Five European bicycle ambassadors turned up in an unusual place yesterday: Beaverton City Hall. Metro received a grant to bring the five transportation experts from Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Lyons, Brussels and the Netherlands to Portland and its glorious suburbs to school us on how to make biking seriously mainstream transportation. Beaverton City Hall sits just off a four-lane highway, surrounded by parking lots and blocked from the road by a Noodles and Company, standing as physical proof of how far alternative transportation advocates still have to go in the Northwest.
Mayor Sam Adams and other local leaders aren't shy about their plan to make Portland the new Copenhagen, aiming to increase regular bike ridership to 20 percent of the city by 2020 (we're at about 8 percent right now). If Portland wants to hit that ambitious goal, the city and its suburbs should start taking the Europeans' advice to heart—and fast. Here's the quick hits from the ambassadors' presentations yesterday to the Beaverton crowd:
— Governments act too slowly. Get businesses to promote biking. According to Amsterdam bike ambassador Geert-Pieter Wagenmakers, employees who bike to work there have 10-12 percent less absences and they're much healthier. That helps the company save money, so they're happy to give employees $1000 every year to invest in buying a bike. "Everyone wins!" exclaimed Wagenmakers while I cried softly into my sweater. The cash-for-bikes idea blows my mind, but in Amsterdam, it's not radical. Seventeen big companies there, including U.S.-based firms like Microsoft and IBM, have signed on to reduce employee car miles traveled by 10 percent.
— Go for the children. Get bike education and safety programs into schools and then talk to parents about biking to school with their kids. As Margaux Mennesson at the Bicycle Transportation Alliance pointed out a few days ago, this is what school drop-off looks like in Amsterdam.
— Put bikes and pedestrians, not cars, at the center of urban planning. Making biking mainstream means making it swift, safe and easy. On some new roads in Amsterdam, the bike/pedestrian route is the most direct route. Cars routes get second priority and are routed around through side streets. Bikes are a no-brainer there because 85 percent of trips are faster by bike.
— Recognize that cars are deadly weapons. “Here they say bicycling is dangerous," says Copenhagen planner Niels Jensen. "In the Netherlands they say no, bicycling isn’t dangerous. The danger is cars. Car drivers need to be aware that they are in a vehicle that could kill.” Jensen says that in his country, any collision between a car and a child on a bike is deemed the drivers’ fault.
— Bikes are a cheap date. But not too cheap. Copenhagen spends 25 percent of its transportation budget on bikes. Portland spends .7 percent. THAT'S A PROBLEM. Seriously. Put your money where your big green mouth is, Portland!
Oh, also! Has anyone thought about what will happen when biking becomes mainstream culture in Portland? When biking is normal, says Jensen, all this crazy Zoobomb, bike-jousting fringey political biking culture will cease to exist. From Jensen:
"We have an anti-car culture, but they are organized against pollution. But the bikers are not against cars, no! We a have a bike club, but they are not activists. If everybody’s doing it, then you are not special anymore. If everybody eats, do you call yourself a ‘bread eater’? Nobody in the Netherlands calls themselves a biker except for the racing cyclists. The good thing is, in five or ten years, many people will bike. The bad thing is, that special culture will not exist anymore."
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