Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Spring Break in Portland & Seattle

Heading out on our first day in PDX: Madi's Surly Big Dummy, Surly Straggler, & Brompton
Most (not all) of Madi's fleet. N+1...
During Spring break we headed down to Portland & Seattle to visit friends & ride All The Bikes. We chose to drive because we knew our kids might likely kill each other on the Bolt Bus & we weren't sure we could actually all get to the train station in time for a 6:30am departure. We very briefly considered bringing a bike or two, but because our friends Madi & Anny both have N+1 bike addictions collections like we do, we were well served by their fleets of kid-hauling machines.

Most of our conversations have been via social media, so it was awesome to spend time in real life with Madi & Anny. It was also fascinating to experience the cities by bike like a local. We only spent about four days in each city, but we did do quite a lot of riding & we got to see many different neighbourhoods.
The multi use path along the Willamette River in PDX

In both places, driving was incredibly stressful. The highways go right through the city (unlike here in Vancouver) so we had to navigate to an unfamiliar destination at 70 miles per hour, with highway exits on both sides (they're nearly always on the left here) & often involving multiple lanes. Other drivers were generally impatient & often speeding on both highways & arterial roads in the city, so it wasn't a great experience.

Drove to Tillamook & Cannon Beach for some fun in the sand & (chilly) sun
Biking & walking was another story entirely on the streets of Portland. The city has a reputation for being a cycling mecca, but I arrived with some healthy skepticism. I've heard criticisms that it is bike friendly, but mainly for more for assertive, confident riders. From our short trip there, I can say I didn't see much bike infrastructure that would qualify as AAA (appropriate for all ages & abilities, from children to seniors).

On the other hand, the drivers seemed to yield to people on bikes & walking a lot more often than we see here in Vancouver. We also saw a lot of people riding, particularly the closer we got to the core of the city. Perhaps it was because we were in a group with several (weird) bikes, but the drivers did seem generally fairly respectful towards more vulnerable road users.

We rode Madi's tandem to Trader Joe's--B loved being able to pedal
Got to meet Kath, another "virtual friend", in real life, in PDX
We took up most of the bike corall at Lantern Brewing
Seattle felt a lot more like home, with impatient drivers who seemed to feel that they "own" the roads demonstrating their attitude that we shouldn't be there on bikes. It's also a much hillier city than Vancouver, particularly the area where we were staying, so having electric assist seems a lot more common there among the family bikers we met. Which was quite a few--we ended up joining a group advocacy ride in favour of the protected bike lane on 35th Avenue with around 50 people. (More details about it here on the Safe 35th FB page)

Before you get the impression that I didn't like riding in Seattle, I should say that we really enjoyed it. In no small part because of how bike & kid-friendly the local craft breweries are. We visited four different places in Greenwood (Lantern, Flying Bike, Chuck's Hop Shop) & Ballard  (Populuxe Brewing), all of which had toys & books for small children, plus the expectation that you might bring in your own food (or buy it from the food truck or hot dog cart outside).

Ice cream for them, beer for us at Chuck's Hop Shop. Not a lot of space for kids, but they were welcome at this brewpub
Families were still arriving for the ride on 35th Ave
Having the opportunity to visit G & O Family Cyclery was another thing that made the trip awesome, but I think I'll have to save that for a whole other post, or this one will turn into a novel!

Gravel & shovels & random toys kept the kids busy at Populuxe Brewery
After we got home & I had a bit more time to think about the trip, I did think of a few things we'd do differently. It was a lot easier to leave on our own schedule with a rental car, but we didn't get there any faster than the train, since we had to stop for so many bathroom breaks & meals. We also waited for over an hour in the border line-up. The stress of navigating American freeways in a Canadian rental car with no miles per hour on the speedometer (we literally had to calculate how many kilometres per hour we were supposed to be driving every time it changed).

Overall it was a great vacation & I would love to go back again. I like both Seattle & Portland a lot & there are tons of museums, parks, shops, & rides I'd still like to experience in both cities the next time(s) we go. Our hosts were both so gracious, letting us take invade their homes & commandeer half their bike fleets, & doubling the numbers of rambunctious children. As a cycling advocate, it was also really valuable to experience first-hand how other cities do bike infrastructure. I wish more municipal government officials, engineers & planners would walk & bike in their cities, as well as other ones--I think we might be moving faster toward safer, healthier cities if that were the case.

If you want to see more of family biking in Portand, I recommend following Madi on social media--she's @familyride on Instagram & Twitter, plus you can check out her regular family biking column on BikePortland. This one on route planning is particularly good!

Follow Spokesmama here too:

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