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Family Biking: Time to start planning your bike-to-school route

Posted by on August 6th, 2019 at 9:12 am

I can’t wait to see if the new lanes on SE Foster feel safe at 8:30am once school starts.
(Photos: Madi Carlson)

Yikes, August has snuck up on me and the school year is just three weeks away. That means it’s time to plan out your bike-to-school route.

Our Family Biking column is sponsored by Clever Cycles.

➤ Read past entries here.

Maybe you moved and have a new address to start from. Or a new school to get to. Or perhaps your child is now on their own bike, or a bigger and faster one. Other changes to account for could be new bike infrastructure between home and school or a big construction project you need to avoid. Whatever the lay of the land, start investigating those routes now so you’re ready to roll by the start of school (Wednesday, August 28th for Portland Public).

I’ve written before about my variety of routes and how they differ based on when I’m riding with the kids or not. I’ve also written about riding on the sidewalk and how it can be a necessary evil for getting part of the way from point A to point B (but hopefully just a temporary one that added bike infrastructure will make moot). These are things at the forefront of my mind when working on my latest and greatest routes to school.

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The makings of either a great or a horrible safe (or wet) route to school.

Taking my tips into consideration, do you have a good route mapped out for the coming school year? If not, may your family biking community and I help? I use Facebook and adore the PDX Cargo Bike Gang — which isn’t only people with cargo bikes and also isn’t only family bikers. There are a lot of us in the group and we love sharing advice on family-friendly routes around Portland. You can also ask for route advice in the comments below this post. I don’t yet know this city like the back of my hand like I did my former home of Seattle, but I do know a lot of great routes to take with kids and I know who to go to for help in our various quadrants.

As for our routes, I’m pretty excited about the new bike lanes on SE Foster for getting to Hosford Middle School. I don’t consider paint-buffered bike lanes adequate for kids (nor for adults), but I’ve been using 10 blocks of them a few times each day the last couple months (granted primarily alone, no kids along) and they’re not bad. I find them more pleasant to bike on than SE 52nd. Of course traffic will be much different when school is in session, but I have high hopes we can cut a mile off our commute each day I escort my 12-year old to Hosford.

Do you have any route exploration and plotting planned?

— Madi Carlson, @familyride on Instagram and Twitter

Remember, we’re always looking for people to profile. Get in touch at madidotcom [at] gmail [dot] com if that sounds like fun to you

Browse past Family Biking posts here.

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16 Comments
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    B. Carfree August 6, 2019 at 10:31 am

    I had to do this process last year when my oldest granddaughter entered kindergarten. It took a few hours to find a route that was marginally acceptable over the last 1/2 mile even though her school is located adjacent to the high school that children in my ‘hood are supposed to attend. The streets near the school couldn’t be worse for people walking and cycling if that was the design goal (and I’m not certain it isn’t, since active transportation represents modes that don’t have seats at the table because no companies profit off of them).

    This year, both granddaughters will be at the same school with the same dismissal times, so my life got easier (other than that one intersection 🙂 ) I feel like I dodged a bullet because the bike path that makes up three of the four miles to the pre-school they both attended previously will be closed for the next two years and the detour is horrid. I don’t know what I would do if we were still riding them there. I guess I live a charmed life, sort of like Mr. Magoo.

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      David Hampsten August 6, 2019 at 1:05 pm

      I have met city planners and engineers who have in fact deliberately designed roadways leading to and from schools to actively discourage people from walking or bicycling to and from schools. Their concern is related to security and kidnappings of students by strangers (very rare) or by estranged parents in divorces (all too common, alas.) Students are required to either be bused in or be dropped off by parents/guardians in cars. I’ve even seen fenced perimeters around school grounds topped with barb wire, not unlike prisons, clearly designed as much to keep students in as to keep strangers out. These tend to be regional public schools in suburban or semi-rural settings, especially high schools and middle schools, but even elementary schools. Sad but true.

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        Todd Boulanger August 6, 2019 at 1:25 pm

        David – that is so tragic about what you say…the design and location of these schools will be fixed in time for 50 to 100 years…thus the impacts will be long felt across the community.

        “I” want the names of these professionals (we can talk off line) so that we can approach them if they are local to discuss what they are doing and if need be bring in their “certifying” professional association if their work behaviour/ product does not meet the objectives of the APA / AICP, ASCE, etc.

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          David Hampsten August 6, 2019 at 1:38 pm

          They are here in North Carolina and are more often than not praised for their work here at state transportation conventions. I’m sorry to say that NC is still stuck in the 70s and 80s on bike and ped infrastructure. NCDOT makes ODOT look like a very advanced liberal organization more concerned for pedestrian safety and convenience than for car users, relatively speaking.

          I’ll be happy to give you their names, but it would be easier to give you a much shorter list of our few good planners and engineers here in NC who do their best to make all vulnerable users safer. Many of our best people tend to move out of state, though I don’t know if any have taken jobs in Oregon.

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            Todd Boulanger August 6, 2019 at 6:55 pm

            No need to give me their names since they are not in OR / WA / HI. I won’t be in NC anytime.

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              David Hampsten August 6, 2019 at 8:39 pm

              But how certain are you that your schools and other infrastructure are being planned by Oregonians/Washingtoni/Hawaiians? Isn’t everything being outsourced these days to the lowest bidder? North Carolina is cheap, competitive with India now. It wouldn’t surprise me if planners out here were designing the I-5 Rose Garden expansion, they love building highways here. I know some of our new bikeways here were designed in Oregon, for Charlotte.

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          David Hampsten August 6, 2019 at 1:45 pm

          Most city planners here in NC are “AICP” certified. They sincerely believe they are doing the right thing by restricting vulnerable users from using dangerous streets. Yeah, it’s wrong-headed for all kinds of reasons, including the one you state, but most planners here drive everywhere 100% and interpret AICP guidelines accordingly. Which is why I don’t recommend language that is multiple, vague, and conflicting, which planners everywhere tend to support.

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          David Hampsten August 6, 2019 at 1:47 pm

          Plannerse: AICP = American Institute of Certified Planners
          Vernacular: AICP = Any Idiot Can Plan

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    Todd Boulanger August 6, 2019 at 1:35 pm

    Wow! I almost did not recognize SE Foster…if it had not been for the architecture in the pic.

    The removal of the old deficient “highway” roadway layout will do amazing things to this forlorn corridor. Perhaps one of the first big changes to will trigger will be a successful event / performance space in the old Bob White (?) theater.

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    Audrey August 6, 2019 at 2:27 pm

    Tangentially related question: My toddler has decided she now hates her Yepp seat and wants to ride on the running board of the longtail like her big brother. We have a hooptie, but she’s still too little to do this further than around the block at a snails pace.

    Are there any seat belts that would allow her to sit on the running board and still be strapped in? I swear I’ve seen little seat backs with a Y harness, but google is failing me.

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    • Madi Carlson
      Madi Carlson August 6, 2019 at 3:36 pm

      The GMG Junior might be the seat you’re thinking of. I don’t think Clever Cycles keeps them in stock, but might be able to order them. Some people order lap buckles, like from Strapworks.com, but that might not be enough containment for your taste. I let my littler kid *occasionally* ride on the deck when he was 2.5 and some 2.5-year olds are fine doing this, but he was a bit unpredictable so I kept him mostly in the Yepp until he was 3.5, which seems to be a common out-of-the-Yepp age. Hope that helps!

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      Todd Boulanger August 6, 2019 at 7:11 pm

      Audrey – great questions. Based on my kids experience, I would suggest getting a Bakfiets and a 3 point harness that you could bolt the end to the floor boards. [The Bakfiets would also give more security when (if) the bike went onto its side in a low speed crash…vs. the open long tail designs.]

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        Audrey August 7, 2019 at 2:07 pm

        Madi & Todd, thanks for your thoughts. The GMG Junior looks pretty close to what I’m looking for, but doesn’t appear to be sold in the states any more. My kid is not yet 2 so she definitely still fits in the Yepp, but in her mind anything her brother can do that she cannot do is a catastrophic injustice.

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    Ryan August 6, 2019 at 2:56 pm

    I failed miserably at this last year. My daughter wanted so badly to ride to/from school with me at least a couple of times (I’m normally at work already in the morning, and not home until well after school’s out). It really wouldn’t be that hard to figure out a route, except for having to cross a major arterial (2 bike lanes, 4 driving lanes + median/turning lane, 35mph limit with most drivers doing closer to 45). There are no marked (much less protected) crosswalks for well over a half mile along this stretch of road, and we’re right in the middle. I’ve contacted the city of Gresham about this, and they agreed that this spot badly needs another marked crosswalk, but that they’ve been waiting on grants for several years in order to do it.

    If we went ahead and biked to either of the nearest crosswalks, it’s still far from ideal after that. One direction would necessitate biking down Stark for a couple miles, before having to go down a fairly steep hill on a road with little to no shoulder. The other direction we have to go down a hill just to get to the crosswalk (though, not as steep as the other way), then we’d have to climb back up the hill to get to the school, which is just a bit too tough of a climb for a 6 year old. If it was easier to get across the arterial, there’s a side road almost right across from us that takes us almost directly to her school. and we could easily bike there in about 10 minutes. It’s frustrating that it feels like such a simple thing and yet so difficult at the same time.

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      stephan August 6, 2019 at 7:29 pm

      Ryan — you did not fail miserably, the city failed you.

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        David Hampsten August 6, 2019 at 8:46 pm

        Should not Ryan, as a resident and presumably a tax-paying citizen of his community, be publicly working with his neighbors, community and other parents to advocate for changes in his town? It’s not failure on the part of anyone, be it Ryan, his community, or the hills in question, but a need to make all better for everyone involved, including the hill.

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