Sunday, October 4, 2009

Ride to Vancouver and the CRC

No, I didn't ride to Vancouver, Canada. It wouldn't be impossible, but that would take many days and quite a lot of pedaling. The Vancouver I went to is Vancouver, Washington which lies just North of Portland across the Columbia River. I'd been meaning to ride there for quite a long time ever since I saw a BTA (Bicycle Transportation Alliance) listing of a ride from Portland to Vancouver. That ride was canceled because not enough people signed up, but the idea of riding there had been in the back of my mind ever since.

Portland to Vancouver (Washington)

Fall has definitely arrived to Portland and so I felt it's time to take a different approach to riding. The long rides I'd been doing all Summer had been somewhat effort oriented. While I always like going to places I haven't yet been to, I tend to challenge myself with the effort involved. But now that it's cooler and I'm wearing jeans and longsleeves, riding hard and sweating under the clothes doesn't seem so appealing. So, I thought I will ride nice and slow and do more sight seeing while I'm at it. Riding to Vancouver seemed like a good idea as it is fairly close distance wise, but from what I'd gathered the way there is fairly complicated, so I wouldn't be able to ride uninterrupted. Perfect.

I looked up and found this I-5 Bridge map (pdf) online. It definitely looks a bit complicated spanning 2 pages. I studied the map and made print outs just in case.

I got underway and rode casually. I had ridden part of the way before when I rode on the Columbia Slough Trail, but this time I kept going North rather than turning onto the trail. I came to a stop sign, turned right and then proceeded to make my first wrong turn onto what turned out to be a freeway on-ramp. I realised my mistake quickly and turned around. What I thought was a street on the map turned out to be a sort of a parking lot adjacent to a park (Delta Park). After going through this lot, I got lost again and had to backtrack to find this not very visible path that lead to the bike lane on the first bridge across the river.

Portland to Vancouver (Washington)

This was right after the river, but as you can see it's just a continuation of the freeway and not so much a bridge. That's the I-5 (Interstate freeway) on the left. Not the most pleasant place with fast moving cars nearby, but the bike lane was plenty wide. This bridge took me to Hayden Island which is a small island on the Columbia River with big box stores that cater only to cars. The bike path ended and I had to go through the island to get to the bike path of the Interstate Bridge (That seems to be the name of the bridge as far as I can tell) I got lost a couple more times here, but the map print outs I'd brought saved me each time.

Portland to Vancouver (Washington)

Here's the path leading to the bridge. As you can see, it's pretty old and a bit narrow.

Portland to Vancouver (Washington)

and this is what the path on the bridge looks like. This is actually a picture of the other side I took on my way back, but it's quite narrow and has the beams of the bridge taking up a lot of space. You can look at the picture at the top to get the idea of the path with my bike as size reference. The bridge is pretty old and shakes quite a bit under the load of the fast interstate car traffic. I felt the path was a bit too narrow for comfort especially as I wear glasses and I think I perceive objects as being closer than they actually are. Luckily I didn't encounter a single person on a bike or on foot the entire way across the bridge, so I was able to ride across without a problem. The path is definitely not wide enough to accommodate a commuting bike traffic though.

Portland to Vancouver (Washington)

Anyhow, I did make it to Vancouver, to another state. I was a bit pleased I was able to ride my bike to a different state. Going to California or Idaho would be a serious undertaking, but luckily Washington is just across the river. I didn't have any plans after I got to Vancouver, so I followed the direction of the sign that pointed to downtown. I quickly came to a park and then what looked like a farmers market. I missed my neighborhood's farmers market in coming here, so I decided to take a look. There were a lot of apples and fruits, but not much fresh vegetables. I'm not sure that was because of the time of the year or if fresh vegetables was harder to sell than fruits that could be stored longer. I bought some apples and a cup of very watery coffee.

After that, I rode back in the direction of the river.

IMG_5233Portland to Vancouver (Washington)

There was a park and a trail there and from there I could see the entire Interstate Bridge. It seems to have a sort of an undulating profile.

Then I rode East on the riverfront trail where there was a beach below. There were some geese there. Canadian geese, I think.

Portland to Vancouver (Washington)

and further East there were some river front cafes or restaurant.

Portland to Vancouver (Washington)

It wasn't quite thriving, but it looked like a nice spot to drink coffee or have brunch. It makes sense to me to have business there and I think it would be nice if Portland did the same on their side of the river shore.

After that, I made my way back to Portland. I didn't get lost like I did before, but still the route was confusing. It would be great if the PBOT (Portland Bureau of Transportation) could work on that. Just putting up a few direction signs for starters would help.

The CRC in the title of this post refers to "Columbia River Crossing". It's the name given to the huge project that aims to improve the transportation infrastructure around this I-5 crossing of the river. It is quite a controversial project here in Portland and Vancouver. It started out as something that could accommodate not only cars, but pedestrians, bicycles and even light rail trains. I don't know every detail of the project, but it seems the latest proposed plan of the project has become a lot more car-centric (12 lanes for cars!) and much less accommodating for everything else. The BTA who had a representative on the project board pulled out as they no longer thought them being there made a difference and they decided to seek other means to deal with this issue. I've also heard that they've already spent a huge sum of tax payers money with just planning. So, you can see why the locals might be quite upset. I've seen a "Stop the CRC!" campaign booth a bunch of times at various bike related events. I think a member of the Sprockettes wears a "Stop the CRC!" arm band at their shows.

From what I saw riding the route, I think there are somethings that could be improved; more clear bike route for sure, but I think the Interstate Bridge is getting quite old and needs major makeover or built anew. A 12 lane bridge is totally unnecessary though in my opinion. I think this proposal came up because the bridges as they are now cause huge traffic congestion, but I think a huge public project such as this needs to think of its use well into the future and I think we will be driving much less than we do today 10-20 years from now. I won't go into the whole issue of Peak Oil and what will happen as the global oil production starts to decline, but I think we should be a little more conscious of how we spend our wealth and resources while we still have them.

I tried to envision the sort of infrastructure I would make if it was up to me. I think I would make super highways for bikes in between cities and along the route, there could be shops and services that cater to the bike riding people. They could offer discount for anyone who rides a bicycle thus encouraging people to ride bikes there. In the US, cities and suburbs have been built around automotive transportation and Japan has built cities and towns around the train system, but it would be cool to see town planning based on bicycles and pedestrians. I think that's been done in the Netherlands, but it would be cool to see how US or other countries do that.

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