Last week I dusted off my twenty-year old mountain bike and took it in to Citybikes, a nearby worker-owned bike cooperative, to see what could be done. I want to sit straight up on my bike and survey the universe as I pedal around town, instead of crouching over the handlebars as though I’m streaking down Dog Mountain. Twenty years ago, when my sister Sherry and I bought our TREK bikes through a sure-to-get-a-discount contact at Nike, where she’d recently started working, we thought they were cool, or rather we thought WE were cool. AND ahead of our time, it seemed, when I learned from a billboard on our way to a movie the other day that Portland has become “America’s Bicycle Capital.”
While my bike was in retrofit mode for a few days, I kept an eye out for “bicycle lore” in my daily walks about town. A friend had recently told me about a new “peddling bar,” which I imagined as a sort of mobile cocktail affair that folks peddled as they drank. Then I came across it by chance the other day, sitting on a side street. The driver was taking a break so I didn’t disturb him with questions, but checked out the website, BrewCycleportland.com .
Turned out I wasn’t far off. The website opens with an invitation to “pre-sign your liability waver” before booking your BrewPub Crawl ($25 each). Up to 15 peddlers tool around town for two hours and stop at three brew pubs, and although it’s not explicit on the website, I think it’s clear by the arrangement of seats and bar in photo above that you definitely drink while crawling. And it’s a big success, judging by the graphic booking schedule – sold out this Saturday from 11:00 am to 9:30 PM, and most of Sunday. They’ve expanded their fleet too, they say, though there is no information on the site about who “they” are. But it’s a wonderful marriage of two of Portland’s signature obsessions: brew pubs and biking.
Speaking of marriage (the above image grabbed off BikePortland website), so-called “low-car housing” is popping up everywhere in central Portland, mostly along bus and streetcar lines. Not three blocks from our southeast Buckman neighborhood, a new four-story, 71-unit apartment building has just been completed with not ONE parking space. And we just heard about another 40-unit, no-parking building to be built three blocks in the other direction from us. Bike advocates promote this as a partial solution to one of the biggest problems facing Portland, which has grown by over 10% in the last ten years: a chronic shortage of rental housing. On the other hand, developers tout their new buildings as environment and bike-friendly, but in fact they save a lot of money when they don’t have to provide parking spaces. The idea being that rents will be cheaper. We shall see.
But here’s a Portland bike project you can unequivocally love. Twice a week, Laura Moulton peddles her mobile library of donated books to a downtown square and sets up for a four-hour shift, serving people who live outside (previously called “homeless”). Men and women, some with kids and dogs, gather around to check out or bring back books using an old-fashioned, card-in-pocket system that we all remember from our early library days. No one has to show an ID or have an address, but patrons are asked to return the books when they are able. “Don’t worry about the due date; I’ll find you or you can find me,” she tells borrowers. A couple of years ago I spent a morning with some photography students, photographing and interviewing Laura and her patrons, (who can choose to be photographed with their books, or not). Laura has even produced a ‘zine how-to booklet for those who want to duplicate this wonderful project: http://www.streetbooks.org/
OK, I wanted to finish with to my own personal bike story, but I’m going to wait for something interesting to happy this Sunday, August 25, when the City of Portland will block off a 9-mile loop of traffic-free streets in our part of town. From 11:00 until 4:00 we can walk or bike or roll or run, stopping for activities in parks and neighborhoods along the way that include free belly dance or zumba classes, tai chi, climbing wall, bike repair, fresh fruit sampling, swingin’ country music or even a little Shakespeare.
Stay tuned and I’ll get back to you next week…