Portland, Oregon is the closest thing to a bicycling utopia that the U.S. has to offer. With 23,347 bicycle commuters, Portland actually has bicycle rush hours every morning and evening work day.
As an original member of the City of Marco Island’s bike pathways committee, I couldn’t help but be impressed with what I discovered during a recent visit to Portland. It’s nothing short of amazing what Portland is doing on the bicycling front. But it is also pretty amazing what Marco Island is doing on a much smaller stage with wildly different demographics.
Portland is widely known as the top bicycling city in the country, with their unflagging commitment to being bike-friendly. A city of 639,863, Portland has developed a bicycling infrastructure that includes 177 miles of bike lanes and 85 miles of bike paths. A full 7.2% of commuters go by bicycle. That number is much more impressive when you consider that nationally only 0.5% of commuters bicycle.
Many of Portland’s bicycle commuters cross one of Portland’s dozen bridges along the Willamette River. Between 7-9 AM and 5-6 PM bicycle traffic is brisk—primarily one-way, into downtown in the morning and away from downtown in the afternoon.
Despite the fact that Portland’s bicycle commuters are seasoned riders who know their routes intimately, I found them to be kind and welcoming to riders who were discovering their city on rental bicycles.
In 2016 Portland joined other urban areas throughout the country by establishing a bike share system, called BIKETOWN. The system is owned by the Portland Bureau of Transportation. Its title sponsor is Nike, headquartered in nearby Beaverton, Oregon, who signed a five-year, $10 million sponsorship deal.
Some doubted whether a bike share system would work in Portland, given its already-established bicycling culture. Perhaps that is why Portland was a bit late in developing a bike share system. But once they started in July of 2016, the system was an immediate success. Over 59,000 rides were taken in the first month of the program. This past May 19, a single day record 3,724 trips were made on BIKETOWN bicycles in Portland.
Could a bike-share system on a much smaller scale work on Marco Island? There is reason to be optimistic given that small towns throughout the country are currently testing the bike-share waters.
Like Portland, Marco has a mixture of bike lanes, paths and bikeways that have been built to physically separate bicycles from automobiles.
Marco’s latest bikeway is currently being constructed on Winterberry Drive. The Winterberry linear park trail ties into the linear park trail that leads from the racket club on San Marco, through Mackle Park, to Winterberry Park.
The city is also currently improving the bike lane markings as part of their repaving project on San Marco Road.
Portland has also made a commitment to bicycle racks, which have been proven to spur bicycle use. The city of Portland has a staggering 6,500 publicly-installed bike racks.
Other ideas Portland has adopted to make bicycle riding safer includes a reduction of the downtown speed limit and traffic lights synchronized to bicycle speed rather than car speed.
With speed limits that vary from 25 m.p.h. to 35 m.p.h. (save for the one mile stretch that is 45 m.p.h. on east San Marco), Marco Island’s pace is safe for cyclists of all levels.
Portland has even constructed a car-free bridge, the Tilikum Crossing: Bridge of the People. The Tilikum Crossing is the largest car-free bridge in the country and carries the Portland Streetcar, the MAX Orange Line, TriMet buses and cyclists and pedestrians.
As Marco nears the completion of our bicycle master plan, we can be duly proud of what we’re accomplished as a bicycling community. One can safely cycle anywhere on the island through our network of bike lanes, shared use paths, bikeways and safe routes to school.
What does the future hold for bicyclists on the island? Perhaps a bike sharing program. More bike racks. More islanders commuting to work, tennis and pickleball matches or golf games. Perhaps a designation as a bike-friendly community.