Hawthorne Bridge bike traffic inspires epiphany for Oregonian columnist

Summer bike traffic-8-8

Hawthorne Bridge traffic.
(Photo © J. Maus)

In a column published Monday, Steve Duin, a veteran columnist for The Oregonian, says that after decades of watching Portland traffic he has finally come to a realization: “cyclists are part of the solution to the city’s traffic woes, not part of the problem.”

Duin’s piece came after he spent time counting vehicles crossing the Hawthorne Bridge as a follow-up to counts he did a few years ago. Not only did he observe a 20% increase in bikes, but he also noticed a few other key things: 85% of the cars had only single occupancy and motor vehicle traffic came to a complete stop due to gridlock (not bridge lifts) on two separate occasions.

While cars idled in bumper-to-bumper traffic (spewing exhaust into the air, preventing people from getting to their destinations, and putting stress on the bridge structure) Duin noted that bike traffic rolled along unfettered:

“The cyclists? They came roaring off that hill like Hiccup taking Toothless airborne in “How to Train Your Dragon.” They sailed across the bridge at their own pace, looking as if there was something waiting for them that mattered — in office, coffee shop or summer-school classroom — on the other side.”

Duin, who says he’s “married to his car” and doesn’t use his bike to get to his office downtown says he’s still “unnerved” by the riding behavior he sees, but that he has “finally made peace” with Portland’s bike traffic. The two final paragraphs are definitely worth reading (emphasis mine):

“I have finally made my peace with the understanding that cyclists are part of the solution to the city’s traffic woes, not part of the problem. As the cycling community noted long ago, every Portlander who crosses the Hawthorne on two wheels removes one more SUV or sputtering sedan that stands between the car nuts and where we want to go, while taking nothing away from the air we breathe.

They have not seen the future, just a future in which we are not whining about predatory gas prices or mumbling incoherently about drilling for oil off the Oregon coast. If I stare wistfully after them, it is only because I envy the speed with which they leave me and my calculator behind.”

A journalist who doesn’t ride a bike, and who is a somewhat objective observer of our city, came to this conclusion. On the heels of over 5% of Portland’s population turning out for Sunday Parkways just a few days ago, it makes us think that the vast ship of public opinion about bicycling might finally be set for a new course.

— For another interesting traffic on the Hawthorne Bridge read a story we published in April 2010, How bike traffic has saved our city time and money.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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SilkySlim
SilkySlim
12 years ago

Nicely put. Glad to be one of the two-wheelers!

Michweek
12 years ago

Wow. 5% at Sunday Parkways? And there are five of those Sunday Parkways, safe to say something closer to 10 or 15% total population enjoy a Sunday Parkways at some point in the summer?! Many of whom don’t ride bikes on the roads often!

Ryno Dan
Ryno Dan
12 years ago

It’s 2011 and dude just figured out that bikes are OK ? Whoa, he is way out of touch.

GlowBoy
GlowBoy
12 years ago

I read Duin’s column this morning …

“every Portlander who crosses the Hawthorne on two wheels removes one more SUV or sputtering sedan”

It still boggles my mind that this is somehow a revelation to most people (although I know that it is). To me it falls into the “DUH!” category. But, however banal his epiphany might seem to most of us cyclists, glad to have him “on board” at least as a supporter.

Maybe he’ll actually try riding a bicycle one day. Not asking him to give up his car, just try biking once. I’m glad he’s made some progress, but it appears he still doesn’t understand how the world looks from behind handlebars.

(And Duin’s a good example of why if I were an employer I would mandate that every employee arrive at work by some means other than automobile at least one day per year. It seems the vast majority of people NEVER get out of their cars, and don’t have the faintest idea how to get around without one. I drive quite often, but it has always seemed ridiculous to me to be so married to your car that you can’t do anything else. Talk about “cagers”!).

A.K.
A.K.
12 years ago
Reply to  GlowBoy

Indeed… I worked and went to school downtown for about 5 years, before I owned a car. It was great, to be honest – I could read and relax on the bus, and didn’t have to worry about where to park or paying for it.

One of my friends works for a company that does a competition for a month during the summer, to see which team can drive to work the least during the month. Seems like a pretty fun way to show people that breaking their downtown car habit isn’t that difficult.

Joe C
Joe C
12 years ago
Reply to  GlowBoy

GlowBoy
It seems the vast majority of people NEVER get out of their cars, and don’t have the faintest idea how to get around without one.

I think you’ve hit the wheel on the hub, as it were.

Nick V
12 years ago

I agree with those who say it’s a good article but it’s way way way overdue. Steve Duin has been a columnist/driver in this city how long exactly?

Bob
Bob
12 years ago

Who did he think all those folks were flying by while he sat on his butt in his spewing four wheeler?

Once a week Stevie boy, once a week. Try it!

Mark
Mark
12 years ago
Reply to  Bob

Yo Bobbo. You realize Mr Duin lives in Lake Oswego? I doubt he would be interested in commuting to his office by bicycle, even one day a week.

S
S
12 years ago
Reply to  Mark

I ride 22 miles a day from PDX to Gresham and back…and I’m no spring chicken myself…so I think he could handle riding at least one way to work.

007
007
12 years ago
Reply to  Mark

My boss lives in L.O. and takes the bus to work – but only because he doesn’t get free parking downtown.

JRB
JRB
12 years ago
Reply to  Mark

When I started working downtown in ’95, I still lived in West Linn. For the next five years before we moved to NEPO, I would throw my bike on the bus in the morning and ride it home in evening. You don’t have to live int he City for bike commuting to be feasible

Randall S.
Randall S.
12 years ago
Reply to  Mark

I work at OHSU and have a coworker who commutes by bicycle from Lake Oswego every day. I have another who lives in Lents as does so as well.

Brad
Brad
12 years ago

What’s important here is that Duin gives the article a everyman tone. He is “wed” to his car. He feels that he has to drive his car. In this sense, he is no different than the vast majority of the population. The fact that he admires riders and sees the benefit of cycling is more important than him actually doing it. I also feel that his column did much to humanize cyclists rather than take the tone many of his peers take when framing everything as “Cars vs. Bikes” or solely focusing on our scofflaw elements.

We’ve lost the Baby Boomers as they will never adopt bike commuting in large numbers. Positive press like this emboldens younger commuters to step out of their cars and find better ways to get around.

Chris I
Chris I
12 years ago
Reply to  Brad

Great point. My dad and his demographic read Duin consistently, and tend to see him as a peer. This is a great article for cycling, because he frames it from the perspective of a typical auto commuter, without making the usual asinine assumptions and judgments.

wsbob
wsbob
12 years ago
Reply to  Brad

“…We’ve lost the Baby Boomers as they will never adopt bike commuting in large numbers. …” Brad

For some of these boomers…after all, they’re in their fifties…getting back in shape to ride would be a major conditioning challenge. I talked to a few recently, that have not been on a bike in thirty years. The very idea of riding a bike…anywhere, anyplace…scares them. for them, riding from Portland to L.O. might as well be from here to Katmandu.

These people, and there may be more than we realize, need lots of support and encouragement if they’re ever going to ride again. A guy like Duin could help out in that respect. Every summer, Duin has this reading challenge thing he does with his kids. So maybe he might consider challenging his bike hibernating baby boomer readers to a summer bike conditioning and mileage competition. Winner gets awarded a vacation bike tour, or something like that.

Rol
Rol
12 years ago

More “news” from the Oregonian!

PdxMark
PdxMark
12 years ago

Agree with Brad.

The impression that bicycling advocates want everyone out of their cars does not help the cause. Advocating multi-modal transportation means accepting drivers, like Duin. Making cycling easy for those who want to chose it is the goal, not forcing people out of their cars.

Duin’s tone is just right. Ya, he’s not a cyclist, but he gets almost 500 fewer cars on the Hawthorne bridge in one hour is a good thing for everyone… including all those people who choose or need to drive. He makes the point in a clear simple way gets missed in many, many car-bake “discussions.” It’s a solid, respected addition to the discussion. Thank you Steve Duin.

Now if that so-called reporter Joseph Rose could be half as objective in his so-called reporting…

banjo
banjo
12 years ago

you have to do is step back (or remove yourself from your car) and observe the world we live in, after a few minutes it will become shockingly obvious how autocentric it is… the dominance, noise, traffic, laws, urban form, mentality, etc. there are almost no places where you can’t see an automobile at any given time.

BURR
BURR
12 years ago

Duin’s story didn’t seem to convince the usual commenters on the O’s site, no big surprise there I guess.

dwainedibbly
dwainedibbly
12 years ago

Maybe there is hope for the Oregonian. Maybe.

Forseti
Forseti
12 years ago

Further proof of just how far behind the curve the people at the Boregonian are.

bumblebee
bumblebee
12 years ago

When living carless becomes a real priority for someone, he/she goes about making whatever changes are necessary to bring it to fruition, e.g. moving closer to work.

captainkarma
captainkarma
12 years ago

The Oregonian will be a weekly inside of five years, and hard copies of it will only go to nursing homes.

Al from PA
Al from PA
12 years ago

[snip] What’s important here is that Duin gives the article a everyman tone. He is “wed” to his car.

“Everyman” won’t be wed to “his” car all that much longer, given the world oil situation–might as well learn how to cycle now rather than having to adopt it later in crisis mode.

q`Tzal
q`Tzal
12 years ago
Reply to  Al from PA

I’ll try to avoid laughing out loud when all these “crisis mode” cyclists take to the streets completely devoid of any skill.

Then again: failed track stand attempts * 10,000 will get old fast. Hopefully not messy.

Maybe I should bring more first aid stuff.

007
007
12 years ago

A self-serving realization unfortunately.

roger noehren
roger noehren
12 years ago

If the residents of Lake Oswego don’t want a streetcar along Macadam, how about a bike trail?

John Beaston
John Beaston
12 years ago

FWIW – It doesn’t look like the Oregonian has been one of the 1,200+ companies participating in the Bike Commute Challenge over the last few years.

Spiffy
Spiffy
12 years ago

it’s still not enough to appeal to the bike-hating readers of the O…

john
john
12 years ago

it’ll be great when the cool kids hit 50 after a lifetime of pbr and whatever else. suddenly cars will not be evil anymore

spare_wheel
spare_wheel
12 years ago
Reply to  john

are you speaking from personal experience?

are
12 years ago
Reply to  john

i am 58 and i do not use a car. pbr is evil. if you must drink a cheap american lager, at least drink the full sail session.