Portland bike infrastructure: What the hell?

by Jessie Kwak

I’ve had a pretty uneventful beginning to my new year, and I so needed it after a crazy and hectic holiday season that combined a) visits to three sets of families, b) a move to Portland, c) an attempt to spend time with everyone I’ve ever known before we left Seattle and d) an unusually busy spate with my main freelance client.

I’ve been an official Portlander for just under a week now, and I have to say that life is pretty good. Rob drove back up to Seattle for work training a day after we moved in, leaving me with piles of boxes and only trusty Konita to get around on.

After being reliant solely on my bicycle the past week, I have some observations to share on Portland bike infrastructure.

Oh–and please forgive the lack of photos. My camera’s in a box somewhere. I hope.

What’re all these bike lanes doing here?

Folks, I rode from our place in North Portland to the Goodwill on SE 6th Ave and SE Harrison St*, a round trip of about 10 miles.

You won’t believe what happened:

1) From my front door I pedaled directly onto a neighborhood greenway with traffic-calming speed bumps and sharrows.

2) I then turned onto an east-west two-lane arterial with wide, well-marked bike lanes. That arterial connected me with a similarly appointed road that took me south.

3) I was worried about this part. I’d studied a map (not a bike map), and it looked like I’d have to go through the section where the yellow MAX line transfers to the other 3. I’d transferred lines there before, and remembered it being a tangle of busses, train tracks, and car traffic. As it turns out, there’s also a super sweet little green bike path, with lots of signage to direct you through the mess. Piece of cake.

4) I was also worried about where I’d go from here. Surely MLK was not the correct road to bike on, but I didn’t see a good alternative on the (non-bike) map. After I passed through the transfer area, however, I noticed all the other cyclists ahead of me were taking a right onto the sidewalk. I followed, and discovered the Eastbank Esplanade, a magical pedestrian/bike path that follows the east bank of the Willamette.

5) The Eastbank Esplanade took me all the way down to the Hawthorne Bridge, where I popped off onto another traffic-calmed side road marked with sharrows.

6) Then I rode for 3 blocks on—HORRORS—a side road with no bike infrastructure whatsoever. I also didn’t see any actual cars on that road, though, so it was probably fine.

What I’m saying here is that I rode 10 miles in the city, only 6 blocks of which were not marked with excellent bicycle infrastructure.

Where the hell do I park my bike?

By which I mean, of course, which rack should I choose this time? Should I lock up to one of this cheery blue quartet of staples? Should I lock up to the artsy sculpture rack a half block away?

Or, goodness, which stall should I choose in the bike rack in front of the New Seasons that spans an entire city block?


So many choices.

I mentioned a few summers back that Portland has a bike parking surplus problem of epidemic proportions, and it only seems to have gotten more pronounced since I last visited.

It’s completely incredible.

You call that a bike lane?

In Europe they’d call it a car lane. In Portland they’ve taken vast swaths of pavement that a row of Minis could have parked in quite comfortably, and dedicated them to our lowly two-wheeled conveyances.

I remember once a year or so ago, I was reading a post on Let’s Go Ride a Bike where Dottie mentioned how much she hates it when other cyclists pass her on the right inside a bike lane.

I was totally baffled. She must be riding practically in the car lane if she’s getting passed on the right—it would be an absurdly dangerous thing to do! Bike lanes are nowhere near wide enough for two cyclists to ride side by side.

I can’t speak to Chicago’s bike lanes, but in Portland they’re totally wide enough. Portland bike lanes are happy stretches of paradise, and if that KC Metro bus that took me out two years back had been speeding past me in a bike lane this big? I never would have gotten sucked into its draft.

So where’s the proof?

I know, I KNOW! Photos or it didn’t happen! You Seattleites reading this would probably believe me more if I told you each Portlander got a unicorn to ride to work on than if I told you I saw a bike rack that spanned an entire city block.

Once I figure out what happened to my camera I’ll go on a fact-finding trip and provide you with proof.

I promise.

Any excuse to get me out riding in this most fun biking city!

*In Portland apparently the direction precedes the street name in all cases. In Seattle it precedes east-west street names and follows north-south street names, which is terribly helpful in orienting oneself. I suppose I’ll just have to live with Portland’s uniform directionals.


Oh, all the roads I’ve rid in Seattle

by Jessie Kwak

As we get closer to our impending move to Portland, I’m starting to feel quite nostalgic about biking in Seattle. I keep thinking about all my favorite places to ride, but because of how busy I’ve been – and how cold the weather’s been – I haven’t had much time to go out.

I’ve written about a lot of my cycling day trips outside Seattle, like the Bainbridge to Bremerton loop, Whidbey Island twice, and the Cedar River Trail, but I realized I haven’t written as much about the the roads I’ve loved in the city itself.

View of downtown from Jose Rizal park on Beacon Hill

View of downtown from Jose Rizal park on Beacon Hill

This is only the smallest of lists – I could wax poetic on another few dozen favorite spots, but I wanted to keep it to places I rode frequently and will really miss. So here’s a little homage to some of my favorite roads, trails, and places.

What are yours?

Interlaken and Cheasty

People complain about Seattle’s hills, which are certainly plentiful, but you just can’t get the delicious thrill of descending if you don’t climb, too. Some roads are obviously of an easier grade than others, but I want to highlight two that actually manage to turn a grueling climb into a pleasure.

When I lived on Capitol Hill, I would sometimes need to clear my head in the midst of a day of writing. A quick bike ride would do the trick, letting me come back to the page fresh and full of new ideas. The best thing about living on Capitol Hill was that it was easy to get motivated to ride your bike somewhere – after all, it was almost always downhill. The problem was in the return.

Unless you climbed Interlaken Boulevard, a winding, forested road that’s almost entirely devoid of cars and homes. Interlaken is fun to descend, too, but for some reason I almost always descended 10th Ave N, then turned right in order to loop back up to climb Interlaken.

It was always magically quiet – similar to Cheasty Boulevard on Beacon Hill. Suddenly the honking horns and and whirr of traffic dies away, and it’s just you, a road, a beautiful wooded area, and a gentle-but-epic ascent.

Cheasty and Interlaken were both designed by the Olmsteds as pleasure roads – in fact, Interlaken was originally a bicycle boulevard.

Seward Park and Lake Washington Boulevard

Living in Georgetown, I developed a different route to clear my head when I was spending all day writing. I would climb up and over Beacon Hill, taking Swift Ave S to S Myrtle Place, then climbing out to Seward Park. The park juts out into Lake Washington, and I loved to ride the perimeter trail along the water on sunny days when families were out walking, together and picnicking on the beach.

Then I’d head up along Lake Washington Boulevard, joining the scores of other cyclists that take that route on nice days, grinning as the sun sparkled on the water, and Mount Rainier held court in the distance.

I never actually made it out to Bicycle Sundays along Lake Washington Boulevard, but it’s a nice ride even sharing the road with traffic.

Mercer Island

I’ve written about Mercer Island before, but it stands out still as one of my favorite places for an afternoon ride. Even on a gloomy day there’s something magical about the way the rain glazes the mossy trees and glitters in the little pockets of emerald foliage. And oh, man, those rolling hills – climb, descend, climb, descend. Amazing.

Green River Trail

There were parts of my commute to my office job by the South Center mall that I hated, but not the 9-mile stretch that followed the Green River Trail. It was peaceful, and I almost always had the entire trailway to myself.

I loved the spring, especially, when the flowering red current would begin to bloom, and the baby geese would go spilling down the banks to splash into the river whenever I zipped by.

Geese on the Green River Trail

Geese on the Green River Trail

I loved the crisp fall days before it got too dark, when there was frost on the ground, and I could see that I was only the second or third cyclist to blaze through it that morning.

The only bad thing about the GRT was that I had to ride for 3 miles on East Marginal Way to get there. As much as I’m going to miss Georgetown, I’m certainly not going to miss any of the roads you have to take to get anywhere from here. I’ll be happy to wash my hands of East Marginal Way, Airport Way S, 1st Ave S and all the rest of those semi truck-infested roads.

I’m sure I’ll come across favorite routes in Portland, and I’ll definitely blog about them when I do. If you have any suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments. I’ll be working entirely from home when we move, so I’m really going to need to get out and ride!


Can I tell you my big news?

by Jessie Kwak

I know, I know. Things have been a bit—shall we say—cobwebby around here.

I don’t have any particular excuse, rather, I’ve been focusing my energy on things other than you, my dear crafty readers.

Frosted leaf

And what, pray tell, have I been doing?

I’ve been working a lot, keeping busy with freelance writing clients and a few shifts a week at the restaurant. I’ve been sewing some, though nothing bikey. I made an amazing coat, which I’ll blog more about later. And I’ve been packing.

Yes, packing.

Folks—I’m headed to the dark side, that fabled flat land of bicycles, hipsters, and beer. That place that we Seattleites like to make fun of relentlessly (but only because we’re so jealous).

I can barely even manage to type this.

You guys, I’m moving to Portland.

(Raise your hand if you thought I was going to say I was pregnant, Dad.)

Bikes on Bainbridge ferry - Bicitoro4

Rob’s job is taking us south of the Columbia, and my job—freelance writing—can be done from anywhere. We’ve been working at this for a while, and it really couldn’t have come at a better time. I quit my day job in June, and after almost six months of supplementing my freelance income with waiting tables, I’m finally making enough to work from home (or from the passenger seat of a Redline van) full time.

We’ve both lived in Seattle for about twelve years, and although I think of it as home, I’m excited to discover someplace new. And hey, Seattle friends, this is way better than when I moved to Venezuela, or Peru, or Coeur d’Alene. Portland’s so close!

Over the next few weeks I’ll be blogging about some of my favorite Seattle spots. I know it’s hardly goodbye for good, but I’ll miss this city nonetheless.

Photo by Robert Kittilson.

Photo by Robert Kittilson.

I’m sure I’ll find something bikey to blog about there—I mean, Portland is hardly a cycling mecca, but I’m sure if I try hard I can find all the Seattle amenities I’m used to: train tracks, swerving semis, and bike lanes with glass swept into them. Rob says our new apartment is only a block away from not only a bike greenway, but also a bike lane that’s the size of a car lane. I’m not entirely sure I believe him—whyever would cyclists need more than just a sharrow or two? It astounds the intelligent mind.

So, sound off, blog-reading friends, I need some advice:

1) What should be on my Seattle bucket list for my last weeks here?
2) What are the first things I should see and do when I get to PDX?
3) Who has the best beer—Seattle, or its hipster little sister to the south?
4) And, most importantly: Is there any good mole in Portland? Where can I find it?


Back on track after the NACCC

by Jessie Kwak

Is it beautiful out there, or what? Seattle has been giving us an incredible summer so far, and I for one am ready to start enjoying it!

As I mentioned in my last post (almost exactly a month ago, the horror!) my cycling and sewing time has been pretty limited lately. Between job transitioning, freelance projects and the NACCC, I feel like I’ve been running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

But we’re in the clear now!


For the past 18 months or so, my husband and a group of his friends have been organizing the North American Cycle Courier Championships in Seattle. I’ve mostly kept to the sidelines, helping out when needed and staying out of Rob’s hair when not needed.

Here they are, organizing away:

Why, yes! That is a bike frame on Rob's desk. Why? Where do you keep your spare frames?

Why, yes! That is a bike frame on Rob’s desk. Why? Where do you keep your spare frames?

The event finally happened over the Fourth of July weekend, and everything went off swimmingly. It was a true testament to how much effort and planning these guys put into it. Over 200 people, 10 kegs of beer, 7 races, 5 days, and only 1 arrest (that I’m aware of).

I sadly didn’t get to ride my bike the entire weekend, since I was driving around a Subaru packed with registration supplies:

NACCC registration

Girls of Summer

But I did get to ride my bike for the Girls of Summer Alleycat, which was put on by the ladies of Menstrual Monday. I raced in it last year (and blogged about it here), and I had just as amazing a time this year.

We got to tag plywood “walls”, change tires, drink rosé, decorate our bikes, and race tricycles.

Girls of summer tagging

I’m pretty proud to say that I came in 3rd place, only a minute behind the winner! The prize I chose was a sand-blast and powder coat from Seattle Powder Coat, which I’m super excited about. As I mentioned ages ago, I’ve been wanting to paint myself an art bike this summer. This gift certificate will certainly speed things along.

That is, if I can decide on a color. Look at all these! How will I ever choose?

Girls of Summer mechanical

Coming Up

All this to say that I’m feeling more relaxed than I’ve felt in months, and I’m excited to dive back into cycling, sewing, and all my other favorite things. Stay tuned: I’ve got some fun rides planned in Seattle and elsewhere to tell you all about, as well as some eye-catching stylish safety sewing to blog about.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go enjoy the sunshine on two wheels!

Over and out.


An ode to my dorky new best friend: the rear-view mirror

by Jessie Kwak

Say what you will about my fashion sense (and plenty has been said about it), but I’ve found a sparkly new accessory that I just can’t live without.

A rear-view mirror.

ThirdEye Rearview mirror

You know, one of those super-nerdy contraptions that stick out of your helmet? There’s one guy I almost always pass on the trail who’s cycling gear reminds me of some futuristic military garb. His mirror is always glinting just over his left eye, and I’ve taken to referring to him as the Borg in my head.

I’ve been assimilated.

Rearview mirror 1

All of my close calls while commuting have been from behind. Speeding semis, cars and Metro busses that simply haven’t seen me, no matter how many blinkies and neon vests I wear. I’d become quite adept at looking over my shoulder to see if anyone was coming, then checking constantly as they approached to make sure they were going to change lanes, rather than simply planning to barrel through me.

It was nerve-wracking, to say the least.

I finally pestered Rob into getting me a rear view mirror. Keeping in character with his love of bike parts, he actually brought me two—a Reflex and Third Eye. I decided to try the Third Eye first, and we got it stuck on the helmet—easy, since it just attaches with a adhesive sticker.

After some trial and error in getting it positioned correctly, using the rear-view became second nature. It’s helped me relax, which has made me actually look forward to my commute again. Well, that and the increasing daylight. Oh, and the fact that I’ve decided to stick to the sidewalk until I get to the Green River Trail.

Metro can’t harass you on the sidewalk.

Rearview mirror 2

My new mirror also helps me perform my latest favorite defensive cycling technique: The Weave. When I notice that someone’s coming up behind me without changing lanes, I weave back and forth across my lane a couple of times. That has the dual effect of helping them to notice that they’re about to run over a cyclist, as well as worrying them that I’m out of control and they should give me a wide berth.

The last thing a driver wants is for some crazed, unstable cyclist to crash into their Lexus and scratch the newly-waxed paint job.

So far this has been 100% effective in getting people to actually give me space—way more effective than simply taking the lane, since cars would just drift partway into the left lane, still brushing by me at 45mph.

Overall, I’m pleased with the new setup.

Have any of you tried rear-view mirrors? Or any other nerdy cycling accessory that you now find you can’t live without? Do tell.