The Worst Day of the Year Ride is February 11th

Gentrification, labels and the “privilege” of bike commuting

Posted by on May 12th, 2008 at 9:49 am

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.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Brad Ross May 12, 2008 at 10:03 am

    Hmmm… I always thought driving was a privilige.

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  • Marion rice May 12, 2008 at 10:07 am

    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.

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  • Dennis May 12, 2008 at 10:09 am

    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.

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  • mizake May 12, 2008 at 10:12 am

    \”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.

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  • Chris Leonardo May 12, 2008 at 10:14 am


    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!

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  • Matt Haughey May 12, 2008 at 10:24 am

    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.

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  • Robert Dobbs May 12, 2008 at 10:25 am

    Stupid is as stupid does.

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

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  • rixtir May 12, 2008 at 10:28 am

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

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  • Michael Downes May 12, 2008 at 10:29 am

    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.

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  • a.O May 12, 2008 at 10:29 am

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

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  • Greg Raisman May 12, 2008 at 10:36 am

    I think Enrique Penalosa hits the right mark in this interview:

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

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  • Axe May 12, 2008 at 10:37 am

    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…

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  • Todd Waddell May 12, 2008 at 10:45 am

    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.

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  • Russell May 12, 2008 at 10:48 am

    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.

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  • Brad May 12, 2008 at 10:50 am

    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.

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  • Darrell May 12, 2008 at 10:58 am

    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.

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  • Qwendolyn May 12, 2008 at 11:03 am

    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.

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  • Snowflake Seven May 12, 2008 at 11:03 am

    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.

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  • Paul Souders May 12, 2008 at 11:07 am

    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.

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  • El Biciclero May 12, 2008 at 11:10 am


    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\”

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  • true May 12, 2008 at 11:11 am

    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.

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  • Beth May 12, 2008 at 11:12 am

    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.

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  • divebarwife May 12, 2008 at 11:15 am

    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.

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  • Mmann May 12, 2008 at 11:20 am

    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.

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  • john May 12, 2008 at 11:25 am

    \”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.

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  • BikeR May 12, 2008 at 11:26 am

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

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  • Axe May 12, 2008 at 11:32 am

    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.

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  • John May 12, 2008 at 11:35 am

    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.

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  • BikingViking May 12, 2008 at 11:36 am

    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.

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  • Cøyøte May 12, 2008 at 11:38 am

    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.

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  • Keith May 12, 2008 at 11:39 am

    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.

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  • Tony May 12, 2008 at 11:44 am

    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.

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  • Lillian Karabaic May 12, 2008 at 11:46 am

    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.

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  • Pete May 12, 2008 at 11:47 am

    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…

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  • Jean Reinhardt May 12, 2008 at 11:49 am

    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.

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  • gabriel amadeus May 12, 2008 at 11:50 am

    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!

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  • DT May 12, 2008 at 11:58 am

    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.

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  • steve May 12, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    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?

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  • Alison May 12, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    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.

    Community Cycling Center

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  • Elly Blue May 12, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    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.

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  • ralph May 12, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    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.

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  • Antonio Gramsci May 12, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    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.

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  • Vance May 12, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    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 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.

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  • Liz May 12, 2008 at 12:38 pm

    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.

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  • […] at a notorious flamewar dramablog,, a post about the ability to commute via bike is a “privilege”, originally covered at Portland Gentrifation, has bicyclists (bicyclist: a person on a bike) up in […]

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  • Me2 May 12, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    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?

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  • Mmann May 12, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    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.

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  • brettoo May 12, 2008 at 1:22 pm

    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.

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  • poser May 12, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    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 ) 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.

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  • Ian Clemons May 12, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    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

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  • Stripess May 12, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    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!

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  • Mike M May 12, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    I bike to work because I can\’t afford to drive and park downtown. How does that make me a rich snob? I did the math, and eliminating parking and gas, I save $2800 by not driving and parking. Since my bike and gear have cost me less than $500, I feel like I made the only financial decision I can.

    I still own a car and pay for the loan and insurance, but I aim to only buy gas once a month. That\’s good for the wallet, and also good for the air.


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  • april May 12, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    I want to read all the comments when I have time, I love people\’s stories.

    Here\’s mine:

    I make $12 an hour. I am not wealthy by American standards.

    I made a decision to live in a part of Portland where I could bike or walk everywhere, and where I loved the neighborhood. But there\’s no way I could afford to rent my own place–even a studio is out of my reach in this part of town. So I share an apartment, and I\’ve also shared houses before.

    I cannot afford to drive. It\’s that simple. I probably wouldn\’t drive a car even if I could afford it, there\’s just other things I\’d rather spend my money on.

    Even if I lived in Beaverton, I\’d have to share a house or apartment in order to drive. I\’d rather live somewhere I\’m in love with, every day, and get to know more of it by walking and biking.

    I haven\’t read the whole article yet, but the author seems to come from the point of view that all bicyclists are people riding expensive bikes with expensive gear. I have two bikes, both are secondhand and purchased from craigslist for less than $100. I ride in my normal clothes every single day–I just finally bought the least-expensive rain jacket I could find–and it was still more than either bike cost!

    I love riding my bike for many, many reasons–but economics was a huge part of what got me on my bike.

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  • a.O May 12, 2008 at 3:21 pm

    I thought brettoo\’s comment was brilliant and so spot-on that I want to reproduce it here:

    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.

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  • Toby May 12, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    Once again I learn how privileged I am. I\’ll keep that in mind as I move from my current dwelling (living room) to my next (moldy? basement), a lateral move I assure you! Good to know I\’m still on top of the sh!t pile looking down on all the \’natives\’.

    I will agree with an earlier post about auto\’s being a tool. They play an important and often necessary role in our society, but for typical day to day activities, they are over used and taken for granted. I had a garage full of 20 years worth of tools and various bits of this and that, that in the past ten years has only been touched whenever I move. I sold them and a few bikes I had, and bought a Surly (YAY!!) Around the same time, I was going to sell my pickup because in the past three years I put maybe 200 miles on it (I also need the money). I\’m glad I didn\’t as it kept the rain off me for a bit when I was between homes. I think I\’ll hang on to it a bit longer.

    Stuffing all commuters into one pannier is just narrow minded and simplistic as doing the same for all non-Portland-natives, suburbanites, or SUV driver, etc, etc etc…

    We all have our own story, none of which can be fully heard in a morning\’s commute.

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  • Steve Brown May 12, 2008 at 3:54 pm

    There is nothing wrong with working hard to have a better life and part of that is making choice to ride a bike. I would rather strive to be elite than to be mediocre. There are many things that go into quality of life. Riding a bike in Portland is one of them. I once rode to Scapoose and back from SW Portland on a sales call. And yes, I did feel better because of it.

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  • Dennis May 12, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    To: Me2 (comment 45)

    What car are you using for those calculations? It seems quite high. Were you comparing to owning a new Enzo, or something?

    Even with no car payments, a lot of people just don\’t qualify for a $400,000 home in NE. Regardless of how much one can afford, the mortgage companies are going to limit what is available.

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  • Meghan May 12, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    My bike story:
    I never rode a bike for transportation until I moved to Portland in 1999, and figured out that I could commute to work in an area where parking was at a premium and my employer offered a shower and changing room. Plus, I needed the exercise!

    Now, I\’m with a different employer, but I still bike the 8 miles to and 8 miles from work every day I possibly can. If I had to drive and park downtown every day, I would be spending at least $3,000 more per year than I do now.

    I own a car that I use for work when I need to, but it makes me happy when I can get through a whole week getting exercise instead of getting gasoline. When I lived in Kansas City, biking around town was a form of attempted suicide — there were no bike lanes, no respect from drivers, and no safety.

    Now that I live here, I feel, \”Why wouldn\’t I ride my bike?\”

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  • jeff s May 12, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    Antonio (#42) — you nailed it.

    Great quote, great words. Let the actions speak.


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  • Portland Gentrication May 12, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    Interesting comment flurry on here and on my original blog post – thanks to all who care enough. I had no intention of playing Limbaugh here, although the original comment was from Bojack, not exactly what I\’d consider purely lefty in tone. I would only say that what I\’m asking people to consider, by bringing up that person\’s comment, is that working class/working poor life tends very, very VERY often to mandate the use of a car.

    Those who manage to bike commute and think of themselves as fortunate enough in circumstance to be able to do so have it right. My thoughts weren\’t car vs bike in any way. It was low-wage life vs. high city apartment prices and shaky, uncertain employment situations. It had nothing to do with any individuals\’ bike or car situation.

    I welcome readers and comment on my blog covering related issues. This is a place where gentrification may be criticized free of the usual rightwing anti-government anti tax anti-regulation junk that confuses everyone so much.

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  • Zaphod May 12, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    Riding a bike is a perfect storm of efficiency, minimal impact and happiness. It\’s depressing that people respond to improved cycling options with animosity.

    While not an urban designer by trade, I\’ve read many books on the subject. The complexity of the issues are brought to the fore in this topic. The paradox is that a livable city becomes highly desirable and thus many are priced out. So the complaint that affordable housing is often not close to where the jobs are is valid given today\’s zoning market forces.

    So the fight should be for affordable city core housing and efficient infill design (properly executed without blocking out the sun, having a sense of place, etc.)
    The fight should not be against the bicycle as valid choice for transport.

    In terms of my own story, I am quite lucky to be able to afford a house in NE. I\’d be priced out of my own neighborhood today but when I bought, it was possible.

    As a father with a 2 and 5 year old, I go weeks without reaching for the car keys, courtesy of the Xtracycle. It\’s easy to get both kids on board and fill the thing with a solid carload worth of groceries. That\’s ~6 grocery bag equivalent and I\’m not near max capacity. Yes my setup isn\’t a $50 beater bike but this piece of kit changes local errands from frustrating to fun and seamless. No searching for parking, etc.

    My frustration with this kind of dialog has to do with the attempts to undermine the bicycle as a viable and/or preferred mode of transport. While I often enjoy the looks of disbelief when I tell stories of the immense cargo I\’ve biked across town, I\’m also slightly saddened by those very same looks. The fact that it\’s so novel, so shocking, so amazing (which it really isn\’t) that I go get a monster pile of groceries, gallons of paint, hardware, lumber, etc. just points to how far we could go. In my mind, it\’s how far *should* go. With Portland\’s gentle topology, using a bicycle for nearly any errand isn\’t difficult.

    I often feel like because I actually enjoy every minute of my commute, I should feel guilty about it. Of course I don\’t feel guilty at all. It\’s as if suffering in the numb, dead, sad feeling when sitting in a car is a rite of passage that we all must endure. Why is it that we, in this country, get to choose so many things except how we spend our time getting around. I know the patriotic cool-aid has us driving our cars but isn\’t the most patriotic thing a choice or freedom to choose our mode?

    Sorry about my disjointed stream-of-consciousness post. This is such an interesting topic that I basically don\’t know where to begin.

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  • Diogo May 12, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    I believe the blog author touches a revelant issue, but he mis-characterizes the situation for the purpose of making his point.

    It is sort of a privilege to be able to bike everywhere – however, this privilege has nothing to do with class or money. In fact, the rich folks are the ones living in the suburbs and having to commute long distace, whereas a lot of low-income people live close-in and pay rent.

    But we shouldn\’t completely dismiss the fact that biking alone is limited in terms of mass transportation.

    In my opinion, people should be focusing in improving Public Transportation in this city (which is shitty) which should be planned to work in conjuction with biking. That would boost commuting by bike more than any other bike specific infra-structure or campaign.

    I think its an strategic mistake to believe that specialized bike-centered agencies in the government will best advance \”the cause\” – just like enviromental policies must be implemented through every agency and layer of government and society, so should bicycling be a concern for every agency and department. This idea of division in categories of users, interest groups and what not just doesn\’t make sense. Cars, bikes, pedestrian, public transportation – they are all one thing – urban transportation – and a good planning would not separate these parts, but would integrate the whole in the most efficient and sustainable way.

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  • Jim Labbe May 12, 2008 at 5:22 pm

    Interesting discussion. I don\’t think we yet live in a region where the opportunity to ride a bike as your primary mode of transportation can be considered a privilege, but I hope we never do. There are studies that indicate driving correlates positively with income, but recent trends in housing and transportation costs might be changing things.

    Clearly the ignoring the potentiality or indulging in guilt are luxuries none of us can afford. The solution is to continue to increase people\’s transportation choices and to implement a land-use strategy in this region that allows for thrifty proximity rather than forcing costly mobility on people. That and eliminating the wealth and income barriers to where people can choose to live (more affordable housing throughout Metro-region) will be critical to fostering a more affordable, sustainable, and livable region.

    Fortunately we have a broad coalition of public interest groups in this region working toward these types of solutions:


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  • Matt May 12, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    PG–as far as I can tell, you\’re arguing in bad faith, since the only \”working class\” experiences you regard as valid are those which by definition make bike commuting difficult if not impossible.

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  • Andrew May 12, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    I also agree that the blog author addresses a relevant issues. I don\’t agree with the tendency to homogenize all commuters together without any room for complexity.

    However, it is always so interesting to see how quickly people love to deny their relative privilege by providing really long annoying anecdotal evidence suggesting the contrary. I\’m not saying this is bad in anyway, but it always seems to dissuade any more investigation into our privilege.

    I find it sad that so many \”bike activists\” tend to not engage in any type of action or activism that doesn\’t involve bolstering their own interests.

    In that sense I really think the critique put forward by the blog author in discussion has some merit. For many of us it is a stretch to do bicycle activism, but most of us don\’t find our selves aligning in solidarity with other causes. For example when the senate was about to pass a draconian immigration law (more than a year ago now) that would destroy many families in our immediate community, the bicycle community decided to hold a protest ride for the cutting of funds to bicycle infrastructure on May 1st the same day as the May Day rally to protest the Sensenbrenner bill. Instead of broadening our scope and perspective to the plight of more vulnerable people in our community we decided that our support of safe routes to bike to work was more important than whether families are torn apart, human rights are recognized, people can feed themselves etc.

    The fact that those things escape importance to us is because of privilege for many of us. Our privilege affords us the ability to not worry. I know everybody\’s lives are complex and we don\’t all stand on even playing fields, but it\’s time those of us with the level of privilege we may have begin to understand it in relation to the big picture, stop making excuses and do something more than limiting your advocating skills solely to things like bike boxes. Then again if that is the only worry you have you probably do fit into that \”homogeneous privileged commuter\” category. hmmm…

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  • Bobcycle May 12, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    I bike commute from NE to NW about 7.5 miles each way and must arrive at work by 6:15 to shower and be ready to work by 6:30AM. So when these bike breakfast\’s to celebrate the bike commute are scheduled to run from 7:00 to 9:00 or whenever I often think they must be for the elite and priveleged. We need a working persons breakfast, 6:00 to 7:30 to celebrate the working class biker! I see many of you out there each morning. These ain\’t no government jobs! Yahooooo!!!

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  • Matt May 12, 2008 at 6:43 pm

    I find it sad that so many \”bike activists\” tend to not engage in any type of action or activism that doesn\’t involve bolstering their own interests.

    Well, I find it sad that so many \”douches on the internet\” presume to know what the rest of us are or aren\’t involved in.

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  • East Portlander May 12, 2008 at 6:56 pm

    Bicycling and choosing to live relatively close-in (as opposed to.. say.. Cornelius) was certainly a choice for me, as are all decisions in my life. I don\’t think the rent is much different between these places. Having kids is a choice, as is elevating one\’s educational level (thanks to community college, loans, and college subsidies). I grew up poor, worked through part of high school and all of college, and according to my tax returns I live in poverty. I sold my car to help pay for my return to college. Exactly what about my decision to ride a bike is privileged?

    Aren\’t conservatives supposed to embrace \”choice\” (except when it comes to one\’s own body)? I can\’t keep up with their rhetoric.. well.. I \”choose\” not to. I guess I\’m \”privileged\” to point my Internet browser everywhere but this guy\’s idiotic rants and raves..

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  • John Reinhold May 12, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    Some people would say I am rich, some people would say I am poor.

    But I bike when I can, ride transit when I can, and drive when I have too.

    Bicycling benefits everyone, not just those who bicycle.

    I do believe the suburbs need to seriously improve their transportation options, and I work with communities to help move in that direction.

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  • Jordan May 12, 2008 at 8:56 pm

    I agree that biking is a privilege. If you have trouble finding a job, a car is very important and reliable. It opens many more avenues for employment and is more accountable than public transportation. However, in regards to the kids, emergencies, tools for a trade, etc…It is possible to build bikes that can carry tools and kids, public transportation is available, emergency vehicles. Cars have only been widely used for a little over 60 years. Civilization worked then without cars. It should now. We have developed a lifestyle, perception and infrastructure designed around cars. If we remove cars and re-design so many wonderful things are possible.

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  • Matthew Denton May 12, 2008 at 9:19 pm

    While I\’ve volunteered at the CCC and go to BTA meetings and go on Roger G\’s rides, and other such \”direct\” bicycle activism, I think it should be noted that most of the volunteering that I do only causally involves bicycles. For instance, last Wednesday I had two meetings. One was for infill houses, and the word bicycle came up once, in connection with someone\’s (a developer, not me,) thoughts garages: Specifically, they were saying that near good transit they sometimes build houses without garages, but end up putting an attached storage shed on it to hold bicycles and lawn mowers because that is what people need anyways. The other meeting was for the streetcar, and I was advocating for the streetcar, even though it does make bicycling more difficult. I was saying that they should consider the bicyclists in the design, but I was definitely pro-streetcar.

    As for the middle class comment, it should be pointed out that according to the census, bicycle commuters make less money on average than the rest of the population.

    And what is \”realist shopping\”? I haven\’t starved, I seem to be fully clothed, I have toilet paper, laundry detergent, and cat litter. And I\’ll be buying 100 lbs of chicken feed (with my bicycle trailer) sometime this week. True, I\’ve never bought a big screen TV with a bicycle, but that might be related to the fact that I\’ve never bought a big screen TV in the first place…

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  • Marc May 12, 2008 at 9:21 pm

    would the #65 author please post the list of the ten most important thing to advocate for in portland? it seems only he knows what other people should and are doing to improve their community. i think he and the original blog posting author(s) have one thing in common – if you don\’t think and act like me you must be flawed.

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  • Adam May 12, 2008 at 9:39 pm

    I am not your stereotype cyclist. I do work in the cycling industry and ride my bike pretty much everywhere. I don\’t own a car, I don\’t really want to. I also support hunting and gun ownership. Stereotyping any group is invalid and wrong. Cycling is no exception.

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  • Ed Garren May 12, 2008 at 9:44 pm

    I\’ve heard all sorts of perspectives on this issue, but more importantly, I\’ve seen dozens of \”blue collar\” folks, mostly construction workers, on the MAX, with their bicycles. They tell me they ride and MAX for all the same reasons everyone else does, to save resources, money and the planet.

    I just have real hard time with any creation of an \”us\” vs \”them\” mentality. We\’re all on this spaceship earth together. I would ride my bike a lot more if I didn\’t have to negotiate two freeway interchanges to get to the MAX station. And I respect anyone who does ride their bike, and yes, some are white collar professionals, and some are not.

    The REAL issue is that we are out of cheap oil, and petroleum products are about to go through the roof, and we all need to make serious changes in how we live.

    Check my web site blog for some thoughts on Biking Safety, and let me know what you think I may have left out.

    Thanks, Ed Garren, candidate for set #2
    Portland City Commission

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  • Opus the Poet May 12, 2008 at 9:53 pm

    I think PG is just jealous that car-free cyclists have $5k-$10k per year more to spend on other things than he does. The last numbers I saw were from 2000 for where I live, but even back then the median cost of a car here (Dallas County TX) was a smidgen over $5k. Since my wreck if we had tried to have a car we would have only had $4000 +/- per year to spend on things like housing, food, gas (a car without gas is just an expensive decoration in the driveway), and since our mortgage is $500 +/- per month, or $6k/annum, well, you get the picture…

    Now some might say my decision to be car-free is part of what put us in the situation as I was riding a bicycle when the wreck happened, and there\’s strong evidence (the driver swearing at me to get off the road) that the wreck wouldn\’t have happened had I been driving a car. But who\’s to say I wouldn\’t have been hit by a drunk driver when driving home from my 2nd shift job, in a car? That\’s what happened to the guy that was in the bed next to me in the hospital. His injuries were similar to mine when he was T-boned by a drunk that ran a stop sign about a year earlier than my wreck, he was back for more rounds of surgery on what was left of his leg. Since he didn\’t exercise regularly prior to his wreck his leg wouldn\’t heal… I walk with a bad limp, but I still walk. Last I heard he still didn\’t walk, he may not have the leg any more either.

    But I ramble.

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  • Andrew May 12, 2008 at 9:53 pm


    You must really bring our community members together with your awesome and inspiring use of quasi-sexist language.

    More power to all of you who don\’t limit your involvment to improving our community solely through bicycle advocacy. Suffice it to say my previous comments apply to some of us not all.

    Regardless, I believe that bicycle advocacy has become (for some, not all) a kind of red herring issue for many privileged people in this community. It kind of reminds me of philanthropy; while it does some good, it doesn\’t address other social or structural issues.

    I don\’t intend to suggest that our efforts in bicycle advocacy shouldn\’t be applauded and recognized, but we need to keep this conversation honest. Bicycle advocacy is a very safe form of activism compared to other forms of activism (Yes, I know bicycling is dangerous); those of you who are involved in other forms of social change know this to be true. I am merely trying to keep perspective in this conversation such as I believe was the intent of the original blogging.

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  • Matt Picio May 12, 2008 at 11:12 pm

    Extremely privileged? I strenuously disagree.

    I paid $400 for what was until recently my only bike. A decent used bike can be acquired from Craigslist for less than $150. Add a $20-$40 rack and a $10 milk crate with some bungies, duct tape, zip ties or velcro and you have a serviceable cargo carrier which can hold $50 in groceries. (more if you\’re buying all processed / packaged foods)

    I paid $75 for my trailer at Wal-Mart. With that trailer I can carry up to $200 in groceries, or furniture from IKEA (or Wal-Mart / K-Mart / Target), or a large variety of other items.

    For 2 years, I commuted 12 miles each way (24 miles per day) to and from work, mostly via bike. The cold and rain can be beat with a rain poncho and plastic bags for the \”work\” clothes. The bathroom works great as a changing room, and a spare brush and water from the bathroom sink works fine for fixing my hair. I was able to cart my laptop and other items to and from work with the milkcrate setup for 2 years until I could buy something better.

    You could maintain such a bike and its equipment for less than $100 per year, if you buy a good set up tires and clean & lube it regularly. Otherwise, it might cost you at most 3-4 times that.

    $400 a year is a far cry from the cost of a car – which used to average $5,700 a year, and is up to nearly $7,000 a year thanks to the rising cost of gasoline.

    \”Available to a very few\”? I\’m still 40+ pounds overweight, and if I can do, so can most other people – provided they just get off their butt and do it. A 12-mile radius from downtown Portland encompasses a million people, and at least a quarter million (probably more) workers. That\’s hardly \”a very few\”.

    I posted to the other blog. Frankly, I\’m annoyed – I used to be \”middle class\”, but now I\’m very much \”working class\” and even if I wanted one, I couldn\’t afford now to maintain a car.

    Antonio (#42) – right on! Thanks for that post, especially Fromm\’s \”escape from freedom\”.

    Matt (#67) – Dude, not cool. Attack the guy\’s argument, not the guy himself. Calling him names just makes you look callous and petty.

    Matthew Denton (#70) – and I also hauled a 42\” television from Target home and back (I returned it) in my $75 Wal-Mart trailer. Couldn\’t keep it, I figured out that I didn\’t need it – thanks for reminding me of that with your post.

    People look at me pretty strangely sometimes with some of the stuff I haul in that little trailer.

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  • scdurs May 13, 2008 at 7:18 am

    It\’s all about choices as I see it. People who can afford it will buy a McMansion in the suburbs and commute alone in their car to a job in a high-rise in downtown. This author is saying these people are lower class and have no choices? They can\’t afford to live downtown, so they must live in the suburbs? Give me a break.

    And what about the choice to have children. I can\’t feel sorry for someone who has to cart their kids all around town to soccer, music lessons, dance practice, etc. Those are all choices, and usually choices of the upper-class who can afford all of these activities. Nobody is holding a gun to the heads of people and forcing them to have babies. Nobody is forcing parents to keep their kids so busy they must drive everywhere. It\’s all about choices.

    I read all of these postings from parents who manage to take their kids around by bicycle. They have made choices. They have probably made sacrifices so that they can manage this lifestyle. They are to be commended for their effort.

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  • Spanky May 13, 2008 at 7:21 am

    We all must do the best we can with the hand we are dealt. Living close in, if you own (and even sometimes if you rent) means you bear the cost in housing payments for being close in. But being close in comes with a benefit from a biking perspective, over the suburbs.

    If you have lots of kids, you may not be so inclined to bike commute everywhere. If you are a plumber or other tradesperson, biking to Gresham in the AM for a job and then to Beaverton in teh PM for a job and then home to Molalla or St. Helens is not really an option.

    We can all whine about being perceived negatively, or not having the option to bike, or crow about how we bike everywhere with our one or three kids, but none of that whining is going to get anyone anyplace productive in the \”cars versus bikes\” debate.

    And why debate it?

    The point Jonathon made (I think it was him) that we are all people transporting ourselves in one way or another, is the best this thread has to offer.

    There is a wrong perception in this city, of bike commuting being the province of privileged yupsters and bad attitude having hipsters.

    Hopefully, it will change. I think it will, given fuel prices.

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  • Todd May 13, 2008 at 7:30 am

    I think this article illustrates the more bicyclists vilify cars the more we alienate the non-biking community which results in opinions like this.

    Many people work many miles from home, have bulky tools, children or multiple appointments. Don\’t attack people for doing what they must to earn a living, encourage whatever efforts they do make to not use the car whenever possible. In return they will be less inclined to dislike bicyclists and just might try one.

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  • nuovorecord May 13, 2008 at 7:33 am

    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.

    Could be the most important thing you\’ve written on this blog, Jonathan. And that\’s saying a lot.

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  • real May 13, 2008 at 8:46 am

    The person who writes the blog where this post originated is clearly an unhappy curmudgeon. I\’ve been reading that blog for a while now and quickly noticed that the author doesn\’t usually do a great job of analyzing reality. So I would take what he says with a grain of salt. He appears to hate everyone, and refuses to offer constructive solutions to the stuff he complains about constantly.

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  • Drew May 13, 2008 at 10:24 am

    Amen to that, #81.
    To act like a bigot, one needs to group people together (kind of like a firing line). To do that it\’s easiest to use something like religion, clothing, skin color, hair style, transport mode etc. The person on a bike that was treated inhumanly could be your postman, nurse, boss, boy scout troop leader for your kid, or the paramedic who will save your life next week. Too easy to forget that we are all in this together.

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  • kg May 13, 2008 at 10:26 am

    Enough with the construction worker analogy already. I think we can all agree we don\’t expect Parr Lumber to start delivering materials by bike (just yet).

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  • Christopher May 13, 2008 at 10:34 am

    So… it\’s \”gentrification\” to live lighter on the earth? Humph.

    I guess some people will change only when they hurt enough to do something different.

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  • Matt Picio May 13, 2008 at 11:06 am

    Spanky (#79) – Yes, it *is* always an option, even for the plumber. Most people close off a lot of options because they can\’t *see* how it can be done, not because it actually can\’t be done.

    We all make choices. Yes, some people may not be inclined to bike commute because they have lots of kids, but that\’s their choice, and yes, they did have an option. They\’re just as likely to be equally less inclined to clean their house, drive all of said children to their activities, or spend time with those kids at the end of the day – but many of them make those inconvenient choices anyway. (and more power to them!) There\’s frequently no reason why they couldn\’t switch to bikes, other than personal choice. And that\’s totally ok – but I think to say it\’s \”not really an option\” for any of these groups is underestimating human ability and adaptation. It\’s not that people can\’t, or that it\’s not practical, it\’s that they don\’t *want* to. (Of course, there are exceptions – there are some instances where it\’s legitimately not practical, but these are, IMO in the minority)

    There is nothing productive in the \”cars versus bikes\” debate. All modes of transportation should get equal access to all destinations, to the greatest extent practicable. End of debate. No mode\’s access should be impinged to benefit another mode\’s CONVENIENCE, unless provided for by parallel infrastructure. Period. Memorize it, make it a mantra.

    Yes, I\’m becoming a zealot on this issue. The freedoms of speech and mobility are the greatest freedoms we have, and we cannot ever allow either to be infringed upon for the sake of a privileged group, regardless of the basis of privilege.

    That includes making and respecting room for cars.

    And, BTW Spanky – \”why debate it?\” Because Jonathan asked for everyone\’s opinion. It was the express intent of the article – to spark discussion. Debate is an integral part of discussion most of the time. It\’s healthy, it allows different opinions to be expressed and provides an opportunity for others to form or change theirs. It\’s one of the greatest strengths of this site, and one which is frequently lost when out-of-state posters (and some in-state) start making snarky comments about the state and perceived divisiveness of the so-called \”Portland Bike Community\”.

    This isn\’t meant to be a slam on you or disrespectful in any way, I just feel that this particular mindset or paradigm has become ingrained into our society, and if we really want to change things for the better, we as a society need to start figuring out how to do what we *can* do rather than just what we *want* to do. Convenience has, in a real sense, become our greatest enemy.

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  • Spanky May 13, 2008 at 11:24 am

    Wow, Matt, lighten up a bit. I banged out my comment in a couple of minutes this AM, and perhaps should have added to the why debate it sentence. I meant to convey the fruitlessness behind posing the debate as \”bikes versus cars\” when the real discussion should be around safely transporting people using their chosen mode of transport.

    And I disagree that a bike is an option for a plumber. Unless the plumber does not need reliable, predicatable empoloyment sufficient to raise a family on. Is it possible? Yeah, I guess it is. But should the plumber not jump in his truck for a job at his neighbor\’s house? Of course (s)he should not.

    Re: your second paragraph: we agree. that\’s what I meant by everyone playing the hand they were dealt. We all do our best to muddle through life. And we should all cut each other a bit of slack on a daily basis. In my opinion. Life is too short.

    No disresepect or slam taken. No worries.

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  • yodan May 13, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    I work for a bank and I ride 28 miles round trip m-f. i take work clothes in my panniers and luckily my work has a locker room with showers. I usually do a big shopping trip once every other month with my car, but all perishables/small items I pick up on the way home from work. If my work did not have a shower room, I would probably drive to work and do all other small trips by bike. I do not have kids.

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  • Diogo May 13, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    Matt (#83) – you say:

    \”All modes of transportation should get equal access to all destinations, to the greatest extent practicable. (…) That includes making and respecting room for cars.\”

    I strongly disagree with that! I think it\’s one thing to vilify A PERSON who drives (which I think it\’s wrong), but its a completely different thing to assume that all MODES OF TRANSPORTATION should get equal space/rights/infrastructure.

    I believe society should takes steps to discourage the use of cars and make it impractical or not beneficial. Just like horses used to be the primary form of urban transportation until their use was restricted because alternatives were created AND publich hygiene and health concerns made its use undesirable for society at large – so should it be for cars.

    I don\’t believe it\’s a matter of personal choice – I would argue that people drive so much because they are compelled to do so: the entire urban environment was constructed to make it the main form of transportation, plus public transportation in this country was purposefuly made inefficient and shitty in order to boost the number of cars and the profit of those who make it. Then, given this situation, the SOCIAL DYNAMIC (as opposed to personal choice) is so that people must drive if they want to compete for jobs and what not.

    The very fact that there are so many cars and its mass usage is feasible (and the only feasible alternative to some people) reflects this SOCIAL dynamic. If there were no cars or not fuel or no roads – life would go on and everything would adapt to this situation: the worker would do his job somehow and his costumers would not threat to bring their business somewhere else, etc, etc.

    I believe this idea of personal choice and freedom, when applied to such scenarios, simply reflect certain MYTHS spread out in this country – the myths of democracy and the idea of freedom, which, in practice is no more than freedom of consumption – which is no freedom at all since the choices are actually put out by the powers to be.

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  • bigger picture May 13, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    Having grown up tight on cash in the burbs, what I find most concerning is the fact that those with the least spending money are constantly forced to buy poor quality products over and over as they continue to break down in disrepair. Ultimately being more expensive than buying one good quality item in the first place. The box stores such as Walmart and Target depend on this constant drain. Bicycles -even the top shelf ones- are cheaper than a car and cheaper to operate. I worked 10-years in a warehouse in various shifts day and night never owning a car. The financial decision to escape the low income bracket required sacrificing driving to maintain a job which allowed me to attend community college to get a better job to provide for a family. My wife can\’t commute to work by bike and my job includes a service vehicle. But by choice, we do our errands and shopping -with our kid- by bike. The bigger issue at hand is choosing -when you can- to not drive. A parked car gets the best gas mileage. As well as spending smartly. Our culture is heavy on the instant gratification of spending now and spending often.

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  • Evan May 13, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    I\’m a cyclist because I can be. It has nothing to do with income, environmental ethos, or anything else, I just prefer to ride a bike. The fact that I save a ton of money and earn green status for doing so is a bonus. Yeah, I have a choice to ride a bike or drive, and I choose to ride. And if I didn\’t have a choice, well, I guess I\’d have to ride, wouldn\’t I?

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  • true May 13, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    I did feel privileged today. And yesterday.

    Beautiful riding.

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  • Chris May 13, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    Ask them to come to Los Angeles. Feel free to drive your car here, sit in traffic, and pay $4.09/gal for 89. I\’ll wave when I peddle by, and so will your gardener.

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  • […] like to conclude with a rumination highlighted on portland gentrification lifted from a comment on bikeportland on the american situation that has brought upon this stubborn system that creates so much hatred […]

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  • Howard May 14, 2008 at 1:20 am

    What this writer was trying to do is to tag bicyclists with an elitist label. Strange notion. The price of a couple of tanks of gas will set you up for bicycle commuting.

    But the class differences that determine access to bicycle commuting are not just about money. Unfortunately, people of size tend to be be people of lower economic position as well.

    In a post-industrial society, low paying jobs are no longer strenuous. By a combination of food culture and food quality, the college educated elites this blogger wants us to associate with bicycling are at least marginally in better shape now than their working class counterparts.

    Many people are no longer able to ride a bicycle at age 50 or 40, sometimes even a lot younger.

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  • Jean Reinhardt May 14, 2008 at 7:47 am

    Ever think of this–the fewer drivers on the road, for whatever reason, the easier life will be for the plumber, electrician, etc., who truly need to drive for work?

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  • NEIL FRAEDRICH May 14, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    I worked in manufacturing in NW PDX during the 90\’s & rode a bike to work
    6-days a week I did not feel privelaged during the winter months, before or after a 12 hour work shift, when I rode
    back home to NE PDX.

    Thanks for sharing the post

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  • Marc Rose May 14, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    Maybe people have already said this 1000 times – I don\’t have time to read all the comments – but my basic reaction to what the blogger seems to be saying is:

    There is a lot of truth to what you\’re saying, and that\’s exactly why public trans needs to be MUCH better than it is. The only reason we feel it\’s pretty good here is that it\’s very good in comparison to many other American cities. But I can ride my bike faster from Beaverton to Gresham than TriMet can get me there, and I\’m not the fastest racer. People with lots of responsibilities might easily feel they don\’t have time to do public trans. – and it\’s understandable. I realize that the lack of routes, express buses, more frequent runs etc. is partly due to lack of demand so it is a vicious circle. But maybe instead of blaming (?) cyclists, the blogger should look at how our whole societies privileges cars and the people who can drive them the most easily, namely richer people.

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  • Allie J July 3, 2008 at 8:35 pm

    I would recommend that those who have posted replies here read the original blog posting in question:

    The author does NOT \”blame\” cyclists or suggest that all bike commuters are privileged, elitist and self-serving; instead, they make the very importan point that aspects of privilege that can in many cases accompany urban bike commuting should be recognized, explored, and addressed. It is not a blanket statement about all bike commuters, and the author\’s comments were an opportunity to open up a many-angled and useful dialogue on some very important issues. It\’s a shame that more people didn\’t take these nuances into account in their replies.

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  • beth h July 4, 2008 at 8:32 am

    Even people who work for an hourly wage can make choices about where to work and live, and what do to do for a living. Most of the success I\’ve enjoyed in my life was earned with nothing more than a high school diploma (I finished college at 38) and has been based largely on my stubbornness and resourcefulness, rather than on socio-economic or gender-based privilege.

    While living car-free, I\’ve cared for two dying parents (and then buried them), helped raise two nieces (including trailer rides to and from school) and commuted by bike as far as 18 miles RT to get and keep a job. I am NOT a super-athlete, just a person who rides a bicycle everywhere.

    Privilege does not automatically correlate to choice, unless one wants to insist that a person\’s family/community of origin are what limits them in the world. Had that been my case I\’d still be driving an old used car and working extra hours to pay for it. One can choose to take a different path than their origins might dictate, regardless of privilege; and lots of people do.

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  • Portland Gentrification July 4, 2008 at 9:48 am

    Thanks Allie J #99, and anyone still on this thread – it was not a blanket statement about everyone biking, more a look at a form of privilege that we don\’t recognize. I\’m hardly some rightwinger on a typical maniacal search for \”who\’s the elitist,\” which word I didn\’t use and which isn\’t part of the notion I\’m forwarding.

    Perhaps the better term would just be \”exceptional.\” Being able to bike-commute only means that one has an exceptional situation in terms of living close to it, being able to chose job and living location, being strong and healthy enough to physically do it, etc. Beth H, above, tells a story of being exceptionally resourceful – it is unfortunate when the exceptional tell the rest of us that everybody can simply choose to be exceptional. Is it so difficult to see that this attitude blends perfectly with blaming those who, for whatever reason, can\’t make the grade?

    Come visit my blog, people, it is a far-left anti-gentrification anti-developer non-libertarian pro-local-taxes pro-working-class series It doesn\’t concern a car-free city; but it concerns a city that\’s getting too expensive for a lot of people to live close to where they need to go for work and play. Bike infrastructure isn\’t going to do anyone but the privileged any good if it\’s in a city only they can afford to live in. So see you in Fairview, or on

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  • Pete July 5, 2008 at 12:40 am

    PG, it\’s been educational following your thread both here and on your blog. I confess to being an original \”knee-jerk\” commenter and am glad some have interpreted your comments more deeply then I first saw. Through them I understand your point much better, and I agree it takes a situation not everyone has access to, to be able to commute by bike. The point some bike advocates make is that many short local trips people make by car can easily be made by bike instead, and many of these people have bikes sitting idle in their garages (despite the fact they have lower incomes preventing them from living close to their city jobs).

    Further, connected bike infrastructure enables the underprivileged access to \”privileged\” areas for reasons other than commuting to work, should they choose to take advantage of it. Some would argue it even encourages it.

    Finally, I don\’t agree it\’s \”unfortunate\” when the exceptional encourage the average person to be more resourceful, I think it\’s encouraging. When those people take the time to show others how to accomplish things they feared, like riding with others enough to teach them they can become stronger and break lifestyle patterns and not get hit by cars (the biggest quoted fear), then they are *truly* exceptional.

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