October 28, 2020

Multnomah County has long supported biking for health like this 2018 employee ride.
Amid a pandemic where many have been forced indoors for months, County and City Officials have come up with a plan to encourage physical activity for those with chronic diseases: a bike prescription. If signed, this new proposal will give Black Portlanders with certain diseases a free one-year Biketown membership. 

This proposal is just one component of a larger $200,000 grant application by County and City Officials through the Better Bike Share Partnership, which awards grants to cities nationwide.

The seemingly unique idea is actually built on similar programs in New York City, London, and Minneapolis , says Charlene McGee, who program manager of Multnomah County’s the federally funded Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) program.

“We have data that shows levels of physical inactivity within the state and within the County, and nationally there’s a similar trend. Research tells us that if an individual engages in the recommended hour of physical activity per day, it dramatically improves their health and decreases their chance of getting chronic disease,” says McGee.

The program aims to increase activity in Black Portlanders, who experience higher levels of chronic disease such as hypertension, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, conditions rooted in historic and current inequities in health care, employment, chronic stress and the built environment.

The new proposal, planned to go into effect in 2021, allows community members with such diseases to receive a prescription from a registered provider, such as Multnomah County’s Northeast Health Center and La Clinica.

“Historically, those two locations serve Multnomah County’s Black patients,” says McGee. “It’s ultimately about fostering healthy activities and really building a culture of Black health.”

Additionally, the prescription comes with support for community members who do not know how to ride a bike, including a mandatory safety orientation and optional lessons.

“A lot of times there’s this assumption that having access to a bike is like a rite of passage, especially in Portland, but not everybody has a bike, especially kids and youth,” says McGee.

Though the current proposal is targeted towards Portland’s Black community, McGee says that if the program is successful, she would love to see it expanded to all community members across the state. 

“It’s a pilot program. We always look for opportunities to improve the health system and we would love to see this program be something that health systems could pick up for their patients… not just across the county but across the State, because it really promotes positive health outcomes.”