— 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.
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:
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.