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Worst commute in 20 years?! Not if you were on a bike

Posted by on December 29th, 2009 at 9:20 pm

Ridin’ along, peaceful and calm.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Excuse me while I gloat…

KGW-TV (Portland’s NBC affiliate) traffic reporter Michael Convery said this afternoon’s surprise snowstorm is the worst he’s seen in his nearly 20-year career in the Portland region. In a report tonight, he shared tales of a 25 mile backup on I-5 south of Tigard, about 50 abandoned vehicles on Highway 26 between the Zoo and I-405, the Fremont Bridge as a “high-rise parking lot”, and so on.

All of those things taken together led Convery to say, “That makes this the most unbelievable traffic afternoon in the last 20 years.”

“There was a dude running on the Burnside Bridge faster than I could ride and I was passing all the cars. The modes were turned on their heads.”

All afternoon in reports from friends and Mayor Sam Adams’ Twitter updates, I heard of nightmarish commutes. Buses that never showed up, MAX trains not running at all, streetcars left at the bottom of hills, cars sliding out, plows not being able to work because of all the abandoned cars, and heinously slow traffic even on surface streets.

But, through it all, people on bikes seemed to be not just moving along just fine, they actually seemed to be enjoying themselves. Imagine that!

Matt Picio decided to catch a movie (Avatar in IMAX 3D) and posted to his Facebook page that not only did he have the theater all to himself but that during the six mile ride he “was faster than the bus and ALL the cars” and that he was, “the fastest transportation in Portland right now that doesn’t ride rails.”

Check out Tony Fuentes, who rode from Lloyd Center to Concordia and just left a comment saying “Honestly, it wasn’t that bad (not that I would do it willingly, mind you).”:

Tony Fuents, post-commute.
(Photo: Jennifer Fuentes)

Alan Gunn is glad he just built up a new Surly Pugsley. “I actually pushed a small pickup as I rode by on my pugsley and got it unstuck. I love the snow!”

And Ken Southerland: “There was a dude running on the Burnside Bridge faster than I could ride and I was passing all the cars. The modes were turned on their heads.”

IanO left a comment on our Snow-pen Thread earlier today:

“I gotta say, it is a nice feeling to be able to soldier up a hill when other cars are spinning out. It also feels great getting and giving thumbs up to all the other intrepid bikers I passed on the way.”

Snowy commute-5

File photo. Taken January 2009.

And another commenter, Matthew, gets the last word:

“It’s beautiful out there. Rode from Lloyd Center area to North Portland (200 ft level) and passed cars stuck and others waiting to get stuck. It’s good going out there at this elevation provided you stick to the fresh snow, which isn’t difficult as auto traffic seems to be sticking to well-worn (and visible) trails in the main lanes. Avoid the ruts.

Memorable moments: Unlocking my bike at work, and having people on their way to their cars chuckle at me saying, in sarcasm, “Won’t YOU have a fun trip home tonight!” Well, yes I did, thank you, and faster than a lot of them.

Kudos to the couple in a Subaru with a bike rack who slowed down next to me on Interstate Ave and offered me a lift. Much appreciated, but I was having too much fun.”

Since PBOT and others seem to forget about bike traffic during snow storms, I just wanted to remind everyone that bikes are actually a viable and fun way to get around in this weather (as long as you ride cautiously of course). If you need further proof/inspiration, go back to our coverage of the major snow event we had back in January. And if this weather sticks around, you might want to consider studded tires or other modifications.

Happy Snow Days!

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. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Grey
Guest
Grey

My wife and I rode to the belmont library and back over the big hill on salmon. On the way back we had a driver tell us that riding was a bad idea. A driver without their lights on I might add. We had a pretty good time, except for our lack of good gloves.

metal cowboy
Guest

Ha! Makes me wish I wasn’t on vacation in sunny Califonia… almost. Atleast all the bike commute stories of passing stuck and abandoned cars makes me smile. Happy New Year – may it be one filled with the sound of your pedal strokes and your own breathing along a quiet, snow covered wonderland. Great photos, J – helps me see what I’m missing.

esther
Guest
esther

Bikes are better than planes, apparently- my sweetie and I are in california and were scheduled to fly back tonight on a plane that was coming from portland then returning. It apparently sat on the tarmac for several hours, so instead of getting back to portland after midnight tonight and trying to deal with our bikes (we don’t have any rain/snow gear with us!) we’re coming back tomorrow. Sad to miss the portland winter wonderland.

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

Every time it snows, I find it ironic to see the big pickups and 4wd vehicles getting stuck and spinning their tires. I wont say that I had an easy time, but it wasn’t impossible and at least I can pick up my bike and find a better spot on the road

Zaphod
Guest

The fat frank tires + some weight on the Xtracycle made for smooth sailing around NE PDX. I created an errand for myself so I could get out there… so amazing.

Mike Meade
Guest
Mike Meade

I commuted home from downtown to Foster Powell and had a great time. It only took me about fifteen extra minutes. However, I was nervous that I would be run over. Thankfully the cars behaved themselves.

MeghanH
Guest
MeghanH

As one in the skinny-tire crowd, I have to say I was grateful for a bus tonight. If I had ridden a bike with knobby tires, I could see giving it a go in the snow. Maybe. Here’s hoping all my fellow cyclists made it home safe!

K'Tesh
Guest
K'Tesh

I lost count of the number of cars I passed on SW Hall Blvd Tonight as I rode home. I was tempted to head for Hwy 217 (and really show off), but all the glass that was out there gave me pause.

My usual commute takes about one hour, tonight it took three.

I had a lot of fun, except where there were lots of footprints or tire tracks to make things a bit trecherous.

K'Tesh
Guest
K'Tesh

Once again, here’s my DIY on making your own studded tires:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/ufobike/sets/72157611457061681/

(I wasn’t using it tonight, I was expecting rain).

cold worker
Guest
cold worker

cars terrify me in this crap. not a fan. one of the reasons i moved back from minneapolis was this stuff. i rode road tires there year round, as i do here. not sure why everyone finds them impossible to use in situations like this (not a jab at you meghan h).

Jeff Parker
Guest

I was going to wuss out, but MAX was too full to get on even without my bike. And then- I had fun! I didn’t fall riding home to Hollywood from Downtown, just slid around a bit. The best approach for me is riding through the untracked snow, staying off the packed ice. I still had on the slicks I rode in on, and did fine.

Biggest problem was eyes pelted with snowflakes! I’m taking my workshop glasses tomorrow just in case.

Marcus Griffith
Guest
Marcus Griffith

Kudos for those who are able, willing and brave enough to bike commute in the snow. Just be careful to skyrocket visibility and caution levels. A cyclist victimized by a hit-and-run might get buried in the snow till spring…

patrickz
Guest
patrickz

As soon as it gets a bit lighter, I’m hitting the Spring Water Tr. (“Hitting” as a figure of speech)
Happy slush, one and all!

Andrew Holtz
Guest

Some of the hills around Sylvan were a challenge… but I always had the option of walking through the worst spots… not something the drivers stranded around me could do. Actually, most of the walking I did was not just because of the icy roads, but really because I wanted to stay out of the way of drivers that didn’t have control of their vehicles.

That included having to walk around the bike/ped connection between Humphrey/Hewett and the Sylvan bridge… because it was being used by cars and trucks to get around the mass of spun-out cars at Humphrey and Scholls Ferry.

justgetout&Ride
Guest
justgetout&Ride

My mountain bike was freakin awesome yesterday, felt like I was back in Colorado again. Gonna do some more MTB super happy fun time today. Snow+MTB=FUN
Good luck to all those skinny tired folks out there, be careful. I rhode my skinny yesterday for a bit but was to scared of falling in front of cars, went back and got the MTB, and had no worries at all. No need for studs, the traction was perfecto mundo. Hope we get more of this..YIPPY.. (praying to the snow gods for another artic blast like last year)
Keep the rubber side down everyone…

justgetout&Ride
Guest
justgetout&Ride

OH and one more thing “CARS SUCK like a BIG FAT DONKEY”
Yesterday was our day….
Bicycles RULE!!!!

Dolan Halbrook
Guest

Ditto Andrew.

I walked a number of intersections and part of the Lincoln hill due to the number of frustrating, sliding cars (and, well, 23c slicks only have limited grip on snow when the grade gets steep enough). Ironically every other day I ride on my other bike with 32c studs — sadly this was not one of those days…

Saw plenty of other riders out there. Hope everyone made it home safely.

drew
Guest
drew

Snow riding on residential streets is the best. I take the lane, and the few cars out there don’t even try to pass me, since they are usually going slower than me anyways. We are all making our way at a civilized pace.

After crashing hard a few years ago, I got studded tires. Always put them on when there may be ice or snow and it brings my riding confidence level way up. I carry them with me on my commute sometimes sometimes when ice or snow may cause riding conditions to deteriorate while I’m there. Even the threat of one big patch of ice is a good enough reason to have them on during my 14 mile commute.

Brad
Guest
Brad

Wow! Why wallow in smugness, Jonathan?

The news stations and weather forecasters blew the call. ODOT, PBOT, and TriMet got caught with their pants down as a result. It also exposed how ill prepared Portland is to deal with any sort of disaster. If this was a magnitude 7 earthquake or a terror attack instead of three inches of snow, this town is effectively screwed.

Yes, this is a pro-bike site. I found the traffic snarls a bit amusing but gloating is beneath someone who fancies himself an advocate. Of course, no one here would find it funny if a driver posted:

“I was sitting in traffic when one of those d-bag bikers couldn’t stop his bike and ran right into a fire hydrant. I rolled down my window and this hipster looking guy was rolling around screaming and bleeding. I think his leg bone went clear through his stupid skinny jeans. Anyway, he got what he deserved for riding a bike in the snow on streets built for cars. I rolled the window up and cranked my Toby Keith CD so I wouldn’t have to hear this a-hole moaning about his own stupid move. I could have called 911 but, screw him! Stupid biker LOL!”

Last night a lot of PEOPLE were just trying to get home, pick up their kids at daycare or get to a job. They were not trying to destroy the planet or assert the primacy of the motor vehicle. Many wrecked their cars and several got hurt in the process. I saw quite a few ambulances last night as I made my way home. Funny? Not really.

I question whether you or many in our community truly have the maturity and empathy to be true change agents. This affirms my belief than many bike advocates are just self-important dillettantes and not truly interested in a shared transportation system that works for all.

Tim
Guest
Tim

Liked the way folks were out on the street walking. Lots of smiles from the walkers, not so from the drivers.

I was able to ride everything except the last three blocks of 12% grade to my home. Took about an hour rather than 35 min. Still beat driving.

snowman
Guest
snowman

Kudos to Bike Gallery for loaning me a bike yesterday!

The bus driver decided not to drive to my neighborhood, so he went to the nearest transit center instead, leaving me to walk four miles home in dress shoes. Thankfully I stopped by Bike Gallery first, where they loaned me an ancient Bridgestone XO-5 (as well as a helmet and a light) that got me home quickly and safely.

This is why I continue to buy my bikes and gear at my local shop instead of the online retailers. 🙂

Rich, Your Neighbor
Guest
Rich, Your Neighbor

I drove yesterday and wished I hadn’t! I broke the cyclocross bike out when I got home though. Logged into the evergrowing “WTF Are You Thinking?” segment of my brain – cyclists that were riding between the buses and cars that were sliding around up Barbur just asking to be crushed. Stupidity.

chelsea
Guest
chelsea

I rode a little but mostly walked. I don’t trust most drivers enough to share the road with them in these conditions. I saw some pretty dumb moves and close calls from some of them, while still chatting on the cell phone no less… I hope I get another chance to practice snow riding soon. Maybe I should invest in some knobby tires…or a mountain bike! 🙂

Joe
Guest
Joe

go by bike! have to have some skills in this stuff. most is avoiding large objects
outta control. 😉

have fun.

Dave
Guest

Traffic coming down from OHSU was horrific, it was backed up from the bottom of the hill all the way up past the back side of the main hospital. Passed one guy in a car laying on his horn at the long line of non-moving cars in front of him and yelling.

I rode down the hill and through downtown, spots of downtown were a little dicey, but once I got to the waterfront, over the Hawthorne bridge was easy enough, and all along east side over to NE 24th was quiet, calm and a nice ride (I avoided main streets where cars were stuck and spinning out and whatnot). Didn’t take more than 10 min longer than usual.

I had told Clever Cycles earlier in the day I was coming by to have them add some grease to my bottom bracket bearings (BB has a grease port), and when I got there, Martina and Dylan were there and said “we were waiting for you! we’re closing up early, but we knew you were coming!” I need to make them cookies.

Got home completely un-eventfully (except that it was really fun riding in the snow), and proceeded to watch news reports of terror on all the surrounding highways, feeling very grateful that I live in the city.

Elliot
Guest
Elliot

Ditto Brad #19.

I was on my bike yesterday, but my wife has a job where she has to travel to the ‘burbs on short notice and had to hunker down at a job site until midnight. I was worried sick until she got home safe. People driving are PEOPLE too. Sticking our tongues out and going ‘nyah nyah’ won’t do anything except generate ill will.

And, judging from the number of TriMet buses with full bike racks, there were a lot of people on skinny slicks that decided to play it safe. Just like the drivers who didn’t know to pack chains yesterday morning, there were plenty of cyclists who had no idea they would be better off on knobbies come evening. If there were some sadistic “victory” for a certain mode yesterday when everyone else was screwed, I’d say it was won by the feet. Can’t beat walking for safety and reliability.

Fred
Guest
Fred

Road home to SW PDX along SW Terwilliger. Pretty easy ride since all of the cars were parked. I had to ride around all of them and the slid out buses.

I came upon an accident with a bus and a car near OHSU. The police were directing traffic and let me go before the cars.

I saw alot of people abandon there cars and walk away. It was fun passing all of the cars instead of them passing me for a change.

Dave
Guest

Appearance upon arriving home: http://www.flickr.com/photos/poetas/4227309780/

The worst part then was getting all the caked on snow off my bike and out of the fenders, and then cleaning up the big puddle on the floor 🙂

Jonathan Maus (Editor-in-Chief)
Guest

Brad and Elliot,

Wow. Umm, I think both of you are reading more into the story than I wrote. Really. I am merely pointing out how many people who rode bikes found last night’s commute quite efficient and enjoyable — the opposite of what our city officials and the news were talking about re: the motor vehicle commute.

I have plenty of empathy for folks that were caught out in that mess. And here’s a shocker — my wife Juli was one of them! I never wrote anything like “nyah nyah” nor do I claim any “victory” for bikes over other modes.

Be safe out there folks — no matter how you’re getting around.

Afro Biker
Guest
Afro Biker

Brad:
The “hipster” hitting a fire hydrant…I love it! Keep up the good work!

Duncan
Guest
Duncan

Ok why does 3″ of snow cause such an issue? In Boston they wouldnt even call out the plows… here its a disaster.

Dave
Guest

@Duncan: because here we usually only have about 2-3 days per year with any snow accumulation on the ground, so we don’t have the means or the know-how to deal with it when it does happen. It’s easier to just have everyone “rough it” through those couple days and call it good.

Kt
Guest
Kt

The problem with snow and ice and Portland is…. people don’t know how to drive in it.

And/or they don’t have the proper equipment for it– like, snow tires (not studded tires, those things are crap).

I had snow tires, AWD, and great skills in driving on uncertain surfaces. I knew I could get home safely and efficiently– but I didn’t want to put myself out there with all the stupid people who don’t know what they are doing. It was safer for me to hang out at my office with my brothers (we work together) and watch the antics for a while.

Some of us were not “hunkered down”– we went out to dinner. 🙂

I left the office at 8pm and got home about 8:30pm. I watched a few people on bikes going past our office, they seemed to be going along just fine– definitely much faster than the car traffic.

JM, I think Brad and Elliot are reacting to your first line, “Excuse me while I gloat”.

Elliot
Guest
Elliot

Jonathan, I believe you about your intended sentiment, but the first line of your story reads “Excuse me while I gloat…”

Don’t you see how that could start things off on the wrong foot in setting the tone of an article?

middle of the road guy
Guest
middle of the road guy

@34.

Elliot,

I got the very same impression from Jonathan’s post.

And I saw ALOT of unhappy cyclists walking their bikes, esp. on Rt. 43. I almost pulled over to offer a ride home to one, but it was pretty unsafe to stop in the first place.

TonyT
Guest
TonyT

Brad and Elliot,

Relax. It’s called fun.

Seriously. You ride a bike, the snow hits, you get home with few issues and turn on the media to find everyone freakin the hell out. And we’re not allowed to have a collective chuckle about it without being called all sorts of names??

It’s snow. It’s fun. Sorry not everyone enjoyed it, but does that mean we can’t point out some obvious ironies?

Sheesh.

Jonathan Maus (Editor-in-Chief)
Guest

Yes, I wrote “excuse me while i gloat…” And yes, I did want to revel in the fact that bikes were a fun/efficient way for many to get around yesterday.

guess i still forget how some folks hang on every word.

Bikes are awesome! Cars are awesome!

And yes, I’m not afraid to gloat about bikes now and again and I don’t think it will be the end of the world when I do.

thanks for the feedback.

Burk
Guest
Burk

Commute home = FAIL

I so wanted to ride home but the cleats for my Speedplay pedals got plugged up with snow every time I put a foot down.

That stuff was like cement when it got in the cleat, I got about a third of the way home and had to call my wife to come and pick me up. All that cross racing gone to waste. (hangs head in shame)

dan
Guest
dan

Pretty tricky technical ride home for me last night. I was at work until 6, and by the time I got out, there were lots of ruts. Fresh snow (when I could find any) was simple, but the ruts were really slick and knocked the bike round when I crossed in/out of them. 26 inch slicks at 90 psi didn’t help – give me knobbies for surfaces like that!

Still, only added about 15 minutes to my commute – the scariest part was almost getting clipped by a car that slid through a stop sign at 38th and Lincoln.

Mike
Guest
Mike

I rode from the MAX station in Goose Hollow, down SW Columbia to the waterfront, then back through downtown toward NW via SW 4th, and eventually home to NW Raleigh and NW 23rd or so.

The entire route was pretty well gridlocked at 5PM when I did it, with only one operating bus that I noticed. In most cases I wasn’t just the fastest person on the street but the only person mobile at all. People were lined up at bus stops in huge groups throughout downtown.

It was a slippery ride but I had no major problems riding 700×23 tires fully inflated. Today I’ve added fenders and let a bit of pressure out, rides fine.

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

“26 inch slicks at 90 psi didn’t help – give me knobbies for surfaces like that!”

Next time let some air out. I was slaloming at 60 psi…lol.

bahueh
Guest
bahueh

Not the best ride home on 23’s even with a lower pressure. some walking to get out of the way of drivers hurrying to leave work early…got off E. Hawthorne ASAP and took back roads through Ladds.
not too bad once off the main arterials. 39th was a parking lot. 50th was a parking lot. Division, Hawthorne…all parking lots. Had one nice truck driver ask if I wanted a ride home.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

My turn to gloat!
I had a fine time driving home in my jacked up SUV (never touched 4wd). Then I picked up my wife and we had a great time driving around in our small Subaru. No problems, only a slight delay returning from the mall.

Paul Souders
Guest

I had the same thought as Brad (#19) re: disasters.
Imagine if a big quake shook down 2 or 3 bridges? What’s the city plan for something like that?

I got home around 4pm, no trouble. My family walked to Burlingame park, directly on the Terwilliger curves. Traffic was at a dead stop inbound, just creeping outbound. People were abandoning their cars.

This was an extra anomalous storm: no one predicted or expected snow, just rain. PDX was caught with its pants down … this happens everywhere, even in places that get lots of bad weather. But the shocking thing to me was how many people ditched their cars. That kicked off a massive cascade of fail.

That was the most shocking event of the day, it seems like Drivers Ed 101 to me: if the car gets stuck STAY WITH YOUR CAR. I grew up in snow country and this was a lesson my parents worked hard to impress on me. (And this was way before cel phones & SUVs). Your odds of survival are much better IN your car than ON the road. Not to mention it brings traffic (and rescue vehicles, plows, etc.) to a dead stop. Of all the fail yesterday, that was the failiest.

dan
Guest
dan

“Next time let some air out. I was slaloming at 60 psi…lol.”

Too lazy to bleed my valves – I have presta to schrader adapters, which I need for my awesome blue LED valve-stem lights. I couldn’t be bothered to take the extra 20 seconds to open the adapters and bleed pressure. How American is that? Couldn’t take 20 extra seconds to make my commute 50% less wiggy and cut 5-10 minutes in travel time. 🙂

TonyT
Guest
Tonyt

Brad,

Help me out here but other than post #16 saying that cars suck, no one wrote anything even remotely celebrating anyone being injured. If we are really so bad, why the need to invent a strawman out of whole cloth?

I find it interesting that in attempting to paint us as blood-thirsty eco-purists, wishing ill on others, you so blithly conjur a rather vivid and violent injury for a very particular niche within the cycling community. Seems to betray just which one of us harbors the unresolved hostility here.

matt picio
Guest

Duncan (#31) – Mainly because Boston has no real hills to speak of. It’s very difficult to get around Portland without hitting hills, especially when one needs to get to Beaverton/Hillsboro, Clackamas County, or Gresham. Also, Boston routinely gets snow, so the city owns dozens of snowplows and salts the roads. Portland sands the roads, and has fewer than 10 vehicles which can act as snowplows.

matt picio
Guest

Oh, also – and this is a generalization – half the people in Oregon weren’t born here, and of that half, the largest group are former Californians. Many (possibly most) Californians have NO experience driving in snow or on ice, and just don’t have the skills.

q`Ztal
Guest
q`Ztal

Contract plows
Allow private citizens who own a plow to make extra bucks on these crazy snow hazard days in Portland. Imagine all the F350’s coming down from Mt Hood to make some quick cash.

Dolan Halbrook
Guest