Portland bike infrastructure: What the hell?

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.

4 thoughts on “Portland bike infrastructure: What the hell?

  1. Welcome to Portland! I also moved here from Seattle and was blown away by the bike infrastructure, which has grown tremendously in the years I’ve been here. You should definitely check out the Metro Bike There! map (http://www.oregonmetro.gov/index.cfm/go/by.web/id=38177) which can help decipher what street/route might be more bike friendly. Also, in Portland, only north-south streets are numbered, so that helps with orientation. Enjoy your riding!

  2. You’re killin’ me, Jessie! 😛 I don’t think you have to worry about the lack of hills making you soft down there–it’s the lack of crap infrastruture that’ll make riding in Seattle miserable. I love that floating bike trail. There’s actually a small one in the Seattle Bicycle Master Plan! To help make the Chesiund Loop around Lake Union better (flatter/safer). Of course, I’ll believe it when (if!) I see it. Can’t wait to read more about PDX!

    • I’d love to see a floating bridge on the Chesiahud Loop—right now it’s pretty hit and miss to get around Lake Union, but it would be such a pretty ride if you didn’t have to navigate so many obstacles.

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