— 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.