Off hours arterial riding is fun!

I’ve got a new habit (as of yesterday): on weekends I take advantage of sparse traffic and ride certain arterials (a.k.a. busy streets) on the way to work.

The dream started one day over a year ago when I turned south early to avoid construction. I arrived to SE Powell Boulevard–two lanes in either direction with center turn lane to keep everyone driving fast, speed limit 35 mph. I had planned to cross the street at the closest light I could find, but looking beyond the wide street I noticed the street I was on dipped down in elevation. I was loathe to lose altitude (I was on my Big Dummy, though not carrying any extra weight, but still) so instead I stayed on Powell’s sidewalk and continued eastward. It’s a loud and busy street which makes it unpleasant to walk along so I didn’t see any people on foot during my 30-block journey. But I did see lots of cool things! I realized I’d never even seen Powell through a bus window (my usual way to see what’s on an arterial) so this was all new. I was excited to see a bowling alley (though now it’s a Target store), a family-friendly brewery, and cool murals. As I often do, I thought of the Netherlands where there’s space for people on bikes both on quiet streets and busy streets–because, duh, that’s where people need to get by bike. Planning for transportational bicycling and not just recreational makes for such a different and more robust bike-friendly network.

I’ll never ride in the street on Powell (except for one very short block I make use of that I mentioned on BikePortland: Family Biking: Intersections are scary, until you wiggle around them), but yesterday and today I enjoyed zooming down Division (speed limit 25mph) and I might add some other regulars to my weekend morning repertoire.

Gorgeous mural by N.O. Bonzo on the side of Oregon Theatre on Division

On weekends I can already leave home five minutes later thanks to significantly less traffic meaning shorter light cycles for the many stop lights I hit. But looking at it from a different perspective, the dearth of traffic at 7:30am on a weekend means the big roads that don’t have stop signs every other block are pretty much deserted. I want to know our arterials better. I tend to confuse the east-west streets I avoid–Hawthorne, Division, Belmont (in fact, I thought I was listing them in order just now and I see I’m not)–and which one houses which cool businesses. I never know landmarks friends refer to on arterials. Not that this as all ended as of this weekend, but at least I’m going to get a handle on Division. I’ll explore extending the zippy section of my commute, but this weekend I’ve stuck to my usual greenway route along Clinton just until crossing the light of Cesar Chavez and then I head north a block to Division. Division is at a slight downhill here so even though it’s only one lane in each direction, I can pretty well keep up with traffic if I encounter any. And I can get a sense of where Pok Pok is in relation to Salt & Straw and Bollywood Theater and see street art I’d otherwise miss.

Mural by GATS PTV on the side of the Oregon Theatre

I’d imagine this is similar to people on e-bikes being able to keep up with traffic on streets they previously avoided. I was on my zippy road bike today so I continued along Division even after it flattened out and then used another arterial (12th, 25mph) to head north. I wouldn’t do that on a slower bike nor on a weekday, but I can see how an e-bike would make those situations that much more comfortable.

If you’re curious about looking up speed limits in Portland, PBOT has this great interactive map: Current speed limits on Portland streets map. I used it for this post.

Do you similarly ride arterials sometimes? Or feel like you’re missing out in the same way I do needing to steer clear of such busy and fast but exciting streets?

One thought on “Off hours arterial riding is fun!

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