Generalizing from Extreme Examples

In my social research methods class in college, I learned that it is a common mistake to draw a generalization from an extreme example.

Joseph Rose’s recent story in the Oregonian highlighted a YouTube video in which a person riding a bicycle gives a rude gesture, wipes his nose and blocks the car driver from proceeding out of the intersection of what looks like N Weidler and N Vancouver, heading toward the Moda Center.

Update: the video was removed from YouTube, but you can still see it in Rose’s Oregonian article.

The person who recorded the video  wrote this in the description on YouTube:

Just another day on the streets of Portland.  This unprovoked attack didn’t really cost me any time because as you can see traffic wasn’t really moving, but it does show how bicyclists in Portland behave.”

While the person in this video is undoubtedly a jerk, I don’t think it’s at all fair to generalize that this is any way demonstrative of how most bicycle riders in Portland behave. The real story is how dangerous this intersection and the immediate area are for people on bikes and on feet.

Dangerous Intersections

Immediately around the intersection are several locations where I must proceed with extra caution every day.  I’d go over the Broadway Bridge to avoid this area, but that’s even worse.  Believe me.

  1. Broadway and Vancouver – beware of cars exiting the freeway at high speeds, trying to get into the intersection before the light turns red. I always pause for a moment here to make sure everyone has come to a complete stop. Cars are also confused by the two lights controlling southbound traffic and proceed into the intersection at the wrong time.
  2. Left Bank Development – cars are jockeying for lane changes on this block and don’t always check for bikes in the bike lane before turning right into the parking lot.
  3. N. Center Court – cars don’t check the bike lane before turning right on their way to the Moda Center parking lot.
  4. N. Winning and NE Wheeler – cars enter the intersection to get on the freeway ramp and block northbound bike traffic, causing a hazard as bikes try to navigate between cars.  There’s also no sidewalk on the east side of Wheeler so pedestrians walk in the bike lane, forcing bikes into the traffic lane. Cars often mistakenly drive north on Wheeler as well, even though this block is marked for buses only.  Cars then try to turn right onto the freeway onramp, blocking the bike lane.
  5. N Williams and N Weidler – ditto.  Blocked intersection creates a hazard for bikes that must navigate between gridlocked cars.

It’s true that the man in the video is not “winning hearts and minds”, as Joe Rose points out.  But I would counter that there is a lot of bad behavior to go around.  Instead of promoting an extreme example,  I would prefer to see more stories about the lack of safe roads for pedestrians and bike riders.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Generalizing from Extreme Examples

  1. CGL

    Thank you VERY much for this.As a Portland cyclist, it makes me cringe whenever I learn of incidents such as this one, because I know that it will lead motorists to think that ALL cyclists are hot heads. Generalization is a dangerous thing in both directions. I maintain my belief that the majority of Portland cyclists AND motorists are law-abiding citizens who try to share the road courteously and safely.

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