Mia Birk talk at TEDx Portland

Notes from Mia Birk's talk on bike planning and community.

Mia Birk
Alta Planning + Design
  • Bike Planning
  • In Texas, my mom marches me down to the DMV on my 15th birthday to get my driver’s license. 
  • At age 21, packing for grad school in Washington, DC.
  • My brother suggests “take my bike”
  • “Miss Environmentalist, why don’t you get off your lazy ass and maybe you won’t be so fat”
  • Sibling rivalry inspired her to do it.
  • She did, lost weight, felt great.
  • In Europe and Asian cities, where there was compact city design, bikes took off. Congestion went down.
  • I wanted to transform American cities into biking cities.
  • I landed the job of bicycle coordinator in Portland.
  • For 100 years we organized our cities around the car. Land use, building design all oriented toward driving and cars.
  • In 1993, few bikeways, few bikers, a culture oriented towards cars. You can’t even find the bike racks.
  • Going to businesses, they couldn’t see the value of bike racks.
  • Obesity epidemic: year by year has been growing massively. Had to create new categories of obesity. For the first time, we have a generation expected to live shorter than the generation previous.
  • In 1996, the city council blessed the plan to make Portland a biking city.
  • We shaved room off driving lanes, and occasionally traded a driving lane for two bike lanes.
    • First one was the Burnside Bridge: traded one lane to get two bike lanes.
    • Earl Blumeneur said “Don’t do it in secret, make it a celebration.”
    • The night before, they painted the lanes. The next day they threw a party. 10,000 people came the next day to celebrate. 
  • Backlash is normal: changing built infrastructure and habits is hard.
  • By 2000 we had over 300 miles of bike lanes.
  • Now consulting with cities across American. Thousands of people now living healthier lives.
  • Business got it into it: 1 parking space equals 1 customer. 10 bike racks (in the same space) equals 20 customers.
  • In 1993, about 1% of Portlanders were biking regularly. Now, in some neighborhoods it is as much as 30% of people biking.
  • Less than 1% of Portland transportation budget. The same cost as 1 mile of freeway. Paid for all 300 miles of bike lanes and bike infrastructure.
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