6 Ways to Boost Your City's Bike Mojo

Man on Nice Ride bike share photo

Minneapolis new "Nice Ride" bike share add (slightly geeky) mojo and beats out Portland's lack of imminent bike sharing plans. Photo via Nice Ride.

When Portland lost its first-place, "friendly bike city" status to suddenly hip Minneapolis, Portland bike-friendly Mayor Sam Adams called it a, "clarion call." Luckily, Portland had just passed a contentious but far-reaching new Bike Plan 2030, with a few ways to possibly re-take its lead. But the ideas aren't Portland-specific - here's a road map any city can follow to buck up its bike mojo.

Girls Rides Baby at Portland tweed ride photo

When moms feel safe taking newborns on board, the streets are bike civilized. Photo during Tweed Ride Portland April Streeter.

1. Make it Work for Women.

Researchers from John Pucher to the folks at the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals say the same thing - women are the indicator species for a well-fucntioning bicycle infrastructure. And here's what women want: cycle tracks - bike pathways that are physically separated from car and truck traffic. Unfortunately, cycle tracks are more expensive than simple painted bike lanes or sharrows, because they can involve breaking up sidewalks and planting physical barriers between the flow of car traffic and the cyclists.

Another way to get women, especially women of all colors and younger women, out there is to sponsor more programs that emphasize the joy of biking, like this Brooklyn "cycling-based curriculum" with beautiful orange Batavus bikes.

Velib Pretty Cyclist in boots photo

Nothing better for boosting bike moral than pretty girls on pretty bikes. Photo by Malias via flickr CC license.

2. Do That Bike Share Thing. Right Now.

VĂ©lib in Paris is still the best example of a bike share that begat a signficant change in a city's cycling habits. Paris' iconic bike share program is now a firm part of the image of the city, and has been extended out to the suburbs. But you don't need to be Paris to have a successful bike share - Washington D.C. started almost pitifully small with its bike share program but managed to capture the imagination of locals, and now its share is also expanding to include outer areas of the city - plus D.C. has a spanking new bike lane smack dab in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. Perhaps it's nothing more than senedipity, but a bike share is the most obvious way for a city to show its serious about attracting cycling.

Cities strapped for cash can follow London's lead and get sponsored.

Takes the baby on board and gets up hills, too. Photo Cleverchip via flickr cc license.

3. E-Bikes Are One Less Car. Support Them.

Cycling purists tend to metaphorically spit on the likes of the electric bike enthusiasts. "Cheaters" is the most common epithet thrown at e-bikers on the bike path. But as Portland has learned, once you have early adopters of cycling out on the streets, you need to tap that core of a city population that is interested in cycling, but concerned about safety and some of the other hurdles hindering biking. E-bikes have their issues, but they provide mobility to those not ready for their first century ride or road race, i.e. the rest of the potential cycling public. A solar canopy sponsored by someone like Sanyo and shared by e-bikes and electric cars is another good goodwill offering to "One Less Car, Too" e-bikers.

Sprockettes Women Dancing with Bikes photo

In Portland, the Sprockettes clad in pink and black are a common feature at bike events. Photo by Gabriel Amadeus via flickr CC license.

4. Have a Pedalpalooza.

Currently running in Portland is a seventeen day long progressive bike festival known as Pedalpalooza. A loose conglomeration of more than 250 events, Pedalpalooza or a similar set of events allow different types of riders to find their tribe. In Portland, that can be anything from tall-bike-riding cyclists jousting with padded sticks, to "pretty panty" riders showing off their underwear, to naked cycling enthusiasts painted up and baring it all, to local city entrepreneurs networking while taking a spin through the city. Events are key to Portland's bike-friendly camaraderie and they can help new cyclists get a feeling for the city streets in a slightly-safer atmosphere. And a city doesn't need to start big - one or a series of Cyclovia-style events will almost certainly bring out riders and pedestrians to take back the streets...if only for a few hours.

White Ghost Bike on a quiet street photo

It's harder to kill people when traffic is no more than 20 miles per hour. Photo Sanjay Virji via flickr.

5. Slow and Steady Arrives Alive.

What many road-raged car drivers don't seem to realize is that cyclists can make the streets safer for everyone. That's because those pesky people on bicycles are a very visceral way to calm traffic. And slow traffic is safer traffic - speed limits of 20 miles per hour inside a city's inner limits can reduce traffic fatalities to next to nil because drivers have time to stop before they hit a cyclist...or a child. Portland is pursuing lower speed limits on some of the streets where it will implement bike "boulevards" - those are shared bike and car paths with street markings called sharrows or painted lanes - in order to give new cyclists the additional perception of safety they crave.

Racers in Velodrome photo

One place the need for speed is appropriate...the Velodrome. Photo Trefethen via flickr.

6. Repurpose a Little-Used Stadium as a Velodrome.

One problem Portland realizes it has but doesn't quite know how to fix is putting together diverse bike subcultures into a unified voice for urban cycling. Road-race style cyclists and speeding messengers definitely were the first to take to the streets and more or less make them safer for the rest of us to get out on our bikes, and we owe them a debt of gratitude for reversing the still-prevalent trend of giving over city streets to King Car. But using the morning rush hour to do a training ride doesn't jibe with a making the inner city bike lanes friendly for the multiple styles and speeds of the next wave of bikers.

While it isn't the only solution, re-making under-used city facilities into a space for a Velodrome for track-style bicycle racing is one way to boost the profile of sporty cycling at the same time that a city tries to foster good manners and civilized speeds on the streets of the inner city.

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6 Ways to Boost Your City's Bike Mojo
When Portland lost its first-place, "friendly bike city" status to suddenly hip Minneapolis, Portland

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