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Country Girl in the City: Notes from the Esplanade

Notes from the Esplanade.

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After a full day of PowerPoint presentations in a dark, windowless conference room in the swanky Nines Hotel in downtown Portland, I desperately needed to move my muscles and see the sky. I dodged out of the wine-and-cheese reception after exchanging a few business cards, and performed a hasty wardrobe change from dress and stockings to tights and running shoes in the back of my van in the Smart Park at 4th and Yamhill.

Aaahhh, my running shoes felt so good as I ran a couple of blocks through the grey drizzle down to the Tom McCall Waterfront City Park. I ran north on the Esplanade along the river, past the homeless people beneath the Burnside Bridge, across the Willamette River on the Steel Bridge and then south down the Eastbank Esplanade to OMSI.

Joggers equipped with iPods and a gazelle-like Kenyan runner paraded by. A rowing club sliced through the murky water in their eight-man shell, accompanied by their coach in a motorboat. Tell-tale lumps of flour on the pavement meant that a Hash Run was passing through.

You can make an excellent 10-mile loop by running through the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, crossing the Sellwood Bridge and returning up the West Bank. (By the way, I found this loop on www.run.com, a great website for finding running routes in cities around the country.)

Amidst it all, a steady stream of die-hard bicycle commuters whizzed by.

TWO-WHEELING IN PDX

Portland is considered the most bicycle-friendly city in the United States and is second only to Amsterdam in the world. Portland has a 260-mile network of bike lanes, paths and boulevards that it began planning in the early 1970s. It's even possible to follow a 12-mile bike trail from the airport to downtown. Since 1992, the city has spent almost $60 million - or roughly the cost of building one mile of an urban highway - to enhance its cycling infrastructure. The number of riders flowing across the city's bridges has more than quadrupled, and on one bridge last year, more than 20 percent of all trips were made by bicycle. According to the Census Bureau, Portland has the highest percentage of workers who commute by bike, about 3.5 percent.

Portland, meanwhile, has become one of the few U.S. cities to decrease its greenhouse-gas emissions below 1990 levels.

Cycling is not only a way of life; it is also contributing to the economy. The city actively nurtures a cycling industry. There are about 125 bike-related businesses employing 600-800 people. There are companies that make bike racks, high-end components for racing bikes, cycling hats out of recycled fabric and custom bikes.

"Our intentions are to be as sustainable a city as possible," Mayor Sam Adams said in a statement. "That means socially, that means environmentally and that means economically. The bike is great on all three of those factors. You just can't get a better return on your investment than you get with promoting bicycling."

CYCLOCROSS CHAMPS

The next day, I drove through gray drizzle out of Portland, up past Mount Hood, and dropped into sunshine in Warm Springs. Aaahhh, it felt so good to be back on my side of the Cascades, back in the High Desert.

Portland can keep the rain and the traffic, but we could learn a few lessons from our bike-friendly big brother. Some people in Bend realize the value of cycling. Doug LaPlaca of VisitBend is one of those people. He successfully brought part of the 2009 National Road Cycling Championships to Bend this summer and the event was estimated to have had an overall economic impact of $1.44 million in direct tourist spending in Bend.

The 2009 National Cyclocross Championships will be held December 10-13 in Bend. An estimated 2,000 riders and a similar economic impact are anticipated. (For more information about the super-spectator-friendly course winding through the Old Mill District and full calendar of events, go to www.visitbend.com/cyclocross.)

The irony is that there is so much more to being a great bike town than recruiting some national events. Yet we still lack a good network of bike paths connecting our town and we just finished chip sealing all the good cycling roads in Central Oregon, effectively killing several great road biking routes. Now is the time to make safe cycling routes part of our infrastructure, so that we can truly become the cool bike town we pretend to be.

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