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Guest article: Want safer streets? Ask for them

Guest article: Want safer streets? Ask for them


Memorial for 10-year-old boy who was struck and killed by someone driving on East Burnside at 162nd in Gresham yesterday.
(Photo: Cory Poole)

This essay was written by Portland resident Tony Jordan. He wrote it before yesterday’s tragic crash on East Burnside that resulted in the death of a 10-year-old boy.

Traffic violence is a big problem. More than 30,000 people die every year on American roadways with many many more injured or maimed. The cost of this carnage is tremendous, nearly a trillion dollars a year in social economic harms.

So what do we do about it?

Several cities have adopted Vision Zero policies but progress is slow and people are still being killed in NYC, Portland, San Francisco, and pretty much everywhere else.

Advocates are organizing and lobbying for safer streets, separated bikeways, slower speed limits, more enforcement, and more education. We’re getting better at asking our government for solutions.

But maybe we’re asking the wrong people and, perhaps, the wrong questions. I think we need to be more introspective. Who is driving these cars when they collide with people and ruin lives? We are driving. Our friends are driving. Our co-workers and family members are driving.

We need to ask ourselves and our loved ones these questions. We need to answer them honestly and think deeply about the answers.

Ask yourself…

– Am I committed to minimizing traffic violence?
– Do I ever drive when I’m sleepy?
– Do I ever drive when I’ve had a few drinks?
– Do I ever use my smart phone while I’m driving?
– Do I ever drive when I’m on medications or drugs that could make me drowsy, cloud my judgement, or slow my reactions?
– Do I keep driving when the sun is in my eyes and I cant see?
– Do I have poor night vision, but I still drive at night?

If you find yourself answering yes, then ask yourself why? Is it worth the risk to others? Is it worth the risk to yourself?

Ask your family and friends…
– How are you getting home tonight?
– Should you get a second drink? Aren’t you driving?
– Could you put your phone down while you’re driving?
– Are you driving at or below the speed limit?
– When was the last time you drove drunk?
– When was the last time you drove distracted?

It’s a bit awkward, but it shouldn’t be awkward for the person asking the questions. It should be awkward for the person not taking their responsibilities seriously.

We all need to step up, push ourselves, and ask these questions. Maybe you’re not an activist, maybe you aren’t attending rallies or writing letters asking officials to do something. But you can ask yourself and the people you know these questions and you can save lives too.

— Tony Jordan, @twjpdx

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Why are they so angry? (A guest essay)

Why are they so angry? (A guest essay)


Sarah Gilbert

This essay was written by local writer and bike tour guide Sarah Gilbert. Her last piece for us was Two moms, two cargo bikes, one big adventure.

Why are they so angry?

This was my first question. I told my story from the day a woman in a Mercedes pulled out from a side street onto Holgate, turning right, when I was riding up the sidewalk with my oldest son on the back of my longtail. But I could have told you about the man in a sports car who swung around a group of us, narrowly skirting my mama bike, as we rode laughing in the middle of a beautiful spring morning east on Everett Street. I said something like “watch it!” and I too was angry but not so much as the pedestrian walking beside us. He told us it was the law to ride single file.

Later I looked it up and learned that it’s a grey area, and anyway that guy was speeding so I’m pretty sure in a head-to-head battle of situational ethics I’d win. It was the middle of the day, a low-traffic situation, he had no reason nor right to endanger anyone to get around us. But it wasn’t him but the pedestrian, a well-dressed guy maybe in his 50s or 60s, who couldn’t let it go. At the time I replied to the pedestrian in surprise, “no it’s not!” and then he insisted it was, hotly, so we rode on. I made a joke something like, the guy in the sports car was trying to make a citizen’s execution, that was some punishment for the crime I was pretty sure was not eligible for the death penalty or probably even a ticket if a cop had happened upon us. We were joking loudly and there was a traffic light stopping us so the angry man could hear us and as we pulled away, when the light turned green, he yelled after us, “you have to give respect to get respect!”

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Guest Article: An update from ODOT on the Historic Columbia River Highway

Guest Article: An update from ODOT on the Historic Columbia River Highway

A tour of the Historic Columbia River Highway

The Historic Columbia River Highway is a bicycling gem.
And it just keeps getting better.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

This guest article was written by ODOT’s Region 1 Transit and Active Transportation Liaison Jessica Horning and ODOT’s Historic Columbia River Highway project coordinator Kristen Stallman.

The Historic Columbia River Highway is one of Oregon’s most popular and scenic destinations regardless of your preferred mode of travel. The 73-mile route from Troutdale to The Dalles provides amazing views of the best the Columbia River Gorge has to offer, from waterfalls to windswept high plains. The highway was constructed in 1913 with a maximum 5 percent grade, making it an ideal route for a long distance bike ride. The Historic Highway is also a designated scenic byway, making it a popular shared route for motorists and bicyclists alike.

In 2013, the Historic Highway will see improvements that will make this scenic gem more accessible, with more opportunities for visitors to enjoy the Gorge by foot, bike, and car.

The Historic Columbia River Highway Advisory Committee and the Friends of the Historic Columbia River Highway have joined together to advocate for the completion of the State Trail by 2016, the 100th anniversary of the Historic Highway.

On May 24th, the section of the Historic Highway between Larch Mountain Road and Latourell Falls will reopen after being closed to all traffic (including people on bikes and foot) sporadically through the winter while repairs were made to the Crown Point Viaduct around Vista House. The Historic Highway will be open with no traffic restrictions for Memorial Day weekend (May 24-27) and then periodic lane closures will resume until repairs are completed in mid-June. These closures may cause delays for all users and result in the highway being more crowded than usual, so please plan ahead and be alert and courteous when sharing the road.

More of these coming soon.
(Photo: ODOT)

Narrow and winding sections of roadway contribute to the Historic Highway’s charm, but can also lead to tension between users, especially during the peak summer months. This spring ODOT will install Share the Road signs in several locations along the Historic Highway between the Sandy River and Vista House to alert drivers to the presence of cyclists. This road is a precious resource that is shared by many users and it is important that we are all respectful and considerate to one another. ODOT is also working with local communities and organizations to increase understanding of proper road-sharing behavior:

  • Motorists should pass cyclists with care when it is safe to do so, and be patient in areas where topography, debris, or the narrow roadway makes it safer for cyclists to ride in the center of the lane.
  • Cyclists should ride to the right and single-file when traffic approaches and allow motorists to pass when the road is wide enough to safely do so.
  • ODOT will be installing “Share the Road” signs at several locations on the Historic Highway and is exploring ways to improve bicycle wayfinding signage.

ODOT is investing in making the Historic Highway an even better place to ride by reconnecting severed sections of the Historic Highway via the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. Eleven miles of the Historic Highway are currently preserved as a State Trail for exclusive hiking/biking use. On Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, ODOT will celebrate the grand opening of an additional 1.6-mile section of trail connecting John B. Yeon State Park in Warrendale to the existing restored Historic Highway State Trail at Moffett Creek Bridge that travels to Cascade Locks. Federal funding has been secured to design and construct another gap in the State Trail between Warren Creek and Lindsey Creek in 2015. Another 2.1 mile section of trail connecting Wyeth State Park to Lindsey Creek State Park (across Shellrock Mountain) is currently being considered for funding through ODOT’s 2016-18 State Transportation Improvement Program.

Map by ODOT, click to enlarge.

The McCord Creek Bridge and a new 1.6 mile section of the Historic Highway State Trail will open this summer. This connection will close the “missing link” and allow people to travel via bicycle from Troutdale to Cascade Locks without having to ride on I-84.

McCord Bridge Trail.
(Photo: ODOT)

Once complete, the Historic Highway State Trail will connect communities along the Gorge to many of Oregon’s underdeveloped State Parks. As trail construction continues, a world-class cycling route is being developed in partnership with these small towns by developing relevant mapping and enhancing tourism amenities to cater to the cycling market. In order to share initial successes and the positive economic impact of Historic Highway and State Trail, ODOT produced the film, One Great Road, Many Great Economic Benefits.

At ODOT, we’re excited about the progress on the Historic Highway. Thanks for your patience during construction and we hope to see a lot of you out on your bikes enjoying this state treasure very soon.

Learn more about the Historic Columbia River Highway on ODOT’s website. You can also browse our archives for past coverage.

Guest Article: Urban mountain biking in Portland – What it could be

Guest Article: Urban mountain biking in Portland – What it could be

Typical “flow” singletrack on the Beginner Trail in Lebanon Hills.
(Photo used with Permission of Dakota County Parks, Minnesota)

This article is written by Joshua Rebannack. Joshua contacted me after he read our recent coverage of mountain biking in Forest Park. As a way of helping Portland see a different vision for urban, off-road bicycling access, Joshua wanted to share how the issue has evolved in riding areas around Minneapolis, Minnesota. — Jonathan

My name is Joshua Rebennack. I’m a “Dirt Boss” at the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails and a member of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew. I am writing this guest article in response to some of the controversy surrounding the possible inclusion of mountain biking at Forest Park.

Below I’ll discuss an example trail in an urban setting, Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Eagan, Minnesota, and the lessons the citizens of Portland can learn from it.

While it might seem an odd choice comparing a West Coast location with Midwest, there are more similarities than one might think. Both Portland and Twin Cities (including Eagan) are at similar latitudes. While Portland prides itself on its rainfall, actually, the Twin Cities receives somewhat similar amounts of precipitation, though far more of it in snow. They both have similar political climates. And both are biking hot- spots.

Urban Mountain Biking Example – Lebanon Hills Regional Park, Eagan, MN

A berm on the Intermediate Trail at Lebanon Hills
(Photo: Used with Permission of Dakota County Parks)

Lebanon Hills is a 2,000 acre park located in Eagan, MN. Originally a Dakota County park, urban and suburban sprawl have now surrounded Lebanon Hills on all sides. The park is bordered directly by single-family housing developments and commercial properties.

In the 1990s, the only section of the park with any official mountain biking access was the Northwest corner of the park. The “mountain bike trail” was a 2.5 mile long loop of rutted gravel and dirt roads. In 1998, however, Dakota County decided that it needed a Master Plan to address long-term usage of the park.

As the Master Plan committee was assembled, Dakota County included stakeholders from every recreational activity the park could accommodate. That included mountain bikers, represented by the president (at the time) of the nascent off-road trail advocacy group Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists (MORC). It took a year to assemble all the stakeholders, and an additional two years of committee meetings to hammer out the final Master Plan. In regards to mountain biking, it was decided to move from the old double-track to singletrack. In the end, the final plan for mountain biking at Lebanon Hills had the following components:

  • Mountain bike trails would be completely segregated from other trails to mirror the previous usage and prevent future biker/hiker conflicts.
  • One way trails would allow the narrowest singletrack tread.
  • The area for the mountain bike trails would be limited by definable boundaries to allow Dakota County to monitor the trails more easily and to prevent riders from finding their way onto other trails.
  • A 1/2 mile test loop would be built first to prove that mountain bike trails could be built sustainability and that users would be responsible in using them.
  • All abandoned, illegal, and sub-standard trails would have to be reclaimed.

Difference between legal and illegal mountain biking.
– Click to enlarge –
(Joshua Rebannack)

All of these features, and the willingness of MORC to build the trail and fund the construction, helped Dakota County green-light singletrack at Lebanon Hills. Construction started on the 1/2 mile test loop on June 25, 2002.

The test loop was a resounding success. Even with constant traffic, the sustainable trail design choices proved themselves. Additional trail mileage was put in nearly as fast as it could be approved: in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2011. By 2006, Lebanon Hills became completely singletrack as the last of that old rutted road was reclaimed.

While it would be easy to talk about mountain bikers feelings on the trails, what really matters in context of the current debate in Portland is the land manager’s reaction to the trails. In a question and answer email Katie Pata, Park Operations Coordinator for Dakota County, explains her feelings:

“I’m in charge of day-to-day park operations for Dakota County, especially for Lebanon Hills Regional Park, our biggest and busiest (over 500,000 annual visits) park. Lebanon Hills Regional Park is home to nearly 12 miles of single track mountain bike trails and a new state-of-the-art mountain bike skills park. This successful trail system was built by mountain bikers for mountain bikers with careful but creative oversight by Dakota County. As the land manager, it’s our job to ensure public lands are cared for and managed in way that’s sustainable, in line with our mission and in the best interest of the public. MORC’s commitment to sustainable trail design and making mountain biking a new, accessible recreational opportunity for Dakota County residents and beyond has proved to be invaluable.”

The Skills Park at Lebanon Hills attracts all ages.
(Photo: Used with Permission of Dakota County Parks)

As is typical of mountain bike trails in Minnesota, the trails are built on municipal land, but MORC takes the burden of maintaining them. “The mountain bike trail system is made completely possible by a dedicated group of volunteers with [MORC],” Pata continues. “Volunteers meet weekly in the summer months for trail building and maintaining. They are also on call to help with downed tree removal and even winter [mountain bike] trail grooming. Without [these] volunteers and the expertise, partnership and support they bring, Lebanon would not be what it is today. We have great topography and soils that make it easier to have the type of trail system we do, but really what makes the gears turn is an active, dedicated respectful group of mountain bike enthusiast volunteers.”

But doesn’t the amount of riders and the pressure they place on the park and its forest lands create greater impacts? Actually, the opposite has turned out to be true. Again, Pata explains,

“It sometimes seems like because many know the Lebanon Hills mountain bike trail system is maintained by volunteers, users take better care of it — not riding during wet conditions and not littering.” That sense of belonging extends, not just to adults, but all riders. “Mountain biking is connecting with teens who are sometimes under served in an overall park system. Mountain biking not only brings in a new user base in teens and young adults, it brings a sense of community strength, pride and awareness with its close ties to volunteerism and trail stewardship.”

As of this writing, Lebanon Hills is one of 18 urban or suburban mountain biking trails in the greater Twin Cities Metro area. Two more are in the process of getting approval. With the continued expansion of light rail and bike greenways, it’s increasingly possible to bike from your home to a mountain bike trail in Twin Cities Metro area.

Potential Lessons for Urban Mountain Biking in Portland
So in the final analysis, what are the lessons for Portland? Well, Portland isn’t the first city to grapple with question of urban mountain biking and it won’t be the last. The trick is to look at those places that have come before and see what answers they had to the questions urban mountain biking raises. I would argue strongly that there is no better place to look for those answers than Minnesota. Minnesota has shown that issues concerning mountain biking, real or imagined, can be designed around. The trails in Minnesota, both urban ones like Lebanon Hills, and rural ones like the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails, are considered the best in the Midwest because of those design choices. Most importantly, Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists, with their land manager partners, have proved with over a decade of trail stewardship that ecologically sustainable, fun, and land manager friendly trails are not only possible, they can be the norm.

Pata was asked “If you were speaking to the citizens of Portland, what would you say to them?” I think there is no better way to end this article than with her response:

“Mountain biking has found a re-birth over these past years and I see it continuing to grow in popularity It’s common to have 300+ riders per day on our trail system in good weather conditions — most come for their hour or two hour ride and head home — it’s their daily workout. Many neighbors to the park have said they chose to move here because of the trail system at Lebanon Hills. Local businesses, including our own campground, have definitely benefited — it’s not only a city draw, but a state and even regional draw.

Mountain biking is opening doors, especially for teens who can’t find a good fit with traditional organized group sports like football, volleyball or basketball. I’ve seen kids barely walking on strider bikes and families with tandem bikes. It’s a sport for everyone with a bike. And if you don’t have one, hopefully there’s a bike demo trailer or bike shop nearby that can rent you one or use one for free. It’s a lifetime skill and a pasttime, something that crosses generations. It has a strong community building component — where cyclists love to ‘talk shop’ after a ride, share helmet camera videos, grill out or hit up the local eatery, and more. Overall, working with the mountain bike community is a highlight of what I get to do and model of example how to cost-effectively manage a public recreational opportunity.”

Browse the archives for more guest articles and reader stories. If you have something to share, please get in touch.

Guest Article: Please, stop hating on e-bikes

Guest Article: Please, stop hating on e-bikes

“I love my e-bike and the scooter mode is my lifeline when I ride.”
— Wendy Hemken

The article below comes from 32-year old Beaverton resident Wendy Hemken. Wendy is currently a student at Portland Community College and plans to study biochemistry/biophysics at Oregon State University.

I was reading through my Facebook today when I see a link about an e-assist skateboard with the title “One less e-bike” and so I quipped back “Hey! What’s wrong with e-bikes?” but I found that my irritation was not so quickly relieved. The fact of the matter is, I’m getting tired of the jibes, snarks, and grumblings about e-bikes from “real” cyclists. The complaint goes like this: Somehow by riding a bike with a motor we’re cheating.

Wendy Hemken stands proudly with her e-bike.

My huband and I both use e-bikes as our primary commuting vehicle. He takes his e-assist Yuba Mundo loaded down with all his school supplies (including pounds of clay for his ceramics class), our three-year old, and all of her school supplies, and then bikes up and down hills to PCC Rock Creek. He gets to school efficiently and quickly without the expense or hassle of car, plus, even with the e-assist it helps him stay in shape because even with the throttle on he still has to pedal. It’s exactly what he was wanting from a vehicle.

My e-bike is a conversation from a regular bike. It can be ridden as a normal bike, e-assist, or just the motor (no pedaling required-aka “scooter-mode”). I love my e-bike and the scooter mode is my lifeline when I ride.

“When I finally got my e-bike, I felt liberated.”

How’d I end up on an e-bike? One year ago I was still walking with a cane due to a back injury from a car accident, and couldn’t get my (non e-assist) bike up even the lowest grades of inclines without leaving me in so much pain all I could do was curl up and cry. Where I live, in Beaverton, everything is uphill and at least a mile away from me. We gave up our car years ago when we moved from Phoenix to North Portland and there was no way ethically or financially that were could go back to owning one. So, while transit allowed me to get to school and back, I never had the flexibility or the capability to just go out and see my friends. I began to feel isolated and shut-in.

Last month, when I finally got my e-bike, I felt liberated. I excitedly picked up my bike from The eBike Store, only to have the process take way longer than expected due to a bank error (and getting lost around Killingsworth trying to get to the MAX). By the time I got back to Beaverton I could barely stand because my back hurt so badly. There are no words to adequately describe to you the relief I felt in just being able to scooter home. I didn’t have to call and beg a friend, or wait for a bus, or, even more unbearably try to bike home. I simply got on my bike, pushed down the throttle and rode home.

I find myself excited about getting out now. I can make plans to go see friends, even if it’s late or they are not on a bus line. The whole world has seemed to open up to me. As I have been riding more I’ve used the e-assist more than my scooter mode but I am more willing to push myself because I know that if I miss and over-do-it, my silver electric chariot will scooter me home.

I hope what I’ve shared encourages you to stop hating on e-bikes and those of us that use them. Your personal rules for biking are great for you, and I’m glad they work for you; but mine, and many others’ are different. We’re not cheating because our playbook is different than yours. After all, we ask drivers to share the road so I’m asking you to share the bike lane.

Guest Article: PBOT must guarantee sidewalk funding

Guest Article: PBOT must guarantee sidewalk funding

The street outside Morgan Maynard-Cook’s house.

This article was written by Steve Bozzone, Vice-President of the Oregon Walks board of directors.

Recently sidewalks and crosswalks are on everyone’s radar, but for a tragic reason. In a part of Portland that has precious few of either, 5-year old Morgan Maynard-Cook was struck down last week in the simple act of crossing a street.

Quite rightly, a lot of the public outcry surrounding Morgan’s death has to do with how much of her life would have been ahead of her. Regardless of our professional work, we are also mothers and fathers, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Trying to imagine what Morgan’s family and friends are going through right now is almost beyond bearing.

“It isn’t very often that the consequences of a city’s budget and policy priorities are thrown into such stark, human relief.”

But some of it has also focused on the irony of how, just a few weeks ago, Portland’s Bureau of Transportation announced it would cut funding for just the kind of infrastructure that would make it safer to walk around Morgan’s neighborhood.

This despite fourteen pedestrian deaths last year alone, and in our supposedly “walkable city,” over 350 miles of arterials and collectors (roads with higher car volumes and speeds) still without sidewalks. It isn’t very often that the consequences of a city’s budget and policy priorities are thrown into such stark, human relief.

Who’s to blame? No one, and everyone. What Morgan’s and too many other pedestrian’s deaths underline is that ensuring everyone can walk freely and safely around our great city must no longer languish as an “optional” priority.

Let’s put aside the fact that over the next 20 years, the number of people moving here simply can’t be accommodated by the current system if everyone of age is driving a car. Put aside that over 15% of Portland’s population today is too young to drive. Put aside that our region is aging, and that by 2040 one in five Portlanders will be over 65 years old. Let’s also put aside the fact that more people walking around our great city means healthier and happier people, lowering the soaring costs of healthcare, cleaner air, slowing the effects of climate change, and reducing our crippling dependence on fossil fuels.

Those are all critical to our future as a city and as a nation, but they all pale in comparison with this: When any of our residents can’t or are afraid to do something as elemental as walk from one place to another, how great a city are we really? How free are we? Is the fettering of so many Portlanders, to the point where they risk and sometimes lose their lives getting from one place to another, really an acceptable tradeoff for shaving a few seconds off a car commute?

No. That’s not who we are. We have different priorities. We must have different priorities.

That’s why in the past two weeks, so many voices have joined together in calling for safer, more accessible sidewalks. Oregon Walks has joined with 17 organizations to call on City Council to guarantee immediate funding for the proposed cuts to the SE 136th Ave sidewalk project and to restore funding to the ADA curb ramp program.

Here’s how you can help right now:


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