Sh*t or Get Off the Squat Pot
Ahhh, Portlandia. Whenever I am feeling cheeky—which is most of the time—I cannot refer to my hometown by her real name, but instead automatically default to the nickname given her after the IFC hit comedy show starring Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein.
Anyone who’s lived here long knows the TV show is really not stranger than fiction; it’s damn near a documentary. I love/hate this about Portland. After all, there is never a dull moment in this city where bearded hipsters with neck tattoos and vaping, semi-retired baristas are the ruling class. The DIY renaissance is alive and well in Portland.
We are a city of trend setters, too. And what do you get when you combine trendsetting and do-it-yourselfing? You get squat toilets. In fact, after an article about squat toilets appeared in the local tabloid this week, I predict we will see squat toilets popping up at trendy, overpriced lumbersexual joints like Old Salt and Beam and Anchor.
All teasing aside, squat toilets truly are “the shit”, to put it coarsely. I first encountered a squat toilet while traveling through the South of France, and while the public commodes were often filthy, they were less worrisome to me than many American public toilets. I mean think about it, ladies. You’ll never have to touch another toilet seat! In fact, once places start installing squat toilets I may never poop at home again.
What does any of this have to do with bikes? I’ll get there in just a minute, but first I need to wax appreciative of my fair city. Because as much as I like to poke fun at her—so much low-hanging fruit—Portland is a gem of an urban environment in many ways.
For one thing, she is gorgeous. Emerald green all spring and summer, with incredible city view, and show-stopper urban and private gardens. With the rugged Oregon Coast to the West and the majestic Columbia Gorge to the north and east, not to mention snow-capped volcanoes providing stunning views year-round, she’s cradled in some of Mother Nature’s finest geography. Urban architecture lovers dig on the cities numerous beautiful bridges. And even though Portland has lost her crown to New York as the most bikecentric city in the country, there is still plenty to appreciate here in terms of bicycle infrastructure…except when it comes to mountain biking.
See, Portland has about a whopping six miles of legal singletrack up her skirts. Pittsburgh, PA has more off-road trails for urban dwellers to get at. So do cities like Boise, Vancouver BC, and Fort Collins. According to Velo Cult shop owner, Sky Boyer, even Los Angeles—Boyer’s childhood stomping grounds—offer hundreds of miles of singletrack tucked into the canyons around and throughout LA.
Not to flog an analogy to death, but for a city which is regarded nationally as a gateway to the rugged Pacific Northwest, this is crap. And it stinks.
The Northwest Trail Alliance (formerly Portland Urban Mountain Pedalers, or PUMP)is working hard to change that. The all-volunteer advocacy group works tirelessly to advocate for more and better trails within the urban growth boundaries. The very visible work the group does is evident at every trail work party in the region, when hundreds of members show up, shovels in hand, for trail building and maintenance.
What most people don’t see is the very unglamorous, unsexy work the NWTA does, tirelessly attending city planning meetings, talking to council members, department managers and anyone in local government they can reach. Hundreds of hours each year are logged in these bureaucratic activities for which advocates receive little recognition and almost no thanks.
About a year ago I stepped up from my peripheral involvement to offer the group my digital media, communications and marketing expertise. I was able to see more closely the intense commitment and dedication these folks bring to their mission. In 2014 we grew membership to just under 1000 members and rallied record numbers of local mountain bikers to attend important public meetings. Advocacy for any cause is a dirty job, but someone—actually everyone who’s a stakeholder—has got to do it.
This week the NWTA delivered a petition with over 2,500 signatures of local riders, requesting a citywide Off-Road Cycling Master Plan be implemented. Commissioner Fritz herself said this step was necessary before the city could allocate resources to building, upgrading or adding off-road access in Portland city limits.
From those of us over here at the Ümabomber Intergalactic Headquarters, we’d like to just put it a little more succinctly:
Portlandia, when it comes to urban off-road cycling access, it’s time to shit or get off the pot.