I imagine most of you bike because it’s just what you do and who you are. But what about folks who aren’t there yet?
Last week when we discussed freight intermodal transportation and compared it to multimodal human transportation, I left out some of my conversation with Clint Culpepper, the Transportation Options Manager at Portland State University. He left me with some choice phrases that brought up more questions for me.
Clint said PSU surveys show a decline in biking among students and staff. He suggested students are like an indicator species: When housing is less affordable and/or available around campus, fewer students bike to school. In Clint’s PSU transportation surveys, the bike-commute threshold was at about three miles, and as students are forced to live farther out, biking to school is less of an option for them.
The day I went down to PSU, all the BikeTown bike racks by the school were empty, but so were all the dorm bike racks. I asked my dorm-kid if he said he knew of or saw a lot of cyclists. He said “no” and that he thought most people used transit to commute in to campus. Granted, Clint’s data is more than adequate for me; I just mention this to say I didn’t see any glaring opposition to Clint’s information.
I biked over to University of Portland afterwards, which is in my neighborhood. I’m not here on BikePortland as a reporter, but I did take a couple shots of U of P bike racks. I go over to U of P quite a bit, and they’re always full. They’re full at the faculty buildings and at the dorm buildings. But that supports Clint’s data, right? U of P campus meets the three-mile threshold.
For those of you commuting longer suburb-to-city distances, does this seem to ring true? How do we make biking longer distances easier? E-bikes or multimodal are obvious answers, but they’re not being adopted at exactly a rapid clip. We might see fewer bike stores closing if that were the case. Something in the equation must be missing.
Clint gave me a really good possible answer which rang true with me. See, I spent a good chunk of my childhood in Boring, Oregon. Going to someone’s house was in terms of acres or miles — not blocks — and often included 55 mph speed limits. Clint used a college kid coming in from Aloha (an unincorporated town in Washington County) as an example, but same difference, right? We’re not exactly raised with “bike culture” in rural areas. My high school had Future Farmers of America and snowboarders. My neighbors were cows, chickens, farmers, and migrant farm workers.
In the comments last week, I asked reader Jason (who’s the same age as me and has mentioned biking is just part of him) how he got that way. It’s what I suspected: Jason was raised with a bike early on, was riding all over, and while he’s had points without one, it’s part of him now. I’m starting at age 45. Jason has about 30 years of biking on me. How do we get more Jasons and more 45-year-olds doing an about-face? (I don’t recommend the economic-impact-method, by the way.) But seriously, how? I’m teaching my kids transit and biking now, some with more success than others, but what about all the rural and suburban kids? What about the adults? How do we get a culture shift?
How did your bike become part of your identity? And does that help you push through barriers like a long commute?
With the way things are going, many of us may face the economic-impact-method whether we like it or not. I know, there may not be a black and white answer, but it seems now might be the time to strike while the iron’s hot.
As always, thank you so much for hanging out with me on here.
— Becky Jo, @BeckyJoPDX
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Were you a free-range kid? Most of the transportation advocates I know who are passionate about cycling or walking were free-range kids. As children, our parents would let us roam all over the place, all day on weekends, without supervision. They trusted us. Or they were negligent hands-off parents. Either way, we all got hooked on exploring our world.
I wasn’t raised full on free-range, but I distinctly remember when I earned the right to bike from my house to the community pool, which was maybe a mile away. Probably the most powerful memory I have of the summer of ’92! I’m sure that experience paved the way for buying a bike during college, commuting as an adult, etc.
Ah, Silky Slim & Jonathan. I’m seeing with kids it’s the ability to “earn” the freedom & trust that plants the thrill of independence. I’m loving this!! The MAX coming to Gresham did that for me, which must be why I still love MAX so much.
Yes! Earning it is so important. Before I did that 100 mile ride, I will never forget the day I rode 44 miles along the L.A. river system (huge concrete “riverbeds” with bike paths on top of them) on my little BMX bike. I was so proud! “I rode 22 miles there and back” I recall telling people for years afterward. Just the fact I could do that and survive really made me believe in both my own power and the power of bicycles.
No, I wasn’t what is now called Free Range. My mom was at Clackamas County Sheriff’s office until they bought the bowling alley in Gresham. I was a latchkey kid, and was expected to care for my younger half-brothers. My mom brought me up with articles in the metro crime section, to take care of the house, and while I learned to ride horses, I also learned basic self defense. I was allowed to go exploring down the back-woods trails down to the river with a time limit and only in my later teens. My childhood was pretty typical of Boring-to-Govy childhoods.
I was actually raised by very overbearing parents. When I started cycling, it was my escape. But when I was a kid, I would get an ear full if I went from place to place without permission.
I never thought of the “free range kid” aspect before. I too was free at 6 years old to ride to the pool, the park, out into the desert sage, all without supervision. My bike gave me freedom, and it was part of me. Whereas I was always free and exploring, now an entire generation of helicopter parenting has created a society where people fear everything, even riding a bike on a street. Parents aren’t worried about injuries now, just the amount of screen time one gets. I guess we all need to lead by example.
I was a pretty normal kid when it came to biking. I’d ride BMX bikes around the ‘hood with my older brothers and friends. But biking didn’t become a “thing” for me until my stepdad introduced me to it. He was/is (getting a bit old now) a major cycling lover. When I was 12 he and my mom signed me up for the Solvang Century, a 100 mile ride. I was like the only person in the entire ride that was on a knobby-tired MTB (specialized stumpjumper!). Completing that ride (it took all day and I finished around sunset) without sagging or walking any hills cemented my confidence and love for cycling. I was all about it after that and it definitely became a big part of my identity. In High School I started racing friends (who were driving) from school to various houses for get togethers and stuff. I loved that I could get through my town so fast on a bike – especially at night! Then I really got crazy about bikes in college and then worked in the industry and then a bike blog became my thing and then here we are.
So yeah, I’m definitely in the “it’s part of my identity” camp (big surprise right?!). And yes it means I don’t really “choose” to go by bike everywhere, it’s just what I do.
As for getting other folks into it. One thing Portland has failed on is making high-profile, marquee, high-quality bikeways on major streets so people can actually see them. We see sidewalks so we walk. We see buses so we use the bus. We see cars so we drive. Most of our bike network is hidden because PBOT has focused too much on backstreets (aka n’hood greenways). If we had quality, protected, beautiful, clean, respectable bikeways on major streets we’d see a huge boost in ridership. 100% guaranteed.
While I’m not a big fan of the so-called greenways, I wonder if they would work better, and attract more riders, if they had on-demand (as in immediate and anticipatory) signals where they cross major streets. If the folks in cars kept having to sit and wait while they watched people ride along unimpeded, maybe they would see some of the fun.
That would take a lot of upgrading of the greenways to boot the cars off and a lot of fighting with traffic engineering traditions of always serving car speed and throughput, so it’s off the menu.
We are indoctrinated at a young age to perceive the world in a specific way. The car you drive expresses your success in life. So much so that even MotorTrend recognizes this.
Another problem with cycling is the perception. Colloquially, a coworker of mine once said, “if I was going to ride to work, I’d just wear my street clothes.” Many people don’t, they feel compelled to wear hi-viz, which conveys a sense of danger. Bystanders see a dangerous behavior.
Then there’s the cultural commitment, “It’s not just Hipsters making bicycling cool, the following groups have helped as well: Frugalistas, Bike to Work enthusiasts, bloggers and environmentalists.” Personally, I don’t want to be any of those.
Also, cyclists get in the way of important people and activities.
Golden Eye car chase, a little “comedic relief” at the cost of some Lycra wienies.
Like with anything, the indoctrination must be deconstructed and analyzed.
Jason, I love that you brought all of this up! This is what I wanted to see. Okay, SO… cooking at home was thought of as what poor people did, and then there was the Foodie movement, Sur la Table on every corner, and now we all know the difference between the Wal-Mart multipack pans and All-Clad. Yes, I’m of the mind that if you can really cook, you can do it with IKEA equipment, but that’s only because of the Foodie movement and because I’ve always cooked.
Same thing happened with Sewing. It was all snotty “Becky-from-Home-Ecky” icky homemade clothes, but now…most “sewists” get to the skill level that no one but another sewists would know it was homemade and that’s because we recognize patterns. Same thing applies about equipment.
I feel THAT is a way to get adults to switch. Yes. I’m actually proposing a trend movement. I think Ebikes might be that thing that can push it. Ebikes are the new All-Clad or Bernina machines. I mean… that’s also what happened with electric cars.
And sure, you’re going to get the biking equivalent of green-washing, but… can you tell I’ve been in marketing most my life? Lol
You put the dots together as intended, to get kids to ride bikes, you need adults to show them. I think skills courses are an important factor. But the marketing is fundamental to changing cycling from a movement, to just regular life.
E-bikes, game changers indeed. I like to chat at stop lights. From what I gather, going 28mph seems dangerous to some E-bike riders. So, they opted for the Class 1, 20mph limit. I ride up and down Barbur Blvd and, that extra 8mph potential actually increase my safety. Functionally, the top speed is 25mph anyway, unless I’m really jammin’. And besides, anyone who bombs down hill knows you can get up to and beyond 40mph if you let it go. So, 28mph is coasting, for some.
I’m really happy that I’ve been a “frugalist” for the past ten years. Definitely pays off in times like these.
I’m an environmentalist and I don’t like that because it shouldn’t be a specific trait. The idea that environmentalism is a special interest is what I have issue with.
I have nothing against frugalism per se either. But when we allow the characterization of otherwise rational behavior, we acquiesce to the status quo.
Same thing with cycling, “oh, you’re one of *those*!” I don’t want to be a cyclist, why can’t I be a person that rides a bike instead of driving a car?
Does that make sense?
Yes, it does. You want your internal identity to be your external identity, rather than a set of stereotypes based on an ism-dominated culture.
That’s about the gist of it. I’m sure I’m not alone with that desire.
Speaking from the far-flung suburbs, the only thing that makes my bike commute to downtown possible is the MAX train. And I’m lucky enough to have a folding bike, which is a whole lot easier to deal with on crowded trains. What would make it easier for a lot of people to get on a bike in the burbs is real dedicated (safe) infrastructure to get from suburban neighborhoods to MAX without being terrified–and better (and more plentiful) secure bike parking at MAX stations in the burbs. I’m also like you and just started riding regularly last year. Riding next to speeding traffic (45 mph and more) is not fun. But on the days I ride, I feel strong and independent and kind of wonderful, even in the rain. Driving makes me feel sad now.
When my own son was in high school, he rode a bike for a while but was so eager to drive because all his friends were driving. He saw bikes and transit as something he had to put up with until he got his license and he got an ancient car from his grandparents.
I’d love to see a real emphasis in all Portland burbs on the 3-mile radius around MAX stations, to look at what it takes to ride there, and ask if it’s really safe and welcoming? We might get a whole lot more people trying to make it part of their identity if they didn’t feel like they had to battle with 45mph Yukons and dump trucks, protected only by paint.
I also grew up in a rural setting and biked for recreation on roads that motorist usually drive between 55 -65 mph. I didn’t really start biking until I moved to Eugene, which is a model city for how a city can encourage biking.
Biking is just easy in Eugene. Motorist generally follow the law in the urban core and EPD actually enforces speed limits. While Eugene unfortunately has quite a lot of unprotected bike lanes, its not nearly as terrifying as the ones here because motorist rarely speed in town. Eugene doesn’t have drag strips like Lombard or Greeley.
I ride in Portland solely because I love bike riding. Nothing about Portland makes me want to ride. I commute ~9 miles each way from deep St. Johns to downtown and I’d say I have good commutes around 10% of the time. My commute becomes better based on how much I can avoid PBOTs bike infrastructure, which lengthens my commute but allows me to experience less interaction with motorists.
My thought on distance is that its really only a function of safety. The longer your commute is in Portland, the better the chance is that you will be forced to take one of PBOTs dangerous bikeways, whether that is the Broadway bridge, Williams, Ankeny, etc. If the city wants people who live farther away to bike (which I don’t believe they do, but that’s a different story), they need to design greenways like they design freeways. When they build greenways they need to make them comfortable to ride by avoiding car infrastructure like speed bumps in favor of bike and pedestrian infrastructure like traffic diverters. They also need to eliminate stops on greenways. The greenways I take (N. Rodney, N Willamette, N Prinecton) give preference to large arterial roads at every intersection. Stopping and starting is frustrating for new riders and crossing streets with speeding motorist is uncomfortable even for experienced cyclist like me.
Of course, PBOT knows this. They just don’t care. They will give preference to the least efficient, dirtiest forms of transportation no matter how many people die as we drive off this climate cliff.
I agree with most of what you said, particularly creating infra that doesn’t force people on bikes to stop or cede priority to those in cars. That has been successful elsewhere.
Now, about Eugene: I’ve lived in/around Eugene for 2 decades. EPD most certainly does not enforce speed limits unless they’re doing it on some south hills streets where city staff reside. Railroad/W1st has the median car going 15 mph over the posted speed limit, which is itself 10 mph over the statutory speed (no doubt raised by the 85th percentile rule of ODOT). When Officer Kilcullen was killed during a traffic stop a decade back, that pretty much stopped traffic enforcement here.
Eugene’s bike specific infra has grown and has all the problems you describe for PDX (slow, long waits, obstacles, bad routing). Not surprisingly, bike modal share is down to just over 4%, down from nearly 11% a dozen years ago, and is on track to get to 0% by 2024, so we’re definitely doing something wrong.
I miss the “bicycle super highways” in Eugene. Somehow, PDX routes feel like they are designed for sightseeing around the edges of town. Whereas, the BHS’ in Eugene cut through neighborhoods.
YES! when I was doing the bike on MAX test, I meandered my way to the Interstate MAX and was unpleasantly surprised the Interstate bike lane no longer existed where I popped out. I actually had to ride on the sidewalk, which I hate doing. Farther North where I live, it’s there. But I popped out somewhere south or Killingsworth I think, and it was gone. Lots of the greenways-to-bike-lanes + multimodal don’t make any sense.
Oh yeah, I forgot about the Interstate Bike Lane. That one isn’t too bad, for where it is.. and where it’s not covered with urban campers. 🙁
But I’d love to see a dedicated MUP where Hawthorn and N Williams / N Vancouver are. I don’t enjoy the indirectness of bike routes compared to the directness of arterial streets. Especially when cars try to hog the side streets too.
YES! I’ve gotten lost on the 11th-to-Clinton conversion, Stark to MLK to Sandy scariness, and everything you said. While I don’t mind some of the pretty scenic route, they’re always on cracked and dilapidated streets. While I got better tires, ever since y’all taught me what a pinch flat is, I’m paranoid.
I guess it probably depends on where you live in Eugene. I spent most of my time in West Eugene (near Churchill), Friendly, and the south hills. I worked in the Whit. I never felt afraid riding in any of those areas whether they had a bike lane or not.
EPD does much, much more patrolling than PPB does. They would run radar on 18th all the time. Eugene just has generally better infrastructure. West 11th is probably the worst street in Eugene that isn’t a highway, and it now as EmX on it and the Fern Ridge Trail is a useful route if you don’t want to be near 11th. The river paths are also great connections to Springfield.
I wonder how much crime also plays a part in making people not want to bike. After you get your third bike jacked, do you buy another one or just give up?
So, all over really.
My least favorite roads were Pearl and High street. Back in the 90’s, motorist weren’t accustom to bike lanes on both sides of the road or moving from one side to the other. I feel like the culture has changed since there. Also, a lot of “speed up to pass you then turn in front of you” action. Also, the 13th and Jefferson area, if you’re not on 15th. I guess basically downtown and campus where cars are moving fast to get short distances.
how many parking garages are there on PSU’s campus and how many spaces? how many bike garages and how many spaces?
how much revenue does PSU make from selling parking permits and hourly parking? how much could they generate leasing the land the garages are built on for a higher use than car storage?
how much would a healthier student body reduce the cost of the student health plan at PSU?
how much does PSU do to highlight the costs associated with living far from campus and commuting by car before students begin classes? are students encouraged to find ways to avoid those costs (live closer, use transit, bicycle) or are they assured that those costs can be deferred by taking out student loans?
I don’t know the answers, but they might be interesting and instructive. I know Clint is invested in making biking to campus more appealing than driving, but I’m skeptical that other PSU powers share his enthusiasm for that project.
Clint walking in while I was messing with the bus practice rack was pure luck! I’m so glad it happened that way. He gave me a few stats, but as I’m the one still learning here, I left those and your questions on the table for someone with more bike-knowledge than I to go ask. I’ve got his email if anyone wants to hit up PSU (and maybe other colleges) for those stats.
In 1968 a buddy and I had just finished our freshman year of high school and hatched a plan to ride our cheap 10-speed bikes from Portland to the beach. To our amazement, our parents thought this was a great idea. We had a great trip full of adventure and mis-adventure. The door was opened for us and we never looked back. Still ridin’…
aaaahhhh goals! The husbeast and I have a goal to ride to the coast. It’s on the list. <3
I didn’t get a driver’s license until I was 21 and living in Chicago, which is where I spent most of the 90’s and had my first adventures in automobile ownership. Turned out the variety of car I was able to afford, coupled with my overall mechanical disinterest, tended to result in a level of expense and hassle that I found intolerable. I used public transit plenty and logged many miles on foot, but I found myself increasingly turning to the reliability and flexibility of riding a bike.
After my first year of successfully bike commuting year round, I quit my depressing ass office job and found work as a messenger (on a single speed mountain bike). That job gave me a reinvented identity and a totally transformed relationship with my surroundings; it gave me the means to build up a feeling of strength and autonomy in place of the anxiety I’d been struggling with throughout much of my time in that city. And it allowed me to leave town with the sense that I hadn’t been beaten into submission, but instead had made the best of where I was and simply decided to move on. Bicycling is some serious medicine.
This is a cool story. I didn’t get my license until 19, but also already had a preference for our light rail system. I remember seeing the bike messengers increase in downtown PDX and they were like their own club of awesome. They were often a bit surly, but I always imagined they had to be for self protection – it must have been a PITA to pioneer that ground. I remember when the first Bike Gallery opened up in Gresham in 96-ish across from my parent’s bowling alley. We were all astonished that a bike could cost $1k. lol.
Thinking more about this article–I grew up in Bend in the 70s and 80s, before Bend was Outdoor Mecca, when it was an aging mill town with a ski resort up the road. Like Becky Jo, I also had lots of friends who lived on farms and did FFA. And riding a bike to high school was the mark of serious outcast nerdiness. Even kids who didn’t have money could come up with some kind of barely-running jalopy to drive. It didn’t help that I went to what was the “new” high school at the time, built way out on the edge of town on cheap former farmland, miles from anywhere. The only way to get to school was on the school bus or in a car, or if you biked, on a gravelly road shoulder where all the other kids passed you in the morning and made fun of you for not having a car. And there wasn’t any public transit. I would have been mortified to ride a bike to school, especially after turning 16. You had a car, or you got a ride from a friend with a car if at all possible. Bikes and the school bus were for kids who were too young to drive.
Hey (waves) from other side of the mountain! You know exactly what I’m talking about. As with all nerdy, counterculture, artistic ventures, and frugal things becoming “cool” I’m hoping the same for cycling. <3
I don’t remember “earning” any roaming privileges when I was a kid, but I do remember asking frequently, “Daaa-aaad, can me and so-and-so go ride bikes?” “Riding bikes” was a standard pastime/activity that “everybody” did when I was a kid. We weren’t going anywhere in particular, just riding.
I must have become addicted to the speed attainable on a bike while using only my own leg power. I also remember the few times I had to ride to school for early-morning marching band practice (on my Raleigh Super Record “ten-speed” with a generator head/tail light) and feeling like it was quite the adventure/challenge to make the 6-mile trip through town. The knowledge that I could make that trip without having to rely on my parents for a car ride was a real confidence-booster at the time and gave me a feeling of independence that was pretty cool.
Then I learned to drive and got a car, which became my (and my best friend from down the street’s) main mode of school transport, but that same friend and I also used to do what we considered “epic” bike rides on weekends and during school breaks. It became my mode of choice for “exercise”, but I didn’t really ride for transportation until I got older and started carrying all my own auto expenses; then I realized how much money could be saved by skipping the car.
Now, it’s pretty much stubbornness, and if I’m honest, counter-cultural rebellion that keeps me commuting by bike. Also, given the number of people who think I’m crazy and could not in one million years imagine themselves doing what I do to get to work a few times a week, it’s like having a superpower. It’s kind of funny when people find out you ride 10 miles to work and they look at you with the same incredulity as if you’d just heated your coffee with laser vision after flying around the room. So maybe I like the “tough-guy” cred, the stand-out-ishness of doing something not everybody does, the knowledge that if my car blows up, I can still do just about everything I do now, and that speed thing…
Oh yeah, likely a Miller generator set that rubbed against the tire sidewall to power the dyno? The drag was very apparent, not like good hub generators now. I had one, and my so did my riding friend. He had a very bad crash when it somehow got into the spokes at speed. And I learned that unlocking a combination lock in the forest at night needs a light other than generator.
As I recall, it was a Union generator, and yes, the drag was…a drag. I think I actually still have it.