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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thanks for letting me tag along Stasia!