I was fortunate to have a few days vacation after a June 2011 business trip. This would be the first time experiencing it by bicycle. Portland has often been referred to as a biking capital of the United States. I’ve heard of it as a model for all cities in bike – car integration. It is also the microbrew capital of the US as well.
Upon arrival at PDX, I was greeted with cold & rainy weather at around 35F-50F. It rained lightly but CONSTANTLY – there was no break. There was no sunshine either for the entire trip.
For the all day biking, the jacket, rain pants, a helmet rain cap, wool gloves and a booties worked the best. I started to learn how cotton was worthless if it got wet in the rain. There was an REI nearby, so I decided to try out the smart wool t-shirt and get some wool socks. I have to say that this “miracle” product lives up to its hype. It keeps you warm if you are wet, cool if you are hot, dries quickly and it naturally anti-microbial (you won’t stink). This t-shirt was not like a sweater. It felt and looked just like a regular t-shirt. Here’s a photo of me looking ridiculous with a yellow helmet cap and my dry head appreciating it!
Regarding cycling in Portland, there were more bicyclists in town, but not near the level I was expecting to see. Those that were out there looked like they were determined to bike in this rainy weather. The typical outfit a cyclist would wear would be a rain jacket of some sort, jeans and either a waterproof messenger bag or waterproof panniers. I found that worked out for me in downtown with rides less than 3 miles long in any type of drizzle.
The bikes in Portland reflect experience and wisdom to their configuration. All bikes seemed to have fenders, gears, panniers/baskets and drop bars to make them versatile.
I was under the impression there would be bike lanes everywhere, but this was not the case. Downtown actually lacked them, but that was made up by the fact there were numerous stop signs so you could travel with cars. They did have well marked lanes where needed, like areas of fast traffic. The bike/pedestrian only bridges were nice to cross without having to fear cars taking you down. There were well thought out areas where separated bike lanes would merge near city streets.
With many stop signs, I discovered I wasn’t missing it unless there was fast traffic. But if there was fast traffic, there usually was one. This could have been deliberate by design. Portland had provided some free bike maps, so you would know the ideal roads to bike on when planning your commute.
Outside of downtown, it was a different story. I had to drop my car off at the airport and planned on biking back to downtown. The bike infrastructure was discontinuous. The worst part was from out of the terminal next to the lookout at Rocky Butte. This is disappointing because the airport had a bicycle assembly area, yet no safe way for anyone to arrive or depart the airport by bicycle. Bike lanes were discontinuous next to high speed traffic. Fortunately, I had a median or a side road, but this felt like biking in suburban Broward County…..very unsafe. The areas that were marked “shared roadway with wider outside lane” were my least favorite to travel.
Despite biking craziness to get there, the view from Rocky Butte was worth it!
Travelling on the recommended bike lanes took you to roads that felt safe and were efficient for cars and bikes. There were a number of exclusive bike trails throughout the city that paralleled major highways, making it easier to get from A-B.
Portland served as my first experience with sharrows. I’ve heard of them, but didn’t really know what to do with them. I thought I would ride my bike directly over them. In certain areas, it directed me to follow traffic in the middle of the road and away from parked cars. This seemed to make sense for areas of slow moving traffic, like neighborhoods. I think the sharrow also served as a reminder to motorists about the presence of cyclist traffic….not that I am realistically expecting every motorist to pay attention to it.
I think people are a big part of what makes it a cyclist friendly city. There is definitely a large cycling presence – thus strength in numbers. I would be in groups of 2 or three while travelling downtown. You would regularly see cyclist on the bike lane. I didn’t see cyclist travelling opposite traffic or riding on the sidewalk. Most everyone used hand signals for turning and braking, something I have never seen before. Everyone used helmets and lights.
I would guess most motorists were cyclists of some form or knows someone that is one. With that much of a population, motorists would most likely be more considerate to cyclists on the road. Portland must have many groups who are active in cycling advocacy. Their presence and determination seem to be the keys to this success.
The city and businesses seemed to embrace cycling as part of its image. There were bike racks everywhere. For example, my hotel offered free bikes for it guests. All businesses I visited didn’t me bringing in the folding bike. There were plenty of quality bike shops too. This was helpful because my rear tire started to balloon from a defect. Thankfully, I was able to source a Bike Friday dealership a few miles away that had the tire I needed, a 349 size.
Taking what I learned from this trip, it occurred to me that we (Miami) could have potential for cycling to be recognized as a serious form of transportation by the whole community. When you think about it, Portland has hills, constant rain, snow, chilly weather and hot summers. In Miami, we have flat land, rain, heat and no snow. We actually have a more favorable biking environment over Portland.
Fortunately, Miami has made tremendous progress with its bicycle infrastructure. More and more people are getting into cycling. Through local bike rides, more people and motorists are being educated that cycling can be possible and practical in Miami just by seeing it happen. The number of cyclists are growing – as evident by the exploding growth of cyclists (in the 1000’s now) in locally organized rides. So we are getting the people and with that, we need more signs, more support from local businesses, more support from the city, more law enforcement, more infrastructure and improvements in the design of our roads to meet up with this demand. Call me an optimist, but maybe there will be a day where the word “Miami” conjures up talk about how it is the #1 city for cyclists!