Esplanade closure begins February 1st

Something has gone wrong in Portland

Posted by on May 13th, 2014 at 11:06 am

(Photos by M.Andersen/BikePortland)

This is a long post. It’s about one person’s experience. And it’s the only thing we expect to publish today.

You have to feel at least a little bad for Todd Roll. All he wanted was to rent a few more bikes.

“WELCOME TO AMERICA’S BICYCLE CAPITAL,” his workers painted in six-foot letters on the wall outside his rental shop two years ago, channeling what seemed to be the voice of the city.

The bureaucratic tangle that led the huge, iconic sign to be painted over yesterday was complicated. But reason for its removal isn’t.

The reason the city lost Roll’s sign isn’t that it was too big, or that he had never bothered to get the city’s permission to create it (though he didn’t). The sign wasn’t lost because Roll’s claim was false — in fact, it’s probably still true — nor was it lost because the boast fostered public complacency about making the city better.

It was lost because Portland had already lost something much more precious — and much harder to replace.


I might never have discovered Portland if Lindsey hadn’t been such a good writer.

It was 2006 and I was working for the newspaper in Longview, an hour’s drive north. She was in Portland, coding for a software startup that sometimes made payroll and living in what she described as a far-flung neighborhood that I’ve since realized was Lents. We’d met at a party in Chicago, when we’d been dating other people. Now I wrote her an email, and she wrote back.

I started driving south once a week.

Lindsey was broke, or maybe just cheap. So were a bunch of her friends, whose jobs were worse. But I noticed, at some point, that this wasn’t a major problem. They couldn’t afford cars, so they went to their boring jobs by bicycle. Lindsey was a singer; when her band had a gig on Alberta, she’d book a Flexcar to haul their amps and hope the tips were enough to cover the four-hour rental.

In fact, I realized, very few of Lindsey’s friends owned cars. Neither, it seemed, did any of the interesting, dirt-broke people I seemed to meet constantly when I was in Portland.

I think we were aware, at the time, that biking was more popular in Portland than in other places we’d lived. We probably giggled about the World Naked Bike Ride. But it wasn’t until I got to know the city better that I realized the strength of the pattern: unlike my broke friends in Longview or Ohio, broke people in Portland had realized they could get by fairly well without cars.

Bicycles themselves did nothing for me emotionally — and if you have to know, they don’t today, either. But I was hooked on Portland. As soon as I could, I moved to this place I’d discovered where even the broke people could afford to be interesting.


One night in 2007, after Lindsey got a better job and moved to inner Northeast, she told us a story from the Last Thursday street festival.

Someone had gotten in a fight with a person on a bike, she said. A bunch of the young people in the crowd, not even knowing what was going on, rushed to the side of the biker.

Laughing, Lindsey said she’d heard that one young man had raised a U-lock in the air and shouted, “WHY DO YOU HATE PORTLAND??”

In retrospect, the anecdote sounds sort of ugly, and half-true at most. But it felt true. That was what bikes seemed to mean to the city at the time, at least to us young arrivals. Being in love with Portland, which all my friends were, meant knowing the story of the city. And the story of Portland, for us, was bicycles.

It wasn’t until later, after I started writing about bicycles for a living, that I realized that none of this was a coincidence.

2007 was the year that Transportation Commissioner Sam Adams returned from a trip to France and announced that he was setting out to create the country’s first credit-card-based public bike sharing system. Two weeks later we were named the first U.S. city to host an international conference about car-free cities. Meanwhile, the Portland Bureau of Transportation was looking into a new sort of event that had become popular in Latin America, the ciclovia. By summer, the concept had a new name: “Sunday Parkways.”

I caught scraps of these stories and the dozens of others that followed. It was impossible not to; bikes were in the city’s bloodstream. Every third news story seemed to be about them. Eventually, I would marvel at how quickly each of that year’s many announcements had followed on the last, and how unusual it was to live in a city whose leaders had decided, without actually reallocating much money, to make better bicycle transportation one of their top priorities.

I also didn’t realize at the time that between 2002 and 2008, bicycle use in Portland had tripled.

But what no one in the country would have predicted was that three years later, Portland’s bicycling boom would be over.


I rolled into downtown just after 10 a.m. yesterday, camera in my saddle bag. Just in time.

Lota LaMontagne, the Pedal Bike Tours spokeswoman, had said the “Bicycle Capital” mural was scheduled to be painted over in late morning. I arrived as the shop’s handyman, Jose Martinez, was getting set up.

While I wandered around the parking lot below the mural, testing camera angles, I watched the passers-by – delivery workers, tourists, day laborers. Almost all of them looked up at the mural as they walked by.

They don’t know it’s about to go away, I realized. People look at it this way every day. For two years, everyone who walks past this sign has been looking up at it and, just for a moment, thinking about it.

Two hours later, the sign was illegible. As I snapped a few final photos, I watched the passers-by again.

No one was looking up any more. There was nothing to see.

One passer-by noticed me and pointed at the mostly-covered sign.

“What did it say?” he asked.


Like many cities, Portland started taking bike transportation seriously in the early 1970s. But it didn’t see a major payoff until the late 1990s, after a Bicycle Transportation Alliance lawsuit prompted Transportation Commissioner Earl Blumenauer to hire Mia Birk and her sidekick Roger Geller to stripe bike lanes along many of the city’s major streets.

The decade-long tidal wave of bikes that followed made Portland famous. Thousands of Portlanders, I’m sure, know the story of this tidal wave by heart.

But now, in 2014, it’s time to add another chapter to Portland’s bike history: the moment our bike wave crested. The day that Portland started to fall out of love with its story.

In retrospect, the date is obvious: Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010.

Percent of Portlanders commuting by bicycle.
(Source: Census)

That afternoon, Mayor Adams did something he enjoyed very much: he said yes to a big idea. With his backing, Portland had prepared the most progressive bike plan in the country, an unfunded concept for how to spend $600 million — about 1/3 the cost of the Orange MAX Line that’s now in construction through Southeast Portland, or 1/5 the cost of the scrapped Columbia River Crossing highway-rail project — on a citywide grid of separated bike lanes and neighborhood greenways.

In all its future transportation projects, the plan declared, the city would prioritize walking above biking, biking above mass transit and all three above driving. The result: by 2030, biking would be more popular than driving for trips of three miles or less. Portland’s victory over auto-dependence would be complete.

Though these ideas would be strange and alien in City Hall today, council members at the time saw a political winner. So they started tripping over themselves to fund it. And then everything fell apart.

Commissioner Dan Saltzman proposed one funding plan. Adams, who couldn’t stand Saltzman, proposed another. Bizarrely, the two began feuding over whose bike funding plan was best. In the absence of a unified city effort to explain the obscure policy issues involved, the conflict spilled into pixels, print and finally television, with a mostly false but highly compelling narrative capturing the public imagination: Portland was raising sewer fees in order to pay for bike lanes.

Adams, struggling to debunk the myth, expected political cover from bike advocates. He felt it never came.

It was, insiders now say, a private turning point for Adams. Portland didn’t realize it yet, but bicycling had lost its yes man. And though there were many factors involved over the years, the city had, in a fundamental way, lost the story it once told itself about bicycles.


One of the interesting Portlanders I met, around the time all this happened, was Carl.

A smallish, roundish thirtysomething who drinks milk with dinner and probably uses his architectural history degree less frequently than he takes in a game of bike polo, Carl is in many ways the moral center of Portland’s bike community.

You’ve heard of the World Naked Bike Ride? Of course you have. I’ll tell you a secret: the ride happens without a police permit. Every year, the Portland Police Bureau donates its officers’ time for traffic control during the massive, world-famous event.

The theory is that the ride will happen with or without city permission. But if police wanted, they could shut the event down until someone put up tens of thousands of dollars for a permit. And if that happened, the ride’s entry donation would become a larger mandatory fee. And if that happened, far fewer people would show up. And if that happened, millions of people would never know that Portland is a place where the extraordinary happens – a city where people of every shape can love their bodies and celebrate them together in motion, by moonlight, on one night every year.

Carl is the guy on the WNBR’s tiny team of volunteer organizers who has maintained the ride’s 12-year truce with the cops.

Carl’s day job is with the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, but his influence on Portland is far larger.

When it snows, Carl is the guy who heads home early and stands on his street corner offering hot toddys to bike commuters on the way home. When dozens of young people decide to show up in an abandoned industrial warehouse and ride in circles with ropes and sticks while trying to knock each other off of their bike trailers, Carl is the guy who always makes sure to attend just in case the authorities show up, to convince the police that everything will be fine.

Somehow, Carl is also the guy who can successfully convince them that it will.

And even more extraordinarily, Carl is right. The event’s volunteer referees intercept the worst of the weapons. A few ribs get cracked, but volunteer medics tend to them and nobody sues anybody. Everyone has a wonderful time.

If you’ve ever heard that Portland is a city where people have fun on bicycles, you’ve probably been touched by Carl’s work.


The last time I spoke with Carl, last month, was at a late-night meeting.

Carl was sitting on a committee tasked with improving bike access to the commercial district on East 28th Avenue. The project manager had just announced, after months of debate, that he was pulling the plug on a proposal to add a bike lane to the area, because the city had decided that preserving on-street parking spaces on the street was more important to the future of Portland than a comfortable on-street bikeway.

It was the latest in a long string of high-profile decisions by the city to prioritize the continued speed or storage of cars. I asked Carl what he thought.

I’d never seen Carl more exhausted. The bags beneath his eyes had deepened into dark loops. As he talked, in despair, about the city’s failure to create a single all-ages bikeway through any significant commercial district, I noticed something I’d never seen before: Carl was losing control of his tongue. His S’s were slurring into Th’s.

Despite my better judgment, Carl’s wavering voice and temporary speech impediment shook me up. For a moment, I didn’t see the brave and driven man I know. I saw someone he might have been: a shy boy with thick glasses, slipping down the hallway to see the speech therapist.

I don’t know what it was in Carl’s life that cracked him open that night. But for a moment, I saw who Carl might have been if he had never found his calling – if he’d never gotten excited about the things bicycling can do for the people of a city. I saw Carl if he ever lost his inspiration to be extraordinary.

I saw the city that Portland has, as far as I can tell, become.


The advantage of a city that believes in its ability to be extraordinary — a city that knows its own story — isn’t that all things become possible. It’s that cities create people who do extraordinary things.

Only in a city that knows its own story would a guy with an architectural history degree discover his genius for explaining bike fun to the forces of order.

Only in a city that knows its own story would a handful of visitors from Vancouver BC, one summer in 2002, decide to hang posters around town saying that there would be a naked bicycle ride that evening and that anyone was welcome to join.

Only in a city that knows its own story would four friends with a clever idea to start importing box bikes from the Netherlands launch a business to sell them, for the first time, in America.

Only in a city that knows its own story would a 31-year-old bicycle coordinator co-found the first American planning and engineering firm dedicated entirely to biking and walking.

Only in a city that knows its own story would a young dad decide to quit his marketing job and start reporting local bike news full-time on a blog.

Only in a city that knows its own story would a shop owner decide to spend thousands of dollars to make a huge, audacious and essentially noncommercial declaration on the wall of his building without asking for permission.

Individuals only take odd, useful risks like these when they believe their city has their back.

If you took a big risk, tomorrow, to improve this city, would the people of Portland be behind you?

Could you inspire them to be?


Sometimes, when you lose something, you can get it back.

A few weeks after I started dating my fiancee, Mo, someone stole her bicycle.

She’d decided to stop driving her 1989 Honda Civic when its engine started cutting out unexpectedly at stoplights. So, to get to her clinical rotation at the hospital, she’d hauled her bicycle out of storage. One day Mo decided to pack a cable lock rather than the 15-pound chain she’d brought with her from Brooklyn. Bad choice. The bike was gone by midafternoon.

It could have been the end of her bike-commute career, if the guy she was dating hadn’t been into bicycles. The next Saturday, we walked together to the Community Cycling Center and picked out a new bicycle.

Last Wednesday, over dinner, Mo told me about a conversation she’d had at a CPR recertification course. She and another participant had been preparing to head home on their bicycles when the 60ish instructor shook her head.

“I worry about you,” she told the younger women.

It’s not actually so bad, the other participant said.

If we had better bike infrastructure, Mo told her, you wouldn’t have to worry about us so much. What if more of the bike lanes were physically separated from traffic, for example?

“Wouldn’t you feel safer?” Mo asked.

The instructor thought about it.

I guess that’d be different, she said.

Mo never got her old bicycle back. Her new one is better. And Portland won’t ever get back the story about bicycling that it lost a few years ago.

The next story we tell ourselves will have to be a different one. A new one. I don’t know what it’ll be.

All I know is that our slate has been wiped clean.

But whatever our next story is, it’ll grow out of moments like this one: three Portlanders, talking with each other about what a better city might be like.

– Michael Andersen,

Correction 5/14: Lindsey got in touch to correct some details, tweaked above. The most important is that she owned a nice laptop, so wouldn’t describe herself as “broke.” I’ve changed to “broke, or at least cheap.”

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  • Gerik May 13, 2014 at 11:29 am

    Thank you, Michael.

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  • Blake May 13, 2014 at 11:30 am

    We’ve convinced ourselves that we are the bike capital of America and we have become complacent because it is a foregone conclusion that the “bike lobby” runs the city. Instead of the types of new infrastructure being built in NYC or Chicago, we have 2 stripes of green in downtown for East-West and nothing good for North-South. And the problems radiate out from there.

    We can get back to more sensible planning and infrastructure development, but we have to break the idea of the bike lobby within the city’s politics and most importantly within our own minds. Things won’t get built unless we demand them and don’t give up when there are headwinds.

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    • Eastsider May 13, 2014 at 9:52 pm

      I agree. The bicycling community actually has very little or no representation in city hall right now. Mayor Hales seems to view cycling as an “extra” and not a necessity of our transportation system. Leah Treat seemed promising but has been timid in her execution of making Portland the city we know it should be. Worst of all, Amanda Fritz actively opposes cycling every chance she gets. While she tends to automatically vote “no” on most issues, she has tried to be a champion for equity and health. Rather than see cycling as an obvious tool to achieve greater equity and health among Portlanders, she sees it as a challenger; something not worthy of funding, representing only a fringe group of citizens. We deserve much better representation than her and she does not belong in city hall.

      I think there may be tremendous gains for active transportation that occur along with a generational shift in power – its beginning to happen in city all over the country. Unfortunately, some people are so set in their ways that they fail to recognize obvious solutions when they are right in front of them.

      Amanda Fritz for mayor of suburbia.

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      • Jon Wood May 14, 2014 at 1:08 pm

        Amanda Fritz is not anti-cycling. I have talked with her about cycling, walking, transit, etc. She has said that the city may be neglecting pedestrians and mass transit riders due to bicycle program funding, and that more transpo dollars should be devoted to constructing new sidewalks to make walking safer.

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        • Jeff M May 14, 2014 at 10:07 pm

          “neglecting pedestrians and mass transit riders due to bicycle program funding”
          Are you being serious?

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          • 9watts May 15, 2014 at 4:12 pm

            this is what you get when everyone not in a horseless carriage gets to fight over the crumbs.

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  • Bro'Donnell May 13, 2014 at 11:30 am

    Beautiful post.

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  • Alan 1.0 May 13, 2014 at 11:33 am

    Thanks, Michael. I hope that piece inspires the discussion the issue deserves, here and elsewhere. It’s huge.

    My teeny, tiny impression of the new paint itself: It’s so much less attractive than the simple block letters and aged patina of the raw brick.

    (Could you add a tag to this whole series of posts so they link together?)

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  • KYouell May 13, 2014 at 11:38 am

    That was beautiful. I hope that the stability of the family biking community can help birth Portland’s next bike story.

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    • Rob Chapman May 14, 2014 at 5:00 pm

      KYouell, I believe that the more of you out there hauling rugrats around on bikes, the better things will get for all of us. People will have to start seeing cycling for what it is, a normal even mundane part of life. Thanks and high fives!

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  • Joe May 13, 2014 at 11:38 am

    The best Michael awesome post! lost for words… but thank you
    and thank you riders.

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  • Bike-Max-Bike May 13, 2014 at 11:40 am

    A requiem for Portland’s almost-was, Never Never Land of bicycle acceptance.

    “Stay in the Bike Lane!” they shouted forever more.

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  • Nishiki May 13, 2014 at 11:40 am

    So why are we removing this sign (sorry bisy)

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  • Steph Routh May 13, 2014 at 11:44 am

    Thank you for this story, Michael.

    I love some of Portland’s emerging stories that are currently being woven into the tapestry of this city. Cully. Jade District. EPAP. And that there is a pride in Lents and Parkrose that I don’t remember existing when I was younger. Cities change; change is tough. Some change sucks and needs correcting. Some change is awesome. Portland’s got something for everybody, and never a dull moment. 🙂

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  • Christopher May 13, 2014 at 11:45 am

    Excellent post, Michael. I moved here because of the city’s bike infrastructure. I stuck around and bought a house for the same reason.

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  • David May 13, 2014 at 11:51 am

    So what do we do now? How do we prevent the plateau from becoming a downturn? How do we take the next step forward?

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    • Alan 1.0 May 13, 2014 at 12:08 pm

      We ride our bikes. We ride as much as we can. We talk to people about riding. We help others ride. We go to meetings where bikes are on the agenda. When bikes aren’t on the agenda, we contact the respective chair person and ask that the agenda include bikes. When we can’t be there in person, we write to councils and committees and representatives. We support bike advocates and advocacy groups with money and time and words. We vote for representatives who support bikes, and we let them know how they’re doing and how we feel about their actions. And again, most importantly, we ride our bikes.

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      • Brian May 13, 2014 at 1:46 pm

        Well said. I would add, we get our kids on bikes and support local organizations that work hard to do the same.

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      • Alex May 13, 2014 at 3:06 pm

        We could put together mountain bike ride on Wildwood.

        Free Forest Park. MTBing is not a crime.

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        • Patrick May 14, 2014 at 8:38 am

          That would just move us backwards. There would be well deserved backlash–there should be places for walkers to find solitude.

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          • Brian May 14, 2014 at 9:34 am

            And for mountain bikers to find the same. Solitude isn’t something found only while wearing boots, or running shoes. No one is asking that all trails be multi-use. There could also be new trail built, or some of the really deteriorated trails could be given to mtb’ers to revitalize. Something. Anything.

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            • Mark May 15, 2014 at 10:51 am

              This is an awful idea. Wildwood is one of the most well-utilized trails for hikers and joggers. Pedestrians are our allies in promoting a car-free Portland. The last thing to do would be to disenfranchise our allies because recreational mountain bikers can’t be bothered to use existing trails. This is a very divisive and polarizing topic. I once *walked* my bike partway along Wildwood to meet some friends and I got chewed out.

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          • Zimmerman May 14, 2014 at 11:29 am

            There is no backwards when there is already no meaningful access.

            For what it’s worth: finding “solitude” on Wildwood is like searching for chastity at a brothel.

            As for this article: I moved to Seattle and there seems to be far less backslapping or hand wringing, there’s just work getting done. I really like bicycling here. Good luck down there.

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          • Alex May 14, 2014 at 11:44 am

            At this point I completely disagree. Are you aware the current status and the road blocks that Houle/Fritz have put in place? At a certain point you just need to do things to show the need is there and it isn’t going away.

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        • Brian May 14, 2014 at 2:17 pm

          Surely we can come up with a more creative, and effective, ongoing act of civil disobedience to try and affect change.

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          • Alex May 14, 2014 at 3:13 pm

            At this point, I don’t think there is one. Can you come up with one? I honestly see it as part of Portland’s proud tradition…know the history of Burnside skate park at all?

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            • Brian May 14, 2014 at 4:08 pm

              I do know about it. I wish I had an answer.

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              • Alex May 14, 2014 at 4:47 pm

                Have you read this?


                You can even see wsbob show his true colors in the comments…good stuff. Forest park is a great resource that is underutilized and over-protected by zealots. The city is ignoring input from the majority of the people in the city, ignoring science and just putting up red-tape to stop recreation in the park based purely on a few political players. I didn’t hear about the meetings or anything about the whole process of limiting usage – did you?

                The whole point being is this: nothing will change if more pressure is put on the park. The only way to do that, at this point, is not through committees and trying to attend meetings that they don’t tell you about, it is about direct action – and I am not talking about sitting in FP with signs.

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              • Brian May 15, 2014 at 8:03 am

                I have, and I don’t disagree. Someone who disagrees with bikes in FP on this website once commented something like “you and your bike are welcome in Forest Park, just not while riding it.” Good idea. Bike swarm to Wildwood, then just walk them on the busiest section of trail. Repeat. Nothing illegal. May attract many more people who believe in more local cycling opportunities and creating a better overall bike culture (not just mtb’ers).

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          • Tom Hardy September 11, 2015 at 2:45 pm

            The best and most effective way is to replace Fritz, then outlaw cars that go over 20 miles an hour on side streets and within 1 block of school buildings like 26th and Powell. Contact the school board for that.
            Remember! The speed limit justification only applies when there is no peds or cyclists involved. Then it is 50% of all traffic including peds and cyclists, not not 85% of motorists speeds. Next, it is not supposed to be 10 MPH over the speed limit for a citation it is 10%. This indicates 22 MPH in a school Zone or Greenway, not 10MPH over. Citations are issued for 21 in Beaverton by the radar van. My wife got one. She does not drive anymore.

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    • Pete May 15, 2014 at 9:46 pm

      Raise gas prices to where they need to be.

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  • shannon holt May 13, 2014 at 11:53 am

    This is a fine piece of writing. Thank you.

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  • RH May 13, 2014 at 11:56 am

    Very moving post with the text and photos. I have fully embraced cycling since moving to Portland 8 years ago. I used to be the the guy that would drive a block to buy a gallon of milk before moving here. It has completely changed my life mentally, physically, and financially. This blog has been a big factor in teaching me bike relating things. In fact today I biked from North Portland to Beaverton over the west hills thanks to a blog post a few months back that told me about the route to take….and it was fun!

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  • Matt Youell May 13, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    “Bicycles themselves did nothing for me emotionally — and if you have to know, they don’t today, either.”

    I share this sentiment. I like bikes, but what I love more is not having to rely on a car to get around. Freedom comes in a lot of flavors.

    Still, I bike and the idea of not being “America’s Bicycle Capital” – self declared or otherwise – hurts a little bit. But maybe that’s fighting the last war.

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    • Jim May 14, 2014 at 8:13 am

      Yup. Yes. Uh-huh. s’truth. Sing it. Amen.

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  • indy May 13, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    What many car drivers don’t realize, or understand, is every dollar you put towards the cheap-in-comparison bicycling infrastructure, reduces car congestion by much more than the same investment in car-only lane-expansion. Bikes take up so much less space than cars. That space difference allows for many many more bikes (people) to get through a smaller, tighter space than the same equivalent in a car. ESPECIALLY in an urban environment. As a biker and driver, I want to have more investment in biking pathways so that my driving, when it does occur, happens more efficiently. This is a pretty difficult concept to understand, it requires thinking beyond one’s own self-advantage. By helping OTHERS be more efficient, you see the secondary benefit!

    The funding for biking(most efficient form of transport, by a longshot) and pedestrians(livability) should be a priority for this city. It benefits all other forms of transport as a secondary benefit!

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    • GlowBoy May 13, 2014 at 4:36 pm

      Well put, indy. Improving things for cyclists improves things for everyone.

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      • MaxD May 13, 2014 at 5:39 pm

        or focusing on safe streets improves bicycling conditions! It is a fine point, but I think this a good time to advocate for City-wide safety improvements (reduced speed limits and increased enforcement, regular street sweeping and line painting, drunk and distracted driving enforcement) combined with raising fees from parking(surface lots, increased meter fees, greatly expand the meter program). This fee system has the added benefit of discouraging SOV commuting, further improving cycling conditions.

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  • Ted Buehler May 13, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    Michael — very well stated.

    Folks, we have the extreme good fortune of living in the bicycling world envisioned and created by advocates and staff of the 1990s and 2000s.

    Now it’s time to pay forward, to dream bigger than ever, and make Portland of 2030 4 times as good as the Portland we have today.

    Talk big, dream big. Conspire. Speak out. Write. Organize. And support all the others working in this cause.

    Ted Buehler

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    • Cora Potter May 13, 2014 at 5:33 pm

      I think the important thing to remember is that the Portland of 2030 is so much more than the central city and inner SE/NE. There are places in Portland that still have bike facilities that are 1990 Portland, and places that haven’t seen any help for bikes at all. People (and, in my observation even more commonly among established bike advocates) are quick to make excuses – annexation, county planning and zoning…but these parts of the city have been Portland since the activism started, and they’ll be Portland moving forward.

      Is it more challenging to do projects in underdeveloped areas? Perhaps. But, that’s where creativity and growth comes from.

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  • Lee May 13, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    “So what do we do now?”

    Get involved. Question folks in office now, any chance you get, and candidates for any relevant position, how they feel on bike issues that matter to you. Then vote accordingly.

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  • Carl May 13, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    Hi-ho. “Moral center of Portland’s bike community,” here!
    (Geez Michael. Thanks but am I EVER going to live that down?!)

    A couple notes:
    – I’ve certainly put time in on “Team Diplomacy” but before people who were there point this out: I didn’t get involved with the police when that cherry bomb went off. I just stood with my friends in the pouring rain and waited for the fun to begin again.

    – 28th? Yeah. I was feelin’ down because I’d seen that failure coming for months and knew there was nothing we could do about it. Rough night.

    – I mark April 29, 2008, the day Portland “went Platinum” as the day Portland’s bike network really started its descent into compromise and back-patting. That’s just me, though.

    – Sadly, these days I use my architectural history degree more than I play polo. Happy to spectate, though!

    – Deadline for the Pedalpalooza print calendar is 5/23! (Had to sneak that in.)

    Thanks for the heartfelt and honest article, Michael. I hope our new blank slate provides us with some exciting new opportunities, new leaders, and new fun. I’m glad to know you’ll be there to chronicle it, no matter how it goes.


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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) May 13, 2014 at 12:30 pm

      Thanks, Carl (in every way). I misinterpreted something you said about the cherry bomb – I’ll fix.

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    • Joe Biel May 13, 2014 at 5:39 pm

      I’d second the Platinum as being The Problem. It lined up almost to the day when street level activism disappeared in Portland.

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      • Daniel R. Miller May 13, 2014 at 11:29 pm

        Can we give back the “platinum”, ask for a tarnished bronze or a rusty cast-iron in its place?

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    • are May 14, 2014 at 10:32 am

      thank you, carl, for everything you do. and thanks, michael, for this thoughtful post.

      a subtext here is that the cycling “community,” by and large, has been content to rely on a handful of individuals to do all the heavy lifting. and not just since april, 2008. always.

      if even one-tenth of the hundreds of people who post comments here complaining about some letter that some business owners on 28th signed off on actually showed up at the project planning meetings, or volunteered a few hours here and there in grassroots efforts to improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods — urban gardening, worker and consumer cooperatives, nonprofit service providers, whatever — a lot could get done.

      instead we sit around and complain someone else is doing it wrong.

      next week, wednesday, may 21 is the ride of silence. worldwide, except in portland.

      the ride of silence is intended to be a grassroots effort. but in 2008 it fell to the BTA to put the ride together, and because tracy sparling and brett jarolimek had recently been killed the ride was well attended. over the following five years, the ride was put together by one or two or three individuals. fifty or sixty or eighty people always showed up.

      this year no one has stepped forward. you still have a week.

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      • Buzz Aldrin May 14, 2014 at 11:20 am

        In the past, there were a smaller number of advocate voices and they were more or less unified in what they wanted for cyclists and cycling.

        Now there are lots of voices which are often in disagreement – e.g. bike lanes vs. separated facilities, neighborhood greenways vs. access to arterials in business and commercial districts, sharrows as wayfinders vs. sharrows as shared lane markings, etc.

        We should not have to be picking and choosing between these false options, these are all tools that should be used when and where appropriate.

        But above all, for cycling to really go mainstream it has to go main street, and not be hidden off on some ‘alternative’ parallel route, and there still needs to be much better connectivity to the network as a whole.

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        • kclewis May 15, 2014 at 1:49 pm

          Well Said.

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      • spare_wheel May 14, 2014 at 11:37 am

        a cyclist recently died in portland. eugene, salem, and corvallis have rides planned.

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  • Joe May 13, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    “dream bigger” indeed

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  • Kirk May 13, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    Wow…wonderfully written post. Best yet. You (unfortunately) hit the nail on the head with this one.

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  • Jessica Horning May 13, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    We could have it all back if Carl would just start showing up for bike polo again! j/k What a wonderfully done piece. Thank you, Michael.

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  • maxadders May 13, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    Yeah, the problem with thinking that you’re the only group that matters is sometimes you’re reminded that you’re not. And when you don’t get your way– it hurts.

    That mural was an unsanctioned advertisement. So BikePortland’s now pro-visual-pollution? Oh, right of course not. Only when the pollution supports your agenda.

    You can’t tirelessly promote Portland as a cheap / liberal / progressive / eco friendly city and then expect it to not experience growing pains. We’re bigger, more expensive and more economically competitive now.

    Furthermore, those young idealists who showed up ~10 years ago grew up too. They started making families and developing careers. And guess what? No matter how a bunch of armchair advocates want to deny it, bikes don’t work for all people and all tasks.

    So yeah, spout some more polarizing rhetoric. I’ve long since abandoned “bike culture” as a bunch of policitally correct dittoheads advocating for their own interests above all others, and as BikePortland limps forward, I don’t see this trend changing.

    All I see here lately is complaining about how X has failed bicyclists. But I don’t think we need to compete with any other city. We’ll find our own transportation solutions. And if that means a plateau– well, maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe we’re not ready. Maybe our current needs are met. Maybe you’re grasping at straws.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) May 13, 2014 at 12:43 pm

      Without irony, maxadders: I love your attitude. And though I’ll be working for BikePortland and serving its community as well as I know how, I’m also eager to wrap my head around the next thing that makes our city extraordinary. You’re right – it doesn’t have to be the bicycle.

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      • maxadders May 13, 2014 at 1:41 pm

        Segways. Definitely Segways.

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        • mran1984 May 13, 2014 at 5:42 pm

          South Park adequately addressed these nightmares already. Mr. Garrison would be so pleased with this.

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    • CaptainKarma May 13, 2014 at 1:00 pm


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    • Dave Thomson May 13, 2014 at 2:13 pm

      I have to agree. The tone of bicycle advocacy in Portland — influenced heavily by BikePortland — has changed from “this is how and why we should make things better” to “cycling in Portland is dangerous and generally sucks, and it is all the fault of (pick one or more) people who don’t commute by bike, transportation departments, elected leaders, businesses who think about ALL their customers, etc”. Negative messaging may motivate your base, but it will not convert people to your cause. Since transportation cyclists are still very much a minority even in Portland this is not a recipe for success.

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      • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
        Michael Andersen (News Editor) May 13, 2014 at 2:48 pm

        Thanks, Dave. Getting enough “positive” stories is something J and I think about a lot, FWIW. We’re always learning, from commenters and others, where the lines are.

        This post or something like it has been clogging up both our brains for a while, and it’s possible that finally getting this in one piece will help clear the mental pipes. I know I’ll be making an effort, especially for the next few weeks, to share stories of things that seem to be moving in a welcome direction. Fortunately, that’s a pretty easy job in Portland in May. 🙂

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  • dan May 13, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    Kudos on a lyrical and moving post. Having said that, Sam Adams is/was a sleazy liar who tarnished the bicycling movement with his association. Hopefully when Novick becomes mayor we’ll get the honest advocate in City Hall that we need.

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    • Spiffy May 13, 2014 at 2:06 pm

      And nobody in city hall has ever lied since.

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      • dan May 13, 2014 at 3:04 pm

        Lying in politics is just table stakes, as far as I can tell. Using your position as mayor to weasel away from a likely DUI charge goes above and beyond. Having a monument building obsession that makes leaving your mark on the city your highest priority regardless of other concerns…now, that’s how you inspire people that might have been solitary grumblers before to coalesce against you.

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        • mran1984 May 13, 2014 at 5:45 pm

          You don’t think Bud Clark ever pulled a DUI stunt… you are really funny grinding YOUR axe on this. PREDISPOSED ASSESSMENT?

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    • Rob Chapman May 14, 2014 at 8:56 am

      If Novick becomes mayor things will get even worse. He talks out of both sides of his mouth.

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  • Justin May 13, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    It’s far too easy to stop dreaming and settle into a malaise of hopelessness. When all you see around you is failed ideas and mediocrity, it’s easy to feel uninspired to push for anything more. I certainly fall into that category. This article is a great reminder that each moment is a new opportunity to create something new.

    Don’t get angry, get busy. But get busy doing what?

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    • Blake May 13, 2014 at 12:41 pm

      Here’s what I’m working on:

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    • Scott H May 13, 2014 at 1:05 pm

      Busy asking for Fritz’s resignation?

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      • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
        Michael Andersen (News Editor) May 13, 2014 at 1:14 pm

        You can certainly feel free to criticize Fritz. But in her defense, she made the quite reasonable point that rules are rules and the city’s code enforcement must be content-neutral.

        IMO, it all makes perfect sense right up to the point where you replace something that’s mostly a popular civic icon with something that’s mostly an ad.

        But as Jonathan says below, I don’t intend to relitigate the argument over this sign. I want us to turn the page, as a city, beyond the bike boom that was and start thinking about the next big thing.

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        • Scott H May 13, 2014 at 1:45 pm

          Part of it might just be that I’m using Fritz because I need someone to blame. But on the other hand, I think she symbolizes the people that are standing in our way and keeping us from turning the page and starting the next big thing.

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        • Rob Chapman May 14, 2014 at 9:00 am

          Amanda Fritz picks and chooses the rules that suit her agenda, witness Right 2 Dream Too, which I actually support but still. I will give her credit for her consistency in hating bikes. She is honest and straightforward about it.

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  • Dave May 13, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    Thank you for the post. That is the best thing I have read on your site. Keep the faith!

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  • peejay May 13, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    New slogan for the wall: “BIKES WILL SAVE THE WORLD”!

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  • Brian Davis May 13, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    Thanks for this, Michael. I think that for many of us, the mural’s demise had a powerfully symbolic, and perhaps a bit cathartic, element to it. You’ve captured that sentiment beautifully in this essay.

    “If you took a big risk, tomorrow, to improve this city, would the people of Portland be behind you?”

    Good question.

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  • spare_wheel May 13, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    Politicians will only take risks when they believe that bike advocates have their back. While it’s convenient to place all of the blame on muckraking journalists, IMO, bike advocacy in Portland has also contributed to stagnation. Some bike advocates have helped journalists propagandize the *DANGER* of cycling. Some have helped reinforce stereotypes that everyday bike commuters are “weird” or “others” (e.g. the fearless 1%). Some advocates have helped promote the idea that misbehavior by cyclists is a major contributor to lack of progress/support. Absurdly, some advocates even imitate bike-hating cranks by lambasting people who cycle on commercial streets.

    I recently attended two transportation town halls in the Sunnyside and Buckman area and in both cases the majority of comments were anti-active transport. Two neighborhoods with cycling mode share in the teens and the conversation was dominated by bike-hating cranks! Until cycling advocates is willing to aggressively confront the angry minority that dominate bike messaging in Portland, stagnation is a best case scenario.

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    • Spiffy May 13, 2014 at 2:12 pm

      I don’t need to confront the angry minority, they confront me real-time while I’m biking…

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      • spare_wheel May 13, 2014 at 2:51 pm

        I don’t need to confront the angry minority…
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        Enjoy those freshly paved streets!

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  • Rachel Zajano May 13, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    I live in Copenhagen now, used to live in Portland in the mid 90s. It’s late here and I’m sleep deprived thanks to a baby who doesn’t sleep, and I need to go to work tomorrow. But first I had to read this great post. I miss Portland, and as I cycle in the daily urban peleton here in Copenhagen I often think of Portland and its strong cycle culture. But with this article I am reminded that my thoughts are merely fantasy, and that a shitload of work is required still. I remain hopeful. Keep up the good work, Portland cycling friends. Stay strong! X

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  • jeff May 13, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    it’s just a sign folks. I still rode to work today, just like I do every day.
    I’m guessing another one will pop up and all of the kiddos here will be happy that their “movement” is recognized again in paint…on stone…
    the only question to really ask is…do you seriously need a sign to make yourselves feel better about the place you live?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) May 13, 2014 at 1:08 pm

      Hey jeff,

      Thanks for the comment… But just so you know, this post isn’t really about the sign at all. We just used it as a visual representation of a larger idea.

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      • jeff May 13, 2014 at 2:21 pm

        a bit dramatic, ain’t it?

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        • eli bishop May 13, 2014 at 4:13 pm

          maybe for you. but others are obviously having an emotional reaction to it. try to connect with why that might be.

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          • Mossby Pomegranate May 13, 2014 at 7:22 pm

            I’m trying. Yep it’s just paint on a wall. Just like bike lanes are just paint on the street.

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          • jeff May 14, 2014 at 8:03 pm

            it’s paint on a wall, what is there to “connect with”? I mostly spend my time connected to pragmatic reality, not fluffy internet prose.

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    • maxadders May 13, 2014 at 1:40 pm

      How will we know that we’re “weird” unless we’re constantly reminded of it?

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      • Mij May 13, 2014 at 4:36 pm

        We’ve got you?

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  • Cory Poole May 13, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    Thank you for a very well written version of what has been going though my mind these last few weeks. Thank you Michael, Thank you Carl, Thank you everyone who took a chance in the past and Thank you to those who will step up in the future. Portland is Portland because of us.

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  • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
    Michael Andersen (News Editor) May 13, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    Thanks! Fixed.

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  • Ryan Good May 13, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    That is some damn fine writing, Michael.

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  • Beth May 13, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    Beautifully written observations and analysis of a moment in Portland’s history. And in the long run, it is just that. A moment.
    Moments are strung together to make up days, weeks and years, and then a lifetime. Portland’s lifetime is continuing, and it changes as the people who live here change — in demographic, age range and the multitude of choices we all make.
    Portland’s bike culture may have reached a zenith. It may be in a transition to Somewhere Else. But Portland’s is not the only story.

    Next month I will be in the Kansas City area for a monthlong teaching residency. I will be living in the midst of a community that is known for its higher levels of wealth and education and for its car-centric lifestyle.
    And I will be getting everywhere I need to go by bicycle. Because in my contract, I negotiated that they either pay for me to ship a bike of my own, or that they arrange for a bicycle in my size to be made available for my daily use. They are also kicking in a loaner trailer so I can tow my guitar and teaching supplies back and forth. This will be my fourth visit to this community in a year, and now everyone there just calls me the Bicycle Lady. They are looking forward to seeing me again and are already asking if they want me to join them on some scenic ride to this or that park or sports facility or coffeehouse. I will be happy to. Because many of these families never considered their bicycles as actual transportation before they’d met me and learned that, in Portland, I live without a car of my own.
    So maybe Portland’ bikeyness isn’t dying. And what we need to do is to take it other places and invite people in those other places to consider what a more bike-oriented life might look like.

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  • TJ May 13, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    Lately, I’ve taken to avoiding the 5pm Cat 6 race up Williams to my home in Woodlawn. I swing wide-north, over the St. Johns Bridge, and through deeper N. Portland via St. Louis, eventually connecting back over to MLK and crossing Columbia and Lombard to my place just off Dekum. There’s a bike lane, but it feels appropriate and not boastful. I like this. I like the reminders that Portland is not America’s Bicycle Capital, but a medium size town of many still diverse neighborhoods. I’m reminded, riding from the Pearl, over the train tracks serving the businesses on Front Avenue, and the view of the docks from the St. Johns that Portland is a city of new and old industry. When I swing through Peninsular Park, I recall the shots often fired. I am not sure where I am going here. Something about the key to Portland is in better neighborhood strength and presence (not merely a marketing convenience for realtors) –protecting the identities and leveraging against the central city bureaucracy. The future is not about bikes; it’s about livable communities. It’s about not alienating everyone who doesn’t drink coffee, nurse IPAs, and ride bikes. Yes, bike infrastructure has a net effect, but the guise of bike infrastructure is too damning to Portland, the city that is so much more. I’d much prefer for the net effect to be bike infrastructure. I’m a white, long time (Fred) cyclist, from the southern roots of America. I didn’t move here for the bikes. I moved here because I love our neighborhoods east of the river. I love the culture. I hate working in the Pearl and I hate the infill of studio apartments on Mississippi and Division. I like apple pie, front porches, the smell of freshly cut grass, and seeing families and old good friends gather at an event in one of our beautiful parks. If I weren’t a sap for all the good that ain’t bikes, beer, and dives… I’d move to Hood River or Bend.

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    • spare_wheel May 13, 2014 at 3:14 pm

      The future is not about bikes; it’s about livable communities. Yes, bike infrastructure has a net effect, but the guise of bike infrastructure is too damning to Portland, the city that is so much more.

      If we don’t enhance our public/active transport options traffic congestion, urban sprawl, un-safe streets, and pollution will make our metro area less livable. Many metro areas (PDX is *not* a medium-sized town) in the “southern roots of america” are good examples of this.

      It’s about not alienating everyone who doesn’t drink coffee, nurse IPAs, and ride bikes….If I weren’t a sap for all the good that ain’t bikes, beer…I’d move to Hood River or Bend.

      I don’t think you are going to be able to avoid micro-brews, espresso and boho transplants by moving to Hood River or Bend.

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      • TJ May 13, 2014 at 4:26 pm

        I typed: If I weren’t a sap for all the good that AIN’T bikes, beer, and dives… I’d move to Hood River or Bend. –Insinuating that Portland is really so much more than how the country and world perceives us.

        Again, I do not believe bikes are the answer. In part because they alienate many other cultures (right or wrong). Cycling, more so than automobile driving, is a culture to identify with and direct at. So yes, we need to enhance our public / active transportation options, but not for the cyclist and close-in community. Rather, for the greater good of this city and all its cultures and peoples. I truly believe the wrong rubbings, we as cyclist have given much of the Metro area, is in making it personal and not relating to all the cogs that make Portland’s east side special. Bikes first gained a footing in this town because the grid allowed it. The underpinnings of the city that fought the Mt Hood Hwy and prompted the removal of Harbor Drive dig deeper than bike transportation. Our rally cry should not be for bike lanes because bikes need bike lanes, but because our porches, rivers, churches, family BBQs, schools, music, YOUR way of life, My way of life, and the history of this city need not be further separated by the need to travel further faster. Still, I’d much prefer bikes not be the cause any more than cars be the cause, because, at the end of the day, technology will change how we commute, but Portland should always be Portland. I guess what I am saying is, as an example: we have to stop thinking about how we can get grandma, the church organist on a bike, and rather how we can keep grandma, the church organist, in the city of Portland.

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        • ed May 13, 2014 at 6:06 pm

          Really? Can’t we keep our bike/ped infrastructure moving forward (which has much more to do with the things you keep saying you like about PDX than you seem to realize) AND keep striving to keep the city diverse? Not sure where you’ve been that perpetuates car culture yet keeps the front porch etc livability you like so. (certainly nowhere in the South) In cities where all the grandmas drive to church you have massive dead zones and the old neighborhoods you love are pretty well trashed. Coast to coast, north to south. I hope you eventually can make the connection between the perpetuation of bike/ped living here with the traditional neighborhood vibe you elevate. Your false dichotomy isn’t really making sense.

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          • TJ May 13, 2014 at 7:40 pm

            I can make the connection with how we sell bike/ped culture in Portland and it is not entirely about the things I mention –it is too often about bikes (and the middle class who rides them). The wall painting put such sentiments in ALL CAPS. My entire point is we need to keep it all moving forward, but not on the backbone of something that alienates much of the community and supporters we need. has grown with our cycling community, but the sign was a testament to both how far we’ve come from the days of Critical Mass and how we still hold that same pompous attitude when it comes to our views of this cities –both in success and shortcomings. I believe it is time cyclist understand, like the death of Critical Mass in Portland, we’re nearing the end of what we can accomplish alone. We need buy-in that won’t come with more bike lanes at the expense of parking spaces. We need to not infill with pricey tiny studios that our bike friendly, but to reassert the city’s culture in the outers where neighborhoods have become refuge suburbs for those who could once afford to live in a family size bungalow with a porch in the inners.

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        • spare_wheel May 13, 2014 at 6:18 pm

          “Again, I do not believe bikes are the answer. In part because they alienate many other cultures (right or wrong). Cycling, more so than automobile driving, is a culture to identify with and direct at. “

          Does walking alienate people? Are sidewalks controversial? There is nothing inherently alienating about riding a bike. Bikes have a bit of a PR problem in Portland but the majority of citizens support cycling facilities and cycling as a transportation mode.

          Our cities are increasingly congested with low occupancy vehicles and the trend towards density is only going to make our physical, emotional, and environmental gridlock worse. I have no patience with those who want to ignore our current dystopian reality by pining away for the “apple pie” good old days. Our freeways are packed with stressed-out people who pay an ever increasing amount of their income on a transportation mode that is poisoning our planet. Bikes may not be *the answer* but they are certainly part of the solution.

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        • spare_wheel May 13, 2014 at 6:29 pm

          i strongly agree that we should “keep grandma, the church organist” in portland but i don’t think that is going to happen until we reform zoning, development and tax policies that favor wealthier people. moreover, pedestrian and bike facilities in outer pdx would help the “grandmothers” who were evicted from inner portland. active transport is not the problem, the problem was city policy which encouraged displacement of people from their neighborhoods (again).

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          • TJ May 13, 2014 at 7:51 pm

            We’re totally on the same page. Bicycles cannot underwrite our current concerns or our future. Actually, part of me believe bicycles for all the good they’ve done for the city, our partially responsible for the displacement of grandma the church organist (example: who do local politicians court?). The culture is one of its own and not always in compliment to others. I’m not sure city-hopping on a bike should be a culture (as opposed to racing, touring, mtb, etc). I keep running a scene from a Renior film I cannot remember, where a couple rides a bike along a river path in France in the 1930s. I cannot think of the film, but the scene is not about bikes. The same scene would make top billings in the narrow scope of Filmed By Bike.

            I’m only trying to stir conversation.

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    • Rob Chapman May 13, 2014 at 5:46 pm

      Wonderfully put TJ. Thank you.

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  • Brian May 13, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    And the NWTA/Lumberyard skills course was so popular at Sunday Parkways that after it was stolen a group of volunteers got together to rebuild it in time for last weekend. There are things to be celebrated, but much work still to be done in all arenas of cycling in and around PDX.

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    • John Lascurettes May 13, 2014 at 6:36 pm

      Wait, what? Someone stole the skills course?

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      • Brian May 14, 2014 at 8:19 am

        The NWTA trailer was stolen with the course inside. Course was rebuilt and sounds like it’s better than ever!

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        • John Lascurettes May 14, 2014 at 1:01 pm

          Ah, yes. I remember the story about the trailer getting stolen – didn’t recall that this equipment was inside it. Thanks.

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  • Joe Kurmaskie May 13, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    For me, riding a bicycle has never been “a thing” so its best days aren’t behind me and I don’t think they are for Portland. It’s a well written and thoughtful piece but a bit overly dramatic. Keep looking at ways, old and new to increase ridership and keep improving the conditions that allow for people to return to, or to start commuting by bicycle and using it as general transportation, but it feels premature, and a bit defeatist, to speak of Portland and the bicycle in the way people speak of Peak Oil or Parachute pants. Just ride your bike as often as you can, adapt for careers, family and age, stop thinking of it as a thing and just make it a way of life, and everything will be alright.

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  • Spiffy May 13, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    I rode my bicycle to work this morning from Arleta… I didn’t have any bad encounters with drivers… maybe they’re as happy for the sunshine as we are… we’ll see how my commute to Vancouver is this evening…

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  • Katelin May 13, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    Take it from someone who moved to Portland after college in 1998 and moved away with young kids in tow in 2011, I think you need some perspective. The making of Portland as a bike Mecca was long in the making and won’t be undone any time soon, even though some planning decisions didn’t go ideally for the bike community. You have a solid seat at the talble, and for the BTA, an organization that sued the city at one time, that is a big accomplishment. Maybe you need a new activists org to do smite pushing. There are always factors to balance, political and otherwise. All of the self reference as the country’s bike capital is pretty new and doesn’t change the facts: it is one of the best places to ride a bike, and has been since the mid 90s. Take the long view, that is what has gotten Portland where it is today.

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  • MaxD May 13, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    I believe it is time (and I have seen some encouraging signs!) for Portland to take some bold steps toward discouraging SOV car commuting. It is great to build bilk lane, greenways and cyclotracks, and I love have MAX, streetcar and buses, but our streets are full of people driving around by themselves! WE need serious parking reform; taxes surface lots, increase parking fees, expand meters, tow improperly parked cars, etc. Combine this with lower speeds, enforcement of drunk/distracted driving laws, and start a robust street-sweeping regime (that also involves towing for cars improperly parked). This would create a street environment that is safer and more inviting to bikes, and be revenue-positive! I also thinking fighting the street-user fee being pushed by City is important to keeping our streets available for everyone. Portland needs money for our streets, but it can get in in an equitable way that benefits everyone, charges users proportionately, and works to create safer, streets immediately. City-wide safer streets would be huge boon to cycling.

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    • Panda May 13, 2014 at 11:01 pm

      Right!, maybe the next big thing is not getting something built, it is taking so e real steps toward taking our streets back ( for pedis, cycling, transit, play, etc) our streets are our largest public open space, and they represent who we are. When I look at the streets, I se a lot of great things, but they are mostly obscured by all the single people racing home from the bar while texting

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    • Brian May 14, 2014 at 9:31 am

      Increase the costs for cars downtown by raising parking fees and the like and you run the risk of hurting downtown businesses and moving things to the suburbs.

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      • MaxD May 14, 2014 at 11:31 am

        I think downtown/pearl is established enough that that is unlikely. If a few car-dependent businesses move, more will move in and take their place.

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      • John Lascurettes May 14, 2014 at 1:07 pm

        There’s plenty of businesses that will support all the workers that prefer to work downtown (raises hand as one of those workers) and there are plenty of employers that want to be downtown because of the talent they can attract when they’re there. A minority of the close to 300 workers in the building I work in use a car to get here.

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  • q`Tzal May 13, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    With all due props to JM for this site:
    This was the best usr of photography to tell a story and set a theme I’ve ever seen on this site.
    I’ve been lurking this website since 2006 nearly daily and it’s nice to see an occasional kick-you-in-the-gut long form journalism/advocacy piece.

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  • Terry D May 13, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    We need to take this as a sign that we need to be more organized on every level. What did I do? I got elected as transportation co-chair of my neighborhood and have had significant impact just in the past six months.

    We all need to just plug along. This is a stagnation of one administration…..let us look to the next and keep pushing this one.

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  • Christopher Sanderson May 13, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    Excellent post Michael. Indeed, one of the factors for my decision to move up here was that there was great bike infrastructure and culture. Little did I know that it would inspire to start up my own cargo-bike business. I think many of us in business have taken a lot of initiative in trying to drum up more business, and sometimes those initiatives bend the rules. I feel for Todd. I know that I have installed a shed closer to a property line than what the city wants, and have worked on a fence over 6-feet tall. I am guilty too of taking some liberties for the sake of doing something cool. We live and learn, and keep pedaling on.

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  • Hmmmm.... May 13, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    “Multnomah ave. has proven what a real bike lane should be, and how well it functions (despite some drivers not knowing where to park).”

    The last figure I saw was that the Multnomah bike lane had increased bike usage by a big, big 13%. In other words, a street with fairly light bicycling usage continues to be a street with fairly light bicycling usage.

    I think that a political problem is that for the 94% of people who don’t commute by bike, transport advocacy has changed from simply trying to improve access for bicycles to additionally actively trying to make it more difficult for cars to get around Portland. Imposing “road diets” et. al, on streets with little bike traffic may be cutting into the base of political support for further bike improvements.

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    • are May 14, 2014 at 11:27 am

      if a road diet slows motorists down to sensible speeds or diverts motor traffic from side streets back onto collectors and arterials, it does not need a bike agenda.

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    • Buzz Aldrin May 14, 2014 at 12:03 pm

      I had reason to be in the Lloyd District several times in the past few weeks and I saw absolutely no one using the Multnomah facility while I was there.

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      • Dan May 15, 2014 at 7:59 am

        I am one of the MANY daily users of the crosswalk on Multnomah between 7th & 8th, which has been enhanced by this ‘facility’. The road is MUCH safer to cross now that we only need to watch out for one car moving in either direction rather than two.

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  • Chris Wilson May 13, 2014 at 3:40 pm

    I’m confused about the removal of the sign. There are clear violations ALL OVER of billboards that are not in approved places and there’s no man power to police them. A great example I can give from personal experience, and one anyone who’s lived in Portland for say at least 5 years will have noticed, is the billboard on the side of the Portland Storage Company. At least a decade ago the owners of that property petitioned the State Historic Preservation Office (where I worked) to have HUGE lettering on the side of the building that read PORTLAND STORAGE COMPANY. It was approved because it was the exact same size as the original John Deere sign almost a century ago. Well fast forward to a few years back when a billboard that was larger was painted over it. NOT APPROVED and YEARS later it’s still there.

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    • Rin May 13, 2014 at 5:29 pm

      Here is a pretty good synopsis of the situation… I believe initially the city was hoping to keep the number of billboards down (good effort) and changed the sign code to hopefully get that result. It backfired as Clear Channel found the loop hole and won the lawsuit as they were being discriminated against under the law. Sad day for muralists…

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    • Jessica Roberts
      Jessica Roberts May 14, 2014 at 1:30 pm

      Chris, my friend Michelle recently spent an inordinate amount of time researching that sign and three others right by it, and managed to (eventually) get it removed. It took tons of work, though, and the worst part is that there is no open data portal or searchable online map that citizen advocates can use to determine whether ads are permitted or not.

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  • BIKELEPTIC May 13, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    Not to distract from the absolute gorgeousness from this post, sidetrack, etc – while WNBR does have “the show must go on” philosophy”, however does obtain route permits, park permits for location, in compliance with the City for portapotties, etc. Because of its size, we rely on each and every organizer’s efforts for months in advance up until the night of to ensure that the protest runs smoothly.

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  • Todd Hudson May 13, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    People grew up, moved on, and fewer people took their places. The end.

    The bike advocates/activists here are ideologically rigid and lacking in diversity. That doesn’t exactly motivate others to join.

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  • Frank May 13, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    My transformation from optimistic Portland Booster occurred when Nick Fish:

    1. Ignored the recommendation of the public committee he formed to create single track in Forest Park
    2. Ignored over 1,000 Portlanders who responded to a poll, with a majority favoring more MTB in FP.
    3. Ignored over 350 letters he got from cyclists supporting more access – far more than letters opposing it.
    4. Caved to the Sh*ty Club committee that knew nothing about cycling or the issue, and whose chair said “Cyclists have too much clout in city hall.” I guess Nick agreed, so Nick put him on the Parks budget committee.

    And Fritz is not just blowing with political winds like Fish, but actively dislikes cyclists. With the nations biggest park and essentially no trail riding we keep getting accolades as a cycling city, which I now feel has little meaning.

    So I ride, enjoy it immensely, and expect little of Portland.


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    • Bike-Max-Bike May 13, 2014 at 4:34 pm

      If only you could bike on the Pacific Crest Trail or on land Portland owns in the Bull Run (only occasionally logged) Watershed. Bikes don’t belong everywhere.

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      • mran1984 May 13, 2014 at 5:48 pm

        You are wrong.

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      • Alex May 13, 2014 at 7:19 pm

        Huh? Are you saying the FP is equivalent to the PCT or Bull Run? That’s just laughable.

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      • Frank May 13, 2014 at 8:42 pm

        Yes, not everywhere, but definitely in FP.

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  • Joe May 13, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    free forest park 😉

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    • Bike-Max-Bike May 13, 2014 at 7:30 pm

      Indeed. From cycling zealots if nothing else.

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      • Brian May 14, 2014 at 8:28 am

        I see no reason why there shouldn’t be a trail given to, or built for, cyclists in Forest Park. I would love to be able to take my four year old on a nice trail in the city, without having to drive out of town.
        It is for this reason (lack of quality trails within the city) that mountain bikers have been arguing against Platinum status since it was awarded.

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        • MaxD May 14, 2014 at 9:34 am

          you can ride on Leif Erickson

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          • Brian May 14, 2014 at 10:38 am

            Yes, I can. And hikers can hike Leif Erickson and the Firelanes. And birdwatchers can see birds in their backyard and around their neighborhood. And joggers can jog on city streets or treadmills in the gym.

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          • Alex May 14, 2014 at 4:14 pm

            He said trail, not road.

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      • Alex May 14, 2014 at 11:47 am

        The cycling zealots are the commuters in Portland, not the mountain bikers. There are definitely zealots controlling FP, but they aren’t cyclists. Please don’t confuse the two.

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  • i ride my bike May 13, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    Some of the most pro livable street people i know in Portland are libertarian or republican. I know many anti livable street aging hippies here in Portland

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  • GlowBoy May 13, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    In retrospect, it does feel like we’ve lost our mojo. I used to dismiss the stagnation in mode share growth as just a blip, but it is starting to look like we’ve lost our way.

    To be clear, bicycling in Portland is NOT in decline. It’s just leveled off. What we really need to get things on the upswing again is another round of infrastructure improvements. Greenway work has slowed to a trickle, cars are killing twice as many Portlanders as guns, and we seem deadlocked on street redesigns from Barbur to NE 28th. The media keep promoting the false “war on cars” idea anytime a bold proposal comes out – making politicians and engineers terrified to support any bold proposals.

    Somehow we’re going to need an attitude adjustment in order to get moving again. To make it safe for the bold proposals again. Growth and density increases are naturally going to make driving more difficult even if we do nothing else. We do NOT need to actively try to make it even more difficult, which seems to be a goal for a lot of BikePortlanders. Seems to me that just feeds the bikes vs. cars meme that is holding us back.

    Sometimes individual projects, like good redesign of NE 28th, are going to make driving more difficult — but that should be an effect, and not a goal. The real goal should be to make it easier to bike, walk and take transit in Portland, and promote those as a viable alternatives for those who choose them — without going out of our way to alienate those who don’t choose them.

    For decades the Seattle metro area failed to make major improvements for ANY transport mode in response to the area’s growth. The result? The region is an absolute nightmare for driving. But it did not turn into a biking paradise. I left after watching transportation – including, yes, car traffic – become an unfixable livability problem there.

    Sticks don’t work, folks. What we need is a lot more carrots.

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    • spare_wheel May 13, 2014 at 7:00 pm

      “Sticks don’t work, folks. What we need is a lot more carrots.”

      The Dutch and Danes did not re-invigorated cycling in their nations by handing out carrots. And more recently in Antwerp Belgium:

      Images of thousands of cyclists blocking a major arterial because the city had the temerity to suggest that cyclists use a different bike route depresses me because it emphasizes how different things are here.

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      • GlowBoy May 13, 2014 at 9:04 pm

        Copenhagen and Amsterdam are wonderful places, but we are neither of them. It’s non-automotive users I’m talking about throwing the carrots to; I just don’t see the need to throw extra sticks at motorists out of spite. Like I already said, driving will continue getting more difficult quite on its own.

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        • Alan 1.0 May 14, 2014 at 12:50 am

          I’m more of a carrot guy myself, too, but that Vimeo is from Antwerp, Belgium, it’s very recent, c. 30 Apr 2014, “Turnhoutsebaan,” and it’s well worth checking out for the cultural differences from Portland as well as for the neat cycle track design.

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          • spare_wheel May 14, 2014 at 9:27 am

            i know…this video was posted by MA on bike portland a few days ago.

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        • spare_wheel May 14, 2014 at 9:42 am

          seeking equity is not spite.

          and i chose that video of cycling in antwerp because mode share there was in the single digit range a few decades ago. it’s now 16%.

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    • Josh May 13, 2014 at 11:48 pm

      Speaking of Seattle, the city has seen an amazing surge of bicycle energy, enthusiasm, and activism in the past year, and it’s not driven by megaprojects in commercial areas, but by neighborhoods. And the activism is as strong in lower income and minority neighborhoods that have never seen bicycle infrastructure investments. Check out Seattle Neighborhood Greenways for a movement that is harnessing the passion of neighbors who walk, who bike, who drive but appreciate less stressful streets.

      Yes, Seattle has opened a couple of poorly implemented cycletracks, and is busy planning another with a design speed off the bottom of the charts, but for a fraction of the cost and none of the delay, the city is building a network of neighborhood greenways that are more pleasant to ride, more appealing to neighbors, and more useful to the vast majority of people on bikes.

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      • Josh May 13, 2014 at 11:52 pm

        Also speaking of Seattle, if your goal is sustainable transportation choices, with bikes as one option, keep in mind that Seattle’s SOV commuter mode share is under 50% and falling. Not as many bikes as Portland yet, but the bigger picture is looking good despite wasting billions on freeways and tunnel boring.

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  • Rin May 13, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    Wrapped up in this story is the same passion muralists have for their love of painting and the thrill of the community effort it takes to complete a well planned out project. Big billboard company Clear Channel, finding a loophole in the sign code to sue the city and win, began the journey we did not want to take, but was forced on us so that the global company could gain more revenue. — — Murals were illegal and today, yes we can paint them (by one process through Regional Arts and Culture Council – restrictive and lengthy), but we have lost so much. The frustrations are heavy. As well we have lost 2 key figures in our battle Joe Cotter & Larry Kangas… It is difficult to keep swimming up stream, or I guess biking up hill would be more appropriate here.
    CAN WE SEE THIS AS A WAY TO EXPOSE THE PUBLIC TO THE SITUATION for both our parts of the culture of today’s Portland are now involved in? Does it come back to that policy making is just broken?
    Saddened by the uglifying of our city when citizens seem to want to make such great things happen,

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  • q`Tzal May 13, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    Stay tuned for the next chapter:
    “When Portland Got its Groove Back”.

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  • Joe Biel May 13, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    As to the future of the bicycling movement, I’d like to take this moment to invite you to check out my new feature film Aftermass: Bicycling in a Post-Critical Mass Portland debuting at the Clinton Street Theatre on May 23. and here on KBOO:

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  • dwainedibbly May 13, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    Great post. Michael, if incredibly depressing. (I was feeling down before I read it but it sure didn’t help.) Thoughts:

    1. Perfect timing. Mrs Dibbly & I are about to fill out our Primary ballots tonight.

    2. I wonder how long it’ll be before that nice red paint collects some sort of “graffiti”. I sure would hate to see that happen, by golly.

    3. I don’t know if I should ride more or go buy an old pickup truck. (WTF?!? Did I just say that? Somebody slap me!)

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  • AndyC of Linnton May 13, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    Excellent post, I will be sending it to many friends.
    Trying to be more positive, it just seems like it’s one frustration after another, and I think that comes out overly-negative (talking only for myself here) in comments.
    Guess I’ll have to get off my ass and finally do that “breakfast on the bridge” idea for Highway 30 commuters.

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  • Clarence Eckerson May 13, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    I just gotta say this: I’ll take an over 6% mode share any day.

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    • spare_wheel May 13, 2014 at 8:39 pm

      If we decline as much as we did last year you can kiss 6% goodbye this year.

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  • Tim Ervin May 13, 2014 at 7:02 pm

    Carl serves hot toddys on the corner near his house? Carl, what’s your address? I have to admit I was initially against sharrows on 28th, thinking that it would just push the parking problem to nearby streets, as well as a few other things. My friend, Ian, spent a patient hour or so convincing me otherwise, using a few arguments Carl used in support of the sharrows in the “Parking power prevails…” story connected to this one. I still don’t see 28th as being a good through-bikeway, but the idea of bike access in commercial districts, destination-centered design opposed to origin-centered design, really works for me. So, they’re not going to do the bumpouts, right? So that plan could come together in the future?

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  • Glenn May 13, 2014 at 7:17 pm

    Nice piece of writing, very moving. Thanks, Michael.

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  • Mossby Pomegranate May 13, 2014 at 7:19 pm

    It’s hard to get choked up about that mural. The sad reality is a vast majority of the city still needs a lot of work. The bike infrastructure many of you enjoy is not so accessible to many who aren’t fortunate enough to live near the inner city/downtown areas.

    Portland can and must do better. The self congratulations came too soon.

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  • Chris Smith May 13, 2014 at 8:09 pm

    Michael, I agree with your through-line. But I think there are two other macro-trends that also converged circa 2011:

    1) We exhausted the low-hanging fruit. There are very few opportunities left to advance bicycle infrastructure without taking something away from auto facilities, and our city hasn’t screwed up its collective political will to do that on a regular basis (and you’ve identified Sam’s loss of will to take it on).

    2) The PBOT budget hole reached such epic proportions that any significant innovation is becoming very, very difficult.

    The street fee should help overcome #2, but we need a real political strategy to deal with #1.

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    • gutterbunny May 13, 2014 at 10:19 pm

      The low hanging fruit is gone, only if you think in terms of all the problems are solved by adding infrastructure.

      There is lots of fruit laying around on the ground (careful or you might step on one), if you think more in the way of improving enforcement, lowering speed limits, and other more legislative and legal battles.

      Infrastructure is really an extremely small part of the entire equation. However it’s the one with the biggest visual impact.

      Think of it like a building, there is an entire structure of foundation and support beams, studs and columns that lays within the walls but outside of the field of view in most buildings. And even in buildings where those aspects are exposed, they largely fade into the background and hardly noticed by most people. Those aspects of a building might not be pretty, but without them the entire structure falls down.

      I think the biggest problem of the bicycle movement currently is we’ve been staring at the cabinetry and the floor tile, while ignoring the rest of the building.

      Of course the whole building includes more than bicycles, it involves all users of the public space that we call roads. The bicycle is an important part of that building, but it’s not the entire thing – never has been, and never will be.

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    • 9watts May 14, 2014 at 5:04 am

      “The street fee should help overcome #2”

      Really? My math doesn’t agree with your cheery conclusion.

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    • steph routh May 15, 2014 at 8:44 pm

      I agree the low-hanging fruit was delicious when it was plucked, and now here we are grasping. Most of the low-hanging fruit was located towards the core, which makes for a stark contrast now that demographics are shifting to the east and Washington County out of economic necessity. Time to build a new table with new rules and a whole new dinner party list. And we of white privilege would do best to move over gracefully and re-engage in a supporting role.

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  • Scott Kocher May 13, 2014 at 9:25 pm

    Michael’s pictures of Our Blank Wall remind me of this fascinating TED Talk (with >2m views) about “graffiti”:

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  • gutterbunny May 13, 2014 at 10:32 pm

    Great article, very well written and though I might disagree with some aspects of the history of the local movement (ignoring the importance of Bud Clark – who I know was a huge influence of many of us bike riders that moved here in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and over glamorizing the effectiveness of the critical mass rides of the 90’s – really we were nothing more than a bunch of hippies and punks getting stoned and taking a ride – myself included in the generalizations). But on a whole I think the sentiment is spot on.

    Though I got to admit, I never particularly liked the “mural”. I never really thought of it as anything but an advertisement. Not completely unlike the White Fang (Made in Oregon) sign over Burnside. Now the old Lovejoy bridge murals were art, but the others were/are nothing but commercials no matter what the owner says.

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  • wsbob May 13, 2014 at 10:36 pm

    It was kind of stupid of city officials not to have found a way to allow the positive, upbeat ‘Welcome to America’s Bicycle Capital’ proclamation to remain on the natural brick side wall of this vintage building.

    Some mistakes can be forgiven, maybe, but compounding that stupidity, was for the city to have decided that to obliterate the proclamation, it was acceptable to paint over the entire panel of the wall the proclamation was on. Natural bricks and all. If the letters had to go, some paint remover and pressure washing would have been the intelligent way to go. There are people and companies in the building restoration business that know how to do this well.

    Blotting out the natural brick with this two tone modernistic looking reddish brown paint job doesn’t do much for the building’s historic character. The historic character city hall claims it cares so much about.

    As for some of the luster on Portland’s bicycle progressiveness crown seeming to have dimmed a little of late…oh well. Things go in cycles. Sometimes a little pause is in order to give people a chance to regroup and figure out what needs to be done to get things rolling again.

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    • Chris I May 14, 2014 at 6:56 am

      Don’t worry, the buildings “character” will be greatly enhanced when it is reduced to a pile of bricks during the next big earthquake.

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  • Psyfalcon May 13, 2014 at 11:49 pm

    The low hanging fruit is gone, only if you think in terms of all the problems are solved by adding infrastructure.
    There is lots of fruit laying around on the ground (careful or you might step on one), if you think more in the way of improving enforcement, lowering speed limits, and other more legislative and legal battles.
    Infrastructure is really an extremely small part of the entire equation. However it’s the one with the biggest visual impact.

    If you lower speed limits, you’re just going to get the whole thing about sticks and cars again. I think we are at a point where its hard to find things to do where you’ll have no impact on people driving. And right now, it looks like its unacceptable to have any negative impact at all.

    Barbur would have minimal impact for a decade at least. Parking on 28th and on Foster.

    Given those examples, I think lowering speed limits will be seen as an assault on the ability to drive anywhere as fast as you’d like. You are taking something away (5mph) or inconveniencing people (following more traffic laws).

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    • 9watts May 14, 2014 at 5:26 am

      Sticks are good; sticks are needed; sticks are a timeworn way to communicate certain unwelcome truths. I’m all for sticks.

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      • Joe Biel May 14, 2014 at 7:02 am

        Yes, I was a bit perplexed by this point in the article as well. Sticks are how we’ve accomplished things, messy as they can be. This whole “why can’t we all just get along?” attitude isn’t reality and is in fact, an impediment.

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        • Lupita May 14, 2014 at 9:47 am

          What size stick are we talking about? How would you find such a stick, even if you did have the power to wield it?

          I’m serious. To exert enough influence to change things, you would have to have a significant amount of support from the non-biking portion of the population, and I don’t see that happening with sticks the size of the sticks you have at your disposal.

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          • GlowBoy May 14, 2014 at 10:49 am

            Actually, I think we got to 6% with carrots, not sticks. We didn’t set out to make driving more difficult; we set out to make biking easier by painting bike lanes, creating neighborhood greenways and improving troublesome intersections. Most of those changes came with very little pain for drivers.

            I guess I do support some sticks – like raising fuel taxes to pay for the infrastructure improvements we need.

            And I support lower speed limits and better enforcement – although it’s arguable whether they really are sticks to any real degree. One thing I’ve learned as a hypermiling driver is that reducing your peak speed doesn’t really reduce your average speed that much, especially if (as is normally true in the city) you’re spending 50-80% of your time stopped at lights, staring at someone else’s bumper stickers, slowing down for a stop or pulling away from a stop. Most people in the city spend only a small portion of their time cruising along at (or above) the speed limit, so reducing and/or enforcing speed limits doesn’t really add more than a few seconds to the average trip. People who race down the streets, cutting in and out of other cars and flooring it from stoplight to stoplight are engaged in largely delusional hamster-wheel behavior: yes, they do get where they’re going slightly earlier than if they drove moderately, but the time savings rarely adds up to even what the average person wastes sitting on the crapper in the morning.

            And that’s where I’m not sure what to do in Portland. Since Oregon traditionally has had very low patrol density, our roads have been mostly self-policing except for the most extreme violators. Fortunately we have more courteous and moderate drivers than other places, with “no, you go” hand-waves, orderly zipper merges and other niceties, but it also has led to more tolerance for high speeds on arterial streets than other cities I’ve lived in — and it means people will be outraged if enforcement steps up. I remember the outrage right here on BikePortland when it was suggested that the woman who drove a couple miles down the I-205 bike path and got stuck should get a ticket. It was like we were suggesting she go to jail and lose her job or something. In other words, it is a BIG DEAL, an enormous personal affront, to get a traffic ticket here, because it so rarely happens.

            Other places, cops are everywhere and almost everyone slips up and gets a ticket once in a while. You pay it, take it as a sign to be more careful, move on with your life, no big deal. But in Oregon … oh, the outrage!

            So with our unique local culture, I’m not sure how we pull off the stepped-up enforcement of speed, crosswalk and distracted-driving laws that we really do need, without a huge backlash. I guess a PR campaign about the carnage on our streets – pointing out that it’s vehicle occupants as well as vulnerable users who are dying – is a place to start, so drivers can feel like it’s for their benefit too.

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          • spare_wheel May 14, 2014 at 11:15 am

            65% of people in portland support funding of more separated bike lanes:


            those who are opposed to safe active transport are the minority and cyclists who think we can “ambassador” these folk into kumbaya consensus are deluding themselves.

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            • Psyfalcon May 14, 2014 at 6:13 pm

              Until you look at a parking spot wrong.

              On the other hand, I have not seen any complaints about Division where they went 4 lanes to 3. There might be a little more traffic, but I do find it more pleasant driving and biking (and walking).

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    • MaxD May 14, 2014 at 10:01 am

      The City needs to get serious about safety. Lower speed limits AND enforcement of speed limits and drunk/distracted driving will improve safety. Period. This does not have to be a bike issue.

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  • was carless May 14, 2014 at 12:13 am

    Well, the so-called bike boom may be over, but I refuse to stop riding. I will not stop proselytizing about cycling in the city of Portland. Some things are not worth giving up.

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  • Daniel Day May 14, 2014 at 2:10 am

    I saw symbolism in this blog today. It reminded me of the story of Pandora’s Box and how when she open it she made sure to close it before hope could escape. Well looks what’s left, the bicycle circle is still there. There’s still hope yet.
    And take heart, Your not having a bicycle lane getting removed.

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  • F.W. de Klerk May 14, 2014 at 6:45 am

    As some have pointed out it was just paint on a wall. And “cycling capitals” should have world class cycling infrastructure, shouldn’t they? Well we don’t. Just ask Kristen Finney, whose son would still be alive today if the city had spent more effort on providing safe bikeways for *everyone* instead of sitting on their hands and focusing on the areas that look good in a tourist guide.

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    • wsbob May 14, 2014 at 9:48 am

      “…And “cycling capitals” should have world class cycling infrastructure, shouldn’t they? …” F.W. de Klerk

      Yes they should. At least one first class example, which is one place Portland bailed out by going for a mediocre bike infrastructure upgrade to Foster Road, rather than making the difficult but worthy and visionary commitment to building a main lane separated cycle track on that road.

      Portland got it’s nice high profile favorable cycling image through the generation of hardy souls that will ride about any lousy patch of road or street in the city, painted bike lanes or not. Their tenacity in creating a very visible biking presence by riding in the face of some of the worst traffic conditions imaginable, put the blush on the rose.

      Fact is, generations move on. Others don’t necessarily fall in where they leave off. The city is missing its opportunity to bring more people into the use of biking to meet their travel needs and reduce excessive reliance on motor vehicles, because it’s not visioning and committing to build infrastructure that will enable people in general to feel the bike is a viable travel option.

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  • Jym Dyer May 14, 2014 at 7:17 am

    • Watch your back, Portland, Oakland’s coming to steal your crown!

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  • slo Joe May 14, 2014 at 7:45 am

    Thank you for this thought provoking article. Loved the writing.

    As a cyclist who moved to and used to live in Portland, I miss Portland every so much. You who live there, be thankful for what you have and may still obtain.

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  • TOM May 14, 2014 at 8:29 am

    Ummm, Portland gets over dramatic over paint ? sounds like a Portlandia skit.

    I’ve been riding a long time and never even knew the sign existed , has NO effect in any way, My bikes still work without it.
    To me, it was about the same as Leo in Titanic exclaiming “I’m King of the World” … just hot air. PUFFERING.

    “Puffery serves to “puff up” an exaggerated image of what is being described and is especially featured in testimonials.”

    Watch out for icebergs …..

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  • Alex N May 14, 2014 at 8:36 am

    Excellent writing, thank you for doing so.

    I have only been following for a few weeks now, I don’t live in Portland but my whole reasoning for coming upon this site and burning through as many past posts as I could is because of my intent to move to Portland. Reading many of the past posts over the years gets me excited, a large part (possibly the biggest part) of our pending move to Portland is because of the bicycle culture and and the infrastructure. We started talking about this a few years ago on a few visits to Portland, then on a vacation to Scandinavia and seeing the bike culture in places like Copenhagen we were blown away. We started to long for something similar, we made the best of our current city – Phoenix. I even commuted to work occasionally because compared to most people in this sprawling suburbia I lived in the center of the city and was relatively “close” to work – 27 miles roundtrip. We use the infastructure the best we can here and progress has been made but the way this city was built and the planning of the 70s and 80s you NEED a car (not to mention the months from June-Sept when its 105+ everday). Biking is something people do here as a luxury and to be trendy – that’s fine by me, it gets more people on bikes (even if all of them are beach cruisers) but it doesn’t help with really overhauling the grid system. Surface streets are like mini-highways here.

    So that’s why a few months ago we decided to move to Portland. There is lots we still needed to do here in Phoenix to prepare for the move but we started getting excited – should we sell one car? BOTH cars?! Are you going to be ok biking in the rain? Maybe I should get into cyclo-cross?!

    That’s why this post is excellent but a bit of a let down. I really didn’t have any idea that the “push” for biking in Portland had fizzled. I guess moving on with our dream and moving to PDX to help fight the good fight is still what I want to do but I must say I am a bit deflated this morning reading this. It has me questioning if we should have picked another city.

    At the very least I am glad I got to see the mural in all it’s glory last May when we were visiting and have a few good pictures to remember it by.

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    • MaxD May 14, 2014 at 10:16 am

      Alex N,
      IMO, you should move to Portland and bring your family and your bikes! Portland is great place to live (everyone thinks they live in the best neighborhood!) There are tons of great shopping streets/neighborhood centers, and biking around is amazingly pleasant and easy. 90% of the people in cars go out of their way to accommodate bikes and peds, and there are tons of great great from the city or nearby.

      This piece of writing is great, and sentimental, and in some ways accurate, but recognize that it is also pretty myopic. It is written by and for people that live and breathe cycling, and follow improvements (and short-falls) with bated breathe. Once again, IMO, most cyclist just cycle around because it is fun, inexpensive, convenient, better than the gym, etc. The cycling ‘identity’ is important to a few, and valuable to Portland, but it necessarily part most cyclist everyday life. So, move here and ride and you will enjoy it. There is plenty of room for improvement, but there is much to celebrate and enjoy.

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  • Anne May 14, 2014 at 8:49 am

    So why did they paint over the mural? Did I miss that?

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) May 14, 2014 at 10:46 am

      The technical reason is linked at the top of this post under the word “complicated.”

      The simpler reason is that nobody found a workaround. But the larger reason for that is that nobody felt it was important to do so, and that’s really what I was trying to get at here — not the mural itself.

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  • Borgbike May 14, 2014 at 9:58 am

    I’m looking forward to the premier of the movie, Aftermass (next Friday, Clinton Street Theater) for further reflection on the bike activism.

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  • felix May 14, 2014 at 10:06 am

    This may have been said already, did not read all the comments.

    Pedalpalooza is in June. Make sure to attend not only the large events but also the small ones that make Pedalpalooza great. Invite your friends who don’t bike that much to come out and make it a great month.

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  • Jim Lee May 14, 2014 at 10:14 am

    So ends the Mia and Roger show.

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  • Michael M. May 14, 2014 at 10:20 am

    Very interesting and thought-provoking, Michael! I’m not sure I completely grasp the implications of a city ‘knowing its story.’ At the risk of romanticizing the past, I wonder about the influence of online media and social media on the dynamics you’re describing — that is, I wonder if it becomes easier or harder for a city to know its story in the manner you’re describing because of these things. We are all probably more aware than we used to be of both the depth and breadth of interest and participation in not just bicycle culture, but how that relates to a host of other issues, like sustainability, health, gentrification, environmentalism, class, race, poverty, etc. This makes the story richer but more complicated, which means more opportunity for alliances and for division. My impression is that what you’re describing as ‘knowing the story’ comes from an era when both the questions and answers seemed less complicated. Perhaps they never were actually less complicated, but perception is key. The way forward is less clear when we’re all more aware of the downsides of any potential course of action.

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  • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
    Michael Andersen (News Editor) May 14, 2014 at 10:39 am

    Everyone: thank you so much for responding to this story with so much care, attention, and kind and critical words as merited. This stuff means a lot to me, of course, and it’s meant a lot to me that people have responded to something so long and so personal (to me and to others).

    Likewise with Jonathan, who was as careful and talented an editor as ever.

    My hope, in devoting a lot of pixels to exploring the fact that Portland seems to have lost touch with something we had for a few years there — a strong sense of our ability to be extraordinary — is that we can acknowledge the situation and move into our next period of being extraordinary.

    I love this city because I know that we are capable of finding our next story.

    The conversation so far has me excited about spending a lot of time reporting this summer on the things that will bring Portland into its next age of being extraordinary. If you know or learn of one of these stories, let us know. We’ll all be writing the next story together.

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  • Organic Brian May 14, 2014 at 11:22 am

    This is a lot of fuss over a painted message. The mural would have been painted-over if it was regarding something totally other than bicycling. This is mural politics, not bicycling politics. The mural regulations exist basically because ClearChannel is a greedy, evil company (murals were not regulated before ClearChannel sued the city).

    The biggest thing that makes Portland a bicycling city, is not any bike lane/green box/mural/bike rental system, but that there are a lot of bicyclists. The percentage of people bicycling is only increasing, and I don’t think this will change anytime soon.

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  • Mike May 14, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    What struck me most about the article was the graph of % commuters over time. The biggest inflection point upwards happened during the peak of the economic downturn, when I’m guessing some folks just couldn’t afford to drive anymore.

    Thankfully, a simple-minded reading of the graph suggests that those folks have continued to commute by bike (even though some of their incomes may have rebounded).

    I guess I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that the only stick that really counts is the pocketbook, not infrastructure. If you’re forced to cycle, you’ll have to use the infrastructure provided. If you can afford to drive, you’ll fight any improvements that impinge on your “right” to do so comfortably.

    Short of gas suddenly rising to $10+ per gallon or parking becoming prohibitively expensive — despite politicos’ efforts to prevent it (which would almost certainly mean we’re headed for another recession) — I don’t see these numbers increasing again (even IF infrastructure improves).

    People who can afford to drive WILL drive, and will protect their right to do so (by voting and petitioning appropriately).

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  • EngineerScotty May 14, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    A similar thing is happening in the transit side: A backlash, from various quarters, objecting to anything that might impair the mobility of motorists.


    Depending on who you ask, you’ll get one of many different answers:

    * Overreach on the part of authorities promoting alternate transportation. The “raising sewer fees to build bike lanes” meme is a powerful one, as is the meme of “building bike lanes but neglecting basic maintenance” and “failed bikeshare projects”. On the transit side, the cost of PMLR was and is an attractive target for critics, especially coupled with severe service cuts and fare increases on TriMet during the Great Recession–enabling the meme that MAX and Streetcar are crony capitalist boondoggles designed to enrich developers and favored contractors, rather than useful transit projects designed to enhance regionwide mobility, to take root. (The transit union, locked in a bitter struggle with TriMet and generally viewing rail as a threat to jobs, has eagerly fed this meme as well).

    * The sex scandal that crippled Sam Adams’ mayorship, and the doomed mayoral bid of Jefferson Smith, both hurt, obviously–the current mayor is probably the most hostile mayor (to alternative transportation) Portland has had since Frank Ivancie. Charlie Hales owes bike advocates nothing, and nothing is what they are getting from him. With all due respect to Adams (who did his best despite being badly hurt by the scandal), Portland hasn’t really had competent, effective, visionary leadership in the Mayor’s office since Vera Katz retired.

    * The perception that this is all about white yuppies in the Pearl doesn’t help either. That perception is not accurate, of course, but it is widely held.

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    • Buzz Aldrin May 14, 2014 at 5:32 pm

      IIRC, Hales was Commissioner in Charge of PBOT when they developed the Hawthorne Blvd. Plan, cyclists got absolutely nothing from that, Hales and PBOT sided joined with the Hawthorne Business Association to oppose any bike infrastructure on the Blvd.

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  • TOM May 14, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    Michael Andersen (News Editor)that’s really what I was trying to get at here — not the mural itself.

    and yet there is not just only one picture of “the mural” being painted over , but a whole sequence.

    can’t have it both ways.

    I don’t need no stinkin’ mural to tell me if cycling is popular or not.
    It is – during nice weather , but I ride 365 and often have entire streets or MUPs to myself. If it WERE “America’s Bicycling Capitol” , I wouldn’t be riding alone during the dark, rainy months.
    Often can get from SE Glisan to Clackamas Town Center on 205 MUP without ever seeing another bike… Springwater – during the week- almost the same (except for the homeless on kids mountain bikes)

    Amend it to read “America’s Bicycling Capitol – on many nice days, maybe”

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    • Alan 1.0 May 14, 2014 at 12:58 pm

      A downpour empties out the bike lanes in Amsterdam and Groningen, too (I’ve seen it). And yes, it is possible to have a discussion which includes analogies, icons, touchstones, or symbols without being limited to strictly the content of those things (Melville, anyone? Swift? Leer?). TOM, you sound like you need to go for a ride today!

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    • Cora Potter May 14, 2014 at 1:05 pm

      I’ve never been on the 205 MUP, even for just short trips between Holgate and Foster, and not seen another person on a bike.

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      • Psyfalcon May 14, 2014 at 1:38 pm

        You need to go earlier.

        205 to Springwater out to Gresham is really nice at 5am. Just watch out for the rabbits. Hundreds of them.

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        • Cora Potter May 14, 2014 at 3:11 pm

          Oh, I’ve seen the bunnies, and the red wing blackbirds, and the bats…

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  • EngineerScotty May 14, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    Continued from the previous post (BP doesn’t appear to like long comments):

    * Organized anti-transit activites from various right-wing interests, including energy barons (the Koch’s, in particular), the anti-tax crowd, and anti-urban Tea Partiers. The damage in Oregon is far less, of course, than in other states–in many red states, GOP legislatures have passed laws limiting the ability of cities to expand bike or transit infrastructure. Light rail has essentially been banned in Indianapolis; effective BRT in Nashville. Yet there have been no attempts to push in the other direction in Salem–for example, overturning anti-transit laws being passed in Clackamas County and Tigard (laws which are entirely contrary to both regional and state policy), or getting the state to resume funding for YouthPass at at least the same level as they fund yellow bus service elsewhere in Oregon.

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  • EngineerScotty May 14, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    More continuation, apologies for the multiple posts.

    * Transit and bike projects have, often, attracted a great deal of public scrutiny and public process. While this is a good thing, it is also a locus for public opposition. Highway-widening projects, on the other hand, seem to “just happen”; those decisions are often made in Salem. As we speak, the I-5/99W interchange (located within the city of Portland!) is being expanded (an expansion billed as a “safety project”); how much organized opposition to this was there? Structural factors in US and state governance have long placed urban concerns at a disadvantage.

    * And finally, the Great Recession simply shrunk the pie. When the pie shrinks, nobody is willing to accept a proportionally smaller piece, and fights break out over who gets to keep their slice and who gets screwed.

    And yes, I would say that active transportation advocates got caught smug and flat-footed. Further, I would note that the habit many liberals have (generally) of not voting if it isn’t November, is of particular concern: Lots of obnoxious referenda are getting passed in special elections. But the opposition is well-organized and using the machinery of government (in particular, the initative) to their advantage–I don’t see similar levels of organization and political energy on the part of active transportation advocates; in particular, going on offense. Whether this is simply due to an absence of money, or an absence of zeal, is a good question (though I suspect the former has a lot to do with it).

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  • Ewen May 14, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    This article and comments about the demise of Portland’s iconic sign is very timely here across the continent in Gainesville, Florida, where the League of American Bicyclists has just detetmined, rightfully so, that we should remain at the silver level. As a much smaller bicycle friendly city we are facing all of the same issues that Portland has faced over the years and following your example of successful advocacy. Keep it up – we are paying attention.

    As Mindy so succinctly put it:

    The funding for biking (most efficient form of transport, by a longshot) and pedestrians(livability) should be a priority for this city. It benefits all other forms of transport as a secondary benefit!

    Now if we can just get our politicians to understand this concept!

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  • Lindsay Caron Epstein May 14, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    A twinge of love & longing for Portland.
    I hadn’t realized I was there during its nexus. I arrived in Portland in 2007, volunteer organized part of Carfree Cities Conference, attended what might have been the last critical mass, co-hosted the KBOO Bike Show, wrote once or twice for Bike Portland, attended a few dozen bike moves, watched the extraordinary tool that is Shift2Bikes have a community-building heydey – then drift into oblivion. Inspired by the Shift calendar, I tried to do my own big thing, took a huge risk with ActivateHub, felt completely unsupported by the community and the city that I loved so, and am now in Seattle. The bike infrastructure here is quite lackluster, & the cycling community has less emphasis on community, but I am certainly more supported in my civic engagement tech dreams.

    I hadn’t realized my life Chapter and Portland’s life Chapter were synchronous. A chilling read for me. Thank you.

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  • rachel b May 14, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    I appreciate and am indebted to for all you do for the city and folks like me–a cyclist and walker–with your strong reporting and diligence in tracking down biking and transit-related news. You’re often ahead of mainstream news sources in town, and with more detailed reports. Thank you, Jonathan and Michael! But I think this city is in no danger at all of losing its sense of “our ability to be extraordinary.” In fact it’s our relatively new, seemingly endless capacity for self-congratulation/absorption that is wearing on me. We need to get over ourselves, our special selves.

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  • Mickey May 14, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    This article illustrates a lot of the causes of the demographic change that began in the early 2000’s related to technological developments matching an ethic meme: fetish of domesticity, widespread adoption of smart phones, environmental concern, rise of hegemonic connoisseur/leisure culture, “authenticity”, the branding of Portland, blah, blah, blah… Looks like some people actually believed the hype. Now we have a city as pretentious as San Francisco without the economic or cultural institutions to actually keep pace with the Yuppie aspirations.

    “Feeling safe” is not the same thing as being safe.
    Fun = Banal

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  • Jessica Roberts
    Jessica Roberts May 14, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    TJ, there have been two shootings over the last three nights in or adjacentto Peninsula Park. Those of us who live near there aren’t wasting any energy on nostalgia for those good ol’ days.

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  • paul g. May 14, 2014 at 1:51 pm


    Chiming in on a few other comments, I think the strength of the column is weakened by the “only a city that knows its own story” meme at the end. Here’s why: you start by saying you learned about Portland only 8 years ago, and apparently moved here later than that. That’s a pretty short time to learn a city’s story.

    Recently arrived transplants have and will continue to shape Portland changing identity. Portland has always been welcoming, and it’s political and social system is amazingly permeable.

    But some of the tensions we face, not only over bicycling, but over density, economic development, and political and social change more generally result from the assumption that the reasons (I might even say mythos) that attracted some to Portland in the past decade must correspond to reality, and if they don’t, then Portland is somehow losing its soul.

    It might be, as you say, that something has gone wrong. Or it might simply be that we had a decade of policy pushing in one direction, and there is an inevitable retreat/rebalancing for a period of time, after which policy will continue to move.

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  • Zaphod May 14, 2014 at 2:45 pm

    Thanks for the beautifully written article. As a business that delivers our product via cargo bike throughout PDX, we will be doing our part by simply running the business and leading by example in both work and personal life. I do think the time has come for higher level thinking and projects that improve livability for all.

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  • Alan 1.0 May 14, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    So, I’m curious, serious questions: with all the various things attempted in Portland to help people get around with bikes, surely some of them didn’t go quite perfectly, and yet I’m having trouble thinking of them. What have been the worst consequences from specific “infrastructure” projects? Have businesses lost profits? Property values declined? Car traffic suffered delays? Other financial or social costs directly attributable to stuff Portland has done for bikes?

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  • Boaz May 14, 2014 at 9:14 pm

    Wow. Thanks Michael! Wonderful and thought-provoking post.

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  • Pavan Muthanna May 15, 2014 at 12:12 am

    Michael, I’m admittedly partisan. When I visited your wonderful city last year, I saw it as a beacon of hope for what we could accomplish in our overcrowded ‘polis (Bangalore,India)
    Looked at from my geographical and emotional remove, I truly don’t know whether this is hara-kiri for the cycling movement in Portland, or the pendulum having reached it’s temporary apogee (not quite the right word, I know). I do know that setbacks are normal, and often lead to a stronger resurgence. Here’s hoping you pull it off, people of Portland!

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  • kittens May 15, 2014 at 11:46 am

    For every action there is a reaction.

    Right now, we are seeing the reaction to a very rapid change in the culture of Portland both economically and politically. This is also happening nationally. To some people, certain icons of this change (bikes, green movement) have come to symbolize everything gone wrong with our country as they are the more visible manifestations of the change jn our culture. It is really a shame this spite couldn’t be refocused on the true villains: Wallstreet.

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  • grimm May 15, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    Lack of visionary leadership. I miss the Sam Adams era. We had someone in our corner, someone with clout. I think this calendar of events correlates a lot of his fall from grace and loss of political control to the fizzling state we find ourselves. Not that Charlie is a bad guy. But when I cast my ballot for mayor last no one struck me as extraordinary. And our current era in the city makes me feel the exact same. Unextraordinary.

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  • Jacob May 16, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    If you want better bike infrastructure and therefore more people on bicycles, you need to get organized and VOTE. Form PACs to give money to candidates that support biking. Send a loud and clear message to politicians that if you want to keep your jobs, you better DO SOMETHING to support biking. All the tweeting, commenting, bike polo, and quirky rides in the world won’t make a damn bit of difference if they aren’t accompanied by votes.

    In NYC, people created StreetsPAC. It’s high time Portland had something similar.

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  • Glenn April 18, 2015 at 10:02 pm

    Didn’t realize this mural was gone, as I’ve moved out of Portland (voting with my feet) but I always hated it. The mural itself always seemed a symbol of the very complacency, self-congratulation and marketing hype you allude to.

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