Local backers hope to re-create Portland cycle event

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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PORTLAND — Amid a swirl of bikes shaped like rockets, bikes built for two (or three), folks riding in superhero costumes and hundreds more at Portland’s Sunday Parkways ride were more than a dozen members of Clark County’s Youth Commission and other local bike advocates, looking to learn what they could.

Driving rain didn’t dampen their enthusiasm for riding as they participated in the popular program, which closes neighborhood streets for a non-motorized extravaganza with activities in parks and dozens of booths — and even the odd free lemonade stand along the way.

“It’s really about experiencing your community in a new and different way,” said Rex Burkholder, an elected commissioner with Oregon’s Metro regional government. “You move slower, you make eye contact. To have people feel comfortable (riding bikes) is the goal here.”

The county Youth Commission has members from 11 to 19 years old, who inform county commissioners on policy issues important to young people. One of their next tasks may be recommending a Sunday Parkways-type ride in Vancouver, Clark County Community Planner Laurie Lebowsky said. Most of the youth commission rode their bikes, although a handful walked the route.

“What I want the kids to take away from this is: What is it about their community that they like?” Lebowsky said. “How would Sunday Parkways look in Clark County? How can we make this unique to Clark County?”

Representatives from Tigard, Sherwood and Wilsonville were also along to see how the ride might fit into their cities as well.

Lebowsky said that it may take work to get support from the city of Vancouver and other local officials to close streets, even on a Sunday. But starting with a small ride to test the waters and smooth out kinks would likely be the first step, she said.

“We’ll start small, start downtown, and then people will see how great it is,” Lebowsky said.

It would take at least a year to plan, but a Clark County parkways could happen as soon as next summer, she said. Bike Clark County representatives said they’d be on hand to help plan and organize volunteers.

Portland has been hosting the event for four years, and each year it grows easier to coordinate with law enforcement and drivers, said Linda Ginenthal, project manager with the Portland Bureau of Transportation. Portland held five Sunday Parkways this year, in each geographical quadrant of town; Sunday’s event, an 8-mile loop in Northeast Portland, was the last of the year.

Youth Commission member Jonathon Norton, 16, said he loved seeing all the neighbors and others line the parkways route to wave, help direct traffic and just watch.

“I noticed that the community was very supportive of it — everyone wanted to be a part of it,” said Norton, a Hudson’s Bay High School student. “I think that most of Vancouver would accept it and welcome it.”

Kaiser Permanente is one of the event’s main sponsors, in a large part because having an active community is one of the best ways to both good health and lowered health care costs, said Dan Field, director of community benefit.

“The reality is, if you want to know how healthy someone is ... we ask where you live, if you have access to alternative transportation, access to healthy foods and if you live in a safe neighborhood,” Field said. “For us, Sunday Parkways really speaks to a healthy community.”

The physical activity was the selling point for Youth Commission member Madeline Atwood. It’s also why she sees Clark County getting behind a ride in her hometown.

“I liked seeing how many kids are getting more active,” during the ride, Atwood, 13, said. “The kids I know, all they ever do is sit around and play video games. Getting active will help lower health problems.”

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or andrea.damewood@columbian.com or www.facebook.com/reporterdamewood or www.twitter.com/col_cityhall