Stuff that Didn’t Get Said on NPR’s “On Point”

Man, live radio is nuts! Everything happens fast and furious and you’ve gotta just roll with it.

Three things stood out for me after yesterday’s show (if you missed it, you can listen to it here. It’s also available as a podcast download on itunes.)

  1. Eben Weiss (Bike Snob NYC for anyone who’s been under a rock for a while) is really nice.  And pretty hilarious (but we already knew that). If you’ve read his sardonic, biting critique on cycling culture over the years, you might not have expected the nice part. (I’m not sure what I expected, but I was pleasantly surprised.)
  2. Did you hear that interlude with the instrumental version of Men at Work’s “Down Under”? Pure brilliance. When the show continued, I couldn’t stop thinking of Vegemite.
  3. The moment when Eben actually had to collect himself to process the idea that he was, for the hundredth time, going to have to explain to mainstream media what a fixed gear was has to be my favorite moment of the whole show. It felt like a real BSNYC moment – the authentic snob unable to control himself. Tom’s “Thank you for stooping” follow up was just the icing on the cake.

We scratched the surface yesterday on a lot of issues and I’m sure we could have gone on and on for hours, but that wouldn’t make for very good radio now would it?

Which is why it’s always good to have a blog so you can sit down and bore the shit out of your readers with the post-scripts for everything you didn’t get to say on air. [As a side note, aren't you proud of me for not swearing?]

Why Portland?

I touched briefly on BikePortland’s significance in giving us a virtual space to build community and have (sometimes) difficult conversations. My point was that we work at this shit. While the magic of the bicycle is strong within us here in Portland, there’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears that went into cultivating the kind of town that was ready for our community.

What I didn’t get to were some of the particulars of all that blood and sweat.

The BTA‘s work cannot be underestimated. And the bike bill that passed in 1971 and required that at least 1% of road money be spent accommodating cyclists and pedestrians. More importantly, a lawsuit against the City of Portland (led by the BTA) occurred in 1995 to implement and enforce the Bike Bill and was a signature accomplishment of the BTA.

Key victories in expansion battles also played a part: in the 70′s the city tore up a waterfront highway, replacing it with a park that included a wide path (one of my favorite places to run in the city and the location of this year’s Portland Triathlon running segment).

During that same time, we fought a huge freeway project that would have put an eight-lane freeway straight through the heart of one of Portland’s most eclectic neighborhood quadrants, effectively destroying the city’s easy-to-navigate grid system.

There’s a lot more of course, but I don’t have time to get into it all here. If you want a really good overview of the situation and history here in Portland, I encourage you to check out “Pedaling Revolution” by Jeff Mapes (Chapter 5 is a good resource for Portland info).

The key point here is foresight and perseverance. People in this town have been chasing a vision of bike friendliness for almost half a century and it’s paying off.

The work of so many wise community leaders has led to an incredible infrastructure. That infrastructure has led to the growth of an amazing community. Bike Portland has given that community a location for interaction, discussion and celebration that is available 24/7. The effect is synergistic and inspiring. One success gives hope to today’s advocates to stick with what they’re doing and stay the fight.

All in all, it’s a pretty amazing result. Though we still have far to go (we’re coming for you, Minneapolis!), it’s refreshing to give a look back and celebrate the incredible things that have already been accomplished.

And certainly all of this is no accident.

On Snotty Roadies

Man, I really wanted to jump in on this one, but I couldn’t find an opening.

It’s true. I hate to say it but we can be total jerks. It’s something I struggle with all the time. I write “we” because I feel responsible for the way that some roadies act – it reflects on us all. (I’m defining roadie as a fitness rider, probably a racer, who typically rolls in full kit with some crazy expensive gear between their legs.)

I feel so strongly about this issue that I’m writing my next column for the Oregonian about it so, what I can say for now is: standby.

On Taking the Lane and Vehicular Cyclists

This is a point of clarification because Tom referred to me as a self-described “vehicular cyclist” (this is a term I used with the screener the day before).

I appreciate and LOVE all of the facilities that we have in Portland. I use the bike lanes, I follow the bikeways, I roll into the green box. I think it is phenomenal if we can  make more people feel safe on the road.

That said, there are a lot of times when these facilities aren’t available that I will operate my bicycle as if I’m driving a car (most often this manifests as taking the lane). What I didn’t get to say on the show is that the reason I would take a lane is that on a narrow two-lane road with no bike lane or shoulder, if I ride to the right many cars still feel that they can squeeze by me. Their perceived acceptable margin of room and mine are quite often completely different. So, in that case I’ll ride in the middle of the lane to prevent a car from trying to make a dangerous pass.

I do not do this for miles and miles with cars backing up behind me – I do this for a couple of blocks when I am making a connection between two of my normal bike routes.

I do not do this on super fast-moving streets.

Taking the lane is an important strategy if you’re going to ride in traffic. Understanding when it is and isn’t appropriate is a matter of common sense. And, motorists, please understand why we’re doing this. Look at the situation on the roadway and consider what’s safest. And, rest assured, we’ll be “getting out of your way” just as fast as we can.

On the Book

I haven’t read Bike Snob yet, but his publicist is sending a copy so I should have a review up in the next few weeks. After the bit about the Amish and Harrison Ford and “Ye Olde Bike Shoppe”, I expect greatness.

On the Outside Magazine Article

If you didn’t catch Eben’s article in Outside Magazine this month, it’s definitely worth a look. It details his trip to Portland last fall including but not limited to: participation in Cyclocross SSWC, the NY perspective on riding through Portland, beer drinking, Portland fashion critique, an accidental meet-up with Jonathan Maus himself. (There’s also a Q&A between Jonathan and Eben here.)

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  1. Thank you.

  2. The Bike Bill’s history is in many ways more interesting than the BTA’s, since it was the product of moderate Republicans like Tom McCall and the real “father” of the Bike Bill, Don Stathos. Perhaps Secretary of Transportation LaHood will be a fitting succesor on the national scene.

  3. Hey Swift –

    I listened to you last night. I thought you did great. I was quite proud.

    Often times when I hear people talk about bikes in the media they tend to always say something that makes me cringe. But I felt that you hit all the points with strength and consistency. Further, I loved that you helped make it sound so easy to ride a bike in Portland. I want it to be so normal that everyone does it. I think that is a super important message to get out to the rest of the U.S. By some effort and momentum you can change bicycling from a fringe activity to something your mom would do. Go Swift. You made me proud.

    • Peithman,
      Coming from you I take that as a very high compliment. I’m glad I made ya happy, lady!

  4. On snotty roadies. I haven’t found many that are, but my commute is entirely outside the PDX city limits :-) I would say the one I did encounter was from MY VERY OWN CLUB – our routes merged enroute to the Saturday ride. Him – full club race kit and EARPHONES. Me – ride leader kit, the zippy bike and Little Pink Bear. He couldn’t even say good morning. I look forward to your Oregonian column!

  5. Lynne,
    That’s hilarious. I got “the treatment” from one of our guys a few weeks ago, too. On Springwater. It made me laugh.
    : ) H

  6. Thanks for the Snotty Roadies discussion. As a broke ass grad student just getting into cycling, sometimes I can sense the condescending attitude from certain roadies and it is borderline discouraging/humiliating. It’s always the men though. Women are so awesome. Then again, me being a former powerlifter and them being waifs, I could always just deadlift these snobs and toss them into a wall. OK, the second option is just a fantasy.

  7. I believe why Portland is so great for bicycling are 1) the mild climate, 2) the compactness of the city, 3) the lower population density and therefore encourages people to keep that laid back Northwest attitude (higher density begets a harsher and more unforgiving population), 4) the attitude that is an extension of embracing the environment/urban growth boundary/green thinking, 5) a self perpetuating culture, i.e. there is a bicycling core and it grows from there. Politicians, businesses, commuters all glom onto that and grow it further.

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