The Big Idea – Bike-Friendly Curriculum

In very few North American universities do students in planning, engineering, architecture, landscape architecture, education and health care learn much, if anything, about bicycling and walking.

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A few years ago, a colleague from a big city called to share an experience. “I did what you suggested, Mia. I took the engineering department on a bike ride,” she said. “Not one of them owns a bike. They all drive pickup trucks and SUVs.”

Sadly, this is the norm, not the exception.

In very few North American universities do students in planning, engineering, architecture, landscape architecture, education and health care learn much, if anything, about bicycling and walking.

It’s no wonder that transportation department staff don’t know how to plan, design and operate transportation systems with pedestrians and cyclists in mind. It’s no wonder that health care providers don’t encourage bicycling as part of basic preventive medicine and school officials don’t consider bicycle safety education as core curriculum. It’s no wonder that architects don’t understand bicycle parking needs and options, and landscape architects still design incomplete streets with pedestrians and cyclists as marginalized users.

To shift 10 to 50 percent of daily trips to bicycling and walking requires education and training.

Enter Portland State University’s Initiative for Bicycle and Pedestrian Innovation (IBPI). The program is now celebrating its fifth year, with more than 30 courses taught, 1000 people engaged, and countless communities touched by giving students and professionals the tools to better balance our transportation choices.

For the students, Portland is a living lab where future transportation professionals learn to readily assess the barriers, challenges and opportunities presented by a car-oriented transportation system. That’s why part of each class is spent on bike or foot. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t been on a bike since childhood. It’s time to experience the joy once again!

Results of the program are already visible. Tacoma, WA, completed an award-winning Mobility Master Plan, retrained its whole transportation team and secured millions in implementation grants; Culver City, CA, won a grant to develop and implement a bicycle plan; and Calgary, AB, completed a bicycle plan with overwhelming city council support and is developing on-street bikeways and a bike share program. In all parts of North America, IBPI graduates and attendees are providing solutions and inspiration.

Raise a glass with me: to the IBPI! Changing the face of transportation one step, one pedal stroke at a time.


Mia Birk was one of the founders of the IBPI. She is the award-winning author of Joyride: Pedaling Toward a Healthier Planet; President of Alta Planning + Design; Principal, Alta Bicycle Share, Inc.; and cofounder of the Initiative for Bicycle and Pedestrian Innovation at Portland State University. For more than 20 years, she has been transforming communities and empowering people to bicycle for daily transportation, one pedal stroke at a time. She and her husband and three children live and ride in Portland, OR.

@miabirk | miabirk.com | altaplanning.com

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