Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Reader Story: A pleasant way around SW Barbur Blvd

Posted by on August 7th, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Reader Kevin Wagoner created this map to help explain his favorite new way to avoid SW Barbur Blvd on his daily commute.

Today’s Reader Story comes from southwest Portland resident Kevin Wagoner. He has a route to share that avoids treacherous and unpleasant SW Barbur Blvd. He also drew some cool graphics to go with it….


I’ve been cycling to downtown from South Burlingame for the last decade. Barbur is a fast way to get downtown on a bike. Unfortunately the ride includes merging into traffic going much faster when the bike lane suddenly ends at multiple spots. Places like the bridges and the ‘y’ intersection at Natio Parkway need improvements and lower speeds to improve safety.

Recently I’ve started riding along the river to SW trails to get home. Following the SW trail along the river out of downtown is a much more fun and safe experience. I personally enjoy the daily wildlife encounters; highlights include the occasional beaver, seal or eagle.

(Graphic by Kevin Wagoner)

Here’s my route:

At Willamette Park turn right on Nebraska. Continue two blocks to Virginia. From here go forward to SW Corbett (very steep) or turn left toward Laview (less steep one block up Taylors Ferry). Once at the top of Corbett continue south and turn right on Custer. Take Custer until it turns into a short gravel section to a set of steep stairs. Climbing up the stairs will take you into South Burlingame.

The section at the end of Custer is part of the SW Trails. It runs under I-5, doesn’t have the safest feel, and due to gravel and steep hill it won’t be an alternative for everyone. Creating a paved bike trail here would increase the number of bikes (and people) in this area, which could help make it feel much safer. I know some of the neighbors in this area take personal responsibility in keeping the area clean. They paint over graffiti, chase off people doing drugs, and pick up trash along the area. Routing more cyclists through this area would help create a more positive experience and help the efforts to make the area awesome.

This route likely adds 25 minutes combined both directions to my commute each day. Sometimes those minutes feel very valuable as I race home to pick up my child from daycare. Other times those minutes are pure enjoyable cycling leisure. Let me know if you ride this route and what you think.


Thanks for sharing your story Kevin! You can find more Reader Stories in our archives. If anyone else has a story they’d like to share with the community, please send it in via email or use our online submission form.

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  • Jon August 7, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    I live in this region also. Terwilliger is a better route in my opinion. I avoid Barbur like the plague. Terwilliger has more elevation gain than Barbur but it is all pretty gentle and the cars are going much slower.

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    • Indy August 7, 2013 at 2:19 pm

      Terwilliger also has a great sidewalk for kids just getting started in biking. I take my kids down it to the various bike events, without issue.

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    • Kris August 7, 2013 at 5:00 pm

      I also tend to take Terwilliger. It’s not what you’d call flat, but it’s a beautiful ride most of the way.

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    • Steve August 8, 2013 at 8:18 am

      I don’t understand the problem with Barber blvd. I ride it 5 days a week all year to Lake Oswego and have for 5 years with zero problems. The shoulders are good, the markings are good, and they recently repaved and bufferd a large portion of it. It’s a pretty nice way to get to work with out having to go way out of my way.
      Maybe if it was red carpeted or lined with gold it would be more appealing to people.

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  • El Biciclero August 7, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    Why aren’t there fast routes that aren’t deadly?

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  • LoveDoctor August 7, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    I use Barbur everyday. Though I consider myself one of the “fearless” commuters and will often take the lane on the bridge sections of Barbur, it is still done with some fear, though I’ve never had anything more than an occasional honk from an impatient motorist. I’ve done Corbett to Custer, then over I5 via Brier, but the magnitude of the hill makes it a tough ride to do every day. I’ll try this route, as it undoubtedly will be a more fun experience than Barbur. Kevin, THANKS for posting this route as an alternative. One question, from the Googlicious maps, I can’t quite tell where 4th ends up and where it actually crosses I5. Any more specifics on this?

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    • Kevin Wagoner August 7, 2013 at 7:16 pm

      Hi, Custer dead ends into a dirt road/path that goes under Terwilliger parallel to I5 (feels like you are under I5 too). This dirt road takes you to a set of stairs that reaches up into S Burlingame on 4th (directly under Terwilliger). Hope that helps!

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  • Indy August 7, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    Please don’t make SWTrails a bike path. This solution seems absurd for 90% of riders. Corbett and those stairs on Custer are some of the steepest paths in the entire city.

    The solution seems brain-dead simple to me:

    – Increase access for bikes on the two bridges on Barbur. These are by far the most dangerous parts of Barbur.
    – Dedicated Protected lane for bikers.
    – Reduce the speed limit by 5-10 mph on Barbur and go with the road diet plan. Barbur up until Swan Mart heading North is very low traffic 99% of the day, you really don’t need the two lanes on that bridge. Maybe make it two lanes in the mornings heading North, and 2 lanes in the evening going South, like the San Fransisco Bridges do?

    But that solutions like this are even considered, shows what a mess SW biking is compared to the East side.

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    • VTRC August 7, 2013 at 3:22 pm

      The bridges might be scary but I always found the right hook potential of cars going onto Capitol or (coming the other way) the 2 lane merge to get onto 4th to be real hair raising moments.

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    • Kevin Wagoner August 7, 2013 at 7:20 pm

      Hi, I really hope our city/state governments tackle Barber soon. Check out the link 9watts posted above. In my opinion the motivation or will is not there to do something soon. If I understand it correctly, there is no timeline therefore we shouldn’t assume it will happen.

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      • Cip August 7, 2013 at 11:53 pm

        For some reason we claim to be a bike friendly metro region, yet the city and state are completely comfortable with ignoring a massive swath of the population…an entire quadrant of the city, by ignoring the SW.

        Yes, we can ride on Terwilliger or Barbur, but those are not realistic for everyone. Some folks are not in the shape that Terwilliger requires. Personally, I work long hours, at the end of a very common 12+ hour day, the very last thing I want to do is either climb Terwilliger to get home, or ride on Barbur with the sleepy or inebriated. Competing for road space with 60mph morning traffic on Barbur isn’t really an inviting start to the morning either.

        This city pays a lot of lip service to being progressive, but when push comes to shove, it’s a progressiveness of convenience. We had a wave of planning, activism, and change with organizations like the BTA in the 90’s. They revolutionized the city, but it feels like collectively we have taken our eyes off the prize of a city where bikes are easily a person’s primary mode of transportation, and have decided that that is only true for the east side and down town.

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  • Jessica Roberts
    Jessica Roberts August 7, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    Can you make that graphic clickable to load a larger version? It looks fantastic, but I’m having trouble reading it at this size…

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  • Nate August 7, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    I take the reverse of part of this route to my job on SW Macadam and have a slightly different way that bypasses the steep climb up Corbett. Though, I am headed to Cedar Hills and not SW Burlingame. But still, this is a way to avoid taking LaView out of your way.

    Cross Macadam at Nevada St, right by the OPB offices. Take a left at Virginia and follow it to Taylors Ferry. But instead of catching LaView and riding it up, I dismount and take the stairs that cut straight up to SW Kelly at the Custer intersection. Ride up Custer, but instead of taking the gravel trail, follow SW Brier Pl across I-5, hang a left onto SW Miles, and then only follow Barbur until SW Bertha.

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    • Kevin Wagoner August 7, 2013 at 8:21 pm

      Nate, I am impressed that you take those stairs!

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  • Sunny August 7, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    Take the tram up to OHSU. Glide back down. Someday. Someday.

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  • bean August 7, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    I was recently in Burlington, Vermont. On one of their busier streets that is too narrow for an official bike lane there are signs stating that “Bikes are ALLOWED to Take the Lane” . Seems like that could work on Barbur.

    Paint the right lanes of the 2 bridges green, post 2 signs. Done. When bikes are in the lane, cars need to wait it out.

    I ride Barbur almost every day morning and night. I use the brightest headlights and taillights that I know of all year round. Cars see me from the other end of the straight-away on Barbur.
    Barbur is the best route because it has the mellowest grade. If I really want a quiet ride I take the bike SuperHighway to Sellwood, across the Sellwood Bridge and up the Cemetary roads.

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    • Kevin Wagoner August 12, 2013 at 7:39 pm

      Agreed, more cycling markings noting the good routes for autos and bikes would be cool.

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  • Arem August 7, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    Honestly, I was a bit surprised to find an article on this route via Corbett and La View, since I happened to take this route yesterday on my way from downtown to Uwajimaya in Beaverton. I wanted to see if for myself since it showed up on the Google biking directions from my home in NE Portland. Several years ago I lived in Beaverton and would commute to downtown using Barbur frequently. I both dreaded and looked forward to the end of the day and my ride home. Sometimes I would stay late just to wait out the heaviest traffic times to decrease the unease and potentially alarming time spent going up Barbur to reach Multnomah. On this trip I also recalled the awful junction from Oleson to Allen via Garden Home unless one knows about the Oregon Power trail tucked away across the street from Thriftway.
    Anyway, back over by the river, going through the south waterfront area was decent, although the construction and some of the behaviors of other road users could be rather hair-raising. Getting over to Willamette Park and crossing Macadam via Nebraska to get to Corbett, I knew I was in for a climb, but I had to get off my ride after the first bit – the grade is high and I thought my heart was going to burst out of my chest. Hiking the rest was still strenuous and I felt exhausted by the time I finished my ride. So, here’s the trade-off: extra physical effort and time for an increased perception of personal safety away from highway-like SW Barbur. Additionally, on the return-trip there is very little time spent on Barbur, however the ride downhill on Corbett was horrible. The road going up has a newer surface, the road going down is in terrible disrepair. I rode my brakes the entire way down, it may as well have been all cobble stones for all the bouncing and shaking. I thought for certain if I didn’t control my descent that I’d be taking a class in flying & face-planting 101.

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    • Kevin Wagoner August 7, 2013 at 8:24 pm

      Thanks for sharing your experience. I like Laview over Corbett but take them both. Corbett is not for everyone you point out the difficulties going up and down well.

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    • Chris I August 8, 2013 at 8:05 am

      I grew up on the steepest part of Corbett, and I’m glad the street is crappy and uneven. There has always been a problem with speeding drivers; bottoming out on the transitions, catching air after the flats… the rough surface helps to slow most drivers down. If it were smooth, average speeds would increase.

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      • Kevin Wagoner August 12, 2013 at 7:40 pm

        That is probably true.

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    • GlowBoy August 8, 2013 at 11:08 pm

      I generally ride home from Beaverton via Hall, Oleson, Multnomah and Barbur in the summertime, but occasionally come downhill through the cemetery, down Fulton Park or the Custer steps described above, and take the Sellwood Bridge home instead of the Ross Island.

      I actually don’t mind riding the gravel right next to the Custer steps – as a mountain biker I don’t consider it THAT steep, and it’s not a challenge at all on a bike with 38c tires. The only part I dislike is the two benches partially blocking this route. I get by the upper one okay, but the lower one usually forces me to dismount. Anyway, it’s fun little secret off-pavement route, and a wonderful green space tucked in next to the freeway. It took several years of commuting to Beaverton before I discovered this little gem.

      Today I rode down Fulton Park/Brier/Custer/LaView and then crossed the Sellwood Bridge and headed back north on the Springwater freeway, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it only took 5-7 minutes longer to get home to Brooklyn vs. staying on Barbur (dealing with the awful bridge crossings*) and going home over the Ross Island Bridge.

      * I’ve never actually had a conflict or close call riding those Barbur bridges, but I know that if I ride it very many times I’m eventually GOING to. I won’t ride there when it’s dark and rainy, and this is the main reason that in winter I usually ride go home through via the (hillier) Sylvan area instead. The sooner they fix Barbur, the better. A road diet would be nice, but improved sidewalks, ramps and railings on the bridges would at least be minimally acceptable.

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  • Fred August 7, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    Nice work Kevin. As a SW resident, it can be kind of fun mapping and testing new routes away from the high volume, high speed routes. I have found many routes that yield great work outs, views and peace from the cars.

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  • jonno August 8, 2013 at 6:06 am

    I commute from King City and the Barbur stretch is like a walk in the park compared to what I face on hwy 99.

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  • Nick August 8, 2013 at 8:52 am

    Nice work Kev, love the pictures. I personally enjoy riding the SW hills as opposed to the boring grid of the east side. Yes it requires fitness but you are rewarded with riding in an urban forest. Since changing jobs and working downtown, I now have to ride Barbur when not feeling motivated to ride up Chesapeake to Fairmount to avoid traffic in the morning or I am running late. I never come home on Barbur though, the right-hook risk at Capitol Hwy turn-off is not worth it. I choose from one of the following: Vista/Montgomery, Zoo/Fairview to Skyline, 12th/Cardinell – Broadway to Fairmount, Terwilliger, or Lovejoy-Cornell, Thompson-Skyline (for extra miles). I think SW is full of great riding and low traffic if you are willing to climb.

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    • Kevin Wagoner August 8, 2013 at 8:04 pm

      I’ll have to try 12th/Cardinell – Broadway to Fairmount. I think you did that to me a long time ago and I popped half way up.

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  • Wilf August 8, 2013 at 4:35 pm


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  • Ted Buehler August 9, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    Workarounds are good, to provide a slower, but safer and more comfortable option to a fast, dangerous direct route.

    But, the principle is that sustainable transportation modes should not be penalized with a longer, slower, more energy-intensive route…

    Ted Buehler

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  • Kevin Wagoner August 12, 2013 at 7:45 pm

    There are several good comments about Terwilliger on here. I take that route about every 2 weeks. I’ve never had a close call but I note that a lot cars and buses ride in the bike lane for extended periods. Has anyone else noticed that? I would be curious if that impacts your perception of safety? I find the area on SW 6th and I5 less than awesome.

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