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Guest editorial: Riding with courtesy in a city of bikes

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

Roger Geller
(Photo © J. Maus)

[Editor’s note: This guest editorial was written by Roger Geller, Bicycle Coordinator for the City of Portland.]


“What does it mean to be exemplary? To me it means the two “C’s” of cycling: Courtesy and confidence.”

In the past week I’ve been noticing harbingers of spring: flowering magnolia, daffodils in full bloom, tulips beginning to push their way up, birds early in the morning, sun later in the evenings, and, on especially nice days, a city beginning to pop with bicycling. We are approaching Portland’s high bicycle season.

One thing that is helping cycling spread in Portland is its visibility. People interested in cycling can easily look around, see how it is done and perhaps imagine themselves riding rather than driving. There are more people on bicycles in this city than there have ever been before. This visibility and accompanying attention presents challenges and also gives us an opportunity.

So, it is in that light that I make a request of regular cyclists: be exemplary.

What does it mean to be exemplary? To me it means the two “C’s” of cycling: Courtesy and confidence.

Cherry blossoms in Waterfront Park.
(Photo © J. Maus)

When I think of cycling courtesy I think most often of people walking. Always yield to people on foot. They generally always should receive the right-of-way when there is the potential for bicycle-pedestrian conflict. Stopping in the presence of meanderers — especially the old and the young — is never a bad option. What does it cost you: a couple of seconds? What does it gain? Mutual respect and absence of confrontation

I believe courtesy also dictates passing at appropriate speeds. When it’s crowded, this could mean at little more than a walking pace. When passing another person on a bike, always pass on the left. In my experience, people walking also appreciate hearing a discernible audible warning. That generally means more than a mumbled “on your left.” A bell is best.

Courtesy also requires controlling your aggression. Displays of aggression seem to mostly invite aggression in response. So really, be courteous to everybody you find out there. Yield the right of way at intersections per the law; come to a complete stop at stop signs whenever anyone else is at or approaching the intersection, whether in a car, on foot, or by bike. Forgive those who err because they don’t understand how to drive in your presence.

At the same time, it’s important to ride with confidence. Confidence is knowing the law and your rights as a person on a bike. Take the lane when it’s safest. Don’t weave in and out of parked cars. Safely proceed when you have the right-of-way. Come to a complete stop at stop signs to demonstrate good behavior.

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Bike counts and spring flowers tend
to come up at the same time.
(Photo © J. Maus)

I expect this to be an excellent spring, summer and fall for bicycling in Portland. The City is doing its part. We have more projects on the books than we’ve had for quite some time. This is an exciting time for bicycling in Portland, for the region, and indeed, for the country.

Nationally, Portland is leading the charge in demonstrating the effectiveness of bicycling as not only a means of transportation, but as a transformational tool of our very culture.

Let those of us who do bicycle regularly demonstrate how enjoyable it can be to ride in Portland. I want all my friends, family and acquaintances to ride often this year. There will be many people taking to Portland’s streets who will be new to using a bicycle for transportation. Be patient with them. Set a good example for them.

Because our infrastructure hasn’t yet caught up with the growing demands on it, it’s imperative that we do all we can to share well. Let’s make bicycling in Portland look like the pleasant, safe and fun activity it is. I do believe that collectively behaving in an exemplary manner will help attract more people to bicycling.

After all, when it comes to bicycling it’s accurate not only to say “the more the merrier,” but also “the more the safer.”