• By Heidi Swift
Darlene and Jim Rose are a quintessential Portland bicycling couple. They met at a bike race, consider cycling hundreds of miles across the Oregon countryside a vacation, and often ride their bicycles to get a beer or grab a sandwich.
Darlene, 57, rides around town decked out in a playful, brightly colored helmet. Jim, 60, commutes, rain or shine, on his single-speed bicycle 10 miles a day, four days a week to his job with a commercial lighting company.
Finding a pedal-passionate pair like this isn’t hard in Portland, a place Bicycling magazine named America’s Most Bike-Friendly City in 2012. The Roses say cycling keeps them healthy, saves money and improves their mental well-being.
“You’re more in touch and see more when you’re riding your bicycle,” Darlene said. “If you ride by a field of mint, you can actually smell it.”
Jim calls it “free therapy,” noting how relaxed he feels when he arrives at work.
Get out and ride your bike
Spreading the word about the benefits of cycling and walking is one of the goals of Portland’s Sunday Parkways program. Launched in 2008, Sunday Parkways turns roads into car-free routes (except for residents who are allowed access to their homes), creating safe zones for people to play in the city’s largest public space: its streets.
AARP Oregon has partnered with Sunday Parkways to help inspire those 50-plus to be more active.
AARP is a sponsor of the program and hopes to bring at least 20 volunteers to each monthly event to help local residents get in and out of the car-free zones with their vehicles. They will also help guide the participants along the route and answer questions. Volunteers, who don’t need to ride a bike, will receive training from Sunday Parkways and are asked to cover at least one four-hour shift.
Sunday Parkways events, which run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., are held in a different area of town each month. The dates and locations are:
- May 12 in East Portland
- June 23 in Northeast Portland
- July 28 in North Portland
- Aug. 25 in Southeast Portland
- Sept. 29 in Southwest Portland.
“This is about community,” said Bandana Shrestha, AARP Oregon associate state director for community engagement. “Sunday Parkways is really celebrating what AARP also wants to celebrate. It focuses on the places people live; it’s about meeting your neighbors and feeling connected. We also know that active transportation, like walking and biking, is an important part of healthy aging.”
Routes range from 7 to 10 miles along Neighborhood Greenways—residential streets with year-round low traffic volumes and speeds—where cyclists and pedestrians are given priority—and other city streets.
Participants follow the course at their leisure. They can stop to enjoy activities such as live music, free bike repair stands, soccer tournaments, dance and fitness classes, arts and crafts, and food vendors. Riders can start and stop anywhere and ride as much as they like.
Mix, mingle and meet
Linda Ginenthal, the city’s Sunday Parkways director, said the events play a big part in introducing people to the idea of walking or cycling to a destination instead of driving.
“It’s letting people play right outside their door, showing them streets that are low-traffic, low-speed and dedicated for this kind of use. It’s designed to entice people to give active transportation a try.”
Last year, more than 100,000 people—about a third of them over age 45—participated in at least one Sunday Parkways event. This year, AARP Oregon hopes more older people will join the crowd.
“Our members love to be out having fun, and Sunday Parkways is just that,” Shrestha said. “It’s a really fabulous celebration of community.”
To volunteer with AARP at the Sunday Parkways email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For details on Sunday Parkways, go to portlandsundayparkways.org.
Heidi Swift is a freelance writer and photographer living in Portland, Ore.