I was in Portland, Oregon, one of the bikiest towns in the United States and home to a brand new bikeshare system, for five days before I finally got a chance to ride a bike! I was getting worried that it would never happen. Then, at the bitter end, as the sun began to set, some friends and I jumped on bright orange Biketown bikes and did a quick ride over the Tilikum Bridge, “Bridge of the People,” a bridge newly opened for pedestrians, bike-riders and the streetcar. It was an amazing moment.

Oh what a beautiful car-free bridge...

Oh what a beautiful car-free bridge…

Portland has only had their Nike-sponsored bikeshare system for about two weeks now, but despite it being brand new when we (“we” being almost 500 members of the Association for Commuter Transportation) arrived, it seems like Portlanders have taken to it like, well, Portlanders to bicycles. Everywhere we saw half-empty and empty docks, people out on orange bikes, and occasionally, a Biketown bike locked up to a public rack – because they come with U-locks and can do that. !!!! So great!

So what were the bikes like to ride? The bicycles themselves are Social Bicycles, a bikeshare system that uses both smart bikes and smart docks. They all have computers on the back of them, where you enter your rider code. In my case, I chose a one-trip ride from the kiosk, then was given a code to unlock the bike. If you have an annual membership and the app, I’m sure you have a regular code, but I’m not sure. The bikes have larger, usable baskets, which fit my color-coordinated orange purse perfectly. The bike felt very upright to me, which I like, and the handlebars are much narrower than I’m use to. Although that didn’t bother me, I kept smacking my ankles as I pedaled, something confirmed by a friend. Not sure what that’s about. Smooth shifting, smooth riding, really easy system, although a bit hard to see in the dark where the U-lock needed to go to lock up at the end of my trip!

Given the ability to lock the bike up wherever you are, I can see getting a ton of use out of this system. It’s just a shame I didn’t get to test it out better!

Biketown bikes were not the only cool transportation feature around town. Of course, we all oogled the green lanes and bike boxes everywhere we went. Most of us sighed in envy…

In addition, Portland has streetcars, light rail AND an aerial tram, on top of what seemed to be an extensive bus system. The streetcars had hooks to hang bikes, although you know how much I dislike those. Nevertheless, with huge amounts of people on bikes, they are doing something to be accommodating. I spotted bike lockers in front of a public parking garage, a seat built into a bus sign pole, and signs everywhere declaring the sidewalks for pedestrians only (I suspect that has something to do with the large number of homeless people we saw in the downtown area, though).

I wish I had more time to run around Portland and see the rest of the transportation infrastructure, but it was a really good and really busy conference, so I’m not upset. But I did get to do more than just conference stuff and study transit options – our conference hotel was close to both Voodoo Donuts and Blue Star Donuts, and one of the conference tours included the Portland International Rose Test Garden. I could have stayed there forever – the air was so fragrant!

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Keeping busy with the conference wasn’t the worst thing, of course, but I do look forward to returning someday to really explore the city by Biketown bikeshare. There are indie fabric stores and bike shops everywhere that I never go to, and I didn’t dare step into Powell Books on this trip. I think I need to go back and smell the roses again, too. But I won’t wait so long to jump on a bike next time!Bike Sculpture

4 thoughts on “Biketown at the Bitter End

  1. I’m surprised that DC had a bikeshare before Portland. How do the two systems compare? (I live in DC, and from your profile it looks like you live nearby in Arlington.)

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