2013-02-06

Stress Avoidance

Foggy Streetcar
This July we moved to NW Portland, to a neighborhood where everything we need for daily life resides within about a 5 block radius of our apartment, it's an easy 10-15 minute walk to downtown or the Pearl District, and so I've found myself walking considerably more often than I ever have before, simply because there is actually a ton of stuff easily accessible by foot. I can do most of a day's errands by foot in this neighborhood in just about the same time it used to take me to just walk one way to the grocery store.

Living on the East side of Portland, I rode my bike everywhere, simply because most distances to things were just too far to walk, unless I just had one destination (like the grocery store), and just needed to come straight back. Riding my bike allowed me to hit several destinations while I was out, and do it in a reasonable amount of time, and I got used to how it felt to ride a bike around Portland and it was ok.

Now having the opportunity to walk for things often, I'm re-realizing that walking around Portland is still so much less stressful than riding a bike. I can walk down to the Pearl District and have it be perfectly relaxed and pleasant. If I ride my bike, I often get honked at, swerved around, passed illegally, occasionally even shouted at. As you can imagine, that really changes the experience of moving around.

As a result of this, I've been taking the streetcar to and from work more often, now that it's a short walk to the streetcar (about 6 blocks) and then a direct ride straight to work. The major motivation? It's just less stressful - I don't have to be as constantly on-guard, and I don't get abused by people. I still ride my bike quite a bit, and I'm still comfortable enough with it to ride all the way across the city, but having this contrast has really changed how I feel about it.

Portland may have done some nice things to accommodate travel by bicycle, but for the most part, people on bicycles are still left completely at the mercy of people driving cars, and many of the people driving cars see them as a nuisance, a waste of time, and even a threat.

This is not an us vs. them comparison, but simply an observation that I often suffer abuse from people in automobiles while I'm riding my bike. It is not a symptom of driving a car specifically (though that can play into it if a person never moves around by other means), but rather a larger cultural problem with how we view roads and public space in general, how we view time and responsibility and entitlement, how our city is laid out and the options we give people for moving around. If we want the average person to be able to ride a bike and not feel frightened, hassled, threatened and abused, we're doing it very wrong.