Moving to Portland, bike culture

Hello. My wife and I are considering a move from San Diego to Portland, and I was hoping to get your thoughts on bicycle culture in Portland.

We are both physicians and bicycle commuters. SD does have some bicycle commuters but the infrastructure is lacking (though improving). We’ve long been excited about Portland’s bike culture, and I have learned a lot more about it as I research the city and its infrastructure. The bicycle plan for 2030 looks amazing but I’ve seen some skeptical comments about it.

So, I am hoping to know what you think about Portland’s bicycle culture as it stands now and where you see it heading? Do you believe that PBOT is serious about making Portland a “world-class” bicycling city that is also equitable? Do you feel that the people of Portland want to see that happen?

As bicycle, pedestrian and public transit infrastructure is one of the reasons for our potential move from “sunny San Diego” to “rainy Portland”, we want to be sure we are not deluding ourselves with thoughts of grandeur.
Thank you for your consideration and time.

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Be aware that the readers of these forums are not representative of Portland cyclists – a specific brand of anti-car activism tends to dominate.

If your question is whether this is a good place to be a bike commuter, it is. The overall situation is very good, drivers play nice, and roads are pretty slow. I think it’s the best way to get around by far.

As far as the infrastructure itself, both cycling activists and PBOT are much more into optics than anything else. We have some showcase infrastructure that gets a lot of publicity and money, and we’ll get more. But it’s much more about optics than making cycling great – a few miles here and there is nice, but you need to get everywhere.

Getting around as a ped here is great. Distances are short, though it’s not like there’s much special infrastructure which you don’t really need just to walk anyway.

Public transit is hopeless here. There’s plenty of it, but it’s so slow and unreliable I don’t see how people stand it – you’re better off on foot, and way better off on a bike. A lot of people use it though.

As far as “world class” city that is equitable, the lion’s share the attention (and money) for infrastructure goes to privileged areas that already have it easiest, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon, though at least they’re trying to adjust the optics on that.

Short version of this long post is it’s a good place to live/work and the cycling situation is decent. I’d definitely rather live here than SD.

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Thank you for your thoughtful response. This sort of realism is what I am hoping to hear so that I can arrive to Portland sans rose-colored glasses.

It is very good to hear that bike commuting is overall very good and that drivers “play nice” and drive slowly. In SD the roads are wide, the cars are plentiful (less so in covid times) and the macho, bro attitude is prominent.

As for optics, I suppose it is better to have some degree of this than not; obviously, it is preferred to have substantive changes. Based on my research, San Diego is probably at least one generation behind Portland in optics and implementation. So, unfortunately, the situation in the USA is relative. I certainly hope that Portland will continue to make strides to achieve the goals of its 2030 plan (whether I move there or not).

Also great to hear that walking is pleasant in Portland as being a pedestrian in SD is probably more deadly and unpleasant than being a cyclist.

Last, if I move, I would likely be commuting by a combination of bike and MAX train to Hillsboro. Of course, the commute time will be double what it would be to drive but I am used to that kind of situation living in SD.

Thanks again for your response.

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Welcome to Portland hamiramani (if you decide to come).

I think you’ll love biking here, especially compared to San Diego. Even though it’s not as good as our reputation makes it out to be, Portland is still doing some really great stuff when it comes to respecting cycling.

Check out our neighborhood greenway network, these are about 100 miles of streets that have 20 mph speed limit, speed bumps, special signage and markings, traffic calming infra, and are chosen specifically as more low-street alternates to busier streets. I can ride the greenway network for many miles - from one side of the city to the other - and never have to ride on a busy road. It’s awesome! Just follow the sharrows.

And PBOT is doing what they can. It’s nowhere near enough of course, but we have some of the best “advocrats” in the business. We just need to get the politics right so they can flourish and build the type of stuff they want to build.

There are so many people here who love bikes. Our Sunday Parkways are massive and if you see our big protests right now you’ll see tons of people on bikes. In general, bikes are so woven into the fabric of Portland life that you generally feel welcome and not “weird” for being on one. Unlike SoCal, you’re not likely to feel lonely while riding here! :star_struck:

Good luck with your considerations and if you move here I hope to see you around and posting here more.

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It just so happens that you’re thinking of using what I consider the best transit corridor in Portland (second best would be the MAX line along I-84). That particular train runs fast and is way better than driving – you’ll get to enjoy watching a bunch of people sitting on 26 which is a parking lot as you zoom by at 60mph.

Having said that, the riding in that entire Hillsboro Beaverton area is more suburban. The roads are wider and faster, things are more spread out, and drivers aren’t as great so more comfort with traffic is needed. However, there is very nice agricultural recreational riding close by. My guess is it’s still better than SD, and I think your read of Portland being a generation ahead in terms of optics and implementation is correct. The bro thing is much less of an issue out here in general, but you’ll find more in that neck of the woods than elsewhere in the Portland environs.

While getting downtown on MAX from Hillsboro is convenient and easy, the out and back time commitment is substantial – this makes a lot of the great things out here less accessible. On the plus side, you have easier access to the coast.

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Well…This statement put a large smile on my face. I am indeed very excited about the Neighborhood Greenways and the camaraderie.

If we move up there (small IF at this time), you will undoubtedly see me in your midst. I have been an activist (bicycling and otherwise) for as long as I can remember. I look forward to potentially helping Portland get to that world-class infrastructure. It is sad that SD is unlikely to achieve this because of the intransigence of the NIMBY bunch and a political class without the will to push the issue.

Thank you for your reply.

Great to hear that the MAX line I would be riding is efficient. I much rather be on a train reading and people watching than alone in a car getting frustrated.

The potential for rural riding is exciting too. What I have mapped out so far is that if I were to live in SE Portland I would have about a 5 mile ride to the MAX followed by about a 1.5 miles ride to the hospital (Kaiser Westside) when I exit the train. Seems pretty doable.

Any advice you all provide is helpful.

Thanks, again.

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Very doable. If you’e in SE, you get the best of all worlds. Traffic is especially slow, infrastructure is better, downtown is nearby, everything is accessible, and you’re moving against rather than with the flow at rush hour.

From SE, you’ll be pretty close to some really nice hill riding. The ag stuff is a bit further out, but not ridiculously so.

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It really depends on where you are and how far you’re going. It’s really quite reliable and efficient if you don’t have any transfers to make, and TriMet’s transit tracker makes it all the better to know when to catch your bus. MAX is highly inefficient if you need to traverse downtown from one side of the county to the other. I used to MAX from NE (Hollywood TC) out to Beaverton and a third of the time was stopping every other block downtown or waiting for something on the tracks ahead to clear. Since so many of the bus and rail lines go downtown directly, it can be quite efficient if that is where your destination is.

That said, I much prefer riding my bike for my commute. It’s so fast and efficient. I can definitely beat the bus from my home to work (I have one line that stops only a couple of blocks from each end of my commute). And I can usually do my commute faster than driving (especially during rush hour outside of COVID times), especially when you consider having to find and pay for parking.

Plus, over the years bike commuting (I’ve done it for 13 years now), it’s so joyful when you run into an old friend on their way somewhere on a bike going the same direction. You end out just slowing down and visiting while doing your commute. Try the in a car.

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Do you think riding downtown, catching the MAX there and heading west would alleviate this problem?

Probably. I’ve often thought that if I ever did a commute like that again, I would probably get myself a folder that fits in a shoulder bag to make it easier to get on the MAX (the hooks are all taken during commute hours) and if there’s no room for the bike, you’re not supposed to board.

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It would help. Frankly, I wouldn’t even consider riding any kind of public transit through downtown – it’s just crazy slow.

One annoying thing is that when the tracks are blocked, the supply of trains headed out stops. It doesn’t take much to disrupt MAX, though the Goose Hollow to Hillsboro segment is decent.

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I’ve been reading about this too. Probably less of a problem during covid times but it will probably become a problem again as things ramp up. A folding bike is a good suggestion. Thank you.

Indeed. When I was doing the commute into Beaverton, sometimes I’d get off the MAX in the first couple of stops after Old Town and walk all the way to a station a couple of stops before Goose Hollow just to catch a train ahead of the one I was on. It certainly was less frustrating to just get out and walk and not listen to the people on the train grumbling about whatever was slowing us down.

Fortunately, for any bus lines I’ve needed to rely on since then, they’ve been far more reliable and efficient than MAX in that regard. But I know not all bus lines are equal. Frequent service lines are better to live near (keep that in mind @hamiramani) where they come every 12-15 minutes during the workweek. And TriMet seems (maybe just it’s my imagination) to use newer (literally the newer models) on routes that serve wealthier neighborhoods first. I live close enough to both the 8 which cuts through Sabin and Irvington in NE to downtown and the 6 on MLK which goes through the CEID. It just seems like the line 8 buses are almost always newer and nicer than the 6.

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Good information about the bus lines. Unfortunate (if true) that newer buses are used in wealthier areas. I would say the underlying problem is that we have such things as “wealthier areas” to start with.

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My anecdotal observations are that it’s true, as well as the observation that the buses are more reliable than MAX.

I had a subsidized TriMet pass for 5 years which I never used – I like the idea of public transit, and I just happen to live along the Yellow line. My idea was that I could pick up the train at Moda for 3.5 miles on bad days.

Even though those stops are spread out and it’s an uphill segment, I beat the MAX all the time if it’s at Moda when I’m riding by. It sometimes beats me, but never by more than a minute. Going the other way, it has no chance. It’s absolutely ridiculous that a train that controls lights wouldn’t be noticeably faster than a bike that can’t. Even on a normal day when things are running properly, it’s possible to jog between OHSU and the Lombard MAX stop about the same amount of time as public transit (basically a straight shot) – which is crazy.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was when 6" of snow fell on the town a few years back – no trains ran on that line for 8 days. Because of the snow, I wanted to take it but couldn’t, so I wound up riding my bike.

After that, I was done. Many great things in Portland, but public transit isn’t one of them. It should be the most reliable form of transport, but unfortunately it’s the least. But getting around by bike is generally very good.

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So great to hear your perspective as a relatively new transplant. I hope to see you on the road when we get up there.