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Guest Article: Northwest Portland preps for bike-friendly future

Posted by on September 14th, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Sunday Parkways NW 2011-19-18
People ride outside one of many
stately homes in northwest Portland.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

[This story was written by northwest Portland resident and local transportation activist Rebecca Hamilton.]

While our neighbors in southeast Portland emblazon their Neighborhood Greenway intersections with painted sunflowers and north Portland artists envision gold-leaf murals of cycling heroes along popular cycling routes, the Northwest District has long seemed to pedal on indifferently, unattached to biking as a part of its identity.

“If the northwest wants to join its eastside quadrants in consciously cultivating a neighborhood of bike commuters…it will take a culture shift.”
— Rebecca Hamilton

Now, on the brink of transformation, the Northwest District is becoming aware of the significance of cycling for its future. With the approval of the Con-way Master Plan last month — a plan that calls for the transformation of the parking lot tundras north of Overton into multi-story residential and office space — we can expect a possible influx of tens of thousands of new residents into this area over the next two decades. Northwest Portland’s best move is to embrace active transportation as the preferred and dominant modes of getting around the neighborhood if it is to avoid an auto-dominated circus that would wreck our quiet quality of life.

Events like this one are signs of
life for northwest Portland’s
bike culture.
(Graphic: Damon Eckhoff)

But despite a comfortable network of sharrow-ed, low-traffic streets, enthusiasm and ridership seem lacking. If the northwest wants to join its eastside quadrants in consciously cultivating a neighborhood of bike commuters, errand-runners, and recreationalists, it will take a culture shift. So, how do we do that? We think we can start with bike fun.

At first glance, Bunny on a Bike rides and Mario Kart mushrooms in the bike lanes may seem like frivolous elements unrelated to the serious business of increasing bicycle mode share and safety in American cities. But these little things show that cycling is something celebrated and is part of the character of a neighborhood; it cultivates a camaraderie among riders that can that develop into pride. With pride comes ownership and a sense of responsibility. Over time, a strong bike-fun culture can attract new ridership (and the safety that numbers bring) and develop the local advocacy that is essential if cycling is to (metaphorically) take the lane in our neighborhood.

Local organizers are looking for ways to make cycling an integral part of how our neighbors experience their home. For example, the Northwest District Association (NWDA) tied their local love of our parks to enthusiasm for family cycling with their second annual Bike-In Movie event last week (it was Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure). Everyone who arrived by bike received a raffle ticket for a chance at lots of great prizes from Bikeasaurus.

Local historians, too, have been making the connection between bikes and our pride as one of Portland’s first neighborhoods. This past spring, the Historic Preservation League of Oregon used a bicycle tour as a way to showcase the places that make northwest Portland unique in their Pedalpalooza ride called, The Dream of the 1890s is Alive in NW Portland.

Building on the interest from that event, the 2012 Slabtown Festival (tomorrow, 9/15!) will also feature a bike tour of the former working-class, immigrant neighborhood north of Pettygrove St. — again demonstrating to neighbors how bikes can be part of the way we celebrate our distinctive historic character.

Going beyond passive existence and moving towards conscious participation in — and celebration of — a neighborhood cycling culture will take some work. But if we can adopt cycling as a key part of our identity now, then the NW District may be able to retain its quiet historical character even as it welcomes thousands of new neighbors to join us on the roads.

We’re looking to head in a new direction. Come join us for the ride.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Chris Smith September 14, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    I salute the efforts to improve cycling in NW (I was on the neighborhood transportation committee during the first bikeways implementation in the neighborhood).

    However, I’ve always thought that one of the reasons cycling is a bit different in the neighborhood is that it is SO walkable. While I cycle all over the central city, most of my trips within the neighborhood are on foot.

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  • Zach September 14, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    As awesome as the bike fun culture is – and I’m speaking as a participant – it doesn’t always do much to mainstream cycling, especially in a buttoned-down part of the city like NW – and I’m speaking as a resident.

    I’m sure Ms. Hamilton and other neighborhood advocates are just as interested in creating a safe space for Jane Doctor, Joe Lawyer, and Biff Bro-face to commute and run errands by bike as they are importing zany eastside fun, or at least I hope so. Cycling culture in NW does not need to look like it does anywhere else in town. And frankly, expecting everyone on a bicycle to be interested in letting their freak flags fly kind of destroys the whole concept of subculture.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) September 14, 2012 at 3:20 pm


      who said anything about doing freaky stuff? Is riding around the n’hood and learning about history freaky to you? I think Rebecca is advocating simply for doing events that get people out on their bikes, exploring their neighborhood on two wheels. Bike fun can be all buttoned-up too.

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  • gl. September 14, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    I think NW has terrible east/west access close to Burnside. Your choices are Everett east and Glisan west. Both are busy traffic streets I don’t feel comfortable on (at least Everett is downhill so I could keep up if I was brave enough). Everything else is stop sign city without help across busy 21st or 23rd.

    I wish the Flanders bridge had been created when we had the chance, because moving from inner NW to outer NW is limited: Couch has a ton of stop signs and stops at 19th, Glisan is busy with a freeway exit. If I want to go to something around 23rd/Burnside, especially coming from SW/SE, my options are very limited.

    I appreciate the lanes & sharrows on NW 18/19, but anything west of that feels like biking on Alberta: lots of distractions and high conflict areas with people (whether in cars, walking or on bikes) who don’t understand why you’re in their way.

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  • metropoliscycles September 14, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    That’s funny, I wish there was something more analogous to Everett further north. I ride from inner north to Forest Park on a regular basis, and the nw 21/23rd area is a pain in the ass. Between drivers looking for parking and a million stop signs, it seems to take forever. Marshall is a total fail as a bike thoroughfare, and Overton is only marginally better. If only there were a bike lane on Lovejoy! (Just kidding) Lately, I find myself zigzagging over to Raleigh, but it’s been closed lately at 21st, so I have been taking Thurman. I will take lights and traffic over stop signs any day.

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  • Andrew September 14, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    Did Rebecca just quote…Rebecca?

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  • Craig Harlow September 14, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    Ahhh! No Weekend Open Thread! So I’m hijacking this post (apologies to all)

    September Kidical Mass:
    Bike Trains to the 3rd annual Fiets of Parenthood!

    This Sunday, 9/16/2012, Clever Cycles is hosting the 3rd annual Fiets of Parenthood event. This is a family-focused (not just friendly) biking event. Streets outside of Clever Cycles will be closed to cars and there will be food vendors, kid and family-biking competitions and more.

    To help more people get there, KidicalMassPDX will be leading 2 bike trains to the event. One will leave Peninsula Park at 10:30am, stop to collect more people at Irving Park (south-side playground) at 11:15am, and then arrive at Clever Cycles by noon.

    The other train will leave the North Park Blocks playground at 11:00am and head across the Steel Bridge, down the Esplanade, and then over to Clever Cycles by noon.

    See Clever Cycles website at http://clevercycles.com/blog/2012/09/04/fiets-of-parenthood-2012/ for more details about the event itself.

    As with all KidicalMassPDX rides:

    -We will stay together as a group and follow all traffic safety laws.
    -Helmets are required for children and encouraged for adults.
    -Kids riding their own bikes should be able to ride in a more or less straight line, stop and start as necessary, and follow verbal directions.
    -For questions or more information about Kidical Mass and event updates,
    please see the main website: http://www.kidicalmasspdx.org

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  • Adam September 14, 2012 at 11:21 pm

    I work in NW, & bike commute there daily. I find it a highly unpleasant quadrant to bike through I have to admit.

    The problem stems from the lack of a single bike boulevard in NW. This equates to practically not single speed bump or traffic diverter in the neighborhood, and this in turn equates to simply too much car traffic on the “bike” streets.

    I say “bike” in parentheses, because the bike streets in NW are a complete joke. If you don’t believe me, just get yr ass on yr bike down to NW 24th, NW Overton, or NW Raleigh during rush hour, for example. It is just ridiculous.

    If I lived in the hood, I would not be inclined to go bike about it a whole lot, until the bicycle-prioritized streets had some real, MEANINGFUL traffic calming & diversion to them.

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    • Adam September 15, 2012 at 12:48 am

      PS – Oh. And to second what another poster berated above, don’t even get me STARTED on the farce that is the NW Marshall “bike” street. Sweet jesus.

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    • Alli September 15, 2012 at 10:35 pm

      I also loathe riding through much of the NW–especially along NW 24th. Or trying to cross 21st and 23rd via any of the supposed bike routes. And can I just vent–what is with the dead-ending of NW 24th at Glisan? Not to mention the potholed stretch we are forced to use after crossing Burnside to get into the southwest? Sigh…the west side is definitely the red headed step-child of the city for bicycle infrastructure.

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  • ~n September 17, 2012 at 12:16 am

    I live in NW and one thing I’d love to see is an end to all the two-way stop intersections, like along Savier, etc. These intersections really stand in the way of the bikeability of the area. Drivers without the stop signs seem like they’re in a huge rush. Maybe they’re desperate for caffeine and heading to one of NW’s many fabulous coffee shops… or maybe they’ve already drunk a bunch of coffee and need a bathroom asap–either way, I’m sitting on my bike, waiting and waiting… At certain intersections in morning rush hour (Raleigh & 23rd for example) I have to dismount and use the crosswalk just to get across. Oh, and yes, along NW 24th particularly, visibility at these two-way stop intersections is a pretty big problem. I use NW 22nd for the most part when traveling north-south.

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  • Grillz September 18, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    I bike up/down Overton and find it to be the best east/west path. Making this a bike hwy would be perfect. Low car/bike ratio, keeping threw cars on Lovejoy.

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