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How Did Portland Become North America's Bicycling Capital?

In retrospect, it may seem like Portland’s biking boom was inevitable. But not too long ago the city was eclipsed by other Pac NW cities for share of bicycle commuters. What happened between 2002-2008 to kick-start the city’s bike craze?
July 9, 2013, 8am PDT | Melody Wu
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Sam Beebe

Between 1990 and 2011, many of the largest cities in North America witnessed an increase in their percentage of bicycle commuters. But none has been more dramatic than the spike seen in Portland, where the mode share increased from 1.1 percent to 6.8 percent over that period. Seattle, for instance, increased from 1.5 percent to 3.7 percent.

“What happened? Why did Portland cycling rates increase so much more than other leading bike cities?” ask Michael Andersen and Jonathan Maus, editors for BikePortland. They cite 2002-2008 as the key years when bicycle commuting took off in the city, and propose five possible factors that contributed to its astonishing rise.    

One theory involves the influence of instilling fun in pedaling via events led by groups such as Shift. Others include: the work of City staff “advocrats” pushing forward bicycle-friendly design enhancements; intuitive marketing and outreach approaches; and engaged citizen advocates.

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Published on Tuesday, July 2, 2013 in BikePortland
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