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Citizen cycling superheroes

Posted by on July 16th, 2013 at 8:36 am

Two recent stories — one local and one national — illustrate that bicycles and the people who ride them can be powerful forces for good.

The first story is from The Oregonian. Last week, reporter Simina Mistreanu shared a heart-wrenching story about how northeast Portland resident Bonnie Holtgrew prevented a man from committing suicide:

… Wednesday around 6 p.m., she was thirsty and out of cigarettes, so she hopped on her bike and headed to the store. On her way back to her home on Northeast 92nd Avenue off Glisan Street, she took a detour onto the I-205 overpass to avoid a closed sidewalk.

Suddenly, she saw something that made her stop.

Holtgrew stayed with the man until police arrived and he was eventually pulled off the bridge railing to safety.

That story reminded me of the time a few years ago when I was cycling south on Michigan Avenue just north of Killingsworth. I saw smoke billowing from the windows of a house and stopped to check it out. There was a fire in the back of the house. While I was on the porch checking things out, a small dog ran up to me. It was unable to jump the fence and it was yelping like crazy. I picked the dog up and carried him to safety just as the fire department arrived. The homeowner was very grateful that I stopped to save her beloved pet.

As I rode away I realized if I had been driving, I would have likely just rolled right by. It was just another example of how, when we bike (as opposed to drive), we become engaged in our streets in ways that are extremely positive for our neighborhoods.

The next cycling superhero story comes from Pennsylvania via a story on CNN:

Five-year-old Jocelyn Rojas was playing in her front yard in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, when she vanished Thursday afternoon. Authorities believe she was abducted by a man who lured her by offering ice cream.

For two hours, neighbors and police scoured the area and asked if anyone had seen her.

Temar Boggs, 15, and his friend took off on their bicycles to search.

The kids on bikes were persistent and the kidnapping suspect (who’s still on the loose) ultimately stopped and let the girl out. Boggs and his friends had saved the day.

These two stories highlight benefits of bicycling — the community awareness they make possible and their versatility as a vehicle — that go beyond what’s covered at summits, conferences and in engineering plans. There’s nothing inherently heroic about riding a bike; but the many positive impacts that riding has on our communities can quite literally save the day — and a whole lot more.

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Comments
  • Paul in the 'couve July 16, 2013 at 9:23 am

    I don’t think the heroism in these cases was directly tied to being cyclists, but rather that NOT being in a car makes one more aware and part of the surroundings.

    I think there are a lot of ways in which we can see that many types of problems that at first seem unrelated to auto culture are at least exacerbated by auto dominance. It isn’t that cars cause these problems. Rather, it is that over reliance on cars erodes community. In the worst cases, it nearly eliminates community.

    Jonathan has published recently about crime near high volume intersections. Even though there are lots of people driving by, they are not deterrent to crime.

    Complete streets, living locally and active transportation are not just about getting people to destinations or getting errands accomplished by modes other than automobile, they are about rebuilding a city that works. With people on the streets life is better. More eyes out on crime. Someone to at least nod hello to. People to meet.

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    • A.K. July 16, 2013 at 9:54 am

      “I don’t think the heroism in these cases was directly tied to being cyclists, but rather that NOT being in a car makes one more aware and part of the surroundings.”

      Exactly. I found a small fire the other month in some bushes of a business park that had been started by a cigarette, because I could smell it as I was riding down the street. I told the business, and they put it out. No muss no fuss.

      I don’t know if I would have noticed the smell had I been driving that day.

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    • anon1q2w3e4r5t July 16, 2013 at 10:08 am

      While what you have said is true to an extent, the story of the two superhero kids is most definitely tied to being bicyclists, more particularly, real bicyclists!!! ;) Had these kids been using bike sharing bikes, would the outcome have been the same? ;)

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      • Slammy July 16, 2013 at 11:01 am

        LOL, wow.. great trolling… I’m impressed. Is this Dorothy Rabinowitz?

        Sadly for you, the outcome would have been the same and the bike sharing company would have gotten tons of free press, leading to a higher adoption rate… the horror, right?

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        • anon1q2w3e4r5t July 16, 2013 at 4:19 pm

          Did you just completely ignore, not one, but two “;)” emoticons? Just so you can make the claim: “Ah ha, he’s trolling!!!!, he’s trolling!!!, gotcha!!!”.

          Even though my comment was said in jest, there was some truth to it. If you’ve been keeping up with the bike sharing conversation, you would know that the bikes are built like tanks, they’re not built for speed. So, if the kids were using a slow bike, they might have not been able to keep up with the kidnapper in the car, get it now?

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  • Tim July 16, 2013 at 9:36 am

    “NOT being in a car makes one more aware and part of the surroundings” and being in a car is a barrier between you and the world. This is true for your local neighborhood or travel through a distant land. Make the most of it – smile wave and say hello.

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  • dr2chase July 16, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    It’s somewhat harder to kidnap 5-year-olds on a bicycle, too.

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  • Hart Noecker July 18, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    “There’s nothing inherently heroic about riding a bike.”

    I respectfully disagree. Thanks for the coverage. Should be noted that Boggs and his friend didn’t just stumble upon the kidnapper in his car, they tailed him for over 15 minutes.

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