Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Riding along with Paul Cole: Short but sweet in the city

Posted by on April 11th, 2013 at 12:38 pm

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Paul Cole outside his apartment building in Old Town.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland

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

Prepare to be envious of Paul Cole’s commute. This 29-year-old northwest Portland resident has a commute that’s only about 1.5 miles, most of it on relatively low-stress streets, and he also gets to ride over the Willamette River every day.

Cole, who works in marketing for a software firm, lives in an apartment in Old Town at NW 5th and Everett. He moved to Portland from St. Augustine Florida in 2007 and hadn’t ridden a bike since childhood when he moved here. One day he stumbled into Bike Gallery during one of their big sales and bought a bike. “I was kind of nervous at first,” he recalled, as he packed his panniers and got ready for work (he stores his bike in his apartment).

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To build confidence in riding again, Cole used the paths in Waterfront Park as a training ground. One of his favorite rides was to head south on the paths to Willamette Park. Back then, Cole weighed about 270 pounds. Now he’s a svelte-looking 200 or so. “I remember being totally exhausted at first. I was really out of shape.” Eventually things got easier and he began to venture out of Waterfront Park and onto city streets. Then, like many Portlanders, he had his first crash on streetcar tracks. But it didn’t keep him off the bike. By the end of 2008 he was biking to work every day from downtown to his old job at SE 70th and Division. Since then he’s ridden to work all but one day.

Eventually he upgraded to a Novara commuter/road bike with drop bars, racks and fenders. When some friends from St. Augustine visited a few years ago, he ventured out on his first bike tour, riding to Astoria and camping a few nights on the coast. He’s also done overnighters at Stub Stewart State Park near Vernonia (getting most of the way there on the MAX).

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Riding SW 5th on the transit mall.

As we rolled out on SW 5th, he said he doesn’t mind riding on the transit mall, but he doesn’t like the turning restrictions. The first few blocks of his commute, from Old Town and onto West Burnside, are the busiest part of his route. Despite what seem like intimidating conditions, Cole has learned to love how traffic signals help keep things under control.

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Riding on W. Burnside.

As we rolled onto the Burnside Bridge, Cole surprised me by saying it’s his favorite bridge to ride on. The Burnside, with its standard bike lanes next to high-speed traffic, doesn’t usually come up as a favorite. The Broadway, Hawthorne, and Steel all have dedicated paths away from auto traffic and they tend to be the ones features in commercials and marketing brochures. But Cole says he prefers the Burnside: “It’s got a big, wide bike lane and it’s on the same level [as the roadway].” As for the other bridges? “Riding on Hawthorne makes me nervous because if you fall you’re heading right onto that steel grating; on the Steel you can’t ride over the top, and Morrison, well, I never ride on it.”

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After soaking in the river view, we came to the new green bike lane on East Burnside. Cole appreciates the new lanes; but says he forces himself to stay vigilant and always expect right-hooks. “I feel like you can get too complacent and think cars will realize they shouldn’t turn ahead of you. You can’t rely on that. People [driving cars] will dart in [to the bike lane] at the last second to make the right turn.”

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Headed over to SE Ankeny from Burnside.

Cole chooses to stay on Burnside just long enough to cross the busy MLK and Grand couplet. Continuing east, he prefers to be on SE Ankeny. Ankeny is one of the oldest bike-specific streets in Portland. It’s got sharrows and it’s relatively low-stress. It also connects to a lot of other bikeways and destinations. “Ankeny is great,” Cole says, “It’s one of my favorite streets to ride on. You can get to a lot of places on it… Laurelhurst Theater, Laurelhurst Park.”

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Crossing SE 7th from Ankeny can be a bit challenging.

Yesterday morning, Cole planned to stop in at a bakery to grab breakfast. He turned off SE Ankeny at 13th and headed south toward the “vegan mini-mall” at 12th and Stark. En route to getting his morning quiche, Cole pulled right into an on-street bike corral.

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The morning auto traffic on SE Stark can be pretty tricky. Stark in the central eastside is narrow and without any dedicated bike space. Cars headed west (downhill a bit) go fast and it was challenging for Cole to re-enter traffic in order to make a left turn (south) to our final destination.

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When he doesn’t stop for breakfast, Cole takes SE 6th to get south through the central eastside. Why not SE 7th, I asked, because it’s the larger street with a bike lane that most people take. Cole said he prefers 6th because it’s quieter and less stressful. But isn’t it slower? I asked. “It’s a 10 minute ride,” replied Cole, “If it becomes a 12 ride it’s really not a big deal.”

As we turned east onto SE Salmon, headed to SE 7th, Cole said the crossings can be dangerous. “People park their cars all the way to the corners,” he said, “So it’s hard to see oncoming traffic.” Overgrown trees blocking stop signs also makes things tricky.

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Shared lane environment of SE 12th 11th.

After waiting for a break in the traffic on SE 7th, Cole rolled into his office. There’s a bike rack right inside. His boss lives just a few blocks away and walks to work, so Cole said he’s very supportive of his employees who bike to work.

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Nice to have indoor, secure bike parking at work.

I appreciated Cole’s calm and collected riding style. I seem to always be in a hurry to get where I’m going, but Cole rides slowly and methodically, and he’ll go out of his way to ride on quieter, low-stress streets. Despite his riding experience, Cole seems to fit somewhere in between the “interested but concerned” and “strong and fearless” categories. He doesn’t like roads with high-speed auto traffic and no bike facilities and he’ll go out of his way to find safer, more pleasant routes.

I hope you learned something by riding along with Paul Cole.

And Paul, thanks for letting me tag along!

— 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. Read more Ride Alongs here. If you’d like your commute to be considered, please get in touch.

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

  • Allan April 11, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    you can ride the upper deck of the steel. I do it all the time!

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    • Paul Cole April 11, 2013 at 1:48 pm

      I know you can and I meant to explain that a bit more. The separated area of the top deck is too narrow for me to feel comfortable and I feel that cars come down the steel bridge too fast for me to want to share the road with them.


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    • Brooke April 17, 2013 at 3:49 pm

      But you are a little crazy, Allan. That must be considered.

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  • CPAC April 11, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    I don’t think a rider who seeks out quieter, more pleasant streets, or who isn’t “in a hurry” is necessarily anywhere on the spectrum between “strong and fearless” and “interested but concerned.”

    I consider myself in the “strong and fearless” category. But, like Cole, I prefer quieter streets. I’ll ride anywhere, but given the option, I’d rather take a couple extra minutes and enjoy the ride.

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  • John Liu
    John Liu April 11, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    Ssssh, don’t tell anyone, but the Burnside is also my preferred bridge. You don’t have to share the path with pedestrians, and often you don’t even have to share with other cyclists – it is your private bike lane across the river. Getting to and from the west end of the bridge is sometimes a bus-clogged chore; on the east end, the East Burnside-Couch couplet project has resulted in smoothly-flowing one-way streets with lights well timed for riding.

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    • yoyossarian April 11, 2013 at 2:01 pm

      I agree the Burnside is a great connector from downtown tot he SE given the timing of lights on the couplet and that it’s a straight shot all the way up to SE 13th. I do, however, often feel like I’m riding on the side of a freeway as fast as cars drive.

      Another issue is that fact that during rush hour it’s often so backed up that people block the bike lane when turning onto MLK, and right hooks are a problem with frustrated drivers turning off E Burnside on a whim because they think a side street (ie Ankeny) would be faster.

      I like to envision a larger, protected, and bi-direction bike lane starting from Broadway downtown and going all the way to SE 13th, where folks can turn off on Ankeny. It would be a straight and fast connection for bikes coming to and from a large swath of the SE and it would only require removing one lane of traffic on the bridge and east Burnside, still leaving two full lanes westbound. Oh, and it solves the Couch/Grand right hook problem too.

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    • Mindful Cyclist April 11, 2013 at 7:31 pm

      I also prefer the Burnside Bridge among all others. The Hawthorne is way too busy with the amount of pedestrians going both directions and the amount of bicycles. The same could be said for the lower deck of the Steel Bridge. The Morrison Bridge is just too hard to connect to, but I am still glad it is there. The Broadway Bridge is just fine, but I think it is a bit of a personal thing where I feel a bit claustrophobic with the big beams and it can be a bit difficult to pass slower riders if they are in the middle of the path.

      It would be nice if the Burnside Bridge had the bike lane treatment on the West side like they have on the East side.

      Whether or not I take the bike lane all the way up to 13th or not depends on how well I hit the light and how often I am going to have to try to get around a bus. I agree that Ankeny is a nice little oasis away from Burnside, but getting across that 11th/Sandy/Ankeny intersection can be a challenge.

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    • mark kenseth April 11, 2013 at 8:51 pm

      I like the Burnside because of it’s clear view of the Steel and Hawthorne; beautiful bridges from a distance.

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  • Anne Hawley April 11, 2013 at 1:52 pm


    And Cole’s style is exactly my style. And his weight loss is very similar to my weight loss. And his commute choices are very much like my commute choices. I like Cole! Thank you, Cole!

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  • Champs April 11, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    The Burnside Bridge sucks, but less than the Steel Bridge upper deck or the Morrison. But not in a million years would I turn off to Ankeny if I had plans of crossing the spaghetti junction.

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  • RJ April 11, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    This is a cool series. You get the simple pleasures (and annoyances) of the daily ride, with some insight into the long-term benefits. I’d probably be about 30 lbs heavier if I didn’t ride every day!

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  • Eric April 11, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    Haha crazy! My old Subaru is in the second to last picture. I’d recognize those green ikea cutting board mudflats anywhere! I recently sold it so I could try going carless. Sorry to hijack. Great ride along!

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  • basketloverd April 11, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    Have you thought about taking a day out and riding with a messenger?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 11, 2013 at 2:54 pm

      Oh yes. Definitely have thought of that. I know a few who work downtown. Thanks for the nudge! I just hate to annoy them with my presence and trying to keep up and photographing and all that. But yes. I should do it!

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      • grimm April 11, 2013 at 3:20 pm

        Should follow Sharky before he leaves or retires.

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        • Scott April 11, 2013 at 5:07 pm

          No one can follow Sharky.

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      • basketloverd April 12, 2013 at 8:27 am

        Maybe spin it a bit bigger and just do the job for a day, the “ride a mile on my saddle” kinda thing. Then there is the other bikey type businesses both on the bike and off.

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  • longgone April 11, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    Welcome to Portland and back to bicycling,Cole ! .. sorry you had to lose the Florida sunshine.

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  • Ron April 11, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    Great Article. I like the visuals as well. It is a nice intimate portrayal of Portlanders doing their thang. I read with envy up here in Vancouver, BC! I look forward to be visiting this year again!! Thanks!

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  • Nick April 11, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    Bike next to the kitchen. Rolled jeans. Army-green frame. Yellow pannier. Short commute on quiet streets. Indoor parking at work. Paul, you totally got it dialed. And a perfect example of investment in bike infrastructure paying dividends improving the health of its residents.

    The ride-alongs rock.

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  • dwainedibbly April 11, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    Great article. Mrs Dibbly & I love this series. Keep them coming! (I had never considered that the Burnside could be a decent biking route, but now I’m just about convinced to give it a try.)

    We gave up the Florida sunshine almost 3 years ago, too. We also gave up the Florida humidity, the Florida heat, the Florida drivers, the Florida lack of infrastructure, etc, etc, etc.

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  • Reza April 11, 2013 at 11:17 pm

    Jonathan, it was great to read about a Central City-centric commute but I was hoping that your writeup would include some discussion about the trip on SE 12th. I find the 11th/12th couplet to be a fast north-south connection but not the most comfortable on the uphill ride (12th) due to the speed differential between cars and bicycles. I have sometimes been a victim of aggressive driving and honking on this stretch. Any such problems here? Did you guys take the right lane or did you stay to the right? The three pictures kind of show both positions being taken (1st and 3rd show Paul staying to the right of the lane, whereas the 2nd show him taking the lane).

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    • A.K. April 12, 2013 at 6:43 am

      I think Jonathan has those three pictures mislabeded… they are on 11th, not 12th, and since 11th is going downhill it’s a bit easier to keep up with traffic.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 12, 2013 at 10:11 am

      Hi Reza,

      Like A.K. pointed out, we were actually on 11th, not 12th. And I agree with your assessment of what it’s like to ride on that couplet. We were on 11th, which was downhill, so the ride was uneventful and due to low traffic volumes, it felt fine taking the lane.

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  • gl. April 12, 2013 at 12:25 am

    i like the burnside, too. can we get a bike lane on the whole couch couplet? the east part make me feel like i have to puff myself up big like a kitten and hope hope hope nobody hits me.

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    • spare_wheel April 12, 2013 at 7:33 am

      are you aware that you are asking PBOT to violate the fundamental human right to motor-vehicle storage spots?

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  • Kdub April 12, 2013 at 6:32 am

    I really enjoy these kind of articles! Thank you for sharing his story!

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  • spare_wheel April 12, 2013 at 7:24 am

    ride-alongs, “people who ride bicycles” pic-posts, and ladd’s addition stop sign posts are my favorite type of post.

    keep ’em coming jonathan!

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  • TOM April 14, 2013 at 9:17 am

    I like this series too. Would like to see a ride-along with someone from far SE on the Springwater MUP to downtown, and see if they encounter the same conditions that I do.

    Generally cyclist put their single panniers on the left side to balance out the crank/derailleur weight that’s built into the right side.

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