Tuesday, October 15, 2013

More about Portland: Driving

Something I just realized about Portland: driving here can be pretty hairy, or scary.  This surprises me because I think of Portland as an easy place to get around in, what with bikes, and trolleys and pedestrian lanes and suchlike.  And to be fair, lots of Portland are just fine.  But in close to downtown, and on the east side--well, two problems.

One: the river.  True, lots of cities have rivers--that's why the cities are there.  But think of St. Louis, or Sacramento: there's  river, alright, but all the action takes place on one side of the river.  The other side is just bordellos and meth labs.  Not so Portland.  Here there is action on both sides of the river, and they are deeply entangled.  And it seems like everybody has a story about how they had to cross three different bridges to get from an address on the west side to one on the east (I have no idea how this works, but I hear it).  And on either side, you can get into godawful tangles as you try to weave your way through what seems like a highly improvisational pattern of intersections.  Go left.  Now go right.  No, left, left.  Now, don't move....  I suppose if you do this as an every day as a commute, you get used to it,  but as the occasional visitor, it seems like a Mensa test, or some kind of device for testing mental acuity among the elderly.

That's one problem.  But the other problem is the stuff they brag about: the public transport, and the pedestrians, and the bikes.    I feel like a whiner for complaining: for most of my adult life I have been an out-of-the-closet pedestrian, and I own a bike (although in fairness, I haven't been riding a lot lately).  And I'm one of the new people I know who actually likes to ride the bus.

But riding them is one thing: sharing space is another.  Where ever I go here, seems like I am always getting entangled in some kind of bus-only lane:  worse, with one bus in front of me and one behind. These guys may be eco-friendly but they  can't build up much compassion for the cars that stumble into their lane.

Bikes and pedestrians are a different problem.  The city is boiling with bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly crossings.  Bully for them.  But hitting a pedestrian--or a bike--is a bummer for all concerned.  Hit a Hummer, he may not even notice.  Hit a pedestrian--well, you get the idea.

I'll grant that the bikers, at least, are moderately conscientious about staying in lane and, perhaps more important, suiting up with Da-Glo colors. Truth is, I  can't think of any city in America where I have seen so many innovative bike safety devices.

That's most of them.  Maddeningly, there still seems to be a minority who feel free pedal around at night without a light and in a black raincoat.  Them and the pedestrians: what I think we are seeing here is a sense of entitlement coupled with an extraordinary presumption of trust--trust that I, for example, while not simply turn sociopath and ice them off the planet.   Still a nice city though.  And I suppose what I'm saying is that I'm getting at least as much of an adrenaline rush from driving as I would if I walked.

Update:  Yes, Oregon. Should have said.

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