Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Tincture (and a bit more) of Green

Portland, Oregon has earned a reputation as a “green” city, a city that is progressive with regard to environmental and sustainability issues. Whether that reputation is entirely deserved is a matter of debate; there are still lots of people in this town who are pushing development for the sake of “growth,” as well as the usual suspects driving SUV's everywhere and throwing tantrums whenever pedestrians or cyclists impede their journey.

Yet Portland has many things going for it, things that are hard to find in other American cities. The City of Portland Bureau of Transportation is one such asset. They have a very respectable bicycle transit outreach and promotion program. In addition, they have developed a useful and functional web of bike paths and designated “bike-friendly” streets. It is thus possible to get to many workplaces, stores, libraries and other important destinations entirely by bike. They also provide bike and walking maps to anyone who wants them.

And they conduct educational outreaches to bicyclists to make bike commuting safer. One such outreach, shown in the picture below, took place a few weeks ago after an accident on the Hawthorne Bridge involving two cyclists.

Such outreaches are both necessary and welcome. To my fellow cyclists I say, let's listen to some words of wisdom from the Bureau of Transportation. Be safe and courteous when cycling, especially on mixed-use paths like those on the Hawthorne Bridge. We all know how impatient and pushy many car drivers can be. Let's not ride the way we see some people drive. On a mixed-use path, slow down – a few seconds' delay won't kill you. And use a bell to warn pedestrians that you're coming up behind them. (At the outreach pictured above, the City handed out free bells.)

One other thing about the Bureau: every last Friday of the month, they team up with local bike shops to host a commuters' breakfast on the west end of the Hawthorne Bridge. Not only do they feed you, but if you're a cyclist, they'll even do a mechanical check of your bike for free.

The City also has a Bureau of Environmental Services that does many things, including providing resources for brownfield remediation. And there is the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, which hosts all sorts of classes on sustainable living and building. One series of classes is on building “cob” (earthen) houses. I missed the first class in the series, and I may be out of town on business during the second class, so I am kicking myself. Ah, how frustrating! Hopefully, the classes will be held again in the near future. I am thinking hard about using rammed earth to make my house more snug before this next winter. If anyone out there has any experience with or knowledge of earth construction, feel free to leave a comment. I also invite residents of other cities to tell some of the things being done by your city government or volunteer groups to make your place a little more “green.”

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