Ablush In The City of Roses
Last week, I had the good fortune of visiting Portland, Oregon – a city I visit fairly often and where I lived for two years a decade ago. A leader in sustainable urban planning and transportation, green architecture, organic food and farming, and the arts, Portland’s home to a large number of down to earth, smart, and kind people, including my mom. I love the city.
I flew into town to give a Bicycle-Friendly Business District presentation and workshop in Eugene, where the City and the University of Oregon’s LiveMove program partnered to bring me into town. It was wonderful seeing Eugene’s bike infrastructure, incense-filled grocery stores, artistic lawn installations, and most of all, meeting so many terrific people from the bike advocacy community – people like Rob Inerfeld from the city’s transportation office, Alex Page of the university’s LiveMove program, Shane MacRhodes from Safe Routes to School, Paul and Kelsey Moore from Arriving by Bike, Larisa Varela of Sunday Streets, and many others. The large group of attendees came up with some great ideas of how they’ll engage the business community in bicycle and pedestrian planning and learned some suggestions of how to more fully integrate bicycling into the town’s events, promotions and operations.
I added a few days in Portland onto my trip so I could see some of the city’s newest lanes and meet up with colleagues, and an hour after landing at PDX, I met with Jonathan Maus, founder and editor of BikePortland.org, a daily online newspaper highly respected by the Portland community and beyond. His office is conveniently located near one of downtown’s sharrows. Super sharp and full of integrity, it’s easy to see why Jonathan is held in such high regard. As if fantastic conversation (about such things as maintaining an independent voice in advocacy and fostering a diverse “ecosystem” of bicyclists in a city, vs. a concentration of power) wasn’t a great enough two hours, he also wrote this story about me.
The next morning I met with Mia Birk, who I’ve known for a few years and am very fond of. Somehow looking younger after having her third child, this remarkable woman is the epitome of what calm under pressure looks like. In addition to having a full family life and running Alta Planning & Design, she also heads Alta Bike Share, which is in the middle of rolling out systems in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. When I asked her how she balances this with her youngest, Levi, being only eight months old, she explains that he’s just so darn cute that he makes everything easier. Saintly talk, in my opinion. Super inspiring. And her warm personality permeates throughout the two-story Alta office, which is full of top-notch employees, kids’ tricycles, and a great vibe. Visiting Alta’s Portland office is always fun.
While I didn’t get to hang in PDX with colleagues Laura Crawford and Russ Roca of The Path Less Pedaled – because they were bike touring in California (typical!) – we squeezed in brunch the previous weekend in Long Beach. Check out this fantastic video they just produced about small towns. (For anyone needing bike tour consultants or videos, I highly recommend them.)
Laura suggested I meet Evan Ross of Portland Bicycle Tours and check out his new location in Old Town, one of my favorite areas in the city because of the historic architecture and pedestrian-scale streets. I was really impressed with the beautiful space as well as the care he puts into every aspect of his business. In addition to offering a creative array of bike tours (like regional wine tours and city chocolate tours), a diversity of bikes for rent, bike accessories for sale, literature, and a bike repair shop, he also offers a small beer bar, shows bicycling videos on rotation from Streetfilms and The Path Less Pedaled, and has many historic bike posters on display from his personal collection. He’s creating a fantastic exterior sign out of retro metal and custom lights that reads “CYCLE PDX” (at right). His spot’s so hip even John C. Reilly has been there.
Evan graciously offered to loan me a bike, but I ended up borrowing one from Splendid Cycles, because it’s directly across the street from my mom’s home. Although the owners, Joel and Barb Grover, had never met me before, they offered me Barb’s personal bike and even outfitted it with a cushy seat and lights! An incredibly kind and generous thing to do, to say the least. That kind of care is also evident in their cargo bike-focused shop. Selling Metrofiets and more, they do about half of their business from Portland walk-ins and half from around the country. I particularly love this artistic wooden cargo box they just received.
My first ride was from Splendid Cycles to Tasty and Sons on N. Williams to meet up with Scott Bricker, who I met through The Enclave, a group of seven of us who plan a fun dance party at the two main bike conferences every year. I’m the group’s newest member, still earning my stripes. Fellow Enclave member Robert Ping (one of the leaders at the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, not to mention an exceptional trumpet player) was unable to join us, but I’m glad I got to see him in L.A. the previous week.
Scott is the director of America Walks and Bricker Consulting and former head of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. Like Jonathan and Mia, he’s brilliant, multi-talented, and a devoted parent. We were joined by his colleague Michelle Poyourow, another talented bicycle consultant who’s doing work with Alta Planning and others. What is it with all of these brilliant people in Portland – who are also loads of fun?!
While I’ve biked around NW and SE Portland a good bit over the years, I hadn’t biked much of North and NE, which is where I did most of my riding on this trip. I rode the new cycle tracks on Multnomah, the lanes and boulevards along Williams and Going, and a host of other bike paths around the East side – and I also checked out this parklet on Williams.
The difference between riding in Portland versus most other cities is that Portland’s bike paths take care of you. When riding there, I feel safe, guided, and not isolated. I don’t need to pull out a map every mile because a path suddenly ends. Things are connected, and done so thoughtfully – down to the delightful, and sometimes surprising, detail.
My favorite example of this is the two-stage left turn at Weidler and Williams. I didn’t know it existed until I rode through it, and I found myself with my jaw dropped and then giggling after seeing that, within seconds, it did its job seamlessly. (More info on Portland’s two-stage left turns here.) It is clear that everyday bicyclists – including women and parents – helped design these paths. No, Portland’s no Copenhagen just yet, and yes, it should keep on adding and improving its lanes, but it’s the U.S. leader, to be sure.
I loved the ride from Old Town across the Broadway Bridge, north on Williams and east on Going, as I was en route to the Metrofiets warehouse. Co-owner Philip Ross showed me around, which was a real treat, as I’ve been admiring his and James Nichols’ cargo bike beauties for years, including that they’re handcrafted in the USA. We then rode to Velo Cult, where he rents out the glorious Metrofiet beer bike. While I enjoyed trying it out, Phil clearly wins the photo contest (above)!
Velo Cult… man… where do I begin? Should I start by telling you how huge it is – big enough to sell lots of bikes, cargo bikes, helmets, and accessories, rent beer and water bikes, hold a bike repair shop, have a photo booth (see right), feature a long bar that serves delicious beer, and outfitted with wooden picnic tables in the middle of the space for hanging out? That Velo Cult’s so big that people hold events – even weddings – there, and that Sky Boyer, the rad owner, considers the space half bar/creative space and half bike shop? Or maybe I should tell you how the space features a salvaged castle draw bridge that serves as a stage for gold sprints and live shows. …Wha?! Yes. It is true, and here it is (drawn), with Sky in front.
That’s not all, though. Sky turned the basement into a movie theatre and retro lounge. And, after dark, the space upstairs gets even more ambiance because they turn off all the lights and light candles. …A romantic bike shop with a castle drawbridge? Am I dreaming? No, I’m just in Portland.
Before I caught my plane home, I made time to see the lovely Elly Blue, shown here in a bike box on Lincoln and Cesar Chavez. I first reached out to Elly in 2011 because of her impressive Bikenomics article series in Grist, and we presented together on the Business Case for Bicycling at the Pro Walk Pro Bike conference in Long Beach. We chatted about our participation in the upcoming National Bike Summit – where Elly’s doing a book signing and I’m presenting with Jim Sayer on Bicycle-Friendly Business Districts and Bike Tourism – as well as her newest book, Disaster!, which I helped crowdfund along with 115 other people. She gave me a copy of her other new book, Childhood, which this bike-riding mama is looking forward to reading.
There are so many bike people, paths, businesses, and adventures I didn’t have time to visit on this trip or have seen in the past, not to mention coffee shops, wine bars, galleries, and more. But I hope this sampling gives you some sense of the fantastic city where everything seems to be coming up roses.