A ride downtown and biking’s social impact

Delivery downtown
Hazel Gross and her company vehicle chatting with a customer on SW 2nd Ave.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Yesterday I took a short ride downtown and it was the perfect illustration of something I’ve known for many years: cycling in a city where a (relatively) significant amount of people ride bikes can* be a very social form of transportation.

I realize this isn’t a revolutionary concept: The anonymous and isolating nature of driving (and the opposite characteristic of cycling) is something urban planners have understood for a long time. And it’s not new to me (or you, I assume) either. In fact, running into people I know, and having quick conversations while moving through the city on my bike is something that happens all the time.

On that short ride yesterday — from our office on SW 4th (between Stark and Oak) to observe and photograph some new bike lanes on SW Salmon near Naito Parkway — I ran into three different people I knew. With each person, I was able to easily pull over for a quick chat. It was nice.

I’m not an urban planner; but I understand enough about cities to know that face-to-face interactions are one of the key ingredients to making them great. When people stop on the sidewalk or in the margins of streets and talk to each other, it creates sort of a temporary public space that was previously used only as a pass-through corridor.

When we think about the benefits of bicycling, we usually think of health, the environment, economics, and so on. But we shouldn’t forget its important social impacts.

So, who’d I meet?

Hazel Gross was making a delivery on her cargo bike.

Hazel works with Portland Design Works, a nationally distributed bike part designer based in north Portland. She was out and about making deliveries to local bike shops with the company vehicle: a Portland-made Metrofiets cargo bike. In addition to bringing orders to PDW customers, Hazel was also on a special mission to Stumptown Coffee. “We’re trading [PDW products] with them for coffee,” she told me, “They’re using it as prizes for employees doing the Bike Commute Challenge.”

On the next block, David Aulwes rolled up next to me.

The first thing I noticed about David was the cool visor on his helmet. Is that a new option from Nutcase? I asked. “No, this is custom-made,” David replied proudly. On closer inspection (at a red light) I noticed the visor was made out of copper. Very nice. David, who I used to know from his work on the City’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee, now works at TriMet as a Senior Transit Corridor Designer. Michael and I will probably be in touch with him for insights into future stories on topics like Metro’s SW Corridor and Powell-Division Transit Corridor plans.

After parting ways with David, on the next block I noticed Simon Kirsch in the crosswalk.

Simon is a business specialist at the downtown Apple Store (and a loyal BikePortlander, thanks Simon!). I met him a few weeks ago after he asked me to be a part of an event at the store. Yesterday I caught him on his lunch break and we chatted for a few minutes about iPhone pricing plans and how crazy the store would be when the new iPhones go on sale (hopefully, he’s survived the onslaught).

I’m thinking of making weekly rides around downtown a regular thing. I’ll bring along my camera and capture what — and who — I come across. And by the way, thanks for reading and commenting on all our stories this week. It’s been busy around here and we appreciate your time and attention.

*I say cycling can be very social, because there’s a wide range of biking styles. Some people ride hunched over, focused, and fast; while others ride more slowly and upright. I happen to ride a completely upright bike. I also ride slowly and I’m always scanning around with my eyes — not just to stay safe, but to see things (like people and other reasons to stop).

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