Avid bicyclists Chris and Jan Fuegy had never visited outer Northeast Portland before last month.
Sunday Parkways, the 10-year-old bicycle- and pedestrian-centric event produced by the Portland Bureau of Transportation, which was held for the first time in Mid-county, drew the Southwest Portland couple. Using a route map, they picked the intersection of Northeast 114th Avenue and Halsey Street to meet their friend for the ride, which is where they spoke to the Memo.
On streets closed to vehicular traffic, the 6.4-mile Sunday Parkways route wound between East Burnside Street and the I-84 freeway and from Northeast 113th to 142nd avenues through the Hazelwood, Parkrose Heights, and Russell neighborhoods. “Activity Areas” were set up at four parks along the route: Knott, East Holladay, Thompson and Hazelwood Hydro. Free bike repair kiosks, music, entertainment, and kids’ games were set up at each park. In addition, there were booths for businesses, government agencies and nonprofits.
Longtime fans, the Fuegys said they use Sunday Parkways to tour Portland’s different neighborhoods at a leisurely pace on their bicycles under the controlled, safe circumstances. “We appreciate the chance to do these rides,” Jan said. “It’s good to see different areas; we don’t know this area.” However, because it was eclipse weekend, they almost didn’t come. Incessant warnings about traffic jams everywhere nearly kept them home.
Until his recent retirement, Chris, a Beaverton native, said he commuted to work by bicycle for more than 30 years. In that time, he said he went through seven bicycles and was hit by cars three times—nothing real serious—except a dose of post-traumatic stress towards automobiles. “After a few months you’re okay again, but for quite a while when you see a car again …” he imitated a frozen look of fear.
Sedulous bicycle commuter
For years before his retirement, Fuegy rode an 18-mile round-trip to work. He said that sounds worse than it was. “From my house to work it was flat. A lot of the road was along Multnomah Boulevard, which used to be an old railroad track. So even though it sloped a little, it’s easy to ride 20 miles per hour.” That is, except during Christmas shopping season around Washington Square, where he needed to slow down and be extra cautious. “Everybody’s thinking about their presents and the things they just bought and not you. It just gets to be a zoo.”
Fuegy was reluctant to have his photo taken while not wearing his usual protective clothing and helmet, not wanting to send the wrong message; this just proves what a dedicated, serious bicyclist he is. Only after reassurances the story would include the fact that Sunday Parkways is held on a closed course that is free of cars would he agree to a photo.
Fuegy is sanguine about how the bicycle culture has evolved since he began commuting and where it is today. “For years, I was the only person I saw [commuting to work by bicycle],” he said. “Unfortunately, [today] we have a pretty radical bike population.”
He said neither side—bicyclists or car owners—is being reasonable about sharing the road. He thinks one or two arterial streets should be reconfigured to accommodate more bicycles and be designated primarily a bike route. Pointing to Northeast Halsey Street, he asked, “If you’re just learning to ride or want to ride, and you gotta get downtown, would you ride this road downtown?” Heck no! “What if it was marked with one or two lanes [for cars] and a big wide lane on either side marked for bikes? Wouldn’t you be more likely to feel a little better with that?”
He’s also pragmatic about the issue of bicycle registration. “If that does something and puts money into some coffers to do something positive, then we do it. You can’t have it free.”
Neighbors’ views on Sunday Parkways
Asked if the street closure in front of his house was an inconvenience, Jack Hearin, who lives close to the famous Gateway Breakfast House (Obama had breakfast there in July 2012) on Northeast 114th Avenue, said, “Not at all. Any inconvenience is outweighed by the good thing of introducing people to bicycles.” Hearin said Northeast Halsey Street at 114th Avenue is unsafe for bicycles but especially so for pedestrians, and he is keen on getting a crosswalk there. “If you know anyone at the city, put in a word for us,” he said. “A lady in a wheelchair got hit here last year.” He added, “When my neighbor, who is an elderly lady, gets off the bus there,” he said, pointing to the south side of Northeast Halsey and 114th Avenue, “she has to go back down Halsey to a crosswalk and then walk all the way back on the other side just to get home.”
Jackie Russell, Hearin’s neighbor on Northeast 114th Avenue, wasn’t as forgiving. Unaware of the street closures, she was shocked to see that not only was 114th Avenue closed to cars when she woke on Sunday, Aug. 20, but also that Northeast Halsey and Glisan streets had intermittent closures throughout the day, befouling traffic in the whole area. “We didn’t have any idea; we had no advanced notice, nothing,” she said in a phone interview after the event. “The main thoroughfare going through from Glisan to Halsey; it was not cool that they did that.” She went on to say, “It was kind of a mess; it was not a good plan. Everybody was thinking about the eclipse on Monday, and then there’s this.”