Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cycling and PDX

(image from
Portland is known as an either great town for cyclists, or as a horrible town for cyclists... depending on who you ask.  We have a great number of bike lanes, connecting bike paths, racks on the fronts of the city busses, bike holders in each light rail car, bike boxes (big green painted spaces on the roads at certain intersections where the bike traffic is heavier), and a ton of really great bike shops.

So, what's the problem then?  If there are all of these totally awesome attributes, where is the issue?  Most individuals, myself included, are of the mindset that as long as the cyclists that are using the road follow the same traffic rules as vehicles, then no problem.  Unfortunately, there are those motorists that really just don't care, and will turn into cyclists at lights, swerve and cut them off, and in general, just not play fair.  Would you do that to someone on a Harley?  Probably not.

Our family is what you would consider "Recreational cyclists".  We go on the weekends for rides, and we are usually on designated bike paths ( Nine times out of ten on the "Springwater Corridor Trail" - which is fantastic).  Both my husband and I grew up using sidewalks when we rode our bikes, and even now, to me, the idea of riding on the road - even in a bike lane - seems a little like living dangerously.  That being said, Ethan, who is nine, knows the basic rules of the road in regard to cyclists.  Stay to the right, stop at stop signs, obey all of the signs that are there for cars, wear your helmet, use lights and reflective gear, etc.

Last weekend, we were again on the Springwater trail, starting at Oaks Park and looping along the Willamette River, across the Steel Bridge, and into downtown Portland - Waterfront Park.  The route then takes you back across the river on the Hawthorne bridge and back down the bike path.  One of the things that is GREAT about the path on the East side of the river is that it has lanes marked out.  Especially in areas that are more narrow than others.  Last weekend happened to be the Seattle to Portland Ride (which I really wanted to do, but missed the registration deadline).  Some of the cyclists were incredibly courteous (Special thanks to the gentleman that thought I was doing the ride and was concerned when I didn't make the correct turn - thanks, dude, that was cool.  :) )  The waterfront area was very busy.

Ordinarily, we are used to that area being congested.  BUT, usually pedestrians are pretty good about keeping to the correct sides of the road.  This was not the case this past weekend.  There were people ALL over, not caring who they were walking into, cutting off, or nearly knocking over.  I had one woman and her daughter walk right in front of me, say "Ooops" and then laugh... as I nearly fell into the river.  Trust me, you don't want to fall in the Willamette - remember the three-eyed fish from the Simpsons?

My issue is this.  How am I as a recreational rider supposed to teach my kids to be courteous and follow the "rules of the road" when others really just don't care?  It is very disheartening for me to see people so blatently saying "screw you" and being rude... and then complaining about how the cyclists are cutting people off and winding up all over the place. While, yes, there are some cyclists that do, indeed, act like they run the show, the vast majority of us are just trying to get around like everyone else.  I model good behaviours that Ethan has picked up on, going slow or walking through crowds, letting people cross, or making sure to watch out for little kids on their bikes, or those that are using recombinant bikes (flat out, you guys are just harder to see...), making sure to say "on your left" when you are coming up to pass someone... It is just hard for me to keep saying to him that this is what we need to do to be courteous riders, and if more people did it then cyclists wouldn't have such a bad reputation.  But the more I think about it, the more I'm of the mindset that no matter what we try to do, there are still going to be those out there that just make it more and more difficult.

So, riders... PLEASE obey your street signs, stop doing stupid things that you KNOW you wouldn't do in a car, and if you are on the bike paths... make sure to let people know when you are passing them!!!!  (Side note, I did Tweet Mayor Adams about getting stripes on the downtown side, so we'll see what happens!)

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