May 24, 2010

Birmingham! Wake up!

By Anna | 15 Comments »

I went to Portland for work the week before last with some trepidation.  It represents everything cycling in America, and many who have traveled out there have NOT wanted to return.  Like “just UPS my stuff over, ok?” type not coming back.  Others from Birmingham made the move to those beautifully green pastures, and have never looked back with even an iota of home sickness or regret.  Although I gripe and complain about Birmingham my fair share, I’m very stubborn and don’t want to be another sheep (harsh?).  I set my mind to resist before I even got on the plane.

It wasn’t what I expected.  It was amazingly beauitful.  There were bikes everywhere. So many that I was completely overwhelmed and didn’t take many photos.  I thought about sitting on a corner and just snapping a pic of everyone who rode by, but I plopped down to beer and a book from Powell’s instead.  Bike lanes, let me tell you.  Multiple modes of public transportaiton, interesting new “green” arcitecture, folks with tattoos, boys who said they liked my tights, delicious vegan food…

BUT! There was still tons of traffic.  There were still chain stores and plenty of generic junk.  People looked avarage – not particularly cool, not particularly “green”.  Basically, it just didn’t seem like the heaven I imagined.  I guess I have a wild imagination.  The only thing that Portland did to me was to make my blood boil for Birmingham.  I wanted to jump on a flight back home, round up all my dear wonderful beautiful genius genuine caring bad-ass friends, climb to the top of Vulcan, and yell at the top of our lungs, “BIRMINGHAM! GET A GRIP! YOU CAN BE JUST AS COOL AS PORTLAND!”

Seriously, Birmingham is beautiful, Birmingham has an excellent downtown with tons of building just begging to be put to good use, Birmingham has all the necessary ingredients.  The battleground is in our minds.

It’s all about our minds now because we’ll only get as far as we believe we can go!  Yes, the average ’hamian is either afraid of progress and feels the need to live in the past, stuck in the ruts of disenfranchisement and security, or else they are selfish bastards with no grip on reality.  They want their short-sighted eleveated 280, and their Chic-Fil-A with a drive-thru in our town square, and they want to tear down every piece of history we have to build a Walgreens next door to a CVS.  But we don’t have to put up with that shit!

We had a worthless bike to work day last week (I would never bike to work again if that was my first “encouraging” attempt), and we don’t have to put up with that shit either!  Let’s stand up and make some noise; if we tell them not to fuck with us any more, eventually they’ll listen.  Geurilla tactics!  Break out those angry eyes (if you know me, you know what I mean).  All these close minded naysayers don’t have our power of conviction, so if we hold strong and really fight for what we believe in, and stay in Birmingham through it all, I truly believe we can impart change here.  We can turn Birmingham into the best town in the south, rather than one of the worst places to cycle, located in the least cycling friendly state for the second year running.

Birmingham! Wake up! It’s our turn!

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  1. On May 24th, 2010 carfreepvd said:

    I recently visited Portland as well (I live in Providence, RI), and I had a similar reaction. I know exactly what you mean by being so overwhelmed by the number of bikes, that it’s easy to forget to take a picture. There were several things in Portland I saw again and again until it seemed totally unnecessary to take a picture.
    I did a “fake commute” one day – from Downtown to the east side. I didn’t encounter too much horrible traffic – at least not on the city streets. But there were parts of town (the northwest, for example) that looked like almost any other city in the country – sprawling development, lots of big-box stores, and highways with plenty of traffic.
    I wrote about it here:

  2. On May 24th, 2010 Wade Kwon said:

    “The average ’hamian is either afraid of progress and feels the need to live in the past, stuck in the ruts of disenfranchisement and security, or else they are selfish bastards with no grip on reality.”

    I’m all for progress, but as a native Birminghamian, let me say 2 things:

    1. Insulting people will win you few advocates. It’s as useless as when I see broad verbal swipes at cyclists.

    2. Making it an “us vs. them” situation is how Birmingham has stayed rooted in mediocrity. If you can find a way to work with people, rather than demonize a so-called enemy, everyone wins.

  3. On May 24th, 2010 Steve A said:

    Personally, while I dearly LOVE Portland, and my mom lived there for a while, I think I’d rather RIDE in Birmingham. In the words of Dorothy, “there’s no place like home.” There really ARE worse things than benign neglect.

  4. On May 24th, 2010 Elisa said:

    “Seriously, Birmingham is beautiful, Birmingham has an excellent downtown with tons of building just begging to be put to good use, Birmingham has all the necessary ingredients. The battleground is in our minds.”
    Nothing “us vs. them” in that one. I thought this was a wonderfully hopeful post that expressed the frustrations felt in an honest way, while saying that we can totally change! We don’t strive to be politically correct here, just to be honest and hopeful and lay it out there.
    Birmingham can change. Can and WILL. It takes this kind of passion to make it happen. Sometimes you have to worry less about winning people over and just get the shit done.

  5. On May 24th, 2010 Anna C said:

    Wade! I hope you are not personally offended by my comments. Although I would not call myself a “native” of Birmingham (I’m from the gulf coast of Mississippi), I have lived here for the past 11 years and claim it as my home.
    I feel like in this post I insulted most of the generalized people groups that I call up – sheep for god’s sake! these are my friends! and the people in Birmingham who do care but according to my post are mindless and need to get a grip. Haha maybe I’m making more enemies with this post than anything. I’m just as much at fault as anyone, we’re all guilty.
    BUT there’s something to be said for righteous anger, and at this point I feel that this is what Birmingham needs more of. We as a minority need to get our voices heard and get some respect.
    Maybe you don’t realize it, but Elisa and I, along with our cycling friends, are regularly at risk for losing our lives because of the blatant ignorance of many Birmingham residents. Sorry if that generalization upsets you, but it’s the honest truth.
    Truly this is a complicated issue, and I completely agree that we must all work together to make Birmingham a better place. But someone’s gotta shake up the status quo every once in a while, and say “fuck you, compromise”. I had to get it out while I was feeling it.

  6. On May 24th, 2010 Richard said:


    I agree with you on two fronts. (1) Portland is an amazingly beautiful place. I fell in love with Oregon years ago and dream of the day when I can go back. Portland’s out of the box thinking and progressive nature is what keeps the area miles ahead of the rest of the nation. (2) Birmingham has all the necessary ingredients to be the “Portland of the South” except the political will and the foresight to see beyond its comfort zone.

  7. On May 25th, 2010 Logan said:

    P.s. If you or Elisa ever get the chance to visit Portland, OR again in the future, shoot us an email! My wife and I would love to give some fellow bike bloggers a tour and at the very least buy you a beer/coffee to hear you regale the stories of biking in the South East.

    I hope y’all get the chance to visit with the bike tourists Russ Roca and Laura Crawford of when they make their way across Alabama. They are currently in Northern LA and they started their tour in Portland, OR. :)

    Cheers, Logan and Tammy

  8. On May 25th, 2010 Charles said:

    I loved Portland when I visited it last year–it has many charms and is packed with ideas that Birmingham could easily adapt–but it was sort of a relief to discover that their governments squabble like ours do. (Which means there is hope for us!)

    They even have their own issues with historic preservation:

  9. On May 25th, 2010 Sheree said:

    Hi Anna–

    I totally respect your post. Birmingham has so much potential for a lifestyle that doesn’t depend on cars and fast food but the majority prefer their comfort zones and their comfort zones are auto-dependent.

    As you wrote in a comment: Elisa and I, along with our cycling friends, are regularly at risk for losing our lives because of the blatant ignorance of many Birmingham residents.

    That’s why I don’t ride on the streets. I can’t afford to be in an accident–even one where I might fully recover. So I don’t take the risk.

    Good luck with you efforts. You have my support. I happily share the road with all alternative forms of transportation.

  10. On May 25th, 2010 Chris H said:

    I’ve been thinking for a while now that the train tracks that separate downtown Bham from Southside are a serious impediment to downtown revitalization–it’s a divisive, empty, and gray area that most people prefer to avoid.

    Now that you mention it, though, the Willamette in Portland separates east and west in much the same way, but it hardly stops people from crossing back-and-forth. Sure, train tracks may be less beautiful than a river, but there’s no reason they have to be such a boundary.

  11. On May 26th, 2010 Richard said:
  12. On May 26th, 2010 Ghost Rider said:

    Sometimes, when you say what NEEDS to be said, the words might sound a bit ugly. But so what — you’re getting the word out that the ‘Ham needs to get off its collective ass and get going!

    So, I say “bravo” — what a refreshing change from your doom-and-gloom attitude when Birmingham was voted dead last in that poll. You sounded ready to give up then; you sound ready to go to war now. Let the battle begin!

  13. On May 30th, 2010 spiderleggreen said:

    I could live in Portland, no problem. Rain be damned!

  14. On May 31st, 2010 Jeff said:

    Anna – I moved to Montgomery a few years ago, after 20+ years in Seattle/Tacoma…Portland is just down the road and a great town. However it has a ton more people that B’ham..I would imagine the percentage of cycling advocates could be similar to B’ham.

    Please keep up your good work..on your suggestion I made the trek to the Pie Lab, well worth the trip. I think I got from you, also, the Slow Food deal at Jones Valley last week. Keep working at it, you may have more support than you think. Be glad you aren’t trying to ride around Montgomery!!!

  15. On July 21st, 2010 Dave said:

    “BUT! There was still tons of traffic. There were still chain stores and plenty of generic junk. People looked avarage – not particularly cool, not particularly “green”.”

    That’s the thing – and a good reason not to market bicycles as “green” or “progressive” or those kinds of things. People will ride bicycles when it’s easy and convenient, because they can be more enjoyable than a car when it is easy and convenient.

    There’s nothing more complicated to it than that. We do it in Portland because it is easy and convenient (at least in the inner part of the city), and more and more it is perceived by society in general as a valid, useful and appropriate means of transportation. Just about any city could do it if they really wanted to.

    Portland isn’t particularly flat, it’s cool and rainy most of the year, we get high winds, allergies are bad here… but people here love being out in the city because the city is enjoyable to be out in.

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