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Comment of the Week: When ‘bike culture’ bites back

Posted by on April 17th, 2015 at 7:16 pm

Priceless branding.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

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.

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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!

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

62 Comments
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    Adron @ Transit Sleuth April 17, 2015 at 7:33 pm

    So true on so many fronts. Glad to see such a great comment pulled out and brought to the forefront!

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      9watts April 17, 2015 at 8:33 pm

      A very good comment. I too am glad you brought it to our attention. Sometimes it is hard to keep up around here. 🙂

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    The Odd Duck April 17, 2015 at 8:21 pm

    If you want the perfect world, buy the novel. when you are sitting in front of your boob tube count how many commercial that you see. As far as having some support you what have you done to deserve it. John F. Kennedy once said We choose to go to the moon. “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Too many person expect thing to be done for them. So next time you go shopping push your shopping cart to the designated space or if you see a piece of trash on the sidewalk and put in the trash can. Its that one simple thing that can make a better world

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    • John Liu
      John Liu April 17, 2015 at 11:20 pm

      Deciphering comments shouldn’t be this hard.

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      Huey Lewis April 17, 2015 at 11:26 pm

      It’s great if you read this in Homer Simpson’s voice. Or maybe Charlie from It’s Always Sunny…

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    rachel b April 17, 2015 at 11:41 pm

    Good comment! I’m against hype and for any and all attempts to bring Portland back to earth again, so I’m for Vanlue, Jeffery and Kevin et al. The now-constant, loud self-fawning here (meaning, in the city and esp. amongst new converts) is exasperating and has been giving me a toothache–esp. as this was a city that was known for the exact opposite kind of personality not so long ago. Not a fan of Up With People Portland. Definitely a fan of Just Shut Up About It Get On With Your Life And Stop Bronzing Every Fart And Burp Of This Place Portland. If I never hear the expression, “That’s so PORTland!” again, I’ll die happy.

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      soren April 18, 2015 at 7:14 am

      Lately I’ve been wishing that Portland was a little more Portland and a little less NIMBY Bay area.

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      CaptainKarma April 20, 2015 at 3:13 pm

      …and don’t mention THAT show on TV

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    Pete April 18, 2015 at 12:19 am

    Using bikes in advertising isn’t just a Portland thing, it’s very trendy right now, whether it’s KFC showing children biking through a drive-through, or just placements. I got home from some evening climbs and turned on the tube while eating dinner. TV news always disgusts me with the number of car commercials and the way they depict (or give permission to) people driving aggressively, but I’m a weather (OK, wind) junkie so I want to see the doppler radar images.

    Two ads in particular stuck out to me tonight. One was a Cadillac (wagon or SUV) ad that simply showed a brief image of a silver bicycle (no real context). Another was an ad with a man and a woman talking back and forth, and on the wall in the background was a bicycle on a sign – and it was split and separated. Then they panned out and leaning against the wall was a bicycle – that was also split in two and separated. Wasn’t paying attention to what the ad was for, but I thought those images quite odd (and again seemingly without context).

    OK this isn’t the Caddy ad I saw, but it’s a theme with them now:
    https://youtu.be/EGhaOV0BPmA?t=45s

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      Eric H April 18, 2015 at 7:26 am

      And if you watch that KFC commercial you’ll note that they have a warning at the bottom of the screen that says “Do Not Attempt” when the girl and her brother bike to the drive thru window.

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        Pete April 19, 2015 at 4:39 am

        Yeah, that bums me out. I made some comments on yt and refrained from that sentiment… different crowd over there.

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        Todd Boulanger April 20, 2015 at 1:52 pm

        Yes I was struck by that warning message too: “do not attempt”. Not sure if that meant buying KFC or the biking through a drive thru with bike and wagon combo.

        Thank goodness this act was on a closed course and using professional stunt children (or were they normal sized adults and everything was super-sized to scale?)! So no children or drivers were hurt during the filming of this advert.

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      Angel April 18, 2015 at 1:06 pm

      I love it when advertisers use bicycles. Bring it on! Mainstreamify it! Normalize bicycling.

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      Chandler April 20, 2015 at 2:16 pm

      There are 2 things that make SHOWS homey. Quilts and bicycles. Each is something that is a labor of love in one way or another. Take a look at an old Seinfeld see and you will see the bikes in the hallway. So the current step is Ads.

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    Adam H. April 18, 2015 at 12:39 am

    Great comment. We have a city that won’t build more bike infra due to lack of funding, tries to come up with said funding, then gives up after 10 months and let’s the state handle it. City Hall needs to take bolder and more confident steps if we are to become a world class bike city. As Jonathan has stated, all the pieces are in place; we just need a willing city leadership.

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      soren April 18, 2015 at 7:31 am

      “then gives up after 10 months and let’s the state handle it”

      They gave up, in part, because many in Portland have become less interested in a government that works and more interested in @#$%*ing and moaning about taxes, sewer fees, government, etc. IMO, the billionaire owners of the Oregonian and Katu have done a real number on this city. Divide and conquer.

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        Kyle April 18, 2015 at 9:25 am

        I can’t speak for the rest of my fellow Portlanders, but I support paying for better infrastructure. What I don’t support is the methods this city has taken to find such funding. I don’t want a “fee” tacked on somewhere that a large portion of citizens don’t have to pay. I’d rather see something innovative that raises money AND reduces single-occupancy-vehicle commuting in this city. Perhaps something like a congestion charge on all freeways and bridges in and out of the city at peak times. And there’s also the subject of the city’s general fund…

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        JMak00 April 19, 2015 at 10:16 pm

        Well, if the City were less interested in protecting illegals as a Sanctuary City and less interested interested in spending our tax dollars are nonsense, perhaps we’d be more willing to fork over cash for bike infra…just maybe.

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          CaptainKarma April 20, 2015 at 3:23 pm

          Trying to understand.

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            Oregon Mamacita April 22, 2015 at 6:59 pm

            I wouldn’t bother to try and understand that post, Dog whistle references to immigration. Take it from Mamacita.

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    Mike Quiglery April 18, 2015 at 6:04 am

    Target using bikes as a prop? The CEO of Target is christian conservative who contributes heavily to the Tea Party.

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      hat April 18, 2015 at 8:34 am

      And yet when I requested a bike corral at OnPoint, Wholefoods, Blue Star etc., only Target put in bike parking. Weird… defending Target.

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        Todd Boulanger April 20, 2015 at 1:54 pm

        Have your tried City Target’s bike parking in the garage?! [Not sure how that one passed the circulation and safety review at the City.]

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      Mossby Pomegranate April 18, 2015 at 9:08 am

      Sigh. Always hammering on conservatives. Yet this city is entirely run by progessives.

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        Chris I April 19, 2015 at 8:31 am

        Oh ya, because the cycling infrastructure is so much better in the conservative bastions of Houston, Oklahoma City, Des Moines…

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          Kenji Sugahara April 19, 2015 at 1:51 pm

          You might be surprised. Heard from some folks who were just in Houston and they were shocked at how much bike infrastructure had gone in.

          Remember the message from Earl: biking is non-partisan. It’s bike-partisan.

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            soren April 19, 2015 at 5:27 pm

            is the oregonian is bike-partisan too?

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          Oregon Mamacita April 22, 2015 at 7:04 pm

          Salt Lake City is investing big in active transportation, with support from the Church of Latter Day Saints. I guess Mitt Romney is not a conservative. Or- you’re wrong!

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      middle of the road guy April 20, 2015 at 11:44 am

      Ain’t diversity grand?

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    Cheif April 18, 2015 at 10:57 am

    At least you guys don’t have the “ride-the-ducks” tourism company that hires people who will drive a giant bus sized vehicle right behind you at twelve miles per hour blasting Queen from the loud speakers so the Midwest tourists can take a photo of some weirdo trying to ride his bike on the street.

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      Pete April 19, 2015 at 4:43 am

      Sounds like Bahstun…

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      Todd Boulanger April 20, 2015 at 1:55 pm

      ..Oh its coming here soon…now that the Willamette is safe for tourists to swim in. ;-p

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    wsbob April 18, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    What level of public support is there in Portland, for whatever type of bike infrastructure it is, that bike advocates favoring the downgrade from Platinum, believe the city and business are refusing to sustain and improve?

    Without strong, far reaching support, how can city officials and business make a convincing argument to the public, for projects that are likely to cost a lot of public money, to improve biking infrastructure for what at best, is maybe 20 percent of road users?

    Many people that ride, and, or that advocate for improvements to bike infrastructure, could be doing lots better than they are, to help make a convincing argument for more and improved bike infrastructure. More of a positive attitude and regard for people that don’t bike but do drive, could help. They’re potential allies in efforts towards conceiving, designing, building and paying for great biking infrastructure. Alienating them with hostility and meanness, doesn’t do any good.

    Cities being awarded the ‘Platinum’ designation by the League of American Bicyclists, doesn’t particularly mean much to me, so if the city loses it…big deal. To me, the ‘proof of the pudding’ is what ordinary people say in casual conversation about the state of biking in communities today; in their own neighborhood and beyond.

    Their reaction is decidedly mixed. Admiration for some people that bike, but definitely apprehensive about the ramifications of vulnerable road users encountered in considerable numbers on some roads and streets. So it follows, that enthusiastic support for dramatic increases in investment in bike infrastructure, is less than forthcoming. It’s a ‘maybe’, if someone actually came up with some really good ideas that would have biking infrastructure really be a big improvement to the overall area transportation situation.

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      Kyle April 18, 2015 at 10:39 pm

      While I don’t disagree with you, it’s difficult to have a positive attitude towards people who *completely* disrespect cyclists, treating us like second class citizens with a total disdain for our safety.

      For example: today a driver angrily sped around me on a greenway, slammed on the brakes, flipped me off, then circled back around on the next street and yelled at me. Because I was riding a bicycle. I did nothing wrong or remotely illegal. This kind of behaviour is increasing in this city and it’s really getting unnerving. I hadn’t even experienced it until last year and I’ve been bike commuting and cycling around town for recreation for three solid years now.

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        Cheif April 19, 2015 at 7:29 am

        It’s people moving from places where nobody bikes bringing their shit behavior with them. It’s happening all up and down the west coast.

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          jeff April 20, 2015 at 4:11 pm

          I’ve lived here over 40 years and have biked daily over 20. There’s been plenty of shit behavior around the entire time.

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            Oregon Mamacita April 22, 2015 at 7:05 pm

            But back in the day there was less whining. Men were men.

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        Peejay April 19, 2015 at 8:04 am

        Is that the greenway that PBOT won’t add diverters to because they’ve done traffic counts and determined there are too many cars on it? Is it the same greenway that got all those cars on it because they “improved” the adjacent commercial street to reduce traffic on it (without adding bike facilities because there’s a greenway nearby)?

        Greenways were the “low hanging fruit” improvements that the city put in as a low cost kickstart to the bicycle network. But they became the reason bike facilities aren’t added to the direct route streets nearby, and they are still used as cut-through shortcuts by people in cars, while very little is being done about it.

        Greenways are emblematic of the current leadership’s take on bike infrastructure: indirect, insufficient, unenforced, but a great way to declare the job done and let’s all take a picture and brag about it.

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          davemess April 20, 2015 at 9:56 am

          But then PBOT actually do some larger projects removing travel/parking lanes, adding bike lanes and crossing improvements and the other half of people on this site complain that it’s not separated or good enough.
          This site is a VERY tough crowd.

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        Mossby Pomegranate April 19, 2015 at 8:22 am

        Wow…that seems pretty menacing to me. I’d say contact the police, but we know how ineffective they are.

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        Reza April 19, 2015 at 3:17 pm

        Dude, literally every other post of yours involves an expression of righteous indignation about how some driver offended you or almost killed you on a greenway. Suffice it to say, these altercations don’t happen to anyone else at even a fraction of the frequency that you imply in your posts.

        Yes, there are awful, aggressive drivers out there. But even if these incidents on Ankeny are happening like you describe them to us, I bet you are deliberately antagonizing these drivers in some way for them to lash out at you with such regularity. Such contempt! So please, tell us the full story next time.

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          davemess April 20, 2015 at 9:54 am

          I’ve lived in this city 5 years, and I can count on less than one hand the times I’ve had any kind of altercation with a driver at all similar to this.
          I agree to the possibility of provocateur.

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          soren April 23, 2015 at 8:09 am

          “I bet you are deliberately antagonizing these drivers in some way for them to lash out at you with such regularity. Such contempt!

          I have personally experienced aggressive motorist behaviour on Ankeny. My partner has experienced aggressive motorist behavior on Ankeny. And others testified to aggressive motorist bahavior at Buckman Community association meetings.

          The only contempt I see in this conversation is in the tone of your comment and in its assumption that vulnerable traffic did something to deserve aggressive motorist behavior.

          “at even a fraction of the frequency that you imply in your posts.”

          Let me quote Kyle:

          “I hadn’t even experienced it until last year and I’ve been bike commuting…for three solid years now.”

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            9watts April 23, 2015 at 8:24 am

            I’m going to agree with soren. I’ve had several unprovoked a$$h*le encounters with people driving in a manner wholly uncalled for: screaming, veering, revving, the whole enchilada. Hawthorne & Foster come to mind but I know there were a few others. And just the other day I was biking North on Cesar Chavez from Powell when someone in a Car-2-Go also heading North tried to hit a woman crossing Chavez E-W on a bike. He or she must have been going at least 45 and continued to accelerate as the woman pedaled across the four lanes, very nearly missing her.

            In my experience this sort of encounter has almost nothing to do with the particulars of situation in which the person-on-the-bike finds him- or herself, and everything to do with the mental state or anger management issues of the person-behind-the-wheel. I don’t think we need to or should put this on Kyle.

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    Pete April 19, 2015 at 4:48 am

    But is that PBOT or city hall’s fault?

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      soren April 19, 2015 at 8:39 am

      It’s far easier to blame faceless PBOT bureaucrats than to accept responsibility for collectively electing Hales, Novick, Fritz, Saltzman, and Fish.

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        Peejay April 19, 2015 at 12:25 pm

        You hit that one out of the park!

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        Mossby Pomegranate April 19, 2015 at 2:21 pm

        Unfortunately it’s always a “lesser of two evils” when voting in this city.

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          GlowBoy April 20, 2015 at 1:04 pm

          Actually, it was a “lesser of three evils,” as I recall.

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        davemess April 20, 2015 at 9:52 am

        It’s hard to accept responsibility when you didn’t vote for ANY of them.

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    Wells April 20, 2015 at 8:16 am

    Kyle’s proposal, “Perhaps something like a congestion charge on freeways and bridges in/out of the city peak hours,” I’d argue could become counter-productive several ways. Portland’s model of urban transport should continue inspire and teach visitors/residents at “most hours” where most US cities continue gridlocked chaos.

    As for new bike pathways supposedly not measuring up to other US cities, I’d argue are mostly great recreational trails that do NOT succeed in their urban environs as well as Portland. This is the off-road biker mindset: Bicyles are recreation, NOT an essential mode of urban/suburban travel, in other words, recreation is more important than the essentials.

    Coming soon: Sowa and Selwa westside bridges and pathways added to Bridge Pedal. It doesn’t get more Worldclass than that.
    How many off-roaders make that ride? Answer: smallish percentage?
    Sorry if this seems a rude complaint, but I’ve had it with rudely fast bikers also putting safety lower on their list of priorities.

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      GlowBoy April 20, 2015 at 1:58 pm

      “This is the off-road biker mindset: Bicyles are recreation, NOT an essential mode of urban/suburban travel, in other words, recreation is more important than the essentials. ”

      I understand your point, and Portland has excelled at focusing on “essential” cycling (i.e., as transportation), at the expense of recreational cycling.

      But in Portland, if you even try to advocate for recreational cycling (whether we’re talking paved paths or mountain biking), you always run up against many in the biking community who seem to feel that recreational cycling is less worthy of attention, and that such advocacy detracts from the main mission of transportation cycling.

      Personally, I’ve had it with this puritanical mentality. It’s part of the puzzle of Portland’s stagnation. If Portland actually had a decent network of recreational bike trails, we’d have a lot more people riding bikes. And a lot more support in the community for improving cycling conditions.

      And if you have a lot more people riding bikes, even if it is just suburbanites on weekend MUP rides, that’s more people who are exercising, enjoying the outdoors, improving their health, not sitting on the couch in the TV, and not engaging in more-destructive activities. Aren’t those the benefits of more cycling that we’re always citing? It doesn’t just apply to biking for transport.

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        Peter R April 20, 2015 at 4:29 pm

        Bingo! It’s a chicken and egg argument, but I believe you have to get most people to start recreational cycling in order to get them to even consider transportation cycling.
        For the group of us at my office that commute regularly/year round, there is 1 guy who is strictly a transportation cyclist, all the rest of us are recreational cyclists (bike racers, triathletes, fitness freaks, etc) who also happen to ride to work.

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        9watts April 20, 2015 at 9:53 pm

        “If Portland actually had a decent network of recreational bike trails, we’d have a lot more people riding bikes.And a lot more support in the community for improving cycling conditions.

        Really? Do we know that this works like that?
        Does the fact that there’s a drag strip in Woodburn have these kinds of salutary ripple effects?
        That may not be the best analogy, but I’m having a hard time seeing a penchant for mountain biking—as articulated here on BP—as leading automatically to these sorts of broader changes.

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          Bill Walters April 20, 2015 at 11:30 pm

          As for the Woodburn drag strip today, probably not. But if the Woodburn drag strip was around in the 60s and 70s, then OMG, yes. Check out the history of drag racing — how deeply Ford, Chevy and Dodge were invested, for instance, and what a promotional tool drag racing was for American car culture.

          A little bit here: http://musclecars.howstuffworks.com/muscle-car-information/how-muscle-cars-work6.htm

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            9watts April 21, 2015 at 7:00 am

            Thanks for that link, Bill Walters. Fun and impressive stuff. I do not disagree that if Portland had decent, much less excellent, mountain biking accommodations within the City or nearby, that it would have all kinds of ripple effects; it was that GlowBoy was suggesting we already knew what those effects would be and that they would align with our policy/transportational aspirations, reinforce them that I find questionable.

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          Opus the Poet April 21, 2015 at 2:21 pm

          I take it you have never heard the statement “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.” Drivers definitely used to choose which car to buy based on who won the local drag or oval track race the weekend before, and kids would choose what car to buy as an adult based on what was winning when they watched as kids. I used to be hard-core Blue Oval when I was a kid. But that was back in the 1960s and I was surrounded by Car Culture.

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          GlowBoy April 21, 2015 at 3:39 pm

          My comment about recreational bike trails was more about MUPs than mountain bike trails. And yes, it does work that way. Now that I live in Minneapolis I’m seeing it in action. Way better recreational paths than Portland, a higher share of the population on bikes (if you include those dilettante recreational cyclists), and more public support for bikeways.

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