This post is part of our special focus on east Portland this week.
Not every bike trip east of I-205 is terrible. In fact, parts of Kathleen McDade’s daily commute from Gateway to Ventura Park are downright pleasant. But as is often the case here in east Portland, it’s the crossings of major arterials that really make her nervous.
This morning I joined Kathleen for her daily commute from her apartment near the Gateway Town Center (NE Weidler and 112th) to Ventura Park Elementary School (route map here).
Kathleen, 43, her husband, and their three kids (ages 8, 11, and 14) live in a second-floor apartment just west of where NE Halsey splits and forms a couplet with Weidler. When I first met Kathleen several years ago she had an Xtracycle cargo bike that she used to cart her kids around. Now the kids are grown-up and riding their own bikes and Kathleen has sold the Xtracycle. “Living on the second floor made it tough to have the Xtracycle,” she said as she got ready to leave this morning.
Kathleen works at the computer lab at Ventura Park Elementary School, which is just about 1.2 miles south of her apartment. The McDade family owns one car, but her husband leaves early in the morning and drives it to his job as a school bus driver.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)
With her kids sleeping away the start of their summer break, Kathleen secured her handbag into the front basket of her purple Schwinn hybrid and carried it down the stairs. It was just a few pedal strokes before we were face-to-face with heavy traffic.
Westbound Weidler is busy in the mornings. It’s a one-way street and people drive fast. “They treat it like a freeway,” Kathleen said as we pulled into the street. As many of you know all too well, the daily life of a bike commuter is full of decisions. In Kathleen’s case, as she comes to Weidler she has two choices: cross immediately from the driveway of her apartment complex then make the first left at NE 111th, or — if there are no breaks in traffic — get onto the bike lane and then make a two-stage left turn at the signal at 111th.
Heading south, 111th turns into a quiet, neighborhood street. There are no sidewalks, but low traffic volumes, speed humps, and towering trees make it feel calm, rustic, and actually quite enjoyable. Kathleen said many of her students live along this street. On her return trip after school she sees many of them playing in their yards and waves “hi” from her bike.
This pleasant part of the ride comes to an end at NE Glisan, which Kathleen says is the worst part of her commute. Glisan is five standard lanes here (two in each direction and a center turn lane) and speeds are high. Traffic comes from both directions and in order to continue south, Kathleen has to jog east to 113th. To make matters worse, there’s no marked crosswalk or other aid to help her get across. She simply has to watch, wait, and hope for the best. (Sometimes, especially on her way home Kathleen said, people in cars get impatient and angry while she waits for a large enough gap to make it across.) Fortunately this morning there was a large gap in traffic and we didn’t have to wait too long to get across safely.
After we made it across, Kathleen and I pulled over to chat.
“They’re fixing the crossing at 117th, because that’s where someone got killed a while ago.”
The nearest marked crosswalks to help her across Glisan are at 102nd and then at 117th. “We’re right in the middle,” she said. And then added, “They’re fixing the crossing at 117th, because that’s where someone got killed a while ago.”
Kathleen was referring to Vijay Dalton-Gibson, a 59-year-old woman who was struck and killed on December 18th of last year while trying to make it across Glisan.
“I’m all about being more direct, and riding on 122nd is not a lot of fun.”
As the volunteer Walk and Bike Coordinator at Ventura Park Elementary School, Kathleen also laments that none of her students who live north of Glisan (which is just 0.6 miles from the school) walk or bike to school. “It’s hard to encourage them to use active transportation when they think it’s too dangerous.”
Glisan’s dangers and that fatal collision weigh heavily on Kathleen’s mind because next year her soon-to-be nine-year-old daughter will be joining her on this same commute trip. Why not just go over to 102nd or 117th for a safer crossing? “That’s a big difference on a bike, especially for a nine-year-old,” she replied. “And the blocks are really big.”
Like most bike riders, Kathleen said she prefers the shortest, most direct route. “Google Maps tells me the bike route for my trip is on 122nd because there are bike lanes; but that’s twice as long. I’m all about being more direct, and riding on 122nd is not a lot of fun.”
South of Glisan on 113th, we enjoyed a few more blocks of the quiet, residential environment before coming to East Burnside. The signal doesn’t trigger for bikes at this intersection, so Kathleen rolls into the crosswalk and up the sidewalk ramp to press the button and wait for the walk signal.
The MAX light rail runs on Burnside, which means there’s only one standard lane in each direction. Combined with the bike-only lane the relatively narrow cross-section helps keep auto speeds down. This rare combination — a major arterial with a bike lane and only one lane of relatively slow-moving auto traffic — has made Burnside a popular bike route. Kathleen said it feels pretty safe to her.
The school is just south of Burnside, making Kathleen’s commute very short (only about 1.2 miles) and relatively sweet. As she locked up her bike at the racks out front, she said biking still isn’t a major thing at Ventura Park Elementary School; but she’s working on it. Most students are bussed in and Kathleen said on nice days there might be 7-8 bikes in the racks.
Kathleen has a lot of pride in this area. She and her husband both graduated from nearby David Douglas High School, and their kids are likely to do the same. Hopefully, as the bike access improves around here, the McDades will continue to be a biking family for many years to come.
Thanks for letting me join you this morning Kathleen.
— If you liked this post, check out more Ride Alongs here.