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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"Bikes are for white people"

I'm not sure whether this is sad, funny, both, or neither, but it's classic Portland: A local group is burning a lot of energy trying to figure out why Portland's largely invisible racial and ethnic minority groups don't ride bicycles.

Not why they don't have job opportunities, or health care, or good schools. Not why their young people are being killed by the police and by each other. Why they don't ride bicycles.

Comments (30)

Because many of them live in the parts of town with potholes so big, their bikes would be swallowed.

Look at their photo stream on flicker.

Pathetic, maybe

To the man whose only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like an upright nail.

Pathetic - Everything gets cast in the light of how bikes can solve the problem. Next up - How bikes can cure cancer and raise the dead.

At the bottom was this advertisement. I'm thinking, a handful of these with cheep beer would help win over more bike converts.

Better to ask why others don't have access to adequate transportation services.

Btw when I worked at the Rivergate Industrial Park off of Marine Dr., home to about 80 companies and inadequate bus services, one of the black men who worked there rode a bike. He worked on the swing shift and there was no bus service so he rode his bike, in the rain, ice,or whatever the weather might be. Now he has a car.

I dunno, I think you're just sick of Sam Adams and bike hipsters to the point where nothing with the word bike in it will please you. Understandable to a point, but ... defining anyone who bikes as part of the BikeBorg is no better than bikers who sneer at anyone who isn't riding a fixie. As far as jobs, health care, and schools, disadvantaged people the world over find that bikes (a) do provide jobs and access to them; (b) promote good health; and (c) help kids get to schools and explore their world.

Speaking of blacks and bikes:

I saw a story about kids from Detroit who were being arrested, on sight, and their bikes confiscated if they rode into one of the Pointes (like Grosse Pointe) -- the cops literally had orders to round them up and send them back "where they belonged."

Portland is, over all, not a racially diverse city and although we are less geographically segregated than we were even 15 years ago, a lot of the traditionally black neighborhoods are still traditionally black.

But the areas least served by bicycle infrastructure, the places where ride share is lowest, are in the outer suburbs - an area even less racially diverse (read: more white) than Portland's over all demographics. So it's not an unreasonable question to ask why blacks aren't riding bikes when their white neighbors do.

Bikes aren't the cure all to everything - but to the commenter that mentioned cancer...funny you should mention that, cycling commuters (or other people who have some level of aerobic exercise in their daily routine) have lower rates of some cancers - and I don't think I have to mention heart disease, which is a major killer of everyone but especially African Americans. In the US, heart disease kills 260 Black Americas for every 100,000 - that number is 197 for whites (or was in 2006). In Oregon, those numbers are much lower. Because of bicycles? Probably not. But it could make YOU less likely to die of a heart attack or stroke...

Last summer, I drove from Vancouver to Emanuel and back at least once a day to help out a friend with a serious health problem.

Without being judgmental or pejorative, here are some observations about driving up and down North Vancouver and Williams avenues:

Residences a mixture of contemporary condo boxes and older, smaller, traditional-looking homes.

People on the street: Wine bars and bistros with sidewalk seating -- all white, including the help. Older coffee shops and cafes -- all black. You can guess where I felt more comfortable.

People on bikes -- all white.
People waiting at bus stops -- all black.
People walking on sidewalks -- all black.

Granted, this was just a series of snapshots and drive-bys over a period of about three weeks and, again, mere observations.

However, it struck me that for all the local blather about tolerance and diversity, I never once saw blacks among whites or vice versa. Never. Which made me think that lily-white Portland (statistically, the whitest city in America) is as segregated as ever and that white folk love living among us blacks as long as they don't have any personal contact.

Reminds me of that old saying that "White libs love poor people and minorities -- but only in large groups."

Amazing how it's cool and socially acceptable for Hopworks to promote bicycling and beer consumption. Isn't that as bad, and just as illegal as drinking and driving?

I read the story to be just another anecdote about how the city delivers services (here, biking infrastructure) disproportionately to ethnic/economic classes that have political power. It's about bikes, but only as a signifier of the city's larger failures to its nonwhite poor folks.

News at 11.

"As far as jobs, health care, and schools, disadvantaged people the world over find that bikes (a) do provide jobs"

Care to compare that with the infrastructure that supports automobiles? I don't have anything against bikes, but they are not a panacea and I think there is a group whose agenda is to force cars out of any area. You can look at what is happening with downtown retail vs. WashSq/ClackTC.

You may not like either suburb project, but the number of shopper and $ per sqft of store is a lot higher there than downtown.

In addition, I've never seen a comparison on $ spent by the average bike vs. car commute, but I'd think the car drive contributes more.

I'm put-off by the underlying consideration. Who are any of us to consider what manner of legal conveyance we choose to transport ourselves in? Talk about, "Mind your own business please.", sheesh.

This is the usual precursor to discriminating against single, heterosexual white-males too. The only unprotected species left in the societal wilderness.

Plus too this position totally ignores the fact that the ethnic make-up of Portland is largely white.

Additionally bicycling for most is a form of fashion-statement. It's a two-way fashion-statement at that because one can at once decry your moral superiority, and possess an object which may be highly personalized, it serves on two fronts. On to the for-instance.

I don't care for rap, hip-hop, blues, jazz, and any number of other artistic expressions most ordinarily associated with the black-community. I don't because the things blacks express artistically are inherently alien to me. I simply do not receive any artistic benefit from consuming art made by a different peoples. I can only speculate but I'm pretty sure blacks at least behave as though some of this is true for them as well.

As such maybe black people think making a fashion-statement out of a bicycle is just dumb. I do. Not too much of a stretch. Maybe they think cars are kool. I do. Not too much of a stretch. Here's one for you Allison Three-Names maybe it's a fool's errand to even speculate what 'coloreds' want because each and every one of them is an individual human being?

Nah, these classist, elitist, fascists are simply trying to de-construct their own image. Not possible. There has been little in the past half-century as deeply loathed, as wholeheartedly rejected by society, as this damn Church of Green. In this self-serving endeavor no thing is safe. They're even busily changing their own lies into ones that are more indecipherable and arcane for purposes of distancing their so-called movement from their very selves. Nothing says FAIL like your own friends avoiding you.

Do you have any idea how much public money the Community Cycling Center soaks up?

The kicker is most of these people, there I go generalizing, live in inner NE. A nice-ish black community that was diversified alright. We got whites from California, whites from the midwest, all manner of whites. Oh wait, they meant ethnic-diversity, huh? Woops.

Every time I read some racist BS like this I become that much more ashamed of the color of my skin. At what point do I get to view somebody like this as pathological? I mean seriously, there is some malevolent, some pathological, force at work here to screw an otherwise normal human being up so bad as Allison Three Names.

Could it be that since we have pushed most non-whites out to the numbers (beyond 122nd ave.) that riding a bike is impractical?

Portland is kind of an alternative reality to Detroit. There all the whites left the city and ran to the 'burbs.

Here we make living in the city too expensive for anyone but whites.

Sadly, the only things the car contributes significantly more to are global warming and OPEC. But, the answer is to green the car and green the bus. Oh, yeah, but first let's deal with education, health care... it is easy to forget those if you don't have to worry about them. The bike thing has become a religion.

If only we could bottle and sell the White Guilt in this city. We'd all be billionaires.

Yet, these same folks are probably on the Streetcar Planning Committees saying that we need to build more Streetcars because "ordinary folks won't ride the bus".

I wonder if there is a corelation between Streetcar planning, and this "bikes are for white people" question, and the comment made by "The Other Jimbo". White people want to ride bikes and Streetcars with very improved streetcar stops with shelters, transit tracker signs, and the such. Everyone else gets pathetic bus service that is infrequent, relies on old, outdated, unreliable buses with roof leaks and no air conditioning, and where the bus stop is often nothing more than a sign located in a drainage ditch.

Could it be that since we have pushed most non-whites out to the numbers (beyond 122nd ave.) that riding a bike is impractical?

Or maybe because (at least for the immigrant part of the group), that they came from places where they couldnt afford a car. They had to use a bike, or walk. They see the car, as this country did some time ago, as a form of freedom? Part of their "American Dream?"

As to why the CCC is focusing on, among other things, bike riding in minority communities and not specifically jobs, healthcare, education, etc (although I think the CCCers would argue there is some overlap) you think maybe it's cause the CCC is an organization focused on bikes and cycling???? It's what they do.... Kinda like the Audubon focuses on nature and birds....or the model train club plays with trains.....geeez figure it least they are trying to engage a segment of the community that is dosn't seem to ride bike so much....also their shop is right in the middle of NE so what are they supposed to do? ignore black and hispanic people?.....

I realize that the Planners and Developers and Pandering Politicians have to some extent managed to visibly co-opt a segment of the cycling community...Believe me I am no fan of streetcars, raiding the sewer fund for bike lanes, "dense, urban, sustainable, green, modern living, in this overpriced condo," Sam Adams, etc.....but all your negativity about bicycling and people who ride bikes is throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
Not only that, all your negativity about bikers and cycling is contributing to the conflict between motorists and bikers. Many of your commenters sound like they probably would not shed a tear if the "accidentally" clipped one of those "smug, uppity, privileged, hipsters"....
Just sayin,
John Peterson

Ralph & Jon--out here past 102nd (not even as far as 122nd) not only do we not have bike lanes, we don't even have sidewalks, let alone crosswalks anywhere other than at major intersections. We also have worsening bus service (like much of the city), but they're talking of blessing us with a streetcar!

Also out here, houses are generally somewhat larger, so they appeal to larger families of all ethnicities. Am I going to take my 4 kids to the grocery store via bike, without crosswalks or bike lanes, or am I going to buckle them into the van where they'll be safer and our trip will take way less time? (Not to mention hauling home the groceries by bike vs. by car.)

Dont worry Michelle, they will get to you. See, soon there will be condos, apartment bunkers and expensive corner stores in all parts of the city. Especially if they put a streetcar line in...its the whole reason for doing so.

The Other Jimbo says, "However, it struck me that for all the local blather about tolerance and diversity, I never once saw blacks among whites or vice versa." His observation while driving between Vancouver and Emanuel Hospital. Maybe if you had gotten out of your car and on the bus you would have found that diversity you were seeking. I have lived in N/NE Portland all of my life and my bus route continues to have the most diverse ridership in the city. Black, white, Asian, Latino, and we all get on and off all along the route which goes along North Williams and North Vancouver and into St. Johns.

According to the Census, there are more disabled people in Portland than there are black people. And you don't see many disabled people on bikes. Portland really needs to get the disabled community on their bikes.

Good point Garage Wine. Why does the CCC hate all disabled people?

I don't think a lot of blacks go skiing or yachting?

I don't see too many blacks on the NW segment of the streetcar either?

Go figure.

Portland is the least diverse city I have ever visited or lived in, including SLC. Well, I haven't visited Russia yet, so the night is young, I suppose.

But the lack of Blacks on Bikes is precisely due to it's overwhelming Whiteness. The 10 or 15 Black people in Portland out the the 300 or so that live there who ride bikes are just lost in an overwhelming sea of Caucasianity. You just don't notice them.

That comment about bottling White Guilt and selling it is the funniest thing I've seen all month. Thank you.

My new zipode is 78741. Go look up the demographics...and keep in mind most of those statistics do not count the billions of illegal aliens. There are many restaurants in this city where you cannot order in English. They aren't going out of their way to be rude, they are just people for the most part who have only recently snuck into this country. Hey, it is what it is.

...and there tons of little Black and Latino kids on bikes EVERYWHERE....

I would love to see the CCC wags work at Gundersons or Harry's foods or WW metal or LOC or anywhere people physically "work" for a living - then ride their bikes 6 or 7 miles home - in the rain.

And the race thing - only racists make race an issue - period.

The rest of us work together w/no regard to skin color - we work too hard to be bothered.

Damn over-educated - do nothings.

OK, I'm turning off smart ass mode for a second. I just received this email soliciting some help on a Portland / Africa / Bicycle nexus:



When Jenny Leonard was studying abroad in South Africa in 2008, she met Mercy, a 16 year old high school girl who walked for three hours one way to get to school each morning. Jenny pledged that she would send hundreds of bicycles to South Africa, no matter how much work it took, to alleviate the transportation burden for impoverished school children.

After a year of fund raising, Jenny is now having a city-wide bike collection day in Portland on April 24 at the old Washington-Monroe High School on SE 14th and SE Alder from 10am-4pm. Jenny will be collecting used (but in good condition) mountain bikes, cruisers, parts, tools, bike accessories, and monetary donations. All donations are tax deductible to the full extent of the law. Various prizes and treats await good-hearted donors along with the profound feeling of donating sustainable transportation to school children.

For more information please email or visit

Jon--we've already got the apartment bunkers. Just head east on Burnside from 102nd out toward Rockwood. No condos or expensive corner stores, though. We can't even get a Trader Joe's out here. But we do have lots of convenience stores and discount grocery/cigarette stores.

I've seen plenty of non-hipsters riding bikes in Homelessland®, er, Old Town. Many of them happen to be black. Obviously the bike-nazis need to get out more.


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