New friends and perspectives at the Outer East Get Together

Posted by on April 28th, 2009 at 12:13 pm

Get Together in Outer SE-9

I think it’s safe to say this
is the most bikes ever parked
in front of the Rumpus Room.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Last week we held our third monthly Get Together event. In previous months we’ve held them in North (St. Johns) and Southwest Portland (Multnomah Village) and this time we rolled to the Rumpus Room in Outer East.

The Rumpus Room is an old roadhouse bar on SE Division at about 105th (a few blocks east of I-205). Just getting there was an adventure for Elly and I. We rode out via the Clinton Street bike boulevard and it was interesting how the nature of the streets changed the further east we pedaled. Close in, I couldn’t help but smile as bikes were clearly the dominant mode. Several times, we were part of two-way, side-by-side bike traffic on quiet, tree-lined streets.

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Get Together in Outer SE-1

Our bike boulevard bliss wouldn’t last long…

Crossing over SE 50th, we instantly noticed the streets got less inviting (we had to jog around to avoid an unpaved, pothole-strewn block) and at about SE 79th we were clearly not in Kansas anymore. No more sidewalks, no more people on bikes. Welcome to East Portland.

We eventually worked out way onto the SE Division just before going under I-205.

On a map, Division is a “street”, it feels like an ODOT-owned and managed “state highway” (although I don’t think it is technically), and realistically, to someone on a bike, it’s more like a freeway, only more dangerous because it has cross-traffic and bike lanes.

Get Together in Outer SE-2

Ahh, the joys of riding
on SE Division.

I am an extremely confident rider, but even I was a bit flustered as we approached the I-205 overpass. It was loud, there were freeway on-ramps and off-ramps, and there were seven auto lanes (five for traffic and two for parking) to contend with.

I’ve been critical of bike lanes on major arterials in the past, but I was very glad we at least had a few feet of bike-only space to operate in.

Eventually we rolled up to the Rumpus Room. Unfortunately it was on the opposite side of the street; we needed to huddle and come up with a strategy to cross Division at that point. With no signals nearby, it was us against a constant stream of four lanes of fast-moving traffic. I went to a cross street hoping that would help my cause (it didn’t) while Elly was more brave than I and attempted the half-cross maneuver.

Seeing a break in eastbound traffic, Elly rolled into the risky refuge of the center turn lane to wait for a break in the westbound traffic. She stood, proud and purposeful as cars whizzed by. A few minutes later she was across, but I was still waiting.

Eventually we made it over and locked up our bikes. The experience left an indelible impression.

We had a nice turnout. About 14 people showed up to chat (including Officer Robert Pickett, who is now the only person who has been to all three events). They met fellow Out-easters and shared their experiences about riding in the area. We had a map opened up on the table and had everyone point out where they live, work, and ride. It was a good conversation starter.

Get Together in Outer SE-11

Kathleen McDade has rallied
a few families for a monthly
Kidical Mass ride.

Kathleen McDade is a mother of two who lives at NE 111th and Knott (just blocks from last night’s fatal crash). Kathleen takes her kids to school and rides to work on an Xtracycle Radish. She told us she’s organized a Kidical Mass ride with co-workers and families at the Ventura Park School (145 SE 117th Ave).

David Heddy, who moved to Portland from Waco Texas just over a year ago, works for Habitat for Humanity and lives at SE 82nd and Foster. He commutes to different offices all around Southeast.

William Knight lives at NE 111th and Stark, not the most bike-friendly area, but he works in downtown Portland, which he says makes his commute “easy”. Knight told us that his wife “drives everywhere” because she’s afraid to ride on Stark. Knight, and many others, pointed out that a lack of connected routes in Outer East in a big issue. “NE 122nd is nice [it has a bike lane],” he said, “but you can’t get there safely from where we live”.

Get Together in Outer SE-8

Paul Swanson (L) and William
Knight chat over beers.

Cecily Norris is an experienced rider who likes mountain biking in Powell Butte. She lives close to the Fred Meyer on NE 102nd but says she wouldn’t bike there because it’s too dangerous. Cecily prefers to ride off-road and she said, “we need more trails.” She’s frustrated that the Portland Parks Bureau has put many fences and confusing trail signs up in Powell Butte. Norris said they were put there to prevent people from leaving the trail and to explain who can ride/hike/run where, but Norris thinks a much better solution would just be to “just build more trails to alleviate pressure on existing trails”.

Paul Swanson lives at SE 148th and Powell and rolls the streets on a recumbent. He said people tend to gawk as his futuristic looking ride and said his biggest issue is wind. Yes wind. This is a phenomenon I knew nothing about before this event.

“Some people complain about hills, but the wind is what makes me think, what the heck am I doing out here on a bike!?”
–William Knight

Both Swanson and William Knight talked about the legendary “east winds” that bear down on them after about SE 50th when they’re headed home. “It can add about 15 minutes to my commute,” said Swanson. Knight chimed in that “some people complain about hills, but the wind is what makes me think, what the heck am I doing out here on a bike!?”

It was interesting to hear the similarities about the biking experience in Outer East with biking in Southwest. Like we heard in Southwest, folks out east said there are not enough through streets, which makes finding bike-friendly routes impossible, and which leaves riding on big arterials as the only option.

Get Together in Outer SE-14 Get Together in Outer SE-13 Get Together in Outer SE-10 Get Together in Outer SE-15

New friends

Arterials aren’t only un-friendly to ride on, they are often full of debris. Jill (I forgot to get her last name) said that Division under I-205 is commonly full of debris and rain puddles (which adds to everything else I mentioned above).

Other common themes were heard from people are a lack of safe crossings over major streets, concern about the many people who ride the wrong way in the bike lane and a sense that the City and advocacy groups just don’t notice or care about issues out here. Several people also said they regularly ride on the sidewalk because they simply don’t attempt to cross busy roads.

On our way out, we rode under a pedestrian bridge, high over SE Division. It reminded me of a tour of the area I took with City bike planner Roger Geller. When I pointed the bridge out to him he said it’s a sign of a “failed street”, which means engineers have simply thrown there hands up and no longer try to manage non-motorized cross traffic.

Get Together in Outer SE-12

Crossing Division.

That’s too bad.

We need a blueprint for how to design connected, safe, and efficient bikeways in areas were sprawl and neighborhood freeways are the norm. Not everyone will fit into dense inner-city neighborhoods or downtown condos connected by cycletracks and streetcars. Hopefully the upcoming Bike/Streetcar Master Plan Update will address some of these issues.

If you’re interested in what the city has planned, or if you live in East Portland and would like to share your feedback with them, come to the East Portland Bicycle/Streetcar Master Plan Open House event at David Douglas High School (1500 SE 130th Ave) on May 6th.

— Learn more about the Get Togethers here.

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Kathleen McDade
Guest

Sweet! BTW, we’re actually doing Kidical Mass near the school my kids attend, which is Sacramento Elementary, rather than at Ventura Park (where I work).

And again, it was GREAT to see you guys out here on the forgotten Outer East side. 🙂

Geezer Guy
Guest
Geezer Guy

Welcome to my part of the world. The outer South East can be rough at times. My commute takes me past I-205 at times and I have to be very picky about my route’s.

chriswnw
Guest
chriswnw

Yeah, outer southeast is a bit problematic. There is no parallel residential street between Powell and Division, although Powell actually isn’t that bad on the east side of 205 — it only has two lanes. Market St, Mill, Main, Burnside, and San Rafael are pretty good.

I’m not entirely sure how to go about improving this area. For one, the city *should* have ponied up the money to actually pave all the residential streets in the area, rather than wasting it on condos and streetcars downtown. There might be room for bicycle/pedestrian cut-through paths between disconnecting residential streets, although it would require that the city buy up portions of the yards of many residents. It would have to be something demanded by the residents of the area to really work, and I’m not sure that the residents yet care about such things.

Meghan H
Guest
Meghan H

As a resident of almost-outer SE Portland (just a couple blocks from 82nd), I have been very hesitant to explore the Lents and other outer-SE neighborhoods on my bike. And when I do, the side streets are either unpaved or don’t offer many good alternative through-ways. You have to use the major roads if you don’t want to get off your bike and do impromptu cyclocross.

There just doesn’t seem to be any political will (despite Randy Leonard’s presence in East Portland) to make walking and biking safer in this area.

I’d bet that if housing prices had continued to climb here, and more middle-to-upper-middle income buyers were forced to buy east of 82nd, there would be more residents advocating for bike and pedestrian safety.

christopher lee
Guest
christopher lee

welcome to the thunderdome!

KruckyBoy
Guest
KruckyBoy

I often think that people who ride in inner PDX don’t realize how good they have it. Riding anywhere past 82nd is always a challenge. I’m thrilled that these meetings are occurring and will try to attend the one on May 6th.

maritimus
Guest
maritimus

I used to commute out that way. The pot holes were the best part. Plenty of jumping the Mt. Bike and very little traffic. I would cross Division west of 82nd (by Keiser) and found the streets North of Division to be a little bit better and a little better connected. By far the most challenging part was crossing the arterial streets. You either have to find a light or hope today is not your last.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Most of the area east of I-205 was built up when it was outside the City, subject only to very lax county standards. It became part of the City in order to deal with a DEQ mandate to replace septic systems with sewer connections. I believe the City as a whole absorbed some of those costs.
I grew up in a similar area in SW, Multnomah, on an unpaved street with no sewer…eventually the latter was built, but street paving comes only with LIDs. My folks always preferred an unpaved street with potholes as it was safer of kids, dogs, etc and generated less run off in winter. I started riding a bike on that “calmed” street when I was about six…rocky but safe. Country living in the City!

Stig
Guest
Stig

Thanks for the meeting. Maybe I’ll attend the next one.

I commute from outer SE to outer NE. I’ve tried a few different routes and settled on 148th.

122nd’s bike lane stops and starts at different intersections due to right-hook situations. I’d rather not merge and keep the bike lane personally. Plus I hate contending with the buses on this road.

181st/182nd – too busy and the bike lane stops/starts at some intersections. How is a bike supposed to merge with traffic going 35mph on an arterial street just short of every other intersection anyway? Too many close calls from cars pulling ahead of me then almost stopping as they make a right turn. Some indicate, some don’t. I seem to get yelled at on this road a lot and had school kids walking in the bike lane as well. More buses.

148th is the best route for me. Bike lane is continuous. No buses! I’ve nearly been seriously hurt on it though, from cars leaving gaps in stopped traffic that I can’t see for other cars coming out of side streets crossing the bike lane who won’t see me. Traffic signals won’t detect bicycles so you’re either dependent upon cars triggering them for you or use the crosswalk. I’ve taken to coasting and sprinting to get in time with the cars activating the lights. Not exactly the safest of tactics, I know.

The Springwater Corridor and i84 path are great for East/West travel.

Adam
Guest
Adam

My daily commute takes me from Gresham to very near the Rumpus Room. If I hadn’t worked late that night I would have tried to make it to the get together. In response to #3, I ride Powell very often and actually prefer Division. Yes it has more lanes but it also has a median, something lacking on Powell. Nearly every time I ride on Powell I almost get hit by someone driving in the bike lane to get around someone stopped in the traffic lane attempting to turn left. Not to mention that there is not enough room on either main artery for buses to pull over and not be in the bike lane. Let’s get some love from the city for those of us in outer SE.

chriswnw
Guest
chriswnw

A bigger challenge would be a suburb like Beaverton. I used to live in a neighborhood near the junction of Canyon Rd and Hwy 217. There was no way to ride into Portland without using Beaverton-Hillsday or Canyon Rd.

Joe Adamski
Guest
Joe Adamski

I regret not heading out to the meetup, as a refugee from East County. Anonymous has the scenario pretty straight.. Portland absorbed East County to about 174th, took in a huge tax base and other than the sewer system, has so far done little to improve infrastructure. Along with annexation to the City has come much high density development in neighborhoods that are designed for autos, have little transit or communty places. The City needs to build,not just bike facilities,but parks, calm those huge blvds to allow safe passage across,and develop, over years, smaller neighborhood centers, opposed to the strip mall development currently in place.Lets hope that sewer gets paid off soon so some of that $$ can be redirected.

Dan Hawk
Guest
Dan Hawk

I was bummed to miss the meeting as I live really close just a few blocks from Cherry Park Elementary. Jonathan, as you were describing the ride out there, it was a pretty good narrative of the way things are and the frustrations of folks that live out this way. I commute into downtown via the Market St overpass and then to Mill which goes to Mt Tabor where there is a mild climb. When I come off of Tabor, It is Lincoln all the way down to Ladd’s Addition.

The bike traffic pretty much ends at about 52nd and all the routes get strange and don’t go straight through after that.

Caitlin
Guest
Caitlin

There is actually a really decent “bike route” on SE Market, Mill and Main. I rode it everyday from Mt. Tabor to 172nd last year. The city even painted a few signal trigger markers at my request. There was such low traffic that only a few cars passed me each morning. Aside from one pitbull incident, it was an excellent commute.

Bent Bloke
Guest
Bent Bloke

Jonathan and Elly, thanks for putting the meeting together. It was great to meet other folks from the area and talk about how we deal with the paltry infrastructure in Outer SE. And a nice write-up of the meeting!

Paul Swanson (aka Bent Bloke)

steve
Guest
steve

I agree with Caitlin in post #14.

Her route description is the way to go. Why would anyone be surprised at the experience of riding East on Division? I mean, unless you are from out of town..

The description of crossing Division is either laughable or terrifying, not sure which. I think someone needs to practice some vehicular cycling. Glad to see Elly at least knows how to get across the street!

Would you be shocked and surprised at the experience of biking down the 205? Arterials are just that, arterials. If you don’t like them, simply go one block over and you will be fine. Or you could learn to bike like a vehicle instead of a frightened, coddled, helmeted, bike laned…

chriswnw
Guest
chriswnw

Steve, the point is that East Portland lacks the parallel routes that you have throughout close-in. Market > Mill > Main is one of the very few. There isn’t one between East Division and Powell,

Dan Hawk
Guest
Dan Hawk

Chriswnw, You are right about that and the area just past 205 is a perfect example. The Cherry park neighborhood just on the North side of Division, between 96th and 112th has no thru streets. You actually have to go about 7 or 8 blocks north to Market to find the thru route.

The real bummer is that unless you already know where you are going, this particular route is hard to follow from 92nd going West. It jogs over a block 3 times and is not marked.

I used to ride the Clinton/Woodward route when I worked at another location and it has a couple of those jogs just on the West side of Franklin high school , but they are marked well.

All that being said, I can’t complain too much as I have a good low traffic route to work…and there are lots of options. The few times I’ve ventured out east, I really have to study a map and be ready to take a sort of roundabout way to where I’m going because the bike route grid thins out considerably.

chriswnw
Guest
chriswnw

It appears that Bush St, just south of Powell, will take you from 102nd to 151st, although you have to do a couple of weird jogs. Between 156th, 182nd, Division and Powell, you can navigate your way around using the back streets — they connect, but they are a convoluted mess and there is no one street that goes through. You will have to do a lot of turning.

Somebody mentioned a pitbull incident, and I can vouch for that. I used to live a few blocks past 82nd, and my experience is that the culture completely changes as soon as you cross to the east side. Lots of stray dogs and jacked-up pickup trucks driving 35-40 mph down 25 mph residential streets. I’d definitely strap a can of pepper spray to my handlebars if I had to commute through those streets regularly. I was chased twice in my old hood.

resident
Guest
resident

Once you get past 82nd, Burnside is your friend. Low traffic due to one lane in each direction. This along with the MAX line going smack down the middle of the road is a huge traffic calming device.

Word
Guest
Word

The Oregonian ran an article late last year regarding commuting on the East Side. The reporter actually rode with me from my house to downtown, to get a real world experience in what it’s like. The article is still on their web site at http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2008/12/outer_east_portland_gives_bike.html