Posted by Michael Andersen (News Editor) on May 5th, 2014 at 12:58 pm
(Photo: Matt Haughey/Flickr)
It was a strong claim and a proud one — though, at the time, it hardly even seemed controversial.
But two years later, the Pedal Bike Tours mural that welcomes Portland visitors to “America’s Bicycle Capital” strikes one visitor as a sign of something else: the paralyzing complacency of a city that has ridden its bike-friendly reputation to nationwide fame, wave after wave of highly educated young people and, within a few years, surging central-city job growth.
The problem, as Vancouver BC-based writer Chris Bruntlett describes it in a piece published this afternoon, isn’t that Portland doesn’t like bikes any more. It’s that the city doesn’t seem to feel that being bike-friendly requires any “difficult decisions.”
Here’s a passage from Bruntlett’s essay for Spacing magazine, titled “Triumph and Tragedy in ‘America’s Bicycle Capital’“:
In the summer of 2012, Portland was so confident of its place in the world, that it declared itself America’s Bicycle Capital, boldly painting the phrase in 10-foot high letters on the side of a building downtown.
However, on my most recent trip to this cycling Mecca, I was told this bravado has had two adverse side affects. Firstly, it put a target on the city’s back, motivating more ambitious cities to work even harder. Secondly, it brought with it a sense of complacency; the dangerous notion that Portland had somehow reached a peak, and no more difficult decisions needed to be made. This stalemate is best represented by the strange fact that not one of their current mayor and council regularly cycle for transportation.
Before my visit, I had heard rumours that Portlanders were still debating the relative merits of protected bike lanes: this, while the rest of the world moves full steam ahead with their implementation. It was something I didn’t truly believe until I shared a photo of myself riding in a painted bike lane on social media.
Flanked by motor vehicles and frustrated my two children couldn’t comfortably come along for the ride, I pointed out that for all the hype about being “America’s Bicycle Capital”, Portland still didn’t have a single separated cycle track in their downtown core.
The tweet was met with a barrage of indignation: so-called advocates told me (and apparently my children) that protected bike lanes were an unnecessary indulgence. In their city, I was told, there is already safety in numbers, and drivers are largely passive and accommodating.
Nevertheless, the demographic I saw riding downtown certainly suggested to me that only the bold and the brave feel welcome there. Combine this with the fact that my kids were forced to walk several stretches on the sidewalk – the ultimate condemnation of any bike network – and it becomes abundantly clear, as Oregon Walks Board President Aaron Brown suggests: “There’s still work to be done to make riding a bicycle in Portland safe, convenient and accessible for folks ages eight to eighty.”