“Social distancing from the comfort of your car.” That’s how the folks behind the annual Winter Wonderland event at Portland International Raceway are marketing this year’s event.
Since 2009 organizers have set aside one night of the five-week event where bicycle riders could enjoy the lights and festive vibes without the toxic emissions, noise, or threat of collisions posed by car drivers. But this year they’ve decided to cancel it. “Due to COVID-19 safety protocols, our special annual dog walking and bike nights will not be offered this year,” reads a statement by Sunshine Division, the Portland Police Bureau’s nonprofit arm that runs the event.
And if you’re wondering whether or not they’ll let you show up on a bike and ride through the lights with the car drivers, I asked a spokesperson that today. The answer is no.
This is unfortunate news given how popular this event has gotten over the years. It’s also an interesting decision given how safe cycling is. Other similar events, like the Oregon Zoo’s Zoo Lights (which is typically walking-only), have also gone to a drive-through only format. (Peacock Lane? It’s not happening at all.)
The reader who tipped us off about this said he was “sad” to hear the news: “While Christmas lights are not as serious as Covid testing, food pickup, presidential victory speeches, or other services that have been routinely denied to those without cars, I’m sad to see yet another example of the pandemic being used to extend extra privileges to car owners while denying them to everyone else. I have to believe that there’s enough space at PIR for cyclists to visit in a safely-distanced way”
I understand the concerns and the reflex to assume keeping everyone inside their cars is a safer bet; but is having people pack into an enclosed vehicle really safer than people riding bikes?
Riding a bike outdoors has been a go-to activity for thousands of people in the region since the pandemic began its grip on our lives. Portland has recognized this by giving riders extra help to ride safely on over 100 miles of streets. When people ride bikes, not only are they outside but they tend to naturally create a buffer zone around themselves and other people. Add proper mask wearing and it’s a very safe activity — especially when done at an easy pace with low exertion.
On the other hand, cars prevent people from giving each other the six feet of distance health guidelines require. Cars with windows rolled up when it’s cold outside are also not very well-ventilated. And the use of cars seems especially problematic at fun, recreational events like Winter Wonderland and Zoo Lights because there’s a greater likelihood people outside safe family “pods” will come along for the ride, thus increasing the risk of spread.
Hopefully by next year we’ll all be virus-free and events like this will be carfree once again. For 2020, maybe we should create a route of great light displays and publicize it ourselves. Stay tuned.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
— Get our headlines delivered to your inbox.
— Support this independent community media outlet with a one-time contribution or monthly subscription.
Makes “some” sense…except I wonder if they allow motorcyclists / scooterists to also do the loop?
It makes zero sense. The chance of catching the virus while wearing a mask outside is effectively nil. This is a stupid, fear-based, conformist, blatantly car-supremacist decision.
Re: “is having people pack into an enclosed vehicle really safer than people riding bikes?”
Certainly not, if the people in the car are from more than one household.
As long as different households keep 20 feet apart while outdoors on their bikes, the bike-thru event would be very low risk of transmission.
You suck !
Should it be any surprise that American’s answer to a pandemic is to just use cars as PPE?
After doing either the bike night or dog walk night for the past few years, I found the “drive-through” experience to be rather underwhelming.
Now “PPE” – “Propelled Protective Equipment”
or “Polluting Protective Equipment”
I bought my first PPPE (proper personal protective equipment) yesterday. Neon green STAG gloves. They keep my hands warm and evoke a positive eye response from that ridiculous masked herd. Total win win.
I’m surprised this isn’t a more celebrated move considering the level of virus fear there seems to be on this site. Stay safe.
Not much evidence of outdoor transmission. If they made every Monday night a bike night, and every Tuesday night a walk night, I think the crowds would be small enough that transmission would not be a risk. The track is roughly 4 times wider than the Springwater Trail, so you can safely fit a lot of people on it.
Stay THafe. . .
I would LOVE a bike route of great light displays. Hope that it happens! Thanks JM.
Any idea if the drive-through Zoo Lights this year will allow bicycles to drive through?
Did Zoo Lights by car last weekend. They did a nice job with it and routed it through some of the areas under construction and service paths at the zoo. That said, the route is really dark and narrow in spots. You roll over a lot of temporary humps/bumps that are protecting power cables and descend/climb through some steep twisty stretches. Without headlights or headlamps (which would ruin some of the light effects), I think that it would be a crash fest for folks with poor handling skills and young kids new to riding. Some not-so-strong riders would struggle on a few of the grades and be reduced to walking their bikes.
Good to know; thanks! I’m not worried about not-so-strong riders (this year, at least), but it’d be sad to reserve a time, only to be denied entry. Guess I should just call them.
A car looks more like a matrix pod than a bicycle. Get back in your pods proles !
Well, it is at Portland International Raceway, which is primarily a road course and drag strip for cars. BTW any events they had this year spectators were not allowed at. IMO they have been taking Covid-19 very seriously, and that is reflected in this decision.
Yes, but bike night has been a long held tradition there. Canceling it was senseless.