The suburban history of the last century in the United States can actually be said to be relatively short. It wasn’t until after the second World War that automobiles were more widely available and the suburbs became the standard for the “American Dream”. Since then, several developments have appeared which have worked to shape this dominant paradigm on how we live and work; Whereas once a great exodus left city centers abandoned from otherwise urban corporate headquarters, there is now a return of companies and people alike to these more walkable, livable downtowns. Indeed, I would argue that there is a newfound desire towards this sense of diversity and multiculturalism that a city brings.
2013 seems to be shaping up as the Year of Bicycle Share across the U.S., with New York City getting its Citibike and Chicago’s Divvy launching just a few weeks later. Portland (and Seattle as well) would be joining the party this year, too, if it weren’t for delays in its launch. And this got me thinking – Portland is hailed as the bicycle capital of the United States, so you’d think that we’d have a bike share system long before a city like New York. While Portland has a history of progressive bicycle treatments (bike lanes, boxes, and signals, to name a few) there is definitely a stall in truly groundbreaking developments. A bike lane may be widened or finally there’s a stretch of separated bicycle lanes near downtown, but where is the Indianapolis-like wow-factor? Where is the buffered corridor that provides a safe connection downtown? Where is our bicycle share?
Public space isn’t something typically on everyone’s mind on a daily basis, though of course it dictates much about how we live our lives – Where do you cross the street? Do you have sidewalks? Where’s your nearest public park or plaza? For those without private open space (apartment/condo dwellers, houseless individuals) public space is the only space they have to travel, walk their dog, have a picnic, or just plain experience the rest of their society (myself included). Considering that urban environments now contain over 50% of the world’s inhabitants, and that this is only going to increase, I believe that an emphasis on public space is necessary for the future of cities.
Imagine your city in crisis. For some of us, that might not be far removed from a recent painful natural or man made disaster. For others, like us here in Portland, it could be the near future when, not if, the overdue earthquake hits. In New York City, millions of people are still without power and in this very situation. If this were to happen to you tomorrow, how would you get to services and supplies? What if a friend or loved one across town needed your support? Without public transportation and accessible roads, immediate travel will likely not involve a personal automobile, but instead be on foot or by bike. Even after roads are cleared there may be shortages of gasoline leading to long lines, rationing, and even fights as people compete for filling their generators and status quo for getting to work.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy numerous reports have come out depicting a surge of people on bicycles and foot travelling in great waves across the city. While cars in certain areas are required to have three or more passengers to pass, even then the long lines of automobiles form an impractical way of getting around right now. In a way this is the ultimate test of recent active transportation progress in New York City headed by Mayor Bloomberg and Janette Sadik-Khan. It’s also a testimony to the community in New York City that neighbors can come together to help distribute supplies (again, often by bike). Even the Occupy Movement is coming up again utilizing their bike-powered generators from the original protest camps to recharge neighbors’ electronic devices, complete with a barbecue. We here at Think.urban are excited to see this sort of community action and hope that everyone is safe after this historical disaster. In the meantime, we’ll be using this as a reminder to prepare for whatever disaster might befall us in the near future. Is your bike ready?
A simple graduated symbol map from Governing.com shows the range of commuter rates for cities – with a roll-over for specific cities to show more detail. The map for Bike Commuters shows a comparison of commuters to total workers – so each is proportional. The high margin of error in the data (which in the notes is attributed to 2006 and 2011 American Community Survey – ACS) means, as with all maps and data, one must take it with a grain of salt.
To compare, another map on the site shows total people who Bike to Work – which could be construed as the same thing, and obviously there would be some correlation – but is a specific question and not a comparison of bike commuters to overall workers, as shown above, so does make for a slightly different spread – for instance Eugene, Oregon – which is larger on the above map – is significantly smaller on the map below – because the plot is based on total riders – so obviously Portland would be bigger due to larger population.
Here’s a lovely write-up and video about Portland’s transportation options in USA Today. It’s always nice to see people like Professor Dill of Portland State University and Rob Sadowsky of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance featured in this editorial. While “cars vs. bikes” is brought up, it’s fairly accurate in representing the situation here without adding to the hype. Potentially one of the only somewhat misconstrued items listed is the cycle track situation as it makes it sound like they are commonplace here when the reality is far from it. Otherwise, a lovely article overall and a nice plug for Portland. Enjoy.