Columbia River Gorge

Hearts, Minds, and thighs: A Gorge Pedal recap

A J Zelada by on August 20th, 2019 at 1:35 pm

With incredible support from many people and organizations, the Gorge Pedal ride happened this July. It delights my soul that this happened and reinforces several public and hidden agendas in regard to our needs of our incredible World Heritage Site worthy Columbia River Gorge.

The idea of Gorge Pedal had two initial elements: The fire of 2017 closed the Historic Columbia River Highway and Trail. I proposed to ODOT that the weekend prior to opening the “road” we allow cyclists and pedestrians full unfettered access to the road without motor vehicles. The road opened in sections over the next 16 months. The second idea is more involved with our mono cultures of aging groups. And this asks the question of how we teach our next generation stewardship of our Gorge’s resources.

For the past several years I’ve been working on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion issues as a Board member of the League of American Bicyclists. As part of this effort, I began at looking bicycle clubs across the US and asking the questions: how diverse and how inclusive are these bicycling groups. Yes, one can not only imagine but one can find very concrete evidence of how singular an appearance and constitution our national bicycle club scene depicts. I reached out to other organizations which seemed parallel. One was our own northwestern Mazamas. In a terrific discussion with their executive director, our topics over lapped seeing more aging members than new younger members, their board’s desire to increase diversity among their members, & increasing a broader, more inclusive educational aspect of their mission ~ no different than the membership profiles of bicycle club across the USA.

The glaring missing diversity markers in many clubs were the obvious racial, ethnic, income disparity, ability-disability, gender, and age…The cycling club activity descriptions were along the line of ‘how fast how long can you go?” On most front web page sites are declarations of which speed ride should you join and what is expected.

This led me to start with the most common denominator of all the diversities: age and the next generation. One great strength of cycling is our huge umbrella of humans who love cycling. This includes all types of race, gender, adaptive, family, age, economic class, etc. You all know this. But we also know the exclusions. Bike lanes only populate white communities in many US cities; children and women have fewer counts cycling on the streets and in bike clubs; economic deprived communities do not get active transportation dollars from Fed/State transportation dollars; on it goes. This is the backdrop for choosing to feature a Family Ride in the Gorge (11 miles) in addition to a longer Gorge Climb Ride (43 miles).

Finally a change: Gorge Pedal had 60% family riders and 50% of both groups were first time Gorge cyclists.

Traditionally, I knew that many riders want the longer, hill-challenged Vista House climbing. I knew that the Historic Columbia River Trail afforded an opportunity to have a car free ride for those unknowing of its existence. I figured the ratio of those attending would be something like 3-4 Climb riders to 1 Family Trail rider. Excitingly, Gorge Pedal Family riders dominated with 60% registration. 11% of all the cyclists were 9 years or younger and under age of 15 totaled 17.2%. On the other end of the age spectrum there were 18 people over 70 years old cycling. And of the registrants, 51% were women cyclists (self-identified as women; the registration platform is undergoing change and next year I was reassured that a fuller gender ID would be inclusive). Amazingly this is not an American cyclist profile. It is a full 8 to 80 embrace of making cycling accessible to those from 8 years old to 80. It is a Family, first timer kind of ride. I am thrilled and taken aback.

Fifty percent of the cyclists on Gorge Pedal had never bicycled in the Gorge — nearly 150 people. Of these new-cyclists, we attracted a national group, Latino Outdoors, who supported Gorge Pedal to register a number of cyclists from Anadando en Bicicletas Y Caminando (ABC) based in Cully neighborhood-Portland. The ABC is coordinated by Miche Lozano of the Community Cycling Center. Further assistance came from Leslie W. Garcia, Hispanic/Latinx Communications and Community Engagement Specialist of U.S. Forest Service who provided transportation to help get riders and bikes to and from Cascade Locks.

I solicited a number of other groups, Black Women on Bikes, WTF, Ride Like a Girl, Kidical Mass, Portland Bicycle Club, and several cargo bike groups to participate as groups. The informal nature of these organizations and the great variety of our Northwest outdoor activity\ies did not see these identifiable groups as distinct participants. I would love to see these cousin organizations have visible identity on the next Gorge Pedal. Seeing others ‘like me’ is a fundamental way to express diversity. And we all need to work harder to make sure the invitation to participate is heard and expresses a sincere welcome.

Another sidebar issue is the development of Oregon Travel’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion policies. Within this is the concept that OT needs to turn its attention to our state’s citizens. We are still finding out about ourselves. I recently delivered both Ukrainian and Russian language versions of Smart Cycling Guides (by the League) to Gresham/Rockwood active transportation leaders. These two efforts of introducing people to the Gorge and getting people on bikes are concrete steps to make sure we are welcoming all people. It is not enough to simply advertise events; we have to reach out and welcome people. Getting new people to enjoy the Gorge from a bicycle seat will remind them when they take relatives to the ‘Gorge’ there are alternatives to Multnomah Falls and its congestion.

Throughout the background of creating a bike ride in the Gorge is the congestion mitigation thread. The Gorge Express bus has been a huge positive growth experiment to get more people to the Gorge without a car. Getting bicycles with riders to the Gorge & back to Portland remains a tiny success. The buses now have front racks; the bus belly can handle a few cycles…but we need more transportation options and more frequent schedules to get people into the Gorge on bicycles. It was daunting to get a transport of 10 to 50 bikes en masse to the Gorge. Grayline bus company and I worked hard to get a reasonable price for transporting a group to Cascade Locks…but it would have doubled the price of registration.

Another underlying significant issue in putting the ride together was about Columbia Gorge Resources. Multnomah Falls is the most visited site in Oregon (after the Woodburn Outlets shopping center). Congestion mitigation of the Gorge Highway is stalled in a 2 year “quick fix” study, a 3-4 year midterm solution, and a 5-6 year long term goal process. This is a sad leadership issue refusing to look at 3+ million visitors & the escalating strangulation of the Gorge pedestrian and vehicular corridor. The I-84 parking lots dump 1200 pedestrians an hours crossing the Historic Columbia River Highway from 10:30 to about 2pm. The intersection at Powell’s Book store on Burnside has about 800 crossing people near noon. Educating the public that there are more wonderful sights to see beyond the “Falls” is a strong foundation of the Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance. We were able to offer local wineries, cideries, brewers to offer local products to the cyclists at the post ride Celebration. As for the non-ride part, our Celebration in Cascade Locks introduced people to the Warm Spring Art Community of artists, Anvil Academy blacksmithing, and a number of advocates, wineries, cideries, breweries from the Gorge. Special hat tip to Thunder Island Brewery for making the event be inviting to all. We need to distribute the singular attention of Multnomah Falls to the rest of the Gorge.

While we hoped more visitors would enjoy these participants and this needs more work…which is all consistent with Teach the Next Generation. We want people to recognize the diversity of what we have in our backyard, the Gorge. This recognition is the first step to teaching the next responsibility and stewardship of our land and people resources. Whether it is the Mazamas or the bicycle organization of your choice or the Tourist Vendors or a governmental agency, the message is the same: we teach leadership and stewardship by example.

So, above are some my “Heart and Mind.”

The “Thigh” part is really the responses we got from the ride.

The smiles were everywhere. Free Root Beer Floats were a hit at the end of the ride. People said the 250 feet climb on the ride to the Family ride’s turnaround was hard; some wanted a longer Family ride.

I delayed talking about the staircase near Eagle Creek for a long time. I arranged for a cross fit group to carry bikes up and down the steps. And people loved that the staircase was benefitted by the Happy Valley Cross Fit team. I witnessed surprised faces saying thanks to Megan, her husband and brother for carrying their bikes up/down. (yes, 60 lb. ebikes, tandems, bikes with trailers too). I did five bikes and thought, ‘oh, I am getting old.’

In the best fashion of our OR-landia, some wanted better organic food; some wanted to read the labels on the Peanut Butter jars; and some wanted a gold medal at the end.

Many reported that the volunteers were just excellent; Charlie and Trailhead Coffee waiting at the Women’s Forum turnaround for the Climb riders got many cheers.

We learned people needed better signage and pre-ride communication should be improved; thanks were expressed to Jamen Lee of the Oregon Parks and Recreation, Megan Innes of the US Army Corps of Engineers, and Melinda Moeur whom provided geological and historical narratives along the Family ride; and wonderfully a number of people said, “It was awesome and I’ll do it again!!!”

Yes, there are more details and many to thank for making this happen…but will save for a later discussion and next year’s planning. I can’t say that the dream to close the Historic Columbia River Highway to traffic for several hours and only have pedestrians and cyclists take over the entire Waterfall area to Vista House is completely day lit. It lingers.

Z

Time to look beyond driving cars says Columbia River Gorge leader

Avatar by on July 11th, 2019 at 1:45 pm

Driving on the Historic Highway in the Gorge is becoming an antiquated notion.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The head of the organization whose mission is to protect the Columbia River Gorge wants fewer people to drive cars through it.
[Read more…]

New rockslides delay reopening of Historic Columbia River Highway

Avatar by on August 3rd, 2018 at 9:06 am

Still from USFS video of rockslide above Historic Columbia River Highway in the Gorge.
(Watch video below)

Bummer news from the Oregon Department of Transportation: New rockslides have set back their plans to reopen six miles of the Historic Columbia River Highway that have been closed since last fall due to the Eagle Creek Fire.

The slides happened on the section of highway between Bridal Veil and Ainsworth State Park. As we reported last month, ODOT hoped to reopen that section of road with an experimental new lane configuration in September.

In a statement yesterday, ODOT Region 1 Manager Rian Windsheimer said, “This setback is a real disappointment to us. Our crews have been working hard to get these areas cleared. But there’s plenty to do before we can safely reopen the road.”

Video (below) of one of the slides near Horsetail Falls, taken by the US Forest Service, shows rocks rolling down a steep hill directly onto the highway.
[Read more…]

ODOT will create carfree lane on Historic Columbia River Highway when it reopens this fall

Avatar by on July 11th, 2018 at 10:15 am

Cross-section of ODOT’s “phased reopening” plan for the Historic Columbia River Highway.

“This is a great opportunity to try it and see how it operates.”
— Terra Lingley, ODOT Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Coordinator

They say when a fire strikes a forest it comes back even healthier than before. The same might be true for the Historic Columbia River Highway.

When a six-mile section of the scenic road reopens this fall following a one-year closure due to the Eagle Creek Fire, the Oregon Department of Transportation says it’ll have one fewer lane for automobile users. Referred to as the “phased reopening” plan, ODOT will limit automobile use to one lane in the eastbound direction for a five mile section between the Benson State Recreation Area/Hartman Pond (Exit 30) and Ainsworth State Park (Exit 35). The westbound lane will be set aside for walking, rolling, and emergency vehicles (see map graphic below).
[Read more…]

State warns about cycling closures and work zone conditions through Columbia Gorge – UPDATED

Avatar by on May 11th, 2018 at 9:17 am

(Map: Oregon State Parks)

UPDATE: This post has been edited to reflect the fact that the State of Oregon has not technically “closed” the gorge to bicycling. People on bikes are still allowed to use I-84 (legally, from NE 238th east); but should be advised of work zone conditions. We regret any confusion the initial story caused.

The combination of fire clean-up and construction of new paths (ironically) adjacent I-84 has led to a decision to prohibit bicycling warnings for bicycle users through a key segment of the Columbia River Gorge this summer.

An Oregon State Parks employee emailed us about the news last night and urged us to spread the word so that no one gets stuck. “What I have found is there is no way to ride through the Gorge this year — not even for those willing to ride on the shoulder I-84.”[Read more…]

Plan for new path on Bridge of the Gods moves forward in search of funding

Avatar by on April 25th, 2018 at 10:33 am

This looks even more amazing if you’ve ever been across the bridge in its current form.
(Graphics: Port of Cascade Locks)

Existing conditions. Yikes!

A biking and walking path on the Bridge of the Gods took a big step forward last month.

In March, the Port of Cascade Locks and the Pacific Coast Trail Association (in cooperation with the United States Forest Service, Washington Department of Transportation, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, and City of Stevenson, WA) turned in a proposal (PDF) to the Federal Highway Administration requesting $934,000 for a planning study that would lead to the construction of the project.
[Read more…]

A 30 year-old vision for a carfree Historic Columbia River Highway

Avatar by on April 11th, 2018 at 4:15 pm

Imagine a carfree Historic Columbia River Highway… like Dave Wechner did almost 30 years ago.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

There’s been a steady trickle of news here on BikePortland in recent years from agencies and advocates who see a future for carfree traveling in the Columbia River Gorge. But it turns out the idea isn’t as futuristic as you might think.
[Read more…]

New website is latest piece in the carfree Columbia Gorge puzzle

Avatar by on April 9th, 2018 at 11:37 am

As the Portland region grows, so too has the popularity of the Columbia River Gorge. That’s a good thing; but not if too many people visit it by car.

Thankfully, Oregon’s tourism and transportation agencies understand this. Two summers ago, faced with congestion and overflowing parking lots, the Department of Transportation launched the Columbia Gorge Express bus service to encourage people to experience the Gorge without a car. That’s been such a huge success they’ve upgraded service and features each year.

Now comes another piece of the puzzle: ColumbiaGorgeCarfree.com, a website funded in part by a grant from Travel Oregon.

The site (still partly under construction) features carfree itineraries for popular Gorge destinations. As of now, there’s a turn-by-turn guide to hiking the popular Dog Mountain trail without a car. The itinerary comes with a detailed map and is based on biking and walking the four miles from Cascade Locks to the West End Transit (WET) shuttle bus stop on the Washington side of the river. If you can wait until May 25th, the Columbia Gorge Express will carry you and your bike from the Gateway Transit Center in east Portland to Cascade Locks.

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Big sale at Community Cycling Center

There’s also a very helpful page that lists all the buses and transit options that serve the Gorge.

This new website is the work of Heidi Beirle and a, “geeky team of transportation professionals.” Beirle is a carfree tourism consultant who also works with the West Columbia Gorge Chamber of Commerce.

If you’re keen on going to the Gorge carfree this season, keep this website handy. And if you want to make bus service to the Gorge even better, please take the latest Columbia Gorge Express survey.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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More bike capacity among possible upgrades for ODOT’s Gorge Express bus service

Avatar by on October 16th, 2017 at 4:21 pm

Riders board the Columbia Gorge Express.
(Photos: ODOT)

Despite an early end to the season due to the Eagle Creek Fire, the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Columbia Gorge Express bus service was a hit once again this past summer season.

Jake Warr from ODOT’s Rail & Public Transit Division manages the program. He got in touch with us to share an update on this year’s usage stats and a photo of the newly upgraded buses.

“The second season of ODOT’s Columbia Gorge Express pilot service further confirmed that public transit to the Gorge is in high demand,” Warr said. “In fact, before the Eagle Creek Fire forced an early end to the season, the service was on pace to beat last year’s ridership totals. A few tweaks from the 2016 season helped accommodate and support this ridership growth, including the use of larger buses and the option to pay fares with cash.”

Here are the stats based on ticket sales and rider survey:[Read more…]

Here’s a handy guide to which Gorge trails have reopened after the fire

Michael Andersen (Contributor) by on October 3rd, 2017 at 11:15 am

Still from a KGW video assessing damage to the Columbia Gorge.

You’ve probably heard by now that despite last month’s conflagration in the Columbia River Gorge, Portlanders’ worst fears about the destruction didn’t come true.

But keeping track of where you can and can’t hike and bike through the Gorge right now is more complicated than usual. That’s where the Friends of the Columbia Gorge come in.

[Read more…]