Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Seattle Rules, Portland Stinks

Ship Canal Trail connection to Interbay: totally awesome
As can be expected in a town that attracts transplants, and with our cultural fascination with "data" and comparing ourselves to others, Seattle often gets compared to other cities, and often enough, doesn't measure up.

We don't have a nightlife, Eastcoasters say.

It's cold, Southerners say.

It's unfriendly, Midwesterners say.

It's gloomy, Californians say.

These are all good points. In fact, complaining is justified when trying to get a decent dinner at 10 p.m. in February while cruising for chicks in nothing but a diaphanous dashiki.

Of course, Oregonians have a lot to say, and there are a lot of them, as we have an economy that isn't based on trust funds and dreadlock technology.* Despite our differences, and despite the Oregon Ducks, we tolerate our southern neighbor because we need them just as much as they need us. They provide our cardigan factories with a cheap source of beard hair, and having Portland so close helps Seattle's reputation. Next to the creepy homogeneity of Portland, we come across as cosmopolitan and friendly.

But because we are very much alike -- speak the same language, worship the same gods, etc. -- Portlandingers are left to complain about cycling in Seattle. Because Portland, if you haven't heard, is bikable. It's common knowledge.

Typical Seattle cyclists, getting into something good
In fact, when consulting the lists of most bike friendly cities, Seattle isn't found ranked first, and sometimes doesn't even make it into the top 10.

Comes now, a guy who isn't from Portland and knows a lot about bicycling in cities, upbraiding us for falling behind in some damn survey or another. Apparently, in 1990 Seattle led the country in bike commuters, and even though more people ride now, it has dropped in the rankings.

From the leader in North American cycling, Seattle is now in the unfortunately (sic) position of being left behind by the vastly superior cycling infrastructure and programs in Vancouver and Portland.

(Also, this story ran in the Seattle Times, with the bike expert saying Second Avenue downtown is worse than streets in New York City. New York City?!?!)

We are here to say: suck it, bike expert. Seattle is the best biking city in the Northwest. Seattle rules!

That's right, old passe Seattle, old been-there-done-that Seattle. Old early-'90s-forest-green-Eddie-Bauer-Ford-Explorer-can't-win-a-game-cops-gunning-down-undesirables-in-broad-daylight-atheiests-compulsively-saying-'bless you'-when-somebody-sneezes-rent-is-too-damn-high Seattle.

Fact is, we have some pretty freaking sweet bicycle infrastructure, and it keeps getting better.

Is the Burke Gilman bumpy and lawless as Texas? Bet your left testicle it is. Is Ballard a death trap? Most definitely. Is there a way to cross the canal that won't harsh your buzz? Not really. Downtown? Say your prayers.

With that settled, and our agreement that Seattle is the best won, we would submit that in a discussion of improving cycling facilities, comparing cities only yields apples and oranges. Cycling here is significantly different than in San Francisco, or Minneapolis, or New Orleans.

But let's look at Portland, since our experts are so fond of comparing us to the Rose City, with all of its bikability. We have similar climates, similar political cultures, a similar urban/rural divide in our statehouses, and similar civic and natural attributes that make us "lifestyle" destinations. Why, Lord, why aren't we more like them?

Portland: When you're looking at me, you're looking at bikability

On the other hand, Portland has one big hill, and they make a big deal about coasting down it. Seattle is almost entirely hills and valleys; it often seems that if you aren't climbing you are descending. Portland has I-5 cutting through it, so does Seattle, but Seattle built a mountain bike course under it. Portland has a river. Seattle has one of those too, a smaller one, but it also has a canal dividing the city, several lakes, and a sound.

Seattle also was built on an isthmus, it is home to a major port, a major university, major corporations, and a political culture that favors confusion and inaction (We can't even get a state budget passed). It's amazing that we aren't more of a cluster fuck.

Despite all this, we put up impressive commute numbers. Seattle bike riders, young and old, women and men, represent the hardcore.

But now we are back to that holiest of figures, the commute rate, the percentage of people who travel to work exclusively by means of bicycle. It will get better. We're not done yet.

Perhaps the reason Seattle isn't given more props is because we have something that can't be accounted for in a number.

Riding bikes here is fun. Way more fun than Portland, and more fun than even San Francisco.

Seattle: You can't fuck with this
There are miles and miles of interesting trails with beautiful scenery, drinking and cycling is legal (so is pot), and one could ride their bike mostly on paved paths from Everett to Tacoma, or over the mountains on a dirt path to the Columbia River. We are constantly building new facilities to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians and we have a strong pro-cycle streak in our politics.

Are our governments moving as fast as they could, and with sound transportation policies? Nope. But they are doing a better job than voters did.

Is developing our bicycle infrastructure the most pressing issue facing our state and local governments?

Not really. That would be education, health care, and public safety, which are underfunded to the point of being unconstitutional. And yet still, we kick ass all over America's face!

So next time you hear somebody bashing your town, saying Portland is better, don't say anything. Just act aloof, don't make eye contact, and stare down at your smart phone.


*Why do all the hippies go to Oregon?
They heard there is no work there

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