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Providence Bridge Pedal - Maximizing Its Potential?

A massive, popular event . . . but does it do the Portland bicycling community a disservice?
Apparently some of the crowding and starting problems experienced by participants in the 2007 Providence Bridge Pedal were ironed out for this year's event with only a few spills and near misses occurring. The event, held on Sunday, sought to avoid workday traffic (although there are those of us who do work on Sunday and the beginning of the event coincided with the time in which we had to get into work. Note to Providence: Can the event begin at 10:00 am next year?)

I have some concerns about the routes and the associated events. Some of these stem from the very positive experience of having been involved in setting up, running, and participating in the old Bike To Work Day before the City of Portland or anybody like Providence got involved in a major bike event.

The original Portland BTW Day was an educational event to promote commuting and responsible bicycling. It operated on volunteer goodwill and the support of local bike businesses and bicycling clubs and organizations. No streets were closed to facilitate the rides; each ride (and there were at least four from different parts of town, all converging on Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown) had an experienced leader who everyone on the ride had to follow and a tail rider who watched out for the slower riders and helped anyone with flats or problems. Some rides had a mid-rider as well. In this way, everyone followed the rules of the road, nobody surged ahead and experienced riders were on hand to keep everybody on track and provide direction as to where to ride, when to stop and when to signal. Before each group headed into town, the ride leaders checked out the participants' bikes and gear to make sure that they would be safe. Organizers sought to educate and to make sure that participants had a realistic biking experience upon which to base future bicycling.

BTW Day ended in Pioneer Courthouse Square where local businesses donated drinks and food, there were drawings for bicycling gear and the various bicycling groups distributed information and answered questions.

Contrast this with Bridge Pedal. Since Providence is facilitating the event it seems that its primary goal is simply getting people on bikes for health reasons. However the rides aren't guided (participants follow maps) and nobody insures that riders are observing traffic laws. In fact, the courses are set up so that riders can ignore them. The organizers closed lanes and complete streets and volunteers waved riders through traffic lights as though they weren't there. Some of the routes traveled on roadway that -- during non-Bridge Pedal -- would be illegal for bicycles to travel on are the Fremont and Marquam Bridges and the 405 Freeway. What kind of example is that?

While BTW rides concluded in a central location where all activities, seminars, booths and food distribution took place, the Bridge Pedal rides end on the west side of the river while the associated fair is set up on the EAST side at the Doubletree Inn at Lloyd Center. I have to wonder how many riders made the effort to go over to the Lloyd Center afterwards, especially with tired children. More likely they wandered over to enjoy The Bite of Portland and blew off the "Free Personal Training Session", "Free Massage", "Free Kayak Lesson", "Free Introduction to Mountain Climbing" and other various and sundry Lloyd Center venue offerings that seemed to have little or nothing to do with responsible bicycling education.

While popular, this kind of event doesn't help bicyclists understand what it's really like to ride a bicycle responsibly on the streets of Portland and - in part - attracts people who will not commute or ride with traffic in the future because they are only comfortable being insulated and riding streets completely devoid of any motorized vehicles. That's a no-brainer that is in direct contradiction to the real world of day-to-day responsible urban cycling.

So much money, so much hype, so much participation . . . a squandered opportunity?