PORTLAND, it seems, is stuck with platinum.
Back in April, bicycle activists' online petition to remove Portland's platinum rating as a bicycle-friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists attracted nearly 700 signatures in short order. But the movement is headed down a dead-end road, according to a league spokesman.
Portland's long reveled in the fact that it's the only big city to earn a platinum rating—and one of only four towns in the US of any size do it. But former Bicycle Transportation Alliance employee Will Vanlue and some friends say the designation is unearned, arguing that Portland has stalled out in its quest to be America's most bicycle-friendly city. The group claims the city's failure to establish a bike-share system, cite motorists who crash into cyclists, and create a safe trail and bike lane network are examples of how we're undeserving of such praise.
It's a novel approach to getting Portland officials to pay attention, but Steve Clark, a program specialist for the league, says it's also not going to work—at least not immediately.
"There've been a number of cities where advocates have called on us to reconsider," Clark says. "But that's a tough call because we make it pretty clear that once a city is designated, they've got four years until they have to reapply."
Portland was awarded a platinum rating for the first time in 2008, and again in 2013. The city isn't due for reapplication until February 2017, Clark says. In the meantime, Portland's got some work to do to keep its platinum status as other cities make improvements that raise the bar. Not only that, but there's a new designation—diamond—the city could be working toward.
"I think that with what's going on with this effort to downgrade, it will be difficult for Portland to move up in ranking during this application period," Clark says. "Many cities that have a gold ranking now feel they're doing as much as Portland is, which could cause them to move up to platinum and Portland to slip to gold."
Vanlue's petition has spurred more immediate conversation. In response to the effort, the Portland Bureau of Transportation released a seven-page memo arguing the city's still doing a lot for bikes.
"My impression as an observer of this movement is that it was mostly a creative (though totally earnest) distress call," says Michael Andersen, news editor for bikeportland.org, via email. "Portland has a strong and useful (but gradually eroding) public image as an unusually bike-friendly US city. But is it a good enough place to bike that it's become easy for most people to get around without a car if they wanted to? No, of course not."
As a grim reminder of lingering dangers, a young man named Mark Angeles was fatally hit on May 27 on SE César E. Chávez, and 22-year-old cyclist Alistair Corkett had his leg severed on May 10, when a driver plowed into him at the intersection of SE 26th and Powell—a well-known trouble spot for bike riders, drivers, and pedestrians alike. (The Oregon Department of Transportation has hurriedly installed better signals.)
Regardless of the inability to get Portland downgraded early, the sentiment remains. On June 24, a "Downgrade Portland Ride"—organized via Facebook by activist group BikeLoudPDX—will tour "Portland roads and bike facilities that are more tin than platinum," according to the group's online event page.
In true Portland fashion, the group is protesting "dangerous arterials, bike infrastructure stagnation, the mountain biking trail desert, missing bridge links, unsafe greenways, and bike-share vaporware."
Vanlue & Co. have also suggested several ways the city could remedy its problems and retain its platinum status, including diverting car traffic away from greenways and safer street design.
"We are way behind in just about every category the League of American Bicyclists uses to evaluate bicycle-friendly communities," Vanlue says. "I doubt I'll ever see Portland get to platinum, but I hold out hope Mayor [Charlie] Hales and Commissioner [Steve] Novick will decide to get serious about bicycling as transportation."
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