A few years ago, a colleague from a large city called to share an experience.
“I did what you suggested, Mia. I took the engineering department on a bike ride,” she said. “Not one of them owns a bike. They all drive pick-up trucks and SUVs.”
Sadly, this is the norm, not the exception.
In very few North American universities do students in planning, engineering, landscape architecture, architecture, education, or health learn anything related to bicycling and walking. Courses are designed with an assumption that everyone drives for most if not every trip. Graduates then enter into jobs with agencies, organizations, and firms whose professionals also have these biases and training.
No wonder transportation department staff don’t know how to plan, design, and operate transportation systems with pedestrians and cyclists in mind. No wonder health care providers don’t encourage bicycling as part of basic preventive medicine, or school officials consider bicycle safety education as core curriculum. No wonder architects don’t understand bicycle parking needs and options, and landscape architects design incomplete streets with pedestrians and cyclists as after-thoughts.
We can shift 10 to 50 percent of daily trips to bicycling and walking for peanuts on the dollar. It’s a win-win situation. But it requires education and training of students and professionals.
Enter Portland State University’s Initiative for Bicycle and Pedestrian Innovation, this month celebrating its fifth year. With more than 30 courses taught, 1,000 individuals engaged, and countless communities touched, we are determined to give students and professionals the tools to better balance our transportation choices.
IBPI is the brainchild of a group including myself, Portland Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder, America Walks’ Scott Bricker, Bike Gallery Owner/Grand Fromage Jay Graves, and PSU’s Jennifer Dill. We created IBPI to lead innovation in research, education, and knowledge of ways to make our communities safe, convenient, and accessible places to walk and bicycle.
Portland is our living lab, because transportation professionals need to be able to readily assess the barriers, challenges, and opportunities presented by our auto-oriented transportation system. That’s what we spend part of each class on bike or foot, learning from all we have been through, have accomplished, and have yet to achieve.
Some of my favorite attendees results: Tacoma, WA, completed an award-winning Mobility Master Plan, retrained its whole transportation team, and secured millions in implementation grants; Culver City, CA, was awarded a grant to develop and implement a bicycle and pedestrian master plan; and Calgary, AB, completed a bicycle plan with overwhelming city council support and is well on the way to supplementing its pathway network with on-street bikeways and a bike share program. From all parts of North America, our graduates and attendees have brought back solutions and inspiration, with the latest group being nine university faculty. Our cutting edge research in bicyclist travel demand has led to more sophisticated travel demand modeling, while our bikeway design research has informed the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide.
Just like any new program, IBPI had to raise funds, convince the powers that be of our validity, and press on through many obstacles, challenges and setbacks. We have such a long way to go. But this week, we take a moment to celebrate what we have accomplished in our first five years. May there be many more to come.
Raise a glass with me: to the IBPI! Changing the face of transportation one step, one pedal stroke at a time.