Category Archives: Advocacy

For Darsal

paintedtulipsI’d known Dave Salovesh for something like ten years before we ever met. When we did finally meet, it was because I was leaving the United States to live in the Netherlands, and I was selling some things. He bought my bike trailer.

Bikes and bike-things are personal, and it can be hard to let them go. It’s much better if they go to someone you know — to keep it “in the family,” as it were. I was really pleased that Dave wanted the trailer, and even more pleased when he texted me photos of errands he’d done with it. He was so tickled at the way it opened up the possibilities of what he could carry by bike, and I was tickled to be included in the Continuing Adventures of the Burley Flatbed.

It’s usually a little awkward the first time you meet online friends in real life, but occasionally it feels like you’re not so much meeting them as recognizing them. Dave was like that.

A lot of people have trouble understanding why I’d move across an ocean, by myself, just to be able to ride my bike in peace. Not Dave. I said something like “I just can’t do it anymore. And I’m not willing to give up the bike,” and he immediately did that emphatic nodding thing people do when they TOTALLY GET IT.

After he loaded the trailer into his car, we stood there in the parking lot of my storage unit chatting, the sort of biketalk that people who are of an age and have a similar love of bicycling do. Mostly I remember his face that day, the wry smile that seemed to live there, and the way I felt comfortable with him in a way I don’t with most people.

Dave was killed by a reckless driver 3 days ago, and when I heard the news, I kept seeing his face in that moment, over and over again, smiling that crooked smile.

I’m having trouble processing the reality that he’s actually gone. That I will never have a beer with him. That I will never meet his partner or his daughter. That I will never go on a goddamned bike ride with him.

redfield_vert_cropThe night before he died, I was up very late (the frat house next door was having another of their all-night parties), so I was actually awake for the #bikeschool twitter chat, which is where I’d first met Dave in, oh, about 2009. I wasn’t paying good attention to the chat, to be honest, but I saw a @darsal tweet pop up & thought “Oh hey Dave!” as I always did when I saw him on there, and favorited the tweet (because it was a good one). I wish I’d said hi properly. It would have been my last chance to talk with him.

The next day, after I heard, I kept thinking if they can do this to the strongest of us…

Dave was strong, but I’m talking about a rarer kind than physical strength (though he had that, too, of course). He was committed to telling difficult truths — and to persisting in telling them — even though that very often meant that people got uncomfortable and pushed back. I think he believed that making the streets safe for people on bicycles and feet (and mobility scooters and skateboards and…) was too important not to keep pushing, not to keep speaking the truth. And the truth is that it’s not safe in Washington, DC, and it’s not safe in any other US city, either.

That belief was something we shared — as well as a willingness to call out bullshit half-measures (although it’s more like microfraction-measures) and the kind of incrementalism and foot-dragging that gets people killed.

I left the US because I didn’t want to die like Dave did. I don’t want anyone to die like Dave did. I wish to hell Dave hadn’t died like Dave did.

One of the terrible things that’s run through my mind the last few days is wondering if he was aware in the last moment, if he knew what was happening. I hope it was so sudden that he didn’t have to know, but if he did, I’m pretty sure I know what he was thinking: OF FUCKING COURSE.

pinkhyacinthI’ve been riding around on my little old mixte every day since Dave was killed, watching the families go by, parents’ steadying hands on the backs of young children riding next to them. I can’t help thinking that if Dave’s family had lived here, he’d still be alive. I might have seen them in the flower fields yesterday, bikes propped on their kickstands (all bikes have kickstands here) while they stopped to smell the hyacinths — the whole field a cloud of perfume.

I’ve had a hard time looking at the photos of his friends crowded around the ghost bike. I keep expecting to see a furious @darsal tweet about the terrible death on Florida Ave., and it’s weird when someone retweets one of his tweets because for a moment, just a split-second, I think he’s back.

I want him to haunt us, to pop up with that Cheshire cat smile and make another wisecrack. He was so good at that. He was good at a lot of things. He was good at being a friend. A lot of people have mentioned times when they argued with Dave, when he drove them crazy, and they mention them with fondness. I find these stories deeply touching. That is how humans love one another, in real life. A lot of people loved Dave. He was a very human human, and a very good one. The world feels wrong without him; there’s a hollow where he should be.

Pedal revolutions

mistwashmonumentIt’s winter, which may have something to do with the big, twiney thoughts that are absorbing my attention most of the time, to the point where Jeezuschrist could you all just stop calling me, don’t call us we’ll call you, I AM ON THE BIKE AND I AM BUSY.

I’m not much of a phone person under ordinary circumstances, but lately, every time that little robot noise goes off, I want to fling it into the Potomac.

I read this a while back, and the ground-level truths of it took up residence in the corners of my consciousness, and they’ve been growing seedlings there. Like the kindergarten time-lapse movie of bean sprouts, I can almost see them growing, unfolding bright green leaves that shake me with little moments of realization. Oh. Oh. OH.

If it was a snake, it’d’ve bit me. All that frustration, all that deep perplexity over why our culture makes insane choices to value parking and traffic “flow” over minor things like, oh, human lives. Why didn’t I see it before? It’s capitalism. It’s not that we don’t know the consequences of these choices; it’s that we’ve trapped ourselves in a huge edifice that’s built on priorities other than keeping people alive and well — namely, money — usually expressed, in “stakeholder” meetings about bike & ped infrastructure, as “the needs of local businesses” (which, in a capitalist society, amounts to a sacrament).

Choose money over people, power over people, and what you get is death. Nearly 40,000 in 2015, the largest single-year increase in 50 years. We’ve institutionalized prioritizing profits over people, and this is the price. Well, this and the fact that one century very soon our planet will cease to be habitable.

You can see why I don’t want to answer the phone.

greenfencenearWhat can be done? Saving ourselves and our planet would require radical changes, and we all know what they are, and I’ll bet you every penny I will ever see that we’re not willing to make them.

So what I personally do, mostly, is ride my bike and try not to despair. I try to encourage other people to use their cars less. To consider that there are alternate ways of managing many of life’s day-to-day demands beyond the private metal box.

I wave at small kids on bikes and hope for the best. And I rage. I DM furiously with like-minded friends. I suspect the climate scientists are in a similar lather of despair and conscious deep-breathed getting on with daily living.

I didn’t intend to write this post. I meant to write the other post that’s been in my mind the last few months — the one about how much I love winter riding. Either I’d forgotten how I feel about winter riding while I was living in a place with mild winters, or it’s something that’s changed in me. Winter is the time with the best solitude, and on (or off) the bike that’s (almost) always what I crave. It’s an analog for how we move through life — alone with our thoughts. If we’re doing it well, we move gracefully, fluidly, birdlike. If not, we might stumble a bit, occasionally fall, but it’s not such a big deal to get back on and pedal away from those occasions.

I’m thinking of changing careers, just slightly, and I keep getting caught a little on the thought that all I really know how to do is ride. That’s not strictly true, of course, but I have increasing trouble sitting still for anything else. Maybe I’m just conscious of time passing, of fleeting moments being all I or anyone, or even the earth has anymore. I want to keep flying, breathing, shifting smoothly through the air because that is where I am me. If I could write while riding, I would. If I could take photographs to show you what I see without having to stop and maneuver a camera, even a damned-easy phone camera, I would do this constantly. But I can’t, so it’s rare that I hook myself into paragraphs, or stop to try and grab that little scene.

Mostly I just keep thinking and pedaling. Did I think I would be turning into a revolutionary as I aged? No, I did not. But the bicycle has many surprises.

PS. Do try not to troll me with your urgent political viewpoints and BUT BUT BUTs. I meant what I said, I have no desire to be capitalismsplained or any other splained, and I will throw you into the Potomac.

Save the Humans!

Tonight I am making final preparations for the Save the Humans protest Pedalpalooza ride tomorrow (June 23), which starts at Oregon Park at 5:30 (we ride at 6). As part of the ride, I’ll be handing out flyers with the contact information for key decision-makers about the safety (or lack thereof) of bicycling in Portland.

If you’re on the ride (and even if you’re not), you can help fight for safer, more comfortable conditions for everyone by urging Mayor Hales, Commissioner Novick, and PBOT Director Treat to put their money and their actions where their promises are.

Here are their email and mailing addresses, and below that is a “boilerplate” letter you can copy and paste or download in MS Word and customize to reflect what’s most important to you. Or, of course, just write your own. Either way, thanks so much for riding and (or) writing!

Here’s to a better future…nowish.

Mayor Charlie Hales: mayorcharliehales@portlandoregon.gov, 1221 SW 4th Ave., Room 340, Portland OR 97204

Commissioner Steve Novick: novick@portlandoregon.gov, 1221 SW 4th Ave., Suite 210, Portland OR 97204

Portland Bureau of Transportation Director Leah Treat: leah.treat@portlandoregon.gov, 1120 SW 5th Ave., Suite 800, Portland OR 97204

*********

Dear Mayor Hales, Commissioner Novick, Director Treat:

I am writing to ask that you step up and take action on needed improvements to bicycle infrastructure in Portland.

The people of Portland who bicycle for transportation have been proposed, studied, and promised, quite literally, to death. We are tired of the daily threats, bullying, and near-misses that we experience on our errands and commutes. We are tired of being stressed out and afraid for our safety when we’re taking our children to school, buying groceries, traveling to and from work, or even just walking across the street.

We need action, and we need it now. Please get to work immediately building:

  • Protected bike lanes — every existing Class 2 bike lane should be protected with barriers, even temporary ones to start. In addition, major direct routes such as Sandy and Burnside should have protected bike lanes added, to create a safe and useful network for bicycle transportation.
  • Diverters for greenways — PBOT’s own study has confirmed what we have been telling you for years. The current greenways are not safe, and they are not comfortable to bicycle on and cross by foot. Traffic volumes are too high, aggressive driving and use for cut-through traffic is rampant. For these greenways to be safe and comfortable for bicycling and walking, they must be made local traffic only. That means designing out the ability for drivers to use them as through-routes.
  • Bicycle signal phases and HAWK signals to ensure safe passage for bicyclists and pedestrians through dangerous intersections and crossings of wide arterials. We realize signals are an investment, but it’s unconscionable to refuse to invest in our safety when there is ample evidence that these improvements are needed.

We need more than paint. We need more than pledges. We need more than words. Please help.

Sincerely,

(your name)

PS. I live in _______________________________neighborhood.

The routes/roads I use most are:

I typically have the worst experiences on:

 

What’s It Going to Take?

It’s become a familiar refrain at #bikingtobeers gatherings. “What is it going to take to get PBOT (Portland Bureau of Transportation) and the city’s political leadership to take action to make our streets safe?” And the answer is always: “It’s going to take deaths.”

I remember Jonathan Maus of Bike Portland (I think that’s who it was) tweeting something to the effect of “I’m worried we’re heading to a dark place,” referring specifically to the hazardous situation of aggressive drivers “sharing” Clinton St. with families riding to school. I’ve been feeling the same way about bicycling in Portland overall, and it seems to be gaining momentum like a giant snowball.

And now we’ve arrived at the dark place. It’s ugly, and it’s frightening. Six people riding bicycles have been hit and seriously injured or killed by drivers in the Portland metro area in the past month. Two in the same spot, at SE 26th and Powell. Two in the past week, including 22-year-old Mark Angeles, who was killed the day before yesterday by a driver who failed to yield while turning left at SE Gladstone and 39th.

Alistair Corkett, also 22, lost his leg when another left-turning driver failed to yield at SE 26th and Powell on May 10.

Peter Anderson, 37, was hit and injured today while riding with the right of way on a green light in that same intersection.

Tonight I stood over my bike at the intersection where Mark was killed, in a crowd of about 150 people. We stood quietly, observing a moment of silence — for approximately 20 minutes. There’s a ghost bike there for Mark, and the protest ride was called “No More Ghost Bikes.”

There were also flowers piled around the ghost bike. And members of Mark’s family crying.

IMG_8792We stood, and watched. We were spread across the full width of Gladstone. People drove through the intersection along 39th, some of them hustling in that way people do in cars, where it seems like nothing in the world matters so much as that extra second they might grab by pushing ahead of another car — or around a person riding a bicycle.

I watched the two women at Mark’s ghost bike crying. They hugged each other for a long time. It was a very human scene. A hundred people on bicycles, standing still, watching them cry.

I thought about how exposed we all are, on the bike. Just our bodies, out in the air, moving through space on these small simple machines. We are basically naked out there, a little cloth over our bones and skin, but nothing much. We move like birds do, and that is beautiful, but it is also a vulnerable state.

I thought how, oddly, I felt safer in that phalanx of riders than I ever have while riding in Portland.

I thought about the people driving through the intersection, rushing, annoyed, thinking about the precious seconds they were losing. I thought, here a whole person was, on Wednesday, who isn’t alive anymore. A young person, just graduated from college. People are crying for him right there, those two women who loved him, and now he’s gone. I don’t think seconds are precious at all, except maybe in the sense that if those seconds had gone differently, if the person driving the truck had waited a few seconds, Mark would be alive, and his family wouldn’t be crying. They might be going home to dinner right now, or maybe he’d be getting a beer, like we did after the ride.

We locked up our bikes, four of us, and went into Hawthorne Hophouse, and sat down at a booth, and then PJ quietly pointed out that sitting in the next booth was Alistair Corkett. I was worried about bothering him — he was there with his brother and his mom — but in the end I was glad we got up and introduced ourselves, and told them where we’d just come from.

I was struck by how young he looked. I was struck by the look in his eyes — a little scared, I thought, a bit in shock still, perhaps, and also brave and determined and very much alive. He got up, hopped nimbly to the other side of the room. When they left I saw the empty space in one leg of his shorts. So young.

The moment we’d peeled off from the larger group at the ride’s end, I’d felt sort of naked without the giant crowd of riders. Immediately less safe, through we were still riding in a group, two by two. As we left the bar, I rode a block or two with Kyle, whom I’d ridden next to for most of the ride, and then we split off in different directions, and I was one rider again.

I spend the vast majority of my time riding alone. It’s more by default than by choice, though of course there are things I like about riding “feral,” as Velouria of Lovely Bicycle puts it.

But there was a power to simply being in that large a group. We were nothing more than the same individual fragile humans we always are, and yet we could take the entire road, all of it, without fear. People in metal boxes suddenly couldn’t terrorize us.

There was more. I looked in at the faces of people driving in the oncoming lane, and the ones who weren’t cheering or waving looked…nervous. There was something intimidating, apparently, about a crowd of people that large, simply riding bikes. We weren’t shouting or doing much of anything except riding — and waving back to those lovely, supportive drivers.

And I thought, There’s something in this. The difference between the way we get harassed and bullied and threatened as individual people riding on our little steel birds (hush, carbon), and the way the same drivers had to treat us with respect (whether they wanted to or not), when we rode in mass numbers.

How to take that difference and transform it into a solution for the dangers we face every day, I don’t know yet. But there’s something there — a hundred exposed, vulnerable humans together are no longer quite so vulnerable.

Gathering at the park
Gathering at the park beforehand