Driving the congested streets of my hometown, more often than not, I’m likely faced with gridlock and a frustrating lack of traffic flow. No matter what time of day I choose to take to the streets. I often try to imagine living in a city where both walking and biking are not only welcomed but are actually the norm. Where traveling and mobility, whatever method you choose, are both easy and environment-friendly. As it turns out, you don’t have to look too far to find such a place.
Welcome to Portland, Oregon, a city of just over 500,000, that has been home to a progressive environmental culture pretty much before ‘being green’ became hip and very marketable. It’s been on the top of my list of places to visit for a long time, so when I was fortunate enough to get a ticket to the World Domination Summit taking place there, I was elated. The event itself was awesome! A gathering of people all committed to living a remarkable life in a conventional world. And for me, so was the city of Portland itself.
Portland’s reputation is certainly one to be proud of. It’s known as one of the most ecologically conscious places in the world. Hundreds of grassroots environmental organizations are based in and around the city. They don’t just pitch this as a possibility, they genuinely live it and value sustainable growth. And that’s what I found as I walked the streets. I actually smiled every time I saw the BigBelly® solar-powered garbage receptacles on the street corners.
The city is incredibly bicycle friendly, and it might even seem that cyclists get priority on the roads. Unlike many metropolitan centres, Portland motorists are very accommodating. It’s estimated that at least 7 percent of their population commute to work by bicycle. This is one of the highest numbers of cycling commuters in all the U.S.
Taking it to the Streets
There are over 315 miles of developed bikeways, plus both designated bike and skateboard lanes. Seems everyone walks or cycles in Portland, including unicyclists and dogs, whose owners have bikes custom-made with pet carriers. Very cool. Although I didn’t cycle, I did take public transit and was amazed at how easy it was to get around the city in a short amount of time.
Considering that greenhouse gasses that contribute to global warming come to a large extent from fossil-fuel-based transportation, the initiatives Portland has implemented to both reduce or eliminate hydrocarbons, is extremely impressive. Through a grant with the Climate Trust, Portland has committed to re-timing traffic lights to reduce fuel consumption. Traffic signal optimization studies traffic patterns and re-calibrates signals to minimize the amount of time cars spend idling and accelerating. “Now that would be incredible here”, I think each time I drive around town where traffic lights seem to be timed exactly opposite to that, creating an on-going stop and start gridlock.
This initiative alone is calculated to have already cut fuel consumption in Portland by 1.75 million gallons. This is equal to more than a 15,000-ton reduction in CO2 emissions. Other cities would certainly do well to study and implement their model. I got to experience this smooth traffic flow first hand. I hopped on and off the city streetcars that post real-time arrivals that are spot on to the minute.
Smart Parking Meters
The city also has ‘smart’ parking meters which are solar powered, accept credit cards and stand one per block. Interesting that Portland is also the birthplace of car-sharing in the U.S. Their Flexcar members have access to a fleet of vehicles that are located throughout the metro area. Every Flexcar replaces an estimated six cars on the road.
Everything about Portland is delightfully green and makes for the perfect place to have an eco-friendly vacation, too. Their Light Rail and Streetcar system continues to expand, making it both easy and aesthetically pleasing to travel the city. Where else can you travel from the airport to the heart of the city on Light Rail and only pay $2.50?
Portland Values Beauty
Portland values beauty too. The evidence is everywhere. From their cobbled and richly textured streets to their visually lovely bus shelters. Plants flourish and trees abound, creating gentle shade. It was fun to walk the twelve South Park Blocks stretching through the heart of downtown Portland, to see how each is unique and features its own interesting artwork.
The downtown waterfront area, home to the 40-mile loop trail system, is also a favorite place for jogging, bicycling and walking, as the trail weaves for miles along the Willamette River. As I sat quietly in a beautiful lush waterfront park, I was grateful to have a chance encounter with an engaging downtown parks horticulturist, who gave me lots of interesting information about the city and its horticulture history.
Roses + Japanese Gardens
One thing that was a must see for me was the historic International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park. A little bit of heaven and without a doubt, an absolute highlight. Founded in 1917, the garden is the oldest official continuously operated public rose test garden in the United States. With over 500 varieties, mostly in full bloom when I visited, the beauty of this garden is almost beyond words. The range of colors and fragrances was breathtaking.
Just across the street, I found serenity and calm in the Japanese Garden. My very quiet and peaceful walk offered another wonderful way to commune with nature. A lovely stone Jizo (a bodhisattva or enlightened being) accompanied me home from the garden’s shop, as he is a protector of travelers. A gentle reminder to me of my desire to continue traveling to places that call to me.
Book Lovers Heaven
For a confirmed book lover like myself, visiting the bustling Powell’s – City of Books on Burnside, was another great reminder of how many people still love to browse and buy real books. Approximately 3000 people walk in and buy something every day. Offering new, used and out-of-print books on the same shelves, this location fills a complete city block, (at 68,000 square feet, it’s the largest bookstore in the world) and represents the ultimate in recycling! And did I mention that Portland (all of Oregon actually) is a sales tax-free zone!
There are so many things that stayed with me from my visit to Portland. I sense there’s much more for me to explore there. So, until I have the opportunity to return, I’ll hold these memories and continue to spread the word about what an incredible place Portland is to visit.
On a final note…it’s truly amazing when you visit somewhere you’ve wanted to see and find you are even more impressed and touched by it than you could have ever imagined.
Where have you visited that you absolutely can’t wait to return to?
postscript 2016: In revisiting my trip to Portland and having recently returned from my trip to Sedona, I realize how traveling to somewhere that uplifts and reenergizes us, contributes to our overall health and well-being. And how our health and vitality are very influenced by every lifestyle choice we make for ourselves.
Don’t have a trip planned, but could use a change-of-season vitality boost? You’re invited to a complimentary health and wellness consultation where together we’ll create a customized, individualized health plan designed for you. Begin with the True Health Assessment and find out how healthy you are with your lifestyle and nutritional choices. Look forward to talking with you soon!