Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Musing on Time and Distance

Yesterday I had the occassion to drive out past Gresham, past Troutdale, almost to the very banks of the Sandy River. The drive was pleasent enough through rolling hills and nurseries on every street. Coming back was a different story, but thats neither here nor there.

The moral of the story is that my destination, Ratto Farms, lies a mere 15 miles from our house outside of Portland. Growing up in Rural Idaho, I was 10 miles from the nearest town, 15 from a slightly bigger one that actually had a grocery store, and almost 30 from Boise itself. Back in the day I would drive fifty-some-odd miles regularly to go to school and visit friends, and generally lead a social life that a somewhat awkward queer teenager is expected to lead.

And it didn't mean anything to me. It took some time sure, but it never felt like a trip. But yesterday was an expedition. Renting a car and driving a WHOLE 15 miles seemed enormous. Not to mention that it took almost a WHOLE hour to get there.

Part of a dedicated bike economy and culture is a re-localization of people and places. Riding out to Sauvie Island is 40-miles round trip and is an all day trip in my mind. Even going downtown from our home at 34th, can seem like a trek, and is only done for special events. It just amazes me to think that once upon a time a two-hour ride was normal for me. While now I being to squirm after 20 minutes in a vehicle.

I have gotten to know my neighborhood and most of the SE more than any other place I have lived, including my home of 18 years. When riding I am more cognizant of my surrondings and their changes of place. Distances all seem much greater, but that is because a mile means more to me. Not only in energy expended, time in travel, but also as something to be reconigzed not simply driven by.

In conclusion I am blessed to live in a city which is still quite human in scale.



  1. I think about this a lot, and was actually just talking about that exact idea - that Portland has retained its design over the decades and is still a place you can feel comfortable moving around in as a human being (for the most part).

    In terms of food, the fact that, if I tried, I could probably get everything I eat from within 2 hours or less drive of my apartment in NE is just amazing for the U.S. Think of the difference between the carbon footprint of that kind of food economy as opposed to the kind where stuff is trucked across country in mass amounts.

    We're at about NE 24th and Sandy, and I rarely go any further South than Burnside (except for work), or any further north than Broadway - we pretty much live within a few mile radius, because everything we need to live exists in that space - food, entertainment, restaurants, hardware store, kitchen store, even stuff for gardening, etc. Going to Hawthorne or Division feels like a long trip by bicycle or car.

    I think though, the kind of odd side effect of primarily getting around on a bicycle, is it has made Portland seem a bit smaller to me, actually, because I realize I can fairly easily get most places in Portland with my own two legs, and almost as quickly as with a car (depending on the distance).

    It's pretty fun to be able to give someone directions from far SE all the way to North Portland, because I've ridden all those areas at different points in time, and am familiar with which roads are quieter, less traveled, and more convenient.

    My parents live in Oregon City, and when we go to visit them, it feels like a road trip. I too used to drive 30-40 miles in a day and think nothing of it. I can't imagine doing it now, it would seem like torture.

    I also feel very luck to live in this city.

  2. Its probably at this point that I should give a shout-out to Metro and the regional/city/county goverments around the area. The Urban Growth Boundary was an idea ahead of its time, and even more amazing that it was adopted and is still maintained. And for those of us living in the city there are issues. Gentrification is a direct result of in-fill development, and the boundaries do not stick enough to significantly alter the economic forces behind sprawl. But its such a start.

    So back to the original point of relative distances. As you mentioned the city still feels small, and often foot and bicycle traffic is all that is needed to quickly get to local destinations. Although my life often feels frantic, I also know that it is at a comfortably slow pace. Things happen but we get to notice them.