Portland should be proud of its 6.1 percent bike commuting share, the highest of any large city, Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick said at a summit Friday that gave local employers advice on supporting bike commuters.
“We beat Madison,” the city council member said. “We beat Minneapolis.”
The commissioner also returned to the subject he cites most frequently as a reason to support bike improvements: the local economy as a whole saves money through lower health costs when people build physical activity into their lives.
Recalling a 2013 trip he took to Copenhagen, Novick cited that country’s reasoning for investing heavily in bike infrastructure since 1970.
“When the number crunchers in the Danish government justify their investments in bike infrastructure, they look at the health benefits,” Novick said. “They did a study over the 14-year period and found that biking lowered the risk of death by 40 percent compared to sedentary commutes. … This is not, you know, fuzzy thinking in Copenhagen. They are crunching the numbers. And they are real numbers that are leading them to real conclusions.”
Novick also cited studies from Australia (“nearly $70 million in reduced health cost and over $72 million in reduced congestion and transportation cost”) and Charlotte, NC, where new riders of light rail lost six pounds on average, presumably due to their walking to and from the rail stop.
The commissioner also said he supports a monthly fee on households, businesses and government agencies that would pay mostly for, in his description, improvements to walking in outer neighborhoods and for pavement maintenance.
“We need to make investments so it’s safer to bike and walk to transit everywhere in our city,” Novick said. “You have major streets where kids are walking to school or would like to be able to walk to school without sidewalks. Intersections where traffic is rushing by and there’s not a flashing beacon or maybe even a crosswalk. So we have serious equity issues that need to be addressed. We need to make investments in sidewalks and in safer crossings — particularly in outer East and Southwest but in other places, too.”
Much of that money would also go to maintenance, Novick said.
“It is not alarmism to say that on our current path, at some point we would need to start deciding to do what the state of Texas is now doing in some areas, which is say, ‘Which streets do we need to convert to gravel because we can’t maintain them as paved streets any more?'”
The Portland Employers Bike Summit was sponsored by Regence, a health insurance company. It featured workshops on how to create a positive biking culture in the workplace, how to set up bike amenities like parking and tool areas, and more. After the workshops, attendees took a bike facility tour and then met up for networking time to share best practices (and a few locally brewed beverages).