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Glide Through the Mind of the City: Bike Portland, Maine

Bicycling is the best way I know of to explore a city. I've lived in Portland for over five years now, and I still manage to notice new things almost every time I ride down Congress Street. On a bike, I'm more engaged with my surroundings, and with my community. It makes me a better citizen, and a more creative person.

David Byrne, the former frontman of the Talking Heads, put it best in his book Bicycle Diaries:

[Bicycling through a city] "is like navigating the collective neural pathways of some vast global mind... it facilitates a state of mind that allows some but not too much of the unconscious to bubble up. As someone who believes that much of the source of his work and creativity is to be gleaned from those bubbles, it's a reliable place to find that connection."

It's no surprise that cities that want to attract creative, innovative people are also making big investments in new bike lanes, bikesharing services, and other programs to encourage cycling. As an advocate, I always wish that my hometown would do more, but I'm happy to say that Portland, Maine is making progress, and that I'm seeing more and more bikes on our streets.

Downtown Portland and its surrounding neighborhoods are easy to navigate by bike, and it's getting easier all the time. City Hall recently hired a dedicated Bicycle and Pedestrian program coordinator, who's overseen projects to create new bike path connections, make neighborhood streets safer, and make it easier for students to walk to school.

Organizations like Portland Trails (featured in my last post), the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, and Portland's local Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (which I chair) help prioritize projects and have helped to ensure that major new infrastructure projects, like the new Veterans Memorial Bridge opening in 2013, include excellent facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Portland also has a great community of bike shops, from the friendly all-purpose shops like Back Bay Bicycles, EMS, and Gorham Bike and Ski, to the stylish Portland Velocipede (specializing in good-looking city bikes, including gorgeous Dutch imports), to Cycle Mania, which serves more of the spandex crowd.

If you're looking for a ride this spring, mark your calendar for April 29th, when the Bicycle Coalition of Maine hosts its annual Great Maine Bike Swap at the University of Southern Maine's Sullivan Gymnasium.

And I will not neglect to mention the new Portland Maine Bike Map, which highlights bike routes, lanes, and paths from Falmouth to Scarborough, Casco Bay to Westbrook — almost everyplace you can comfortably reach in an easy hour's ride from downtown Portland. You can buy copies at any local bike shop, at Longfellow Books, or here at the Bicycle Coalition of Maine's online store. And please do, because I happen to be the publisher.

If you're planning a visit to Portland this summer, consider bringing your bike (they'll let you take them in the luggage compartments of Concord Coach and the Amtrak Downeaster) or renting one while you're here.  It's a better way to get acquainted with the city while you're getting around.

Photo: Biking over Portland Harbor on the Casco Bay Bridge. Photo by Christian MilNeil.

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