My girlfriend Katie recently moved back to Portland after finishing grad school on the East Coast. She came here without a car and will be riding her bike everywhere she needs to travel. We live in inner SE and yesterday we rode together to her new job in outer NE to become familiar with the bike route. Her job is close the Muchas Gracias Restaurant near Gateway Transit Center where the East Portland Action Plan Bike Committee holds their meetings.
On a map, the route is fine. There are a couple of bicyclist actuated signals for safe crossings, signed routes through neighborhood streets, and bike lanes on the busy streets. But on the street, something is missing. On the major streets east of 82nd Avenue there is marked shift in the speed of cars: fast. The pace becomes frenetic and the street environment feels threatening. The streets are wide and the painted bike lanes offer hope, but not much protection.
As we rode I thought about the recent announcement that our top level standard for national bike safety, access, and infrastructure just got higher, from Platinum to Diamond. I thought about how often we entertain groups of traveling transportation professionals and bike advocates to view the world class facilities in Portland. As we rode, all the talk of bike friendly communities fell away and I was left with the fact that the love of my life is going to be pedaling back and forth to work every day with speeding cars and trucks whizzing by her… mere feet away… inches perhaps.
I’m not going to use this post to describe the changes I want to see. We have long lists of bike plans and big battles over funding and policy change looming on the horizon. I’m going to draw from this experience that the every-day decisions we make about building and maintaining our streets, the everyday decisions we make about how we drive and how fast we drive are more than important. They are a reason to get up in the morning and work hard at creating a world where people, and our safety, come first.