Allan Classen, founder, editor and publisher of the NW Examiner, has leveled serious criticisms at what he calls “members of the Portland Bicycle Church” in his June issue (PDF here).
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.
I’d like someone to ask him the name of this friend who got in a fight with a cyclist, sounds awfully made up to me.
This is really hard to believe this came from Allan Classen. I have known him for a few years now and I never took him as a bigot. He knows better and should be ashamed.
I am a proud, law abiding, community volunteering, bike zealot who is following Gandhi’s suggestion to be the change I want to see. No fisticuffs, no middle fingers and no judgment.
If you have a problem with that, Mr. Classen, I recommend some fresh air…maybe a little bike ride.
“The Examiner has won statewide honors for Investigative Reporting, Comprehensive Coverage and Feature Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists.”
I’m wondering what decade that was in.
I was rather disappointed that a person with Classen’s position and abilities would resort to spiking cool-aid.
His willful overs implication of the issues is inexcusable for a man of his intelligence and background. His deliberate efforts to invoke fearful stereotypes of cyclists is absurd. He is capable of far better community dialog than the anti-bike xenophobia he has just spit in the face of the greater community.
His lack of evidence, logic and decency are symptoms of weak political position and a even weaker moral foundation.
Feedback can be provided to Cassen:
+1 for bob’s suggestion
Why do otherwise reasonable people “go off the deep end,” as you state? Allan Classen has covered bicycling for a long time. He no doubt has many friends and acquaintances who use a bicycle regularly for transportation. Is he talking about them? No. He is addressing the same type of thing that anybody working in the public sector on bicycling experiences on a regular basis: anger towards bicyclists and lack of support for bicycling because of the egregious and highly visible actions of a few.
What are those actions?
blatantly running red lights
riding at night without lights
behaving poorly on narrow shared use paths in the presence of pedestrians and other cyclists
riding on crowded sidewalks
This doesn’t even consider the truly antisocial behaviors of cyclists like cursing at others and assaulting or threatening to assault others.
These behaviors are experienced regularly by too many of the public at large. Indeed, it’s rare that you can ride–or especially walk–across the Hawthorne Bridge at rush hour without having some type of negative experience with a cyclist. These experiences have a cumulative effect on the collective consciousness. It is almost impossible for me to go to a business group, community meeting, public presentation–even the Oregon Bike Summit this past week–and try to talk about all the myriad benefits that bicycling offers without also (and often first) addressing the poor behavior of too many cyclists.
In this regard we’re our own worst enemies and Allan Classen is clearly picking up on that and reflecting it back at us. Note that he’s not talking about bicycle policy. He’s not talking about transportation funding. He’s talking about the behavior of individuals. While you can make logical arguments that such things shouldn’t influence policy the reality is that they do.
If there weren’t “underlying anger” because of our own misbehavior then editorials like this would carry no weight. Sadly, they do hit a deep vein.
What’s the answser? Many-faceted, but individual behavior unfortunately carries a lot of weight. I wrote about that last year on this site…
If you’re a cyclist who thinks this is unfair, try taking a walk across the south side of the Hawthorne Bridge one rush hour this summer–or a walk through Waterfront Park or the Eastbank Esplanade–and then see how you feel…
For those of you who don’t read the NW Examiner regularly, you need to understand that Alan always puts a very edgy and provacative slant to all of his stories in his paper. This is to get a rise out of people – stirring up controversy even if there is no controversy. I wouldn’t take this article, or anything that Alan writes seriously. I have stopped reading his articles because you don’t know if you are really getting the truth. You are getting dramatic headlines without much substance.
What about the Church of Auto?
The religion that states:
That the road belongs to me and me alone?
That the land exists for paving?
That all trips by auto should be unfettered by any non-automotive road user?
That any transportation funding that does not go to more lanes and fewer speed limit signs is wasted?
That anyone who doesn’t travel by the most holy of modes, single occupancy automobile, is mentially deficient, deviant or just plain nuts?
Can we point out the absurdity of the auto system? No, because to do so makes you insane. Sanity is oft defined by those lacking of it.
Well said, Roger. We cyclists are very often our own worst enemies.
This is yet another great argument for separated infrastructure, and why it is unusual in places like the Netherlands for cyclists and pedestrians to share the same spaces – if you want to be on the sidewalk, you get off your bike and walk.
It’s just going to get harder as we get more people on bikes who are both feeling pushed off the roads by cars, and pushed off the sidewalks by pedestrians – I’m not saying rude or violent behavior is OK, but I’m saying that while the reporter’s reaction can be justified by logic, so can a cyclist’s who is frustrated at having no place to be.
I agree with Roger that we all have responsibility for our own actions, and we should make them as beyond-reproach as possible, but at the same time, I think this really highlights the need to put different types of transportation that move radically differently in their own spaces, at least in places where there is frequent confrontation.
mr classen happens to have a personal media outlet: a neighborhood paper
he has used this platform before to poke at any issue that irks him or laud effusively any favorable one
it’s par for the course for the nw examiner
it’s a tiny readership who already knows that mr classen is an opinionated guy
let’s not make it any more than that by giving him another platform for getting his message out
…too late i guess
I’m a life long cyclist but it’s true, there are a lot of entitled riders out there. It looks to me like half of the bikes I see at night don’t have lights. And waiting for a red light? Jeez.
Excuse me while I finish vomitting.
Seriously, song is getting old!
Either come up with some new lyrics or stop singing the same song at every oppotunity.
The author (right or wrong) made valid points, yet this reverts to the same tired righteous finger-pointing that gives the cyclists the reputation in the first place.
I ride a bike and therefore holier than thou…
Read #7. Roger is on to something. Personal accountability before finger pointing. (Not that I am implying you are not accountable, but many people on bikes are not)
If there are rude and inconsiderate bikers, it’s because there are rude and inconsiderate people. I might add, there are also rude and inconsiderate newspaper editors, too.
I dunno, Jonathan. To “strip biking of all the emotion” would likely curtail much of the quasi-tribal bikey events and culture in our city. I’m with you, though, because I agree it’s the other side of the same coin: By pursuing tribe, we balkanize ourselves.
why (and as a practical matter, how) am i supposed to be responsible for someone else’s behavior? in addition to being a transportational cyclist (albeit not offroad, and not on sidewalks), i am also a white male living in the u.s. in the late 20th/early 21st century. many people answering that description do pretty horrible stuff every day. the best i can do is not participate, and to encourage others not to participate. beyond that, what? (in other words, i do not accept roger’s characterization of this stuff as “our” misbehavior.)
Roger: On the other side of the coin, I don’t think it is justified that cyclists should be singled out for bad behavior. After all, motorists routinely break all of the same laws that cyclists do (and they also speed, which most cyclists simply cannot do) – with far greater consequences when a collision occurs. I have been run off the road, I have been hit by thrown objects from cars, I have been cursed at and spit on; I have been followed for blocks on a residential street by a motorist who laid on his horn the entire time (clear violation of ORS 815.225). I have been hit by a motorist and then given false contact and insurance information so that I was not able to get any compensation for damage to my bike, despite having two witnesses to the scene and a license plate number. Should I also write an editorial to calling all motorists terrorists and miscreants, based on those incidents? Is it right for me to smear all motorists, even the most conscientious and careful ones, with the misdeeds of the others? No. While I strongly agree that cyclists must be more mindful of other road users – and pedestrians in particular – to single them out as a group for criticism while ignoring the behavior of a far larger majority of road users just makes an us-vs-them debate all the more toxic.
What are those actions?
blatantly running red lights
Going over the speed limit
failure to yield to other drivers
failure to signal
Driving while intoxicated
Driving while fatigued
driving while uninsured or unlicensed
driving while a teenager
behaving poorly on narrow shared roadways the presence of pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers and other
Driving unsafely in parking lots and exiting driveways without caution
This doesn’t even consider the truly antisocial behaviors of drivers like cursing at others and assaulting or threatening to assault others with their automobiles or person.
These behaviors are experienced regularly by too many of the public at large. Indeed, it’s rare that you can drive, ride–or especially walk–across most city streets (Foster Road, 82nd etc) without having some type of negative experience with a Car. These experiences have a cumulative effect on the collective consciousness. Especially with the high number of car related deaths and injuries caused by drivers. It is almost impossible for me to go to a business group, community meeting, public presentationand try to talk about all the myriad benefits that driving offers without also (and often first) addressing the poor behavior of too many Drivers.
Can also replace with pedestrian, motorcycle, scooter or horse if necessary.
I once had a “bike zealot” turn around in the middle of the street only to park in front of my house and berate me for allowing my own dog to pee in my own front yard. Even so, I think he was an anomoly.
Thanks to the insiders with experience with the NW Examiner who have shared revealing context about how to read between the lines of Mr. Classen’s editorial. I noticed the letter to the editor alongside this piece also showed some of the character of a heavy-handed editorial voice coloring the reporting present in the Examiner (which is not at all uncommon for neighborhood papers in this town).
If you haven’t read the editorial, go read it yourself, as it’s much easier that way to understand it correctly as a critique, and not as scathing bias. I don’t like or appreciate the tactic Mr. Classen uses in order to tell his story, but it’s still a valuable issue to raise. I’m glad Roger is continuing to speak up about this, too.
I have to add that there are actions taken by cyclists that are illegal and inconsiderate of others..then there are actions that are legal and considered to be “inconvenient” to drivers…
case in point..last Friday afternoon..coming off the Hawthorne east bound…I took the right lane to pass other cyclists who were riding slowly..I was easily traveling 26-28mph (speed limit there is 25mph) when some jack-hole in a white sedan wanted to merge into my lane…he started to, saw me, and moved back over into the center lane…as I passed him, he then proceeded to accelerate into me and attempted to force me back into the bike lane…attempted vehicular assault so he could break the speed limit for a few blocks….I merged back into the bike lane, flashed him a “2 – 5” and a middle finger as he was waving his arms at me like a freakin lunatic….he sped past and ended up behind some other car when I passed him again. my actions were legal. his were just plain manic and irresponsible. sadly, our paths parted ways…I would have loved to speak with him down the road.
During the first golden age of cycling, the 1890s, every nearly every city had loud debates over sharing the sidewalks. Most of the cities enacted sidewalk ordinances that prohibited bicycle riding during the summer, when the streets would be dry, and some even did this during the wet and muddy winter.
The bicycling “scorcher,” who barreled over people walking was far more feared than horses, carts and drivers, and early automobiles.
Before people on bikes were run off the roads by people in cars, people on bikes were running people on foot off the sidewalks.
In many ways over the last century the bicycling scorcher is a more persistent and powerful image than the narrow-minded autoist.
Increasingly, the real conflicts will be between people walking and bicycling – and with Roger Geller we would do well to pay more attention to our bicycling comportment.
I was once assaulted by a guy wearing shoes. Damn pedestrians and their anger problems.
I think andy #18 hits the nail on the head. The implication of what both Classen and Roger were saying is that bikers are somehow uniquely disruptive, rude, dangerous participants in traffic. While familiar, and we can all point to examples, andy’s point may be that we’ve simply gotten used to car drivers’ comparable behaviors long ago and normalized that. It is the new kid on the block who’s occasional behavior is noticed.
While I agree with the fact that the same behaviors exhibited by someone in a car can and often are far more dangerous than if they had been on a bike, the points raised by andy are true even if we don’t include this difference.
#19, I can see the point your trying to make, but the difference is most of us drive, while only some of us bike, so it’s easier for the majority that doesn’t bike to heap their scorn on cyclists. It’s not fair, but we have to set a higher standard when riding if we hope to continue to turn public perception in our favor.
“I can see the point your trying to make, but the difference is most of us drive, while only some of us bike”
True, but also sometimes not as true as we are led to believe. My favorite statistic (from the 2000 Census) is that 18.5% of Multnomah Co. households did not own a car. That is ~ one in every five households.
Vitriolic? Yes. Nasty? You bet.
Devastating to the grander scheme of growing a more bike-friendly infrstraucture in the Portland area? Maybe not so much.
This guy’s a crank preaching to a VERY select audience, in a higher-rent neighborhood (populated mostly by folks who either drive cars or take transit). It’s mostly NOT his readers, but his advertisers, on whom he largely depends to keep his little rag afloat in our toilet of an economy.
If you (the dedicated bike activists in the bunch) really feel put out by Classen’s screed, consider publicly and loudly boycotting his advertisers. You may actually get farther with this approach than with just sighing and wringing your hands.
How is speeding on a bicycle any more legal than speeding in a car?
According to your account, you were moving faster than the car.
Not saying that the driver was justified, I am sure he was a narrow minded jerk,
I am just wondering why bikes should not be held to the same laws as it pertains to speeding, stop signs, redlights, going the wrong way against traffic, opertating at night without lights, etc.
#18 and #19,
I never said it was fair or logical. It’s just reality. Cyclist’s poor behavior is observed and commented upon much more than the (occasionally deadly) poor behaviors of people driving cars. It’s something that makes people otherwise supportive of bicycling less willing to show that support.
Good point, Roger, and we (bikey folks) are also in one way or another appreciative of good will in the larger community as we strive to be recognized as traffic, as having some business on the road, whereas car bound folks aren’t really (yet) in the same position. Autoists are the unmarked category. Even the word doesn’t trip off the tongue very easily.
Seriously, this guy just did all the leg work for us at the Bike Temple. Do you know how hard it is to think up bike/religion puns?
Continual Process Improvement.
In addition to increasing our understanding and adherance to the laws as a never ending quest for self-improvment, there will never be a time when a little more courtesy wouldn’t go amiss.
That said: if we removed every cyclist, today, from the roads; would there be fewer angry motorists? And would the road be any safer for anybody?
My money (all of it) goes on ‘No’, for question 1.
And the road would only be safer for those no longer on a bicycle. Even that is nowhere near absolute
Great… now the tongue-in-seat-post bike temple is getting PR out of this.
You overlook them now, but give them time and they will creep into your garage and steal your daughter’s yet-to-be-used Magna bike and sacrifice it to their fixes gods…
On a serious note, Amos’ post does highlight the unintentional humor in the editorial. Besides, I now want to get a bike-logo shirt with “..these are not ordinary people” on it.
Two words for ya: Deepwater Horizon. This guy’s guilt must be tearing him apart inside. But I do thank him for noticing that I’m holier than he.
The PDF of the Classen paper is revealing. They are very churchy, advertisements of churches, and their awards banquet was in a church.
Everyone photographed in the paper has gray hair. (I do too, but sometimes my photos include younger people)
On most topics the editorial stand is pro sustainability, pro community and generally liberal.
I think if a bike advocat actually talked with Classen, so that his research was not just from his imagination, he might change his tune.
Allan Classen has already gotten way more exposure from this piece of bad writing than he deserves.
Classen and his ilk are stirring up the black energies of bigotry for their own ends, and in doing so are attempting to make “bicyclist” equivalent to the word “nigger”. Perhaps he (and almost certainly those who he is writing to) grew up hearing the “N” word used a lot by the adults around them. Perhaps they are all looking back to those simpler days when describing some persons with the “N” word just made the whole world so much easier to understand, by its emphasis on the contrasts between their way of life and some other inferior life style.
An appropriate approach to handling Classen’s bigoted behavior is to point out to others that he is re-introducing “nigger” with a somewhat different spelling, and that when you filter his words to correct for that, you find there is no rational content behind the facade.
Dave (#11) – How is this an argument for separated infrastructure? This is an argument for “common” courtesy and personal responsibility. (i.e. don’t be a jerk) Separated infrastructure isn’t going to fix poor behavior, it only ensures that the poor behavior will impact other cyclists more than motorists or pedestrians.
There is a place for separated infrastructure, but with limited space and multiple modes there will always be points of conflict – and creating separate spaces does nothing to address the problem of jerks on the road.
peejay (#15) – Exactly. This is a people problem.
are (#17) – Because you live in civilization. If you don’t want to be responsible for others, go live on a mountaintop. The price of city living is the responsibility of living well with others. While the position of the line between communal responsibility and meddling is up for the debate, the presence of the line is implicit in the urban environment.
These tasks are typically handled through law enforcement – the real questions are, should this be done through law enforcement, what should the penalties be, and what are we willing to sacrifice to take the jerks off the road?
So to an extent it is “our” misbehavior, but I agree that people shouldn’t be able to use the behavior of some to refuse services and facilities to the rest of us.
Anonymous (#19) “driving while a teenager”? Why not add the elderly in there too? That’s an ageist philosophy – the criteria should be based on skill, not age.
bahueh (#22) – Unfortunately, that experience is far too normal in greater Portland. I had similar experiences, especially in Clackasmas County. (which other than the Ross Island Bridge is the only place motorists throw things at me)
Roger (#30) makes a good point, and that’s a good reason to study the various civil rights struggles (women, people of color, gay/lesbian, etc) to find ways to combat public opinion. Bikes are a transportation minority. Sure, it’s mostly a lifestyle choice, and I’m not trying to equate the issues regarding bikes to the issues regarding those struggles – just pointing out that there are tactics, behaviors, beliefs and actions that are common to every struggle of a minority against the majority to encourage or demand equal treatment – and it might be instructive and inspiring to look at prior and ongoing struggles of any minority group in order to make the roads safer for us.
#29…I agree with you fully. the issue is not that I was exceeding a posted limited by 1-2mph…I was keeping up with traffic flow (as OR. law states – I can take the lane if I do) and this a-hole thought he could forcefully remove me from my position as he apparently didn’t think I ‘belong there’……
there are bad road users on both sides.
that is the point that is often missed.
as for the other infractions you mentioned, I couldn’t agree more.
I beginning to blame stuff like this on the economy. It sucks, nation wide, and it’s got people on edge and all riled up. It makes people nervous and angry. You see it everywhere; in our national discourse in politics most clearly but it seems like everyone’s tolerance for just about everything different then they are is shrinking rapidly. Pretty soon we’ll be divided into camps in our neighborhoods of those who paint their houses earth tones and those who don’t. Who knows what sort of invective we’ll be launching against each other then.
This is just laziness in journalism. His writing offers no thoughtful insight about people on bikes or in cars or churches for that matter. It’s supposed to be edgy (I guess) but it just sounds like someone without inspiration looking to score attention with some snide analogy. What, I wonder, does the writer consider the merit of his article? Is it funny? A shrewd observation of some subulture? It’s just a half baked stew of easy lines and thoughtless generalizations. As an atheist, lover of thoughtful and humorous writing, a car enthusiast, and cyclist I object.
Jonathan, maybe you should take this as a sign that we bicyclists overdue for our confessional. Obviously the behaviors in Classen’s editorial are extreme, exaggerated or farcical, but I’d like to read something from you that calls out the bad behaviors cyclists exhibit that need to be curtailed. You’ve done small pieces on this before, but perhaps it deserves a more in depth look. Without social pressure, the problem is not going to go away.
It would be a waste of keystrokes to spend any more time defending or criticizing Allan Classen or his editorial comments. As a frequent pedestrian, frequent cyclist, and a frequent auto driver (I don’t use public transit much) I see the good, the bad and the ugly from both drivers and cyclists. A point that is regularly used as a rebuttal for inappropriate cyclist behavior (running red lights, riding at night without lights, etc.) is that they are the visible acts of a small number of cyclists. Not true. If you are in a number of heavily used (by bike) areas around Portland (Hawthorne Bridge, Seven Corners, Division/Clinton and others) the percentage of cyclists shooting stop lights and intimidating pedestrians is greater than fifty-percent of the riders. Whether you think this is ok, or you dislike it, it is the truth nonetheless. Stand at 34th & Lincoln (quite few pedestrians crossing there too) on any Saturday, and it will be a rare event if 1 out of 100 cyclists even attempt to stop at the blinking red 4-way stop; same for dozens of other intersections around town. Drivers often fail to come to a complete stop, but virtually none go through the stops full-bore. Along with flipping people off, these are the biggest reasons for increasing hostility toward cyclists and cycling. Most non-cyclists do not make the distinction between cycling as a means of transportation, and the cyclists using that means. Until the majority of cyclists follow the basic traffic laws, and those of us who do follow the rules consistently exert peer pressure on the rest, more media focus and anti-bike political rhetoric will continue to increase.
Yep, it’s an OpEd piece.
Logic Free? Check
Seriously, nothing to see here.
Re: “the bad behaviors cyclists exhibit”, is there one “behavior” that is brought up more often than others? I would guess the “stop sign” thing but maybe it’s passing too closely (i.e. leaving little margin for error)?
Curious that CommanderZ posted his feedback at the same time as my question and noted the same two behaviors (though he used the term “intimidating pedestrians”).
I would guess that most of the bike riders Mr Classen is angry about drive cars too, and perhaps have poor driving habits. But when there are poor manners (or tragedy) on the highway involving motor vehicles, it’s just business as usual.
People can act in an antisocial manner while using any method of conveyance. We see it on the Hawthorne bridge sidewalk as well as any road out there. Why try to separate people by the conveyance they happen to be using at the time?
If you want to make a mob of small thinking people angry, write about a minority (cyclists)and include an identifier (bicycle). Then you can reflect on your own prejudices.
Is there anyway we can work this into a anti-police thread?
Bicyclists: the one minority you can publicly criticize and still be politically correct.
Beth at #28: Sweeping generalization much?
“populated mostly by folks who mostly drive cars or take transit.”
Um. Whaaa? And you know this how?