In a stack of old notes on my desk, I came across a passage from an Oregonian article published a few months ago that I’ve been wanting to share.
The story, Our diversity myth: Portlanders live in a like-minded bubble, making it easier to get things done but harder for dissenting voices to be heard, is about how Americans are increasingly choosing to live in communities that reflect their existing lifestyles and values.
The result, wrote the Oregonian, is that it creates “islands of conservatism and liberalism that deepen the divides between the groups and the politicians they elect.”
In trying to illustrate the phenomenon as it exists here in Portland, the author of the story, Erin Hoover Barnett, brought up Portland’s bike boxes. She wrote:
“Portland’s like-mindedness means its leaders can often move forward quickly. After a rash of fatal bike accidents in the last year, it seemed that those huge green bike boxes appeared at intersections almost overnight…”
Barnett then introduced Tim Nashif, “a conservative” who lives in outer east Portland (a part of town notoriously lacking in bike infrastructure). Barnett wrote that, for Nashif,
“residents’ and leaders’ zeal for such issues as alternative transportation can make some — such as large families who can’t easily or safely travel by bike — feel out of step.”
Nashif told Barnett:
“It’s almost like they don’t take into consideration that there are other lifestyles that want to live in Portland besides theirs… Is Portland a place that recognizes what families need?”
I was struck by two things after reading this. First, it’s interesting how Barnett refers to “alternative transportation” as an “issue”. In my thinking, transportation (alternative or not) is a lot different than what people usually think of as classic issues. Like for instance, gun rights, homelessness, or abortion.
Transportation is a thing that nearly everyone participates in on a daily basis. It’s not a choice you make or something you’re “for” or “against”. It just is.
The other thing I found interesting was Nashif’s comment on how the bike boxes represent some sort of “lifestyle” that belongs to a distinct part of Portland’s population. Somehow, he draws the conclusion that the City of Portland doesn’t realize what families need because the city is spending all their time installing bike boxes. Am I reading that right?
I just wanted to share this with you as an example of how bike policy and infrastructure is sometimes perceived outside the bike-bubble. To move further into the mainstream (assuming people like Nashif represent the mainstream), the bike movement needs to take these perceptions into consideration.
This ties into my concern that the term “bicycle boulevard” might make it tougher for them to gain broad community support in places that need them most — like outer east Portland, where biking is still a four-letter word.
What do you think?