US National

The Case for Selling Air Rights

Planetizen - 1 hour 16 min ago
Scott Beyer argues that more compact, vertically-oriented cities, like Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington D.C., should sell the air rights above public projects.
Categories: US National

Map Shows the Transportation Agencies Buying Buses and Trains

Planetizen - 2 hours 16 min ago
Looking for a mapping tool that makes it easy to reference news about which agencies are buying what kind of rolling stock and when?
Categories: US National

Sneak peek at this year’s Artcrank posters

BikePortland - 2 hours 31 min ago
The “bike poster party” is back!(Photo by J. Maus/BikPortland)

Artcrank is one of our favorite events. For the past five years, this one-night gallery show and party has brought a refreshing mix of art and community to Portland. With the show returning this Saturday night (10/4), we thought it’d be fun to share a special sneak peek of what you’ll see.

As per usual, all the posters displayed at this weekend’s show were produced by local artists in limited quantities. 29 artists will be featured this year and their creative, provocative, bike-inspired works of art are available for just $50 each. This is an excellent opportunity to decorate your house, apartment, locker, cubicle, cargo bike box, or whatever. One of the posters, commissioned by event sponsor Clif Bar, will benefit national bike advocacy group People for Bikes.

The big change this year is that the venue has moved from downtown to the east side with Velo Cult (1969 NE 42nd Ave) taking on hosting duties. It’s free to get and the show runs from 4:00 to 10:00 pm.

As promised, here’s your sneak peek…

By Oscar Woodruff <\/scr"+"ipt>"); //]]>--> By Michael Verhey By Blaine Fontana

I know, it’s always hard to decide. Of course, depending on your budget, you won’t have to.

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Categories: US National

Perfect Logic—Why Drivers and Transit Users Support Public Transportation

Planetizen - 3 hours 16 min ago
The American Public Transportation Association's Director of Policy Development and Research responds to Eric Jaffe's question: "If So Many People Support Transit, Why Do So Few Ride?"
Categories: US National

Volunteers prep for Friday’s three-day ‘Better Block’ demonstration on 3rd Ave

BikePortland - 3 hours 41 min ago
Boris Kaganovich of Better Block PDX with a half-built planter in the rooms where he and other volunteers have been preparing for a “pop-up” plaza and protected bike lanes on 3rd Avenue.(Photos: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

Working every evening for two weeks in a warren of unfinished rooms three stories above Old Town, more than a dozen enthusiastic volunteers have almost finished building the street features that will remake 3rd Avenue for one weekend, starting Friday morning.

“We managed to clear every store in town out of kreg screws,” organizer Boris Kaganovich of Better Block PDX said Tuesday, taking stock of the group’s inventory so far as he walked through the building. “And three Home Depots’ worth of Astroturf.”

Approximately 1.5 Home Depots’ worth of Astroturf.

The main tools in the plan: 150 handmade wooden planters that’ll carve out a two-way protected bike lane on the west side of the street, sidewalk cafe space on both sides and a big pedestrian plaza in front of Voodoo Doughnut and Ankeny Alley.

A detailed draft site plan by Better Block. (Click for a PDF.)

Also on the wall of Better Block’s third floor command center is a whiteboard map of all the activities planned.

The group plans to set up a ping-pong table and a set of giant dominoes (on loan from the Portland Bureau of Transportation). Several Old Town storefronts, including Voodoo, plan to set up in the space outside their doors, and Old Town employer Airbnb is planning to take over an entire block face with office furniture. (Or something like that. Kaganovich said the company hasn’t gone into detail about their concept.)

Under the terms of the demo, members of the public will be allowed to sit in any temporary seating along the street. Restaurants will also be able to offer food service but no oudoor alcohol.

Better Block’s prep work will continue Wednesday and Thursday nights and through the weekend, Kaganovich said. Volunteers are still needed for cutting strips of Astroturf, stapling them to the top of plywood planters and (starting at 7 a.m. Friday and continuing around the clock until Sunday evening) sitting in Old Town streets in order to fulfill the Portland Police Bureau’s request that a volunteer be on site at all times to help move the planters in case of an emergency.

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Part of the reason volunteers are contributing hundreds of hours is on the hunch that the City of Portland might see this weekend’s “pop up” event as a model for future community-driven street experiments, as New York City began doing a few years ago.

“We’re also hoping that if this is a success, that the city will be more open to this kind of project in the future,” said Ben Chaney, a Better Block volunteer, as he fitted an impact driver into the screw on a half-assembled planter Tuesday night. “I think it’d be pretty awesome to see a ‘temporary street rejuvination permit.’”

Boris Kaganovich and Ben Chaney build planters Tuesday night.

As it is, the city is charging Better Block $1,500 for three days’ worth of lost parking revenue. To make room for the new amenities, the demo will temporarily remove parking from both sides of 3rd between Ash and Davis, as well as all but one general travel lane on the one-way street. Safety signage is costing the group another $2,000, the construction materials $5,000 to $6,000.

Better Block has found sponsors for the event’s costs: $3,000 from regional government Metro, $1,500 from the advocacy group America Walks, $1,000 from Dixie Tavern and $1,000 from architecture firm Ankrom Moisan, among others.

If you’d like to lend time, chip in money for the next such demo or otherwise find a way to help out, write

Melissa Kaganovich sorts through stencils that will be used to mark the temporary protected bike lanes.

Or just come by Friday, Saturday and/or Sunday to enjoy the new urban space and help imagine the ways it could be permanently improved.

“I’m just very excited that all of the various plans have come together in the last two weeks,” Chaney said Tuesday. “Everything’s really fallen into place.”

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Categories: US National

The 'Rule of Two' that Allows Drivers to Kill

Planetizen - 4 hours 16 min ago
An op-ed column by Dana M. Lerner, a New Yorker whose 9-year-old son was struck and killed by taxi while crossing the street earlier this year, explains the legal precedent that lets drivers get away with murder.
Categories: US National

A newbs-eye view of ‘cross: How to win over the crowd

BikePortland - 4 hours 38 min ago
Currying favor with ‘cross crowds is easy once you know the secrets.(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Spectating at the cyclocross races is entertaining, educational, and usually results in fewer stitches than racing yourself. I recommend it for anyone who’s feeling cross-curious.

For starters, you can learn a lot about proper technique from watching the more experienced riders. For example: if a racer can’t ride up a hill, they must run up it while carrying their bike. My bike and I have not yet figured out how to do this together; it’s awkward and I imagine we look like siblings slap-fighting each other in the backseat of the family minivan. In watching the Cat A racers, however, you see that there is an exact timing to the steps of a successful re-mount, a way to carry a bike that minimizes your chances of taking a pedal to the ribcage.

Cat A racer Tina Brubaker shows textbook shouldering technique. (Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

You can also learn a lot about cyclocross fans. From a sportsing perspective, they’re an odd bunch: unlike fans of pro football or golf, winning matters nothing to them. These people are driven by a completely different set of values.

> ‘Cross fans are indeed a special breed.(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

And as a racer, it’s important to understand those values because being cheered by the crowd – and heckling, teasing, and direct taunts absolutely count as cheering – is a weirdly powerful thing. I don’t understand how it works but it does. Even if you are riding as fast as you think you possibly can without blowing out a lung, when someone shouts “GET IT, girl! Pass that rider!” you suddenly can – and you do. As a racer, you want this power.

So how do you win the crowd? If not winning, what is it that inspires these people to yell themselves hoarse on behalf of total strangers?

After my races are over, I’ve been joining the crowds to watch the Cat A/B races at the most popular spectator spot– the top of a huge, steep, muddy hill on the back side of the course. These are the things I’ve noticed getting the love:

Badassery. Plenty of racers are able to ride up the hill for the first lap or two, but the precious few who are still gunning it on Lap 5 get a lot of noisy respect. Thus, the lady in the skirt who is still pedaling with a fury and passing lesser mortals pushing their bikes on the last lap gets a resounding chorus when she launches over the top. The dudes popping wheelies at the crest of the hill are beloved by all.

<\/scr"+"ipt>"); //]]>--> Support from the crowd keeps Julia Himmelstein smiling right when she needs it most.(Photo by Kelley Goodwin)

Suffering. Someone who is deep their pain cave, slipping up the hill with their handlebars smacking them in the face, will get more cheering and encouragement than someone who appears moderately well-equipped to handle the challenge. The crowd responds positively to visible misery – we’re horrible people like that. So if you’ve got 3 laps left to go, your heart is about to explode, and you can’t believe you paid money for the privilege of dissolving your own leg muscles in lactic acid, go ahead and let that agony show.

When all else fails, wear a crazy outfit.(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Pizzazz. Towards the end of the races, it’s gotten dark and the spandex onesies all start to look the same. It is at this time that any rider with distinguishing apparel or bike décor becomes an automatic crowd love magnet. Fake tuxedo shirts, BEER socks, and colored wheel lights reap far greater rewards at a cross race than they do in normal life; the woman racing in a silver sequined shirt who sparkles like a disco ball under the course lights has a cult following. These racers are not necessarily the best, but they are the shiniest. We’re just a bunch of magpies out here.

In this category, non-team riders (with their broader flair options) seem to have a clear advantage. With one notable exception, that is…

Cats. All right, meow. Most teams have smug, Tour de France-y outfits that pay homage to the high-tech laser company or brewery that sponsors them. They look aerodynamic but they’re not exactly crowd pleasers. Then there’s the team that covered their entire get-up with kittens. Seriously – kittens. It gives the fans so much to work with… perhaps too much. Every time a Ruckus Test Team racer rides by, it sets off a very distinct reaction.

Meow.(Photo: Ruckus Test Team)

I can’t think of another situation where I’ve been surrounded by 30 meowing adults. If you can, I don’t think I want to come to your house parties.

After three weeks of observation, these appear to be the stand-out values of a typical group of cyclocross fans, the things that people truly respond to. Bear in mind that this particular race series is alcohol-free; other crowd priorities may surface when beer gets involved. But in the meantime, interested racers: if you want to win a race you should practice, eat a bunch of kale and bring your A-game. If you want to win the crowd, bring your triumphant struggles, pain and suffering, sparkles, and kittens.

— Check out more from Rebecca Hamilton here. And by the way, we’re planning lots more cyclocross coverage this season and we need sponsors to help make it happen. Get in touch if you’re interested!

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Categories: US National

AT&T Planning for Growth of 'Connected Car' Market

Planetizen - 5 hours 16 min ago
AT&T is predicting a growth market for wholesale customer relationships with car manufacturers.
Categories: US National

Milwaukie council candidate Scott Barbur faces questions over Facebook post – UPDATED

BikePortland - 5 hours 29 min ago
“This picture is just way too awesome!” according to a Milwaukie city council candidate.

1:14 pm: Barbur has released a statement. Read it at the end of this post.

Scott Barbur, a lawyer running for Milwaukie (Oregon) city council, is facing serious questions from voters about a Facebook post and comments that surfaced last week. The post makes light of a horrific collision in Mexico in 2008 that killed one person and injured 10 others.

On July 20th, 2010, Barbur posted a photograph of the collision on his personal Facebook page. That post was discovered a few months ago by Mandy Zelinka, the editor and founder of the Milwaukie Rules! website. Zelinka then posted a screenshot of Barbur’s 2010 post on the Milwaukie Rules! Facebook page last week.

“All I know is that this is the image that pops into my head every time I have to listen to bicyclists or deal with them on the road.”— Scott Barbur, Facebook comment

Barbur posted a viral photograph of a pack of bicycle riders flying into the air at the moment when a drunk driver plowed into them head-on. The words, “My Way: Get the fuck out of it,” had been added to the border of the image and Barbur’s comment alongside it read, “This picture is just way too awesome!”

After friends pointed out to Barbur via comments that the fatal collision was not a laughing matter, Barbur made two responses: “Well now I can’t find this picture funny anymore. Thanks for bringing me down… Way to inject some real life into it…” and, “I don’t know if I had malicious intent. All I know is that this is the image that pops into my head every time I have to listen to bicyclists or deal with them on the road. Take from it what you will.”

Here are screenshots of the entire comment section from the 2010 post:

Many commenters on the Milwaukie Rules! Facebook post have expressed disgust and outrage at Barbur’s comments. A few people have asked him to respond to the post via the Scott Barbur For Milwaukie Facebook page, but their comments have been deleted. Barbur has since removed the post from his Facebook page and made his personal account viewable to friends only. He has not responded to our repeated requests for comment.

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Zelinka, a daily bike commuter who founded Milwaukie Rules! three years ago as a way to highlight her love of the city and boost community pride, told me via telephone this morning that she’s stayed out of politics up until now. (However, it should be noted that she refers to herself as “The First Lady of Milwaukie” and is currently dating Milwaukie Mayor Jeremy Ferguson. She also ran for Milwaukie City Council (then dropped out of the race) in 2012.)

“I’m not one to sling mud,” Zelinka said about her decision to post Barbur’s comments, “But I felt like that was a big showcase of his character… And that’s not where Milwaukie is headed.”

Matt Menely, a Milwaukie business owner and volunteer with Bike Milwaukie, emailed us to share his opinion about Barbur’s comments:

“His comments are pretty immature, and disappointing to say the least. People online are trying to make this a “cars vs. bikes” conversation, but it’s not. This is really about people, and how people talk about other groups of people and treat each other. If Scott Barbur made insensitive comments about women, someone’s sexual orientation or race, the vast majority of people would be asking him to drop out of the City Council race. The only way this town is going to grow and become a more liveable place is if people start talking respectfully with each other, and actually begin listening to each other. Once that happens we can work together.”

Barbur is running for City Council position #4 and his main competition is Karin Power. In 2012, Barbur lost a race for a council seat by just 500 votes.

In an ironic twist related to traffic safety, Barbur Blvd — one of the most dangerous streets in the region — was named after Barbur’s great-great grandfather Asbury Barbur, who was the City of Portland commissioner of public works in the early 1900s.

We’ll update this post when/if we hear back from Barbur or his campaign staff.

UPDATE, 10/1 at 1:14 pm: Barbur just emailed us with the following statement:

“The post in question was made four years ago to friends on my private personal Facebook page. It was made in an effort to rile up some of my friends at the time and the intent of my subsequent comments was to continue to try to get a rise out of them. The post was stupid childish banter on my part and that is all. It does not represent my attitude toward cyclists and I would obviously never promote people crashing into cyclists. I will take full accountability for my comments as they were insensitive and I am sorry that they were offensive and in bad taste.

It is unfortunate that Ms. Zelinka, who I have never previously had any issues with and considered a friend and community partner, has scoured my private personal Facebook page in an effort to run a negative campaign against me. My service record to this community has been nothing but positive, including my service to the cycling community. As a planning commissioner I have advocated for road safety and for the inclusion of cycling projects within Milwaukie’s Tacoma Station Area Plan and the Transportation System Plan. Most recently, I was one of a group of volunteers who opened the Milwaukie Museum for a private tour for Bike Milwaukie’s ride in August. Win or lose this election I will continue my efforts to serve all members of this great community.

Scott Barbur”

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Categories: US National

Biking and walking groups endorse ‘driver cards’ for undocumented immigrants

BikePortland - 6 hours 8 min ago
A student driver in Washington, where citizenship statusisn’t required for state driving tests.(Photo: Joint Base Lewis McChord)

Nonprofits that support road safety are backing a November ballot issue that would allow people who came to Oregon illegally to once again take driving tests and buy car insurance.

A public “yes” vote on Measure 88 would let undocumented Oregon residents get “driver’s cards” that let them drive legally, essentially restoring the system that was in place before 2007.

It’s not clear how many Oregon residents are now driving despite not having legal immigration status or licenses, but the number is almost certainly in the many thousands.

“People, when given the option to do the right thing, they will do it… they want to drive legally and safely.”— Reyna Lopez, Causa

“This will promote safety on the road for everyone, regardless of how they choose to get around,” wrote Gerik Kransky, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance‘s advocacy director, in an email.

Measure 88 would “make sure that every single person who’s operating an automobile on our streets has had an opportunity to take a test at the DMV,” said Aaron Brown, president of Oregon Walks.

Kransky said in a phone call last week that the BTA’s board had agreed to endorse the ballot measure, joining Oregon Walks and the public transit advocates OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon in doing so.

“To think that somebody who’s illegally here is all of a sudden going to get religion and start obeying laws when they get a driver’s license is sort of ridiculous. They think they’re above the law.”— Jim Ludwick, Oregonians for Immigration Reform

In every U.S. state, it’s a criminal offense to drive without both a license and basic car insurance. But insurers don’t typically sell policies to people who can’t prove that they’ve passed a driving test — and under current law, Oregon doesn’t conduct driving tests on people who lack a legal immigration status.

Reyna Lopez, the director of civic engagement for Latino immigrants’ advocacy group Causa, said that about 80,000 undocumented Oregon residents held driver’s licenses in 2007, when then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski used an executive order to block the state from issuing licenses to anyone without a legal status.

Many of those 80,000 people have continued driving using their old licenses, but one by one they’ve been expiring.

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Lopez said that in her work, “from Hermiston, Oregon, to Medford, Oregon, the first thing that families ask me is what is happening with the license.”

“People, when given the option to do the right thing, they will do it,” Lopez went on. “Everywhere we’ve gone, people have said they want the option to do the driver card. They want to drive legally and safely.”

Jim Ludwick, communications director for Oregonians for Immigration Reform and an opponent of illegal immigration and Measure 88, said in an interview that he doesn’t believe people who crossed a border illegally want to drive legally.

“To think that somebody who’s illegally here is all of a sudden going to get religion and start obeying laws when they get a driver’s license is sort of ridiculous,” Ludwick said. “They think they’re above the law. … I don’t pick and choose which laws to obey. Why do illegal aliens get to?”

Ludwick also said a car license is not always required to purchase car insurance. However, he said he wasn’t sure which companies are willing to insure unlicensed drivers.

If Measure 88 passes, undocumented residents who can prove they’ve lived in Oregon for at least one year would be able to get a “driver’s card” in the same way any new resident or driver would: by passing a written test if they have a valid license in another U.S. state, or by passing both written test and a behind-the-wheel test if they don’t have a valid license.

Washington and California are both among the U.S. states that allow undocumented immigrants to be legal drivers. Some people who work in the Portland area get licenses in Clark County in order to have one on the Oregon side of the Columbia River.

Brown, who serves as the volunteer president of the Oregon Walks board and is also actively working on the Measure 88 campaign in his day job as organizing coordinator for the Bus Project, said he sees support for Measure 88 as a chance to make Portland transportation activism less “astonishingly monocrhomatic.”

“This isn’t just about sharrows and bikes and a very narrow understanding of how transportation matters,” Brown said. “This is about getting to work on time, getting kids to school, getting family members to the doctor.”

You can read more about the case for and against Measure 88 at Vote Yes on 88 and Protect Oregon Driver Licenses.

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Categories: US National

Flat Tops No Longer Required for Los Angeles Skyscrapers

Planetizen - 6 hours 16 min ago
Emily Alpert Reyes reports that Los Angeles has overturned a long-standing requirement for its skyscrapers to have flat roofs to accommodate the fire department's helicopters in the event of an emergency.
Categories: US National

Do Drivers Know to Give Cyclists a Three-Foot Buffer when Passing?

Planetizen - 7 hours 16 min ago
On September 16, California's newest bicycle law went into effect, the "Three Feet for Safety Act" law. However, most motorists are unaware of it. Maybe a new sign will help.
Categories: US National

The Irony of Wisconsin’s Proposed Constitutional Amendment

Streetblog Top Picks - 7 hours 42 min ago
On November 4th, the people of Wisconsin will be asked if they want to “protect” the state’s transportation fund.  The motivation, proponents say, is the $1.4 billion “raid” on the transportation fund during the Doyle administration. The implication is that the people who pay gas taxes have been shortchanged and that their interests need to be […]
Categories: US National

The Look and Feel of 'Inherently Urban'

Planetizen - 8 hours 16 min ago
Greek orators, current solution-based efforts, and 25 photographs remind us of the central role of human opportunity in the urban environment.
Categories: US National

A Conservative's Response to Joel Kotkin

Planetizen - 9 hours 16 min ago
A column by Reihan Salam takes exception to Joel Kotkin's recent portrayal of "anti-suburban conservatives."
Categories: US National

Two Narratives Derived from New Commute Data

Planetizen - 10 hours 16 min ago
When it comes to making sense of the American Community Survey's data on commute times, it's all about how you frame the data.
Categories: US National

Why Design Matters in Transportation Infrastructure Design

Planetizen - Tue, 09/30/2014 - 4:00pm
New Jersey School of Architecture Director Darius Sollohub writes that transportation planners and engineers should consider what their infrastructure designs will say to today's users and future generations in an essay in InTransition magazine.
Categories: US National

Can Boston Change its 'Wink and Nod' Development Process?

Planetizen - Tue, 09/30/2014 - 3:00pm
A reborn plan to raze the Winthrop Square parking garage and replace it with the tallest building in Boston will provide a test for new Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh.
Categories: US National

A remembrance of Cathy Hastie, through the stories she shared with us

BikePortland - Tue, 09/30/2014 - 1:31pm
Cathy Hastie, 1969-2014: lifelong Portlander, self-poweredcommuter, daughter, wife, mom and (for one constantlyinteresting year) BikePortland’s lifestyle columnist.(Photo: M.Andersen)

Publisher’s note: Cathy Hastie, a regular columnist here on BikePortland for the last year, passed away yesterday after a fight with cancer.


The email arrived with a chime at 9:16 in the morning.

“I have been wanting to be more involved in something I believe in and couldn’t quite decide what, until I saw your publication mentioned in Street Roots. Do you need articles? editing? How can I be useful (without dedicating my entire life to your cause?)”

That was two and a half years ago. I was trying to heave my odd little magazine about low-car life from a one-person project into a team production, and generally saying yes to every offer available. So I and the woman, whose name was Cathy Hastie, scheduled a Sunday brainstorm at the Starbucks in Hollywood.

I told her we couldn’t pay; she said that was fine. She was a mom in her early 40s with a consulting-firm job and a mortgage. Experience was more important than cash. We agreed that sometime in the next month she’d send over a sample column about “low-car culture.”

Here’s a secret: this is the sort of offer small publishers get regularly. In most cases you never hear from the person again. But at 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 31, another email came in.

“Well it is now officially the end of March,” she wrote. “I have completed 3 articles.” They were attached.

That was the Cathy I came to know over the next two years: unpredictable, unflappable, and just frazzled enough to remind you there was a strong pulse of life beneath what I slowly came to realize was a powerful sense of direction.

Cathy with her ride.(Photos courtesy Cathy Hastie.)

Some of the columns she submitted were not fantastic. They overdosed on detail or buried their gems in three too many jokes. But the best parts were magnificent, like the time she described car2go as “picking up available vehicles like drunk frat boys in a singles bar” or her column capturing the urban magic of hashing, the alleycat-on-foot tradition she joined each month:

The hash leads us up and down the voluptuous hills of Portland, entangles us in her twisting undergrowth and allows us to sneak a peek at her foundations.

Sometimes she wears a girdle or some ratty briefs. But more often than not, it’s a lavender negligee.

One month, she sat on the Hawthorne Bridge for an hour and made a full tally of every bike commuter’s fashion choices by gender. For another column, she spent more than four hours gathering and analyzing what might be the most comprehensive statistics on car and bike stop sign behavior ever collected in Portland.

I loved her biker’s ode to the butt:

When I’m on a bicycle, it’s just part of the scenery. Fit or flabby, grand or petite, it is simply the motor to our human-powered motion. Very useful indeed.

So don’t get bent out of shape. If you are a biker, I have seen your butt. And you have probably seen mine. Just pat yourself on the back (or further down if you feel so moved) and know that with every downstroke, you are improving the view, creating a tauter, shapelier Portland panorama.

Cathy had plenty of detractors. After she joined me in the jump to BikePortland, her first column struck some as arrogant and self-congratulatory. And then there was this column, which we agreed to publish, after some back and forth with her, because the whole point of having her on board was to bring a different perspective to the site:

The king of arrogance is the biker without a helmet. He is announcing to the world that he is too skilled to allow himself to be hit by a car.

After the first 100 furious ripostes to that one, we talked Cathy (“I have my opinions and other people have their opinions,” she wrote in an email. “Why do I care what they think of mine?”) into posting an explanation of sorts.

I don’t know if it was the good spirit she showed with that comment, or a growing cohort of hate-readers, or the fact that she was an opinionated bike-loving woman willing to piss Portlanders off, but it was a turning point for Cathy and her audience. From then on, almost all her columns were traffic hits, and almost all the comments beneath them were friendly. The Portland Society invited her to be a guest speaker. So did the Sprocket Podcast.

Cathy with Sprocket co-hosts Brock Dittus and Aaron Flores.(Photos: Sprocket Podcast)

It seemed like an ass-backwards way to find a voice and an audience, but Cathy had. And over the next year — her last year — she found her subject, too.

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In one of the most remarkable editing experiences I’ve ever had, Cathy began submitting unsettlingly perceptive columns about a theme that neither of us recognized at first: the relationship between her personal transportation choices and her body’s physical decline and death.

Here’s the first, from a column about the fact that she could no longer brag about running or biking to work every day:

Today, no one can tell that I am “sick.” I look the same, even better than before the illness. My medical condition doesn’t preclude me from running to work like I had been doing for the last 13 years. In fact, I still run, just not to work. I bike. And occasionally, when I’m feeling particularly uninspired, I ride the bus. …

Living under the weight of something as serious as not living made me realize that bragging rights are solely for braggarts. Doing something for the sake of saying that you did it was not enough for me anymore.

When it comes to my commute, I am doing what feels good for me. And the truth is that most people do what feels good to them. We low-car eco-warriors have to be OK with that. Sometimes sitting in a dry, warm car feels pretty good. If we want commuting habits to change, we have to offer choices that feel better.

She followed with a plot twist: she’d accepted a position based in Vancouver and started car commuting for the first time in 15 years.

Today’s business model assumes that employees will do whatever it takes to earn more money, build more prestige and climb higher on the professional ladder. They assume we live the accompanying middle-class, suburban, auto-centric lifestyle. But I don’t like to drive, let alone cut throats and climb ladders. …

I value my time and how I spend it, maybe even more than my money. … My dilemma was eating me up. Ideally, careers improve with time, and my Vancouver opportunity was a stepping stone in the right direction. But how much was I willing to give up now for the promise of a rosier future? If I sacrifice this pillar in my moral structure, who’s to say the roof won’t cave in as I sink deeper and deeper into a materialistic pit, swimming in money while gasping for air?

Perhaps this pebble is just the first in what could turn into a landslide of sacrifices, eroding the hard-fought lifestyle gains of flexibility, stress-reduction and being true to convictions. Would I start traveling too much, seeing less of my family, working 60+ hours a week? In other words, killing myself slowly? …

Notwithstanding the decision to go to Vancouver, I still believe that lifestyle counts as much as salary. I vow to find a creative work arrangement that honors my core values. The burden of dragging a car around, the cost of gas, the time spent sitting still – somehow I will counterbalance these factors. I’ll let you know what I come up with!

Cathy with her daughter.

The next column that popped into my inbox, right on schedule, was the best and most haunting thing I ever saw her write. She called it “What a car is good for.” It opened like a piece of bike-blog trolling to top her earlier one:

The car serves a multitude of purposes that have become essential in the modern world.

Then she slowly threaded cracks across the facade:

The average workplace doesn’t provide a private place to eat lunch, make personal calls or take a nap, let alone have a cigarette, watch an episode of “Archer,” or ogle the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition (not necessarily in that order). What better place to perform these important lunch-hour tasks than inside your parked car, anonymous amongst thousands of others, ordered and sorted in the acre-wide company parking lot? The car gives us the isolation that our gadget-driven culture demands and our efficiency-oriented employers force upon us.

“The car is a great place to store garbage,” she observed. “Delivery errands can be put off for months when the items are all crammed into the trunk, invisible and forgotten.”

By the end of the post, she had perfectly captured everything I’d come to hate about myself in the years when I got around by car, but had never found the language for at the time.

The car makes us independent — so independent that we can drive 45 minutes to work in a neighboring city every day for a month without knowing a single thing about the place, its people, or what happens there. We use the unexplored city without connecting to it. The car distances us physically from the place we call home, so we ignore the community where we spend 8 hours a day. As a car commuter, we just don’t care.

During that editing process I emailed Cathy that I was honored our site was publishing the post. Also that I should have known she was an “Archer” fan.

“Ha!!!!” she replied.

The last column Cathy wrote for us published last month. It was remarkable in a different way: not as a reflection on the universal tragedy of car dependence but as a very specific account of how she believed her car commute had begun to literally kill her.

At 5’11″ and 160 lbs, my body was capable of just about anything I asked it to do, from hoisting boxes to dancing the two-step to running a few miles through the neighborhood. …

No one could tell I was battling my own body’s errant cell-production assembly line. I sat for chemo once every three weeks, followed by more chemo in the form of pills taken every day. I went to work like everyone else. I volunteered. I directed a children’s play after school. Luckily, side effects didn’t stop me from living a full life. The cancer treatment had become my new “normal,” and I barely noticed it myself most days. …

Biking brought fresh air into my lungs, pumped blood to my extremities, and brought a sense of calm and appreciation as I moved through the city’s daily machinations. Details, blurry when passed at the speed of a car, revealed themselves as I took in lilting lilies, swaying birches, jumping dogs, toddling toddlers. … Bicycle commuting not only kept my body working, it stabilized my mental health.

Then, five months and three weeks ago, everything changed. My employer assigned me to a position 17 miles from home. I had to give up my bike commute. …

Tired from sitting erect and still for hours at a time, I didn’t have the time or energy at the end of the day to add on a bike ride or a swim. So I did nothing.

My back started to hurt.

Cathy’s account of the physical disintegration that followed is harrowing. You can read it if you’d like.

On August 24, no doubt with an eye on her usual end-of-the-month deadline, Cathy sent me an email:

I don’t know how much longer I will live — don’t say that out loud. And so I don’t know if I need to focus on creative writing or being with my kids. I don’t think writing about bikes when I cant even walk is very compelling. I don’t know what to do. I am sinking into the harsh realities of my predicament. Don’t expect much from me.

I told her that of course time with her kids would be well-spent, that we and the BikePortland audience were rooting for her and that her volunteer gig would be waiting for her once she recovered.

Cathy didn’t recover. She died this week, one month shy of her 45th birthday. Our hearts go out to her friends and family.

I was reluctant to sell Cathy’s final column too hard. Human health and medicine are mysterious, and I didn’t want us to make it look as if BikePortland was blaming car commuting for the symptoms of cancer and chemotherapy.

What I know is that of the many stories Cathy left us with, the one she told in those last four columns will stick with me all my life. As I follow her (I hope) into the pressures of parenthood, through the curves of a modern career and eventually the decline and failure of my own body, I’ll be thinking of hers — of the joy she took in using and writing about it, and the awful realization she went through as she watched it fall, semi-publicly, apart.

If using bicycles can teach us anything, it should be that our bodies are too precious to put to waste. Cathy, thanks for working so joyfully to help more of us see that.

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Categories: US National