I’m Mia Birk, the 43-year old President of Alta Planning + Design, whose mission is to create active communities where bicycling and walking are safe, healthy, fun, and normal daily activities. I’m also Adjunct Professor, Portland State University. My family and I (partner Glen, kids Skyler and Sasha, ages 12 and 8 respectively) use our bikes as our main means of daily transportation from our home in SE Portland. We do have a car, a Prius, which we’ve driven less than 10,000 miles in two years.
When did you start using a bicycle for transportation and what other forms of transportation do you use?
|photo by Beth Nakamura|
Ride with my daughter to school, then to play tennis, work, go to meetings, pick up Sasha, stop at the store, or pretty much whatever I need to do.
Do you recommend cycling to friends/family members/others? Have any taken you up on it?
• Alta Planning + Design, co-owner and CEO 1999-present
• Bicycle Program Manager, City of Portland, Oregon, 1993-1999
• Transportation Program Manager, International Institute for Energy Conservation, Washington, D.C., 1989-1993
• Member, Portland's "Go Platinum" Bicycle Master Plan Steering Committee
Daily commuting: Trek Allant. Cargo: Madsen. Folder: Breezer. Road bike: Trek Madone.
In your opinion, what’s the best part about cycling for transportation?
From a professional standpoint, I am really lucky to have found the perfect career at a young age. It makes me wildly happy to bike around Portland every day and see the fruits of my labor, to know that I’ve made and am making a positive difference, not just here but everywhere I go. The world is full of jobs that feed our bellies but not our souls. Somehow, I found this strange and wonderful path from which I empower people and transform communities, one pedal stroke at a time. I end the book on the word ‘gratitude,’ for I am deeply grateful every single day to be working with cool people making the world a better place.
Do you have a favorite carfree/carlite story?
“Whoa Mom, beep beep beep, turn around!!!”
Sasha, my delightfully-spunky kindergartner, has spotted her new best friend, a big pink stuffed something – unicorn? Bear? She’s got a million of them. Before you know it, my wallet is empty. Thank goodness they don’t take credit cards at this garage sale.
“Silly Sasha,” I smile. “When I was in India I saw a guy carrying improbable amounts of stuff by bike. He was carrying a big crate of dishes, a load of rebar, his wife, uncle, and four kids!”
She looks confused. What does this have to do with her?
“Just last week at the market I tied a box of butternut squash, oranges, apples, onions, grapes, and zucchini to the rack, stuffed my pockets full of garlic and shallots, and dangled two plastic bags of baguettes, flowers, goat cheese curds, lettuce and kale from the handlebars. When there’s a will, there’s a way, honey.”
I stuff one pannier full to bursting with the kids’ new jeans, socks, athletic pants, and shirts, the other with two super cute pairs of boots (only $2 each!)
“Hand over your backpack,” I order, then jam it with 50 cent videos, books, and Othello (the board game), which I know will provide me and Skyler hours of entertainment.
A bungie-cord takes care of a white and pink flowered twin-sized sheet set and comforter set.
“But Mom, where am I going to sit?” Sasha points to the pile on the rack.
“Ohhhh, right. You’ll just have to sit on top of the mountain, honey.”
I perch her up top, and start wheeling the bike to the street. She screams, “Stop!! We forgot Sweet Pea!” She points hysterically at the pink hippo.
“Well, honey, we can’t carry another thing, so Sweet Pea has to stay here.”
Her big green eyes fill with tears, plump cheeks quivering with emotion “But, Mom, I need her. Please? Please? Please?”
My resolve turns to mush. I plop Sasha on the ground. Finally, we take off, to great fanfare from the garage sale shoppers, who have gathered in the front lawn and cheer as I pedal away, with a giant pink elephant strapped to my back and Sasha holding it from her perch above my shoulders. In hindsight I realize that I could have come back later to retrieve my purchases instead of turning us into a carnival float, but where’s the fun in that?
What are three pieces of advice you would give to someone starting/ considering commuting by bike?
First the bike: look to a utilitarian beauty with a step-through frame, fenders, rack, kickstands, skirt-guard and lights. Solid, upright, comfortable, and stable… this is what you want to be the bedrock of your fashionable bicycling look. Then the clothes: skirts of a certain length and style, breathable fabrics, and solid heels of just about any height. Finally, the delightful, delicious accessories. From pink-flowered waterproof Ortlieb panniers to a front-mounted Toto-basket into which you fling your briefcase or purse, there’s an option for all of us when we free our minds of the notion that cycling attire is intended to facilitate long-distance racing.
Anything else you would like to add?
Let me tell you a little about Joyride: