Cycling in Clark County

With safety equipment and a little knowledge, getting around on two wheels can be fun, rewarding experience

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter



On the Web:

Plan a route:

For city, county and regional bike maps, visit http://www.cityof...

Join the crowd:

Groups with organized rides and community resources:

Vancouver Bicycle Club:

NW Butts on Bikes Meetup group: http://www.meetup...

Shift: http://www.shift2...

Pedaling in June:

Pedalpalooza, a two-week event in Portland and Vancouver, is a bicycle festival for new and experienced riders in the region.

This year, it includes six organized rides in Vancouver:

June 14: Downtown Vancouver Bike Facilities Tour. This short tour of downtown’s lockers, corrals and racks will educate participants about available resources for bike commuters. Meet at noon at Columbia and West Eighth streets at the bike corral, across from Esther Short Park. The tour will take an hour or less.

June 17: Pop Crawl. A ride around Main Street and downtown Vancouver with stops to enjoy a host of interesting nonalcoholic beverages. Meet at 5 p.m. at Pop Culture, 1929 Main St., and bring money for drinks. The ride will take two hours or less.

June 18: Vancouver Velo Vino Tour. A cycling tour of Vancouver’s west-side wine bars. Meet at 4 p.m. at Niche Wine & Art restaurant, 1013 Main St. Stops will include food and drinks, so bring money. The ride expected to take about three hours.

June 19: Pretty Panty Ride. Visit Vancouver’s public art while displaying your “prettiest panties.” Panties can be worn or attached to bicycle. Meet at 11 a.m. at Esther Short Park, Columbia and West Eighth streets. Bring money to eat lunch with the group at the Farmer’s Market after the ride. Ride will take two hours.

June 20: Heritage Tree Ride. A four-mile easy guided ride to explore some of Vancouver’s most-celebrated heritage trees. Meet at 6 p.m. at Esther Short Park, Columbia and West Eighth streets. The ride will take two hours.

June 26: Esther Short to Burnt Bridge Creek Trail. This 13-mile ride will have a leisurely pace with shorter options available. Meet at 11 a.m. at Esther Short Park, Columbia and West Eighth streets.

For more information about these rides and rides in Portland, visit http://shift2bike...

Melinda Miracle got an abrupt jolt in the middle of her peaceful bicycle ride through downtown Vancouver on a rare sunny afternoon this spring.

With the squeal of tires and a short popping bang, Miracle quickly shoved her bike in front of a car that was turning against the light while she was in the crosswalk.

It was the only way she could create a barrier to avoid getting run over at the usually calm intersection of Columbia and Sixth streets near Esther Short Park.

Fortunately, she wasn’t hurt and, other than a slight scuff mark, her bike was undamaged. But as she stood in the park, trying to calm the shaking in her hands, she heard another skidding car and noticed yet another cyclist narrowly avoiding disaster.

“What the hell is wrong with people?” she asked, looking back to make sure the rider was OK.

Car culture

Biking in Vancouver’s car culture is certainly different than it is in the alternative-transportation mecca south of the Columbia River, but that said, it doesn’t have to be scary or dangerous to get around on two wheels in Clark County.

You just need to know the rules of the road, the parts of town that are bike-friendly and the equipment to keep you safe, said Laurie Lebowsky, Clark County’s bicycle and pedestrian planner.

“Part of the problem is that Vancouver has wider roads, which gives the drivers sort of a sense of entitlement. They feel they can drive faster,” Lebowsky said. “In Portland, there are narrower roads, more parked cars, (so) drivers (tend to) go slower. I never think it’s a bad thing when people slow down to be more careful.”

Despite Portland’s reputation as a bike-friendly city — and the tendency of East Coast groups to speak of it with hushed awe — it’s Washington that’s been in the news lately for topping the League of American Bicyclists’ Bike Friendly America list for the fourth year in a row. The state beat neighboring Oregon, which came in eighth in the 2011 ranking.

“Compared to the rest of (Washington) state, Vancouver is doing well,” said Jeff Peel, the D.C.-based group’s state and local advocacy coordinator. “The city has a bronze-level community rank, which means it’s taken some good first steps.”

Seattle and Portland both have gold rankings, which the group determines based on the five E’s: engineering, education, encouragement, evaluation and planning, and enforcement, Peel said.

“Vancouver has a good start, but across the river, you have one of the shining examples of what can be done. It has 300 miles of networked bikeway,” he said.

Portland has been focused on growing its bicycle infrastructure in the past 20 years, but Vancouver officials have had a harder time keeping funding levels consistent and doing outreach, which is why the city lags behind, he added.

“Vancouver has made some investments, and we want to applaud them for that, but they seem to remain short of taking that last step,” Peel said.

Road dangers

With the recession and lagging economy, funding has been hard to come by for just about everything in local governments, Lebowsky said.

“There’s just not enough money for what we want to do right now. There needs to be more education for drivers and cyclists,” she said. “But I feel heartened when I’m riding my bike, and I see more riders out there. I think there’s safety in numbers, and the more riders out there, the more cars will get used to looking out for them.”

Bryan Rayburn, who lives in Cascade Park and often bikes in downtown Vancouver, said he’s had his share of run-ins with motorists who weren’t paying attention, but he has learned strategies to protect himself over the years.

About six years ago, the 48-year-old was hit while riding on Mill Plain Boulevard, a road he now takes every chance to avoid, he said.

“I strained my shoulder, and my side was hit by the passenger-door mirror,” Rayburn said. “Now, I take back streets and avoid Mill Plain as much as possible.”

There are plenty of roads across the city with bike lanes where drivers pay more attention, and the city’s multiuse trails are safe and have very nice scenery, Rayburn said.

“Downtown Vancouver is not bad at all,” Rayburn said. “I walk my bike across crosswalks usually, but C Street has a nice bike lane. The east side of Vancouver though, that’s pretty scary. I wouldn’t recommend riding there.”

One thing Rayburn does to protect himself at crosswalks is to stop and wave the first car — if there’s one waiting — into the turn in front of him. It makes the driver behind that car more aware that a cyclist is about to cross, he said.

“I just want to get there in one piece, and I’d rather do that than hurry,” Rayburn said.

Follow the law

Within Vancouver city limits, all bicyclists are required to wear helmets.

Cyclists have the right to be in a crosswalk with pedestrians, but they must yield to walkers there and on a sidewalk. Automobile drivers have to yield to both.

“A bicyclist has the same rights as a pedestrian,” said Jennifer Campos, senior planner for the city of Vancouver. “That said, they also have to go with the walk signal if they’re using it. And there’s a restriction in Vancouver that says you can’t ride on a sidewalk in a commercial district, although it’s not often enforced.”

If you ride at night, you’re also required to have a light on the front of your bicycle and at least a reflector on the back.

And no matter what time of day it is, whether a bicycle is in the street or on the sidewalk, the biggest rule — and the one most commonly broken — is to follow the flow of traffic.

Riders like to ride facing traffic so they can see what’s coming, but that’s just not very safe, Campos said.

“Going the wrong way really increases the damage you’ll take in a collision,” Campos said.

Riding on the sidewalk also isn’t the greatest idea, even where it is allowed, she added.

“There are a lot of accidents at driveways and intersections,” Campos said. “It’s more common for bicyclists (to get hit) if they ride on the sidewalk. In the road, drivers tend to see you better.”

The city offers a 26-page book that goes over all of the rules. But to get it, call the planning office at 360-487-7700, then go pick it up, she said.

Bike maps of trails and roads with designated lanes also are available there, or on the city’s website at under the “All About Vancouver” tab.

Baby steps

For cyclists just starting out, Lebowsky highly recommends Clark County’s multiuse trails and roadways, including Padden Parkway, the Discovery Trail, the Waterfront Renaissance Trail and the Salmon Creek Greenway Trail.

“If you’re out of shape or just want a simple ride, try some of the trails and just start with a two- or three-mile trip,” Lebowsky said. “Salmon Creek (trail) is short and a nice place to start. By the waterfront, Renaissance is pretty nice, too.”

She also recommends hooking up with a group that organizes bike rides such as the Vancouver Bicycle Club (

Groups tend to host rides for a variety of skill levels, and they are a good way to meet people and learn where the best riding spots are, she added.

“It’s also nice because the Vancouver Bicycle Club does both women’s and men’s rides,” she said.

As far as places to avoid, Lebowsky agrees with Rayburn that a lot of east Vancouver is just not very well set up for cyclists.

“Mill Plain, 164th Avenue, there are no bike lanes around there,” Lebowsky said. “Actually, north of Mill Plain, it’s not too bad, but south of Mill Plain is an area to avoid.”

She also recommends avoiding 78th Street and Highway 99.

“That’s a difficult area, but that’s just my opinion,” she said.

Riders don’t have to spend a lot of money to get started, and cycling is a good habit that promotes health, saves money on gasoline and is good for the environment, Campos added.

“People often think if you cycle, you have to get a road bike and wear spandex, and you absolutely don’t have to do that,” she said. “You don’t have to spend a lot of money buying equipment. You just have to know what you need and pay attention.”