BikePortland.org

Self-righteous, pro-bike note left on a car calls out owner: Is this helpful?


Note left on a car in the Sabin/Irvington neighborhood.
(Sent in by reader)

A BikePortlander reader who lives in the Sabin/Irvington neighborhood was contacted by their house-sitter about a note left on their car Monday morning. The typed and printed-out note had a sanctimonious, passive-aggressive vibe that called out the car’s owner and warned that they’d been reported to PBOT for a citation.

Here’s the text:

You may not have realized but your tabs are expired or you don’t have license plates. Did you know that everyone is required to have license plates and to register there carbon spewing, global warning [sic] steel cages? They good thing it’s easy to register at dmv2u.oregon.gov. Money from your registration dollars goes to help our kids via funding of the Safe Routes to School program. 6% of Portlanders commute via bike. Maybe consider getting rid of this old junker and grow the 6% club? You can always rent a carshare for those times you need a climate destroyer! Save the planet and our kids. Register your vehicle ASAP and then sell it! (Please). This vehicle (license plate and/or VIN, make, model, location) has been reported to PBOT for enforcement.

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The person who sent us this note found it very off-putting and wondered if attitudes like this are counterproductive.

“The rhetoric, which is ‘pro bike’, was so alienating she [the car owner] almost wanted to stop house/dog-sitting because she was freaked out by it!” our source shared. “I thought I might share it with you as a piece of creepy ‘pro bike’ behavior that seems to me; at best, bad; and at worst, counterproductive!”

There’s a lot to unpack here.

In my opinion, the tone of the note (which is relatively common among a subset of Portland bike riders) is alienating and isn’t likely to achieve the goal of the note writer. My first feeling about this style of activism is that it’s immature and unhelpful. Yes driving cars sucks and riding bikes is awesome and I can definitely relate to the feelings in the note (especially the frustration with so many people driving around with expired tags and in many cases no license plate at all); but I personally would never leave a note like this. That’s not just because I own two cars, but because this just doesn’t feel like a productive way to communicate with a stranger.

But I could be wrong. Maybe these dire times require a stronger tone? I’m not one to squash voices I disagree with and there’s room for many different approaches. I also think activism is very personal thing and everyone has a right to express it in whatever way feels right to them.

What do you think? Is a message like this good because it will make people think twice about how driving impacts the planet? Or does it only serve to perpetuate the negative stereotype of “self-righteous cyclists” that pushes cycling fence-sitters further away?

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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