Monday, May 15, 2017

Bike More Challenge at Mid-Month: Could use more Institutional Support

Looking at the leader boards for the Bike More Challenge in Salem, it's hard not to conclude that it's not very effective at the moment. People who already bike may not find it useful or interesting, and as an incentive for new people to try out bike trips it also may not be useful or interesting.

The Challenge has been around for a while, and participation even in Portland has been flat or declining. Its peak seems to have been in 2011, so in addition to whatever trends might characterize Salem in particular, there are larger statewide trends as well.

Even so, entities that you might think would embrace the Challenge as a public symbol and statement about institutional values have generally not embraced the Challenge and have not put much institutional force or many resources behind it. For them it remains a fringe-y side show. But maybe it's time for institutions and leadership to say "this is important." It's supposed to be a fun Encouragement project, and in that way shouldn't be taken too seriously. But maybe we aren't taking it seriously enough.

Or maybe the Challenge is just tired and it's time for something new.

Either way, current levels of interest have not been encouraging.

0.7% participation at City of Salem Public Works
The City transportation group does not participate, and this is one of the surest signs that institutionally bicycling is not taken seriously enough at the City. While the City is working on things like the Union Street and Winter-Maple bikeways, most staff do not themselves seem to find bicycling a worthwhile activity to employ personally and by example to advocate. It's not that big a deal, but it's a sign and symptom.

Another group worth considering is ODOT, many of whose groups and functions are based on Salem.

0.2 % participation at ODOT HQ

But 2.6% participation out on Fairview,
where at least some of the Active Transport group are based
As a sign of institutional priority, ODOT couldn't be clearer! Maybe they're all cynical or indifferent about the Challenge, biking but just not logging trips.  The renovated T-Building has a very nice bike room, you may recall. But at HQ it looks like it remains the Highway Department.

Bike storage room, the 2012 Open House
The comparison between OHSU-HQ and its affiliate here in Salem is also telling.

3.4% participation at OHSU
0.1% participation at Salem Health
OHSU has cultivated a much stronger culture of active transportation - in no small part because of land scarcity and cost, which make auto parking a very low-use value for land on "Pill Hill" - but here the Hospital has committed to copious free parking for employees, to funding anti-transit campaigns, and thereby has devalued things like bus and bike transport as well as the health benefits of active transportation.

Whether in Health Services or in Transportation Planning, the Challenge is an opportunity for leadership to say "biking is an important and beneficial part of our transportation system." The silence also says something about priorities.

So good news? Northwest Hub continues to lead its division!

100%. That's the spirit!
In the end, even if the Challenge has become a little stale for people who currently bike, as an Encouragement project aimed at getting people to try something new for the fair weather, it deserves stronger high-level support from leadership and with institutional resources.

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