My Trip: Cycling in the Burbs

It seems like a lot of the long trips I make these days have to do with medical care (happily not too often). Either I’m seeing a specialist who is located somewhere in the burbs, or in the case of my annual physical, I’m trekking out to Washington County. Few of my Portland friends know that when I first moved to the region, I settled in Beaverton (in my defense, I was working at the Tektronix plant at Walker Rd. and 185th when I arrived – a few years later and after a transfer to the Wilsonville plant, I made the decision to live in NW Portland). But as a result, my primary care physician is still out near Tanasbourne.

Anyway, to make the trip, I threw my bike onto MAX, since the medical office is only about two miles from the Quatama station. It was a nice, sunny day and I enjoyed the round trip.

What’s notable is that during the 4-mile loop, going past both OGI and the Amberglen business park, two large employment sites, I saw not one other cyclist. And the facilities were not the issue. While the first road I tried was not very bike friendly and I opted for the sidewalk, the parallel route I found on the way back had bike lanes.

While the area certainly is not as dense as Portland, there are relatively dense clusters of housing, employment and retail, all within a few miles of light rail. What else do we have to add to make cycling a regular transportation mode in this kind of area?


10 responses to “My Trip: Cycling in the Burbs”

  1. The communities need to be move livable to encourage more bicycling.

    Buildings need to front on the lot lines, right next to the street.

    There need to be pubs in some of these buildings, with bike racks on the sidewalk. People who can hop on their bikes and ride down to the local pub for a pint will generally get accustomed to their steeds, and ride them elsewhere as well.

    A bike lane/bike route system needs to exist, not just using the major arterials, but also using an interconnected street grid that allows bicylists to ride on quieter residential streets to get to their destination, if they don’t want to be 2 feet away from speeding automobiles going 45+ mph. Street connectivity needs to be the rule, not the exception.

    Block sizes need to be closer to 200 ft than 1,000ft.

    Street trees need to be the norm, not the exception.

    On-street parking should be encouraged, and fed by neighborhood businesses and residents.

    Lot sizes should be smaller and ownership distributed, to maximize the diversity of design within each neighborhood.

    I think that would do it. :-)


  2. As another ex-suburban Beaverton cyclist (now NPDX) I can confirm the lack of cyclists on the westside. I commute from NPDX to Beaverton (near 217/Allen) almost every day. Despite the additions of bike lanes to the major arterials, I have noticed almost no increase in bike ridership. Why? I suspect:

    o The bikeway system is extremely spotty off those arterials and there are rarely through connections. Bike lanes just disappear. One can rarely get from point-to-point on a contiguous route even on the arterials let alone on side streets.

    o High speed, high density traffic. Most of the arterials have speed limits of 40-45mph. Coupled with the disappearing bike lanes, who wants to ride in that environment?

    o No maintenance. The bike lanes are filled with debris. Aside from Beaverton city proper, WashCo has no bike lane maintenance. The sewage agency is responsible for sweeping the streets. They have no intereste in keeping the bike lanes clean.

    Overall, the westside is just not a very inviting place to ride (even for experienced riders).


  3. One difference between the suburban area and (at least downtown) portland is that driving in suburbia is more convenient. Traffic can suck, but there is so much parking everywhere that you never have to hunt for or pay for. However, land use is becoming more dense and eventually we just won’t be able to waste so much land on parking. When parking is harder to find or costs money, people will have more of an incentive to bike.

    For the record, I should say that some people at Amerberglen can and do bike. I work for a 25 person company in that business park that, during the 2005 Bike Commute Challenge, got 11th in the 25-99 employee category because so many of us biked to work. Note also that the first ten companies in the category were in portland. For that one month, the only added ingredient wasn’t better infrastructure but lots of encouragement. Lots of bike encouragement from the city to companies (e.g. promoting participation in Bike Commute Challenge) or from a SHIFT like group to individuals would help.

  4. Perhaps the biggest group of potential cyclists are young people. My guess is that in suburbia there are more high school students driving to school then in Portland. Aloha High School just expanded its parking lots, which is sad because the unlit shoulderless roads nearby are already a danger to students walking on and don’t need any more traffic. So schools could help by doing Safe Routes to School programs, by spending money on local road safety improvements (which benefits everyone) instead of parking lots (which benefits the richer kids with cars), and by charging for parking passes at high schools. Also they could give kids gym class credit for walking or biking to school.

  5. You know, Peter, that last point is one that I was going to make, but I didn’t because I didn’t want to be seen as age-ist. However, I really do feel like young people are the key, and where there are lots of young people, bicycling tends to be more popular.

    However, this point of view does neglect the fact that anybody, of any age, can hop on a bicycle and ride to someplace within their neighborhood, especially in an especially flat region like the Tualatin Valley.

    I think that encouraging kids to satisfy their P.E. requirement in high school by bicycling to school, or bicycling in general, is a great idea. I did this when I went to high school. My ride was 45 minutes each way, so I was able to argue that I was receiving as much, if not more exercise riding my bike to and from school each day, as anybody involved in any organized P.E. activity. I didn’t keep track of my hours after a while, and I certainly rode the bus some of the time, but all in all, I think it’s a very valid way to introduce bicycling to young people. Also, it’s a habit that dies hard. People that learn to bicycle on a regular basis while in high school (or earlier) will likely carry that habit and that skillset with them for the rest of their lives.

  6. Hey, you’re talking about my neighborhood! I live here and work here. I walk about a mile and a half each way. It’s not really far enough to be worth biking! If you don’t see too many bike commuters out here, there are even fewer pedestrians!

    The most common place to see bike commuters is going along Cornell Rd. I would guess one every five or ten minutes during rush hour. Makes 15 or 20 bike commuters, just guessing. But that’s just Cornell. I think Evergreen has a similar number.

    North-South is more challenging. Both 206th and Cornelius Pass are impractical – they get narrow and very dangerous right around where they cross the MAX tracks. 185th is fine, though. The 26 overpasses are also difficult. Drivers are jockeying for the on-ramps.

    It’s really true, there is no side street connectivity, and that is a big problem. To go east from 185th is quite tricky. Neither Cornell nor Walker are fun at all – way too busy and narrow for commuting every day in all weather at rush hour. Baseline is the way to go. Even there, the MAX track crossing is an obstacle – I guess bikers would want to get on the sidewalk there, to cross the tracks squarely.

    45mph is the speed limit on major biking routes like Cornell and Evergreen. Means folks are going more like 50 or 55.

    Yeah, and parking is easy. Cars are more convenient than in the city, and bikes are less convenient. Not a formula for lots of bike commuting!

  7. Garlynn, one more thing about kids and cars… I think parents and maybe school administrators who encourage or even subsidize high-schooler’s driving habits believe they are helping their kids but I don’t know if that’s true. After two years in high school getting around by car, a student leaving the house would probably adopt the family car along with its insurance and bills or buy a new one instead of trying something like biking or busing.

    JimK, one trick I think more people should know about for getting across Hwy 26 is to go under it. The Rock Creek Trail starts near Orchard Park (with the disc golf) and goes north (crossing cornell and evergreen can be sketchy) and then under Hwy 26 before coming out on Rock Creek Blvd N. of the highway. From there it’s East to 185th, West to Cornelius Pass, or North (through a maze of a neighborhood) to the Powerline Park which goes East almost to the West Hills.

  8. Right, Peter, that underpass alongside Rock Creek is a great way to cross 26 and avoid traffic.

    Orchard Park is another great short cut, to get between the southwest segment of Aloclek onto Amberwood going east. The westernmost little stretch of Amberwood is no fun, and Orchard Park lets one avoid this. I see bikers quite regularly on this Orchard Park short cut. Probably just of local value though – I don’t see how it connects into a long-range network.

  9. I would think that it was just that first maybe quarter mile of 206th, going north from the Quatama MAX station, that gave you trouble, Chris. Usually there is a shortcut, starting from the west end of the station, that by-passes this nasty part of 206th. There’s a big construction project that swallowed up that shortcut, but I seem to recall a notice posted somewhere that said the shortcut will return once the construction is finished.

    The more dreadful part of 206th is going south from the station, where the road crosses – maybe it’s Beaver Creek, but anyway the bridge is very narrow and the road is twisty. There is a separate sidewalk alongside the bridge, but that’s a bit narrow too.

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