Building a Future with Transportation Alternatives

Feb 29, 2012

Portland’s success is one example of how bicycle infrastructure is making an impact

Gerding Edlen's South Waterfront development helped to bring alternative modes of transportation, including bike paths and a streetcar line, to a new urban neighborhood.

At the heart of the national debate over transportation funding resides an important question. Are we building a future with transportation alternatives, where we can choose to walk, bike, drive or take public transportation, or are we creating places that cater to a single transportation option – to drive?

Edward McMahon at Urban Land reports, “The U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee voted on February 2 to eliminate funding for nonmotorized transportation (e.g., bike paths and sidewalks) from the federal transportation bill working its way through Congress…[The bill] also imperils federal support for public transportation systems.”

McMahon cites Portland’s success in creating bicycle infrastructure as just one example of how modest investments in bicycle infrastructure can make a significant impact.

“[I]t is only when cities begin investing in bicycle infrastructure that residents begin to use bicycles at rates higher than the national average. Consider Portland, Oregon: in the 1980s and early 1990s, it was a city pretty much like any other in terms of transportation behavior. Today, however, over 6 percent of residents commute to work by bicycle; the national average is less than 1 percent. Bicycle use in Portland has grown geometrically while other modes have grown modestly or declined: since 1990 bicycle use has grown 400 percent, transit has grown 18 percent, and driving has declined 4 percent, all relative to population. From 1990 to 2008, Portland added more daily bicycle commuters than daily transit commuters. Portland’s city traffic engineer says that ‘bicycling infrastructure is relatively easy to implement and low cost compared to other modes.’ The estimated cost of Portland’s entire bikeway network—which exceeds 300 miles (482 km)—is approximately $60 million, which, as noted, is just a little more than the cost of one mile (1.6 km) of urban freeway.”

McMahon urges, “Bike paths and sidewalks belong in America’s next transportation bill. Let’s hope our representatives stop their shortsighted attacks on public transportation and on bicycle and pedestrian facilities and craft an intermodal transportation bill that is truly multimodal.”

Read the full article.

  • The Big Idea
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