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Ride Along with Kathleen McDade: Gateway to Ventura Park

Posted by on June 10th, 2014 at 10:56 am

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Kathleen McDade rolls by a gravel road near NE 113th and Burnside on her commute to work this morning.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

This post is part of our special focus on east Portland this week.

Not every bike trip east of I-205 is terrible. In fact, parts of Kathleen McDade’s daily commute from Gateway to Ventura Park are downright pleasant. But as is often the case here in east Portland, it’s the crossings of major arterials that really make her nervous.

This morning I joined Kathleen for her daily commute from her apartment near the Gateway Town Center (NE Weidler and 112th) to Ventura Park Elementary School (route map here).

Route map here (via Ride With GPS).

Kathleen, 43, her husband, and their three kids (ages 8, 11, and 14) live in a second-floor apartment just west of where NE Halsey splits and forms a couplet with Weidler. When I first met Kathleen several years ago she had an Xtracycle cargo bike that she used to cart her kids around. Now the kids are grown-up and riding their own bikes and Kathleen has sold the Xtracycle. “Living on the second floor made it tough to have the Xtracycle,” she said as she got ready to leave this morning.

Kathleen works at the computer lab at Ventura Park Elementary School, which is just about 1.2 miles south of her apartment. The McDade family owns one car, but her husband leaves early in the morning and drives it to his job as a school bus driver.

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With her kids sleeping away the start of their summer break, Kathleen secured her handbag into the front basket of her purple Schwinn hybrid and carried it down the stairs. It was just a few pedal strokes before we were face-to-face with heavy traffic.

Westbound Weidler is busy in the mornings. It’s a one-way street and people drive fast. “They treat it like a freeway,” Kathleen said as we pulled into the street. As many of you know all too well, the daily life of a bike commuter is full of decisions. In Kathleen’s case, as she comes to Weidler she has two choices: cross immediately from the driveway of her apartment complex then make the first left at NE 111th, or — if there are no breaks in traffic — get onto the bike lane and then make a two-stage left turn at the signal at 111th.

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A break in traffic on NE Weidler.
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There’s a bike lane on the opposite side of this one-way street, but Kathleen opts for the left side to make her left turn quicker and easier.

Heading south, 111th turns into a quiet, neighborhood street. There are no sidewalks, but low traffic volumes, speed humps, and towering trees make it feel calm, rustic, and actually quite enjoyable. Kathleen said many of her students live along this street. On her return trip after school she sees many of them playing in their yards and waves “hi” from her bike.

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This pleasant part of the ride comes to an end at NE Glisan, which Kathleen says is the worst part of her commute. Glisan is five standard lanes here (two in each direction and a center turn lane) and speeds are high. Traffic comes from both directions and in order to continue south, Kathleen has to jog east to 113th. To make matters worse, there’s no marked crosswalk or other aid to help her get across. She simply has to watch, wait, and hope for the best. (Sometimes, especially on her way home Kathleen said, people in cars get impatient and angry while she waits for a large enough gap to make it across.) Fortunately this morning there was a large gap in traffic and we didn’t have to wait too long to get across safely.

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People often park cars in this shoulder, which makes riding on Glisan even less pleasant.

After we made it across, Kathleen and I pulled over to chat.

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“They’re fixing the crossing at 117th, because that’s where someone got killed a while ago.”

The nearest marked crosswalks to help her across Glisan are at 102nd and then at 117th. “We’re right in the middle,” she said. And then added, “They’re fixing the crossing at 117th, because that’s where someone got killed a while ago.”

Kathleen was referring to Vijay Dalton-Gibson, a 59-year-old woman who was struck and killed on December 18th of last year while trying to make it across Glisan.

“I’m all about being more direct, and riding on 122nd is not a lot of fun.”

As the volunteer Walk and Bike Coordinator at Ventura Park Elementary School, Kathleen also laments that none of her students who live north of Glisan (which is just 0.6 miles from the school) walk or bike to school. “It’s hard to encourage them to use active transportation when they think it’s too dangerous.”

Glisan’s dangers and that fatal collision weigh heavily on Kathleen’s mind because next year her soon-to-be nine-year-old daughter will be joining her on this same commute trip. Why not just go over to 102nd or 117th for a safer crossing? “That’s a big difference on a bike, especially for a nine-year-old,” she replied. “And the blocks are really big.”

Like most bike riders, Kathleen said she prefers the shortest, most direct route. “Google Maps tells me the bike route for my trip is on 122nd because there are bike lanes; but that’s twice as long. I’m all about being more direct, and riding on 122nd is not a lot of fun.”

South of Glisan on 113th, we enjoyed a few more blocks of the quiet, residential environment before coming to East Burnside. The signal doesn’t trigger for bikes at this intersection, so Kathleen rolls into the crosswalk and up the sidewalk ramp to press the button and wait for the walk signal.

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Because this light at 113th and Burnside doesn’t sense her bike, she acts like a walker and pulls up onto the sidewalk to cross.
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The MAX light rail runs on Burnside, which means there’s only one standard lane in each direction. Combined with the bike-only lane the relatively narrow cross-section helps keep auto speeds down. This rare combination — a major arterial with a bike lane and only one lane of relatively slow-moving auto traffic — has made Burnside a popular bike route. Kathleen said it feels pretty safe to her.

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It might not look pleasant to you, but for east Portland regulars, the Burnside bike lane is pretty nice.

The school is just south of Burnside, making Kathleen’s commute very short (only about 1.2 miles) and relatively sweet. As she locked up her bike at the racks out front, she said biking still isn’t a major thing at Ventura Park Elementary School; but she’s working on it. Most students are bussed in and Kathleen said on nice days there might be 7-8 bikes in the racks.

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Kathleen has a lot of pride in this area. She and her husband both graduated from nearby David Douglas High School, and their kids are likely to do the same. Hopefully, as the bike access improves around here, the McDades will continue to be a biking family for many years to come.

Thanks for letting me join you this morning Kathleen.

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— If you liked this post, check out more Ride Alongs here.


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Comments
  • kiel johnson June 10, 2014 at 11:07 am

    I wish my apartment building had a swimming pool! looks like a pretty flat commute. The geography is there to make this a world-class bike commute but doesn’t look like much else right now.

    Recommended Thumb up 6

  • Patrick Barber June 10, 2014 at 11:51 am

    This focus on East Portland is so vital. Thanks for doing it. I like the ride-along concept a lot too, feels very immersive for those of us who don’t spend much time out there.

    Recommended Thumb up 22

  • Rebecca June 10, 2014 at 11:55 am

    Filmed by Bike, I’m hijacking your slogan for this Kathleen occasion – “Thanks for being awesome on a bike in East Portland!”

    Recommended Thumb up 7

  • Robert L June 10, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    Up until 3 years ago I lived in the apartment complex right next door to Kathleen. All in all it really isn’t that bad of an area to bike in. Glisan isn’t great and honestly I took the sidewalk there more often than not until after I205. My old commute was Halsey/205MUP/Glisan to 60th then work my way down to Ankeny into downtown.

    Trying to go south from say Sandy Blvd. is a joke out there. You can either take the 205 MUP and deal with a pretty sizable hill or try taking 102nd which is taking your life in your hands with the I84 on ramp. Other than that your next best shot is all the way to 122nd.

    The worst part about riding out there is just the simple fact that drivers just aren’t used to seeing people on bikes. It’s not like Clinton st or Ladds or pretty much anywhere in inner SE where there are so many bikes that you expect to see them everywhere.

    Sorry to rant, love the ride along and especially love the East Portland week.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • lahar June 10, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    Awesome Job Kathleen! I love seeing what other bike commuters trips are like! Thanks

    Recommended Thumb up 8

  • davemess June 10, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    In the opening picture, that “unimproved” street is one of the nicest I have seen! (kind of sad for Portland).

    Great article Jonathan, really brings some of the problem to light!

    Recommended Thumb up 2

    • Dan June 11, 2014 at 10:58 am

      It was recently re-graded. It has not looked like that long and has already started to degrade.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • davemess June 11, 2014 at 1:19 pm

        By whom? The city?

        Recommended Thumb up 0

  • daisy June 10, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    Love this! Thanks so much for sharing a story that’s different than the typical commute we read about, for a range of reasons.

    Recommended Thumb up 4

  • jonno June 10, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    I just spent a couple days in LA and had a bike for most of that time, riding around the Santa Monica area where there is some actual bike infrastructure (here and there). From this article I see similarities between Kathleen’s east side experience and my LA experience — decent facilities in a few places but also an ever-present need to navigate around unpleasant arterials and negotiate dangerous connections. Both East Portland and LA seem to have a lot of road space to add great facilities for cycling if the political will is there.

    This is interesting stuff, keep up the good work!

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Rob Chapman June 10, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    Way to set an example for your students Kathleen! I’m a little jealous of that swimming pool as well, looks like a nice apartment complex.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • John Liu June 10, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    Seems like Glisan and the other east-west arterials need some marked and signalized crossings. Not just for cyclists like Kathleen, but for pedestrians too. Imagine being an elderly person and trying to cross that on foot. Ugh.

    Recommended Thumb up 6

  • Janis McDonald June 10, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    Kathleen is one of our Safe Routes super school coordinators. She is tireless in her efforts to support walking and biking at Ventura Park School. Thank you Kathleen!

    Recommended Thumb up 17

  • m June 10, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    Why doesn’t she make a left on NE Oregon, right on NE 114th, left on Couch, and right on 117th?

    She can avoid riding on Glisan and Burndside (but still needs to cross them).

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Mike June 10, 2014 at 3:59 pm

      That section of Couch between 114th and 117th sucks. A bumpy ride to say the least, more like an obstacle course last time I rode through there. Especially bad if its raining or has rained recently. Potholes/ponds big enough to drown in when they’re filled with water.

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  • Terry D June 10, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    Many people in inner east Portland do not remember/know about outer Burnside since it is so hideous for cyclists west of Caesar Chavez. East of 47th the sidewalks are also pitiful. Hence, they use East Division instead which is on par with 122nd in quality and even more dangerous. I find when I am in commute mode, East Burnside from 68th east is the fastest and safest way by far to get to outer east Portland and Gresham (excluding the intersection at 82nd).

    Once you get over the Hill at 67th heading east, Burnside is much better than Division. Now if we could only fix the gap from Ankeny and 41st to 68th. ;) This was a good article.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • AndyC of Linnton June 10, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    I’m really enjoying the East Portland coverage.
    Kathleen is amazing, and I hope she is successful getting more students to bike to school.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Chris I June 10, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    Burnside is my go-to east/west route when commuting through east Portland. Before 6am, you basically have the whole thing to yourself.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Joe Adamski June 11, 2014 at 10:07 pm

    As the ‘Former East County’ is developed with high density housing and few amenities, the City is tasked with making it work. Portland was happy to annex the tax revenue of East County, now it must make it work providing safe access to bicyclists and pedestrians. The long distances that result from auto-centric community design place a greater burden on the poor and mobility-challenged folks. Not just bike lanes painted on the side of a busy,high volume street, safe facilities for all.
    This is not just satisfying ‘equity’ requirements, it is the right thing to do.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • GlowBoy June 12, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    Whenever I go through that part of town it seems like the signals are often a loooong way apart, which (1) increases vehicle speeds as it encourages drivers to treat these roads as highways, and (2) results in a lot of pedestrians either going a long distance out of their way to reach a safe crossing, or trying to cross mid-block, often running cross several lanes of traffic.

    I agree with John Liu that in general, the major arterials in East Portland need a lot more signalized crossings. This is a populated area. There’s no reason for ANY surface street to go more than a few blocks without a traffic light.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Peter Koonce June 16, 2014 at 8:07 am

    Jonathan-

    One of your readers was kind enough to send us an email on Friday that the traffic signal E 113th and Burnside was not detecting Kathleen on her commute. The City relies on people like Kathleen (and of course your write ups help a lot too) to let us know when there is something amiss with traffic signals. Please share with readers to call in 503-823-CYCL or 503-823-1700 if there are existing traffic signal problems that might be fixed.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

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