Several readers have sent me his monthly Editor’s Turn column titled, When the saints go riding on, which refers to bikes as “not merely a mode of transportation,” in Portland, but rather, “a religion.”
“…the Portland Church of the All Mighty Bicycle has been gaining adherents at every turn, and I don’t think they’re all Catholics.”
Much of Classen’s anger is based on the issue of biking in Forest Park (note that the NW Examiner covers neighborhoods adjacent to the park):
“The converts love to ride bikes down steep mountain trails at high speed on Sunday mornings. Forest Park, it seems, is something like their church. They come out all black and muddy but smiling nevertheless. It’s almost as if they’ve just been baptized.
It makes sense that, if the park is sacred ground, they would want to liberate it for the work of their lord. That’s why they plot and congregate in great numbers in hopes that one fine day they can ride all over the park on paths paved with mud.”
Classen then takes on citizen advocate Frank Selker’s plan to have more people who enjoy riding bikes join the Forest Park Conservancy to help them in their mission to preserve and protect the park for all users:
“The plan was apparently to get so many bike advocates on the organization’s rolls that they could turn its policies toward their righteous mission…
… in their evangelistic fervor, they assume that more bike riding anywhere — even in a fragile, over-used wilderness park — is a benefit to all. when you’re holier than thou, you assume your excrement doesn’t stink, I guess.”
Classen then recounts an anecdote from a friend who questioned someone about riding on the sidewalk. The response of the “bicycle zealot”?
“The rider slugged him in the face, knocking his glasses to the ground. Nothing is owed the infidel.”
Classen also picked up on a recent article by Joe Rose in The Oregonian that said e-bike riders are considered “outcasts” by non-electrified riders:
“They’re called cheaters and are scorned for riding in bike lanes. They are not true believers in the one and only, true, holy, sanctified church of the bicycle, and they must be shunned.”
And, I realize I’m sharing a lot of his column, but I’m just shocked at how such a respected local reporter has gone off the deep end with these criticisms. Here are the final few lines:
“If you’ve ever been flipped off, sworn at or physically attacked by a bicyclist who didn’t like the way you drive or walk on the sidewalk, keep in mind that these are not ordinary people. They live on another plane. They believe that danger, disdain and ridicule may follow them all their days on the earth, but one day they will sit in glory at the right handlebar of God.”
With already a lot of emotion and divisiveness around the Forest Park discussions and other bike issues in Portland, this article only makes things worse. Among some NW Examiner readers, it will only serve to reinforce their underlying anger toward people who ride bikes, among others, it will color their perception of people who ride bikes with unfair stereotypes.
This is just the latest example of the culture wars around biking that persist here in Portland. For various reasons, biking and the people who do it are lightning rods in local politics and media. Biking is a convenient scapegoat, a frequently tossed political football, and a common source of sensationalized reporting.
Until we can reach a truce and strip biking of all the emotion and vitriol, it will be difficult to become the type of city many people are working to build.