Portland: Urban Transportation Revolution

A high concentration of cars in US cities is one of the most basic urban transport issues that local governments face today. The transition to a sustainable city cannot be decoupled from the need of humans to efficiently move from point A to point B. Between a handful of American cities tackling this issue, Portland, OR holds the #7 spot with the most bicycle commuters in the US. So how are they doing it?

Over the last 30 years, Portland has experienced a population growth from 200,000 to 600,000 residents, and in the next 25 years Portland is expected to grow by 105,000 – 136,000 households. With the population increasing, Portland faces a challenge to reduce urban transportation carbon emissions with 40% of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions attributed to that transportation network. The impacts of these emissions are reflected in the increasing amount of traffic coming in and out of the city center and the stress factor that this has on its citizens. Stress levels go up, and the healthy lifestyle that Portlanders strive for is at risk. To meet their carbon reduction goal, an increase in active transportation usage is imperative, and the bicycle plays an essential role in this transformation.

Portland seeks to develop a sustainable and resilient urban transportation system by diversifying its active transportation portfolio, which includes walking and biking. In 2012, the City Council adopted the Portland Plan which presented a strategic roadmap to achieve urban equity and sustainability. One of the three integrated strategies in this plan is the Healthy Connected City, which aims to bring complete neighborhoods to 80% of the city’s population by 2035 thus creating an opportunity to develop and improve active transportation infrastructure. The goal is to “develop the network of habitat connections, neighborhood greenways and plan for civic corridors as a spine of Portland’s civic, transportation and green infrastructure systems to enhance safety, livability and watershed health and catalyze private investment and support livability.” By 2035, Portland aims for 70% of its overall transportation to be through public transit, walking and biking.

One factor that could potentially increase Portland’s active transportation usage is an expansion of the already existing bike sharing program. Just recently the city of Portland announced a public-private partnership with Nike in an agreement valued at $10 million that has an initial term of five years. This will bring 400 more bikes to the program and reduce the carbon emissions generated by Portland’s urban transportation network. As of today, 39% of trips are currently taken using these modes. But 39% is still a long way from 70%, and 2035 is looming in the near future.

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