Bike Milwaukie: Sunday rides meet advocacy

March 11, 2014

by John Chilson


Preparation for the Bike Milwaukie Sunday ride begins!

When Matt Menely and Greg Baartz-Bowman started Bike Milwaukie in the summer of 2011 their vision was simple: invite the community every month to ride their bikes around Milwaukie, OR, to learn more about their community, meet neighbors and have some fun.

Every third Sunday between March and December Matt and Greg gather residents at Milwaukie City Hall for leisurely rides around the town. Riders of all ages and abilities participate and learn how to ride safely on streets, see their neighborhoods up close, wave to neighbors on porches and get to know their community from a bike, not zooming by in a car. The two organizers wanted to illustrate that riding a bike around the small town was easy.

“We got our families together and invited folks for a bike ride around Milwaukie to see who’d show up,” said Greg. “But there’s another unspoken motive there – what if this takes off? Maybe we can start showing people that it’s not difficult to get around Milwaukie on a bicycle.”


Let's explore Milwaukie!

At just under five square miles with a population of around 20,000, Milwaukie was incorporated in 1903 and at one time was in competition with its next door neighbor, Portland, OR. Yes, that Portland. And you probably know the rest of the story: Portland is now a shining example of successful incorporation of bike infrastructure, while smaller communities such as Milwaukie are still finding ways to make their communities safer for pedestrians.  

As rides gear up for their fourth season, Matt and Greg are also starting to integrate advocacy into rides. With each ride, more and more participants are showing up to learn about the cool, sometimes secret spots around Milwaukie. Spots such as the hidden garden along Kellogg Lake, the shortcut off the Springwater Trail that puts bicyclists smack into Portland's Woodstock neighborhood, historical neighborhoods around downtown Milwaukie, and a tour of the oft-threatened Three Creeks Natural Area. One recent ride went into Portland to tour some of its bike infrastructure. More riders are asking questions about not only the ride routes but also what's new in Milwaukie and how bikes are being supported. It was natural that advocacy started to emerge from these rides.

“The advocacy part of it was more my dream scenario in the far background,” said Matt. “We didn’t really push for advocacy, but once we built up a base of people on rides and on Facebook and built enough credibility with people, there was the opportunity to say, ‘There’s an important issue at city council that needs your input.’”


Bike Milwaukie founders, Matt (left) and Greg.

Crossroads and bike paths

On the surface, not much has changed in Milwaukie as far as bike infrastructure. But look closer and there are numerous, positive changes occurring, many in the next several years. Through its advocacy, Bike Milwaukie’s leadership has proven to be effective in affecting change.

They worked closely with politicians and organizations on the SE 17th Avenue Multi-use Regional Trail Connection that will directly connect downtown Milwaukie with Portland’s Sellwood neighborhood on a completely car-free path. This will also connect with the almost-completed Trolley Trail that dips into surrounding Clackamas County neighborhoods to downtown Milwaukie and ultimately Portland. These off-street trails will increase the number of pedestrians and bicyclists in Milwaukie and throughout the county.

The big issue on the plate now for safe streets in Milwaukie is the Monroe Street Neighborhood Greenway. Monroe Street is a key east-west route across Milwaukie, and connects many of Milwaukie’s neighborhoods to downtown Milwaukie.

To gain support for the project, Menely and Baartz-Bowman encouraged riders on their monthly rides and on their Facebook account to attend council meetings, write city council in support of the Greenway, and get the Greenway added to the council’s goal-setting agenda. What transpired was that the Greenway got placed on the council’s goals for 2013, opening doors for staff to find funding opportunities. The Greenway was also supported by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and its 2013 Blueprint for World-Class Bicycling agenda. Through this support, the City of Milwaukie was awarded a grant with money for conceptual planning and neighborhood outreach, currently in progress.

In that short period of time the project went from obscurity to being propelled into the public eye with the eventual $100,000 in funding.


Families enjoying a leisurely bike ride.

Challenges

In lieu of the many positive infrastructure changes and an increased awareness from the community, Milwaukie streets are still divided for bicycling, pedestrianism and safer streets. Two highways and two rail lines divide the city, splitting neighborhoods apart. Though each highway has crosswalks, it still feels unsafe crossing lanes where the speed limit is 50 mph.

And though the Council has moved forward with the aforementioned projects and has its champions for safer streets and pedestrian infrastructure, the majority aren’t on board with more bike infrastructure. There are other projects that Menely and Baartz-Bowman would like to see get added to the table as well – that won’t go anywhere without council support. But that could change – especially in this election year in the town.

“If people who believe in bicycles vote for candidates that believe in bicycling infrastructure we will get bicycling infrastructure. It will come to this town. It will come to any town. It’s that simple,” said Baartz-Bowman.

For more information on Bike Milwaukie and upcoming rides visit their Facebook page or website.

Chilson writes about Portland history, architecture and urban design. 

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