The Worst Day of the Year Ride is February 11th

Riding Along with Julie Kramer from Lloyd Center to Sellwood

Posted by on January 11th, 2013 at 11:56 am

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Julie Kramer gets ready for her daily commute to work.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland

When you think about going for a drive, do you ever choose your route based on avoiding dangerous and high-stress intersections? I doubt it. The sad truth is that for many people who bike in this city, route selection is almost entirely based on that criterion. Northeast Portland resident Julie Kramer is one of those people.

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I joined Julie for her ride into work yesterday morning as part of our ongoing Ride Along series (sponsored by MetroMile).

Julie, 41, works as a sales and purchasing manager at one of Portland’s most successful bike shops, Sellwood Cycle Repair. She’s lived in Portland since 2008 and was carfree until last fall (she and her partner bought a car so they could get to mountain bike trails, take trips to the coast, go camping, and so on). Julie lives just a few blocks south of Irving Park in northeast and her work is about 6-7 miles due south. As you can tell by her bike and attire, she’s an experienced rider.

When it was time to head to work, we rolled south from her place near NE 10th and Brazee toward the Lloyd District. The Lloyd area is well-known as a frustrating barrier in the bike network. The mall and its parking structure break much of the area’s connectivity and until recently there were very few quality bikeways in any direction. Thankfully, recent improvements on NE Multnomah (east-west) and NE 7th (north-south) have made things a bit better.

About riding through the Lloyd each day, Julie seemed more annoyed than concerned for her safety. “There are lots of stops. I find it a little bit frustrating.”

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As we rolled down 9th (which has no dedicated bikeway) near the Lloyd Center Tower building, Julie pointed out her least favorite thing about riding through the Lloyd: “Breathing all the smoke from people on their smoke breaks!” While that’s no fun, Julie also mentioned all the awesome sights and smells of her commute — coffee being roasted, beer being brewed, deer on the Springwater — that more than make up for it.

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From 9th we made our way onto the NE 12th Ave overcrossing, which has received recent bike access improvements. Being an experienced rider, the new sharrows and other changes haven’t impacted Julie too much. “I’m a pretty confident rider, I’ve been doing this a long time,” she said, and then added, “But there are still places where I get nervous, where I get pinched or squeezed. And if I feel that way, I figure new riders must be terrified.”

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Making our way south on 12th, she pointed out how busy Benson High can get during morning drop-off and evening pick-up. Then we were at the hectic Burnside/Sandy/12th intersection. Julie said she’s tried all sorts of routes in this area. “I used to go down 11th and it was pretty contentious. Too many people [in cars] were not too happy with me being there.”

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These days she’s opting for 7th Ave, the main north-south thoroughfare in the central eastside. It’s got a dedicated bike lane, but it’s only 4-5 feet wide. With a crowded parking lane, some big intersections and lots of cross-streets, it’s far from low-stress.

“You have to stay pretty vigilant through here,” Julie said as we rode across Morrison, “Especially when people park right up the corner it’s hard to see cross-traffic. I had altercation with a guy who was blocking the bike lane while waiting for coffee at Hot Bikini Brew (a drive-up coffee joint seen (in pink) below). He didn’t seem to think it was a big deal.”

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SE 7th ends at Division, where we had to start sharing the lane before crossing railroad tracks onto 8th. With a long line of cars backed up at Powell, Julie showed me her trick for getting over to the Powell bike/walk overcrossing. She skirted left mid-block on 9th and got on the sidewalk. We went left on SE Woodward and continued on the sidewalk all the way to the overcrossing. It was a sweet little route, but it underscores the lack of safe bikeway connections in this area.

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Up onto the Powell overcrossing, we enjoyed the painted mural on the walls and made our way down to the calm residential section of 9th south of Powell. Milwaukie (one block east) is the main thoroughfare in this area, but it’s no fun for bikes. “For a while I was using Milwaukie,” Julie shared, “But it’s horrible. There’s no bike lane.”

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SE 9th was nice and quiet; but we ultimately had to leave it and hop on Milwaukie for a few blocks to take advantage of the signalized crossing over SE Holgate. As we neared Oaks Bottom park, Julie pointed out the tricky Hwy 99E offramp that merges onto Milwaukie. “They kind of look, if they see you in their rear-view mirror.” Julie said, referring to people exiting the freeway.

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Riding on the bluff above the Willamette with Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge below us, we were treated to gorgeous views. But our eyes quickly turned back to the road when cars parked along Milwaukie forced us into the lane which we shared with (relatively) fast-moving cars and buses.

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Finally off Milwaukie, we pedaled into quiet residential Sellwood neighborhoods on SE 15th. Continuing south, Julie pointed out a long stretch of uncontrolled intersections (no stop signs in any direction). She said these can be a bit unnerving and she’s called the City to ask about them. Thankfully, there is usually very little cross-traffic; but I can relate to her concerns.

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As we made our way onto SE 14th, we rode by a beautiful grove of trees behind the Portland Memorial Funeral Home) and enjoyed views of Oaks Bottom. I’d never ridden on 14th, so the trees and the view were a pleasant surprise.

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Julie’s work is on Sellwood’s main drag – SE 13th. While in some ways it’s a quaint main street, it’s also busy and it has no dedicated bike space. “When we send people out on test rides,” Julie shared, “We tell them to never ride on 13th. We send them back into the neighborhoods.” I found it unfortunate that this shop-lined main street wasn’t more welcoming.

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Overall, I enjoyed Julie’s company and was happy to discover new routes. But I have to say, most of Julie’s commute is pretty substandard in terms of bikeway quality and connectivity. One of Portland’s Achilles heels is a major lack of north-south bikeways from inner northeast to southeast. While she takes the Springwater/Esplanade path sometimes, it’s not very direct. Julie has figured out a route that works for her; but it’s hardly the type of experience that would encourage people to give cycling a try. When someone’s bike route to work is based almost completely on avoiding high-stress and dangerous intersections, that’s a problem.

Julie says she’s looking forward to having the option of riding on the new Portland-Milwaukie light rail line (opening in 2015), but for now she’ll continue her circuitous, somewhat disjointed daily ride.

Thanks for letting me tag along Julie!

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— Special thanks to MetroMile for sponsoring these stories. For more Ride Alongs, browse the archives.

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

  • Alexis January 11, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    Nice ride-along report. I love that Julie balances the positive with the negative by appreciating the scenery and some of the good bike bits. I totally agree with the theme, though. I live nearby (a bit further south and east) and going south is always a question of “which annoying thing do I want to do today?”

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  • JL January 11, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    I like your ride along with Julie but in the article she mentions the deer on the spring water but on this particular route she has to get to work the spring water was not used at all.
    Was it intentional to take one of the least bike friendly routes for this article to demonstrate a point?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 11, 2013 at 12:50 pm

      Hi JL,

      Julie takes all sorts of different routes depending on various factors. She takes the Springwater sometimes but the route in this story is her most common one.

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      • JL January 11, 2013 at 2:18 pm

        Thanks for replying Jonathan, Just wondering what prompted using this route on the day. I took different routes also (when I had a job) depending on time of day/car traffic.

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      • Carl January 14, 2013 at 10:36 am

        Makes sense to me. If safety was her top concern, she’d take the Springwater. If getting there fast was her top concern, she’d just ride MLK to McLoughlin. Instead, she does what many of us do: take the relatively-safe and relatively-direct route.

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  • Anne Hawley
    Anne Hawley January 11, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Great coverage and photos of conditions on the North-South axis. I don’t have to ride that way often, but when I have, I’ve found it difficult and scary. This article makes those difficulties really clear. I wonder how long it will take PBOT to address some of the disconnects.

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  • dmc` January 11, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    I love the picture of Julie on the overcrossing at Powell. The cars are all backed up and lined up with the gas station and drive through fast food joint all reaching out with their signs attempting to wrangle another lazy american like a fisherman would scoop smelt out of a hectic river.

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  • PJ January 11, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    The Springwater really does seem like the obvious choice here and not really “indirect” either. The Springwater is ideal for a Lloyd to Sellwood ride and certainly more pleasant and I would think faster given no car traffic. Her route baffles me.

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  • jeremy January 11, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    I love these articles–it makes my daily commute seem so mundane…although I wonder, if the claim is that Julie is primarily concerned with safety, doesn’t it make sense to take the extra .5 mile and head down to the Springwater? No crossing of Powell, Holgate, anything. I think drivers constantly make decisions much like Julie, and go a bit out of the way to the freeway to avoid the stop and go of the surface streets. It seems like if the stress and hazard of her route would cause me to hit the car/stop free springwater. The annoying hill at the end to get back to sellwood would be less so because Julie wouldn’t have to schlep my kid on her bike 🙂 All in all, well done and great ride.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 11, 2013 at 2:23 pm

      Hey Jeremy,

      Julie isn’t primarily concerned with safety. I think she just wants a direct route… As I said, she’s a confident rider and, while she has some stress on her surface street route, I think she ultimately feels safe. I won’t speak for her; but I feel her pain. I tend to avoid going out of my way for a bit more safety even if it’s “just” 1/2 mile. I think we should expect equally safe and direct routes as any other type of road user.

      And I disagree w/ you that “drivers constantly make decisions much like Julie.” I can say that when I drive, safety and stress almost never cross my mind. Annoying, excessive stopping, yes. absolutely. but not safety concerns. While Julie is indeed annoyed at her windy and stop-filled route, she is taking it because other options are either 1) too far out of the way or 2) too high-stress.

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      • PJ January 11, 2013 at 3:01 pm

        That pretty much directly contradicts your opening paragraph. Now I’m confused.

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        • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 11, 2013 at 3:18 pm


          I can see why you’re confused. I didn’t say safety isn’t a factor… just that it’s one factor. I should let Julie speak for herself. Hopefully she’ll comment when she gets the chance.

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      • Chris I January 11, 2013 at 3:20 pm

        Seems like the Springwater would take about the same amount of time. If she cuts west on Division, it isn’t far the the trail, and then you have a direct route with almost zero stops and no signals. You can really get speed up on the trail, especially in the winter when it isn’t crowded.

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  • mark kenseth January 11, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    I really like these ride-alongs. It’s a glimpse of real ride choices.

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  • sw resident January 11, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    I did almost this identical point to point commute for years. But I took Spokane to Spring Water to the Esplanade to Steel to Holladay. Some days I never had a single light.
    I don’t understand how she could come up with such a convoluted route that puts her in so many dangerous situations. I’ll congratulate her on her creativity in coming up with this, though. Each to their own but this route is just bizarre and Byzantine.

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    • spencer January 11, 2013 at 6:39 pm

      you’re forgetting about the 10-15 blocks east she has to climb off the river to get to Sellwood Cycle repair, if shes riding quickly, it would be faster to ride her route as its shorter. I’d prefer the slightly longer route myself. As a super experienced roadie/commuter/ mtb’er etc etc, i’m finding my tolerance of being near car and sometimes other bike traffic is waning. I’m often riding neighborhood surface streets instead of bike blvds as there is so much car cut through traffic on clinton and overton. The greenways are used at rush hour bypasses. We need more routes , and more routes that prevent car traffic from overwhelming them.

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    • spare_wheel January 12, 2013 at 8:04 am

      I take 12th and Milwaukie because it is, for me, the quickest and most direct route. should I now make some scathing comment about your route?

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      • spare_wheel January 12, 2013 at 8:05 am

        12th = 11th

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  • Jim Lee January 11, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    Years ago when I worked at 8th & Powell, in the building just visible above the bus, I employed the same technique as Julie for ascending the 270 degree ramps to the flyover–out of the saddle–the only choice on a fixie. It made me realize just how much more torque is available without a freewheel.

    This is a neat and functional design for getting over busy highways; why do we not have more of them? The consecutive 270s add to 540 degrees, a full circle plus 180, meaning one’s course on exit is reversed from course on entry, which long has intrigued me. Flyover and ramps are tucked into little space; this scheme easily could be used at many other places.

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  • Terry D January 11, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    Enjoyable pictorial.

    This route going to be one of the major improvements from the light rail, and other related, bike projects. This corridor is going to be transformed. From the Springwater the 19th avenue greenway not only will connect to the 17th avenue MUP heading south connecting to the Trolly trail but also north to SE 17th and Insley and that waterfront connection near Holgate/ McGlaughlin. Heading north, SE 17th will have new bike lanes until the new Powell overpass, with a MUP path connection on the west side which will lead seamlessly northward hooking up with the Clinton street Greenway and the 7th avenue bike lanes, and of course the waterfront and points downtown. Assuming of course everything in the works with funding still gets built with the new administration. I would like to see as part of the Division redo a bike traffic light south bound on 16th and Division. Northbound the traffic light on 17th works fine to get to the 16 avenue greenway, but southbound is a bear and bike traffic will increase significantly when this new bike friendly corridor opens up.

    Now, we NEED the 7th avenue overpass of Sullivan’s Gulch and there can be some real conductivity. The 9th Avenue Greenway from Divison to Tillamook (or Holman for that Mater) would be nice as well.

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  • Bob J January 11, 2013 at 11:45 pm

    I used to ride a jag up 17th/16th (21st for I84) from Sellwood to Alberta every day. It wasn’t the most beautiful around the industrial bus depot, but a relatively straight shot. With the destruction of the overpass at Powell, I’ve realized how hemmed in Sellwood is for cyclists not going downtown. Getting car-sqeezed on SE Milwaukie or 3-month old wet leaves and slaloming street-racers on Bybee/28th don’t endear me to those routes. I’m looking forward to its reopening to once again have the safest and most contiguous avenue available.

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  • James January 12, 2013 at 7:06 am

    Thanks for doing these Ride Along posts. I really enjoyed it and the photos that followed.

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  • julie January 12, 2013 at 9:14 am

    Thanks Jonathan, it was a fun ride! As you say, this is one of the most common routes I currently use to ride to work. Essentially for a year and a half, I’ve lived on NE 11th, near Knott, and work on SE 13th, near Tacoma, so as the crow flies, it could be a very direct six or seven miles. In reality, many factors influence my choice each day. For instance today, Saturday morning, if I take the Springwater/Esplanade, it will be crowded with other riders, runners, strollers, rollerbladers, dog walkers–all making it, in effect, not very direct. There are some connections that become very difficult Northbound versus Southbound, so that’s a factor as well. There’s construction on SE 17th (South of Powell), and SE 9th (North of Powell) so I’ve made adjustments there. Often I take the Springwater at night, when I leave work at about 7pm. By that time, the other users have gone home, and I only have the homeless population, deer, and a few cyclists (with and without lights) to look out for. It does not always feel safer than riding on the surface streets. Occasionally I find that something as benign as a new restaurant’s success (think Bunk Bar or Produce Row, for instance) or the construction of new condos (e.g., Burnside and 12th) changes my route because suddenly the car traffic and parking and fencing has created a bottleneck or too many hazards. On the other hand, riding along on SE Water Ave and finding the drum corps Last Regiment practicing under the Morrison Bridge is delightful! When leaves are falling, and the rest of the city seems to be cleaned up, Brooklyn neighborhood is still incredibly treacherous, so that changes from one of my favorite Summer routes to least favorite Autumn route. As Jonathan points out, my route is sometimes more about avoiding annoying things, or it might include running some errands before or after work. Different things annoy different people, right? In nice weather I might use my road bike and go nearly as fast as vehicular traffic on SE 11th, or I might ride my simple, upright city bike, in a skirt, going very slowly on the Esplanade. This story is just one slice of one day amongst many. Thanks for reading.

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    • 9watts January 12, 2013 at 9:47 am

      I wish Amanda Fritz would read these stories.
      Thanks to you both julie and Jonathan.

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  • Tom January 12, 2013 at 9:57 am

    J, Love this series! Come join me for my night commute home from ER in clackamas (9:30pm) to overlook neighborhood. Last night: 3 cats, 4 deer…if lucky will see a coon & coyote. 205 to Spring water to Eastbank ..only short distance on street (which is amazing). My co-workers think I’m nuts but it is a beaitiful ride and have not had any significant issues

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  • Robert January 12, 2013 at 11:40 am

    I have nearly the same commute from Lloyd to Sellwood. I take the Springwater way, but I do get a bit tired of the heavy pedestrian traffic along the esplanade. Maybe I should give this route a try! Maybe I’ll even see Julie along the way 😉

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  • 007 January 12, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    Having lived 2 blocks from Iriving Park in the past, I never took this particular route and wouldn’t have considered it for a second. I always rode 7th to the steel bridge and took the Katz Esplanade and Springwater Corridor to Sellwood.

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  • Sean January 12, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    Great write up. I look forward to more of these and I’d like to see a vancouver to portland ride. I’ve ridden various routes along the I-5 corridor for the last 6 months and it would be nice to see what other riders do.

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  • Robert January 12, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    I love the idea of ride-alongs, Jonathan, and it’s something I’d like to see happen in Boulder, CO. It gives cyclists and readers an idea of the various struggles and decision processes that go on, from a wide variety of cyclists’ abilities, commutes, etc.

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    • Asatrur January 13, 2013 at 6:37 am

      I live in Longmont, CO and commute to Superior and would love to see stories like this all over the front range of CO.

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      • johnny January 22, 2013 at 1:19 pm

        As for the Longmont rider ‘Asatrur’, maybe you could document your own ride or have a friend assist and this might encourage others to do the same.

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  • Bc January 13, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    Love the ridealongs. How about each time including suggested infrastructure improvements that would make the commute safe and inviting for the interested but concerned riders?

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  • Nate January 14, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    Thanks to both of you for shining the spotlight on the sorts of tradeoffs we make by choosing to go by bike. Think of the complaints the city gets when they ask drivers to detour from their “normal route” for just a few days for construction, etc. And yet, we hear all the time that we should just ‘bike on that route out of traffic’.

    I’m similar to Julie in that I am a “experienced” rider willing to take some less ideal routes for efficiency sake. Crossing I-84 N->S in the evening usually means launching from the sidewalk (when safe, of course) from the southeast corner of NE Everett onto NE Grand, taking the left-most lane over the freeway and then taking a left onto NE LLoyd until it turns into N Interstate. It’s an option that borders on terrible, but it keeps me rolling. (And the new bike signal at NE MLK/Lloyd is sweet too.)

    We take what we can get, and [hopefully] keep agitating/advocating for more and better options!

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  • Art Fuldodger January 15, 2013 at 9:25 am

    Good bit, Jonathan, seeing the route it through Julie’s eyes, and her commentary on it – looking forward to more of these.

    “As you can tell by her bike and attire, she’s an experienced rider”

    I’m sure Julie is, but : really? Pretty sure you don’t need credentials to buy the full kit. Hence the abundance of spandex-clad tyros oft noted by BP commenters.

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  • Joe January 15, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    very cool seeing ppls ride routes and how they get around when ” bike lanes ” missing and such, I do some very URBAN miles getting out to the west side from Portland, bet it would blow ppls minds. * not bragging * just saying very little bike infra and once you get to the burbs, be careful cars drive fast and yell/honk for you to get out of the road.

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  • Rol January 15, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    I disagree that you can tell from someone’s bike and attire how experienced they are. All you can tell is what type of bike and attire they prefer (if they’re experienced) or what type of bike and attire was marketed to them (if they’re noobs).

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  • jeremy January 15, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    I pass Julie all the time on the way to work. Awesome!

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  • Joe January 15, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    called ride share jeremy 🙂

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