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The Commute From Hell (was heaven on a bike)

Posted by on December 14th, 2016 at 11:16 pm

A bike rider finds a good line between traffic on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd this evening. Photo shared by  River City Bicycles on Instagram.

A bike rider finds a good line between traffic on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd this evening. Photo shared by River City Bicycles on Instagram.

I have never seen anything like what happened on tonight’s evening commute. A few inches of snow has led to utter chaos on roads throughout the Portland region.

Schoolkids trapped in buses until way past their bed times, multiple car pile-ups, dozens of cars just abandoned on the side of the road, people hitch-hiking or giving up on their cars and walking several miles to get home, standstill traffic on I-5 and Highway 26, five to seven hour commutes with people passing out survival snacks to strangers. You know those traffic maps news stations show every night? Almost every major highway was deep red until about 10:00 pm. Like a traffic blood bath.

My social media timelines were an amazing contrast — full of complete and utter misery for people inside motor vehicles, and then sheer joy and glee from people who were lucky enough to be on a bike.

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With the right bike these are prime conditions for cycling.(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

With the right bike these are prime conditions for cycling.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Almost everyone I follow who rode a bike today was downright jovial about their commute.

Biketown station on North Albina all tucked in and ready to go for tomorrow morning's commute.(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Biketown station on North Albina all tucked in and ready to go for tomorrow morning’s commute.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

“Advantage bike & ped. Love it when weather conditions turn the tables,” wrote one friend on Instagram. Another person I follow said, “The cyclocross bike was the right choice for travel this evening. Fast and easy: I passed miles of cars lined up at a standstill.”

Our friends at Biketown said they had about 90 or so rides after 3:00 (when the snow started to accumulate). “They’re not huge numbers,” said a Biketown rep, “but it was nice to hear from some members that we were the only way to get home once the roads were completely clogged.”

I did get a phone call from one bike rider who said his typically one-hour ride home took him over three hours tonight. He implored me to caution riders. “The amount of incredibly unsafe behavior of drivers on the road tonight was really astounding,” he said.

But overall the night was a big win for biking, which once again proved to be the most resilient form of transportation.

The commute from hell was heaven on a bike.

How’d it go for you? Will you ride to work in the morning?

Don’t miss our companion editorial, Don’t blame the weather for this mess, which was posted this morning.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. 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

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Adam
Subscriber

Portland is hilarious, freaking out about an inch of snow. I rode my Workcycles home and it handled the snow just fine.

mran1984
Guest
mran1984

I left NW around 8:45 and enjoyed 12 miles of Leif before heading to a warm house in SE. What a great night! I highly recommend a good stout to accompany this beautiful weather. BTW, Forest Park was awesome. The traction down Thurman, including the bridge, was incredible. Too much fun out there. Gravel is for chumps! No thanks PBOT!

Ted Buehler
Guest

I just went on a 30 minute “quiet world ride” at 1:00 a.m. It’s really nice out there, I road a mountain bike with knobby tires and a low seat. Very quiet, very pretty.

It looks like the morning commute will be slick. Remember to ride slow and take it easy. Consider lowering your seat (so you can steer/stabilize yourself with your feet), consider lowering your tire PSI (for better contact with the ground), consider putting on knobby tires.

And, if you drive, get out to your car at least 10 before you need to leave. Bring a broom and an old credit card to clean off the slow and ice. If you don’t have good mittens or gloves, put wool sox on your hands when clearing ice. Make sure your car has excellent visibility front, rear and sides before engaging the clutch.

Ted Buehler

Dwaine Dibbly
Guest
Dwaine Dibbly

I walk home most days, about 1.5 miles, from OHSU on the Hill to the area of the Portland Art Museum. It was really pretty! I saw a few people on bikes, including a fat bike on Terwilliger, heading south. Terwilliger & Campus Drive were gridlocked from 3pm onward, from OHSU to 405 & beyond.

We intentionally bought our place close to where I work and every time there’s a “snowpocalypse”, the concept of walkable cities pays off. Sure, downtown is expensive, but we save lots on transportation costs and I can’t put a price on my time.

Mike
Guest
Mike

Vehicular chaos is always entertaining. Especially those multi-car freeway pileups. Bring on the ice!

rain panther
Guest
rain panther

Well, my 14 mile commute from Tigard to Tabor was not exactly what I’d call “sheer joy and glee”. On the other hand, it only took me an hour and forty minutes – in contrast to various friends’ and coworkers’ stories of 3-4 hour, panic-inducing car commute nightmares. I’ll take it.

Andrea Capp
Subscriber
Andrea Capp

I got home pretty quickly by bike . Next time I’ll bring some eye protection though. The wind blowing snow into my eyes was not pleasant.

David
Guest
David

A lot of the bike experience likely depended on having the correct type of bike. Having more of a road bike I was certainly taking my time yesterday afternoon before things became truly horrible and there were still some instances where traction was a bit lacking. I can imagine having a fat bike right about now could make for some very fun times.

K'Tesh
Guest
K'Tesh

I remember back when I worked in Tualatin for ACS (later Xerox)(Apple computer Tech support). That snowfall in December 2009… Like always, I wasn’t fast enough to get my bike on the bus. My 10 mile ride took about an hour and a half. I heard the next day I went in that the people on the bus were stuck on the bus for something like three and a half hours.

I love riding on fresh snow (old snow and ice is a different story).

Peter Hass
Guest
Peter Hass

I like the headline of this post. So true! I had a delightful bike ride home in the snow yesterday afternoon. I left my downtown office at 4pm and took it slow and easy…trying to avoid any sudden moves and stops. I ride a single speed road bike with slick 28’s on it so I reduced the air pressure a bit. That helps. Car traffic was at a stand still as I rode across the Burnside bridge…it looked like they were going to be stopped for a long, long time. My 4 mile commute took about 3 minutes longer than normal. It was fun!

tee
Guest
tee

I chose to ride transit yesterday, as I had been worried in the morning that the roads would end up icy rather than slushy. While a bike ride would have been more fun and infinitely faster, the bus beat driving (I got to read a good mystery). TriMet was definitely doing their best to get people out of downtown and back home. Poor decisions on the part of people driving caused crazy delays to the bus and max lines. After watching drivers block max tracks, bus lanes/stops, and bike lanes in downtown, it is safe to say if we actually had separated bike and transit infrastructure, most of Portland would not shut down in the snow.

rick
Guest
rick

It was tough getting traction, but I finally rode my bike up SW Scholls Ferry Road from Raleigh Hills to Sylvan last night! It was generally peaceful except for the occasional thrill-seeking speeding driver. It was great to take the lane on SW Canyon Road near the highway 26 multiuse path to the West Slope post office.

Gabriel Trainer
Guest

I took my mountain bike to work yesterday so riding home was a blast! I ran the Bike Farm shift from 5-8 and not a single person showed up :(, but I was able to work on my bike and almost finished a Specialized Langster donation I’ve been working on building up. Rode in this morning as well, it is crazy how dead the streets are but I still take side streets when possible.

Spiffy
Subscriber

yesterday walked from NW industrial into downtown along the bus route (rather than wait 15 minutes for the bus) and the bus never passed me, I passed the bus in front of me…

from downtown to SE was slow and bumper to bumper… 4-lane roads were all reduced to 2 due to either abandoned cars or people avoiding the curb… the bus only got stuck once for a couple minutes…

the bus this morning was fairly quick… got stuck once for about 10 minutes… it’ll be nice this afternoon since many people didn’t bother driving in this morning…

Schrauf
Guest
Schrauf

My normal 20 minute commute from downtown to NE took 30 minutes, easily passing lines of cars stuck for hours. Great time. I, as well, forgot the ski goggles, even after thinking about it the night before. Would have been helpful. I was on a mountain bike but skinny tire folks were doing fine. Another two inches that might not have been the case.

Toadslick
Subscriber

I’ve never been as thankful for the safer Clinton than on yesterday’s bike commute home. It made the ride a joy, since I could enjoy the scenery instead of having to be hyper-aware and defensive.

Also, I’m glad I packed my snow goggles, and I’d recommend them to anyone that does winter biking.

Middle of the Road guy
Guest
Middle of the Road guy

“The amount of incredibly unsafe behavior of drivers on the road tonight was really astounding,” he said.

Well yeah. When the infrastructure is not maintained that’s what will happen.

Ted Timmons (Contributor)
Editor

This is when it sucks to work remotely. No snow days for me :/

Dick Button
Guest
Dick Button

Last night and this morning felt like a mini vacation from the cut throat commuter traffic that usually punctuates my ride. Went to get a happy hour burger, and by the time I came out at 6, everyone’s wheels were spinning except for mine.

The first car I saw was a mustang/charger type with ridiculously over powered rear wheel drive. He/She could either not understand the concept of feathering the gas or the car was simply too ridiculous to move its wheels in a slow deliberate way. I had a good laugh.

Up the road I saw minivans full of kids and just regular commuter cars, and I felt less smug but still – was unquestionably zipping past gridlocked car after gridlocked car and feeling like I was getting away with something.

This morning I took major roads and found to my pleasure that some had been graveled or salted and others were sufficiently slushy, but none were too slick and I didn’t have the same out of control feeling that I sometimes did in the freezing rain last week.

I’m currently one of 3 people who made it in to my office.

SilkySlim
Guest
SilkySlim

Biked to work Wednesday AM, but opted to jog home in the PM. Was about 15 seconds/mile slower than normal, so I suppose the snow cost me about a minute and half total.

As much as I’d love to say it was 100% winter wonderland, the snow was kind of pelting my face at times. Gotta dig that balaclava out of the closet.

A Grant
Guest
A Grant

Love snowy commutes – which in my neck of the woods, means 5 inches of snow or more. It’s an opportunity to ride my fat bike, which I don’t normally subject to the abuses of road salt. Having the ability to plow through fresh powder on side streets, while other vehicles get stuck … leaves me with a stupid grin on my face every time.

Efty
Guest

I also work remotely, And i have to work all night long so nowadays it’s tough to get out with my mtb & missing out a lot 🙁

Drew
Guest
Drew

Sellwood to Tualatin last nite on pugsley fat bike; 4″ wide knobby tires (Nates) with studs in them. Easy ride past so many idling or stranded cars, and on quiet deserted streets. Was a 70 minute ride; driving would have been more like 7 hours. The right bike makes a ride like this a real pleasure.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

Its like mother nature is rewarding the good guys and giving the bad guys a big karmic dope slap. Makes you smile

Gary B
Guest
Gary B

It’s absurd to me that every bus is equipped to drive safely in the snow, and yet Transit access it ruined by car drivers that shouldn’t be on the road. Maybe we should consider banning driving on bus routes (at least major ones) when it snows.

ethan
Guest
ethan

If my fatbike hadn’t been stolen, it would have been perfect to ride in the snow.

However, we need more completely separated infrastructure so that bikes and buses can cruise on by while not having to worry about getting hit by out of control drivers.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

What I wouldn’t have given for some knobby studded tires on my bike instead of the car I was trapped in for over 5 hours on the way home last night. Of course, some of the hills I have to traverse would have been extremely sketchy on a bike, regardless of tires.

dan
Guest
dan

Walked home from downtown last night with my office dog. Waterfront Park was a great big feel-good session: runners, cyclists, and dog walkers playing in the snow and having a ball. I saw one dog that must have been a Husky mix…it was as happy as if bacon was falling from the sky. Eye protection would have been nice, both for me and the dog, but at least I remembered to wear boots.

Tyler Bradford
Guest
Tyler Bradford

Well, I was the caller Jonathan mentioned, and I’ll just say I’m glad it seems like my experience was unique. It seems like by the time I was riding up Clinton the gridlock on Powell and Division had driven some motorists over the edge (of course that pun is intended )

Just so that I don’t come across as looking for conflict where there isn’t any, I did see that by the time I reached the diverters on Clinton around 34th(?), Someone has moved the “No Access” signs out of the way, and also it appears that someone RAN OVER the concrete foundation frames that have been put in recently as part of the construction to replace the cement planter barrels. People were driving right through.

Combine that with some crazy unsafe passing, a truck that threatened to head-on hit me at the SE 80th/Mill cut-through, and 2 separate occasions where drivers failed to stop at intersections where they had the stop and I had the right of way and I avoided a collision by dropping myself (to be fair, I could tell they WANTED to stop, but we’re going to fast to do so), and I just felt a bit gripped at the end of it.

dave
Guest
dave

Had a fun 10 mile commute into work this morning around 9:30 on a mountain bike with stock knobby tires. NE 28th, Sandy (surprisingly not slushy), 7th, Hawthorne bridge (a bit slushy), Terwilliger (sidewalk was a good alternative), Capitol Hill Road. Refreshingly light traffic. I purposely avoided plowed and more traveled streets (i.e. Barbur). Traction was good considering the circumstances. Ride home could be interesting with melting, more slushy sholders, and potential refreeze

Jessie
Guest
Jessie

As I watched the car traffic on the streets outside my apartment come to a standstill, and stay there for HOURS, while the folks on bicycles cruised by, it occurred to me that a kid on a bike with a backpack full of candy bars and thermoses of coffee could make a killing on days like this! 🙂 $$$$

Kimberlee
Subscriber
Kimberlee

I was one of the 90 Biketown riders. Rode from downtown to North Portland and I had a blast!

johnny burrell
Guest
johnny burrell

Last night was just shits and giggles for my bike commute. I live in NE and work in Hillsboro so while my peers spent 4-6 hours driving I was home in 90 min.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Last Night: Commute wise things looked pretty good in Vancouver – north of the Interstate Bridge, but the commute traffic trying to get south from SR-14 across the I-5 Bridge was all stalled and messed up. [Huh, Vancouver workers living in Portland?! ‘-) No other reason to do the crossing otherwise – its not Black Friday after all.]

Plus there was a person (driver or ped or cyclist?) who jumped off the Interstate Bridge earlier in the day so that might have have hosed the bridge right when the snow started…if they had parked a car on it…

Chris
Guest
Chris

Biked home yesterday from Clinton/21st to north of Montavilla, about 5 miles in 40 minutes in the 4:00 hour. Wonderful ride, the eastbound part was cold in the wind/snow, but scooting around blocks of backed up traffic made it satisfying. Stuck to bike boulevards the entire route, but lots of cut through traffic. Had a tow truck driver come up beside me at a stop sign and harass me for biking (endangering my life he said). He didn’t care he was on a bike route and it was an inch of snow..then he cut me off turning in front of me without signaling.

pdxhobbitmom
Subscriber
pdxhobbitmom

This was an obvious time when riding a bike was much faster than driving a car. However, I feel like there are times when bad car traffic makes that the case even in good weather, for shorter trips in close-in Portland at least. Has anyone seen (or done) a comparison of the average time it takes to go between certain locations by car versus by bike during rush hour? I would like to see such a comparison.

Bryan
Guest
Bryan

Gresham to Woodstock on the 14th at around 3 o’clock. Spring water was easy. Streets with cars a bit higher stress but still smooth and easier than driving. On a surly cross check with 28c tires. Go easy and stay focused crashing sucks.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

“I have never seen anything like what happened on tonight’s evening commute”

Really?! I’ve seen these quite a few times in 24 Pacific Northwest (Portland and Seattle) winters. On numerous occasions, I’ve seen snow or ice storms that caused epic jams and led people to abandon their cars in mass numbers and/or suffer 4-6-8 hour commutes. It doesn’t happen every year, but it happens. Not as rare as everyone seems to pretend.

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

Except now the bike lanes are going to be terrible for the next couple weeks, thanks Obama…

Mark smith
Guest
Mark smith

To see how Portland’s handled two inches of snow is telling how things will be in an earthquake.