by Rick Pruetz, Vice President, Ecocity Builders
For over a century, most American cities have tried to serve mobility needs by favoring cars over public transit and active transportation modes like walking and bicycling. These efforts have only exacerbated congestion, sprawl, noise, neighborhood decline, air pollution, danger, and climate changing emissions. Thankfully, jurisdictions are now starting to restore balance between travel modes through many avenues including active transportation plans that propose improved infrastructure for walking, bicycling, and in many cases, public transportation.
Some cities use their active transportation plans to assemble lists of long-neglected projects like the installation of missing sidewalks. Fortunately, many other cities use these plans to envision a green network that would synergize public transportation to ultimately get people where they need to go both comfortably and safely on a bike and their own two feet.
The Active Regional Transportation Plan adopted by the Oregon Metro Council for the region surrounding Portland illustrates good bicycle and pedestrian planning. In addition to improving the region’s existing pedestrian/bicycle network, Metro’s plan connects all major regional travel destinations including parks, business sites, employment centers, schools, transit services, high-ridership bus stops, shopping centers, hospitals, libraries, civic centers, and airports. The plan strengthens Intertwine, the name given to the region’s expanding network of integrated multi-use trails, parks, and natural areas. In recognition that bicycle-related tourism adds $89 million annually to the regional economy, the plan also aims to link the regional network with inter-regional trails like the Banks-Veronica State Trail and the Historic Columbia River Gorge Highway (Metro Council 2014).
It helps that the Metro Region is anchored by Portland, a city that has spent years planning and building an exemplary active transportation network. Portland’s Comprehensive Plan aims for active transportation to account for 70 percent of all trips by 2035, with bicycling alone accommodating 25 percent. This may seem overly ambitious, until you consider that active transportation modes already accounted for 25 percent of trips here in 2017.
Based on bicycle plans adopted in 1973, 1996, and 2010, the City of Portland alone has built 365 miles of bikeways, including large portions of the 40-Mile Loop that now links 140 miles of trails throughout the region. Between 2000 and 2017, commuting by bicycle grew 374 percent here, illustrating the ability to get around the city without driving a car and often without owning a car. In fact, a study estimated that the savings from driving less gives Portlanders a $1 billion Green Dividend that residents can spend on locally-produced goods that generate greater benefit to the economy, such as craft beer (Pruetz 2021).
These plans have produced enviable results. Between 2000 and 2017, bike commuting in Portland grew by 374 percent and the city achieved the highest bike-commuting percentage of all large U.S. cities. Portland has also been recognized as a bike-friendly community at the Platinum level, the only large U.S. city to get this rating, the highest one currently awarded by The League of American Bicyclists. Most importantly, the Portland Green Dividend demonstrates how active transportation is good for local economies as well as mobility justice, clean air, health, happiness, and livable cities.
Metro Council. 2014. Regional Active Transportation Plan. Accessed 7-16-22 at https://www.oregonmetro.gov/sites/default/files/2014/09/25/2014_regional_active_transportation_plan_0.pdf. Pruetz. 2021. Prosperity Comes in Cycles: Bikeways and the Virtuous Cycle. Accessible at https://smartpreservation.net/projects/