Portland. Whoa.

IMG_8954_sq**This is the first post written by Ellen Schwartze, our newest KC Spokes People Blogger. Welcome Ellen!

I just returned to my hometown of KC after ten glorious, zero-percent-humidity, bike-lane-filled days in Oregon.

Let’s just say I have a travel hangover.

Portland, Oregon is one of the best-known biking Meccas in the U.S., and two-thirds of my trip was spent in that city, very specifically, so that I could have fun exploring by bike. Not surprisingly, for most of the trip, I found myself mentally perched between joy — of experiencing awesome bike facilities and finding an easy place to lock up my bike and sharing the road with hundreds of cyclists — and longing because I want these things in MY city, too.IMG_8950

So, what does Portland have that makes the world think it’s so great?

  1. SO. MUCH. INFRASTRUCTURE. It seemed rare to be on a street that did not have bike lanes. On one bridge, there’s a bike path that has a passing lane for cyclists to pass other cyclists.
  2. Bike corrals. I just learned this phrase from Elly Blue’s book, Bikenomics, and I love it. Several bike racks are installed in the place of a couple parking spots. It makes parking your bike a breeze because there’s always space. Do you know how often have I locked my bike to a trash can in KC? Lots of times.
  3. People biking. The bike lanes and corrals weren’t installed just for funsies; as more and more people chose to bike around Portland, the city and area businesses responded. Plus, with the amount of cyclists on the roads, drivers learned how to safely navigate with bikes. As a cyclist sharing these roads, I felt very normal — like I was just part of the flow. And everyone bikes. Tall people, round people, purple-haired people, business people. People on cruisers, people with panniers, people with rented bikes and people on their first bike.IMG_8782

(You know what Portland doesn’t have? Humidity and hills. Okay, so it rains instead of smothering you with Kansas City’s famous humidity. And, okay, yeah, there are some hills. But they aren’t like KC hills. These hills don’t crush all your dreams when you try to ride up them for the first time. Alright, fine, you know what Portland really doesn’t have? Excuses. You just bike. It’s what you do.)

But guys! All is not lost for KC! We have lots of things, too. Things like:

  1. TIME. Portland didn’t have a magic wand. City officials and residents started acting on plans more than 30 years ago. KC is now standing at the starting line of its own self-rediscovery. Bikes can be part of it.
  2. ADVOCATES. You know why you’re reading this blog.
  3. PROGRESS. Bike commuting was up 42 percent in KC in 2012. The region gained miles of new bike lanes in recent years. And there’s a ride to be ridden on every night of the week, and new groups to ride with.

There’s plenty of room to grow, but we have come a long, long way.

Ellen loves Kansas City, where she works at the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) as a Public Affairs Coordinator for the Air Quality program. You can find her riding her bike from the River Market all over KC, to Alamo Drafthouse to watch something she’s already seen or Southwest Boulevard for tacos and good conversation. When not riding bikes on their travels, Ellen and her husband run RoadGroups.com, a site where cyclists can search for group rides all over the country. She tweets random thoughts at @EllenSaysHola, bike fun at @RoadGroups, and downtown love for the Downtown Neighborhood Association at @dnakcmo.



  1. Thanks for the praise, Ellen! Though I would disagree with the “Portland doesn’t have hills” statement. It is probably possible to avoid more hills here, due to the general flatness of the Willamette Valley. But when we have hills, we have hills. Peaks in the West Hills (Tualatin Mtns.) reach above 1,000 feet (Downtown Portland is not much above sea level), so that means miles of climbing to get to the top. Many grades in the West Hills are in the 10% grade and above. Even the flattish east side has prominent hills like Mount Tabor and Rocky Butte. But most people don’t need to climb those peaks in their day-to-day riding.

    1. Hey, adventurepdx! Thanks for the comment. You’re right that there are definitely hills to be found in Portland — and we found a few on our vacation — but as far as urban biking, PDX is a welcome reprieve from the rolling downtown in KC. Here, it isn’t uncommon to climb 300+ feet just to get from one side of town to the other. Talk to our bike commuters and they’ll all know about the hill through midtown, or climbing out of the valley of the Crossroads, and they’ll all have a few options for getting around them, or just powering over them.

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