British architect, journalist, and cyclist Peter Murray has embarked on a bike ride from Portland, Oregon, to Portland Place in London. As he makes the 4,347-mile journey with a rotating group of participants, he plans to survey the state of cycling in American cities, meet up with members of the design community, and raise funds for Architecture for Humanity and U.K. relief organization Article 25.
Along the way, Murray is filing updates about his progress for Architectural Record.
It was over a breakfast meeting with Architectural Record editor in chief Cathleen McGuigan that she told me she knew the intrepid New York Times writer Bruce Weber, who, a few months previously, had cycled 4,100 miles across the United States—for the second time! I was in the process of planning my own route for a similar ride and was keen to seek advice from Bruce.
Through Cathleen’s introduction, we met in a Greenwich Village café and Bruce critiqued my journey plan, which began in Portland Oregon. “Whatever you do, travel up the Columbia River Gorge,” he said.
As I write this from Orofino, Idaho, after five days of cycling, I am eternally grateful for the recommendation. The Gorge not only has spectacular scenery, it has smooth and idyllic bike paths and—perhaps most importantly—at this time of year it has strong westerly winds that are funneled up through basalt escarpments, literally blowing my team of a dozen riders eastwards along the trail of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.
Most of the cyclists are architects and planners or involved in city-making in some way, and as we ride across the States and then across the United Kingdom we will be studying what cities en route are doing to accommodate the age of the bicycle. We wanted to begin the ride in Portland because of its reputation as a cycling city, and we will end in Portland Place, London, because it is the headquarters of the Royal Institute of British Architects—and has great alliterative value.
As we left Portland, the local cycling community was shocked to discover that the city wasn’t included in the Copenhagenize Index of top 20 cycling cities. It was criticized because cycling was seen too much as a sporting activity for fit young males rather than a normal part of everyday life. This seemed a tad unfair. While I had certainly seen the pelotons of spandex-clad lunchtime riders heading out to the hills, I found cycling in the city a very comfortable and non-threatening experience with conditions considerably more pleasant than in many of those listed in the Index, despite the lack of separated bicycle lanes. This feeling of safety is enhanced by the patience and politeness of local drivers.
To us Brits, the U.S. is seen as the land of the automobile and we had real concerns about riding on busy roads. But so far, trucks give us far more room when they pass than we would ever get at home, vehicles that are temporarily delayed by the group do not honk or rev their engines, and riding inside the fog line provides a near continuous degree of separation.
This may, of course, change as we move through different states—Oregonians suggested darkly that things would change when we got to Idaho, but they haven’t!
So far, everything has been a delight—the sunshine (no, it didn’t rain in Portland), the following wind, the breathtaking scenery, and the friendliness of the people have given us the best start to this voyage that we could ever have hoped for.
Follow the ride at portlandtoportland.org