Alta Planning · American · biking · book · design · framework · Joyride · livability · Mia Birk · MUTCD · process

Book Review: "Joyride" by Mia Birk


I recently finished reading a great book titled “Joyride: Pedaling Toward a Healthier Planet” by Mia Birk.

Who is Mia Birk?

Mia Birk is the current CEO at Alta Planning + Design, a consulting company that works with various local governmental agencies across America to create safe streets for all users, especially bicyclists and pedestrians. Before she started this company,

Mia was the City of Portland Bicycle Program Manager from 1993-99, where she led a period of rapid growth of Portland’s bikeway network.

This book is primarily about her painful struggles and inspiring successes during the process of transforming Portland, OR into the world class bicycle city it is known as today. Before reading this book, I naively assumed that Portland had been a bicycle friendly city for a long time. Therefore, this book was really eye opening. Mia provides a good framework and process for transforming the average American city into a city for people. Throughout the book, she provides footnotes with links to many useful websites and advocacy agencies, both within Portland and nationally. Reading about the very specific projects which were most difficult to implement, such as compromises with railroad companies on railroad right-of-ways, really taught me about the extreme complications involved with building a world class bike network.

Her motivation is inspiring to read about. It paints a realistic picture for me, a modern day livable community advocate.

Long story short: though much has been accomplished, there is still a very long way to go. This was a fact I was already aware of, of course, but now I know which aspects of the advocacy framework have been more developed and which have not. For example, she spoke frequently about editing the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

You may not have heard of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD or, simply, the Manual), but it is a major player in your daily life. The Manual dictates the signs, markings and signals that govern your travel behavior… It is referred to as the traffic engineer’s bible. Unfortunately, very little bikeway design guidance is found in the Manual.

Though this is still an obstacle to quality bikeway design, a lot of progress has been made on this front since the early 1990’s. For more examples and great information about the whole process, read this book.

Conclusion: Overall, this book was wonderful. I strongly recommend it to anyone who is in need of any sort of motivation in their life, as well as people who are interested in the long process required to transform our current car-dependent cities into cities for people and bikes.

If you would like to know more about Mia and the work she does, here is a link to her great blog. Here is link to one of her posts where she discusses Tucson.

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One thought on “Book Review: "Joyride" by Mia Birk

  1. I think I fall into the 'Interested but Concerned' Category. But.. within that I think I also would fit into the subcategory 'Does not like biking in extreme heat, turbulent wind, or heavy downpours during monsoon season.' Seems like a good read. I'm surprised she mentioned Tucson, haha.

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