ocal bike advocates have even more ambitious visions for Portland's future. When Scott Bricker visited Amsterdam last fall with other Portland cyclists and city planners, they were inspired by a high-density urban environment where bike education is taught in schools and bicycle parking lots abound. The trip reinforced Bricker's hopes for a citywide "bicycle freeway" network: bike-dominated boulevards framed by grand entrances and linked to schools and parks via on- and off-ramps. Routing these unconventional "freeways" around public squares (think Italian piazzas) would slow traffic, as would chicanes -- raised, landscaped barriers that extend into streets at staggered intervals, forcing cars to snake down the winding roads at slower speeds. The result: a seamless, green, and safe transportation experience in the heart of the city.
Just as Amsterdam may offer a glimpse into Portland's future, Portland's innovations are being adopted by larger urban centers such as San Diego and Chicago, which Bicycling magazine awarded first- and second- place honors, respectively, among cities with a million residents or more. (The magazine named Portland the most bike-friendly city of all.)
If bike culture can spread to include novices like me and my children, we may see significant benefits. Getting kids to ride their bikes just half an hour each day helps them to burn hundreds of calories a week and reduces the risk for developing type 2 diabetes by up to 50 percent. If every Portland commuter biked to work just once a month for a year, carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles would be reduced by 10,000 tons. And with about a million people expected to move to the Portland area in the next 20 years, more biking would help relieve the added traffic congestion.
Portland bike activists like to say the city has reached a tipping point, with cycling poised to become a bona fide mode of transportation, not just a transportation alternative. After pedaling through Portland for two weeks, I'm inclined to agree. The city's new bikeways and safety initiatives offer fresh incentives to send my kids off on their bikes in the morning. The bicycling health of this indicator species and that of the city may turn out to be inseparable.