Woman who helped transform Portland to headline Fort Ord trails event

Jan 20, 2015

A new bike lane on Imjin Road on the former Fort Ord.
Credit Krista Almanzan
Portland, Oregon is well known as a bike friendly city, but it wasn’t always that way.  The woman who helped change the city from being car centric to the place with hundreds of miles of bike lanes, trails and walkways is Mia Birk.  

She’s the former bicycle coordinator for Portland, and now President of Alta Planning and Design – a company that works with communities across the country to create infrastructure so people can bike and walk as part of their daily lives. 

This Thursday she’s the keynote speaker at the Fort Ord Trail Symposium.  Part of the master plan for the former Fort includes yet to be completed major trail networks. At Thursday’s event you can learn about national trends and how to help plan the future.  

I recently spoke with Mia Birk who says creating this type of community is as much about building infrastructure as it is building habits.

Mia Birk (MB): Most of our trips are not the commute trips.   We spend a lot time talking about the 20% of trips that are the journey to work trip, but 80% of our trips are other trips and many of those are very short. They’re to the store, or to the church, or to the park, or to the community center, or a recreational area, or within a recreational area. 

And those are the types of trips that when people take one of them -- I challenge people -- take one a week that you would otherwise do by car, and switch that to bike.  And make it a short trip, make it a fun trip, make it an easy trip, and then do that again, and again, and again and then it starts to normalize  it cause you did it, and then your family did it, and then your neighbors say you doing it, and then they don’t think it’s something different or separate.   

They think, “oh, my neighbor does it, my friend, my colleague does it, my mom does it, my brother does it, I can do it.”  And it becomes a normal part of life.   

KA: So what does a community that can support that look like?

MB: You certainly will see crosswalks and you’ll see pedestrian and bicycle friendly signals.  And you’ll see either bike lanes or what we call cycle tracks that are separated in roadway type facilities, protected bike lanes, is another way to say it.  You’ll certainly see a network of trails, which could be called paths, that also have really good accommodations for both bicyclists and pedestrians. 

So you’ll see a network and you’ll feel it every day, and when you are driving, because many of us are going to continue to drive, and please don’t think that I’m implying that we’re all going to become car free in California.  That’s not realistic nor is it necessary. 

What we’re going to do instead is as drivers we are also going to feel really confident when we’re driving around people on bike or around people walking because we ourselves bike and walk some of the time.

KA:  Given what you know about Fort Ord. You know it’s been closed 20 years.  We’ve had a lot of redevelopment, re-purposing, but there’s still so much left to be done.  And at the same time what was Fort Ord is government by so many jurisdictions. What do you think can happen here?

MB: I’m an optimist.  And I think that you have a tremendous opportunity physically because there’s obviously already a roadway network to work with, and there’s a lot of potential space on which to develop and continue to develop the trails and the greenways.  I think that you have a passionate advocates who are pushing this forward, and you need that.  I think you need funding.

And I also think you have a lot of leaders that really recognize that the incorporation of bicycling and walking not just into Fort Ord, but in connecting Fort Ord to the neighboring towns, and getting it from Seaside and Monterey and over and connecting to the scenic Bay Trail, that there’s a lot opportunity to take advantage of both what already exists and what the future is and connect those.

Mia Birk will be the the key note speaker at the Fort Ord Trail Symposium.   

Event Details

Fort Ord Trail Symposium 

Thursday, January 22nd 9:00am to 4:30pm 

University Center, CSUMB