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Checking in on the SW 12th Avenue project

Posted by on June 6th, 2012 at 4:00 pm

The City wants to create dedicated bike access on SW 12th, but business owners and developers aren’t so sure it’s a good idea. Yet.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)


I am overdue in checking in on PBOT’s plans to improve bike access on SW 12th. If you recall, back in March PBOT announced they would re-allocate space on the north-south downtown street in order to make it a nicer place to ride a bike. Unfortunately, local businesses objected to the plan and PBOT has since decided to put it on hold indefinitely.

While I was away on vacation back in May, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) shared that the reason the project has been put on pause is because of objections by the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) and a group of local business owners and developers.

“We would encourage the City to evaluate other options than the 12th Avenue Bike Lane Project.”
A letter signed by downtown business owners and developers

On April 12th a group of nine business owners and developers sent a letter to the PBOT project manager (PDF) stating their specific objections to the project. In the letter, they question the need for a “bike only lane that would eliminate a lane of traffic” (they must not think a bike only lane is a lane of traffic). “Unsure as to the demand” for more robust bicycle access and concerned about how the new road configuration would impact traffic flow and new developments, the business interests asked for a detailed traffic analysis to be performed.

One line that stands out in their letter is, “Please explain why the existing bike lanes on Broadway and on 14th are not adequate.”

The letter was signed by nine people and was cc’d to Mayor Sam Adams and PBOT Director Tom Miller:

  • John Underhill – Jake’s Restaurant
  • Jordan Menashe – Menashe Properties
  • Greg Goodman – City Center Parking
  • Christopher Robbins – McMenamin’s
  • Steve Roselli – Harsch Investment
  • Brian Wilson – Kalberer Companies
  • Don Singer – Singer Properties
  • Mark Edlen – Gerding Edlen
  • Alix Nathan – Mark Spencer Hotel Block

In a one-two punch that sent PBOT scrambling back to their corner, the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) penned a letter of their own on April 26th that shared even broader concerns about the project.

The PBA stated they are uncomfortable that this project was being planned, “outside a comprehensive land use and transportation strategy for the central city” and that, while they support projects like this in general, the 12th Avenue plan was “moving too quickly.” While the mentioned similar concerns about future development, they also shared more specific and technical concerns such as how new bike access would impact TriMet LIFT vehicles that service local elderly residents.

One interesting objection they raised had to do with bike speeds on SW 12th (which is a downhill):

“SW 12th Avenue is essentially a downhill ride for its full length, bicyclists are likely to achieve speeds that match auto speeds at which the traffic signals are set. Thus the need or justification for a cycle-track should be in question.”

The PBA also added that other “demonstration” projects PBOT has done downtown, like the protected bike lane on SW Broadway near Portland State University and the buffered bike lanes on Stark and Oak, should be re-evaluated. “We are concerned,” they wrote, “that the evaluation was left without a broader process of stakeholders to determine whether or not these demonstration projects should remain in place.”

In a blog post today, the Portland Mercury posted a follow-up on this story. In it, a PBA spokesperson said they simply want a “better understanding” of how the project would impact the area. The BTA’s advocacy director Gerik Kransky told the Mercury he feels the business interests have “some valid points” but that he’s “disappointed” in their “reflexive opposition” to the project and their “outdated mentality.”

From my perspective, there remain questions about the business backlash to this project, how it was rolled out by PBOT, and what the future holds not just for SW 12th, but for all future bike access improvements downtown.

I have long been concerned about how PBOT holds private meetings with certain stakeholders (business interests in this case) before they do any public process, especially when that private meeting results in stopping a project. Business owners are an important stakeholder group, but they should not have sole veto power. And, as we’ve seen with other projects around town, a few business interests can easily (too easily?) scare off PBOT and City Hall.

While some downtown business interests are skeptical about the need for improved bike access, without looking into it further, it’s difficult to tease out whether they are opposed to bicycling in general, or whether they could warm up to projects if they were framed and/or pursued differently.

That being said, hopefully the BTA and PBOT will not let these objections stall progress on creating more robust bike access downtown. With bike share a reality, this is an issue we’ll be forced to come to terms with. There is clearly some education to do with these business owners, and the sooner we do it and move this conversation forward, the better.

Stay tuned.

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Comments
  • peejay June 6, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    Hey ODOT: I object to CRC! Would you put the project on hold indefinitely? OK, thanks.

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  • matt picio June 6, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    Judging from the PDF, it appears local businesses/investors have some legitimate concerns. And they are within their rights to request PBOT to do a needs-based analysis. I don’t know what obligation the city has to them, other than avoiding a potential lawsuit. The local business community has sunk a lot of money into the Pearl and the entire west end area. While it *is* disturbing that the PBA can apparently torpedo a project before the public process begins (and that aspect SHOULD be addressed, promptly and vigorously), this particular project has many considerations that are atypical – including the recent sustained investment in the area and a legitimate concern over parking in an area where parking costs on a per-space basis are very high. (granted, they *should* be, but the discussion should be held and not rejected out of hand)

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    • Dave June 6, 2012 at 10:50 pm

      The local tax-payers have sunk a lot of money into those areas as well in the form of tax incentives. The PBA are welcome to their concerns, and they should feel free to air them along with the rest of the public when the public process starts. But just because your last name is Menashe or Edlin doesn’t mean to you get to have your complaints heard first or exercise some kind of pocket veto.

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      • Middle of What Road? June 7, 2012 at 7:52 am

        Welcome to the plutocracy.

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      • matt picio June 7, 2012 at 11:24 am

        Dave – if you re-read my comment, you’ll see that I agree with you and acknowledged the same point. The public process needs to happen at the same time. The points you made do not invalidate the concerns of the business community – they stand or fall on their own facts & merits. The complainer isn’t relevant, what is relevant is that they were able and allowed to subvert the public process. We need to level the playing field and ensure all voices are heard, not merely those who have the most financial influence.

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  • Joe June 6, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    I love this part of the letter:
    “Please explain why the existing bike lanes on Broadway and on 14th are not adequate.”

    It is fine for people riding to have to go two blocks out of their way; however, removing one car lane is not okay.

    They ask PBOT to address all of their concerns “analytically.” This is the death of the project. PBOT will not want to put the resources into all the analyses they ask for. Do they even have a accurate method for gauging bike traffic?

    It is too bad that PBOT is more concerned about the business interests than the vitality of our transportation network. It seems akin to health care providers adjusting policies at the request of food companies. Aren’t the fine folks at PBOT the experts?

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    • Carl June 6, 2012 at 4:42 pm

      Moreover:

      Broadway is southbound, 12th is northbound. Did they not notice this?

      14th is on the other side of a freeway, in a different neighborhood, and hits Burnside in a notoriously dangerous 5-way intersection.

      I respect their rights as business owners to request further information, but I have to wonder — did they even look at the information that was presented already? Or, you know, look at a map?

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  • Allan June 6, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    Forget this project for a second: Do we really want separated infrastructure downtown? The mandatory sidepath law should be repealed before I will give full-throated support. I do think a lane should be removed, but just because car-travel lanes are a waste of valuable space downtown.

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    • NF June 6, 2012 at 5:16 pm

      I’ve been meaning to look more into this, but a few places that have repealed their manadatory sidepath laws did so only after cycle tracks were installed. Installing physically separated bikeways may very well be the path to changing the laws so that you don’t have to use them.

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    • Suburban June 6, 2012 at 5:18 pm

      Dear bikeportland.org readers: do not glaze over when reading Allan’s contribution. It is not a new nor complicated concept, or even radical. For some, it does require some thinking, but it is worth thinking through and forming your own opinion.

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      • NF June 6, 2012 at 5:47 pm

        Are there any bikeportland readers that actually *want* the mandatory sidepath law? I always presumed the BTA didn’t touch it because it was politically unpopular with other people.

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    • Spiffy June 7, 2012 at 8:34 am

      true, the option of being able to stay in the left lane does make this project questionable…

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  • A.K. June 6, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    This is one area where I don’t think a dedicated lane is necessary, precisely because it’s downhill and is rarely at capacity. I know simply stating things I see is anecdotal at best and not a statistic, but I’ve never had any issues taking the lane here, as there is plenty of room for everyone.

    Paint some sharrows down the right lane the whole length of 12th between PSU and Burnside and be done with it, I say.

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    • Spiffy June 7, 2012 at 8:35 am

      I was thinking that it would allow bicycles to bypass traffic… is there often stopped traffic on this street? if so then a dedicated bicycle lane would make it easier for bicycles to travel down it…

      if there’s never tons of traffic on this road then it doesn’t need bicycle facilities…

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      • A.K. June 7, 2012 at 9:09 am

        I’ve never had a problem feeling like I was being blocked by traffic and could have gone fasted with a dedicated lane. Since there are three lanes here going the same way, it just seems like the street is not anywhere near capacity when I ride it.

        However, I don’t ride it at rush hour since I don’t work downtown. I’m usually passing through on the weekend. So I have no idea what weekday 8 am/5 pm traffic is like.

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        • A.K. June 7, 2012 at 9:13 am

          Er, gone faster, even.

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    • matt picio June 7, 2012 at 11:32 am

      I mostly agree, but there are lots of cyclists who aren’t comfortable taking the lane or changing lanes to pass automotive traffic. Cycling is *very* safe. The cyclist death rate is lower than the motorist death rate. The absolute number of fatalities per year is almost always less than 10. But if a cyclist doesn’t *feel* safe, then he or she will react accordingly. People who don’t feel safe aren’t inclined to obey the rules of the road – they’ll do what makes them feel safe, not necessarily what’s legal or expected by other road users. So there will always be a place for separated infrastructure, even though it will never be as extensive as the existing road network. You and I, A.K., are comfortable taking the lane, riding on the left if appropriate, riding at the speed of traffic and changing lanes to pass cars turning right (or left). But we can’t design the system solely for us – it needs to service everyone. Maybe that means permanent separated infrastructure, or maybe it’s merely temporary until folks get used to it, or until cyclists outnumber motorists, or until we all get personal jetpacks.

      Of course, if we all get personal jetpacks, we’ll probably still all be arguing over helmets, failure to obey stops, and yielding to pedestrians.

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      • A.K. June 7, 2012 at 1:29 pm

        I totally agree – but on the other hand, there will never, ever be separate infrastructure everywhere that everyone wants to go – politically and financially I just don’t see it happening.

        So at some point, the “interested but concerned” people have to step up a little bit. I’m not saying they need to learn how to rip down Sandy or across the St. Johns bridge, but I just don’t see a time where safe cycling infrastructure will be available to ferry a rider from their door to exactly where they need to go, the whole entire way. So it’s probably best to learn HOW to be comfortable on relatively quiet streets, such as 12th.

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  • todd boulanger June 6, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    And if you look at the complaining property developers websites…they often talk about sustainability and green building…but their day to day retail politics may be backward looking:

    Gerding Edlen: “Focusing on our clients’ vision for a more sustainable future.”

    Menashe Properties: “Located in Portland…The city is noted for its scenic beauty, … and its eco-friendly urban planning policies.”

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    • Chris I June 7, 2012 at 3:34 am

      Greenwash.

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      • HAL9000 June 7, 2012 at 1:35 pm

        Right. A company that has built 51 LEED buildings and single-handedly revitalized the pearl district from polluted industrial wasteland is “greenwashing.”

        Check your facts.

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  • Danny June 6, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    I think it is not a bad idea to ask about the need for a dedicated bike lane on 12th. It is pretty easy to take the lane on a downhill run, and most cyclists should feel relatively confident in doing so given that car traffic is usally not heavy.

    I am a huge proponent of bike infrastructure, and there are countless streets where we desperately need a dedicated bike lane. But I don’t think our community necessarily needs to go to the mat for every conceivable bike facility; doing so runs the risk of perpetuating the “us versus them” mentality of those who reflexively oppose all cycling improvements.

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  • Noah June 6, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    Out of curiosity I thought I’d look at the project area in the city’s own official bike map for downtown. Here’s what I noticed when looking at the map (and feel free to look at my annotated version here: https://docs.google.com/open?id=0Bz7g2gB_UmVcWXAzc3Z1Z0FLYlU):

    1. This is the largest stretch of downtown with essentially no bike infrastructure. I think that reasonable people can disagree what that infrastructure should look like (sharrows, lanes, or cycle track), but I can’t see how anyone can deny that there is a gap in the city’s transportation infrastructure.
    2. There are 4 bike shops near the project area. Maybe these shops and some other bike friendly businesses in the area could write a letter supporting the project?

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  • dwainedibbly June 6, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    Sharrows on 12th and be done with it. While they’re at it, put sharrows in the non-streetcar lanes of 10th & 11th, too. And close the SW Park Blocks to motor vehicles.

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    • Reza June 6, 2012 at 5:54 pm

      If you look at the draft Pearl District Access and Circulation Plan released last month, there is a proposal to install 6 foot bike lanes (with 3 foot buffers) on NW 8th and Park Avenues along the North Park Blocks . There would also be new signals where 8th and Park intersect Burnside. South of Burnside, southbound cyclists would use contraflow bike lanes on Ankeny (going west) and Park (going south) to access Oak,where they would then turn right and then left on 9th to continue southbound.

      I would assume that the city would want to extend this treatment down the South Park Blocks but I haven’t seen any specifics on that.

      Page 26 here: ftp://ftp02.portlandoregon.gov/PBOT/TRP/Pearl/PDACP_Revised_Draft.pdf

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  • i ride my bike June 6, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    Why isnt PBOT doing a broader look at cycling facilities downtown? What about alternate parallel routes, the larger network downtown, etc.? Given the importance of downtown, amount of bike trips, there is absurdly little bicycle infrastructure.

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  • Hart Noecker June 6, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    If only there was a nonprofit group committed to advocating for cyclists and better cycling infrastructure in our fair city. If only….

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    • matt picio June 7, 2012 at 11:40 am

      I’d be happy with a for-profit group if it meant a strong advocacy base in local government that could go toe-to-toe with the freight lobby and the business associations.

      It’s easy to criticize the BTA, because they’re the only effective bike non-profit in town. AROW is awesome, other groups are awesome, but the city apparently isn’t listening to them. Why? The BTA should NOT be the only bicycle advocacy group in Portland. We are too diverse a community to put all our issues under one umbrella. (Speaking of which, Umbrella – umbrellastreets.org – is another awesome nonprofit which deals in part with bikes) The recent push by groups like The League of American Bicyclists and others to combine forces for advocacy is admirable, but a lot of voices are lost when that happens. Joining forces is appropriate for the big issues that affect us all, but we need more advocacy groups in Portland to deal with issues that the BTA can’t or won’t address. And we need to ensure that they have a voice at the table, and that the city acknowledges them.

      And I think that advocating for that voice would be an awesome thing for the BTA to do from time to time, when it doesn’t interfere with their mission.

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      • Hart Noecker June 7, 2012 at 12:02 pm

        I’m not sure I can agree that the BTA is “effective”. But I definitely agree we need more groups promoting cycling over their own PR image.

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  • Noah Brimhall June 6, 2012 at 8:17 pm

    I’ve not been able to get this issue out of my head today and as I think about it more I can begin to see a way improved bike infrastructure could be sold to property owners, business owners and residents of the project area.

    This area has as close to the perfect mix of transit infrastructure as one can imagine in a dense downtown area. It has quick access to an interstate freeway and major thoroughfares for auto and freight traffic. It has light rail crossing the project area and streetcar running parallel. Some of the busiest bus lines go through this area. The sidewalks seem to be in good condition.

    Now why wouldn’t you want to add improved bike infrastructure to this area along with some improved pedestrian crossings to finish out the picture. With these fairly modest investments you can now be reached by customers, employees and residents regardless of the transportation choice they make.

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  • Daniel R. Miller June 6, 2012 at 11:09 pm

    I’d have to concur with the dual sentiment that, on the one hand, who are these dinosaurs and the PBA to put the kibosh on a bicycle infrastructure project just because they are… dinosaurs, who still don’t “get it” when it comes to the economic boon that is world-class bike facilities;
    and on the other hand, northbound 12th thru downtown is one street that, at least on the basis of average achievable bicycle speed (all downhill, with timed lights) and auto traffic counts, is not a high-need street. It’s tricky and political though. PBOT probably thought they were picking some low hanging fruit and taking an easy incremental step toward more politically challenging projects on higher-need streets. Well, no dice. But one way or another, a lot of us, whether businessperson or citizen, need to step up to advocate for a more acceptable level of bike infrastructure in this city. Or it just ain’t gonna happen.

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    • JRB June 7, 2012 at 8:05 am

      Where is your data that improved bike infrustructure in this particular location would benefit these particular businesses? What makes you better qualified to judge what is best for their business in the first place? Referring to someone else as a dinosaur becasue they are concerned about how a street project may affect their livelihood is not likely to inspire them to see your point of view. As a small retail storefront business owner myself, I am highly sensitive to access issues because without the flow of people, we can’t pay our bills. I think the solution is to engage with the business owners rather than demonize them as anti-bike, anti-safety or anti-anything.

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      • peejay June 7, 2012 at 9:06 am

        That’s fine, but I’m tired of business owners demonizing bike infrastructure as anti-business. I want to see their point of view, but when they start the debate by using their connections to shut down the public process, then they’re not really interested in a conversation.

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  • peejay June 7, 2012 at 8:12 am

    We either provide world-class separated bicycle infrastructure, or we do something radical to alter the balance of the concept of sharing the road, such that casual riders feel safe. That radical thing would be a blanket 15mph speed limit throughout downtown, enforced by speed cameras.

    Actually, I think if we are to make the separated plan work, we still need 20mph downtown speed limits, and ban all turns on red.

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    • Paul June 7, 2012 at 11:29 am

      I agree. Right (and left) turns on red should be banned completely, everywhere. It would save so much headaches for everyone.

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      • Paul June 7, 2012 at 11:30 am

        *So MANY headaches. Jees, grammar deficient :)

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  • Spiffy June 7, 2012 at 8:28 am

    To: generalinfo@mcmenamins.com
    Re: Why is Christopher Robbins not bike friendly like McMenamins claims it is?

    According to your web site @ http://www.mcmenamins.com/BikeFriendly you promote bicycling to your locations. I think this is ideal because it promotes a healthier lifestyle and discourages dangerous drunken driving.

    But it seems that Christopher Robbins is helping to block the PBOT development of bicycle facilities on SW 12th Ave in downtown Portland, even though there are no McMenamins locations on SW 12th Ave.

    Please let me know which locations Christopher Robbins manages so I can be sure to avoid them because I don’t want to promote anti-bicycle thinking second-hand by supporting him.

    Thank you,

    –Spiffy

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    • Reza June 7, 2012 at 1:32 pm

      If the mediocre beer and crappy food wasn’t enough already.

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    • Spiffy June 7, 2012 at 2:32 pm

      He responded!

      Spiffy,

      I do, and McMenamins does support bike lanes and the cycling community. I have personally commuted by bike from St Johns to Crystal Ballroom and know the need for bike lanes. We have many employees that bike to work and want them to have a safe alternative to the car lanes. When we opened the Crystal Hotel McMenamins tried to install a bike corral on Stark between 13th and 12th to encourage cyclists and less driving, but it was been rejected by the city. We have added more bike racks to safely secure bikes wherever possible at all of our locations. My main concern with the proposed bike lane is a fear that we end up with another fiasco of an intersection like we currently have at 14th and Burnside. As you are probably aware a woman was tragically killed at 14th and Burnside and the city’s reaction (accidentally) was to create a confusing bike lane that turned into potentially more lethal intersection. I sit in Ringlers and witness the confusion of drivers and cyclists unfold daily. I have even taken to personally trying to inform drivers that they are in a parking space thinking it is a turn lane. We have recently witnessed a biker crash into a pedestrian crossing the street at this location.

      My intent was not to stall the process but to garner more information as to how the proposed bike lane will work and to hopefully avoid potential dangers to cyclists. Bike lanes can errantly cause a false sense of security and we need to ensure that what we build now will not contribute to that.

      Please feel free to call me at 503.997.6398 to personally discuss this.

      Sincerely,

      Christopher Robbins
      McMenamins Pubs, Breweries, and Historic Properties

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  • GlowBoy June 7, 2012 at 10:05 am

    I’m a little conflicted about this one too. As many others have said, 12th is pretty easy to ride as it is, and there are soooo many places where bike infrastructure is more badly needed.

    On the other hand, bike lanes are still nice for the “interested but concerned”, and the bike lane on 14th is NOT a safe alternative for them. WTF is McMenamins doing opposing this?! Tracey Sparling was killed right on their doorstep.

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    • peejay June 7, 2012 at 10:20 am

      That’s right: I didn’t make the connection until now. Having a ghost bike right outside your front door for a couple of years and then STILL opposing bike safety is the height of callousness.

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  • Mindful Cyclist June 7, 2012 at 11:28 am

    Please don’t do this!

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