Cycle Oregon is more than an organization putting on amazing bike rides that change people’s lives for good while raising money to support a host of great causes and projects throughout rural Oregon. It also plays a leadership role in local and national cycling advocacy. In addition to the Week Ride, the Weekend Ride and CO3, Cycle Oregon organizes an event called the Policymakers Ride, which brings policymakers, planners and advocates who work to improve active transportation infrastructure and community health in the Portland metro region.
Last Friday was the 10th anniversary of this important tour. Many segments of this year’s 30-mile course included bike paths that will soon make up the country’s first urban Scenic Bikeway. The route highlighted several achievements that have been made in Portland over the past several decades, as well as some of the challenges that have yet to be conquered.
After opening remarks from Cycle Oregon Chairman Jonathan Nicholas and Executive Director Alison Graves at the Moda Center, the group of 150+ riders saddled up and cruised the Eastbank Esplanade, the Springwater Corridor, the Hawthorne Bridge, Tom McCall Waterfront Park, the Steel Bridge bike path, Willamette Blvd. and the Going St. bike and pedestrian overpass.
Stops included Sellwood Riverfront Park, Tilikum Crossing, Holladay Park and the University of Portland. Among the many great rest-stop speakers were Mike Houck, Nastassja Pace, Wim Wiewel, Dave Unsworth, Kyle Anderson, Laurie Kelley and Jennifer Dice, talking about topics ranging from the Intertwine Alliance to public/private collaboration, from active transportation integration promoting economic development to the challenges of continuing forward progress.
A Virtuous Competition
Thanks to people like former mayor Bud Clark (who has been a part of all 10 Policymakers Rides), Portland has had a pretty nice head start in what has become an important competition among an increasing number of mayors – to be named “Best Bike-Friendly City” by the likes of the League of American Bicyclists or Bicycling Magazine. The secret, says Clark, is to keep riding bikes and keep drinking beer. Done and done.
Portland’s current mayor, Charlie Hales, calls it a “virtuous competition” that helped soften the blow of losing the top spot to Minneapolis a few years ago. His bike currently wears a sticker from Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak that reads “Portland is Just an Avenue in Minneapolis,” which will remain until Portland “earns” back the top spot (something that tends to happen pretty regularly).
Mayor Greg Ballard of Indianapolis was also part of this year’s Policymakers Ride. Mayor Ballard shared his perspective on what happens to a city that goes from virtually no cycling infrastructure to a whole lot of it in a few short years. In just five years, Indianapolis went from having a single lonely mile of bike lane (which was reportedly in disrepair) to 82 miles. By next year the goal is to have 200 miles of interconnected bike paths, lanes and greenways.
At the center of it all is the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, a protected eight-mile walking and cycling trail in the heart of downtown that connects six of the city’s cultural districts, features seven public art projects and connects to an additional 40 miles of the city’s Greenway Trail system. The Cultural Trail is so impressive that it put Indianapolis on the New York Times list of 52 places to go in 2014 along with Athens, the Arctic Circle, Nepal, Vienna, Belize, Namibia, Dubai and the Vatican.
The entire project cost the city little more than a few parking spaces. The majority of the funding came from private donations and a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. While the cost to the city was minimal, the payback is massive. It has revitalized a huge swath of the city, generated substantial tax revenue and even raised property values along the pathways by 11 percent.
More important, an increasing number of people are exploring the city by bike. Mayor Ballard, who served in United States Marine Corps for 23 years, got all choked up when he told a story about a middle-aged woman who said the trail is what made her comfortable enough to get out and ride, managing only the ability to say “That’s huge” before regaining his composure. And that IS huge.
The Indy Bike Hub YMCA works to make it easy for commuters to use the Cultural Trail every day. There’s a store that sells bike gear and clothing, a repair facility and a shower/locker facility. The mayor took it upon himself to make sure lockers were big enough for people to store a week’s worth of clothing, which has indeed created a legion of regulars who commute exclusively by bike. He also leads a number of rides throughout the year, including the aptly named Mayor’s Bike Ride.
Why is Mayor Ballard so gung-ho about bikes? His answer is simple: It isn’t because he’s a bike nut, it’s because he knows cities have to compete to attract talented people – and that’s exactly what projects like this do.
And while the mayor did say Portland provided a great model for cycling cities, he did say a lot of cities are catching up, so it’s up to us to “get on it” and continue showing the way. Sounds like virtuous competition words to us – we’re on it.