Support BikePortland - Journalism that Matters

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

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

Ride Along with Ben Cogdill-25.jpg

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.

pdw_oval_400x159

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.

Ride Along with Ben Cogdill-27.jpg

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.

Ride Along with Ben Cogdill-1.jpg

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.

Ride Along with Ben Cogdill-2.jpg

Ride Along with Ben Cogdill-3.jpg

Advertisement

Ride Along with Ben Cogdill-4.jpg

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.

Ride Along with Ben Cogdill-8.jpg

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.

Ride Along with Ben Cogdill-9.jpg

Ride Along with Ben Cogdill-10.jpg

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.

Ride Along with Ben Cogdill-12.jpg

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.”

Ride Along with Ben Cogdill-14.jpg

Ride Along with Ben Cogdill-16.jpg

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.

Ride Along with Ben Cogdill-17.jpg

Ride Along with Ben Cogdill-18.jpg

Ride Along with Ben Cogdill-20.jpg

Ride Along with Ben Cogdill-21.jpg

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.

Ride Along with Ben Cogdill-26.jpg

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: Thanks for sharing and reading our comments. To ensure this is a welcoming and productive space, all comments are manually approved by staff. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for meanness, discrimination or harassment. Comments with expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia will be deleted and authors will be banned.

48
Leave a Reply

avatar
14 Comment threads
34 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
25 Comment authors
sorenjeffbdavemessEl BicicleroJ_R Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
9watts
Guest
9watts

“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….

DC
Guest
DC

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!

Josh G
Guest

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.

rick
Guest
rick

$treetcar hasn’t been worth the investment.

Pfeif
Guest
Pfeif

“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.

Katherine
Guest

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!”

Ed Reece
Guest
Ed Reece

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.

Lester Burnham
Guest
Lester Burnham

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

J_R
Guest
J_R

“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.

BikeEverywhere
Guest
BikeEverywhere

“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.

Charley Gee
Guest

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).

Patrick Barber
Guest

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

(You left out “of”.)

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

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.

Reza
Guest
Reza

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.