An Open Letter to Biketown and Anyone Who has Almost Run Me Over with a Bike
Listen up, all bike commuters, riders, and cruisers.
Maybe you came to Portland because you heard it was the most Bike-Friendly City in America —a title that has since been stolen from us by Chicago, the hills of San Francisco, even the frozen tundra that is Minneapolis 70 percent of the year, depending on who, and how you ask. I can blame it on transplants, the influx of new drivers unaware they have to share the roads, and new cyclists unaware the road is where they also belong; and I can blame it on Nike, and their ten million dollar bike sharing program that has taken up even more space with the most hideously colored bikes the world has ever seen, making parking even more impossible in this bulging metropolis, but I think it may just be time to accept that the city I was raised in may be wheezing it’s final Old Portland breaths. But that doesn’t mean I won’t defend it right into its soggy, leaf-covered grave.
Which is why I’m here to tell you you need to get off the damn sidewalk. Have you seen them recently? They’re barely wide enough for two people to walk side-by-side in most places, and somehow you think you’re just going to ease by me at ten miles per hour without so much as an “on your left”? As they say in New York, I’m walkin’ here! Which means get your God-forsaken-greased-gear-mobile out of my way.
I grew up implicitly knowing that it was illegal to ride on the sidewalk downtown, as if the greater Portland gods stuck cycling law into my brain the moment I popped out of my mother’s womb. I’ve continued to pass this factoid on to new Portlanders, young and old, only to find out recently that it’s…complicated. Riding on the sidewalk is indeed illegal between SW 13th, Jefferson, Naito Parkway, and NW Hoyt, and you can face fines up to $500. Even if you’re outside of this square, you can get written up according to section 814.410 of the Oregon Revised Statutes for “unsafe operation of a bicycle on a sidewalk”, which is defined basically as riding above walking speed, and not giving an audible warning. Unless you have that kind of money to burn, you’d better hope cops still have better things to do than hand out tickets for the two-wheeled equivalent of jaywalking. And while it’s not technically illegal everywhere else in the city, that doesn’t stop me from “accidentally” stepping in front of you for practicing cycling slalom with pedestrians. You can pay my tuition, and my medical bills.
I blame part of this sudden influx of ill-informed riders on Nike’s launch of their rideshare program, Biketown, pronounced “bike-ee-town” for marketing purposes. One day, the sidewalks were empty; the next, filled with bright orange bikes. I never heard anything about this. It just happened, like the apocalypse, or Beyoncé’s self-titled album. Some racks have matching tangerine tablets next to them, and there, in the smallest white print possible, it says “walk your bikes on the sidewalk”. Thanks Nike, you tried; but your intention is about as effective as a terms of service you don’t have to agree to. Put that next to the pricing information. Force people to read it, and read it again. Rephrase your warning to say “if you have not ridden a bike since you were ten, and are only doing it now because we’ve made it accessible to every able-bodied loon on the street, avoid busy streets, wear a helmet, and stay off the damn sidewalk.”
Look, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Educate your damn self. Learn how the road works before you hop on a pedal-powered vehicle, because trial and error is not an option here. Learn the lay of the land before you rent from your local Fortune 500 company, and I won’t have to run your ass down every time you’re trying to squeeze through a pedestrian alley.