On a muggy afternoon in Portland’s Laurelhurst Park, musician and pickle enthusiast Steve Chesborough stands under a shady tree looking for cyclists. He’s nervous because he’s organized a ‘Picklepalooza’ bike ride under the Portland Pedalpalooza cycling program — and so far nobody’s turned up.
“Are you here for the pickling ride?” he asks two cyclists, who nod. “Oh good. This is it!”
As people show up he relaxes and explains that for him, bicycling and pickling are inextricably linked, “Rather than accept a corporation’s pickle, make your own. Rather than accept a corporate way of getting around by buying oil and cars and insurance, just get a bicycle.”
He’s not alone in his beliefs. More than a dozen people turn up for his ride, where they’ll have a pickle picnic and drop in on a couple of pickling businesses. The belabored point is that nowadays, people are jumping on their bikes for any reason. Over the last week, thousands have climbed onto the saddle to do everything from celebrating Star Trek, to crossing bridges and getting naked.
Jonathan Maus the editor of Bike Portland said COVID-19 had everybody dusting off their bikes, “Here’s this thing we can use that can be safely distanced from other people, be a healthy outlet… So all the things that we know that bicycling is so great for, were actually tailor-made for the COVID era.”
At the height of the pandemic, the streets were so full of bikes, the city had to do something. It launched a ‘Slow Streets’ program and put plastic bollards and signs across 100 miles of streets to make them bike and pedestrian-friendly.
“They actually have come back now and fortified those additionally and made them more permanent,” Maus said.
An actual count of the number of bike riders is elusive. Traffic engineers tend to measure car movements, and the pandemic completely changed car and bike commuting. But Maus believes people who’ve embraced bikes during the pandemic, will stay in the saddle.
“Anytime the city does something to dramatically improve streets for people and limit car access…it’s hard to take them back because, guess what, people love having a healthier quieter, more humane way to get around,” Maus said.
The Oregon Department of Transportation just announced $55 million for pedestrian and bike improvements. President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill also contains some big numbers for cycling.
But while Maus welcomes new money, he doesn’t think it’s enough to fundamentally change transportation