Safe cycling on city arterials

August 31, 2013
Glisan Street Ready for "Road Diet"

Glisan Street Ready for “Road Diet”

Whether cycling or driving my car, I travel on city arterials rather than on side streets and alleys. They take me to places I want to go by reasonably direct and time-efficient routes.

Along with everyone else, I grumble about stop-and-go traffic, chafe while waiting for vehicles making left turns, and worry about problems related to cars that are trying to park. I keep hoping that traffic engineers will come up with simple and modestly priced fixes that will make driving and cycling smoother and safer.

Many of the proposals, however, especially those that cost a lot of money, are seriously flawed. As the report issued earlier this summer by the City Club of Portland notes, some of the new bikeways under consideration provide only “the veneer of safety.”

Because of my discontent with some of these ideas intended to improve the streets for cyclists, I am drawn to an article published in the August 15, 2013, issue of the Portland Tribune: “City hopes ‘road diet’ improves livability.” The lead paragraph summarizes the story, which was written by Steve Law.

“Starting this week, the city is reducing the number of traffic lanes on stretches of Division and Glison streets, and is debating similar treatment for Foster Road. Such road diets can lengthen car commute times, but the tradeoff may be fewer accidents, more walkable streets and commercial districts, plus room to add on-street bike lanes.”

An important feature in the restriping is that a third lane would be added “as a refuge for turns and left-turn pockets.”

According to the reporter, merchants and residents along these sections of Portland arterials support the revisions. Arterials that serve primarily to take people from far away through a neighborhood don’t add much value to the neighborhood. Slowing the traffic a little, they say, encourages motorists to pay attention to restaurants and other businesses along the way. Real safety for pedestrians and cyclists will increase.

Commuters, however, fear that reducing traffic lanes from two to one in each direction will increase the time it takes to drive through. That’s right, the engineers estimate—perhaps by three minutes in each direction. The cost benefit for motorists, however, is an estimated 20% reduction in the rate of rear-end collisions.

The major benefit for cyclists like me—people who use their bikes for transportation to go some place—is that these revisions give us a little more room than we have now, without compromising our safety as some of the pricier proposals do.

Engineers estimate that these revisions will encourage more cyclists to leave their automobiles at home and bicycle to places they have to go. On one of the proposed routes, they think, cyclists would increase from 200 a day now to 3,000 a day in 2035.

As road re-building costs go, these changes are relatively inexpensive, and with high pay off: safer driving, safer cycling, safer and more pleasant walking, improved local business, and happier neighborhoods. Who knows some of the commuters will use that extra three minutes thinking about how nice it would be to live close in so that they can leave their cars at home.

This is a good way, it seems to me, for cities to spend the people’s money—making the city a better place to live.


Watching the revolution from behind the lines

August 26, 2013
Shortridge Marching Band - Mid 70s

Shortridge Marching Band – Mid 70s

“Do you remember hearing Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech?” I asked the question during the weekly breakfast with a few men from my church. On this particular morning, all of us, with one exception, were at least 75 years old, so we were old enough to have listened.

“I was working in a big insurance office,” one man responded. “Those who wanted to listen were allowed to watch the speech in the lunch room, and that’s where I heard it.”

“My wife and I were living in Los Angeles,” another man reported. “The night before the speech we went to a show at the Greek Theatre starring Harry Belafonte. He told the audience that the next morning he was flying to the Capital to join the march.”

I told them that I was on the campus of Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, where I was one of the crop of new professors. Dean Ronald E. Osborn and I watched it on the TV in the student lounge in the old School of Religion Building on the Butler University campus where the seminary was then located.

Two or three others at the table mentioned that they were working on that August day half a century ago and missed the speech, at least while it was being broadcast live.

My remembrance of 1963 and the radical transformation that was taking place in American life is being updated by three aspects of my current activities.

Listening to the crescendo of news reports and historic remembrances in the media. I have been especially moved by the recollections of Congressman James Lewis, the only speaker at the rally who is still living.

Reading “Methodists and the Crucible of Race” by Peter C. Murray. This 2004 book describes a thirty-year period in the history of the United Methodist Church during which it struggled to overcome structural racism in its denominational structure.

Watching “The Butler.” This emotionally powerful film portrays the struggles of one family as the husband and father moved from virtual slavery on a cotton farm to a position on the White House staff serving eight presidents.

Even more vividly than old film clips on TV, the movie portrays the harsh cruelty of white racism and the heroic character of people, black and white, who actively participated in the Civil Rights Movement. It also shows the struggles of a father who stands back from the struggles while his two sons choose conflicting ways to serve the nation—one as a freedom rider and the other as a serviceman whose life is taken in Vietnam.

Winter in the BTNA - Indianapolis

Winter in the BTNA – Indianapolis

My own involvement in the American revolution of the 1960s was far from heroic. We had moved to Indianapolis in 1961 and bought a house in the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood near the seminary campus. The neighborhood association had been formed only a few years earlier to encourage a constructive process of gradual change from being virtually all white to becoming a racially mixed community where people of the two races would live side by side on into future years.

The principal at the Dewitt S. Morgan School 86, a few blocks from our home, told me that in half a dozen years its student body had changed from all white to 35% African American.

Shortridge High School, which our children would attend when the time came, had a student body that was 75% black. The school continued the college-preparatory curriculum that had made Shortridge one of the nation’s notable public high schools.

I was not surprised to learn that Indianapolis had its own history of segregation and discrimination, and many aspects of white racism were still in place. I was not very alert to the social forces that provided whites easy access to opportunities while at the same time restricting—sometimes suppressing—that access to blacks.

My children were on the front lines every day when they went to school, whereas I always seemed to hold back a little from the action. My circle of friends included people who took a more active role than I did, and for their courage and strong witness I give thanks.

As the 1960s play out again in America’s memory, it is time to honor the memory of the many people who led that struggle. While remembering, we can be allowed to acknowledge than an even larger number of people of both races have learned during this half century to live our way into a new America—an America that even now is still struggling against old racist attitudes and practices as though all we’ve gone through meant nothing.

There still is hope that America will become a pluralistic society, where all kinds of people live together in freedom and with opportunity.

Riding the Portland (Metric) Century

August 20, 2013
Portland Century Map

Portland Century Map

I almost didn’t do the ride. My night-before jitters were intensified when I studied the route that was posted online. It was as bad as a Google Maps bike route: two tenths of a mile this way, a few hundred yards that way, maybe half a mile on a road going straight.

To make sense of the route, I studied a cycling map of Washington County through which much of the ride would take us. Some of the twisting seemed reasonable, but the Century’s posted route appeared to be even more complicated. One thing was clear: the small bag on my classic Mercian bicycle didn’t have adequate display space for the map and route list I would need.

After deciding that I would take my new Davidson with the large bag, and my good (and heavy) lock in case I got lost and had to put in the miles on my own, I went to bed, hoping that I could sleep. Three or four times I woke up with anxiety dreams, and at 5:00 I got up in order to leave home at 6:00 to ride down to the start at Portland State University.

Start at PSUIn the late 1940s, I ran cross country on Lincoln High School’s team: up and down through the South Park Blocks that now are the heart of the PSU campus. Registration lines, bike parking facilities, and food tables (with Starbucks coffee) were all set up. Cyclists everywhere. Bright music in the air.

One of the staff assured me that the route was well marked with bright pink Ps and arrows pointing the direction we should go. The first eight miles were simple and familiar, since I’ve been traveling on them for most of my life.

As soon as I started, I began to relax. Being on the bike helped, but from the beginning the pink Ps pointed the way—Broadway to Terwilliger Boulevard, to Barbur past the Fred Meyer store, up the hill to the new Safeway, and then westward on Multnomah Boulevard.

Still Green OregonAt SW 71st Avenue, the twisting and turning started. We worked our way around the edges of Tigard and Beaverton, and through the middle of the retirement communities of Summerfield and King City. On SW Beef Bend Road, we slipped past the urban growth boundary into the luscious agricultural region of the Willamette Valley. A few fields were still green, but more had recently been combined to harvest this year’s wheat crop, and vineyards were all around. Along the way, farms offered peaches, blue berries, and other produce for sale.

I could always see riders up ahead. They and the pink Ps were such good guides that I didn’t need a map—not even once. The little bag on the Mercian bike would have been all that I needed!

At the first split, where the 50-milers headed back toward the city and the 70- and 100-milers kept going, I found myself surrounded by many more cyclists than had been the case earlier in the ride. Most of them were riding in clusters that were ready to push up the pace. Finding one group going a little faster than my comfort zone, I fell in behind.

The gal just ahead, who was riding in her husband’s slipstream, said it was OK to tag along. The next 20 miles rolled along on long stretches of well-traveled country roads, on the edge of Sherwood, through Scholls, and around Hillsboro.

After the 100-milers split away to wander around Forest Grove, the rest of us turned back toward the city on West Union Road. Crossing the urban growth boundary, we had to share the road with ever-denser traffic, except for jaunts through residential enclaves and bike trails. I finished my 68.5-mile metric century in five hours of elapsed time, with an on-the-bike average of 14.01 miles per hour.

The “gourmet dinner”—grilled chicken breast, sirloin steak, grilled asparagus, and cake—was a fine conclusion to the morning’s swift ride. The canopy of ancient trees in the Park Blocks provided shade from the bright summer’s sun and the temperature that had not yet broken out of the 70s.

The music accompanying my feast was just right, not so very loud but with a bounce, a fine sound for a tired octogenarian with tastes for the old-timey. If only I had done the ride on my Mercian!

Old man on an old bike: Doing the Portland Century

August 14, 2013
Ready to Ride

Ready to Ride

I’ve spent the summer building up strength for the Portland Century, one of the premier bicycle tours in this part of the country. It takes place August 18 and this year follows a new route. Starting at Portland State University in the city’s cultural district, cyclists will ride through the southwestern hinterlands, as far away as Forest Grove.

My plan is to bike the ten miles from home to the start, do the 70-mile version, and then bike back home again. Ninety miles is close enough to the full century to satisfy my desires for a day on the road. The elevation gain of 3,947 feet will add to the feeling that there’s been plenty of good cycling.

I’ve decided to use my 40-year-old Mercian bicycle for the day’s event. It’s a classic English hand-built bicycle, with ornate lugs and beautiful workmanship throughout. The paint scrapes and a few other signs indicate that this machine has had a vigorous life. Twice, it has carried me across the United States, and there have been many other shorter journeys with just the two of us.

Since the Mercian has been languishing in my condo storage area for several months, it’s taking a little effort to get it back into good running order. The tires are fine and everything seems to be working. Later this week, I’ll take it into the shop to have the gears adjusted. The obsolete Campy racing triple with eight-speed cassette has never shifted very well, but I can climb almost anything I come to.

Today, Michael at the bike shop figured out a way to mount a lightweight handlebar bag and he supplied the battery to reenergize an old Cateye wireless computer. Although I feel more road buzz on the Mercian than I do while riding my year-old Davidson titanium, I feel alive on the old bike and look forward to spending a day riding it through a part of the country that I’ve loved since we first came here more than 70 years ago.

Why ride this old bicycle when I have a new bicycle of modern design? Here are some reasons:

Beautiful LugsFor old times sake! We’ve traveled 100,000 miles together, and I hope that we can keep going a while longer.

To show that classic designs and traditional lightweight steel frames are viable ways of building bikes. Although carbon fiber seems to dominate the bicycle shops today, high quality steel bikes continue to provide fine rides. With a little care, these bicycles will last a lifetime.

To help make up my mind whether to have this bicycle restored and equipped to accommodate my aging capabilities. Because the Mercian was modified several years ago, it will never be like it was when I bought it new. It can, however, be retrofitted with components that will be similar to those of early years, and new paint can make it beautiful again.

I don’t intend to hang it on the wall as sculpture, however. If I spend money on the old Mercian, the reason will be to extend its life as a bicycle for serious touring.

There’s little to do about the fact that the bicycle rider has white hair, flabby muscles, and an unsteady walking gait. The Mercian, however, can be made to look and act as though it were young again.

Mercian Bicycle


Race, religion, and old-style ecumenism

August 10, 2013

Brandon“Old-style ecumenism” refers to several modes of inter-church activity that dominated Christian unity conversations throughout the twentieth century. The culmination of this approach to overcoming church divisions in the United States was the Consultation on Church Union, a serious effort to unite nine Protestant churches at the center of American culture.

Since 2002, when this forty-year venture came to a close and bequeathed its heritage to a new organization, Churches Uniting in Christ, traditional approaches to Christian unity have languished. I am especially sensitive to this fact since I am in the final stages of writing a book on this subject, with the working title The American Church That Might Have Been: A History of the Consultation on Church Union.

One of the central features of COCU, as this venture is commonly called, was its contribution toward overcoming the history of institutional racism in American culture and in the churches at the center of that culture. Three predominately black Methodist churches were participating members of COCU.

John E. Brandon, a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, served for a time as Associate General Secretary of the Consultation, and a decade later wrote wrote a DMin dissertation at Boston University entitled “Three Black Methodist Churches in the Consultation on Church Union: Problems and Prospects for Union (completed in 1986). Brandon emphasizes the importance of the participation of these churches in COCU when he writes:  “While recognizing the difficulties yet encountered in the union of black churches and white churches, there is no place where the issue of race is faced more squarely than in the Consultation on Church Union.”

In the early 1960s, when COCU was established, the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing. The challenges of racism were increasingly important topics among the churches, including members of the National Council of Churches (NCC), headquartered in New York City. The classic Protestant churches that were developing COCU were also central to the strength of the National Council.

In fact, the NCC assembly in San Francisco that convened in December 1960 was the occasion on which Eugene Carson Black preached the sermon that launched COCU. A notable action of the NCC assembly was that it elected its first lay president: J. Irwin Miller, an industrialist from Columbus, Indiana. Miller and his family in previous generations had been prominent leaders of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which was one of COCU’s participating churches.

During Miller’s presidency of the NCC, he was instrumental in organizing a conference that helped focus the attention of church people upon racism. It was conducted in Chicago January 14–17, 1963, with 657 delegates. In addition to Miller himself, speakers included Abraham J. Heschel, Albert Cardinal Meyer, Rabbi Julius Mark, R. Sargent Shriver, Dr. Franklin Littlell, Very Rev. MSGR John J. Egan, Dr. Daniel Dodson, Rabbi Morris Adler, and Rev. Martin Luther King.

Their speeches and other conference papers were published later that same year under the title Challenge to Religion: Original Essays and an Appeal to the Conscience from the National Conference on Religion and Race (edited by Mathew Ahmann; Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1963).

While giving his full support to developing legislation and specific programs in church and society to combat racism, Miller was especially interested in the spirit that nourishes racism. Two sentences are especially worthy of note:

“We must take care not to arrive at solutions and programs which leave beneath an apparently healed surface remaining germs of the old evil.”

“As always, the task begins with you and me who are not ourselves free from guilt, nor ever without need of rediscovering God’s truth in our own lives.” (Miller’s statements appear on pp. 135–141 of Challenge to Racism.)

In addition to the speeches and documents that were developed within the Consultation on Church Union, several books are shaping my understanding of religion, race, and old-style ecumenism, especially COCU. In addition to the two volumes mentioned above, the following should also be noted:

Burnley, Lawrence A. Q. The Cost of Unity: African-American Agency and Education and the Christian Church, 1865-1914. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2009.

Murray, Peter C. Methodists and the Crucible of Race. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 224.

Sommerville, Raymond R., Jr. An Ex-Colored Church: Social Activism in the CME Church, 1870–1970. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2004.

Watley, William D. Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land: The African-American Churches and Ecumenism. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1993.

Riding an “unridable” bicycle

August 5, 2013
Pedersen Bicycle at Portland Art Museum

Pedersen Bicycle at Portland Art Museum

“But how can anyone ride it?” That’s the question I heard people ask as they stopped at the Sølling Pedersen bicycle on display this summer in “The Art of the Bicycle” at the Portland Art Museum.

The steep upward slope of the saddle strap is one obvious challenge. Another is the ungainly forward thrust of the steering tube and fork. The wispy tubing not even fastened together at some of the junctions is still another part of the puzzle.

Pedersen 2Invented in the 1880s by Danish inventor Mikael Pedersen, this bicycle was designed so that it could fit any riders of any height. A primary factor in the design is the flexible saddle, which was “suspended with a plastic-coated steel cord. When the rider sat down, the bike gained stability as a result of tensile loading on the thin, light tubes” (Cyclopedia: A Century of Iconic Bicycle Design, p. 94).

Nearly a century after this bicycle was first designed, a Danish company developed prototypes, such as the Sølling Pedersen owned by collector Michael Embacher and part of the 40-bicycle display in Portland. Although the drop handlebars and other components are of modern design, the main characteristics of Pedersen’s bicycle remain.

So does the question of how it rides.

Jan Heine, Seattle cycling expert, provides an answer in the August 2010 issue of his magazine Bicycle Quarterly. While visiting a friend in Chicago, he rode a 1980s replica of a Cheltenham Pedersen. This model more closely reproduces the early 1900s Dursley Pedersen touring bike, which was the model that the inventor manufactured after moving to England.

Heine reports that it took the better part of an hour to adjust the tension of the saddle, which on the model he rode was a woven basket rather than leather as on the model exhibited in Portland.

At the first stoplight, he was reminded that on the Pedersen there is no standover clearance. This fact, along with “the relatively high bottom bracket. . .meant a complete dismount to one side of the bike at every traffic light.“

He found, however, that once underway the Pedersen “offered a delightful ride.” The saddle swung slightly from side to side and quickly became comfortable. “And then, the Pedersen just wanted to go. Like my favorite bikes, it beckoned me to go faster. With every increase in effort, the bike accelerated with alacrity” (p. 35).

After an hour’s ride, Heine understood how Pedersens used to set speed records.

He reports that the bicycle handled very well. He could sit upright, fold his arms, and ride comfortably along a Chicago street.

Even on my modern bikes, that’s something I can’t do.

Note: In this same issue of Bicycle Quarterly, Heine also published a review of Mr. Pedersen: A Man of Genius by David Evans. Cyclopedia, the book mentioned earlier in this blog, is a beautifully illustrated catalog of Embacher’s collection of bicycles which he maintains in Vienna.

Museum Display