In my previous post on Portland, I discussed its many redeeming qualities as far as bike-friendliness. Number 1, of course was bike parking. I’ve got a thing or two to say about bike parking, and if you run into me at a cocktail party, I’ll be sure to bore you about it for at least an hour. I used to believe that bike parking wasn’t that big of a deal – as long as there was a decent street sign for me to lock up to I was happy. I am no longer so easily pleased. Maybe I’m just tired of being treated like a second-class citizen when I’m trying to park my bike. Maybe I’ve seen the promised land of Portland and I want better. Later in this post, I’ll share a photo with you showing quite possibly the best bike parking ever. But don’t skip ahead to the end.
During my visit, I stayed at the Ace Hotel in downtown Portland. It was a great place. It looks like a super-hip boutique hotel, and I suppose it is. However, if you get one of the rooms that does not include a bathroom, it’s really pretty economical. There’s a bathroom down the hall that was quite nice – probably bigger than the hotel room. The Ace is next door to a Stumptown Coffee location, and the Ace’s lobby doubles as Stumptown’s dining room.
Comfy couches, copies of the NY Times, delicious coffee. Heaven, right? Now what’s that in the other corner of the lobby?
3 bikes for loaning to Ace guests for free (on a first-come-first-served basis). After 3 days of eating and walking my way across Portland, I figured it was time to try my hand at biking. I picked up my bike shortly after 5 PM on a Monday. What better way to experience the wonders of biking in Portland than by joining the Peloton at rush hour. My Ace Bike came with this:
It really only covered the downtown area, and I didn’t stay there for long. I headed down Stark, then over the Willamette River (on the Steel Bridge, I believe). I then took the bike path along the eastern bank of the Willamette, up past the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. I’m not sure of the brand of bike, but it had a disc brake up front, coaster brake in the back and a Shimano 3-speed internal gear hub. It was nice to try out the hub shifter. I’ve read about them, but hadn’t had a chance to ride one yet. If you think about it, for a basic city bike, 3 speeds is all you need. 1 for going up hill, one for flats, and one for going downhill or going fast. The 3 speeds covered these basics pretty well, but I was spinning in the top gear at times when I wanted to go fast on the bike trail.
As you can see, the bike featured a large front rack, which would be useful for a tourist who was doing a little shopping. It served to hold my lock pretty well. After biking for a while on the bike path, I consulted the google map for another fun place to go and spotted this odd bit of urban planning not too far away:
It’s a neighborhood called Ladd’s Addition. A former mayor owned the land and when it came time to develop it, he opted to put all of the streets on a diagonal orientation instead of the grid like most of the rest of the city. He also designed the four little rhomboid parks and the central circular park with a traffic circle around it. It looked like a pleasant place to ride, and indeed it was. The streets are narrow, the traffic moves slowly and there are giant trees every where you look. When I arrived at the center, I also found this little surprise:
Hard to read the sign here, but it’s a small bike shop. My seat was feeling a little low, which was causing a little pain in my thighs. I’d learned my lesson from my ride in San Francisco – don’t be shy about walking into an LBS to get a little adjustment. The mechanic was happy to raise my seat a little. Well, maybe he was a little peeved that I’d brought in one of his competitor’s bikes, but he made the adjustment anyhow. He even told me about how Ace got their bikes – they gave several of the local bike shops a budget of $600 to put together a loaner bike. He seemed impressed that I had ridden so far from the hotel. I guess most people just stay in the downtown area. Outside the shop, there were several upside-down U bike racks including this one:
What’s that peeking out down on the right hand side?
Why of course! It’s a hand-knit bike rack cozy to protect your frame from getting scratched on the rack. This could be the best example of bike parking I’ve ever seen. What sort of mindset would cause someone to go to the trouble of knitting a bike rack cozy just so fellow citizens won’t risk scratching their bikes? Can we call it civic-mindedness?
There was a great deal of civic-mindedness evident in Portland. The bus drivers greet everyone with a smile and “hello” (in PVD you’re lucky to get a grunt). Everyone says “thank you” when they leave the bus. And I mean everyone: the surly teen, the young mother, even the crazy lady who spent the entire ride muttering to herself (ex: “that g-d ****, who the **** does she think she is”), even she said “thank you” to the bus driver has she left the bus. Another example: a poorly-secured ladder flew off the top of a work truck on a major bridge. It didn’t hit anyone, but it landed in the middle of a lane and it was holding up traffic. A skate punk took the time to walk into the street to move the ladder, and the cars cooperated to let him do it.
I think that the attitude towards bikes in Portland is an extension of this civic-mindedness. At some point, Portlanders realized that bikes are a cheap way to make the city better. There would be less traffic, less polution, and better health if more people were on bikes. So they built the infrastructure to make cycling easier. And the cyclists seem to return the favor. I saw very little illegal or unsafe cycling while I was in Portland. About the only thing I saw was people riding on the sidewalk in the urban center (a bad idea for many reasons). But they were always going slow, and if I kept my eye on them, I’d see that they were just arriving at their destination, so they weren’t on the sidewalk for long. Or they were on one block of a one-way street and quickly went back to riding in the street when it was possible. Then there was the occasional old person, who was going slow enough on the sidewalk that they really weren’t dangerous to anyone aside from themselves. Aside from the sidewalk riding, I don’t think I saw anything else egregiously dangerous the 4 days I was there. In fact, my first day back in Providence, I saw more people riding illegally during my 15 minute commute home than the entire time I was in Portland. I’ve read many arguments for why people ride in illegal/dangerous ways (I’ll admit to doing it myself), but I think that Portland shows that when a town treats their cyclists with respect, the cyclists return the favor.
Keep rocking, Portland!
Meanwhile… the shit was really starting to hit the fan with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill when I saw this ad on the back of a magazine:
Sorry to end on such a bummer.