I had the chance to spend a week studying Portland, OR last month and came away with a few observations on the city’s development, architecture, transportation, and culture. Like most approaching the city from a cycling point of view, I wondered if the bike mecca would live up to the hype surrounding it, but I also wanted to keep my eye out for areas of improvement.
There’s way too much to cover in a single article, but in the next week or so, I’ll be posting a series documenting Portland’s unique bike culture and sense of place along with observations on what makes it successful—or not.
My trip to Portland marked the first time the main point of a vacation was not the destination but the journey. I didn’t go to Portland as much to see the sites as I did to move around them—although I did enjoy some Stumptown Coffee and Voodoo Doughnuts along the way. What I really wanted to see, in the end, was how the city works: how does it feel getting around on bike, what details make neighborhoods feel unique and welcoming—essentially I wanted to understand Portland as a Portlander.
The first thing I did once in the city was to rent a bike—and the city has plenty of rental options to choose from. I needed a decent road bike, opting to avoid the standard cruisers most visitors take around the city, and found a great and affordable bike in Chinatown. Â From there, the rest of the week was spent on two wheels.
Everyone knows Portland is way ahead of the pack when it comes to bikeability, but I wanted to know if the place lived up to the hype. How does biking in Portland relate to tangential issues of planning, sustainability, development, and transit? I was there to dissect the city.
I had the great fortune of staying in Northeast Portland in the Boise-Eliot neighborhood in a newly opened guest house dedicated to cyclists. From my outpost on Williams Avenue, it was easy to take two newly paved bike lanes—along with a fairly steady stream of cyclists all day.
It’s an easy ride over the Broadway Bridge into Downtown Portland and the Pearl District or around the east side to explore surrounding neighborhoods such as the Mississippi Historic District, the Albina Arts District, and the famous Hawthorne District that parallels Louisville’s own Bardstown Road.
Portland is predominantly a flat city—despite being surrounded by some formidable hills and mountains—which makes cycling really easy. The regular grid that stretched across most of the city also helps with quick navigation. I did, however, manage to unwittingly bike up a 900 foot vertical ascent over about 1.5 miles to the highest point in Portland—quite a strenuous ride. (The above view of the skyline was taken about a third of the way up.)
Stay tuned for a barrage of articles and photos from Portland – both the good and the bad—as I try to determine what does and doesn’t work and how the lessons of Stumptown can be applied elsewhere. My goal isn’t to create more “Isn’t Portland great” material, but to understand what’s really going on in the city through observation.