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Here’s what happened when Mayor Hales biked to work for the first time

Posted by on August 31st, 2015 at 4:39 pm

Mayor Hales' first bike commute-11.jpg

Mayor Hales talks with Portland resident Kyle Rohr while at a traffic signal at SE Madison and Grand.(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales biked into work today. That should not be a headline; but it is.

Mayor Hales' first bike commute-1.jpg

Sign on the door.

After over two years of being all but silent about cycling, Hales appears ready to start a new chapter in the Portland bike story. Heeding the requests of many people in this city who care deeply about cycling, Hales rode his Trek hybrid from his home in Eastmoreland to Clinton Coffeehouse on SE 26th and Clinton and then made his way to the Hawthorne Bridge and eventually City Hall.

It’s the first time he’s commuted by bike since he took office in January 2013.

When I walked in around 8:15 or so, the back room of the coffeehouse was buzzing. Hales, coffee mug firmly in hand, spoke to a table of two in the corner while about two dozen other people had side conversations. Portland Police Officer Cage Byrd, who has been assigned to act as a bicycle issue liaison to the community, was there. The mayor’s public safety policy advisor Chad Stover was there too. Stover has been instrumental in the SW 3rd project, which began as as effort to tame the streets of Old Town during late night club hours. KGW reporter Tim Gordon was also there (and he just filed this story).

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Mayor Hales is in the upper left.

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Hales talking with Chris Rall (L), Kyle Rohr, and Adam Herstein.

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Joan Childs.

I wanted to eavesdrop on a few conversations and hear what people shared with the mayor — and how we responded. As I made my way over to him, I ran into Chris Rall. Rall, 44, lives at SE 54th and Division and rides on SE Clinton with his young child to pre-school near OMSI. Rall said he showed up to tell the mayor what he thinks about riding conditions on Clinton. “It’s doable,” he shared with me, “But it could be better, especially between 21st and 11th.”

Joan Childs showed up to bend the mayor’s ear on a different topic: people who live on the street. Childs, 65, told me she moved to Portland four years ago from Manhattan in large part because she wanted to live in a place where she could walk, bike, and take transit. (Learn more about Childs in this recent New York Times profile.) She bought a step-through “Dutch bike” from Clever Cycles and had every intention of becoming a regular rider. But it didn’t work out that way. “I’ve only ridden it four times in the last four years,” she said. “I’m terrified to ride in the streets. I didn’t realize there would be all the cars and buses and trucks turning into me all over the place.”

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Beyond her fears of riding in traffic, Joan said her bigger beef with the mayor right now is that, “Homelessness is out of control.” “I love this city,” she continued, “But what’s happening here with all the homeless people is unacceptable… What I’m hearing from everyone is that it’s gotten out of control.”

In case you haven’t seen the local news headlines recently, Joan isn’t alone. And it’s important for anyone who cares about cycling to understand that Mayor Hales is simultaneously juggling several urgent livability issues: The amount of people living on Portland’s streets, the troubling amount of shootings and gang violence, and the affordable housing/development/density issues are all demanding his attention.

And for the first 30 months of his administration, Hales made a strategic decision to not give cycling much attention at all. Kyle Rohr showed up this morning to ask him why. When I grabbed Rohr after his conversation with the mayor he said, “He [the mayor] wanted to stay quiet [about cycling] during the Street Fee stuff.” Rohr was referring to Hales’ and Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick’s decision to focus on “paving and maintenance” as they pushed their “Our Streets” transportation infrastructure funding proposal.

Now with that political hot potato behind us, Hales has more leeway to publicly embrace cycling.

When it was time to get on our bikes and head downtown the group (which numbered about 7-8 people) headed west on Clinton. We then turned right on 21st, went through Ladd’s Addition then made our way onto SE Clay. From Clay we took 6th over to Main and then onto the Hawthorne Bridge.

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21st and Division.

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He looked pretty natural on the bike and wore a tie,
slacks, dress shirt, rain jacket and business casual shoes.

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He rode in the front and used turn signals.

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Crossing SE 7th Ave on Clay.

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Heading toward the Hawthorne Bridge on the viaduct.

The ride to the bridge was mostly smooth and uneventful. Then, about three-fourths of the way over the bridge span, our group — which was riding at a social pace — was passed by a man riding very fast. He yelled something at us as he went by and was clearly angry that we slowed him down. He also spit on the ground in front us after he passed.

I explained to the mayor that that type of interaction usually ellicits one of two responses: People either bemoan the horrible lack of courtesy displayed by some bicycle riders (a.k.a. “jerks”), or they bemoan the horrible state of our bikeways that are so narrow people can’t easily pass without incident.

After that unfortunate encounter we dropped down off the bridge into downtown and the notorious 2nd and Main intersection. We had a red light at 2nd and ride participant Josh Chernoff took the opportunity to explain the poor conditions to Mayor Hales. At 2nd and Main the bike lane abruptly ends, the pavement is broken-up and full of bumps, and there’s a bus stop that merges over the lane.

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Josh Chernoff explaining his concerns about 2nd and Main.

Ride Along with Stasia Honnold-23

Existing conditions on SE Main between 2nd and 3rd.

Hales didn’t need an explanation. He could feel how uncomfortable and stressful his cycling environment had suddenly become. “What can we do about this!?” he asked.

At SW 3rd, the mayor realized he needed to get over to City Hall. Behind him were the disconcerting dangers he’d just experienced and in front of him was the infamous pinch-point at the Elk Statue between Chapman and Lownsdale squares. Not surprisingly his instinct was to pull up onto a sidewalk and walk the rest of the way. Even with this short experience, I think the mayor now better understands why we need a protected bike lane network downtown.

Hoping to taking advantage of every possible minute of the mayor’s time, a few of us walked with him to City Hall.

Adam Herstein, a vocal bike activist on Twitter known for chiding Portland’s timidity around cycling infrastructure, seemed pleased with the outcome of the event. “It’s definitely a good start,” he said, after shaking the mayor’s hand.

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The start of a beautiful friendship?

Getting the mayor out on the streets on his bike is something many people have been clamoring for. And indeed, this morning’s event was a great sign of things to come. And Hales tells us this is only the beginning. He’d like to ride and experience conditions in other parts of the city.

As for whether these experiences will lead to tangible changes in policy or infrastructure, that’s hard to tell. But change starts with awareness and conversations.

For Kyle Rohr, who had several minutes of conversation with the mayor today, it all sounds great. “But,” he said, “I don’t know what I can trust.”

We’ll find out soon enough. Stay tuned.

— Correction: The original version of this story mentioned the intersection of SW 2nd and Madison. It should have been SW 2nd and Main. Sorry for the confusion.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. 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

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Tom Hardy
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Tom Hardy

Good Article! It seems that the 8:15 time to the coffee shop was a bit after 7:30. With the weather change and riding from Washington square to get there by 7:30 I did not make it.

Granpa
Guest
Granpa

Good on him. I doubt that Mayor Hales got a full dose of the cycling experience either for the good parts or the bad parts, but he got a taste on a fresh cool morning, where areas that need improvement were evident. Now the conversations have begun………..

Adam Herstein
Guest
Adam Herstein

I really enjoyed being able to share my thoughts and concerns about the state of biking in Portland face-to-face with Mayor Hales this morning! I’m glad he agreed to ride into work as this gave him a first-person perspective on the issues we’ve all been experiencing. He listened and genuinely seemed receptive to improving things, but there’s still the uphill battle of politics surrounding it. He even agreed with the need for more protected bike lanes!

Hoping for more rides like this in the future.

Scott Kocher
Guest

This is terrific. Hopefully he has a good experience, and also will understand the range of experiences of people who ride to get around: without a group, in the dark, on an unfamiliar route, a bad route, a pothole or dangerous pass that could have been worse, etc.

Rob Chapman
Guest
Rob Chapman

After seeing Josh Chernoff’s harrowing videos I’m glad that he got to share his concerns directly with the Mayor.

I wonder if Mayor Hales would be interested in the morning commute on N. Interstate sometime? Dump trucks and semis add excitement to the morning when they pass two feet away!

Carrie
Guest
Carrie

The first thing I noticed was So Many Men. :(.

Vinny
Guest
Vinny

At least his fork is installed correctly and the helmet looks well fitted. That’s a better bike to work example than others have done in the past.

It would be fun to have him and/or other leaders do something like this from different parts of the city. Maybe once a month do a “mayor does your daily commute” – be it bike, transit, walking, or carpooling.

Josh Chernoff
Guest
Josh Chernoff

Also my encounter with the ride was just happenstance when that jerk passed me on the right and then worked his way through the group ahead of me before I realized it was you guys. I didn’t participate in the group ride.

Funny thing about that guy he was yelling “Who rides in the this kind of formation really!” As he was trying to pass on the right and as he was squeezing his way pass.

Terry D-M
Guest
Terry D-M

Kyle is absolutely correct when says that “he does not know what to trust.” Hales should put ACTUAL LOCAL dollars into bikeway modernization and expansion. …and prove he means it.

Use any fall “bump” money in the budget for Greenway diversion treatments this year. Next year funnel enough money from the general fund to catch up on the greenway capital construction the climate action plan calls for. Then we can believe him.

Until that happens….well, I will listen to Kyle.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Good….now ride and repeat!

dan
Guest
dan

Mayor Hales, I’m happy to see you out there on the bike commute. I hope that we see some infrastructure investment as a result. Remember every dollar spent on improving the bike commute goes a lot further than the same money spent on motor vehicle infrastructure.

dan
Guest
dan

And my goodness, the NYT article about Joan Childs does not paint her in a good light. So happy that Portland can be her dream retirement community and the perfect location for her 10,000 square foot (!) new residence…so sorry that the “homeless problem” is preventing her from feeling quite at home. Perhaps she could use some of her (apparently abundant) funds to build a nice wall around her house.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

I’m glad the mayor took this ride. He didn’t have to, and many cities’ mayors wouldn’t have. I hope he takes more, but the important thing isn’t how many hours or miles he logs on his bike, but how much he thinks about what he’s seen and heard – and then, what city actions he sets in motion over the coming months and years. I’m hopeful.

Pete
Guest
Pete

“He yelled something at us as he went by and was clearly angry that we slowed him down.”

Take the lane and hold yourself at traffic pace, big guy, or STFU and be patient.

maccoinnich
Guest

I’m glad to read that the Mayor got to experience first hand how lacking the bike network is in downtown. If Portland is ever going to be a truly world class city for cycling it needs to have a central city where getting around by bike is possible not just for the bravest cyclists, but for everyone.

PaulaF
Guest
PaulaF

Good write up. Hopefully Mayor Hales will continue to ride and, maybe, a little less entourage. I find riding solo to be a much different experience than when riding with a group of 5 or more. maybe that is just my experience.

Josh Chernoff
Guest
Josh Chernoff

I wonder if our mayor will not consider my petition for no passing on Greenways.
https://www.change.org/p/steve-novick-charlie-hales-prohibit-automobiles-from-passing-on-portland-neighborhood-greenways

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

Glad to see the mayor biking the commute. Did nobody take the lane past the elk to show how it’s done? Looking forward to the SW edition with the rest of the city council.

HJ
Guest
HJ

Would love to see him ride solo. So different from riding in a group like that. Would also love to see him do a commute like mine. Cornell Rd. from Miller Rd into the pearl then out to the airport. That’s one that’ll really teach you about the state of cycling infrastructure.

Ted Buehler
Guest

Good coverage, Jonathan. Good to see Mayor Hales out on a bike, looking comfortable, and talking with constituents.

If you want to see more of it, consider sending him an email that says something like
“Nice work, hope to see you out on your bike more often”.

& maybe include things like
“My commute has some problems, they can and should be fixed, want to ride with me and see what needs to be done?”
or
“You might consider riding alone once in a while, too, so you can experience some of the close calls that ordinary constituents encounter (but you won’t encounter in a group).”

Contact info here:
https://www.portlandoregon.gov/mayor/60975

My theory is that if someone does something you like, even if its not everything you’ve hoped for, the best way to get them to do more of it is to say something nice about what they did, then invite them go one step further.

Ted Buehler

David Lewis
Guest

SE Madison & Grand??? My shop is at SE Madison & 2nd, so I’m pretty familiar with the neighborhood, and I’m not aware of anything other than a suicide crossing at that intersection.

9watts
Guest
9watts

Fun that he went on the ride, that so many interesting people showed up to chat and ride with him, and that you wrote such a nice article. Thanks!

Portland Police Officer Cage Byrd
His/her parents had a peculiar sense of humor.

John Lascurettes
Guest

Can we get him to ride N Williams now since the city seems so proud of it, but it’s got people who drive and ride it all in a kerfuffle?

Lulu
Guest
Lulu

Did he ride home?

paul g.
Guest
paul g.

Very fair writeup, Jonathan, particularly appreciate this quote:

“In case you haven’t seen the local news headlines recently, Joan isn’t alone. And it’s important for anyone who cares about cycling to understand that Mayor Hales is simultaneously juggling several urgent livability issues: The amount of people living on Portland’s streets, the troubling amount of shootings and gang violence, and the affordable housing/development/density issues are all demanding his attention.”

That was the only point I was trying to make on the other thread. For a very busy chief executive, and one let’s be frank is no longer young, getting him to experience cycling one a month or so is a real accomplishment.

Dave
Guest
Dave

Homelessness in PDX is out of control because a free market in housing is out of control.

Bald One
Guest
Bald One

Anyone know how the mayor got home – did he ride alone? Get a lift?

PS. Anyone else see the police motorcycle police officer staked out on the new Orange Line MUP (@ SE 8th and Division Pl) yesterday evening – perhaps it was officer Byrd? Surprised me (not at all) to see uniformed traffic enforcement in place for cyclists here, while autos are left alone.

NC
Guest
NC

So where’s the video of the Cat 6 racer on the bridge, I see Go Pros in those pictures.

reader
Guest
reader

So, how is the mayor getting to work tomorrow?

Brendan Treacy
Guest
Brendan Treacy

Thanks for being there and covering this. I feel like your presence made the event 10 times more valuable since it means the mayor has a lot more accountability. It’s a small token gesture for him to do the ride, but one more step in right direction. Continuity of bike routes (or lack thereof) is a crucial thing to experience first hand.

Deeebo
Guest
Deeebo

Nice job at the PR grab mayor. Now do it tomorrow and don’t tell anyone. Figure it out yourself without someone pointing out each turn and pothole for you, then you get real credit.

Paul Cone
Guest
Paul Cone

I asked Leah Treat about a month ago when 2nd & Main is going to get fixed. She said she wants it fixed, too, but with all the other work in the area this year it had to wait. It’s a very busy intersection and there will be a lot of traffic control, etc. to work out.

Brad
Guest
Brad

Come to Kerns, Mr. Mayor! We can figure out how to get from NE Broadway to SE Ankeny without getting run over. 🙂

Andrew Kreps
Guest
Andrew Kreps

I got verbally threatened by a man in a minivan right where Mayor Hales rode on Monday. Work faster, Charlie. Work faster.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

Kudos to the mayor for actually getting out and riding a “real” trip by going to work. I have one caution when evaluating biking conditions and infrastructure by taking one or two rides: imagine every bit of fear, confusion, obstruction, inconvenience, etc. multiplied by 250 for every year of commuting someone might undertake.

I have a concern that if riding a bike is a mere novelty done once or twice a year—like taking a hot-air balloon ride or something—the inconveniences, delays, detours, etc. that are experienced might tend to be viewed as almost exciting elements of adventure that can be “fun” for one ride; but they become grinding when experienced day in and day out. The flip side of “fun adventure” can also be that when something induces enough fear on one’s first/only ride, it can appear entirely acceptable and desirable to foist “safety” measures on cyclists, such as dismounting/walking, taking detours, shunting onto sidewalks to wait for a pedestrian signal, etc. While those measures might bring relief to a novice cyclist who just wants to stay out of the way of scary cars at any and all costs, they again become grinding day after day for more experienced riders—and serve as a reminder that rather than putting cyclist efficiency and convenience on par with driver efficiency and convenience, our leaders choose to treat cyclists as children and do everything to keep them out of the way of the grown-ups so they don’t get hurt by the people doing the real traveling in their cars.

I’m not trying to make any accusations, but rather raise awareness that impressions made on one ride, and “solutions” that seem good after that one ride may not always be the best. We have to ask whether what we are asking cyclists to do in any give situation would be acceptable to drivers. If not, why not? What can be done differently to make conditions acceptable for travelers by all modes, instead of prioritizing auto travel and then figuring out how to wedge in other modes around the cars.