Posted by Naomi Fast (Washington County Correspondent) on February 21st, 2017 at 9:47 am
[Note: This article is by BikePortland subscriber and Beaverton resident Naomi Fast. Naomi’s perspective is formed in part by the fact that she doesn’t own a car and she’s lived and worked in both Portland and Beaverton.]
In my first subscriber post, I wrote about Beaverton, where I moved in 2013 after a decade in Portland. It occurs to me a few people might wonder how I live without a car in the suburbs. Sometimes it’s not easy! But living without a car is not all that rare, and bike commuting infrastructure is becoming a more vocal priority as Washington County looks to the future.
But challenges in the here-and-now are plentiful, and sometimes I feel frustrated.
For example: Recently, I was riding in dangerous gravel in the SW Murray Blvd bike lane near the Nike Woods, and had to move into the main traffic lane at times to avoid skidding. At the red light, a woman holding her phone in one hand, deep in conversation, drove up on my left. I motioned her to roll down her window. I let her know I was needing to take the lane at times, so please keep an eye out for me! She said she’d drive more to her left to give me room, so that was nice.
I actually wasn’t yelling at her; I was breathless from biking hard next to a bus, and trying to talk loud enough to be heard over the roar of motors. Talk about feeling misunderstood!
A different morning on southbound Murray, a contractor was setting up a new road work area, and though there was a “Bikes on Roadway” sign posted, she wasn’t preparing a safe way for bikes to travel next to the 45 MPH cars. When I asked her if she would, she said she didn’t come out there to be yelled at. I actually wasn’t yelling at her; I was breathless from biking hard next to a bus, and trying to talk loud enough to be heard over the roar of motors. Talk about feeling misunderstood! Anyway, then she said, “You’re on your own.” Wow! Although the construction trucks at that spot belong to K&E Excavating, she must not have been with their crew because they have a review on their website stating: “always very attentive to the requests that are made, either good or bad.” An attentive crew hopefully doesn’t create situations where drivers are violating close passing laws.
Sometimes we who bike instead of drive the suburbs do feel “on our own.” It must be nicer to be a driver and feel safely attended to by transportation departments doing things like pouring gravel to keep car users moving in ice storms, even though that same gravel puts the lives of people on bike in peril for weeks.
Still, I have more reasons to stay on a bicycle than I do to go back to car ownership. I thought I’d share a few here. None of these reasons are what made me start bike commuting; they’re the benefits and things I fell in love with as I’ve biked, going on 12 years:
1. Affordability. For years I’ve saved probably an average of $500 per month by biking and using transit.
2. A chance to be outdoors every day. I love being close to the soil, trees, water, and sun, and there are countless times I’ve stopped to take a photograph of something exquisitely beautiful. It’s a huge bonus that my mode is so gentle on that beauty, and preserves it for the next generation and my next ride.
3. Biking engages all the senses. On the flip side, car rides put me too much “in my head.” I used to love road trips in cars. These days, I find sitting in a car for hours uncomfortable and boring. Auto makers know driving is boring, and are always installing the latest entertainment systems, including wireless internet, even though a car is a dangerous machine requiring focus and patience to operate.
4. Civic and community contribution. I don’t like that cars aren’t accessible to everyone, or that our transportation system values some lives over others. Biking has opened my eyes to the social injustices that arise from car dependency. And it feels good to be doing something tangible in protest of oil companies tearing up communities over oil. Cars are arguably the most direct and voracious daily consumers of oil; I’m happy to be divested of that consumer product, not to mention ready to roll should the big carbon bubble pop.
5. Efficiency. A trip to the grocery store by bike means I can check “Work out” and “Get groceries” off my daily to-do list in one fell swoop. Driving is time consuming, and worse, can add stress and complications to trips, long or short. Once, while visiting Berkeley as a much less experienced driver—especially around multi-modal infrastructure—I passed a person at a mid-street crosswalk. They saw I wasn’t stopping, and waited till I went by even though they had the right of way. A passerby flipped me off on their behalf, and I’m glad he did. That’s what cued me I’d done something wrong. I wasn’t speeding or distracted, but I was stressed by my unfamiliarity with Berkeley driving. If I’d later met the person I’d driven past, I’d have apologized, and still wish I could. I’d also say: Guess what, now I’m at the crosswalk on foot most of the time. I get it now!
6. Biking is endlessly interesting. I encounter all kinds of people on transit and while biking. Not all encounters are good ones, but lots are, and almost all are interesting. I’ve learned a lot about myself on the bike. Like yoga, it can be hard. When frustrations arise, sometimes the only thing to do is keep breathing, and breathe through the discomfort. I never learned that in a car. I’m learning it now. The encounters that bring out the worst in me—aspects of myself that are human nature but aren’t the most sophisticated way to solve conflicts—are those that involve drivers coming carelessly close to me with their cars. It’s instinctive to self-protect, and my fight or flight impulse is instantly activated when drivers come too close and cause me to feel my life’s been threatened. If drivers could understand this, I bet most would feel awful and would give people on foot and bike more space.
I have a tale that perfectly illustrates that last point about how interesting bike encounters can be. I’ll share that story in my next post.
— by Naomi Fast. Follower her activism and adventures in Beaverton via @_The_Clearing on Twitter