eyes at what’s thought to be a “hippie” city, but one thing that’s no laughing matter is how seriously Portland takes cycling and bike commuting. Save the chuckling for Portlandia and commend the city instead for their forward thinking.