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Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers: Gresham to inner southeast Portland

Posted by on July 1st, 2015 at 1:32 pm

Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

Kimberlee Chambers crossing SE 122nd and Halsey.
(Photos © 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. Kimberlee is one of three winners of our Ride Along Contest held last March.

From neighborhood highways to neighborhood greenways, from bike paths that double as both wildlife corridors and homes to families with nowhere else to go, Kimberlee Chambers’ 12-mile work commute offers a stunning diversity of riding experiences.

Chambers, 44, moved to Portland in 2007 after earning a PhD in Geography from the University of California at Davis. She lives near SE 26th and Division and works at Organically Grown, a food distributor in Gresham (located at 201st and Sandy). In a first for our Ride Along series (at Chambers’ suggestion) I joined her on the evening commute in order to see the route in its full glory.

After getting a tour of her office and the Organically Grown factory where they ripen tens of thousands of bananas a day in high-tech, climate-controlled silos, Chambers grabbed her bike from the employee bike parking area and we set off.

Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

A paved path lines the eastern edge of the industrial block where Chambers works. What’s this path for? I asked. “It’s the Gresham-Fairview trail!” she replied. Turns out the City of Gresham required its construction when the factory went in. The path is nice, but when we came to the end of the block and I saw this sign:

Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

Then, in order to continue south, we either had to brave an underpass with no bike lane or shoulder, or cross to get onto the I-84 multi-use path. Chambers opted for the latter.

Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

The path ends abruptly and forces you to cross at this awkward angle.
Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

Entering the I-84 path.
Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

The I-84 path is similar to the I-205 path (built by ODOT alongside a major freeway), but it’s not nearly as well-known or popular. I realized why almost immediately: it’s very close to the freeway. You can feel the concrete slabs shake and rumble as noisy traffic flies past. And then there’s the wind. This is the Gorge after all. Chambers told me stories about ice sheets and the “wicked winters” she faces. “It’s a different weather system out here,” she said.

Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

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Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

Looking south on 181st and trying to re-connect with the I-84 path on the other side of the freeway.
Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

She opts for the sidewalk because it feels safer.
Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

The path entrance is just feet from a freeway off-ramp.
Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

Nice view of Mt. Hood.

Despite these challenging conditions, Chambers also sees the positives. “I’ve been paced by an Owl and a pair of coyotes once crossed in front of me,” she said. And then there are the views: St. Helens to the north and Mt. Hood to the east.

Chambers also has more somber views, like when a homeless camp sprung up along the path last winter. “I wasn’t worried about my safety,” she shared, “I was worried I would hit one of the kids that were running around.” Turns out there were two families with small children in the encampment (which has since been cleared out by a railroad company).

At 181st we rolled off the path and onto a series of sidewalks and crosswalks to cross south under I-84 and get back on the path to continue westbound. At this point, we were riding directly into oncoming freeway traffic. It was sort of thrilling at first. Then stressful. Then I just wanted it to be over. But Chambers was tough. She didn’t seem to mind it at all. “I think of it [I-84] as a river,” she said, “it’s always moving and changing.”

Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

The traffic noise is deafening.
Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

This truck came pretty close while we were waiting for a light at the exit of the I-84 path at 122nd.

At 122nd we got off the path and headed south. 122nd is a major north-south corridor in East Portland and it’s recently been the subject of considerable attention (and funding) from the Bureau of Transportation. Unfortunately conversations about 122nd’s future haven’t included the addition of a protected bike lane.

Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

122nd in all its glory.
Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

It doesn’t work.
Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

When I told Chambers about the possibility of a protected bike lane on 122nd she said, “Oh, that would be awesome… 122nd is definitely where most of my close calls happen.” As we rode on high alert, she told me when driving gets clogged up, people swoop across the bike lane and drive right through the parking lane for blocks at a time.

122nd is one of PBOT’s High Crash Corridors and a few years back they installed overhead banners to encourage safer behaviors. As we rode under one that read, “Hang up and drive,” Chambers yelled, “That’s had zero impact!” No sooner were those words out of her mouth did we see a man driving a truck with a phone jammed into his ear.

But like she did on the I-84 path, Chambers embraced the conditions (and her college degrees) and focused on her good fortune of being able to experience such a diverse range of people and places on what she thinks of as her “transition time from work to home.”

As we squeezed through rush-hour traffic, Chambers said, “You sure don’t get guys driving by with their windows down playing heavy metal music in my neighborhood.”

From 122nd, we turned right onto Burnside and headed west toward I-205. Burnside is relatively comfortable here (especially compared to 122nd) because of its narrow lane and bike-only lane. While people drive close, they are usually traveling at much lower speeds than other streets in east Portland.

Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

I-205 at Burnside.
Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

I-205 path.
Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

Quiet residential street approaching Mt. Tabor Park.

After we crossed I-205 we hopped on the path and went south for a few miles before heading west and winding our way toward Mt. Tabor Park via Yamhill, 76th and Harrison. Being in the calm, tree-lined streets of southeast Portland was a stark shift from where we had just came from.

Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

Sharrows on Harrison leading into Mt. Tabor Park.
Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers

Speed bumps on SE Lincoln.

Once through Mt. Tabor we rolled onto SE Lincoln and enjoyed the relaxing neighborhood greenway environment all the way to 26th.

In took us about an hour to get from Gresham to inner southeast Portland. The route would stress most people out, but Chambers revels in what she calls her “daily adventure.”

Ride Along with Ride Along with Kimberlee Chambers Stafford-41

Thanks for letting us tag along Kimberlee!

I hope you enjoyed coming along on this adventure with us. Our next Ride Along will take me from Vancouver to Lake Oswego when I join fireman William Sanders for what should be an interesting 20-mile commute. Stay tune! And thanks again to Portland Design Works for sponsoring this series.

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

28 Comments
  • Avatar
    CaptainKarma July 1, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    This really highlights the stark differences between inner SE and the patched around “infrastructure” that east portlanders are subjected to.

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      rick July 1, 2015 at 3:32 pm

      I didn’t know about that I-84 path.

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    Aixe Djelal July 1, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    What a great series! Thanks to Kimberlee for kicking it off. I look forward to reading the next installments. And I will share a link to these on my Google+ bike commuter community so people from around the world can get a sense of what it is like to bike commute in the Portland area.

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    Andy July 1, 2015 at 1:59 pm

    Great story. I always enjoy these write ups. Can someone tell me where I can purchase the bike racks seen in the photo of the employee parking area?

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    michael July 1, 2015 at 2:04 pm

    It would be nice to see maps of the routes. obviously not the actual starting point or end destination (for privacy considerations), but it would help give a sense of the commute if we could see it mapped out.

    thanks,

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    Bart July 1, 2015 at 2:10 pm

    Great to see some coverage out east here. I work 15 blocks from Kimberlee, so I recognize some of the spots from my own commute.

    I’ve ridden the 84 path once and only once. As you noted Jonathan, the sound is deafening and the exhaust can get pretty bad too. I normally opt for Airport way over to Sandy when headed South, both of which ultimately offer a connection to the 205 path.

    I noticed one of the photos where you are looking south on 181st. You’ll note that there is no way to ride straight on that bike path (a fact that I was made aware of when riding north, right before almost getting creamed by 2 lanes of freeway bound traffic). Instead, the signage directs you to cross the street 3 times in order to continue on your way.

    You’d also commented on the narrow lanes on Burnside, but really, I was more curious on your take of the lane width in the eastern most sections of 122nd. In my experience, those lanes are so narrow that drivers consistently cross into the bike lane. I see that Kimberlee is riding to the right of the lane at one point, which I can understand. I would concur that that section of rode can be pretty scary, and I do attribute a good bit of that to lane width.

    Thanks for the writeup, and thanks again for giving some much needed attention to this side of the tracks!

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    Bill S. July 1, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    You might try going south on 80th instead of 76th to Harrison to flatten things out a bit, especially if it’s hot.

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    Glenn July 1, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    the I84 path is not all that great, too noisy for my liking…I ride San Rafael street from about 169th to 102nd

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      gutterbunnybikes July 1, 2015 at 11:06 pm

      I don’t really mind 122 most the time, though San Rafael to the 205 path is mellow and much nicer scenery. Especially Maywood Park.

      Nice little spot on the 1-84 path is the Chiropractic college. Some nice fields and great little pit stop.

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      Chris I July 3, 2015 at 10:12 pm

      I work at 190th and Sandy and live in Hollywood. After six years of trying different routes, i have settled on San Rafael as the best east-west route. The freeway path is too noisy and windy, and the main arterials are dangerous.

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    Steven Soto July 1, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    Great Series Jon. I discovered the Fairview path just yesterday and discovered the 84 path at the same time. Fairview path is nice for an out-and back from Springwater, but I will avoid the I84 path in the future.

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    Anne Hawley July 1, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    Wow! The best, the worst, the most uplifting, the most heartbreaking – the everything of Portland. I admire Kimberlee’s strength and courage – and yours, too, Jonathan, for going with her and taking these excellent pictures.

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  • Dr.Kitty
    Dr.Kitty July 1, 2015 at 2:58 pm

    Good riding, Kimberlee!

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    North St. Bags July 1, 2015 at 3:27 pm

    Nice North St. panniers!

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    Brad July 1, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    “You sure don’t get guys driving by with their windows down playing heavy metal music in my neighborhood.”
    Perhaps because this part of the country doesn’t have any good friggin metal stations! Thank gawd for Spotify. Rock on!

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      Huey Lewis July 2, 2015 at 10:06 am

      Good metal can’t possibly exist on Spotify.

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    AP July 1, 2015 at 3:55 pm

    I commute 7 miles (each way) by bicycle daily. About 1 mile of that is on NE 122nd (from Burnside to near Halsey) and I echo Kimberlee’s experience: I have more close calls on that 1 mile stretch than I do all 6 other miles combined.

    When it was first announced 122nd would receive some extra funding, I immediately emailed Mayor Hales and Commissioner Novick to relay this fact and recommend adding a protected (or even buffered) bike lane. I hope this article can help support that cause as well.

    Thanks for doing this ride-a-long, and continuing to focus on some of the challenges faced by our area’s easternmost riders!

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    Katherine July 1, 2015 at 9:59 pm

    Fabulous work Kimberlee. You’re my hero!

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    spencer July 2, 2015 at 10:00 am

    I used to ride out that way a lot. SE market from 181st in was my secret direct route into inner Portland. I preferred that to the 84 path as its noisy.

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    Aaron July 2, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    This is my territory for sure! I work in the same general area she does, live off 139th/Stark, and do most of my socializing in inner SE.

    If she’s looking for a way calmer way to do this, I would stongly suggest heading south ASAP- perhaps taking San Rafael to 171st and then winding around the 170s, or taking 162nd (still better than 122nd) for the straight shot.

    Either way, turn right on Main and you’re now on the future 4M greenway, which even without the planned improvements is a pretty darn relaxed way to get from the far east to Tabor.

    https://goo.gl/maps/tA4QS

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    Mike Sanders July 2, 2015 at 8:03 pm

    I attended Parkrose High in the 1970s and I used to walk up the hill from PHS on the west side of the street under I-84. It was gravel then, really ratty. Now there is a sidewalk there and a fence protecting one tripping on the gravel and maybe rolling onto 122 Av. traffic below. I used to live in the neighborhood just west of there and I’m familiar with that ped overpass near San Rafael wihich is 1960s vintage. Terrible. The I-84 trail is pretty bad. Almost no signage connecting you to/from connecting streets, and what signs do exist are of 1970/80s vintage. I’ve traveled on the bus thru that 181 Av. interchange and wondered why you have to cross there 3 times to follow the 84 trail at that point. There is so much traffic there from the freeway to Burnside that it should be a state highway. The Gresham-Faurview trail connects to from the Springwater, but there are no signs on the SWT pointing this out (or the GFT, for that matter). This is really show’s the lack of attention East County has had in terns of infrastructure (and parks, too) for far too long. Hopefully this will wake up a few folks!

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    Jeff July 2, 2015 at 8:32 pm

    I take another route on my commute back from 181st and sandy…181st to halsey…halsey to 172nd…172nd to burnside …then burnside down until 75th or so to pick up the sharrows all the way back home to inner SE

    as soon as I pass 82nd on my ride its like a different city…my stress level is pretty high and reaches its peak on 181st which has almost killed me on several occasions

    as miserable as the i-84 path is if I could connect with protected bike lanes on 122nd and then on to burnside it would actually help alot because it would limit my exposure to a road with semi trucks riding next to me

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    Kimberlee July 3, 2015 at 10:36 am

    Hello all,
    I have really enjoyed all the feedback on Jonathan’s article about my commute. Hopefully all the feedback on the I-84 path and 122 bike lane will help to design better routes in the future.

    I first encountered the I-84 path several years ago while looping back from a weekend ride out the Springwater and I HATED it. Couldn’t image why anyone would ride in all that noise and furious that plunking a bike lane down beside the freeway with no buffer but a chain-link fence could justify as an alternative route for cyclists and pedestrians.

    When I started commuting to Organically Grown Company about a year ago I avoided I-84 and tried many of the routes that you all have suggested. But the routes we choose are all about trade-offs. And the I-84 trail has won out for three reasons:

    1) Safer: from 122nd to 181st and 181st to 201st I can pretty much spin along on autopilot. I can get into a nice cadence, work on my form, day dream, look down to the river valley, across to St Helen’s., up to Mt Hood, and on winter mornings into the rising sun. I don’t have to look at every car approaching an intersection and wonder if they are going to stop or not. I do really enjoy the beautiful greenways in the city but on the ones I regularly ride I don’t think I have seen a single stop sign or red light that someone has not driven through. I also don’t have to look a few feet to my left and worry about a driver with one hand (maybe) on the wheel and their other one punching buttons on a cell phone.

    2) Fewer flat tires: the path is remarkably well maintained and generally I encounter less broken glass and other debris that can result in flat tires. I don’t mind changing a tire that much but as this is my commute route I am usually trying to get to an 8:3am meeting and my co-workers prefer it when I have time to shower.

    3) Needing to get somewhere on a scheduled: I may be wrong but I have a sense that I go faster on the I-84 trail than some of the parallel side streets where I might have an excuse to stop and relax at a stop sign or red light.

    I think those are the main reasons I put up with the noise, dust, and car pollution along the I-84 trail, which, in the mornings really is not bad at all.

    Happy riding!

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    Ruthie July 5, 2015 at 10:08 am

    Inspirational!

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