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.
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.
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.
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”.
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!?”
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.
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.
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.