To steep, perchance to dream
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
A funny thing happened on the way to the Oregon Bike Summit . . . I didn't see a soul in spandex. There was this one guy who sat through the entire proceeding with a rearview mirror attached to his beanie, but I sensed he might be more interested in the blonde in the back row than oncoming traffic.
When more than 150 people from all across the state gathered in Portland last weekend to talk about the state of cycling in Oregon, bow ties outnumbered bike shorts -- one more indication that a signal shift is under way.
In the halls of political power, bikes long were regarded as little more than toys used by Portland's income-challenged creative class to get back and forth between Pabst and tattoo parlor. That was then. Now is politicians, planners and, yes, developers, looking to bikes to be key components of tomorrow's more energy-efficient economy.
In metro Portland -- where infill is next to godliness -- more and more people are choosing bicycles as a mode of transportation. Not exclusively. But often.
About 10 percent of Portland commuters long have regularly used mass transit. About 6 percent currently use bicycles -- and the number is soaring.
That's why the people at the summit included three wildly divergent public policy heavyweights, each rarely associated with the skinny saddle set:
Gail Achterman, chair of the Oregon Transportation Commission, is looking to rising bike use to moderate demand on state highways, enhancing freight delivery and easing system overload. This helps explain why her agency just unveiled its latest vehicle license plate option: "Share the Road."
Metro President David Bragdon keeps telling anyone who will listen that a fully networked, regionwide bike and pedestrian trail system will be an engine of economic development in a next-generation metropolis.
Tim Wood, state director of Oregon Parks & Recreation, persuaded his agency to think outside the box -- and beyond park fences -- to pioneer America's first network of State Scenic Bikeways to brand Oregon as "The Land Bicycles Dream About."
Why are so many so steeped in pedal power? Why this sudden synergy? Because it's increasingly clear that bicycles can have a huge impact on everything from urban congestion and energy conservation to air quality and public health. And that -- compared to almost all other projected assaults on these foes -- bicycles are strikingly cost-efficient.
Now if only someone could figure a way to license both bikes and those who ride them, then we might really move this dream along.
-- Jonathan Nicholas