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Mia Birk, “It Wasn’t All Rosy”

Mia Birk, “It wasn’t all rosy”

Today she’s the President of Alta Planning & Design; in the 90’s she was in the eye of the storm, so to speak, as the Bicycle Program Manager for the City of Portland where she influenced city leaders, politicians and traffic engineers that eventually led to Portland becoming recognized as Platinum-level by the League of American Bicyclists. “We had to all be on-board.”

What distinguishes Platinum Portland? Lots of safe routes across the bridges, thousands of daily commuters and 60% of the downtown police force is on bikes!

How did she become such an expert? In 1996 she took a month-long research tour of European cities. She found “that 18 cities all had the same story, that they were making conscious choices to put in bike-ways, to swap-off space from motor vehicles for bicycles, to clamp down on the amount of free parking, to make car-free zones, … to reduce motorists’ speeds in residential areas, to promote bicycle transportation. I came back with a clear picture of what Portland could become.”

But it wasn’t all rosy in the Rose City, especially when it came to trading on-street parking for bike lanes. “If you go to the European cities they’ve made a very clear decision that storage of personal, private vehicles is not a function for the government.” Translation: that parking place in front of your home or business isn’t your personal property and may be transformed because the greater public good is moving more people, bikes and cars. I like that; start thinking of it as storage instead of parking. It’s a mantra of change agents – change the label and you change expectations.

Change is messy.Mia Birk

Mia shares her stories of managing the process that led to great improvements for cyclists in Portland.

Show #23 Listen.

Joyride

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  1. Mia’s comment reminds me of thrust of Donald Shoup’s book “The High Cost of Free Parking”. Mia said “If you go to the European cities they’ve made a very clear decision that storage of personal, private vehicles is not a function for the government.” Over here, parking IS the governments business, local municipalities give the public a subsidy every time on-street parking is given away cost free. We pay the price for that subsidy in lost parking revenue, lost business revenue, more traffic and a blight of cars left on neighborhood streets. Have a look at most areal photos of cities, 60% of the surface space is devoted to the automobile (streets and parking) and 40% is left for people (buildings and parks). The gold-rush is over now and the west was won, it’s time to re-evaluate the mix for cars and people.

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