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Seniors sought to pedal trikes around Sellwood Riverfront Park

by: Merry MacKinnon, Reed resident Fran Daggett rode around on a three-wheeled bicycle at Willamette Park last month. As part of a Portland Department of Transportation pilot project called “the Older Adult Three-Wheeled Bicycle Program”, seven recumbent 21-speed adult tricycles will be at Sellwood Riverfront Park twice a week in October. Seniors are invited to try them out.

The City of Portland's already got the gold. Now it's reaching for the platinum.

Each year, the League of American Bicyclists rates cities according to their bicycle friendliness. So, to help nudge Portland to platinum--the league's top rating--the Portland Department of Transportation (PDOT) is testing a new bicycle project aimed at seniors.

'We're looking at different demographics, besides children and young adults,' says PDOT's Kirsty Hall. 'We're thinking: Just because you're over 60 doesn't mean you shouldn't have the opportunity to ride a bicycle.' Or a tricycle, as the case may be.

With that in mind, and thanks to funding from a federal 'Safe Communities Bicycle Safety' grant, the City of Portland purchased seven recumbent tricycles, and a trailer to house them. In October, the trailer, the trikes, plus volunteers and staff will come to Sellwood Riverfront Park on Tuesdays and Thursdays to offer 60-year-olds and over the opportunity to ride three-wheelers around the park.

'We're aiming for the over-60-year-olds,' says Hall. 'But we're not finicky--our riders could be in their 50s.'

Officially launched on September 12th at Willamette Park, Portland's 'Older Adult Three-Wheeled Bicycle Program' allows seniors to try out trikes, and to join a class on how to ride them. That event convinced Reed neighborhood residents Ron and Fran Daggett that three-wheeled bikes could be feasible transportation alternatives for short errands or, simply, for exercise.

After some training, the couple rode these adult-sized tricycles around the park along the river, along with several other seniors eager to experience bicycling again after a 50-year hiatus.

'When I was a kid I used to believe heaven was eating ice cream and riding a bike,' recalls Fran Daggett. She figures, if these trikes, which feature attached rear baskets, were made available on loan she would like to use one for grocery shopping. 'Any time I could have the opportunity, I would ride it,' Fran adds.

Sellwood Riverfront Park was chosen as a program site due to its quiet, lovely setting, and its convenient access to the Springwater Corridor Trail. The three-wheelers make for a stable ride, but their 21-speeds mean that some seniors, having learned to ride bikes with 3-speeds or less, and coaster brakes, need to be introduced to derailleurs and rim brakes.

'A lot of seniors were saying, 'I'd like to bike, but I'm afraid of falling, and I worry about safety,'' explains Hall, about the genesis of this project. 'So we wanted a class for those who wish to learn, but who don't want to go fast, who want to try out a bike and see what it feels like.'

Woodstock resident Frances Spak, a volunteer with senior nonprofit and project sponsor 'Elders In Action', gamely tried out one of the trikes both inside the Portland Building and at Willamette Park. 'She hadn't ridden a bike in over 60 years,' says Hall. 'But she just hopped right on.'

The last time Spak pedaled a bike, she recalled, she was 15 years old. 'It piqued my imagination, so I volunteered,' says the 81-year-old. 'They were so much fun.' If demand is strong, Hall anticipates that the bikes will be made available twice weekly at Sellwood Riverfront Park through the end of October, and--possibly--into the winter months.

The program is so new, organizers are expecting to 'play it by ear' as they see whether interest builds for riding the three-wheeled vehicles amongst seniors. If all goes well, the trikes could be housed somewhere convenient to Sellwood Riverfront or Willamette Park and offered on loan, with a deposit, to seniors like Fran Daggett who wish to borrow them.

Call PDOT's Kirsty Hall at 503/823-7854 for more information, including the times that trikes and trainers will be on hand this month at Sellwood Riverfront Park.