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Portland Safe Routes to Schools Conference

In 1984 the Muppets took Manhattan; in 2009 the League of American Bicyclists took Portland. That Muppet reference is partly just an excuse to link to this bicycling scene from the Great Muppet Caper. But we really did take Portland.

The League sent seven staff members to last week’s Safe Routes to School National Conference in the Pacific Northwest’s BFC Platinum paradise. We met with city staff and toured around to see how Portland carefully considers bicyclists when they design roads to enhance access, awareness and on street accommodation. Portland’s Bicycle Coordinator, Roger Geller, took some staff and other conference attendees on a tour of the city’s bicycle facilities and discussed the soon to be released Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030.

Port of Portland sign at the airport. Photo by Jeff Peel

Port of Portland sign at the airport. Photo by Jeff Peel

Scott Bricker of Portland’s Bicycle Transportation Alliance was the MC for Wednesday night’s opening plenary. He introduced the leaders of the two national Safe Routes organizations, Lauren Marchetti of the National Center for Safe Routes to School and Deb Hubsmith of Safe Routes to School National Partnership. Both women applauded the efforts of the planners and advocates in attendance to make their communities safer and more pleasant for children to get physical activity on their way to school.

Much of the conference talk focused on children’s health and the need for a built environment that encourages active transportation. Robert Ping of the National Partnership reported that an alarming number of school principals do not allow children to bike to school because of liability concerns.

Another hot topic this year was school siting. New schools are often built on cheaper land located further from central residential areas, making it more difficult to walk and bike to school. During one “mobile workshop” – a conference session on bikes – attendees saw where a freeway was built, splitting a neighborhood in two and forcing students to bus or drive to school. The tour then went to a location where a highway was actually removed by the city.

The trip gave the League staff a chance to experience what it’s like to ride around a Platinum Bicycle Friendly Community. It also gave some of us a chance to ride around town in a group from the League that consisted of a tandem bicycle, a mountain bike with 29-inch wheels, and a Brompton folding bike. See some photographs below from the conference photographer Greg Conyers.

Greg Conyers

Riders on the “Dead Freeways” mobile workshop.             Photo: Greg Conyers

Greg Conyers

Jeff Mapes, author of Pedaling Revolution, speaks to Safe Routes to School conference attendees. Photo: Greg Conyers

Greg Conyers

Portland. Photo: Greg Conyers

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