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Study tour will explore walk, bike improvements

COURTESY OF PEOPLEFORBIKES - Copenhagen's protected bike lanes are elevated from the street, with a second curb to separate bike space from sidewalks. Rose City leaders are heading to Copenhagen to see which best practices may be applied to downtown Portland. Before deciding how to spend $6 million in multimodal safety projects in downtown Portland, the city is sending a delegation to Copenhagen to see how the experts do it.

A group of 10 leaders from the city, downtown businesses and community left Friday morning for an eight-day study tour to study Copenhagen's walk-and-bike infrastructure and culture.

The trip will be paid by a mix of private supporters and bureau resources. Participants are paying for some costs and fundraising the rest.

“We have delegations visit Portland from other states and countries all the time, every week, so we need to stay humble and learn from other world-class bike-friendly cities,” says Art Pearce, PBOT’s policy, planning and projects manager and a member of the delegation, along with PBOT Director Leah Treat.

“Copenhagen is really at the vanguard, with safe passage, a high number of bike trips and walking trips, getting people young and old using different modes,” Pearce adds. “We see this as a small investment of time to learn some best practices, so we can apply it in downtown Portland.”

The tour will be hosted by the Green Lane Project, a program of the Boulder, Colo.-based nonprofit PeopleForBikes, which helps cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Green Lane has run the study tours for seven years, when they were first called Bikes Belong. This is the first year Green Lane is not paying the costs for each tour, leaving it up to local jurisdictions.

Portland was one of six cities that worked with Green Lane in 2012 and 2013, sending a large delegation to Amsterdam and Copenhagen in 2012.

Commissioner-elect Steve Novick, who oversees PBOT, was among the group, which studied the link between public health and active transportation.

This time around, city leaders say, there’s much more to learn. The delegation will tour locations and meet with leaders at the forefront of planning, engineering, urban design, placemaking, economic development, cultural anthropology and social equity as it relates to walking and biking.

Information and observations from the tour will inform how to build better facilities for walking and biking downtown with a $6 million grant from Metro.

The grant will fund design and implementation of the infrastructure; work on the design will start this fall.

The best practices may also be applied to improvements in East Portland, Pearce says.

The trip is especially timely as the city acted this week to launch Vision Zero, a plan to move toward zero traffic deaths and serious injuries.

“The idea is to improve safety for everyone in the downtown area,” Pearce says. “We want to do it collaboratively. What is already a bike-, transit- and pedestrian-oriented place — how can we make it better.”

The Green Lane project is hosting eight study tours this year, sending half of its delegations to Amsterdam, half to Copenhagen.

Copenhagen is more similar to Portland’s environment, Pearce says — a modern city that has features Portland has or is developing, like separate modes for speed and activity, a vibrant downtown and a streetcar system.

“They’re much more deliberate in how they lay out their right of way,” Pearce says. “There are active cyclists in their ‘80s navigating the environment for their daily needs.”

According to the nation of Denmark's website: "Cycling – especially in a wealthy country like Denmark – is for most an active additional choice which can easily change. So the only way forward is to make it safe, easy and attractive to cycle, and that does not happen solely by changing the infrastructure." There's a strong tradition for people from all strata of society to bike, the website says. "Most Danes associate the bicycle with positive values such as freedom and and health, and in recent years cycling has actually become a symbol of personal energy. The bicycle has become ultramodern again, aided by societal development, successful political initiatives and conscious marketing."

The three largest Danish cities – Copenhagen, Odense and Århus (the first two of which the Portland delegation will be visiting) – have all carried out large branding campaigns, the website says, "that put cyclists in a positive light on advertising billboards, on the internet and by actively including cyclists in new bicycle projects. The result is an increasing number of cyclists and cleaner, healthier and more lively cities."

Other cities that have gone on Green Lane study tours in recent months include San Francisco, Austin, Chicago, Memphis, Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Indiana, Pittsburgh and Seattle.

“It’s really our peer cities,” Pearce says. “We’re also competing with those cities. We’re vying for the Creative Class moving their companies and their startups to our city.”

Tim Blumenthal, president of People for Bikes, says the study tours have become big currency in the quest for urban livability.

"U.S. city leaders are looking for cost-effective transportation solutions that can be quickly implemented," he says. "They want to create attractive urban environments that promote active economic development and healthy, active lifestyles. Our study tours allow them to meet and learn from their fellow elected officials, planners and engineers who are doing outstanding work to meet these important goals."

Randy Miller, board member of the not-for-profit Greater Portland Partnership for Economic Advancement, has been leading study tours for Portland business and political leaders for 29 years, and is leading a "Best Practices" trip to Toronto in September.

"There is a great hunger to learn from our peers around the world about their policies, designs and systems," Miller says. "We have yet to go somewhere and not take back something of value for Portland."

Pearce and Dylan Rivera, a PBOT spokesman, said they’re very aware of all of the chatter from bike advocates who’ve said city leaders are moving too slow on projects like the Clinton Street Greenway, stalling out on the 2013 Bike Plan and feel the city’s Platinum bike-friendly status ought to be downgraded.

Pearce says an assessment of the city’s Neighborhood Greenways is coming to City Council in August, and there’s a long list of projects in that have just been completed or are in the works, posted on PBOT’s website.

“I think the advocacy we’re hearing from BikePortland, BikeLoudPDX and the BTA is very helpful to remind us we have to keep reaching to succeed,” Pearce says. “They know they need to push City Hall, and they're being heard at City Hall.”

The Portland delegation to Copenhagen includes:

• Leah Treat, PBOT director

• Art Pearce, PBOT policy, planning and projects manager

• Chris Warner, chief of staff to Commissioner Steve Novick

• Tim Crail, senior policy advisor to Commissioner Amanda Fritz

• Debbie Kitchin, Portland Business Alliance board president, Central Eastside Industrial Council board president, Interworks LLC owner

• Owen Ronchelli, executive director Go Lloyd Partnership, chair of the city's Streetcar Advisory Committee

• Felicia Wiliams, president of Portland Downtown Neighborhood Association

• Ian Stude, director of Portland State Univerity transportation and parking services

• Marion Haynes, vice president of government relations and economic development at Portland Business Alliance

• Lisa Abuaf, central city manager at Portland Development Commission

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