You have probably heard of ciclovías, those daytime city events that clear the car traffic from a route of streets so that walkers can walk, bikers can bike, skaters can skate and everybody practicing human-powered transportation can share the thoroughfares, if only for a few hours.
Originated in Colombia, ciclovías have spread around the world as a great way for people to take back the streets and experience their neighborhoods and each other in a less frenetic and more connected way.
Ciclovías are like the ultimate antidote to rush hour.
In Columbia a small handful of cities have ciclovías every Sunday, but in North America and the rest of the world at most a city will host a ciclovía a few times a year. It’s a lot of work and money to plan and close off major streets that generally carry car traffic, and while ciclovías are great street parties, they aren’t usually at the top of the priority list of transportation officials.
Yet as cities get more dense and traffic-filled, these same transportation officials are realizing the need to find more ways to get people to bike and walk (as well as take public transportation). This isn’t easy–convincing people not to drive their cars is a long-term task. And it involves making non-car transportation as convenient as the car, or at the very least, more fun.
Enter Portland’s secret superpower in getting people to want to ride their bikes. It’s called Pedalpalooza.
Back in 1999, San Francisco hosted a ‘summer of biking’, with workshops and events. The following summer Chicago had one, and then Vancouver. New York City was slated to host a bike summer in 2002, but after 9/11, the city didn’t feel ready, and Portland decided to pick up the bike summer thread.
Helped but not directly hosted by the City of Portland, the bike summer of 2002 was a huge hit in Portland, with over 70 rides and events. Eventually Pedalpalooza was recognized as a game changer in getting all kinds of people out on their bikes, enjoying their city.
Pedalpalooza has gone strong for the last dozen years, with crazy, fun-filled, and fabulous rides of all kinds. Urban art snobs ride? Check. Ecstatic Dance Bike Ride? Check. There’s even a ride for lawyers, and this year, a Robin Williams Memorial Costume ride. And while not every Pedalpalooza ride is for everyone (the World Naked Bike Ride just isn’t everyone’s idea of fun) everyone can find a ride that they are interested in on the extensive Pedalpalooza calendar.
“Pedalpalooza is kind of a weird science,” said Carl Larson, who is a member of the Shift2Bikes non-profit that helps promote and plan Pedalpalooza. “The number of rides has gone up and down – we once hit 300 rides on the calendar for 3+ weeks of the event – but what is neat is that there aren’t really any leaders and there’s very little money involved in all of it…the best thing is that it’s just a bunch of rides that people create, lead, and go on.”
Now held in June and helped along by a tolerant City of Portland administration, Pedalpalooza’s grand culmination is the World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR). Portland has the distinction of hosting one of the world’s largest WNBR events, with more than 8,000 cyclists in 2014 daring to bare it all, or most of it, for a spin through the dark city streets.
But the point of Pedalpalooza is not to get naked on a bike. Rather, it’s a community series of events through which any type of cyclist can find his or her own tribe of like-minded bicyclists, build community, and feel part of the city in a unique and free way.
“I’ve been to bike events where the events are lead by the city or municipality, and they are just not as cool as Pedalpalooza,” Larson said. “With the community taking the lead you just get a higher percentage of cool rides and bike fun. And Portland truly seems to get that – to recognize that bike fun is truly a way to make our roads safer for everyone.”