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Ride Along with Ali Reis: Overlook to Raleigh Hills

Posted by on February 13th, 2015 at 2:37 pm

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Ali Reis, on SW Broadway en route to her job just east of Raleigh Hills.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

This post is part of our SW Portland Week.

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Ready to rock.

Alexandra Reis (she goes by “Ali”), a 30 year-old social worker who lives in north Portland’s Overlook neighborhood, is one tough cookie. She earned her urban cycling stripes on the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan while going to graduate school at New York University. Now she’s putting her street smarts to use on her 11-mile daily commute to the outer limits of southwest Portland.

I met up with Reis at her home just after sunrise yesterday morning and learned she’s been doing this commute for the past three years. She’s not new to bicycling, but the thought of riding 22 miles every day just to get to work was daunting at first. “I thought it’d be too far to ride,” she said. Then she had a work training down on SE Holgate and realized, “Hey, that wasn’t so bad, I could do it.” So she did.

“The first time I did the ride it was bad,” she recalled. “I took Terwilliger [instead of Barbur] and it was hilly and I kept getting lost. At first I’d do the ride just 1-2 times a week, then my endurance built up and now, well, it’s the best part of my life.”

Reis and her husband own a car, but they rarely use it. She cherishes her time on the bike each day. As a social worker at a nursing home, she understands the importance of staying in shape — both physically and mentally. “I think everyone should exercise daily, for mental health if not anything else. My ride is an important transition between work and life and it’s time without a device. I use it for thought processing.”

As Reis readied her hefty Redline drop-bar commuter bike, she explained the route we’d take: through downtown on Broadway, then onto Barbur, Bertha, then Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway. “Flat as possible is my goal,” she pronounced.

We rolled through foggy neighborhood streets and then down N Greeley Ave. That’s a street many people are afraid to ride, especially the part at the southern end where riders must cross over a freeway on-ramp at high speeds. But Reis, in addition to preferring a flat route, is all about speed and directness. That’s why she opts for Greeley over Interstate Ave (which is slower and has “too many stops” she says).

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N Killingsworth, a neighborhood collector.
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A smart commuter, she rolled right to the signal sensor icon to wait for a green.
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Morning rush on Greeley.
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This is one reason why some folks stay away from Greeley.
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The dreaded freeway merge.
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N Interstate Ave.


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Reis’s riding style is fearless, yet kind. She didn’t flinch at all in high-trafficked spots (not even when a TriMet bus operator pinched her in the bike lane – more on that below), and she always used hand signals and waves whenever needed.

From Greeley we rolled onto the Broadway Bridge, which was full of bike riders. I usually ride downtown an hour later than Reis, so I hadn’t seen this much bike traffic since last summer.

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Such a beautiful bridge.

Once onto Broadway, we tried to keep up a conversation, but the hectic environment and narrow bike lane prevented it.

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Crossing Burnside on Broadway.
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Welcome to downtown Portland!

As we made our way over I-405, I was curious how Reis would make the connection to SW Barbur. The bikeway leads you to go right on Terwilliger then left on Sheridan. But Reis would have none of that. As we went left from the I-405 overpass, she just took the lane and made the right onto 5th, then to Barbur. As we turned off 5th at Sheridan (just before Barbur), a TriMet bus operator swung half-way into the bike lane. Reis barely flinched. She just held her line and kept riding. She even did a polite little wave to the operator as she passed by, as if to let him know, “It’s cool, I’m OK.”

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Taking the lane, like a boss.
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A little too close for comfort.

Once on Barbur, Reis said, “All right, now we’re on Barbur, this is my favorite part because there are no more stops.” When I mentioned to her that riding on Barbur makes some people nervous, Reis admitted that, “I think I actually like riding in places other people don’t.”

She’s desensitized. “I’m in that New York mindset where everyone honks at you,” she said.

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Barbur sunrise.

It’s also worth noting that Reis is hearing-impaired and she’s worn hearing aids since the age of two. A genetic condition has given her moderate to severe hearing loss in both ears (mostly the right one). Because of that she can’t rely on hearing oncoming cars or other riders. “I always have to look,” she said, “which I guess you should do anyway.”

The hearing impairment also means Reis can’t hear when people yell at her. “So I always assume they’re saying nice things,” she says with a smile.

As we pedaled on Barbur I asked why should doesn’t take Terwilliger, a nearby street that runs parallel and is much quieter. Reis prefers Barbur, she said, for the views and for the flatter topography. When we got to the Vermont bridge, she wanted to stop and show me the view. She also said there’s a fig tree nearby she’s actually stopped and eaten figs off of. “I’m always looking for fruit trees,” she said.

I asked what she thought of the “improved” sidewalks on the bridges (ODOT has just completed a seismic rehab project on the Vermont and Newbury bridges) and she wasn’t impressed. Would you ever ride on them I asked. “Hell no!” was her reply. “They’re too narrow to feel safe on and, look, it’s barely wide enough for two panniers. It feels less safe than the street.”

Reis’s idea for the bridges is to turn the sidewalk into a bike path. “No one ever walks out here anyways,” she said, “And besides, there’s no sidewalk leading up to this.”

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A chat on the Vermont bridge.
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She prefers the lane instead of the sidewalk.
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Bike lane on Barbur approaching SW Bertha turnoff.

After our chat on the bridge as the sun came up over the Willamette, she actually got off the bridge sidewalk, put her bike back in the street and continued on.

Now before you think Reis isn’t afraid of anything, she did let on that this section of Barbur is “a little nerve-wracking.” “I wouldn’t send my little sister on this,” she said, “And she’s 26.”

As we came to the Capitol Highway turnoff, I suspected we’d hang a right and take that directly through Hillsdale and then onto Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway. But Reis kept straight. Turns out she prefers the Barbur to SW Bertha connection instead. It’s 1.5 miles longer, but she said she gets “too sweaty” going up Capitol Highway (not to mention it’s a pretty narrow uphill bike lane compared the the more gradual and wider bike lane on Bertha).

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Barbur bike lane approaching SW Bertha.

As we rode onto Bertha and made our way to the tricky intersection of Bertha/Capitol Hwy/Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy, Reis once again just rolled right out into the intersection. Calm and cool onto the buffered bike lanes of BHH. Do the new buffer stripes make her feel safer? “Yes. They It’s amazing what a little line can do.”

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The merge from Bertha to BHH intersection.
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The approach to BH Hwy.
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Careful, but not afraid.

From there it was an easy downhill shot all the way to her work at SW 65th.

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Fortunately for Reis, she commutes in the opposite direction of most people, so the traffic stress isn’t nearly as bad. On her way home she takes a different route: Capitol Hwy to Barbur, then Naito and Waterfront Park. She’s not a fan of the path on the Waterfront because of all the crowds, but she does it because, in her words, “There’s no other way to get through downtown!”

Thanks for lettings us tag along Ali!

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Hope you’ve enjoyed this look at a southwest Portland commute through the eyes of an everyday rider. If you’re curious, you can check out her route here.

— Read more Ride Alongs here. I’d really love to find a sponsor for this column, get in touch if you’re interested!

We’ll be here in Southwest all week! And join us tonight (2/13) for a BikePortland Get Together and social hour at the Lucky Labrador Public House in Multnomah Village (7675 SW Capitol Hwy) from 4:00 – 6:30pm.

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. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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    Mike February 13, 2015 at 3:35 pm

    I’ve been looking for different routes to get into Beaverton for a while… Do you have a course you could share for this? I’d like to see where the lower points are. I am currently running up the Zoo then up 26

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      Jeff smith February 14, 2015 at 9:00 am

      Mike, The City bike map shows some options:

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      rick February 14, 2015 at 7:39 pm

      If you want a ride along SW Multnomah Blvd to SW Oleson Road, try going west along SW Vermont Street (at the intersection of Oleson and Vermont) and go on the trail to the other side of Vermont in order to get to SW Nicol Road, then travel north on Nicol to SW Scholls Ferry. SW Jamieson Road was repaved on the Raleigh Hills side of it and it leads to SW 5th Street and the nearby Bike N Hike shop.

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    SuWanda February 13, 2015 at 3:56 pm

    Total BADAZZZZ!

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      9watts February 13, 2015 at 7:15 pm

      “I think I actually like riding in places other people don’t.”
      Ali’s my kind of rider.
      I thoroughly enjoyed this one, but I have to say I think all your ridealongs are one of the very best features of bikeportland. You manage to bring out so much with your photos and descriptions. I always wonder if accomplishing all this in addition to the commute-being-profiled makes it take twice as long, but having seen you shoot photos from your bike I suppose not.

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    Alan Love February 13, 2015 at 4:20 pm

    Fig trees on Barbur? I ride this every day and I never noticed! I’ll need to be on the lookout in a few months. And I ride like Ali; take the lane, even on Barbur. Cautious but confident.

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      rick February 14, 2015 at 7:35 pm

      There is a walking trail underneath one of the Barbur bridges: the SW Iowa Street trail for only walking.

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    soren February 13, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    The speed limit on so many of those roads is dangerously high. The posted 45 on Greeley is particularly awful since it is such a direct bike route to central PDX.

    “I think I actually like riding in places other people don’t.”
    Bikes belong…almost everywhere!

    ‘“Flat as possible is my goal,” she pronounced.’
    The goal of just about everyone I know who bike commutes.

    “Yes. They It’s amazing what a little line can do.”

    “Reis’s riding style is fearless, yet kind.”
    Is someone who appreciates the perceived safety of a buffered bike lane really “fearless”? (Did Ali herself use this word to describe her riding attitude?)

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    michweek February 13, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    I totally agree with taking the lane on Barbur bridges. And pretty much in general, people in cars see and expect a person on a bike to be headed in the same direction on the same surface, not popping and weaving in and out unexpectedly. There are two lanes and they are rarely so full that a car can’t change lanes to get around me.
    My Commute (longer than I’d expect of most people and in the winter I do take the bus more than bike): W on NE Flanders, L NE 21ST, R Ankeny , L onto Sandy/SE 7th, R to cross the Hawthorne, L on 1st, R on Harrison, squiggle/break a few rules left onto 5th and flow onto Barbur where I head South for 7.5 miles, where I pull a dutch left of sorts, cut through the Wells Fargo parking lot to my right and head dead South (Left) on SW Hall st crossing 99W, L Durham, R SW UBF RD, L SW Bridgeport.
    My coworker has an extra few miles on me coming down from Alberta. My other coworker lives in Sellwood, crossing the Sellwood bridge, heads through the cemetery and through Multnomah Village, he prefers the quieter streets. Which isn’t to say either of us experience more or less run ins with inattentive drivers. I just have more semi’s rumbling by but they whisk me along so I’m okay with it.

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      Rick February 17, 2015 at 7:23 am

      do they ride thru the Maplewood neighborhood?

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    John Liu February 13, 2015 at 7:41 pm

    Great ride along! Calm, confident, capable. I love her attitude and where she chooses to ride.

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    stephen salter February 13, 2015 at 11:00 pm

    like a boss!

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    Aaron February 14, 2015 at 2:31 pm

    Great write-up! She does seem like a fearless rider.

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    Liz February 14, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    Badassery inspiration. Thank you for the profile.

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    rick February 14, 2015 at 7:34 pm

    If she works on SW 65th Ave and BH Highway, that would be in the Hayhurst neighborhood of SW Portland. At least if it is on the part of 65th that leads directly to SW Boundary Street.

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    Brutus the Barbur February 14, 2015 at 9:05 pm

    See her all the time… mad props…

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    wsbob February 15, 2015 at 11:31 am

    “…Reis’s idea for the bridges is to turn the sidewalk into a bike path. “No one ever walks out here anyways,” she said, “And besides, there’s no sidewalk leading up to this.” …” bikeportland

    Make the sidewalks wider, to five or six feet, with long ramps on both sides of the bridges leading up to the sidewalks, and biking conditions on Barbur would be much improved. It would require a total of only 5′ to be drawn from the four main lanes of the road, to make the sidewalk conversion to bike path or pseudo MUP.

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    Eric February 16, 2015 at 8:39 am

    Mad respect to this commuter!

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    Trikeguy February 16, 2015 at 9:10 am

    Mad props to her – I’d much rather ride over the hill than the route she rides. She’s pretty fearless 🙂

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    SW February 16, 2015 at 9:25 am

    I thoroughly enjoyed this one, but I have to say I think all your ridealongs are one of the very best features of bikeportland. You manage to bring out so much with your photos and descriptions.
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    my thoughts exactly

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    Alex Reed February 16, 2015 at 10:16 am

    I respect this type of rider but don’t think I’ll ever be one myself, much less have anyone else in my family come with me. I rode on Terwiliger for the first time Sunday afternoon and found even that to be relatively stressful. If I did it again, I would probably take the path. On every busy street in Southwest that I rode on, the road-side debris was a huge issue.

    Barbur? I would only ride it so I would know how stressful it really is for advocacy purposes.

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      Rick February 17, 2015 at 7:19 am

      The Friends of Terwilliger help to remove English Ivy, trash, and weeds.

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    El Biciclero February 16, 2015 at 11:37 am

    Ali appears to have the same route selection philosophy as I do (except for hill avoidance). I take the exact same route from Broadway around to Sheridan. Following the prescribed bike route up 6th to Sheridan puts a bicyclist in one of the worst right-hook scenarios as the bike lane comes off the 405 overpass (folks not signaling and wanting to turn right onto Broadway Dr.), then almost always involves extra time waiting for the left turn signal up at the retirement home. Plus, I’ve had near right cross incidents from drivers pulling out from Sherman. None of that happens going Ali’s way, plus the slight downhill between Broadway and Caruthers lets you get up to auto speeds if you want to, and the lights are timed in your favor. I stay in the center lane, since I usually cross Barbur bound for Sheridan/Arthur and 1st. This is a perfect example of the expected bike route being slower and more dangerous than the “crazy” route that involves taking the lane.

    I salute Ali and her boldness to go where she needs to go without taking a back seat to motor traffic. Also for doing it with such a sanguine attitude; I try, but sometimes get frustrated by the seeming ignorance and utter lack of care demonstrated by some drivers.

    Keep it up, Ali—you’re awesome.

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    Rob February 17, 2015 at 10:04 am

    Very cool article and an inspiring rider!

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    Eric Iverson February 17, 2015 at 10:26 am

    Inspiring! Looks like she would benefit from a Naito cycle track!

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    Jon February 17, 2015 at 11:06 am

    I have no issue riding on the sidewalks on the Barbur bridges but then again I really have no problem with Barbur except for the Capitol right turn which feels a bit dangerous to me. For recreational rides I take Terwilliger because it is a lot more peaceful but all the additional cross traffic and shorter sight lines makes it just as dangerous as Barbur in my opinion. If I want to get to or from downtown in a hurry I take Barbur and have never worried about my safety. I can’t think of many bad bicycle crashes that involved cars that have occurred on Barbur during the regular commute and daylight hours.

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    Cranky February 19, 2015 at 5:27 pm

    She’s awesome. Totally awesome. Thank you for these great write ups. I love “riding” along and feel like I’m right there. You really do a nice job with this feature.

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    Justin Gast February 20, 2015 at 11:36 am

    Keep it up Ali. You’re an inspiration.

    Talking with other fellow cyclists who bike from PDX to the Westside, all of us agree we’re starting to see an increased number of cyclists commuting on the Westside or from the Westside to PDX. It’s great to see.

    And, knowing the county and cities are starting to focus more on the bike infrastructure within Washington County, I imagine these numbers will only continue to increase over time.

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    Karl February 3, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    Wow, 100% of these bike lanes look terrifying. As a daily cyclist (from a much smaller town), I think I’d be more comfortable in a bus in Portland.

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    Tom Hardy February 4, 2016 at 10:29 am

    Love the route she takes. The Greely-Interstate-Broadway is the same essential route I started taking in 1953 at 8 years old when riding to the zoo. The Broadway to Barbur route I have adapted to by taking the Lovejoy ramp-Montgomery-19th-“Ho Chi Min trail” under 26 and through PSU to Barbur. from Barbur to Multnomah. NO SIDEWALKS!!!

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