The Big Idea: Match Your Home to Your Biking Lifestyle

Faced with a move due to a growing family, Mia Birk was determined that her new home would be somewhere that allowed her and her family to bike or walk for as many trips as possible.

A few months ago, my husband Glen and I reconciled ourselves to the fact that it was time to go house-hunting, because no level of fantasizing or tweaking was going to make another bedroom sprout for our soon-to-be-born baby boy.

Neither our 13-year-old son nor our 10-year-old daughter was interested in sharing a room with said creature. Home renovations to get what we needed would be cost-prohibitive and a major hassle. The time had come to pack up 10 years of physical and emotional stuff and move on.

Ideally, we’d stay right in the same neighborhood, where, for more than 20 years, I have set up my life around sustainable transportation. We live right on Portland’s most popular bicycle boulevard, aka neighborhood greenway. The kids’ daycare, preschools, after-school activities, play groups, orthodontist and current schools are within easy walking or riding distance. Work is an easy 2.5-mile (four-kilometer) bike ride. The grocery store, tennis center, hairdresser, bakery, numerous restaurants and a park are all within a reasonable pedal.

We are not a car-free household, and the older the kids get, the more we seem to drive. Sasha’s drum lessons and religious school: each over five miles (eight kilometers) away. Skyler’s basketball games: all over the region. Glen’s family: in the suburbs 10–15 miles (16–24 kilometers) away. I used to go for weeks without driving. Now I seem to spend most of the weekend shuttling from place to place in my little sage-colored Prius wondering, “Who am I?”

This phase of life simply lends itself to more driving. The members of Glen’s family are worth their weight in gold; driving to the suburbs seems a small price to pay for such goodness. The kids should be able to spread their wings and experience life beyond the biking zone for their sports, friends, music and other interests. No, we’re not going to bike or walk for every trip. Nevertheless, I was determined that our new home would be somewhere that allowed us to bike or walk for as many trips as possible.

A few weeks into our search, we hit upon a beauty about a mile away. It’s on Portland’s next bicycle boulevard – “the 50s Bikeway” – which has been on the books since the mid-1990s and is actually going to be implemented this summer. Home run!

And so we bought the house, moved in and are adjusting to our new ’hood. The kids are learning the best bike routes to their schools. We’re adjusting the carpools, meeting the neighbors and unpacking boxes. My work commute is just as easy, and I’ve found, once again, that the active transportation lifestyle is there for the taking, if we truly want it.

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


1 Comment

  • Kevin

    We currently live out of the country, and our 4 children are almost all grown. But when we return to the USA I keep thinking like you did. Where can we live that has easy bicycle access to every-day places. Having left Houston where everything is spread out and cars are a necessity for most people, I’ve decided I don’t want to live like that again. So downsizing is in order. Thanks for your inspiration!

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