Published on June 16th, 2014 | by Christopher DeMorro


Why Portland Became A Biking Mecca

June 16th, 2014 by  


While some cities are struggling to grapple with congestion issues and increasing bicycle ridership, Portland has become something of a biking mecca. But how did they do it, and why did it happen in Portland of all places?

Grist lays out four reasons why they think Portland has become such an important place to the biking movement, chief among them is the city’s head start beginning in the 1960s. Portland attracted all sorts of hippie types looking to simplify their lives. But the biggest benefit came in 1971, when Oregons then-governor Tom McCall signed the “bike bill”, which meant that 1% of all highway funding had to go to support bicycling in the state. That regular source of funding has made Portland one of the most bike-friendly places on the planet.

But that’s just part of the puzzle. Portland has had a number of bike-friendly politicians, many of whom are avid bikers themselves, that have helped push the biking agenda in the city proper. Not only does this mean more bike lanes, but harsher laws against drivers who hit bikers, and the creation of things like the “bike box”, where bicycles have a place to safely wait while turn signals change. Even the private sector got in on the act, offering apartment buildings loaded with plenty of bicycle parking.

Perhaps the most important part of Portland’s biking success though has to do with simple citizen activism. Portland residents are more likely to go to meetings and turn out to vote, encouraging politicians to vote their way.

It’s really that simple, but the benefits for bikers just keep on comin’ in the city of Portland.

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About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.

  • Pieter Siegers

    A biker is a biker. When I biked in Holland (where it rains very frequently) it didn’t matter what weather it was, you only adjust your cloth type and off you go!

  • Halleylujah Danger

    to all the cry babies that think that Portland is “rainy” obviously need to come visit it…. or at least do some research. Portland is by far not even in the running for even in the top 10th rainiest city in the US. (As far as precipitation. The rain meter does not floweth over. But many other cities do. In some very short amounts of times.)

    However, it does sprinkle a lil bit – I’m concerned that this article doesn’t list for instance Hilo, HI which surpasses all these places at 157 inches annually and rains pretty much every single day – sometimes twice.

    I was playing with this for a moment.

    Thing is that Portland actually has very temperate, dry winters, warm springs and summer; rarely ever gets snow – is very hospitable to being outdoors. Unlike, Minneapolis for instance, who I can’t fathom why they keep pretending to be bikey; what with their 3’+ of snow yearly.

    • Benjamin Nead

      Raininess is a relative thing, HD. I don’t know where State College, Pennsylvania (where I grew up), comes up on those lists, but I remember it for never-ending precipitation . . . and a November trip I made to Portland one year kinda reminded of that.

      What I miss from those northern climates is the fall, when it starts to cool down quickly in September and all the leaves turn golden yellow. We really don’t get that down here in the Sonoran Desert. But October through April here? it feels like fall blending into spring over a 7 month period with no snow or bitter cold in between. Simply the best.

  • Benjamin Nead

    It sure is wet up there, Wayne. Having conversed in various internet bicycle chat groups with a number of avid bicyclists in Portland, Seattle, and elsewhere in the northwest US and southwest Canada, I gather these folks battle harden themselves and their bikes for the weather quite effectively. Rubber poncho raincoats are a high fashion accessory and bikes are outfitted with full coverage fenders and internally geared hubs (open gear derailleurs accumulate wet/frozen road gunk rather easily.)

    Indeed, I made a quick weekend trip to Chicago this past winter and was surprised to see that foot-high snow accumulation and viciously cold temperatures there didn’t keep at least some folks from getting around their neighborhoods on bicycle while dressed in arctic-ready parkas. I also noticed a recently-established bike rental program underway and those bikes were actually being used in that crazy weather.

    Here in Tucson – which also has a very large bicycling scene and a city that has made an effort to embrace the trend – we witness cyclist in shorts during the winter months and – at least in my case – a desire to get rid of fenders to both save weight and move away from that (necessary elsewhere) 1950s paper delivery boy look on our pedal-powered 2-wheelers. It’s the hottest summer months that witnesses the low ebb of cycling activity down here. If you don’t have a way to carry a water bottle – either strapped onto you or your bike – for even the shortest ride during the May through September calendar span, you’ll almost certainly regret it,

  • Wayne Williamson

    I’m semi surprised by this. Doesn’t Portland Oregon get a lot of rain. I would think that rain would deter bike riding. Never been there but it is on my bucket list;-)

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