Biking to a New School

Our move from Seattle to Portland happened two weeks before school started so we had a good amount of time to explore our neighborhood and beyond before settling into our new daily schoolyear routine.

Our school has so many bike staples!

It’s not entirely fair to say Seattle is hilly and Portland is flat since Seattle has some flat neighborhoods and Portland some hilly ones. But I think it’s safe to say that in general Portland is flatter than Seattle. I’m happy to say we landed in a neighborhood that is flat as far as the eye can see. Versus our old neighborhood in Seattle which a biking friend referred to as “living on the side of a cliff” (which is an exaggeration, but other than two flat blocks to the east it was a steep two- or three-block climb or descent in all directions).

Our biggest change is that school is no longer a two-and-a-half-block walk from home (it took longer to put on helmets and bike than to walk so we only bothered with bikes on Bike to School Day). Now school is 15 blocks away–a legitimate bike-distance from home, and I’m pretty excited about that.

One huge bummer is that my 10-year old broke his arm four days before school started. However, that meant I didn’t need to figure out a kid-safe bike route to school for a month.

I have 3 types of routes:

  • me alone (and sometimes me alone in a hurry versus me alone slightly less direct, but more pleasant)
  • me with kids attached on tandem or cargo bike
  • me plus kids riding separately

They’re rarely the same.

Allow me to stray from routing talk for a moment and acknowledge that my beloved cargo bike is yet again a lifesaver. The kids have been riding their own bikes primarily for a while, plus I needed them to ride on their own all the time while I was biking with a broken foot so it’s been a while since I’ve carried them both. And yeah, just the one kid broke an arm, but apparently there’s a rule that if one’s big brother gets a lift the littler kid gets a lift, too.

I’m pretty sure the arrangement of kids we found ourselves in is the only way this would have worked. I keep only the left rail of my Xtracycle Hooptie on the top of the bike (the right rail is down low for stepping up to the deck) so my 10-year old with the broken left arm sat backwards at the front of the deck to hold the rail with his good arm. Then the eight-year old sat sideways or backwards to have adequate legroom. This put the heaviest part of the heavier kid at the closest spot forward and the lighter kid more forward than had be been sitting forward-facing. I think I would need an e-assist with throttle/boost button to get started safely if they were both facing forward with the little one in his usual front spot and the heavier one at the very back. Biking around our flat neighborhood was fine, as was the one decent block-long hill coming back from all points close in. However, I had to stop twice to rest briefly on the big half-mile-long hill between the hospital and home. We took the bus to get to a few appointments downtown, though that was more out of worry about the kids sitting in the cold for such a long time on my bike–there’s always a bit of adjustment as the seasons change. Next broken arm (ha!) we’ll be acclimated enough to bike to the orthopedist.

Now, back to school…

Portland has some awesome bikeways, but there are also quite a few busy streets that only have stop signs or stop lights if you’re crossing using another busy street. There are two busy streets (one east-west and one north-south) between home and school. Those intersections are OK for me alone or me carrying the kids, but I don’t like the kids riding through on their own bikes.

I didn’t do a ton of exploring and experimenting, but the day before the cast came off I carried the kids on my proposed kid-friendly route to school and the kids declared it a winner. It’s 50% longer and takes over twice as long (I phrase it that way to sound dramatic–it only takes 13 minutes versus 6 minutes when I carry them on the more direct route). It also has more blocks of gravel than I imagined possible even in this neighborhood of many unimproved roadways. Obviously, that’s a bonus in the eyes of the kids.

What I don’t consider perfect is that instead of biking in a door zone bike lane for one block (a BIG block, the length of three of our other blocks) we cut through a church parking lot (which is fun and safe, but not as ideal as using a quiet public street) to avoid half of that block and then we stick to the sidewalk for the other half of the block.

But we all love the route! Highlights include spotting a feral cat, Mr. Moo, each morning and afternoon, the kids learning the different contours of our six consecutive unpaved blocks as the gravelly craters fill with rainwater and become enticing puddles, and my pride as the kids confidently zoom home ahead of me as soon as we cross the second busy street.

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