Thursday, January 28, 2010

A few thoughts for the MLK Holiday

Dr. Martin Luther King, jr was a sterling individual who achieved the impossible -- organizing to end 100 years of post-Civil Was discrimination against blacks. Now, just 40 years later, we have a black president, and nobody even remembers that blacks once had separate restrooms, bus seating, and water fountains. Without leaders like MLK, and people willing to rally, and sympathetic people within the establishment, we may well still have openly institutionalized discrimination against blacks. (Obviously there's still a ways to go, and probably some backsliding since the early days, but it certainly seems like we've come a long way.)

And, the man was a religious leader. He plainly bridged the gap between religion and political action in a positive, successful way. And (I assume) used religion to help organize the masses.

(click on photos for full-resolution)

Now, fast forward to MLK Day, 2010, Portland, Oregon.

Bikes aren't given the same "rights" as cars. Bicyclists are discriminated against for their mode choice. They're given longer, hillier routes with more time spent at stop signs and red lights. Or, if they want the faster routes, they compromise their physical safety and well-being.

Take Martin Luther King, jr Boulevard, for instance. It's a thoroughfare. It's not good for bikes. A couple blocks away are the Vancouver/Williams bike lanes, but they're pretty skinny, and even those streets have traffic lights timed perfectly for cars at 25mph, so bicyclists will need to wait at every third light, while cars breeze right through.

And it's not trivial. Some sections of MLK Blvd have no decent alternatives for bikes --
* Holladay/Oregon - Burnside
* Lombard - Marine Dr
* Hawthorne -Powell
I ride the first two on a fairly regular basis, and it's a real disincentive to bicycling, in my opinion. It's an unfortunate irony that the street named after the good doctor himself is so terrible for walking and bicycling.

Lets hope that in 10, 20 or 40 years, we'll be able to ride on MLK Blvd, from end to end, with the same expectation of safety and expediency as motorized traffic. With a little luck and a lot of effort, in 40 years things will be so good that we'll forget how bad it ever was.

But, remember, this, like racial discrimination, won't end automatically. It requires inspired leaders, faithful followers, ideas, and often civic action, insisting that our elected officials deliver on our expectations. You can start today by writing to your five Portland City Councillors and ask that they approve and fund the 2030 Bike Plan. See contact info posted by one of Portland's early Bicycle Rights leaders at

Yours in The Faith,
Pasture Ted

In the meantime, maybe we should do an MLK ride next year -- where we start at MLK and Tillamook and ride all the way up to Marine Dr., then ride south all the way to the end near the Ross Island Bridge. It would be educational, to see just how far we have to go. And each year, we could see whether we've gained anything.

1 comment:

  1. Some great points, Pasture!

    While I'm not convinced that these two issues are equal, I firmly believe that transportation choice and safety is a civil right, and it deserves a movement that treats it as such.