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Ride Along with Ben and Kate Cogdill: Downtown streets and secret paths

Posted by on April 28th, 2015 at 4:34 pm

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Ben and Kate Cogdill outside her preschool in northwest Portland.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

— This post was made possible by Portland Design Works, a local company that designs beautiful and functional parts and accessories for everyday cycling. Ben Cogdill is one of three winners of our Ride Along Contest that will be featured in the coming months.


In many ways Ben, Jenica and Kate Cogdill are a typical Portland family. But when it comes to getting around, they’re a rare breed. The Cogdills live and work downtown and bicycles suffice as their family vehicle. While Portland’s inner neighborhoods have some of highest rates of family biking anywhere, it’s uncommon to see kid-toting parents amid the hustle and bustle of the central city.

Here’s an excerpt from Ben’s winning contest entry:

We are one of just a few families that live “downtown” and commute by bike. Children are pretty scarce in our neighborhood and while our commute is fairly short I think that we are a good example of how downtown life can work, even with kids in tow.

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I joined Ben and his four-year old daughter Kate on their daily commute last week.

Ben is a 37-year old industrial engineer. He met Jenica, a 38-year-old market research consultant, in Eugene while the two attended University of Oregon. Jenica usually walks to work and Ben takes their daughter Kate a few miles across town to northwest Portland for preschool (he works just a few blocks from her school).

We started in the parking garage of the Harrison West condo tower at the corner of SW 1st and Harrison. Ben showed me the bike parking room where he and Jenica store their rigs (he rides a Trek cyclocross bike with a child trailer and she rides an Xtracycle with a child seat). Ben said before the bike room was built they had three bikes stolen when they first moved to Portland in 2007.

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Once Ben got Kate settled in the trailer (with the staples of books, a blanket, crayons and so on) we rode right out onto the sidewalk. After a brief chat with Jeff Owen, TriMet’s bike planner, who happened to be walking by, we headed west on SW Harrison.

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Harrison in this location is on the streetcar route. There are two lanes, one for the streetcar and the other marked with a sharrow. Just a few blocks into the ride we negotiated a tricky intersection as the streetcar tracks turned across our lane and headed north. Like nearly all Portlanders, Ben and Jenica have crashed on tracks. He did it just once “On skinny road tires during a rainstorm” and Jenica has paid the track toll twice so far.

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Downtown during the morning rush is a busy place. While you’ve got to stay alert riding through the dense grid, and the condition of the streets and lack of space can be discomforting, it actually felt much safer than riding on the high-speed arterials that run through many neighborhoods. “And there are a lot of pedestrians, which is nice,” Ben remarked.

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Ben navigated his bike and trailer through all the traffic like a pro. When we came to Broadway, he pointed out an interesting situation that got him pulled over by police last spring. At the intersection of Harrison at Broadway we had a stop sign, but traffic on Broadway is controlled by a signal. When he got pulled over, Ben had stopped and then continued on when he felt it was safe — but the light for southbound Broadway traffic was green. The officer gave him a warning but Ben is still a bit confused (any legal scholars out there care to shed some light?).

Once across Broadway we rolled right onto the Portland State University campus and into the South Park Blocks. We immediately went from hectic Harrison to the quiet oasis of PSU.

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As we made our way through the campus we came to a “Pedestrian Only Zone” near the football field. There was no one around so we rolled on slowly and eventually wound our way onto SW Montgomery. For Ben and Kate, using the PSU campus paths is the safest and most direct route (I was impressed with how Ben has crafted his route for maximum traffic avoidance).

From Montgomery we hopped onto the bike path adjacent to Highway 26 that heads northwest toward Goose Hollow. Ben mentioned the homeless camps where he’s seen fights break out and lots of trash at times — then pointed out how it’s also very colorful with blooming flowers all year round. When the timing is right on their return trip home in the evening, Ben and Kate have seen the moon rising over the downtown skyline.

“Hey it’s our friend the moon!” Ben told me he once heard Kate exclaim. “That’s just not something we would get if we were flying by in the car.”

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The path eventually pops out at SW 18th, which we took north through the tunnel under the highway, toward Jefferson Street City Park near the Goose Hollow MAX stop.

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It was smooth sailing on SW 18th with very little traffic. (The only tricky part was crossing MAX tracks at an awkward angle near Providence Park). Prior crossing Burnside, Ben shared his technique of stopping well before the intersection so he can carry momentum down the hill to Burnside and then up the other side. “Kate likes to go fast,” he said with a smile as we swooped across the valley of Burnside.

A few blocks later we rolled up on Kate’s preschool. We seemed to be the only ones to arrive by bike. Ben said he’d love to see more families on bikes downtown and he knows if more people would ride, it would be safer and more fun for everyone. “I was amazed when I went over to Ladds and saw all the families out riding,” he shared. “That’s just not part of my experience.”

The next step for the Cogdills will be to consider Kate’s biking future. There are no neighborhood greenways downtown where a young person can safely ride on their own. “We’re starting to wonder just how safe the route to her future school will be and whether it will ever be safe enough for her to navigate on her own,” Ben said.

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While he’s grateful for being able to ride in relative safety every day, he has some reservations about the future.

“Commuting by bike has expanded our relationship with Portland,” he said, “and regularly fills me with varying levels hope and disgust.”

— Thanks for letting me tag along Ben (and say hi to Kate for me). I can’t wait to see you riding in our new protected bike lanes that are (hopefully) coming soon to a downtown street near you. Read more Ride Alongs.

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

  • 9watts April 28, 2015 at 5:02 pm

    “whether it will ever be safe enough for her to navigate on her own”

    It can be hard to fathom when your daughter is 5 how she could ever grow up to ride on her own. But we all did it – and before all the infrastructure and numbers we see today. And just think of the alternative: not biking, and contributing however incrementally to making it less safe for those who are….

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  • DC April 28, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    I would also love to hear about the official rule for that Harrison/Broadway intersection. I can’t imagine a motorist or cyclist is required to watch for the traffic light of the cross traffic to know when they are clear to go. A stop sign is a stop sign! But at the same time I also recognize the Broadway traffic with the green isn’t expecting anyone from Harrison to cross through.

    I guess that leaves both motorists and cyclists watching the pedestrian cross signals – but that can’t be right either!

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    • El Biciclero April 28, 2015 at 5:55 pm

      I’d be interested to know what Ben got a warning for, since making a left turn onto a one-way like Broadway is legal on a red light (or, I assume, a STOP sign). There is technically no need to watch for a signal when making this turn, as long as there is no cross traffic moving across your path (i.e., it is either stopped or far enough away). Was the warning for “jaywalking”? Or failure to obey a traffic control device?

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      • DC April 28, 2015 at 6:04 pm

        I assume he went straight, which bikes can do to get on the PSU campus.

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        • El Biciclero April 29, 2015 at 9:55 am

          Ah. Yes. Straight through. I suppose the officer thought he should have waited for the pedestrian signal. So why isn’t there a sign like the one you see if you are leaving campus at that same location?


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          • DC April 29, 2015 at 11:12 am

            Because there’s a stop sign and a bike is following the vehicle rules like all roads. Leaving campus it’s not a road the bike is on, it’s a path. So the bicyclist needs to use ped signal.

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            • El Biciclero April 30, 2015 at 11:04 am

              But does it matter whether a bicyclist is leaving a road for a path or leaving a path to enter a road? Either way, they can’t get from one side of the intersection to the other without being in a roadway. It’s apparent to me that bicycle movement straight across either just wasn’t considered when “designing” this intersection, or it was assumed that bicyclists would act like pedestrians. As much as I prefer to follow the vehicle rules on all roads, there are places where markings, expectations, and lack of due consideration of bicyclists as vehicle operators nearly force bicyclists to follow pedestrian rules. Expected behavior at intersections like this one is clear for everyone except those riding a bike.

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          • John Lascurettes April 29, 2015 at 8:20 pm

            My experience has been that sometimes “warnings” are when cops don’t actually KNOW if they could get away with citing you and they just want to intimidate you into believing them. I would have fought that one had I gotten it.

            Last “warning” I got I argued with the cop and told him he was wrong. Asked for his card and he said he was “all out”. I gave him my email and asked him to send me his contact info so I could educate him with the proper revised statutes. I never heard from him.

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    • Kirk April 28, 2015 at 6:08 pm

      It appears that it is one of Portland’s older half-signals, where there is a signal for the major street (so that people walking across the major street are able to utilize a signal to cross the busy street) with a STOP sign for the minor street allowing people operating vehicles (cars & bikes) to enter when it is safe to do so. He shouldn’t have been given a warning for what he did, instead the police officer should be taught about half-signals.

      We have a good number of them all over the city, such as this one here:

      However, it is NOW illegal for cities to construct new half-signals, so you won’t be seeing any new ones anytime soon (until that law gets overturned). Instead, that’s why you are seeing more and more HAWK signals ( get constructed, because those are legal for cities to construct – and of course cost more $$$.

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      • Eric April 28, 2015 at 9:44 pm

        Interesting. It’s still just a stop sign, albeit somewhat confusing to figure out how much right-of-way the cross traffic has.

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        • Charley Gee April 29, 2015 at 9:11 am

          If an operator were to enter the intersection from the stop sign and there was no other vehicle in the intersection or approaching so close on Broadway as to constitute a hazard (say they pulled out from a parking spot), then the vehicle that entered from the stop sign actually has the right of way while in the intersection, even if the signal on Broadway shows a green light.

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      • Spiffy April 29, 2015 at 7:33 am

        Hawthorne and 41st is another half-signal… I hate that thing… I also cringe every time I see a cyclist roll up to it and immediately hit the ped xing button… but I rarely use beg-buttons…

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  • Josh G April 28, 2015 at 5:31 pm

    Glad to see the Ho Chi Minh trail. I thought it was named that because of the radical leaning PSU students in the 60s that used it, but Mia Birk says (at the link above) that it was because of its reputation for lack of safety.
    Also, how many other places in Portland have car parking in a tunnel? Get prepped for the big one.

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    • El Biciclero April 29, 2015 at 10:01 am

      Heh. There was an old gravel road through a woodsy area near where I grew up; my brothers and I used to call that the “Ho Chi Minh trail”.

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  • rick April 28, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    $treetcar hasn’t been worth the investment.

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    • Brad April 28, 2015 at 11:46 pm

      I-405 wasn’t worth the investment.

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    • Chris I April 29, 2015 at 7:43 am

      I see what you did there.

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    • Reza April 29, 2015 at 12:16 pm

      Says the guy who lives in SW and isn’t served by it.

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      • davemess April 30, 2015 at 1:36 pm

        plenty of people in all parts of the city feel the same though.

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  • Pfeif April 29, 2015 at 6:54 am

    “The next step for the Cogdills will be to consider Kate’s biking future. There are no neighborhood greenways downtown where a young person can safely ride on their own. “We’re starting to wonder just how safe the route to her future school will be and whether it will ever be safe enough for her to navigate on her own,” Ben said.”

    While I don’t live downtown, I can relate to the above statement. I commute my boys to their school (Le Monde public charter school) in downtown using a cargo bike from NE. By next year the oldest will be too big to ride in it. I worry about shepparding him thru traffic and having him ride 5 miles one way just to get to school. I want him to have a life long enjoyment of riding his bike and not be seen as a burden.

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    • 9watts April 29, 2015 at 7:26 am

      “I want him to have a life long enjoyment of riding his bike and not be seen as a burden.”

      I think the burden idea might come from us, from the adults. I biked to school starting in sixth grade; it was my idea, no one else I knew biked and my parents certainly didn’t. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. I walked to third and fourth grades; fifth grade was an hour train ride away so I walked home the forty five minutes home from the station in the afternoons.

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      • soren April 29, 2015 at 10:45 am

        I started biking to school in 2nd grade.

        This is now called “child neglect in the second degree” in Oregon (ORS 163.545)

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  • Katherine April 29, 2015 at 7:15 am

    My son and I ride to school from SE to NW 8th and Couch on the north park blocks (through Old Town) every day. He used to ride on the back of my XtraCycle but at age 7, when he started second grade last fall, he began riding his own bike every day, back and forth. I have so much to say on this topic, all of it positive.

    He loves the ride–we love the ride. He has become a confident and aware cyclist. He participated in a bike camp at the Community Cycling Center last summer which was a bonus. We have found a route we like and he has distinct preferences of which bridges we cross and I honor those. He actually loves the Burnside bridge even though the bike lane isn’t separated form cars. There is a strong cycling community at The Emerson School, where he goes so there are always a kids and their parents arriving at school by bike, from all over town. Some have much longer commutes that we do (ours is only 3 miles one way). And some kids have started biking on their own in first grade, at age 6.

    The people we’ve met, smells we smell, birds we see, conversations we have are all thanks to biking. He also always seems ready for school when we arrive (worked out an cranky’s he might have had) and same on the way home–any school angst or exhaustion seems gone by the time we get home. We never have to look for a parking spot (though the bike racks are full up these days:) and just yesterday he said: “I love biking in the rain–it’s not bad at all!”

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  • Ed Reece April 29, 2015 at 7:19 am

    Those light rail tracks are never designed with bicycles in mind and they are dangerous. The new tracks in Houston have made many routes much harder to negotiate. I have fallen a few times and it doesn’t take much to convince you to avoid the area.

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    • Chris I April 29, 2015 at 7:54 am

      I grew up around here riding on/around tracks since about age 6, and I have yet to go down on one. Always cross them at a 45* angle or better, don’t pedal and don’t lean or execute a turn while you are on the track (especially when they are wet). I know they are a hazard, and a lot of people have fallen victim, but there is a safe way to ride around them.

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      • davemess April 30, 2015 at 1:38 pm

        and slow down when it’s raining.

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  • Lester Burnham April 29, 2015 at 7:23 am

    It’s dangerous enough riding yourself down there. No way I’d put a child at risk in that awful riding environment.

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  • J_R April 29, 2015 at 7:45 am

    “Like nearly all Portlanders, Ben and Jenica have crashed on tracks. He did it just once “On skinny road tires during a rainstorm” and Jenica has paid the track toll twice so far.”

    And still we get no attempt by Portland and Trimet to do anything. Why not at least experiment with flange-fillers or something?

    As I’ve said before, there are only two types of cyclists: those who have crashed on tracks and those who will.

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    • Reza April 29, 2015 at 12:19 pm

      Show PSI an example of flange filler that actually works long-term on extremely active tracks (not a once- or twice-weekly used freight line) and they will likely be willing to test it out.

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      • J_R April 29, 2015 at 2:52 pm

        Have they actually tried any of the existing products? Or are they merely assuming they don’t work? Have they tried to adapt the products so that periodic replacement would be easy and relatively inexpensive? Have they pushed manufacturers toward trying to develop anything new?

        It seems that until there is a multi-million dollar judgment against PSI or Trimet, they are content with the canned response “there’s nothing that can be done.”

        We have a known safety hazard and it appears only lip service is offered in response.

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        • Chris I April 29, 2015 at 3:54 pm

          The hazard has existed since the invention of the bicycle. As a kid, I rode around the old freight tracks in the south waterfront (before they took them out and put in new streetcar tracks). People from our grandparent’s generation were dodging streetcar tracks 90 years ago in Portland. I can’t imagine how Trimet could be found liable for something like this, no more than Ford would be liable if you crashed into the back of a parked F150.

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          • J_R April 29, 2015 at 4:11 pm

            Ford was found liable for designing (and continuing to build without modification) a car that was prone to bursting into flames when struck from behind, a not-uncommon occurrence.

            The fact that something has been done for a long time (slavery and smoking come to mind) does not mean it is a legitimate or preferred long-term approach.

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  • BikeEverywhere April 29, 2015 at 8:31 am

    “Ben mentioned the homeless camps where he’s seen fights break out and lots of trash at times ”

    I commute into PDX alone and ride all over the city visiting homebound patients as a medical consultant to the state. My concerns for personal safety as a woman are increasing as these homeless “camps” pop up all over the city. The mental illness and drug abuse obviously present compound the problem. Trash and human waste left behind remain for weeks after the site is abandoned. If city leaders want more residents, especially women, to consider commuting by bike as a viable alternative to vehicles they are going to have to actively address this growing problem. Because of my work I understand better than most that homelessness is a complex problem that can’t be eliminated simply by providing free shelter, a hot meal, or a job. But if Portland continues to turn its back on this growing problem, I will return to traveling in the safety of a car.

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    • soren April 29, 2015 at 3:53 pm

      “as these homeless “camps” pop up all over the city. ”

      As far as I can tell, there has been no large increase in houseless people in Portland since I moved here.

      Portland Combined Street+Shelter Count
      2005 — 2,355
      2013 — 1,895

      “Trash and human waste left behind remain for weeks after the site is abandoned.”

      I’ve also noticed an increase in stinky compost bins when I commute. Unpleasant for sure but I’ve noticed no impact on my ability to bike commute.

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      • BikeEverywhere April 29, 2015 at 7:01 pm

        So just to review basic biology: compost is a biological soup composed of plant matter and poses little threat to public health; human waste is a dangerous mix of nasty “bugs” than can cause severe illness and transfer disease. Not really much of a comparison.

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        • soren April 30, 2015 at 8:30 am

          If I understand your comment, you are arguing that houseless “camps” are a threat because someone might catch a disease merely by riding past one. Do you have any evidence that this has ever happened?

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          • J_R April 30, 2015 at 9:28 am

            No, Soren. The debris and waste that linger are a symptom that sticks around and can be seen easily by passers-by. Another problem, which you seem unwilling to accept maybe because you haven’t witnessed it, is the threating behavior that some of us have experienced near these houseless camps.

            As a reasonably fit male rider, I’m less intimidated by some of the behaviors I have witnessed than are others. I can assure you without doubt that some cyclists have stopped riding in certain areas because they felt fear for their personal safety. If you don’t feel safe, you’re not going to ride. Please accept that some people have a lower threat level than you do.

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            • soren April 30, 2015 at 12:16 pm

              “Another problem, which you seem unwilling to accept maybe because you haven’t witnessed it, is the threating behavior that some of us have experienced near these houseless camps.”

              I’ve made no comments on “threatening behavior” so it’s very odd that you claim to know my position. Moreover, as far as I can tell no one else has commented on “threatening behavior” here.

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              • davemess April 30, 2015 at 1:40 pm

                “My concerns for personal safety as a woman are increasing as these homeless “camps” pop up all over the city.”

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              • soren April 30, 2015 at 3:17 pm

                “My concerns for personal safety as a woman are increasing”

                Suggesting that I quoted or addressed the above is dishonest.

                It’s also insulting to suggest that questioning claims of a population boom or a sanitation problem is the equivalent of dismissing “concerns for personal safety” or — even worse — being dismissive of “threatening behavior”.

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              • jeffb April 30, 2015 at 2:04 pm

                Eastbank used to be a staple of my daily commute. Then I was attacked without provocation.

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              • soren April 30, 2015 at 2:39 pm

                I’m sorry that you were attacked but I really don’t understand why you responded to me.

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  • Charley Gee April 29, 2015 at 9:08 am

    For the half-signal issue, the traffic light on Broadway does not apply to the operator facing the stop sign at Harrison, only on the vehicle operators facing the red or green light on Broadway. An operator facing a green light is required to yield the right of way to other vehicles in the intersection. The operator facing the stop sign can proceed so long as there are no other vehicles in the intersection or approaching so close as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time the operator is in the intersection. ORS 811.260(1) and (15).

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  • Patrick Barber April 29, 2015 at 10:14 am

    “varying levels of hope and disgust” — how diplomatic.

    (You left out “of”.)

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  • rachel b April 29, 2015 at 10:16 am

    Great feature! “Commuting by bike has expanded our relationship with Portland,” he said, “and regularly fills me with varying levels hope and disgust.” 🙂 Well put.

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  • Reza April 29, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    Thank you Jonathan for this ride-along in downtown. I look forward to continuing coverage of the substandard biking conditions in the Center City and where we can make meaningful investments to the bicycle network and entice a greater number of “interested but concerned” riders in our inner westside neighborhoods.

    “There are no neighborhood greenways downtown where a young person can safely ride on their own.”

    Not yet, and while traffic conditions in downtown may never nurture the calm, low-stress environments seen on some of our best greenways east of the river, there is work afoot at PBOT to eventually build high quality facilities on NW Flanders and 20th. And of course there’s also the Green Loop concept to create an all-ages route on the Park Blocks.

    I’m also curious how Ben navigated SW 18th Avenue along the MAX line. I find the street to be wide enough to feel a bit uncomfortable taking the lane, but not quite wide enough to keep to the right without feeling squeezed by passing traffic (and there is no striped bike lane). It’s just an awkward street to navigate.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 29, 2015 at 12:33 pm

      I hear you about SW 18th Reza. And I agree it’s an awkward place to ride… But in Ben’s case – at least in the morning around 8:45 am – there was almost no one driving on it so it felt perfectly safe.

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