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June 25th, 2008 Hannah Hultine | News Stories
 

First Gear

Will Portland ever have another carfree blowout?

     
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SUPER-CYCLISTS: Jason Waterfall and Pete Hertzsch were among thousands who turned out last Sunday for Portland Parkways.
IMAGE: Hannah Hultine

Last Sunday’s Portland Parkways event, which created a carfree six-mile loop in North Portland, had two goals: Increase mixing of neighborhoods and promote a healthier way of life, according to organizers.

Those goals seemed to be met, as an estimated 15,000 people had fun walking and riding on neighborhood backstreets that were closed to motorized traffic from 8 am to 2 pm June 22.

Yet Gil Peñalosa—former commissioner of sports, recreation and parks for the city of Bogotá, Colombia—gently chided Portland for not doing more with its initial event while lauding it as a good first step. Why should our proud, bike-friendly city care what Peñalosa thinks?

Because Peñalosa was responsible from 1995-1997 for boosting street closures in Bogotá’s Cyclovia event—the model for Portland Parkways—from 8 miles to 72 miles. Today, each Cyclovia boasts up to 2 million participants and cuts through the heart of Bogotá.

“Portland is hitting in the minor leagues,” says Peñalosa, who was in Portland last week for the Towards Carfree Cities Conference.

He says Portland could have aimed higher and scheduled for at least three consecutive Sundays because “it takes time to prove to hesitant business owners, skeptical residents and city officials that a carfree Sunday event benefits everyone.”

Other U.S. cities have scheduled multiple Sunday carfree events. El Paso, Texas, held four carfree Sundays in May. Chicago has plans for two Sundays in the fall. And New York City has arranged for three straight Saturdays in August.

Asked why Portland Parkways only scheduled one day, project organizer Linda Ginenthal said, “We wanted to make sure the community was comfortable with one. There was a lot of learning to do.… And another thing is, I just didn’t have the budget.”

The city used an $87,000 federal grant and $66,000 of its own money to cover costs, from staff time to police overtime. So, will there ever be another Portland Parkways?

“There is certainly not another event planned this year,” says Ginenthal, a Portland Department of Transportation manager. “And funding is the first step for next year.”

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