Mailbag: People have lots to say about maintaining status quo on the St. Johns Bridge

Mailbag: People have lots to say about maintaining status quo on the St. Johns Bridge

“I understand you’re upset, but don’t make my long commute worse by backing up traffic… You don’t have the right to impede my way home on a public street. Try standing on the sidewalk with signs regarding your concerns.”
— Email to BikePortland about last night’s protest ride on the St. Johns Bridge.

It happens every time there’s a high profile fatality involving a bicycle in Portland: People who never read BikePortland see me talking on the news or read my quotes in articles and they can’t resist giving me a piece of their mind. They will sometimes leave voicemails on our tipline; but they usually email.

The recent fatal collision on the St. Johns Bridge has spurred a lot of local media coverage and as a result my inbox was full of several such emails. It’s one thing when people spout of hate-filled screeds in The Oregonian/OregonLive comments section (a vile place); but it’s much different when they take the time to share their opinion with the local bike blog.

I want to share a few of these emails with you because I feel it’s important that we have a clear understanding where people are coming from when it comes to transportation culture in Portland. Keep in mind, the views expressed from the people below are relatively reasonable compared to anonymous online comments. Also keep in mind that these are the same people who are very likely to take the time to write their elected leaders when a bike-related infrastructure investment or policy is being debated.

As I read the emails (pasted below), here are a few things that stand out:

  • Nothing would have prevented the death of Mitch York.
  • Waiting in traffic is a greater hardship than the emotional loss experienced by injuries and deaths to human beings.
  • The death of Mitch York was an isolated, random thing and the real issue is that some people run through stops signs while biking.
  • An assumption that I’m a “cyclist” so I must never drive a car and I’m incapable of knowing that perspective (neither of which are true).
  • People who primarily drive have a persecution complex and are greatly offended when called out for dangerous and illegal actions by other drivers.
  • There’s a tremendous amount of selfishness and entitlement to road space by people who only drive (as evident in phrases like, “my commute,” “my way home”).
  • Any improvement of cycling access on the bridge is simply ridiculous and impossible.

Here they are (I’ve taken names off of them because I want us to focus on the content, not on the people who wrote them):

Mr. Maus,

The horrific tragedy on the SJ bridge would NOT have been prevented by a bike lane! This awful tragedy was the result of egregious recklessness on the part of the driver; he would have killed the cyclist no matter what. Further, the SJ bridge is cluttered with cars and semi-trailers and the notion that 2 lanes should be removed for bikes is LAUGHABLE. It is the lone entry point into and out of that area of the peninsula; it cannot accommodate the loss of 2 lanes! Have you ever traversed it during rush hour? I am certain you haven’t. No one who must drive it for work should be required to endure even longer waits. Not everyone bikes, Mr. Maus; your one-stop solutions to every tragedy involving a cyclist are absurd. And this horrific loss of life is not solved by your shouting from every rooftop about more rights for those who bike; it reduces the degree to which anyone with half a brain takes you seriously. I am genuinely saddened by the death of Mr. York and raising awareness of the importance of automobile operators safely navigating cyclists on the road is commendable. But it would help your cause greatly if you considered alternatives to your singular POV.

Dear Sir,

I understand the need of safety for bicyclists but why always blame motorists. Not all motorists or roadways are problems. I see at least 95% of bikers NEVER use stop signs on bike paths. They expect cars to yield to them – very wrong! Often see bikes disobey traffic devices.

Why does the state or city have to keep providing paths for bikes? Why do taxpayers have to buy and build everything?

Why are bikers not registered with a tag to display on their back so when laws are broken they pay fines? Bikers get hit many times due to their negligence but they will blame automobiles.
I think all bicyclists need to where reflective clothing, have a flag on their bike (the tall orange ones), have liability insurance if they are the reason for an accident, and must display a registration tag on their person so they can be fined (like thru traffic cams) just as a motorist would be. The money they spend for registration should be used for education and building and improving bike lanes/paths.

It is late, and I know I am rambling, but just really tired of motorists blamed for everything. If you would like to actually view the bikes that never stop for stop signs, go to the sellwood bridge where the park is. The intersection by the rxr tracks. I am not b.s.’ing you. If something is said to them, they are verbally rude and will give me the bird.

I have a very long commute that includes the St John’s Bridge. i understand you’re upset, it was a terrible tragedy and luckily they caught the bad driver, but don’t make my long commute worse by backing up traffic, I have never hit a pedestrian or a bicyclist because I pay attention to the road and my surroundings… But Seriously You don’t have the right to impede my way home on a PUBLIC street. Try standing on the sidewalk with signs regarding your concerns

Saddened, embarrassed and shocked that you would try to stop traffic on the St Johns Bridge after the horrible accident that took a bicyclist life. I pray for him and his family every day, but would NEVER take this horrific loss to exploit an unrealistic gain of having dedicated bike lanes on the St. Johns Bridge. The bridge is already dangerous enough with the current traffic flow that it carries and you are proposing to create and even more dangerous environment. WOW, think about it…. it not only would be more dangerous for you who are proposing this but also endanger pedestrians and motorists too, but lets not stop there. It would great such a back up of traffic that the potential outcome of this would endanger St Johns on one side that person living off of streets like Germantown and little surviving towns like Linton.

Instead of thinking all the time of ONLY YOURSELVES and ones own agendas how about thinking of the greater good instead of selfish selfriciousness. You think Causing More turmoil blocking traffic is a smart means of getting your message out. When for anyone with common sense it is not. Adding Potential Life Endangerment is the way to speak out. Well let me say it IS NOT. I have seen it only causes more Pain. What if you had a Mother, Father, Sister, brother, son, or daughter that had a lift threatening emergency to get across that bridge tonight and your protest prohibited that causing their DEATH! HOW WOULD YOU FEEL THEN!!!……………….. think about that

As I’ve been trying to express all week, the issues that led to Mitch York’s death — and to Fallon Smart’s death and to the near-death of Bradley Fortner, and so on — are not just about inadequate infrastructure. These crashes are outcomes of a culture and a transportation system that is failing its most vulnerable users at every level. To make substantive progress on transportation reform, we must dismantle the cultural underpinnings that have allowed opinions as expressed in these emails to be part of the mainstream.

For what it’s worth, I’ve responded to all four of these people. I’ve yet to hear back but will consider sharing the exchange if I do.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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