Question: What’s one way to know when people don’t feel safe riding bicycles? Answer: When a growing number of them feel like they need to ride with an on-board video camera.
Here in Portland (and nationwide), we’ve noticed a strong uptick in the amount of people who equip themselves with a camera every time they ride around the city. This trend is the result of three main things; the advent and availability of smaller, cheaper and higher-resolution cameras, the epidemic of distracted driving that has resulted in more dangerous and illegal driving behaviors; and a growing sense that the police can’t (or won’t) do their part to enforce the laws.
With video evidence, the thinking goes, if something does happen, at least someone will have a greater chance at justice in court.
A lot of these videos never end up in court, but they are ubiquitous around the web. I quickly forget most of them; but every once in a while one will give me pause.
Yesterday a friend and long-time BikePortland reader (and commenter) sent in one such video. It really touched a nerve.
Tony Tapay was riding on a narrow and (usually) quiet residential street (SE 34th) with his pre-school aged son on the back of his longtail cargo bike. Here’s what happened next (video contains profanity):
And here’s his description of events:
“Heading home on the longtail with my son on the back when I can hear this guy absolutely flying up behind me. Notice in the video that when he passes me, he’s almost fully in the other lane and there’s another person on a bike coming the other way. The video doesn’t really capture how dangerous it was. I then proceed to catch up with him at the light and ask him if it was worth it, to which he responded “yup!”
The guy then proceeded to go straight toward hang a left on Clinton, and then go east for a few blocks and take a right. It seemed pretty clear by how he was driving that he was cutting through and using these back streets to avoid traffic.”
Tony said this happened around 5:00 pm, hence his assumption that the person was using 34th as a cut-through.
The video highlights an issue Portland is struggling with right now: As our city grows and changes, many people choose to drive on backstreets in order to avoid congestion on larger arterials. That’s the issue that has forced the diverter conversation on SE Clinton and other neighborhood greenways.
In fact, Tony says he bought his camera about nine months ago specifically for this reason. “I wanted to start documenting my experiences with the dangerous driving/cut through traffic on Clinton,” he said, “because that’s the route to/from my son’s pre-school.”
For people who don’t ride around our city on a regular basis, it’s hard to put the urgency and outrage about bicycle access into context. The “bicycle community” probably sounds like a bunch of whiners. And hey, ‘Aren’t we the #1 bike city already?!’ they must think.
But unfortunately, the reality is often different than the rhetoric and the tourism brochures. Like Tony says in the video description he has up on Vimeo (where he has also posted the car’s license plate number), “Mayor Hales, this is what we deal with. Enforcement now.”
Hopefully this video will lead to justice in the courtroom — and a greater sense of urgency to take back our streets. Now!