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Riding along with Stasia Honnold: Clinton bikeway to the Oregon Zoo

Posted by on February 6th, 2013 at 12:37 pm

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Stasia Honnold does a lot of smiling
on her daily commute.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Welcome to the latest installment of our Ride Along series, which is sponsored by MetroMile.

Last week I joined Stasia Honnold for her morning commute. Stasia, 29, lives just a block south of SE Division near 40th and she rides up to the Oregon Zoo each day where she works in the Zoo’s education programs. It’s about an eight-mile trip each way, and unlike many commuters that head up and over the West Hills, Stasia rides up through Washington Park instead of hopping on light rail.

Stasia came to Portland in 2001 to go to college at Lewis & Clark (for undergrad, not law school). After graduating, she moved to Lake Oswego, only to realize that it was a bit far from downtown Portland. She didn’t own a car, and she didn’t really want one; but the only bike she has was the beater she rode in college. “I didn’t want the hassle, and cars are expensive. I realized I could get a car or a really nice bike, so I bought a bike.” That “really nice bike” is an aluminum Trek road bike. Despite its looks as a road racing machine, it’s proven to be quite versatile. Stasia has taken it on tours and attaches a trailer to it for running errands.

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Stasia still doesn’t own a car, and she’s so smitten with cycling and no-car life, she even shares her “Carfree rambles” on a blog.

I met Stasia in the small house she shares with her partner James. As we stood in the kitchen exchanging pleasantries, I commented how quaint and quiet their street seemed. They then pointed out that the house would have been demolished if the Mt. Hood Freeway would have been built.

Once we mounted up and rolled west toward downtown, Stasia and I quickly found ourselves on another type of freeway; the Clinton bike boulevard. We were just a pair of riders in a long line of people biking in our same direction. While I was surprised at how speedy everyone rode, the impact of safety in numbers was clear. “It’s nice to have a well-used, well-established bike boulevard by our house,” said Stasia, “because I think that most people who use the street are super aware of other people on the road.”

Clinton is one of Portland’s original bike boulevards (before the term neighborhood greenway came into fashion). It has sharrows, bike boxes, diversion elements, speed bumps, and it even features City-funded bike art and sculptural elements meant to help designate it as a street for bikes.

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As we rode, Stasia pointed out that people tend to drive slower on Clinton because of all the people on bikes. Beyond safety, the bike boulevard on Clinton — and the pleasant riding conditions through Ladd Circle — offers a social component as well. I was pleasantly surprised to find ourselves in a pack of 11 people on bikes at the intersection of SE 20th and Division. “With so many people in one spot,” Stasia said, “you end up chatting with other people around you. I love the five-minute interactions that spring up when there are other cyclists around.”

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Sure enough, as we made our way west on SE Clay toward the Willamette River, Stasia had struck up a conversation that lasted from Clay, across SE Hawthorne, and ended with a handshake and introduction in the bike box on SE Madison and Grand.

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Riding onto the Hawthorne Bridge is a highlight for Stasia. “I love this part!” she exclaimed as she craned her neck northward for views of the Willamette bridges and Waterfront Park shrouded in a bit of morning fog.

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Unfortunately, one of the best parts of Stasia’s ride is followed by the worst. Despite its national reputation as one of the busiest bridges for bike traffic in America, the Hawthorne Bridge disrespectfully dumps you right onto downtown streets. SE Main is full of cracks and potholes. People on bikes have to share the lanes with buses and people driving, turning, and trolling for parking spots. “This sucks. I absolutely hate this part,” is what Stasia thinks about it.

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When we talked about that section of the ride later, Stasia said, “It’s really too bad that the Hawthorne bridge, which is used by so many cyclists, dumps you into all that craziness of downtown.”

To avoid the “craziness,” Stasia will go way out of her way to find a more pleasant route. Sometimes she’ll bike all the way north through Waterfront Park to northwest Portland and take a “super back way into the Zoo.” “It seems like a real bike lane even just for the seven blocks up to Broadway from the Hawthorne bridge would go a long way toward making people who aren’t necessarily fearless bikers feel safer.” I could not agree more.

After making it through downtown, we found our way onto SW Jefferson in Goose Hollow. I had never been west on Jefferson past the MAX stop at SW 14th, so it was nice to discover a bike lane that takes you directly into Washington Park. The green hills and quiet were a welcome change from stressful downtown traffic, and the gorgeous Vista Avenue arch bridge was an unexpected scenic treat.

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The bike lane on SW Jefferson led me to another discovery: the Madison Street Trail. This is a short spur at the bottom of Washington Park that provides great access from Jefferson.

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Once into Washington Park, the climbing began. “Why don’t you just take the MAX?” I asked Stasia. “Because I looove this part of the ride,” she replied, “It’s beautiful, and I really like the hills.”

And what’s not to like? The climb isn’t too steep, and the surroundings are spectacular.

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Stasia rides up to the zoo year-round. She loves experiencing the changing seasons in the way only biking can offer. “Look at that bird,” she excitedly shared, while I huffed and puffed up the hill, “It’s a Varied Thrush, you only see them in winter.” She couldn’t answer when I asked what her favorite season is, but she did mention snow days — like this one last spring — are quite memorable.

Stasia is something of an advocate for this route. She wants more people to ride up the hill instead of taking the MAX. I think it’s because she just wants to share the inspiring beauty of the place; but I have a hunch she’d also like a few more folks to chat with.

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Thanks for letting me tag along Stasia!

— The BikePortland Ride Alongs are sponsored by MetroMile which is offering the country’s first true pay per mile car insurance. So if you drive less, you pay less. Check out past Ride Alongs here.

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  • Ryan February 6, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    Stasia is a regular volunteer at Breakfast on the Bridges. I haven’t known her that long, but long enough to tell you that she is a delightful person and super-strong rider! Thanks for the story.

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    • stasia February 6, 2013 at 9:38 pm

      aw, shucks–thanks, Ryan! Though that reminds me, you have my tupperware! I’ll have to get that back from you before the next bridge breakfast so I can bring more treats!:)

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  • lavie.lama February 6, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    I love reading these posts; thanks!

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  • DK February 6, 2013 at 1:12 pm


    This is a regular ride for me as well (almost exactly), though mine is for pleasure rather than commute. It’s a great route!

    Comments on the Hawthorne bridge dumping you on a downtown street are absolutely valid. I, myself, like this part of the ride as I find special satisfaction in pacing cars (and even more if I can pass them. :)) but I can certainly imagine less experienced cyclists finding this stretch a daunting obstacle. This is too bad, because the rest of the route really is spectacular, as you’ve now discovered for yourself. 😉

    With regard to striking up conversations with complete strangers…I never do that! 😉

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    • spare_wheel February 6, 2013 at 1:38 pm

      even though i prefer to *illegally* take the lane immediately off the bridge ramp, i would strongly support bike-specific signalling here.

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  • sciencesque February 6, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    “This sucks. I absolutely hate this part,”
    …that’s exactly how I feel every day. I enjoyed reading this piece, thanks

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  • Adam H. February 6, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    When I visited Portland this past summer, I rode a bit downtown and didn’t find it too crazy. Maybe this is because I am used to Chicago streets, which tend to carry faster traffic and crazier drivers. Riding in the Loop is generally unpleasant, but I have gotten used to it and it’s not so bad now.

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    • Scott February 6, 2013 at 5:55 pm

      You are totally wrong. Despite any infrastructure you can point to in Portland, it has the worst drivers of any city I have ridden in. You were fooled by a small sampling.

      Portland drivers by and large get freaked out when driving in the rain. I mean c’mon. If you haven’t grasped it yet, move to AZ or anywhere you can justify being surprised by the different driving style needed in the presence of moisture.

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      • Adam H. February 6, 2013 at 7:04 pm

        That may be true, but at least Portland drivers stop for you at crosswalks and don’t try to run you over when on your bike. The same cannot be said for Chicago drivers.

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        • Scott February 8, 2013 at 6:03 pm

          You can say that no drivers stop in Chicago. You can’t say that all drivers stop in Portland. 100% is always better to count on than a mixed bag. My policy is always, “Don’t do me no favors”.

          I also think that cars are not required to stop for bikes in a crosswalk, so why should they? If everyone knew, and was following the rules, wouldn’t that make it easier?

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          • Adam H. February 8, 2013 at 6:40 pm

            I was referring to stopping for me as a pedestrian. Car drivers rarely stop for me, even when crossing at one of those new “Stop for Pedestrians” signs. I found the opposite to be true in Portland.

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      • Chris I February 7, 2013 at 2:48 pm

        Have you ever been to south Florida?

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  • Anne Hawley
    Anne Hawley February 6, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    What a gorgeous commute! Stasia seems to occupy a niche of cyclists not normally identified: she’s strong and fearless but she prefers safe, calm, and scenic riding. I can relate to that.

    Thanks for another great ride-along post, Jonathan.

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    • spare_wheel February 6, 2013 at 1:49 pm

      i really hate the “strong and fearless” label. i am strong, experienced, confident, and enthusiastic, but i am absolutely not fearless.

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    • axoplasm February 6, 2013 at 2:40 pm

      “I can relate to that.”

      Me too.

      This is an awesome commute, kind of the opposite of mine. I think lots of folks are daunted by their first trip up the Big Hill and don’t try again. (or they don’t even try at all?) So they MAX through the best part. The more you ride it, the easier it gets; but it never gets less beautiful.

      “Don’t buy upgrades, ride up grades.”

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  • Jake February 6, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    Haha, I call that dump off the Hawthorne Bridge “the gauntlet.” It’s even worse going the other way (down Madison, heading east). The way she’s going, she could merge all the way to the left after the bridge, turn left on 1st, then use the bike lane all the way up Jefferson into Goose Hollow.

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  • SilkySlim February 6, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    I have had a secret crush on “Orange Single Speed w/ Disc Brakes” girl all winter (in some of the earlier photos). Considering this another missed connection.

    – Guy on Black Bike w/ Yellow Fenders and Handlebars That Also Goes on David Through the Park Blocks

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  • Justin February 6, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    Nice shout-out to the varied thrush. Love that bird!

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  • Dan February 6, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    I love that path up into the zoo, but I felt like heading west on Jefferson was one of the more dangerous stretches on my commute so now I head west on Hoyt/Johnson instead, and cross Burnside to get the the zoo.

    Now that I think about it, is that new route any safer?

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  • Nick February 6, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    Totally agree w/ Stasia’s preference to pedal up Washington Park. It’s magic being immersed in the forest in the middle of the city. The car traffic on this stretch is very light and respectful of cyclists.

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  • Backmarker February 6, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    Huh; I actually find the bridge to be more sketchy than the streets it dumps onto unless I hit it far from busy hours… The cyclists of various speeds and pedestrians going both directions make for an unpredictable mix. With cars I mostly just have to watch out for unsignaled right turns.

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    • Dan February 6, 2013 at 2:15 pm

      I prefer the top of the Steele bridge rather than the path below for the same reason. Many people on bikes are unpredictable.

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  • Champs February 6, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    Stay awesome, Stasia. You’re damn right that people should be riding through the park.

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  • brett February 6, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    great story! thanks so much

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  • Chris I February 6, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    That route up through Washington Park is one of my favorite rides in Portland. I am envious of this commute!

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  • Neil
    Neil February 6, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    When I was working at the Olympic Mills Commerce Center and riding in from Beaverton, This was my route back and forth over the west hills. It’s a great ride up and down both ways.

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  • Rebecca February 6, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    This photo collection pretty much sums up everything I love about Portland. What a beautiful ride, Stasia!

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  • Lynne February 6, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    Beautiful commute. I am so jealous.

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  • Austin February 6, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    Great ride! I love seeing / reading commute profiles in another great cycling city.

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  • Indy February 6, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    Her opinion of Hawthorne traffic dumping you downtown seems absurd to me.

    I don’t want entitlement as a biker, I just want the same transportation options. The cars in this are often go slower than me on a bike, so it’s not that big a deal.

    Fast places like Barbur or other high-speed highways? Give me protection.

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    • BURR February 6, 2013 at 4:24 pm

      The real problem at the west end of the Hawthorne bridge is not that cyclists are ‘dumped out’ on the downtown street grid, but rather, that the condition of the pavement on those first couple of blocks of SW Main street is so abysmal.

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      • nuovorecord February 6, 2013 at 4:32 pm

        Yeah, all those bikes are really tearing up the pavement through there. 😉

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      • lyle w. February 6, 2013 at 9:34 pm

        And everybody just imagine if 1st turned right there, instead of left. How many right-hooks per day would we see? 15? 30?

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        • spare_wheel February 7, 2013 at 12:08 am

          the way the bike lane fades out likely helps prevent right hooks at 2nd. its a pity that pbot did not use a similar treatment at 3rd and madison.

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    • rider February 6, 2013 at 4:31 pm

      Good for you.

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  • anon February 6, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    I would love to know what Stasia’s “super back way” to the Zoo is!

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    • Carl February 7, 2013 at 1:59 am

      Just a hunch but…I’m guessing she crosses W Burnside at NW 24th Pl. and enters the park there.

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      • Brian February 7, 2013 at 8:31 am

        Carl- that’s the way I like to go. It’s a good one. But, tell everyone to be careful going downhill near the hairpin turns. There is moss on the road surface and it is slip-per-ry.

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  • Kim February 7, 2013 at 11:24 am

    Stasia went to Lewis and Clark for grad school too, and I remember her as a biking inspiration even then. When she first started student teaching, I think her biking commute was something ridiculous like 50 miles a day. But she was still smiling every time she got to class! I still think of her often. Thanks for the post!

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  • jeremy February 7, 2013 at 11:47 am

    Great ride, great report. I ride a similar commute–45th and Hawthorne to my daughter’s school on Vista Ridge (I often go over the Vista Bridge instead of under it….) and I have to agree with the “gauntlet” at the end of the Hawthorne bridge. I am a pretty strong confident rider, but with a 6 year old on the back of the xtracycle, I try to be more cautious. I don’t think I need a bike lane there (I take the lane and the lights are timed perfectly for bikers) but at 4th after the fountain, I nearly get right hooked (and doored by people dropping off their carpoolies) every day. I have taken to swinging out to the left side of cars and passing while they turn right. I would also like to see the pavement smoothed out…I only wish there was a shot of the bike counter as you two went by—then I would know how early this ride happens. I tend to be too early for too much of a chatty crowd at my stop signs/lights. I love this “series” and I hope it continues!

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  • randonnerd February 7, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    That hill every day… no wonder she kicks my ass so hard on every single OR Randonneurs brevet she’s ever done. Stasia is the smiliest, badass-est lady I know.

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  • stasia February 7, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    Thanks for riding along with me, Jonathan:) And just to set the record straight for everyone, there was no “huffing and puffing” (though there WAS a varied thrush:) Jonathan’s sandbagging you. He rocked it up the hill like a champ, even with his crazy workhorse bike and camera.

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  • beck February 8, 2013 at 4:52 am

    I love reading these! thanks!

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  • Gary February 8, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    Inspiring. Must run in the family!

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  • Espi February 17, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    Not only is she inspirational with her positivity, thoughtfulness, and biking prowess, but she also reminds us of the joys of connecting with others in our community through her chats with strangers at intersections. May we all take more time for that!

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