Biking has been a big part of the brand identity that has made Portland a come-from-behind economic success over the last 20 years.
But now that prosperity has arrived, at least for some Portlanders, where’s the love? And if it’s missing, do people who function as “props” in Portland’s triumphant narrative have an option to pull back?
That’s the question that BikePortland reader Kevin explored in a comment beneath our post Tuesday about a pair of Portlanders’ high-profile campaign to rescind the city’s “platinum” status with the League of American Bicyclists.
Here’s how Kevin put it, with a bit of emphasis added:
People are going to view this action through their own lens and decide whether or not to support it using their own judgement. For me, I think that it is a way of sending a message to the political powers (elected officials, bureaucrats, business alliances, etc.) that they can’t use Portland’s “bike culture” to promote their own interests and simultaneously snub those who have created it. The City and its businesses sell Portland’s bike-friendliness to promote tourism and as a way of attracting progressive professionals, yet they have refused to invest the time, energy or capital necessary to improve or even sustain the elements that create it. They use Chris King Components and the UBI as backdrops when convenient. They publish photos of swarms of cyclists crossing the Hawthorne Bridge or riding along the waterfront in their glossy promotional materials. Then they do something like refuse to remove a handful of parking spaces on 28th or ban cycling in River View.
Simply put, I think a lot of folks are tired of being props.
Those with power use the Platinum Level designation when it’s convenient. This petition is a statement to take that tool away from them if they refuse to see cycling and cyclists as nothing more than symbols that can be trotted out when desired and then shoved back in a sealed box until the next photo op. Many cities are actively striving to improve cycling for a multitude of reasons. Portland is coasting and benefiting from a reputation once relevant but now stagnant.
I’m not saying that Portland is a bad place to ride a bike. Far from it! I feel happier and safer riding around town for commuting and recreation purposes than I have in any other place I’ve lived. But the desire to improve is not shared by those who control investment.
This effort is symbolic, but many folks have advocated within the system in a number of ways for the last several years to no effect. Advisory committees, advocacy organizations, town-hall meetings, letter writing campaigns and the like have not been productive. There aren’t a lot of other avenues available. This is one. Let’s give it a shot.
A friend of mine once described the reason she and her friends were enthusiastic about Portland when she decided to move here in 2009: “bikes, books and beer.” These days she’s putting her big brain into solving problems for one of the city’s most promising tech companies.
In the global economy, cities compete by being unique. Many Portlanders probably assume that their city is going to keep reaping the benefits of being a unique national mecca for this common activity that millions of Americans are passionate about.
People who think that’s still our image haven’t talked to many newcomers lately.
As Kevin argues here, Portlanders arguing for a downgrade of our Platinum status aren’t just exercising what negotiating power they might have with the many people who’ve profited from Portland’s bikey identity. They’re trying to warn their city about a very real problem it faces.
Yes, we pay for good comments. We’ll be mailing $5 to Kevin in thanks for this great one. Watch your email!
Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.