Nov 132011

As I mentioned in a previous post, I got to meet Mia Birk in person last Tuesday. I’ve been a Mia fan for quite a while. I don’t know when I first heard about this woman who helped turn Portland into a bike-friendly mecca, but I’ve read her blog and followed her on Twitter for a while now.

Birk went from working as Portland’s bike/pedestrian coordinator to being a principal of Alta Planning and Design, which helps communities design and activate safer and more walkable, bikeable networks. She’s the author of Joyride: Pedaling Toward A Healthier Planet, in which she tells her story.

By the way, she didn’t use the phrase “bike-friendly mecca” to describe Portland! In the workshops I attended–one for campus planners, administrators, and transportation folks, and another one for community advocates, and I fall into both categories–she showed plenty of photos of existing conditions in Portland that no one could describe as bike-friendly.

She also showed the impressive statistics for their gain in percentage of people riding a bike at least part of the time for transportation. Note to planners and engineers: Build it and they will ride.

(And when they do, they cut down on wear and tear on the roads, competition for parking, air pollution, and the many health problems that arise in a population that isn’t active. How many wins can you line up for a relatively small investment?)

Her story isn’t one of total triumph and perfection. It’s a story of persistence and progress, accepting that you’re not going to change everyone’s mind.

A few tidbits I tweeted during her talks, which were full of practical advice:

  • Bike parking=chicken/egg. If you wait for more people to bike & THEN put in bike parking you won’t see demand. Build it & they will bike.
  • Try biking 1 trip/week. Don’t make it your hardest one! Make it short, easy, not the one w/steepest hill.
  • Individualized mktg to help people think about mode shift: Highly effective in Portland where 10-13% of people change when they have info.
  • (last tweet) Refers to individ info on how to consider biking, walking, using transit from your neighborhood to your typical destinations.
  • All Portland’s improvements came @ cost of 0.7% of their total transportation budget. They have $100M bike industry now. ROI!
  • What about winter? When Minneapolis=#1 bike-friendly city in US, obviously snow doesn’t stop biking. Ck out for ideas.
  • (Note: The bikewinter suggestion was my addition to her point about Minneapolis. She also noted that if cold or wet conditions discouraged people, no one in Portland could do anything, let alone ride bikes for transportation. So don’t accept the weather excuse as a reason not to invest in bike infrastructure.)
  • What’s a bike advocate? A person who rides a bike & cares about creating safer conditions & healthy community. –@miabirk
  • Biking challenges people think of: Safety, weather, distance, hills, theft, carrying stuff, hygiene. <–All can be addressed!
  • Good advice in any setting: Try not to piss off the crazy people. (part of a story from @miabirk)

I can’t do better (especially in 140 characters) than Mia herself, so here’s her TEDx talk.

Related Reading

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Reader Comments

  1. I have to add that the weekend before meeting Mia, I also got to meet Kent Peterson, who writes the great Kent’s Bike Blog, and Juliette Delfs, who established the Hub and Bespoke shop in Seattle that is my dream model of what Bike Style Spokane could be one day for Spokane. A bike fan trifecta!

  2. Hey BikeStyle Spokane! I am also a big Mia fan and also had the pleasure of meeting her recently! I blogged about her speech too! Yay!

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