[This story was written by northwest Portland resident and local transportation activist Rebecca Hamilton.]
While our neighbors in southeast Portland emblazon their Neighborhood Greenway intersections with painted sunflowers and north Portland artists envision gold-leaf murals of cycling heroes along popular cycling routes, the Northwest District has long seemed to pedal on indifferently, unattached to biking as a part of its identity.
“If the northwest wants to join its eastside quadrants in consciously cultivating a neighborhood of bike commuters…it will take a culture shift.”
— Rebecca Hamilton
Now, on the brink of transformation, the Northwest District is becoming aware of the significance of cycling for its future. With the approval of the Con-way Master Plan last month — a plan that calls for the transformation of the parking lot tundras north of Overton into multi-story residential and office space — we can expect a possible influx of tens of thousands of new residents into this area over the next two decades. Northwest Portland’s best move is to embrace active transportation as the preferred and dominant modes of getting around the neighborhood if it is to avoid an auto-dominated circus that would wreck our quiet quality of life.
life for northwest Portland’s
(Graphic: Damon Eckhoff)
But despite a comfortable network of sharrow-ed, low-traffic streets, enthusiasm and ridership seem lacking. If the northwest wants to join its eastside quadrants in consciously cultivating a neighborhood of bike commuters, errand-runners, and recreationalists, it will take a culture shift. So, how do we do that? We think we can start with bike fun.
At first glance, Bunny on a Bike rides and Mario Kart mushrooms in the bike lanes may seem like frivolous elements unrelated to the serious business of increasing bicycle mode share and safety in American cities. But these little things show that cycling is something celebrated and is part of the character of a neighborhood; it cultivates a camaraderie among riders that can that develop into pride. With pride comes ownership and a sense of responsibility. Over time, a strong bike-fun culture can attract new ridership (and the safety that numbers bring) and develop the local advocacy that is essential if cycling is to (metaphorically) take the lane in our neighborhood.
Local organizers are looking for ways to make cycling an integral part of how our neighbors experience their home. For example, the Northwest District Association (NWDA) tied their local love of our parks to enthusiasm for family cycling with their second annual Bike-In Movie event last week (it was Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure). Everyone who arrived by bike received a raffle ticket for a chance at lots of great prizes from Bikeasaurus.
Local historians, too, have been making the connection between bikes and our pride as one of Portland’s first neighborhoods. This past spring, the Historic Preservation League of Oregon used a bicycle tour as a way to showcase the places that make northwest Portland unique in their Pedalpalooza ride called, The Dream of the 1890s is Alive in NW Portland.
Building on the interest from that event, the 2012 Slabtown Festival (tomorrow, 9/15!) will also feature a bike tour of the former working-class, immigrant neighborhood north of Pettygrove St. — again demonstrating to neighbors how bikes can be part of the way we celebrate our distinctive historic character.
Going beyond passive existence and moving towards conscious participation in — and celebration of — a neighborhood cycling culture will take some work. But if we can adopt cycling as a key part of our identity now, then the NW District may be able to retain its quiet historical character even as it welcomes thousands of new neighbors to join us on the roads.
We’re looking to head in a new direction. Come join us for the ride.