Gentrification, labels and the “privilege” of bike commuting

OR Bike Summit - Ride-5.jpg

A guy on a bike — not a “self-serving”,
“agenda driven”, “bike commuter”.
(Photo © J. Maus)

A Portland blog that covers “gentrification and other problems” has published an article about “bike commuters” that I found interesting and wanted to share.

It also brought up some thoughts of mine on how people tend to lump “bike commuters” into one big, happy group.

In Seeing The Sky; And, The Privilege Of Bike Commuting, the blog’s author shares the “unfortunate truth” that bike commuting is “a privilege, mostly denied to the middle working class (my error)” (emphasis mine):

Commuting by bike has everything to do with the economic freedom and mobility of a class that can determine where work and home are located, and how permanently. That it is in many ways a privilege, mostly denied to the working class, is too rarely admitted.

To change how people get to work from where they live, without seeing that we need massive changes in what work people can do and where they can manage to live, is in my view folly in the truest sense of the word.”

The thoughts above were inspired by a comment on Bojack — a Portland blog that is usually cynical toward bike-related stories and is outright critical of Transportation Commissioner Sam Adams. That comment put it this way:

“Commuting by bike is an extremely privileged opportunity available to a very few who most likely have no families (kids), no tools of a trade (Laptop at most?), no appointments to make outside of a mile radius, no shopping on a realistic scale, no emergencies, no extended family or friends to care for for, no volunteering duties that require expediency or supplies, etc., etc., etc. What an insult to the very people who have made this city such an attractive place to live, to come here and change the status quo to meet their narrow-minded, self-serving agendas.”

I’m curious how many Portlanders share those feelings.

The unfortunate thing about both of these characterizations is that they assume some sort of homogeneity among “bike commuters”. This is a perception that is simply incorrect, yet I think it persists among a significant portion of our population.

The truth is that people who choose to bike are not somehow transformed once they straddle a top tube.

To answer that second comment above: I have a family (two kids under six), I always ride with expensive computer and camera equipment and I ride about 10 miles a day to get to my office, cover stories, and meet people all over the metro area. As for shopping on a “realistic scale”, emergencies, family, and other things that “require expediency”, I just hop in my mini-van.

Yes. I am a “bike commuter”, a bike activist, a professional bike journalist, part of the bike lobby — whatever you want to call me. And yes, I own and sometimes drive a mini-van.

I hope the Portlanders who don’t ride, have anxieties about those that do, or have mixed-feelings about the bike-friendly direction our city is headed, stop and realize that people on bikes are just people. They’re not all part of some club or some homogeneous set of beliefs

Hipsters, moms, punks, dentists, factory workers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, students, senior citizens, day laborers, grandmas, politicians, Republicans, Democrats, hippies, hunters, and so on. It’s a list of Portlanders — some bike, some drive cars, most do both, some do neither.

When I ride, I am not a bicyclist, I am a person on a bike.

Our city will be a much nicer place to live and to move around when we stop trying to define others simply by their chosen mode of travel.

===

I know many BikePortland readers defy these stereotypes, I would love to hear your story (and ultimately hope people from those other blogs will read them too).

Also, I wrote this story to not only refute these characterizations, but to remind bike advocates and activists that there are a lot of Portlanders who don’t see everything through bike-colored glasses — and if we really want to create a city where more of them consider biking as an option, we must understand (and address) their perspectives and opinions.

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Brad Ross
14 years ago

Hmmm… I always thought driving was a privilige.

Marion rice
Marion rice
14 years ago

Oh my goodness.. this person doesn\’t understand my life at all. I have two kids (2 and 5) and routinely get all my grocery shopping done and my kids to school and childcare on my bike!! I am not a bicyclist per say, I don\’t go on weekend rides for fun really although maybe I will. We do go to Oaks Park by bike at least one or two weekends a summer. I use my bike to get around and my kids need to get around too. I am a mom who has found the freedom that biking brings and that getting around this city by bike is incredibly doable. I believe that this is actually a great solution for people of all economic levels. A single mom could much more easily afford a bike with a trailer than a car for sure.

Dennis
Dennis
14 years ago

I can understand where the article comes from. Living inside of town, near many of the best employers, is not an option for many people. As for myself, I\’ve been priced out of the housing market inside of the urban growth boundary, and currently have to traverse the entire metro area, in order to get to work. Should a light rail, or other system bridge the gap, then I\’d definitely turn to my bicycle for everyday commuting. As with any supply/demand system, higher energy costs have made living in town much more attractive, thereby raising prices on urban homes/condo locations. The best way to alleviate that would be to make sure light rail, interurban rail and streetcars bring all the neighborhoods within reach of each other. I\’m currently living in Vancouver, because housing is still reasonable there. Originally, I searched for a home in Portland, but couldn\’t qualify for anything within the boundary. I\’d encourage everyone here to support light rail into vancouver, as a way to bridge the cycle commuter gap, for those of us in Vancouver.

mizake
mizake
14 years ago

\”a privilege, mostly denied to the working class\”

uh, what? last i checked, it\’s a whole lot more expensive to own and maintain a car. that, and i bust my hump for not a whole lot of money.

Chris Leonardo
14 years ago

Wow…

good point about lumping all bike commuters together as one demographic, Jonathan.

I too earn a nominal salary, have a family, and commute primarily by bike. We have one working car and one broken down car that I haven\’t had the cash or time to fix.

So I ended up on my bike a lot more and am happy for it.

Didn\’t know I was so bourgeois!

Matt Haughey
14 years ago

The \”not working class\” argument doesn\’t make much sense and I believe the author knows it, and is tweaking fellow portlanders with the cheeky viewpoint and headline. It\’s like mocking Brooklyn fixie riders as well-heeled hipsters because the working poor in NYC can still afford to use the subway to get everywhere.

While it\’s true that maybe an upper class or upper-middle class person could have the ability to live anywhere (since they could afford more), if they bike a great deal and pick a central spot to live it could be seen as a choice not afforded to other classes.

Here on the west coast, working class by definition is pretty much people living in cities that the upper classes fled from decades ago. Working class people ride bikes aplenty and use public transit — the poorest people I know can\’t afford a car and do everything by bike and bus, because they have to.

Like I said, I think the author knows they\’ll get a reaction from riders like many people here, but it\’s clearly a false premise that only affluent people can ride bikes in Portland.

Robert Dobbs
Robert Dobbs
14 years ago

Stupid is as stupid does.

Enjoy life in the suburbs @ $10/gal suckers.

rixtir
rixtir
14 years ago

There\’s apparently no limit to human ignorance. Even amongst professors of law.

Michael Downes
Michael Downes
14 years ago

I don\’t own a car, I live in inner southeast where I rent a house (can\’t afford to buy even with the market tanking). I freelance so I am poor (last month I made $600)and my son has no medical insurance. The choice to ride a bike instead of drive, while gladly chosen, is just a logical choice in an unstable economy. Groceries? Well if the weather is truly shitty we may splash out on a couple of hours of Zip Car but otherwise it\’s pedal power. Coming over the railway bridge on Holgate with the Bakfeits, Littleman and forty pounds of groceries is as much of a work out as I will ever need or want.

a.O
a.O
14 years ago

What rixter said. This argument is easier to see through than a freshly-cleaned window on a bright summer day.

Greg Raisman
Greg Raisman
14 years ago

I think Enrique Penalosa hits the right mark in this interview: http://www.streetfilms.org/archives/interview-with-enrique-penalosa-long/

\”A bicycle network is a symbol that a citizen on a $30 bicycle is as important as a citizen in a $30,000 car.\”

Axe
Axe
14 years ago

I earned a total of $5K last year and had to pay taxes to the federales on top of it. My vast affluence means I cannot afford a car, insurance, OR the gas to keep it moving. So as a cyclist and an apparent member of the upper class I feel so damn privileged to have the economic freedom to ride my bike. Let me just grab the champagne from my pannier…

Todd Waddell
Todd Waddell
14 years ago

Why does it seem that these writers are offended by bike commuters? How have our choices negatively impacted them? It is one thing to note that bike commuting isn\’t a panacea, it is another thing to dismiss it entirely out of hand.

In responding, I will say that I do think both of these comments fail to adequately account for the benefits of multi-modal commuting. Multi-modal can go a long way towards reducing the time commitment for suburban bike commuters, can increase one\’s ability to attend meetings, and bring bike commuting to those who are not yet physically able to handle longer distances, etc..

Having said that, I should also say that I think that I understand the socio-economic arguments that are underlying some of these comments. For myself, bike commuting has been and continues to be a very expensive undertaking both in money and time.

I live in the burbs and I have a family. So, even though I bike commute five days a week, my wife and I still maintain and pay for two cars.

In addition, while my bike didn\’t cost much, and can be said to be fully depreciated, we have spent somewhere around $1,500 buying panniers, lights, winter and rain gear, and on and on. Add to this easily another $300-$500 in bike maintenance and repair. So we\’re quickly approaching a $2,000 to allow me to bike commute. Since I started commuting in August 07, I\’ve done 3,000 miles on the bike. So my average cost per mile is something close to .67/mile.

Sure, I may get two or more years out of the clothes and gear, but I will certainly incur other costs during that time as well. And while I\’m not paying gas and parking expenses, I am still paying for the car loan and insurance on the car. And given my family obligations and my location in the burbs, a flex car isn\’t a viable option to reduce that expense.

So I do agree that there are real economic barriers to bike commuting. Some of those costs can be reduced by multi-modal commuting. But for many, regular bike commuting may be out of reach.

The first writer is correct to note that we are an automobile society and that our patterns urban development and our lifestyle make it difficult to rely on bicycles. But many of these challenges can be overcome by creative thinking and flexible planning. Using you bike more requires one to think outside of the box, and once you learn how to see beyond and through the dominant car culture, you realize that change often brings a happier and healthier lifestyle.

Russell
Russell
14 years ago

I\’d say that for the most part the bloggers\’ statements are quite erroneous. He(?) plays off of the stereotypical \”car = evil\” cyclist, which I think very few cyclists are. I do not want people to get rid of their cars, just as I do not want people to throw out their hammers and screw drivers. I want to see people make intelligent choices about what tool they use for a task and how they use it. The car is an overused tool, and is continually used irresponsibly. The bicycle is an amazing tool, but definitely not adequate for every task.

When he talks about tradesmen I cannot help but think of the conversations I\’ve had with my electrician friend. He drives to work everyday (about 2.5 miles now that he lives closer in) simply to get his work van. I do not think that he should get rid of his work van and start going to job sites via bike (carrying hundreds of pounds of equipment), rather I think he should use a different tool to get to work.

Brad
Brad
14 years ago

Dennis has it right. Many people have been forced by housing prices to move to areas too far to bike commute and not well served by transit. The troubling thing is that most advocates of bike commuting / alternative transit tend to have the attitude that these folks willfully made a bad decision or wanted a car based lifestyle so screw \’em!

I bought in the \’burbs because a comparable home was $100K less than in Portland. I could buy that home without getting into the dicey mortgages that are causing economic fallout and if my spouse or I lost employment suddenly, we still could afford to pay the mortgage. That\’s just smart personal finance not a desire to kill the environment or cause more sprawl. The \”privilege\” of living in close-in Portland is not worth the personal financial risk for many middle class wage earners.

I am lucky because I am fit enough to ride the 32 mile round trip (including serious climbs/descents over the West Hills) and have easy MAX access when conditions dictate not riding. Not everyone has that luxury. If we truly wish to make bike commuting more accessible, then the solution has to involve mixed modes of travel along with bike commuting stations that offer changing/showering/secured bike parking amenities. The approach also needs to be regional. It can\’t be Portland-centric. Most every public effort to improve bike safety or access seems to be for the benefit of those already living within three to five miles of downtown Portland. In a sense, the rich get richer.

The provincial attitude (Portland rules! \’Burbs suck!) that most Portland bike advocates seem to espouse on this site and others creates the perception that it is clubby, elitist, and just for those within 10-15 minutes by bike from downtown. The car congestion and pollution we wish to alleviate is mostly from areas beyond that small ring.

Darrell
Darrell
14 years ago

The comment seems to not distinguish between a definition of commuting and living car-free. I commute to work by bike, but we still have a car for the reasons listed – emergencies, kids, family outside the area, etc. Typically there are not emergency situations at work, or need to go shopping or visit family, and in case there is, I have a Flexcar membership.
I do realize that I am fortunate enough to have a job that has flexible hours, allows me to wear what I want, and supports my commute by bike in general, but calling my lifestyle insulting – I am not sure how that person came to that conclusion. I thought I was being responsible by staying in good health & keeping my stress levels down for my family\’s sake and not consuming gas, but I guess I am just pissing off (a few) unhealthy, bitter, gas-guzzling working stiffs.
I really haven\’t noticed much animosity in the 8 years I have commuted, so hopefully this person\’s point of view is a minority.

Qwendolyn
14 years ago

Ummmmm, there is some truth to this sentiment.

Some, I say.

The one grain of truth is that cycling isn\’t quite as easy for a poor family. –But middle class/poorer families still do it, and good on them, even though it may be harder.

The argument becomes bunk in two places. First, when they try to generalize and make assumptions about all cyclists.

And then secondly, at the end with this intriguing little nugget:

\”What an insult to the very people who have made this city such an attractive place to live, to come here and change the status quo to meet their narrow-minded, self-serving agendas.\”

It\’s the idea that if you weren\’t born here you are somehow less legit of a Portlander. It\’s pretty much totally bogus.

I mean, I crack jokes about \”go back to California\” from time to time. But in truth I don\’t really care, because it\’s absurd to judge people by where they\’re from. Because you can\’t control where you\’re from.

You can, however, judge people on other criteria that they can control.

You can point out for example, that when someone chooses to bicycle (whether middle class with a family/or poor without/or rich/ or whatever,) that they reduce congestion for everyone.

And that when someone chooses to drive a big honking SUV, SOV, then they are an SOB because that is death-machine for everybody but (and possibly even) themselves.

Snowflake Seven
Snowflake Seven
14 years ago

My spouse and I used to had two cars. Then there was a car accident that cost four front teeth and totaled the car. Now we have one car, a 20-year-old beater that is not going to make it much longer.

We made a choice not to go into debt, and purchased bikes instead of taking out an auto loan. We allow yourselves 100-miles a month on the beater car and try to use it only to visit family, to carry things our bikes cannot and of course for emergencies.

My wife has chosen a 40-minute commute by mass transit instead of a 25-minute commute in the car because it is cheaper. We do all our errands on our bikes. That includes grocery shopping.

I think a lot of people who choose to ride bikes for non-recreation are pleased to know that they are helping the environment. But I think the media\’s promotion of cycling as related to the \”climate crisis\” makes some people assume people on bikes are all rich liberal environmentalist who are showing off there eco-lifestyle, sweating for carbon emissions on the way to the spa or gated community. Its just not the case. Not by a long shot.

Class is an issue in this country. An issue we don\’t like to talk about just as we don\’t like talking about race. But glaring at bicyclist is not going to fix the problems that inflames issues of class or race any more than riding a bike will cure small pox.

Bicycle advocacy may help change the way our cities are shaped. And those changes can help correct the injustices that have broken our societies into class segregated neighborhoods.

People who ride bikes and people concerned about issues of class, race and gentrification should be working together for change. They are natural partners for changing the shape of our society and the public policy that structures it.

Paul Souders
14 years ago

My story: I\’ve been commuting by bike since … college? 15 years or more anyway. I commuted by bike when I worked the graveyard shift at $8/hr. and continued to do so as my job/life situation changed, from single to married, poor to middle-class, childless to kid-on-the-way. I commuted by bike in harsh climates (Nebraska, Montana), tiny towns (rural Kansas and North Dakota), and even L.A. I did this when my job was manual labor (warehouse work, assembly, archaeology fieldwork), service (Kinko\’s, restaurants), and now white-collar.

I\’ve occasionally owned cars but never commuted in them. I don\’t consider keeping my home and workplace near one another a \”privilege\” of any kind, I consider it \”common sense.\” The boost in rent or mortgage is more than offset by the savings from having fewer cars in the family.

I do think the author has hit on something important in noting that poor people often have fewer choices about the proximity of work and home. I consider this a widespread failure of our cities, not of the individual choices made by any single commuter (regardless of mode of transport). Expanding transit options slowly reshapes cities into something friendlier to everyone, poor or working-class alike.

A final story: when I lived in Southern California I was fortunate enough to live about 3 miles away from my job. My neighbor wasn\’t so lucky. She worked in Santa Monica but lived in San Bernadino co. where she could afford rent. She had to make a 90 minute commute EACH WAY five days a week. If her car broke down — which it often did, because it was an ancient jalopy — she had to string together a zillion bus rides across the entire width of the Southland, which usually took more than 2 hours and probably made her late for work. (And if you\’ve ever ridden the bus in LA you know how degrading it can be as an experience.) I find it laughable that a car-centric urban space is somehow less \”insulting\” to working-class commuters than the alternative.

El Biciclero
El Biciclero
14 years ago

@#7

Puh-leeze quit making disparaging comments about us oblivious, conspicuous-consuming, McMansion-dwelling, SUV-driving, auto-dependent, wasteful, mouth-breathing, uneducated, whatever-stereotype-description -you-want-to-use folks who happen to live in \”suburbs\”. Terms like \”suburban hell\” (not mentioned here, but seen plenty of times on this forum) and the disdain with which certain close-in city-dwellers mention \”suburbia\” and the \”suckers\” who live there grate on my nerves. I happen to live in–please suppress gasps and murmurs–Beaverton (I still heard a few gasps of horror). But guess what? I also work in…can you guess? That\’s right: Beaverton. Guess where I shop for groceries? Guess where I go out to eat? Guess where I go for home improvement supplies? Correct again: Beaverton, Beaverton, and….Beaverton. We live in a modestly-sized (1700sf), one-story house, I ride my bike to work 3-5 times a week, I ride to the grocery store for a loaf of bread, I ride to Home Depot for wire nuts, we rarely have garbage to put on the curb because we recycle most everything, we own no gas-powered lawn tools, we turn the water off while taking showers…we do everything we can think of to try to save energy and resources, and reduce our \”carbon footprint\”, yet I am stupid and a \”sucker\” for living in a \”suburb\”?

Perhaps I\’ve gone a little overboard here, but if we are going to lump the stupid suckers into a stereotype group, let\’s lump them into a group and call it \”stupid suckers\”, not \”people who live in suburbs\”

true
true
14 years ago

Yay. More inflammatory scribblings from the internets.

I am, however, glad to find that my tired, broke, father of two, substitute teaching (so classy), bike riding butt is now considered a member of the privileged upper class. I will have my neighbors out here in the Southeast Danger Zone (so full of privileged cycling opportunities)call me \”Sir\” from now on. Possibly \”Your HRH,Sir.\”

I will not, of course, deign to answer.

Beth
Beth
14 years ago

I am a young, white, homeowning person who makes an hourly wage. I cannot afford to own a car and also eat food. It has not been an option for me. This is why I ride my bike and use Tri-Met. Yes, I am fortunate enough to have an employer who subsidizes my Tri-Met usage and who encourages me to ride my bike. Yes, I am fortunate enough to live within the urban growth boundary. But cycling is not a privilege for me. It is my transportation. I carry all my groceries on my bike. I use it to pick up free stuff from off of Craigslist (once, a microwave). I recently strapped a pile of broken-down boxes to it so I could take them home and use them for moving.

I do not spend a lot of money on expensive gear. I bought some rain pants once, but now they\’re no longer waterproof, so I don\’t use them. I ride to work in my normal clothes, with my back in a $5 milk crate.

On Saturday, I rode 23 miles, to a conference for work, to my various errands, to a party, and then back home.

I use my bike because I have to get around. It is faster than riding the bus in most cases, and more flexible. It is much more affordable than owning a car (even if I get it serviced, which I haven\’t because I\’ve been broke). I am not trying to be an elitist snob. I am trying to go to work.

divebarwife
14 years ago

I think the #7 comment by Robert Dobbs is the type of thing that inspired this piece.

I don\’t agree with the post – but I can understand where he got his perception. I have many many comments and blog posts on this site and others from cyclists who are openly negative toward those who don\’t bike.

I\’ve seen comments telling people not just that they should move or change jobs so that they don\’t have to drive…. but that if they don\’t they\’re stupid, irresponsible, lazy, or other such lovely things.

There are constantly comments who just refer off-handedly about the fat-asses in their gas-guzzlers, or the morons in their metal boxes.

Not all cyclists (by any means!) have this attitude – but there are enough, and they\’re vocal enough – that I can understand the sentiment of the author.

Mmann
Mmann
14 years ago

Where do I fit in the stereotype (which was, I think, Jonathan\’s main question)? I am a steadily employed white guy. I\’m not wealthy, but could afford to drive and gladly choose not to and use the money for better purposes. I have three school-age children and live just east of 82nd, so outside the core, I guess. I commute by bike 20 miles r.t. all year, and use the bike for most other Portland trips. We own a minivan and use it for groceries and all the other usual errand kid-hauling stuff. What I do know is LOTS of other families who currently don\’t do this, could. Maybe you can\’t go car-free, but do you need more than one car? Try going car-free one day a week and see if you end up wanting more.

I guess what bothers me is the defensiveness of those who are hostile to POB\’s. There may be a lot of reasons why \”dependence\” on cars really sucks, but please, don\’t blame those of us who are cutting the cords for your misery.

john
john
14 years ago

\”oh the old days, when cars abound and made america great\” My response is usually \”although your an old fart, you aren\’t old enough\”… go back a few more years.

What i find amazing, is that when i do drive, is still how much of a minority cyclists are and they are really never in the way. And I have never really seen a situation where bicycles have in-convenienced vehicles, or if so for maybe what 15 seconds delaying a race and brake to the red light.

For sure, professional drivers should love cyclists, we are definitely un-clogging the streets. Has anyone else noticed this… It just seems to me, close in, when i do drive, there is rarely vehicular congestion, it seems better than it us to be.

BikeR
BikeR
14 years ago

Generalizations make for soft thinking, whether they ride on two wheels or four.

Axe
Axe
14 years ago

I would like to see some of these personal stories posted at the original blog. If nothing else to generate more discussion at that end of the spectrum.

John
John
14 years ago

I would classify myself a lower middle class, and I disagree that the working class have no choice but to use a car.

I choose the apt I live in due to its proximity to Trimet, stores and bike friendly streets. And I bike the 13 miles to work most days, sometimes using Max sometime not. The 13 miles each way is a nice ride, just the right length to keep in shape for weekend rides.

I also due my shopping by bike as I can carry most items in panniers on my utility bike. I rather enjoy the looks I get as I load 4-5 grocery bags into the panniers and onto the rack by people carrying their one little back back to their SUV.

Rather than buy into car culture I have an older car that is used to get to weekend bike rides, major shopping, and emergencies. The savings in keeping an infrequently used, older car was spent on a variety of bikes ranging from a fun beach cruiser, to a utility bike to a full-suspension MTB and nice Road bike for those fun weekend rides.

I no longer have children to worry about, but when I did that didn\’t stop me from cycling. I did instill a belief in the kids (and now adults) that a car is not necessary but a lifestyle choice.

BikingViking
BikingViking
14 years ago

This is a very interesting post.

Just to relate my own story, I\’m about as middle-class as it gets. I was lucky enough to buy a home in inner SE in 2002 before the housing costs really skyrocketed. Quite a few of my friends and family thought I was foolish for buying a small house so close in when I could have gotten a much larger one further out. But I save quite a bit of money by not owning a car. Without those savings, I would have had trouble paying my meager mortgage the first few years after the purchase.

So I see my location as a minor sacrifice. I gave up having a real yard and a lot of square footage for a good location where I can bike/walk/TriMet everywhere. If enough other people were willing to make the same sacrifice, they too could be located closer to all these great amenities. While there is a dearth of affordable housing in the city core, Portland does better than most large cities at legislating affordable housing. More progress still needs to be made, but we are on the right track.

As for not having any family emergencies, no realistic shopping, etc.- A large percentage of the earth\’s population does not have access to a car. People in NYC, Europe, Russia, etc. routinely travel to work by a mode other than the automobile, and their society as a whole has not broken down into anarchy.

Cøyøte
Cøyøte
14 years ago

These articles seem to be in the same vein as the pot shots taken at the idea of a I-405 crossing at Flanders Street. The idea that it will only benefit the Pearl District has been embedded in some peoples minds. As we slide into the abyss of an economic depression, I expect other bike projects will suffer from similar misconceptions and political manipulations.

The divide in attitudes between people who are changing to adapt to the new realities of the life in the US, and those who cannot see past the hood of their car is growing. Brace yourself this could get ugly.

It is a privilege to me to ride a bike to work, but it is a privilege I have made sacrifices for. I do not see how the authors can begrudge me because I have made a series of choices that make riding a bike to work an option. They were free to make the similar choices. Sounds like sour grapes.

Keith
Keith
14 years ago

Yea, I\’ll ask the guy who roots through my recycling for cans and bottles if he feels he is of the privileged class because he can do it by bicycle. A point that I do agree with is that our cities are not engineered correctly for our modern transportation needs. I have also felt that our communities, when you include where one has to work in relation to where one can live, can be a hardship. Or at the very least time wasted away from more important things like family. Portland is a lucky city. The master plan has always been anti-car and it\’s not a super huge city. Changing the way transportation works here is not going to near as difficult as ..say LA, Miami, St. Louis
an so on.

Tony
Tony
14 years ago

Hmmm…well, I am a privileged 51 year old bicycle commuter. And I\’ve commuted to work in cabinet and furniture shops, hauling all sorts of woodworking tools. I\’ve hauled musical gear to many gigs (I\’ve played professionally). I do handyman work, showing up on my…bicycle. I\’m not quite sure that this makes me a snob somehow. It merely makes sense to me.

Lillian Karabaic
Lillian Karabaic
14 years ago

I used to be a live-in worker at a house for homeless young mothers. After seeing the connections between car ownership and poverty, we actually made it a policy to not allow women who live in the house to own a car. Some of the women in the house bike commuted, some of the women commuted by bus. Many of these women (generally single, working class mothers with unstable housing) found that they were able to get on their feet much more quickly when they weren\’t making payments on a car. Many of these women had previous convictions and found that the cost of car insurance was astronomical for them: they would spend double on car insurance what they would spend on groceries. Car ownership would often lead a former user back into bad habits, whereas bicycling required more planning and would encourage structure in the women\’s lives.

One woman, who used to have a 4 hour commute by bus (this is in a small town) to get her child to daycare, her other child to Head Start, and herself to work, found that her commute was cut significantly to when she started commuting by bike, not to mention that handling her children was much easier when they weren\’t bored on the bus.

With my yearly salary clocking in at 8,000, I\’m below the poverty level for the area, though I work full-time. The author of this article seems to believe that those that bike are unable to volunteer in positions that require expediency or supplies- but all winter I was an on-call volunteer for the Red Cross\’s emergency warming shelters. I also volunteer with a number of organizations that encourage bike commuting and provide storage and facilities for bike commuting volunteers.

I bike commute for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the low cost.

There\’s a reason that the Create-A-Commuter program exists, and it\’s folks like me.

Pete
Pete
14 years ago

So, the multitudes of unshaven riders I see on cheap bikes, riding on the sidewalks, often without helmets, and perceivably because they\’ve lost their licenses to a DUI – they\’re actually members of a \”privileged\” class? Huh, I didn\’t know so many folks were doing so well around here.

But wait, if I\’m commuting by bicycle *to work*, doesn\’t that make me a de facto member of a \”working\” class?? If I was privileged enough not to have to work you sure wouldn\’t see me arguing for safe infrastructure in some car-plugged city…

Jean Reinhardt
Jean Reinhardt
14 years ago

I wish $10/gal. gas on bloggers such as the one we\’re talking about–then we\’ll see just how \”elitist\” (gag, splutter, snort) bike commuting is. We also need public policies that force the price of housing down–long commutes by car made necessary by overpriced housing are a double burden on working people, as we have to use that most expensive transit system, a private car, as a result. Market-priced housing is most certainly a part of our transportation and energy use problem, and not a solution to one damned thing.

gabriel amadeus
14 years ago

He\’s just jealous when we ride by the long line of cars he\’s stuck in with a smile on our faces and the wind in our hair. Forecasted 90º on Friday!

DT
DT
14 years ago

Jonathan Maus:

You have a typo in the first part of the article:

\”In Seeing The Sky; And, The Privilege Of Bike Commuting, the blog’s author shares the “unfortunate truth” that bike commuting is “a privilege, mostly denied to the middle class” (emphasis mine):\”

The article goes on to say \”working class\”, so your quote is incorrect.

steve
steve
14 years ago

Yeah, I\’m a fifth generation Oregonian; my great-great grandparents came over the Oregon Trail in covered wagons, and I bike commute four days a week. You just can\’t say that the bike craze is due to people from out-of-state. Portland has always been a good place to bike- drivers here are much more mellow than those to the north or south of here. And yes, I have kids, social obligations, and a middle class job. I ride in from beaverton to central portland; a typical ride takes 45 minutes, while driving and parking takes 35+, and trimet an hour. On a bad traffic day I can also smile at my coworkers, knowing that I\’ll actually beat them home. I dont loss any real time, I\’m more relaxed than parents who have to drive through traffic, and the money I save on gas means I have more to spend on kids. So where\’s the \’elitism\’ in this?

Alison
Alison
14 years ago

It\’s true that rising urban prices have forced lower income earners farther from jobs, requiring longer commutes. For people not accustomed to bicycling this can be an insurmountable barrier.

It\’s also true that rising fuel costs have forced low-income families to forego the car and choose, among other options, bicycles.

I work for the Community Cycling Center. All day long we see people of all economic backgrounds coming in for service and accessories, or to take classes so they can feel more skilled and confident to get around. For some it\’s a choice and for others it\’s a necessity. We offer discounts and scholarships for low-income individuals.

Still, some people cannot afford a bicycle. There are solutions for that, too. Our Adult Earn-a-Bike program (Create a Commuter and others) has helped nearly 2,000 low-income adults become bicycle commuters.

We regularly get letters from past participants saying how much getting a bicycle and learning how to ride has helped them. They say that the bicycle is a lifeline and the only viable alternative to getting around in an increasingly expensive world.

Alison
Community Cycling Center

Elly Blue (Columnist)
14 years ago

Fascinating discussion.

An old friend with a long car commute once said something jaw dropping along the lines of \”I can\’t stand those militant critical mass cyclists! Don\’t they realize how *lucky* they are?\” She and these bloggers have a point, though hers is a put more honestly — it really sucks to be tied down to driving everywhere, all the time. And whether by conscious choice or not, most people are. Sure, a lot could choose not to drive, but in a city or suburb built for cars that often does entail huge life changes that might for many be much more difficult than continuing to absorb the growing costs of driving.

It shouldn\’t have to be a lifestyle choice and a hardship not to drive. We really need to provide people with better options. Especially the poor. Remember this study that came out a couple years ago on how people who are pushed out of the inner city by high housing prices often pay more in transportation cost increase than they save in housing? Here it is.

http://www.nhc.org/index/CenterNews-HeavyLoad-101106

ralph
ralph
14 years ago

The error in most of the posts above is equating the working class with being poor or the working class being middle class. That is just not the case.

So if you remove this erroneous association then the article makes a lot of sense.

Working class people tend to work on a fixed schedule and don\’t have the choice to work from home when the weather is bad, or work a flex time schedule to allow commuting at less congested times. They have to be at work at the start of their shift. Trying to make transit or cycling fit the schedule just doesn\’t always work.

Working class people can afford cars and homes, maybe not the ones close to where they work.

This brings up the another error, assuming that all the good work is downtown. There\’s plenty of work, probably more work, available outside of downtown.

So even if the working class can live close to where they work, if it is the suburbs, the use of a bicycle does become problematic because neighborhoods are not built around retail in the way downtown neighborhoods are. Getting your chores done and getting your kids to school doesn\’t happen because distances are greater and time is at a premium.

The article when relating to bicycle commuting does bring up some valid points with regard to the working class.

Antonio Gramsci
14 years ago

We all have choices. It so happens that our choices are guided and to some extent coerced by the existing economic system, the power of advertising and media, etc.

The one truth that this business of \”privilege of bike commuting\” most brings home for me is that people will look for no end of excuses to believe that they don\’t have choices, and that those who do are somehow \”privileged.\”

Psychologist Erich Fromm referred to this as \”escape from freedom.\” Being free is an enormous responsibility. If you are free, no one can dictate to you how to live, but that means you have to take on the burden of making those decisions for yourself.

Also, the more that people think anyone is \”preaching\” to them, the more they will be inclined to latch onto any and all such pretexts, often out of resentment. That\’s why I have no interest in preaching or evangelizing anything to anyone. I just want to live my own life.

Vance
14 years ago

Ha ha. Man, I sure wish I was middle-class. I\’m poor beyond belief. Up and down, really, truth be told. But the bottom line is, I got my bike, a shoulder bag, and enough thread-bare clothing to fill it. I somehow just can\’t see myself as a human instrument of gentrification. Puhleeze.

When I think about it, I came to BikePortland.org mad as heck, though. I was mad because it seemed to be the epicenter of just exactly the type of person characterized in these blogs. Boy was I wrong. Boy I\’ve eaten a bunch of crow. Of course Jonathan is exactly correct. This particular group is about as well represented as they come, and very diverse to say the least. But I had to work to find it, and I reluctantly agree that the wrong impression is easy to take away. Alas, I\’m a convert here trying to tell you all, that you do come across a little holier than thou, sometimes.

Being from here I\’m coming to see that I\’m a bit of a yokel. I can\’t tell you how frustrating it is to have new-comers be better positioned to affect change, and have a good time, than I am. I wish people who criticize this movement would realize, as I did, that this resentment is just the manifestation of an insecurity. Likewise, I wish the folks in the former group could exercise a little empathy, and at least attempt to understand what it\’s like to be pushed out by strangers.

I don\’t agree with the class issues raised by these two blogs. But I do see a little xenophobia, and some folks lashing out at their perceived enemies\’ weak spots. Commissioner Adams is fairly out of touch with an element of Portland that exists, good or bad. Just as a representative of this element might be out of touch those who support Commissioner Adams. This is a problem I\’ve never seen here before, at least of this magnitude. Portland was so small, for so long, that there was more social, and political uniformity, inherent in a smaller community.

Right now it is perfectly legal to own a car. It is perfectly legal to put gas in it. A concerted effort to interfere with this particular status quo can also be construed as an attempt to curtail personal freedom. I\’m here to tell you that those are fighting words around here. As much as I hate to admit it, and it took tonyt and Jonathan overwhelming me with kindness and reason to see it, something\’s gotta\’ give, like it or not; and I can\’t wait for the Oregon Congressional Act, mandating all Oregon employers provide showers, and bike-lockups to their employees. Maybe then I can have my life back.

Liz
Liz
14 years ago

I see a lot of comments over here. How about more of us posting them at the other blogs? My comments are over there for the people who need to see them not the choir. For the choir I will post them here too.

I have two kids and my daughter is in public school four miles from our home. Her brother is in pre school two miles from home pretty much between daughter\’s school and home. We do at least 70% of our trips to school/preschool and back by bike. We are a single income family. My wife\’s family arrived here on the Oregon Trail. We walk or ride for most of our groceries. We have a car and use it much more in the winter than the summer. Our costs per year to maintain our mid level bikes that we ride much more than our car is much less. No insurance or gas. Maintinance is minimal and I do most of it myself. The time difference between driving to my regular destinations and riding is never more than five minutes. A used bike can be purchased for under a hundred dollars. I pass homeless folks and business people on bikes every day. Your cracked in the head if you think a bike is transportation limited to the folks with money.

Me2
Me2
14 years ago

Those comments definitely touched a nerve with me. I\’m as a middle class as you can get. I have 2 kids who I occasionally take to day care and I\’m not the only parent who takes their kids there by bike. Like Jonathan, I drive a station wagon when I need to do those errands where a car makes it much easier to undertake than a bike.

Based on some rough calculations I figure that by not having a 2nd car, I was able to afford an extra $100,000 to buy a home. I made that choice to not have a car payment and instead apply it to the mortgage on my NE PDX home. For this I\’m an elitist? Who do I apologize to for not being like \”everybody else\” and buying that bigger home in the burbs and a car to get me to work?

Mmann
Mmann
14 years ago

Lillian (#33)

I love the perspective your post gives to this whole discussion – how \”needing\” a car is often a misconception, and how the belief that one is necessary can lead to unsupportable debt. Living near 82nd I see a lot of car dealers who seem to specialize in selling cars to people who can\’t afford them. My guess is that many payday lenders are still in business largely because of the cost of owning a car. Add to that the costs (for all taxpayers) of drivers who don\’t have insurance (because it\’s too expensive) and you can see the ripples just keep spreading. Bravo for encouraging these women to see the responsible and sustainable choice that cycling can be for them.

brettoo
brettoo
14 years ago

This is just standard right wing spin perfected by the likes of Limbaugh, Larsen, Rove et al. Call something that undermines your conservative political interests (in this case, big oil, GM, etc) \”elite\” and thereby try to discredit it among the economically struggling people who\’d benefit from it most.
The spin masters have done it with solar and other alternative energy, antismoking laws, single payer health care, and myriad other forward thinking policies. They\’re already starting to try to do it to Obama, even though he left Harvard Law School to work for poor people on the south side of Chicago while his Republican opponent left his wife for a rich heiress. Guess who\’ll be portrayed as \”elite\” come fall?

It works in part because it prevents the intended recipients from feeling deserved guilt about their antisocial choices (smoking, unnecessary car trips that worsen climate change and drive up city maintenance costs, benefit big business at the expense of local communities etc).

What can we do about it? Provide all these great counterexamples of real people like us who use bikes because they\’re cheaper, less selfish (they unclog the roads, clear the air, reduce health costs), and more practical than the anti social alternative of unnecessary (not all) car trips. But also tell those stories not just here — preaching to the choir — but on those right wing blogs, the Oregonian and Tribune sites, radio call in shows, etc. where the people who need to hear the truth can get it.

BTW, Portland isn\’t \”lucky\” to have the bike=friendly environment we have. Compact growth laws, bike infrastructure and other features that make us the best suited city for the impending era of $10 gas and climate change happened because a lot of people worked really hard, examined the facts rather than just listening to ignoramuses (on blogs now, TV then), made good choices and elected leaders who fought for the smart policies that we\’re all benefiting from now. In other words, we earned our good fortune by being smarter and better informed and more visionary, less greedy/selfish, and more practical than people in other American cities. That\’s not elitist — that\’s just wisdom and hard work.

But it won\’t continue naturally; we have to fight to keep and extend what we\’ve gained. Posting comments in non bike friendly blogs, and voting for pro bike candidates are two things we can do right now to make that happen.

poser
poser
14 years ago

Hey! I resemble that remark…

Ok – this seems to me like a classic straw-man argument to me. Folks like PDX Native and the PGaOP blog author (and I’m tempted to lump Terry Parker in too) just love their straw-men. The “privileged bike-riding community” sounds a lot like:

“gentrifying yuppie Californians”
“tax-and-spend liberal elite”
“welfare queens”
etc. ad nauseam.

Of course, we sound just as intelligent when we whip them out:

“Bovine SUV drivers” (I’ll take credit for “bovine”)
“slum-lord developers”
“blood-sucking corporate lobbyists trying to influence city hall”
you know I could go on.

These aren’t very good at furthering intelligent dialog, but are great at getting the blood boiling. PDX Native is really just taking aim at a very small segment of the Porltand cycling population – namely, upper-middle class yippies who happen to ride bikes (see http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.wordpress.com/2008/02/10/61-bicycles/ ) and attaching that stigma to the entire bike-riding population of Portland.

Thank you Jonathan for bringing the level of discourse back around, as usual.

My bike story:
Grew up in a middle-class family. My parents saw things like cars and college as luxuries that should be earned by the person wishing to attain those luxuries – so I didn’t get my first car till I could pay for it myself (age 19 while working 2 jobs saving for college). Car broke down, couldn’t afford to fix it, sold car, rode my bike for work, then secondary school, then for work for the next 10 years. Got a car when I got my first job desk-job because I felt compelled – after all, now that I had a salary job I had “made it”, I needed a car like everyone else. Got rid of car 7 years later because it made me an angry and miserable person. Been on a bike ever since.

I have 2 kids under the age of 5. We have 1 car that we occasionally use. We are upper-middle class yippies – exactly the demographic that PDX Native is poking fun of. I have a 3 mile commute ON PURPOSE – yes we DID buy a house intentionally in a neighborhood closer to down-town so that my commute wouldn’t be a long one, end yes we DID sacrifice the fantastic amount of square footage that we could have had in the suburbs if we had wanted to live the bovine-SUV-driver lifestyle. 😉 Both my wife never really thought of it as much of a sacrifice. Being able to bike our kids to school and grocery shop on two wheels is, in our eyes, a luxury worth striving for.

I’ve made quite a few bike friends over the last few years in Portland, and very few of which are the stereotype that PDX Native is trying to paint. I would think that after folks failed to make all Portland cyclists out to being “law-breaking, fixie-riding hipsters” last year that they’d have learned they’re lesson.

Ian Clemons
Ian Clemons
14 years ago

We (2 adults, 2 kids under 7) live in inner Portland and were fortunate enough to buy a house before real estate got ridiculously expensive. As to the blog you mention, this is a valid point. To regularly commute by bike with ease, you need to live close to your job. Many jobs are in inner Portland where real estate is expensive. Thus, people who can afford the expensive inner homes can also have the \”privilage\” of commuting.

That said, lots of people from many different socio-economic backgrounds bike in inner Portland and environs. A biker would know this!

WE have 2 kids and bike with them regularly. If it\’s not bikable, we question the value of actually doing the activity. THat\’s right! – we consider the resources we\’re using!

I bike every day to work, except when it it icy. My wife buses to work every day. We have a minivan like Brother Jonathan. We pay road fees like other drivers and buy gas – just less of it.

There will be a lot of sour grapes articles like this as the wheels of our petroleum-powered wagon called the US economy begin to wobble and fall off.

We\’ll All be Bikers Soon.

-Ian Clemons
Belmont

Stripess
Stripess
14 years ago

I have never understood the whole \”bikes versus cars\” debate.

It kind of falls flat on its face when you realize that something like 80% of bicyclists also own a car too!