American cities have become laboratories for novel policies to reduce climate change, reverse environmental degradation and support alternative energy. In the U.S. federal system, cities’ policies are often adopted at the state or national level. This puts cities at the center of the environmental movement.

Group of people biking through city (© AP Images)
Portland commuters on their way to work (© AP Images)

Sharing lanes

For decades, America’s transportation infrastructure was built to service cars. But increasingly, to cut automobile carbon emissions, cities encourage commuters to use two wheels instead of four. Portland, Oregon, leads this movement and has become known as the unofficial bike capital of the U.S.

Portland residents enjoy one of the most extensive bikeway networks in the country — more than 500 kilometers — and count on a “city bicycle coordinator,” free bicycle-route maps, ample bicycle parking and even a bike-through window at a local fast-food restaurant.

Bicyclist turning corner on city street (NACTO/Flickr)
A turning “sharrow” (NACTO/Flickr)

Some Portland-based employers offer their workers locker rooms, cash rewards and other incentives to cycle to work. Today cyclists are 7 percent of all Portland commuters, the highest percentage in any large U.S. city.

To help people pedal to their destinations, Portland offers a variety of bike lanes:

  • Bicycle boulevards. Residential streets marked for both bikes and cars. They have a speed limit of 32 kph.
  • Cycle tracks. Bike lanes physically separated from motor vehicle lanes by concrete barriers or curbs.
  • Sharrows. “Sharing arrow” street markings that show an outline of a bicycle and two arrows pointing forward, indicating that both bicycles and cars can use the lane.

These conveniences and incentives have produced a fivefold increase in the number of bicyclists on Portland’s streets since 1990.

Want to know what the world is doing to fight climate change? Follow the November 7–18 global climate summit, called COP22, @US_Center, and use the hashtags #ActOnClimate and #AskUSCenter.