Hawthorne Bridge bike traffic inspires epiphany for Oregonian columnist

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on June 28th, 2011 at 10:55 am

Summer bike traffic-8-8
Hawthorne Bridge traffic.
(Photo © J. Maus)

In a column published Monday, Steve Duin, a veteran columnist for The Oregonian, says that after decades of watching Portland traffic he has finally come to a realization: "cyclists are part of the solution to the city's traffic woes, not part of the problem."

Duin's piece came after he spent time counting vehicles crossing the Hawthorne Bridge as a follow-up to counts he did a few years ago. Not only did he observe a 20% increase in bikes, but he also noticed a few other key things: 85% of the cars had only single occupancy and motor vehicle traffic came to a complete stop due to gridlock (not bridge lifts) on two separate occasions.

While cars idled in bumper-to-bumper traffic (spewing exhaust into the air, preventing people from getting to their destinations, and putting stress on the bridge structure) Duin noted that bike traffic rolled along unfettered:

"The cyclists? They came roaring off that hill like Hiccup taking Toothless airborne in "How to Train Your Dragon." They sailed across the bridge at their own pace, looking as if there was something waiting for them that mattered -- in office, coffee shop or summer-school classroom -- on the other side."

Duin, who says he's "married to his car" and doesn't use his bike to get to his office downtown says he's still "unnerved" by the riding behavior he sees, but that he has "finally made peace" with Portland's bike traffic. The two final paragraphs are definitely worth reading (emphasis mine):

"I have finally made my peace with the understanding that cyclists are part of the solution to the city's traffic woes, not part of the problem. As the cycling community noted long ago, every Portlander who crosses the Hawthorne on two wheels removes one more SUV or sputtering sedan that stands between the car nuts and where we want to go, while taking nothing away from the air we breathe.

They have not seen the future, just a future in which we are not whining about predatory gas prices or mumbling incoherently about drilling for oil off the Oregon coast. If I stare wistfully after them, it is only because I envy the speed with which they leave me and my calculator behind."

A journalist who doesn't ride a bike, and who is a somewhat objective observer of our city, came to this conclusion. On the heels of over 5% of Portland's population turning out for Sunday Parkways just a few days ago, it makes us think that the vast ship of public opinion about bicycling might finally be set for a new course.

— For another interesting traffic on the Hawthorne Bridge read a story we published in April 2010, How bike traffic has saved our city time and money.

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  • SilkySlim June 28, 2011 at 11:14 am

    Nicely put. Glad to be one of the two-wheelers!

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  • Michweek June 28, 2011 at 11:50 am

    Wow. 5% at Sunday Parkways? And there are five of those Sunday Parkways, safe to say something closer to 10 or 15% total population enjoy a Sunday Parkways at some point in the summer?! Many of whom don't ride bikes on the roads often!

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  • Ryno Dan June 28, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    It's 2011 and dude just figured out that bikes are OK ? Whoa, he is way out of touch.

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  • GlowBoy June 28, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    I read Duin's column this morning ...

    "every Portlander who crosses the Hawthorne on two wheels removes one more SUV or sputtering sedan"

    It still boggles my mind that this is somehow a revelation to most people (although I know that it is). To me it falls into the "DUH!" category. But, however banal his epiphany might seem to most of us cyclists, glad to have him "on board" at least as a supporter.

    Maybe he'll actually try riding a bicycle one day. Not asking him to give up his car, just try biking once. I'm glad he's made some progress, but it appears he still doesn't understand how the world looks from behind handlebars.

    (And Duin's a good example of why if I were an employer I would mandate that every employee arrive at work by some means other than automobile at least one day per year. It seems the vast majority of people NEVER get out of their cars, and don't have the faintest idea how to get around without one. I drive quite often, but it has always seemed ridiculous to me to be so married to your car that you can't do anything else. Talk about "cagers"!).

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    • A.K. June 28, 2011 at 12:58 pm

      Indeed... I worked and went to school downtown for about 5 years, before I owned a car. It was great, to be honest - I could read and relax on the bus, and didn't have to worry about where to park or paying for it.

      One of my friends works for a company that does a competition for a month during the summer, to see which team can drive to work the least during the month. Seems like a pretty fun way to show people that breaking their downtown car habit isn't that difficult.

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    • Joe C July 3, 2011 at 11:50 pm

      It seems the vast majority of people NEVER get out of their cars, and don't have the faintest idea how to get around without one.

      I think you've hit the wheel on the hub, as it were.

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  • Nick V June 28, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    I agree with those who say it's a good article but it's way way way overdue. Steve Duin has been a columnist/driver in this city how long exactly?

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  • Bob June 28, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    Who did he think all those folks were flying by while he sat on his butt in his spewing four wheeler?

    Once a week Stevie boy, once a week. Try it!

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    • Mark June 28, 2011 at 5:18 pm

      Yo Bobbo. You realize Mr Duin lives in Lake Oswego? I doubt he would be interested in commuting to his office by bicycle, even one day a week.

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      • S June 28, 2011 at 8:24 pm

        I ride 22 miles a day from PDX to Gresham and back...and I'm no spring chicken myself...so I think he could handle riding at least one way to work.

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      • 007 June 29, 2011 at 9:35 am

        My boss lives in L.O. and takes the bus to work - but only because he doesn't get free parking downtown.

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      • JRB June 29, 2011 at 12:24 pm

        When I started working downtown in '95, I still lived in West Linn. For the next five years before we moved to NEPO, I would throw my bike on the bus in the morning and ride it home in evening. You don't have to live int he City for bike commuting to be feasible

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      • Randall S. June 29, 2011 at 1:50 pm

        I work at OHSU and have a coworker who commutes by bicycle from Lake Oswego every day. I have another who lives in Lents as does so as well.

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  • Brad June 28, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    What's important here is that Duin gives the article a everyman tone. He is "wed" to his car. He feels that he has to drive his car. In this sense, he is no different than the vast majority of the population. The fact that he admires riders and sees the benefit of cycling is more important than him actually doing it. I also feel that his column did much to humanize cyclists rather than take the tone many of his peers take when framing everything as "Cars vs. Bikes" or solely focusing on our scofflaw elements.

    We've lost the Baby Boomers as they will never adopt bike commuting in large numbers. Positive press like this emboldens younger commuters to step out of their cars and find better ways to get around.

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    • Chris I June 28, 2011 at 2:07 pm

      Great point. My dad and his demographic read Duin consistently, and tend to see him as a peer. This is a great article for cycling, because he frames it from the perspective of a typical auto commuter, without making the usual asinine assumptions and judgments.

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    • wsbob July 3, 2011 at 12:48 am

      "...We've lost the Baby Boomers as they will never adopt bike commuting in large numbers. ..." Brad

      For some of these boomers...after all, they're in their fifties...getting back in shape to ride would be a major conditioning challenge. I talked to a few recently, that have not been on a bike in thirty years. The very idea of riding a bike...anywhere, anyplace...scares them. for them, riding from Portland to L.O. might as well be from here to Katmandu.

      These people, and there may be more than we realize, need lots of support and encouragement if they're ever going to ride again. A guy like Duin could help out in that respect. Every summer, Duin has this reading challenge thing he does with his kids. So maybe he might consider challenging his bike hibernating baby boomer readers to a summer bike conditioning and mileage competition. Winner gets awarded a vacation bike tour, or something like that.

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  • Rol June 28, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    More "news" from the Oregonian!

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  • PdxMark June 28, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    Agree with Brad.

    The impression that bicycling advocates want everyone out of their cars does not help the cause. Advocating multi-modal transportation means accepting drivers, like Duin. Making cycling easy for those who want to chose it is the goal, not forcing people out of their cars.

    Duin's tone is just right. Ya, he's not a cyclist, but he gets almost 500 fewer cars on the Hawthorne bridge in one hour is a good thing for everyone... including all those people who choose or need to drive. He makes the point in a clear simple way gets missed in many, many car-bake "discussions." It's a solid, respected addition to the discussion. Thank you Steve Duin.

    Now if that so-called reporter Joseph Rose could be half as objective in his so-called reporting...

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  • banjo June 28, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    you have to do is step back (or remove yourself from your car) and observe the world we live in, after a few minutes it will become shockingly obvious how autocentric it is... the dominance, noise, traffic, laws, urban form, mentality, etc. there are almost no places where you can't see an automobile at any given time.

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  • BURR June 28, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    Duin's story didn't seem to convince the usual commenters on the O's site, no big surprise there I guess.

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  • dwainedibbly June 28, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    Maybe there is hope for the Oregonian. Maybe.

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  • Forseti June 28, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    Further proof of just how far behind the curve the people at the Boregonian are.

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  • bumblebee June 28, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    When living carless becomes a real priority for someone, he/she goes about making whatever changes are necessary to bring it to fruition, e.g. moving closer to work.

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  • captainkarma June 28, 2011 at 11:25 pm

    The Oregonian will be a weekly inside of five years, and hard copies of it will only go to nursing homes.

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  • Al from PA June 29, 2011 at 3:52 am

    [snip] What's important here is that Duin gives the article a everyman tone. He is "wed" to his car.

    "Everyman" won't be wed to "his" car all that much longer, given the world oil situation--might as well learn how to cycle now rather than having to adopt it later in crisis mode.

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    • q`Tzal June 29, 2011 at 1:04 pm

      I'll try to avoid laughing out loud when all these "crisis mode" cyclists take to the streets completely devoid of any skill.

      Then again: failed track stand attempts * 10,000 will get old fast. Hopefully not messy.

      Maybe I should bring more first aid stuff.

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  • 007 June 29, 2011 at 9:33 am

    A self-serving realization unfortunately.

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  • roger noehren June 29, 2011 at 11:10 am

    If the residents of Lake Oswego don't want a streetcar along Macadam, how about a bike trail?

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  • John Beaston June 29, 2011 at 11:40 am

    FWIW - It doesn't look like the Oregonian has been one of the 1,200+ companies participating in the Bike Commute Challenge over the last few years.

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  • Spiffy June 29, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    it's still not enough to appeal to the bike-hating readers of the O...

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  • john July 3, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    it'll be great when the cool kids hit 50 after a lifetime of pbr and whatever else. suddenly cars will not be evil anymore

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    • spare_wheel July 4, 2011 at 3:04 pm

      are you speaking from personal experience?

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    • are July 4, 2011 at 3:59 pm

      i am 58 and i do not use a car. pbr is evil. if you must drink a cheap american lager, at least drink the full sail session.

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