First, let me admit that I'm not a biking activist. I haven't pored over the controversy or ingested the bike maps or written my congressperson about bike lanes for all. Like almost every motorist I know, I too get pissed off when I'm in a hurry and I have to go slow due to bikes riding three abreast down a major boulevard. But. I live in a city known for its progressive bike laws and bike culture. And—I have a great bike: one of those K2 women's bikes that let you ride more upright and so forth. Plus, it's been record-breaking wonderful weather all September, and I've moved into a new, spacious office on the fringe of the NW Industrial area which is proximal to all kinds of bikeable thoroughfares. And—the streets of NW Portland and downtown are a mess with construction and repair, so driving around down here and finding parking is more of a hassle than ever.
Today was the second time I ventured out midday for some exercise. My endpoint destination was my Pilates class, a studio nestled on the third floor of a building in the heart of downtown Portland. Typically, the drive takes 12 minutes. The Smart Park garage where I stow my vehicle for $2.50 is usually crammed full of cars at that hour, and finding a space takes another 6 minutes or so. Add to that another 6 minutes of walking, and you have a wheels up to gate time of 25 minutes, give or take. On my bike today it took 18. I saved money, gas and time. I got exercise and a pleasant ride through Portland in its finest season. But all was not roses in the city of the roses.
The first expletive launched my way came from a crazy person. An elderly pedestrian who admonished me from a street corner for not having a Vespa. "At least it's got a motor!" she howled. That made me feel bad. Like, maybe I was visibly huffing and puffing up the gentle slope of 18th—one of the major bike friendly one-ways in Portland. I shrugged it off, and pedaled on.
At the intersection of NW 16th and Everett, I got to experience the business end of one of Portland's clever new bike boxes, and, sure enough, the motorists all kept their legal distances until I was safely across the street. A block later, however, the generous bike lane abruptly ended, providing the usual amputation-inviting space between the parked cars and the lane. I took the sidewalk. And I didn't leave it for several blocks. Turns out that the Pearl district, with its all its green building and sushi establishments and zipcars and pedestrian friendly streetcar loving claims is a biker's nightmare. The Utopian who drafted this urban bailiwick was not a proponent of the two-wheeler. The streets are narrow—yet this does not deter the SUVs and trucks that stream along them. And then there's the streetcar tracks and stations that provide video game-like peril to bicyclists who must duck and dodge them lest their tires slip into the gaps that seem almost tailor-made to cause fatal injury.
The next insult hurled my way came from an individual who expressed vexation over my choice of public property in front of which I was clasping closed my helmet strap. It was a mailbox, and clearly, the posting of his letter couldn't wait ten seconds. His fists were clenched and he seethed, "Do you mind?" as though I'd chosen to sit on top of the mailbox and eat a sandwich.
Oddly, the cars with whom I shared the road were very courteous. They went out of their way to offer wide berth or, when we squeezed into shoulerless lanes, they kept their distance behind me. It was the pedestrians that time after time felt challenged and inconvenienced with sharing the commute. I suppose it boils down to the old pecking order, the transportation food chain: big rigs, small cars, bikes and feet.