Lessons Learned in Portland, OR

Posted by David Meza on September 14, 2018 in Advocacy

David visits Portland, a city with many transportation solutions, for a conference on improving bike share.

I spent last week in Portland, Oregon attending the “Moving Forward Together” conference. The conference was co-hosted by the North American Bikeshare Association and the Better Bike Share Partnership, the holders of the grant supporting our work in Blue Bikes For All. It was really great to spend time in a city with so much bicycle infrastructure and multimodal options. Touring the area and taking part in the conference really gave me a strong feeling of hope towards what we can do in New Orleans to become more accommodating to all road users and focus on serving underrepresented groups and neighborhoods.

Streets for All

I began the conference with a multimodal workshop. Participants were taken on a tour of city, highlighting the various facilities in and around downtown Portland. We began by walking through downtown, noting the various signage for public transit, pedestrians, and bicyclists throughout the dense urban landscape. I was especially impressed to note that all road users played their role with little exception: Cars stopped before crosswalks at interchanges, most all pedestrians crossed at the crosswalk and waited for their signal, and bicyclists rode with traffic – even holding their position behind vehicles instead of passing on the side.

The tour really highlighted the attention to multimodal transportation in the city. We took a bus which provided designated areas and hooks for passengers to store their bicycles. From there we transferred to a free streetcar which dropped us off near the Tilikum Crossing, a new bridge exclusively for bicycle, pedestrian, scooter, and public transit. Before going on the bridge we walked towards the university center. We walked along a dual-running bicycle track painted in a vibrant green with clearly marked pedestrian and bicycle lanes. These paths were separated from the motor traffic with concrete barricades.

When we arrived in the university center we prepared to take an air-tram to the top of a large peak, housing the medical district. The group was given a talk about the history and functionality of the tram. At least that’s what I gathered the talk was about, I was distracted by a permanent bicycle valet which is provided for tram users. As that’s one of my roles at Bike Easy, I wanted to gather more information on the valet.

Talking to the supervisor of the valet I found: They park an average of 4,000 bicycles a day, they offer tune-ups and flat fixes, ticket/receipts are processed through university RFID cards, and they started a bike share system for the university prior to BikeTown (the Portland bike share company) which they continue to offer. It was truly inspiring to see such a large operation. The program is overseen by only one person at most times with some overlap to service the bicycles in need, if a bike is not going to be able to get repaired that day, the technician alerts the customer prior to their return.

After taking the tram up and back down, the group got on BikeTown bikes (free passes provided to all convention attendees) and proceeded back to the Tilikum Crossing. We crossed the river and road along the river trail, stopping to observe “Adaptive BikeTown” a contracted service to provide bike share to differently abled individuals as well as younger riders and groups through variations on traditional bicycles.

Our tour continued along until the path took us on the river. A floating path sits on top of the river itself, telescoping ramps on either end expand or contract based on the water level. It was truly a great piece of engineering and a nice place to get away from the rest of the city.

We concluded our tour returning to the downtown side of the river via a pedestrian and bicycle path which ran alongside, but protected from, motor traffic. We rode back to our hotel in a “pop-up” protected bike lane running down one of the main streets in the city. This project, called Better Naito, took one lane of traffic away from motorists to add a two-way cycle track and a pedestrian path. Though initially just a one-time installment for a downtown festival, it has since gained so much public support it lasts throughout the summer months and will be re-installed next year.

The Importance of Equity in Bike Share

The rest of the week was filled with many panels, workshops, and booths from various vendors/groups. With the big leaps in E-bikes and rental scooters they certainly had a presence, I was glad to see however that the concentration was mostly focused on equity. I believe bike share can be a great resource for everyone, but only if the practices are such that they truly are made available to everyone. Without working towards equity, bike share will always be viewed as a white-collar luxury. With that in mind, it was great to see the various programs in place around the world focused on providing bike share to the people most in need of affordable transportations and making sure it works to suit their needs.

G.A.R.E. (Government Alliance for Race and Equity) headlined a lot of the remaining workshops. They provided a “racial equity toolkit” which allows individuals and organizations to put any of their practices or programs through to ensure they are serving and incorporating equity in all facets. They also provided strategies to address “dog whistles” and opposition to equity work after asking those under the Better Bike Share Partnership gran what they’d most find valuable. I found that spoke wonders to the opposition faced around the country and was very happy to see an approach which did not try to handle such issues with “kid gloves”.

It was truly a great experience and very encouraging to see so many people from minority groups providing their insight and experience, always with a theme of looking forward and the necessity of better practices in the future. However, I couldn’t help but think the whole time of the setting I was in. Portland is a predominantly white city (73% according to my research) and one with a lot of displacement of minority groups. Their bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure seem to go up with little or no opposition. Simply put, it’s a different world than New Orleans and there is no place I’d rather be than New Orleans. I realize that we have a much larger uphill battle (though much fewer hills) but there is no place I’d rather be working on it and nobody I’d sooner work for than the great people of New Orleans.

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