Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Found: Downtown Headquarters of Portland Bike Nuts

Coasting down SW 11th Avenue last Tuesday morning on my way from a haircut to my job, I stopped to snap yet another cool bike rack when I noticed the sign of the door behind it: BTA: Bicycle Transportation Alliance.

I’ve used their maps, I’ve seen their materials at street fairs and in bike shops. And now, completely by surprise, I’ve stumbled upon their location, right in the middle of downtown. I parked (at the cool bike rack) and walked in – to find an actual office, with desks and people in it, working on the matters of bicycles. I took a card and after thoroughly examining their website, I’m impressed with this group. Maybe I’ll join and maybe they could help me complain about things that aren’t working for bicycling around Portland. (I so love complaining!) Or to put it in lovely positive terms for all you perky upbeat types, I have lots of ideas they might be interested in hearing from a daily user of the bike system. The site offers a ton of information and/or links to information and other biking sites.

Will I agree with them? I don't know. Are they going to tell me I shouldn't have been riding on the sidewalk that day, the nice wide sidewalk without a pedestrian to be seen? That I should follow all the rules of cars and take none of the advantages of NOT being a car? No doubt a little more time on their site will help me figure out where they stand on these matters.

Nevertheless, I feel lucky to live in a city that has that kind of support for this allegedly crazy thing I’m trying to do. I wonder if in some cities in China, where the streets are squirming with bicyclists, they have a similar office dedicated to changing city streets to accommodate more cars; get people to quit riding those silly bicycles. Wouldn’t surprise me. I read an article somewhere about the American auto industry trying to develop new markets in China.

Photos to follow later tonight. I'm out of time.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

A Well-Intentioned Lob

To understand this story, you have to know that the traffic engineers of Portland have devised some ways of including bike lanes on busy streets that at first glance look like insanity but after a trial period might even be construed as clever. Once the public learns to use them the right way, they can work well. In the meantime, a hairy experience can be had by all.

More about that another day, but for now you need to know that the bike lane I occupied was wedged in between two car lanes. Since a lot of cars turn right at this one corner, cars and bikes are directed to trade places in the previous block. Here’s a photo to help you imagine it.

As to what exactly happened, I’m busy writing it and will explain that here momentarily. Meanwhile, study the picture. See how the red car has changed over to the right lane, whereas the bike lane dot-dot-dots itself out of existence and picks up again to the left of the red car. The two lanes have changed places. As the story unfolds, I am just gliding up to a stop in front of the traffic light, between two car lanes, having just veered over from the bike lane that was on the right a minute ago.
Come back soon.

To continue, 2 hours and several interruptions later:
At the ungodly hour of 7:30 AM Saturday, there aren’t too many cars around. As I coast braking up to the red light I notice this rusty piece of machinery in the middle of the bike lane, about the size of a mouse but not as fun to run over on account of its sharp edges. The more I think about it, sitting there waiting for the green, the more sinister it becomes and the more lucky I feel that I've missed running over it. I'm struck with the idea that I need to rescue the entire biking population of Portland from such a dastardly fate, so I reach down and scoop it up. I’m about to toss it over to the right curb, because that’s only one lane over whereas the left curb is about three lanes over. So I transfer it to my left hand and wind my arm back to throw.

At this exact moment the shiny windshield of a car sails up next to me on my right, while a mere minute earlier I’d been the only person to be found operating heavy machinery at that insane Saturday hour. My reflexes having been sharpened by the last few months of all-weather riding, as my arm travels forward my astute fingers receive the message at the last possible second to cancel that command, and clamp down even and the projectile is lifting off the launchpads of my fingers. My arm continues on around, I lurch precariously sideways and forwards as I abruptly change my movement plan, but the day is saved and I continue on my merry way with the evil object still in my hand.

The driver may have thought my gesture unfriendly, but at least he couldn’t appear on television pointing to a shattered windshield and ranting about being randomly attacked by one of those evil bicyclists. He might go so far as to tell his co-workers that a cyclist gestured menacingly, but that is all. Even so, this is no doubt an example of how silly us against them rumors get started about cyclists and drivers.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Return of Black Beauty

The horse is back. I shouldn't title this "The Return" of Black Beauty, but "The Replacement of the humble gray horse with the spotted behind that was there before, by a larger, proud, shiny, black horse, more aggressive, pawing the ground restlessly." But it wouldn't fit in the title box, so I've shortened it.

Its first day was Sunday. I first noticed it when I saw some nut with a big fancy camera standing over it taking a picture. "Oh please," I thought. "The world is a tinderbox and people are taking pictures of plastic horses." Tons of people. More than once I heard said about the former horse, "It must be the most photographed horse in the world."
Later that day it lay kicking on its side. Since then it has been knocked over and righted and repositioned countless times.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

It had nothing to do with St Patrick's day

A flash of color nabbed the corner of my eye on my way past. No car door obstructed my view, so I noticed it even though it was at street level. Traveling at bike speed, I had time for the colors to take shape before I whizzed by, causing me to recognize something that pulled up question marks in my brain. Since I was not encased in a moving metal death trap isolated from experiencing most of my environment, I stopped for a moment to take a picture.

Yes. It’s a gnome. Normally I’m not interested in gnomes, but instead of littering up a yard with them, here some altruistic person saw a place that cried out for a gnome, and installed one there for the satisfaction of the keenly observant few. I drew closer and found that in spite of the fact that I’m usually averse to gnomes, this was actually a good gnome, as gnomes go. I could also see that it had been planted there for a significant amount of time and was not just some hasty gesture of observing St.Patrick’s day.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Life Happens

Don't give up on me! I've got so much to report, but I'm swamped by the disruptions of life right now. I can't wait to post again, which could happen late Saturday night, but if not, then Sunday night.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Intrepid Bicyclist Thwarts Danger Yet Again

I had no warning that the seat of my bicycle was going to snap off in the middle of an intersection. A loud pop and a sudden loss of altitude tipped me off that something was terribly wrong. I'm happy to report that instinctively, before I even figured out what had happened, my legs straightened and held me aloft. Metal pieces clinked loudly to the pavement, and I glanced down to see my bike seat pitifully askew, like the head of an animal with a broken neck. I coasted to the edge of the street and up the sidewalk ramp where I parked my bike and dismounted, the now completely severed head falling tragically to the ground. I scanned the intersection for parts. A man who had watched the whole event stopped his pickup on the crosswalk long enough to point down at the street through his open window and yell, “Over here!”
After fetching the part that the man indicated, I spent the next two green lights walking back and forth in the center of the crosswalk with my helmet still on, bent slightly forward and scanning the ground like a bird after a worm. When I thought I must’ve retrieved all the parts, I walked the last three blocks to my hideout and called my bike shop.

I thought of pedaling to the shop standing up the whole way but I didn’t dare straddle the bike for fear I’d forget about the absence of the seat and completely eliminate the already low probability of my producing an heir. Instead I operated the bike like a kind of push-scooter, remaining to one side of it while standing on one of the pedals. It’s a feat that lends itself to an appearance of superior coordination and balance but is unduly hard on the supporting foot after the first few yards.

Cultivating a relationship with a bike shop is highly recommended for these times when one needs immediate assistance. Hugh wasn’t there but Ron squeezed me in between other customers and fixed my bike right up. The whole ordeal from actual breakdown to my arrival back at the hideout with the bike repaired took an hour including transportation, and cost five dollars.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Emerging Bike Riding Pedagogy

Yesterday, just a week after I scored the photos of that riding lesson, I ran across another such scene while walking along NW Hoyt Street at around 21st Avenue. I witnessed yet another grownup teaching yet another child how to ride a bike – but in the most brilliant way. The pedals had been completely removed from the bicycle so that the kid was propelling herself completely with her feet. As the rider experiences longer and longer glides with no pavement contact, she learns to balance on the two wheels. “After a point,” the mother explained, “they want the pedals on” so that they don’t have to interrupt their glide by touching the ground.

This would work so much better than having to keep jutting your feet down from the pedals and then finding the pedals again with your feet at the same time you’re having to watch where you’re going and avoid riding through a hedge. And as for training wheels, I remember vividly what those felt like and there’s no resemblance between riding a bike with training wheels and one without, so there’s no point.

This could even work for teaching grownups who have had the misfortune to reach adulthood without learning to ride a bike. On a low bike, without pedals to get in the way and hit them in the ankles, an adult could learn two-wheel balance with minimal risk of falling. This would take the fear out of it, which is the obstacle for most adults.

Hard to believe this is the first time I’ve run across this incredible idea.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Riding Lesson

The view from a bicycle lets me in on so much. I hear snippets of conversations, I pass through an array of different smells, I pick up on relationship vibes between people interacting with each other. Eye contact with other humans for no particular reason occurs more often than when you’re encased in a large metal identity-obscuring bubble moving at non-human speeds.

On my way home from the march last Saturday, while riding past the same school where I met the Dutch cargo-bike and its owner, I spotted a scene that has to happen in the beginning years of every bicyclist. From across the schoolyard I took these pictures through the cyclone fence with my telephoto lens.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Pile of Bones Seen Lying Near Historic Tennis Club

I know I’ve said this before, but today breaks all previous records: Today was the worst weather I’ve ever ridden in.

Five minutes after I left home it started snowing, raining, sleeting and hailing and blowing all at the same time. In front of that old green tennis club I got the idea to dart under one of their gabled doorways and wiggle into my rain pants. Not seeing a curb-cut nearby, I chose a section at the corner where the sidewalk slanted low toward the street. Slowing way down and taking it head on, my bike hopped up there like a little mountain goat.

The back wheel wasn’t so lucky. For some reason -- maybe the weather, maybe the steel moulding that protects the curb from chipping -- the bike slipped out from under me and I landed in a heap of bones surrounded by my lunch, my thermos and my wet papers. Since I thought I had broken several parts of my body, I lay there for a few minutes, thinking. A woman jogged past me without a word. I guess she didn't want to mess up her target heart rate pace or something. An older woman stopped her car in the middle of the road and got out and invited me in to the club to recover and "rest up a bit." Nice of her to offer, but since everything seemed to be still working I merely used their roofed entryway to put my rain pants on and went along my soggy way.

After about a block I realized that already nothing hurt anymore. For the rest of my ride, large frozen snowflakes tried to frisbee their way through my face. I arrived at work with my shoes and socks drenched, my feet two blocks of ice, and muddy from my fall. It has become undisputably clear among my co-workers that I am the toughest one among them, including those twenty and thirty years behind me.

I made my usual pot of tea like I always do when I start my work day. No one noticed that today I put the teapot under my desk and curled my feel around it.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Cops on Bikes at Protest March

Here are the promised pictures of the cops on bikes and a couple of other shots of the protest march.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Bicycle Cops Everywhere

There were dozens and dozens of bike cops at the march Saturday. I wonder if other cities use bike cops. It seems like a good idea for crowd situations, allowing a closer view of what’s going on and more maneuverability. Horses are popular for this too, but no doubt are prohibitively expensive in large numbers (though I saw a group of five horse cops at one point). But another advantage of bikes is that they don’t poop. Ever.

A crowd less prone to violence than this you wouldn’t find. These are the people who walk on eggshells on a daily basis, careful not to do anything at all to call attention to themselves for fear of getting busted for being here. As for the potential for violence from the anti-immigrant front, I saw only one heckler all day, a woman who gestured with thumbs down and a snarly face.

A densely packed crowd about six blocks long filled the street for the duration of the march, in protest of the Sensenbrenner Bill that has passed in the Senate and has yet to pass in the House. The bill criminalizes the very existence of most of the population, when you think about it. As an ESL teacher and social worker, I could be charged with a felony if I were found to be teaching or working with an undocumented worker. An undocumented person who called the police about a burglar breaking into their house could be carted off to jail in advance of, possibly instead of, the burglar. An accident victim could be refused medical attention if status could not be determined at the scene. Any human being could be asked for proof of documentation by almost any public entity.

Heaven help you if you look anything but Nordic.

The list of consequences of passing such a bill goes on and on. I will add to this later, and post photos from the march that show the bike cops.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Horse Theft

The horse was still there Saturday morning at 8:00 AM. It was still there at 1:45 when I left the area. I even had a conversation about it with the mail carrier, who told me there were others in the neighborhood. But when I returned at around 3:30, it was gone. And someone had to go to the trouble of bringing cable cutters in order to remove it, which suggests that it was a premeditated act.

There’s always some rotten apple in the crowd who has to come along and spoil things for everyone. At least it took a couple of months for Rotten Apple to show up this time, which I think says something positive about Portland, though I’m not sure what.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Woman on the Verge of a Blowout

In the past two weeks I have ridden over a number of squirrels – not, as you might presume, because my riding speed is faster than a locomotive, but because the squirrels were already dead. Plentiful numbers of them are being squished by passing autos as they are lured out of their winter hibernation by the first glimmers of spring. Disrespectful though it may sound, I end up running over them too, as they litter the roads in their tragically flattened state at the rate of about four per mile.

So naturally when I first started feeling the lump I thought of the squirrels. But I quickly realized the lump sensation was occurring with each rotation of the tire, and since it was unlikely I was running over one squirrel per yard, I wondered absently if was just re-living the horror of the squirrel corpse incidents – the way nightmarish events sometimes replay themselves mercilessly in your brain to try to torture you to death.

At other points, such as when riding on sidewalks, I tried to attribute it to the tires passing over cracks in the pavement – but the timing was off.

Finally, instead of hasty, inquisitive glances at my wheels as I got on or off my bike, I examined the back tire carefully and discovered the bead line was swollen as much as ¾ of an inch away from the rim in several places.

I reacted almost like I’d discovered a tumorous growth on some part of my body. Yipes, I thought. This is serious! And I immediately changed course from a cruise in the direction of the gym to a beeline over to the bike shop.

Hugh the bike mechanic said that’s how tires die. If they’re not punctured first, they eventually blow out their sides. "The wall is the weakest part of a tire.” He could not give me a prognosis for how long it had left to live, so I opted not to take a chance on a blowout in the dark in a bad part of town and had him fix it right then.

I want to recommend the tires I’ve been riding on since I started this bicycling project summer before last. No broken bottle exists that can cut through them -- I’ve found myself running over countless sharp edges of every description and nothing ever happens.

You’ll want to know what brand and kind they are but since I don’t feel like crawling back into warm clothes, groping my way out to the garage, wrestling with the door, and standing on my head with a flashlight, I’ll check back in with you tomorrow when I’ve had a chance to extract the information under more friendly conditions. I will also provide cost and type information on what I replaced one of them with, and why. If you can just hold on for another day, you’ll have all that data.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Local Tree Attemps to Devour Portland

Continuing along with the theme of The Portland You Miss from a Car, here’s one of our elder trees who is actually trying to do something about the rampant, unbridled encroachment of civilization. It has gone so far as to gobble up a fire hydrant, and still, no one is paying attention. What's it goina take, people? Hello?

The fire department has merely thrown up their hands and installed a new one a few yards away. At least they weren't foolish enough to try to take the hydrant away from the tree. Then we’d really be doomed.