Man cycling toward Portland from Beaverton. Photo © Naomi Fast

Another Beautiful Jicks Song

This post is a curation of bike lane related topics, news and commentary, quoted from articles around the web. After this intro, I suggest first reading the content all the way through, without clicking any links, then going back to take a look at articles that grab you.

The inspiration for this post was a new song called Bike Lane, released last month by Californian-turned-Portlander Stephen Malkmus. I’d never heard of him before, despite going to tons of rock shows in Portland, but it turns out he’s been around awhile. I admire any artist with his success & longevity, but can’t speak to the quality of his work, which I don’t know. But there are fresh reviews of his latest album. I read as many as I could click.

I suppose it could have been something they read in the press kit, but it appears reviewers don’t spend much time riding bikes for transportation, nor do they know much about the complex & socially holistic efforts of bicycle advocacy. Approximately all of them seem to think the “beautiful bike lane” is the main antagonist in the song, although Malkmus sings it was, “the cops, the cops that killed Freddie.”

One thinks of de Beauvoir and Sartre’s existentialist concept of “Bad Faith.” When “bad faith” is externalized, it’s rather obvious. It is often attacked, & seen as harmful, dangerous, even criminal. But this “denial of freedom” happens more subtly, too, through projection onto carefully or carelessly chosen scapegoats. (We human beings have such issues.)

Speaking of human beings, it’s important to distinguish here between art & art’s makers. This is a song I’m talking about, & to an extent its reviewers’ interpretations, not its frontman. That’s not to say artists don’t get a thrill from talking about, explaining, or promoting their art. It’s not to say fans don’t hang on their every word. But art, poetry, a song, a painting—it is its own thing, living its own existence separate from its creator.

That said, fans & listeners of the song Bike Lane, a political song, have an action to do. Right? What is it? Is it to stop advocating for bike lanes? Reviewers’ reading bike lanes as simultaneously antagonistic and “trivial” means… what, exactly?

When I read the lyrics, to me it seems the song’s imagining its same cops would ride on bike lanes in their down time. That well could be; some engineers who design & build seven-lane car arterials bike in their downtime, too. The song makes no suggestion Freddie Gray may also have ridden a bicycle, nor does it hint at the lack of bike lanes in the area he was arrested (a universal & challenging problem of inequitable city planning & policy, including in Portland). We do know Gray was fatally injured inside a transport van. His violent death was referenced in several songs prior to the Jicks’ anthem, as Wikipedia notes.

Before I’d yet heard the song, one Jicks fan suggested to me that Bike Lane is a “suburban companion” to the song/video, “This is America.” That instantly struck me as wrong. The idea that the work by artist Donald Glover, performing as Childish Gambino, requires a “translation” for people “in the suburbs” is part of a larger problem. I want to listen to & hear This is America directly, not through the filter of a suburban indie rock band.

In fact, I’d already begun a relationship with This is America. Maybe because I don’t own a car, when watching the official video I had to ask: What’s the significance of the set being what, to me, looks like the interior of a parking garage? What’s the symbolism of dancing upon cars, as we hear the lyric, “get your money”? A girl with long brown hair rides a bike through. A couple of chickens. A guy on a white horse passes by. It begins with a man playing acoustic guitar, & the lyric, “We just…” I’m still reflecting on all this.

A bike lane, I’ll posit, is just a bike lane. Not all of them are so beautiful. But they’re better than nothing. So then—what is a bike lane, really? When did laws start requiring bike lanes, along with sidewalks, to now be built on new roads? And who really uses them?

I gathered the content below to help begin an answer, sort of a Bike Lanes 101 course syllabus. It may or may not be what’s discussed on all bike forums. It’s meant to be a survey, by no means exhaustive, into the depth & range of the battle for “bike lanes,” which is really a fight for our lives, for safe, equitable & accessible transportation choice, and for freedom from forced car ownership. This is a worldwide effort; I happen to be living in a country with brute & violent origins, systemic hostilities paved in, and some of the most widespread sanctuary for The Car.


“Over 3,400 people die on the world’s roads every day and tens of millions of people are injured or disabled every year. Children, pedestrians, cyclists and older people are among the most vulnerable of road users.”

                                                —World Health Organization


Looking down at a freeway through a chain link fence
Freeway through chain link & top feature photo above of person cycling in the suburbs of Beaverton are both © Naomi Fast


Oregon State Legislature, 2018: “The thing that we’re seeing that is somewhat concerning—& this is not unique to Oregon—is in the transportation sector; particularly in the last few years, we’re seeing transportation greenhouse gas emissions rise, fairly substantially.” —Richard Whitman, Director, OR Dept. of Environmental Quality, testifying before the Joint Interim Committee On Carbon Reduction

Indiegogo: The Surprising Promise of Bicycling in America: “Things look even better for the future as more recognize the value of the bike as a tool for optimism to create better communities.”

Boston Globe, 2018: “If Fitts’s callousness about killing a man was jaw-dropping, his ideas about driving were considerably less so. If anything, he gave voice to the unstated attitude that too many of us adopt behind the wheel: No one else matters, and get the hell out of my way.”

Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, 2017: “Too many Philadelphians are being killed on our streets. The city’s Vision Zero policy needs to create higher quality, safer, bike lanes, faster. […] The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and 5th Square will host a candlelight vigil for the victim… all are welcome to attend. Update: There will be another action tomorrow morning at 7:30am to form a human-protected bike lane on the street where the cyclist was killed.”

Human Protected Bike Lane, Queens 2018 (click for video)

Human Protected Bike Lane, Seattle 2018 (click for post)

Human Protected Bike Lane, Mexico City, 2017 (click for video)

Human Protected Bike Lane, #VallaCiclista (click for video/podcast in Spanish)

Human Protected Bike Lane, 5th Ave New York, 2017 (click for video)

Human Protected Bike Lane, Portland 2017 (click for video)

City Lab, 2017: “These cyclists are so happy to see friendly faces in the morning, and also to have that bumper from moving traffic,” Macartney Morris, an organizer with Transportation Alternatives, tells Clarence Eckerson, Streetfilms director. When the New York City DOT painted a new lane on 18-block strip of Manhattan’s Second Avenue last year, it was a huge improvement on the spotty sharrows that were there before. But it was a promise only partly fulfilled.”

Streetsblog Chicago, 2017: “In response to the concerns of Reed and other leaders, Active Trans director Ron Burke announced that the summit had been postponed and apologized for “mistakes in how the event was rolled out.” [Hot off the presses is this Streetsblog Chicago article reporting how bike ticketing for things like sidewalk riding is being used by police to conduct unwarranted frisks. Community responses include the formation of groups like Equiticity, which works toward racial equity, increased mobility, and racial justice.]

ScienceDaily, 2018: “Worries about the extra time needed to walk or bike to work is a big reason people hop into their cars for their daily commute, but walking or biking probably wouldn’t take as long as they think, according to researchers.”

Slow Roll Chicago, 2017: “Yes, The Slow Roll Chicago Bicycle Movement entirely agrees with Professor [Charles] Brown. Vision Zero Chicago, especially its police traffic enforcement strategy, and the City of Chicago’s commitment to equity and justice are all matters of life or death here in Chicago.”

CBS News, Georgia, 2012: The initial move to charge Nelson, the grieving mother devastated by her son’s death, struck many as overreach. She was charged after A.J. was struck by a van as they jaywalked across a busy five-lane road in suburban Atlanta, and the case against her sparked outrage from activists who flooded the judge’s office with letters and gathered thousands of signatures on an online petition to support her.”

Vox, 2015, The forgotten history of how automakers invented the crime of “jaywalking”: “It’s actually the result of an aggressive, forgotten 1920s campaign led by auto groups and manufacturers that redefined who owned the city streets.”

Community Health Activist & Professor Lawrence Brown:

News Medical Life Sciences, 2018: “Taking the bus is a whole lot safer than taking the car – and it’s also safer for cyclists and pedestrians who take the same routes, according to a new study”, 2018: “A recent study suggests that racial and gender income inequality can be at least partly addressed by expanding transportation opportunities beyond the automobile.”

SoundEar, 2018: “Road traffic noise can lead to several health issues, ranging from a sensation of discomfort to, in the worst of cases, leading to death.”

US withdraws from climate change mitigation agreement, Wikipedia: “While celebrated by some members of the Republican Party,[7] international reactions to the withdrawal were overwhelmingly negative from across the political spectrum, and the decision received substantial criticism from religious organizations, businesses, political leaders, environmentalists, and scientists and citizens from the United States and abroad”

European Environment Agency, 2017: “Noise from road traffic alone is the second most harmful environmental stressor in Europe, behind air pollution.”

People For Bikes, 2013: “Whites and Latinos now bike at the same level on overall trips but slightly more Latinos commute to work by bike, according to Census figures. Native Americans bike the most of all racial groups. […] Nationally, African Americans suffer a bike fatality rate 30 percent higher than for whites, according to the Centers for Disease Control; for Latinos it is 23 percent higher.”

Pacific Standard, 2018: “The government’s energy regulator is facing allegations of cherry-picking data to approve pipeline projects that would disproportionately harm communities of color.”

Open access Online Library, 2017: “Businesses in the transportation sector are particularly targeted by demands for climate change action, as the sector accounts for 22% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions”

Johannesburg, 2017: “The introduction of bike lanes garnered more outrage than support. Some opponents asked how the city could spend money on bike lanes in the face of other, more pressing needs. It was suggested that bicycle lanes were a luxury for the rich – even though most people who use bicycles to commute fall into lower income brackets. Wealthier people generally don’t use bicycles for transport, even when travelling short distances. This argument succeeded., Queens NY 2018: “Adam Gordon, a Sunnyside resident and teacher at Maspeth High School said that the reason he opposed the bike lanes was that “bike lanes exacerbate gentrification.” Gordon mentioned that “research and facts” show that when bike lanes are built in neighborhoods, rents go up, families get displaced and people are forced to get rid of their cars. […] Morris pleaded with the board to take action. “People are dying, please save them,” he said. But one elderly woman standing in the back of the room yelled, “I don’t care about cyclists, I care about myself” — a remark met with applause and cheers from the anti-bike lane side.”

Allan Mallach, Shelterforce: Hung Up on Gentrification? Don’t Be – 2013: “Finally, though, I am deeply skeptical about “social ownership” of any neighborhood by any racial, ethnic, social, or economic group. Neighborhoods in the United States are constantly changing, and the group (however defined) that lives in an area today is likely to have displaced some other group, which displaced a yet earlier group, and so forth as long as the neighborhood has been around. The specter of governmentally-enforced racial segregation is not such an ancient memory that we should seriously contemplate using any form of public power to create or enforce neighborhood entitlements, no matter for whom.”

Oregonlive, 2018: “Racial covenants like the one on Guss Darwich’s home have been legally unenforceable for decades, but they still exist in property records. Some are even more explicit, listing—sometimes in offensive or antiquated terms—races or ethnic groups excluded from the neighborhood. And removing racial covenants is a difficult and expensive process, so most remain as a reminder of how segregation shaped modern-day Portland.”

Index to Oregon Donation Land Claim Records: “The following paragraphs are quoted from the Oregon Donation Land Law which was approved by the Federal Government Sept, 27, 1850. […] Sec. 5- And be it further enacted That to all white male citizens of the United States, or persons who shall have made declaration of intention to become such, above the age of 21 years, emigrating to and settling in said Territory between the 1st Day of December 1850 and…”

Johannesburg, South Africa, 2016: “The designers and promoters of the bike lanes, however, see them far differently: as an attempt to use transportation policy to right history’s wrongs and stitch together a divided city […] the primary beneficiaries they envisioned were the city’s poor — people such as Mathe, who bikes 20 miles a day, seven days a week, simply because he can’t afford anything else.

“This is not a political question,” said Ismail Vadi, who runs the provincial transportation department. “It’s about how we create sustainable, livable cities before it’s too late.”

CNN, “Seville vs. Amsterdam,” 2015: “Did we mention that less than a decade ago barely anyone cycled in Seville?”

Slate, 2012: “In America a pedestrian is someone who has just parked their car.”

The Guardian, 2016: “Before taking his PhD at Berkeley, Stehlin worked in a bicycle shop in Philadelphia for four years. “There was a disconnect between what you heard in the press about bicycling being this young, white hip thing, and the people actually coming into the shop. Our shop served a lot of low income immigrants who didn’t speak English,” he recalls. […] Improved cycling facilities have given poorer residents greater access to transport, says Munk. “Some 60% of residents have no access to a car.”

New Republic, 2014: “…for the first time, more of the minority population in the nation’s largest metropolitan areas lives in the suburbs than in the city.”

CBS News, 2016: “Even when there’s no overt discrimination, there are other stress factors, Berube claimed. Poor people who’ve moved to the suburbs tend to be farther away from their jobs, and in many areas where public transportation is poor; there are few ways to make the connections needed to get there.”

Chicago Reader, 2016: “In some respects, of the four fatal bike crashes that happened in Chicago within the space of about two months this summer, the death of 58-year-old North Lawndale resident Francisco “Frank” Cruz was the most disturbing. [Witness La’Kesha Montgomery] said she found Cruz’s cell phone in the street and used it to notify his relatives before giving it to one of the responding police officers.” May 2018 was the hottest of any May in 124 years of record keeping for the continental United States, eclipsing the extreme heat of that month in the 1930s during the Dust Bowl era.

KATU Portland, 2018: “[Chase Bank] is contributing in huge ways to environmental destruction, and for the sake of our children, our grandchildren, for the sake of life on earth in the future, we think you ought to think about moving that money,” said Michael Hall of 350 PDX.”

LA Times, 2018, California’s gas tax hike cost a lawmaker his job: “Republican leaders behind the recall measure said Wednesday that the ouster of Newman provides momentum to repeal the gas tax.”

NPR, 2013: “Right. Well, energy subsidies are often defended as a way to help the poor. But actually they don’t really target the poor. Think of it this way: If you’re poor and you don’t own a car, and you don’t have an air conditioner, and the government subsidizes energy, electricity and gasoline, you don’t get much benefit. If you live in the same country and you’re rich, and you have two or three cars and five air-conditioners, you get a big benefit.”

Freedom Concepts: “Freedom — it means something different to everyone all over the world. At Freedom Concepts, it means “Creating a cycle of mobility.” Founded in 1991 by Ken Vanstraelen, Freedom Concepts has been imagining, designing, and building a full line of special needs bicycles and mobility devices for over twenty years.”

Co-Founder, Slow Roll Chicago: “I will always believe in our mission to connect a diverse group of people who utilize bikes and the activity of cycling as vehicles for social justice and social change, transforming lives and improving the condition of our communities by organizing community bicycle rides and other cycling-related programs throughout Chicago.” —Olatunji Oboi Reed

European Cyclists Federation, Brussels, Belgium – Safety in Numbers: “In a study of 115 cities in the US and Denmark, as well in 14 European countries, it was found that motorists are less likely to hit cyclists and pedestrians when there are more people cycling or walking […] The relationship between the number of cyclists and the number of casualties among cyclists involved in car accident is inverse.”

Billboard Interview with indie rock musician Stephen Malkmus, 2018:
Malkmus: “‘Beautiful bike lane’ rolls off the tongue and it’s something comic about being pissed off about your cohorts whining on bike lane forums. A small, not important problem […]” 
Joe Lynch:
“Yeah I got the sense of contrasting the absurdity of being upset about one thing when other much worse things are going on.”

Urban Dictionary, 6th definition: “Fred n. 1) a person who spends a lot of money on his bike and clothing”

WHO: Each year, 1.25 million people die as a result of road traffic crashes and as many as 50 million people are injured. They are the leading cause of death among people aged 15-29 years. Nearly half (49%) of the people who die on the world’s roads are pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. In addition to the grief and suffering they cause, road traffic crashes constitute an important public health and development problem with significant health and socioeconomic costs. Much is known about preventing road traffic deaths and injuries. Based on this knowledge, a road safety technical package has been developed to support decision-makers and practitioners in their efforts towards reducing road traffic deaths and injuries and achieving the Sustainable Development Goal targets 3.6 and 11.2.

Save LIVES: a road safety technical package:

Esquire: “On Bike Lane, [Malkmus] juxtaposes the death of Freddie Gray—who died in 2015 while in police custody in Baltimore—with the trivial concerns of bike lanes.”

Save LIVES report: “Put in place bicycle and motorcycle lanes.”

US Energy Information Administration, 2017: “U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the transportation sector reached 1,893 million metric tons (MMmt) from October 2015 through September 2016, exceeding electric power sector CO2 emissions of 1,803 MMmt over the same time period.”

Stephen Malkmus in May 2018 interview: “Have you ever looked on these bike lane forums? They’re intense. It’s like, real tears, and a lot of anger is vented, and passive-aggression, but also positivity, and good things. Change happens […] It was like, what are you into, if you’re just caring about the bike lane so much?”

Bob Boilen, NPR Music (scroll to bottom of NPR page to hear entire song): “This song: beautiful bike lane, then we talk about the death of Freddie Gray, and I’m trying to come to terms with it…”

David Young, “Malkmus uses Gray’s story to contrast the concerns of the socially-conscious white middle classes—luxuries like the provision of bike lanes—with those of the Black community—incompetent, brutal police. For an added layer of irony, the officers who arrested Gray were riding bikes when they first saw him. It’s admirable that Malkmus wants to confront the complacency of his own community, but it’s debatable whether he fully succeeds. He infantilises Gray – “Sweet little Freddie Gray” – and casts him as doomed to an early death – “his life expectancy was max. 25”. I don’t think this a helpful or accurate characterisation of Black Americans, and focussing on Gray’s early death as something inevitable rather than a preventable and unacceptable decimation of potential is surely wrong.”

kate h, forum: “To say nothing of the state’s violence in the unchecked cops. And in the face of that, sure, other activist issues might plausibly be regarded as frivolous, even indulgent, petty, silly, and most of all, unconnected to a bigger story, to some possibly palpable whole.

But then I wonder why?”

Inside Climate News, 2017: “Oil is now in the Dakota Access pipeline under the Missouri River, half a mile north of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota. The pipeline will soon begin operating despite a year of sometimes violent protests by thousands of native and non-native demonstrators, who fear a spill from the pipeline polluting the reservation’s water supply.”

TriplePundit, 2018: Buried under the headlines of tax reform and of course, holiday distractions, came some big news from the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA): after years of power generation emitting the most carbon in the U.S., that badge is now worn by the country’s transportation sector.”

Oregonlive, with quotes from Portland Art Museum director Brian Ferriso about a 2nd car exhibit in 2018: “The Allure of the Automobile” exhibition in 2011, which Gross also curated, saw more than 100,000 visitors to the Portland Art Museum. But more important than breaking attendance records, says Ferriso, was the cars’ lingering impact.”

AAA Newsroom, 2017: “One month after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, motorists are finally seeing consistent declines in gas prices.”

Tualatin Valley, Our Oregon: “Now that you’ve had your Beaverton fun, hop in the car and head to nearby Tigard*—the Festival of Balloons is ready for you!”

*Tigard is: “Striving to become the most walkable city in the Pacific Northwest”

Next City, 2017: “The benefits to the community of closing off the right of way are undetermined at best, and I’m disappointed that we’re not able to get to more of a win-win situation.” —Amanda Fritz, on the Portland Art Museum taking and enclosing what was previously an open-air promenade available to all.

Grist, 2017 – Meet 8 black leaders who are reshaping the climate movement: “I am now inspired by others who have been advocating at the intersection of environmental and social issues  —  those deeply ingrained in identity politics and systematic inequity. Not only do we need to reform how we interact with our environment, but we need to reform how we interact with each other.” —Marcus Franklin

Alan Durning, in Sightline’s Bicycle Neglect series, 2007: “I see my own reaction—blaming myself exclusively—as a symptom of a North American condition: Car-head. Unintentionally and even unknowingly, we see the world as if through a windshield. We evaluate our surroundings as if from the driver’s seat (obstacles to speed? places to park?). We consider “automobile” almost a synonym for “transportation.”  And we consider such thinking utterly normal.”

A look at what IS working – Video via “And people. People means a place is working. What we just need to do now is get that street traffic, make it so it’s more inviting to bicyclists, so get some cycle tracks there, maybe have some bus only lanes…” Lark Lo, narrator.

BlackGirlsDoBike.Com, National: “A BGDB Shero steps forward to be the positive, encouraging and inclusive voice and leads the way. She’s got to be in love with cycling and have a strong desire to share her passion for cycling with others. Share your ideas, ask for feedback and be open to new ideas. Cycling experience and the ability to change a flat tire is a plus.”

Cultural Survival, 2018: “We Rise is an examination of the failure of current world leaders to solve the climate change crisis while positioning the creativity and passion of youth as a solution for the future.”

VICE video profile, YouTube, 2016: “Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh is a 15-year-old environmental activist who is traveling to Eugene Oregon to sue the U.S. government over the issue of climate change. Xiuhtezcatl, along with 20 other young people, claim the government has ignored climate science for too long and their lawsuit demands that nation wide action take place in order to stop climate change. Before the hearing VICE travels to Xiuhtezcatl’s home in Boulder CO to learn about who he is and why he represents the next generation of environmental warriors.”

“If someone’s an artist, you know, paint us a picture of the world you wanna see.”

—Xiuhtezcatl, NBC Interview