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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Gettin' bugged drivin' up and down the same old strip

One of the joys of being an academic in the summer is a great deal of freedom in one's daily schedule. This flexibility makes it possible for us to leave our car parked and get around using other means, if that's what we feel like doing. After last Sunday's car-free day up at Peninsula Park, we've been in the mood to travel around town on a bicycle and on Tri-Met this week. It's worked out pretty well.

Our motivations are threefold. First, we're cheap, and for the moment at least, the bus is a little less expensive for us than the car. Second, it's been a long spring of sitting, and we need to get back in shape any way we can; biking and walking aren't as good for that as running, but they definitely help. Third, it's been a while since the weather invited us out onto the sidewalks, but lately it's been calling to us loud and clear.

Now, we're fortunate enough to live near two bus lines that connect us to the world -- no. 9 and no. 33. Both are part of the spokes in the system that run downtown to the transit mall. But lately we've been showing up on some other lines as well. The other day, we were heading over to Higgins for lunch, and when we consulted trimet.org for advice on when to be at the bus stop, surprisingly it told us to switch to the no. 6 at Broadway and MLK. We did so, our connection worked, and we were dropped off virtually at the door of our lunch destination. This saved us about a six-block walk up to Broadway from the transit mall on Third, which wouldn't have been bad, but it was interesting to us how close the system could get us to the end point of our trip.

We tested the system's mettle again last evening, when we called upon it to get us to a friend's house in Northwest Portland for dinner. Again, trimet.org pointed us to an option we had never before considered -- the no. 77. This route is suddenly our favorite of them all. It runs down NE Broadway toward the river, makes a loop through the Rose Quarter transit center, crosses the Broadway Bridge, and then, miraculously, does not head downtown. It zigs around by Union Station, and makes its way through the Pearl and Northwest along a side street (I think it's Northrup). At 23rd, it makes a right and heads north. We jumped off at 23rd and Overton -- two and a half blocks from our buddy's place. Glorious early evening ride, and our walk westward into the sun in a brisk summer breeze was dreamy.

We really prided ourself as an urban guerilla when, during our five-minute wait between the 9 and the 77, we ducked into Great Wine Buys on Broadway and bought a bottle of high-class wine to bring to the soiree.

Coming back home late at night would have been a different kind of adventure -- we were prepared to walk all the way back if the bus schedule or the character of our fellow passengers didn't suit us -- but we caught a ride in a car from another guest. Which was also cool.

Meanwhile, we made a nice discovery on the bicycle yesterday. We were going down to Ladd's Addition, and we were determined to do it on the bike. To go by bus would have forced us downtown, which would have been a waste of time. So the bike it would be.

Planning a southbound jaunt like that requires us to decide where we're going to cross the Banfield Freeway. The usual options for us are 21st and 28th. For Ladd's, 21st is the ticket. But then what? 20th Avenue is the busy street down into southeast, and we've never been comfortable on that stretch (although many bikers do use it).

We dug around a little and pulled out the handy-dandy bike map that the city had mailed us a few years ago. Therein we found the solution. Once over the Banfield, go west on Irving, then south on 16th all the way to the heart of Ladd's. Sure enough, both streets were fairly welcoming to cyclists, and they provided a nice route to our errand of the afternoon. (16th and Irving has an on-ramp to the Banfield, however -- worth knowing in advance.) The roses in Ladd's, of course, are a tonic to see, and the whole vibe in there was a happy one under the impossibly blue sky.

Riding a bike is not a stress-free way to get around Portland. You spend most of your time watching out for hazards of all sorts. You're vulnerable up there. But you're getting there under your own power. It's free -- not even a bus ticket. And depending on where you're going, you can get there safely and fairly quickly on two wheels.

Next week we've got some moves to make that will definitely require that we start up the car. But for any that can be done by other means, we're up for the other means.

Comments (5)

This time of year it is possible to use a bike for many trips. Was grocery shopping at Trader Joes a couple weeks back and filled by backpack with the goods. We're fortunate enough to be able to do that living in close-in PDX, I realize that.

I've been commuting by bike/Max for several years now to my job. It can be hazardous at times dealing with traffic. I find a handle-bar mounted rear-view mirror to be invaluable for staying out of the way of oncoming cars. I try to stay on streets that have bike lanes, or neighborhood streets that are not major thoroughfares. I only occupy the traffic lane when there is no other safe alternative. It pisses off some drivers - but I'd rather that than get squashed by some careless driver. Stay safe, watch out for your loved ones.

I imagine 16th is one of the "bike boulevards." The city doesn't do a very good job of publicizing them. They are usually a side street paralleling a main thoroughfare by a block or two. They usually have some speed bumps or circles and very few stop signs along the route, so it's smooth and safe sailing on such a street. Unfortunately, the bike maps don't mention them and you only can find them by looking for white dinner-plate-sized circles painted on the street. In my neck of the woods, Clinton, Harrison, Salmon, Ankeny and 34th are all bike boulevards. I think Tillamook is a bike boulevard, too.

The map I have makes it pretty clear. And yes, there are those bike circles in the pavement on 16th, just as on Tillamook.

ByCycle.org provides bicycling trip maps similar to GoogleMaps driving directions. It really is awesome.

Navigating the site is a little wunky, but the biking directions are pretty good.

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