by Lee van der Voo
Sustainable Business Oregon
Portland Afoot — a self-described 10-minute newsmagazine aimed at an audience that espouses buses, bikes and the low-car life — hit the streets last week with its first monthly issue.
According to its publisher and editor, 29-year-old Michael Andersen, that’s good news for the 500,000 people predicted to be car-free in Portland in 20 years, and the hundreds of companies currently tasked with reducing the number of people that drive to work alone.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality requires companies with 100 employees or more to reduce the number of people that drive alone to work through its Employee Commute Options program. The rules currently affect 819 work sites in Oregon. Most use carpool programs, telecommuting, transit pass subsidies, compressed workweeks, awards and other promotions to reduce pollution created by employee car trips.
While much effort is spent on encouraging those new bus riders, cyclists and pedestrians, Andersen notes very little time is spent on retaining alternative commuters, an issue he calls “an under-appreciated problem” in the environmental community.
“You feel helpless or alone when you’re confronted with problems about the transit system,” said Andersen, who notes that approximately one-third of low-car commuters simply give up after a year, flustered with difficulties and a lack of ability to find information and influence change.
Thus, Portland Afoot is geared to create community around the low-car lifestyle. Car-free for half of his adult life, Andersen says he has a keen grasp of what Portlanders want to know about alternative transit and how much time they’ll spend learning.
At just 5.5 by 8.5 inches, Portland Afoot folds out into just one 11 by 17 sheet of paper, boiling content down to highlights. The first issue offers an overview of not-to-be missed stories and their online URLs, along with a preview of cycle-friendly Pedalpalooza, rankings of Portland bus lines, and a quick personal story about a commuter.
The uncertainty of the media publishing industry means profit is anything but guaranteed. Fortunately, Portland Afood is published by the Oregon nonprofit Portland in the Round, led by a board of five that includes former city council candidate and Portland planning commissioner Chris Smith, host of PortlandTransport.com, and Carrie Pederson, the Rider’s Club coordinator for Ride Connection. The product is a flagship for what Andersen hopes will become a broad selection of niche products targeting neglected audiences both in print and on the Internet.
Portland Afoot is bolstered by a Twitter feed and a wiki news site at PortlandAfoot.org, where readers can play a role in tracking issues affecting the low-car community. Andersen contributes resource pages to the web site to help bring new readers quickly up to speed on complex issues.
“I think this is hopefully an idea that, if it works, can be stolen by other media outlets around the country,” said Andersen.
Andersen is distributing the first 1,000 copies of Portland Afoot free to those with interest. He’s also looking for businesses to test the product among alternative commuters in their employ and plans to recruit ad sponsors to support corporate distribution.
So far several advertisers have come calling on the magazine, including transit-savvy real estate agents, attorneys with specialties in bike law, and other green businesses eager to reach the magazine’s first 90 subscribers.
Those subscribers pay $14 a year ($5 a year for the first 200 subscribers using the “charter200” code at the website, subscribers outside the Portland Metro pay $20) to have Portland Afoot mailed to their home.
Subscriptions fund the magazine’s printing and production time. Ad sales fund Andersen’s efforts while donations, including grants, are aimed at growth.
Lee van der Voo, email@example.com, is a freelance writer for Sustainable Business Oregon.