21 October 2016

Bike Counters in Tacoma

There are three bike counters in Tacoma. They are located underground and are activated every time a bicycle rides over it. You'll notice a diamond shaped cut in the road surface, but otherwise they are unmarked.

  • Division Ave Bike Lanes (both directions) near G Street
  • Park Ave (both directions) just north of S 56th St 
  • Flume Line Trail just south of S 56th St
A fourth counter will be located in the McKinley Neighborhood when part of the Pipeline Trail is paved in the next few years.

Here's a map:

The City of Tacoma collects data from the bike counters. The data can be used to evaluate trends in bike ridership. If you live, commute, or generally travel near one of these three locations, consider altering your route so that you can show the City you were riding in that neighborhood. Make your ride count!

13 August 2016

A Courage Classic Adventure Weekend

Photo by Monologue Photography

My oldest child Gwen (10) and I had an amazing overnight biking adventure over the Cascade mountains as part of the 25th annual Courage Classic bike ride. The ride is the primary source of funding for the Child Abuse Intervention Department at Mary Bridge Children's Hospital in Tacoma, WA, our hometown. The CAID center provides free services to children who may otherwise never seek help from all types of abuse. I've participated in this event more than a few times and Gwen was thrilled when the organizers created a one-day all-trail option of the ride in 2015, for beginners and families.

Last summer my then 9 yo daughter pushed herself to the limits by pedaling her folding bike 30 miles to the summit of Snoqualmie Pass. The ride was a struggle - the gravel trails and relentless uphill grade was an emotional and physical battle that she only just barely won. But as soon a we finished, she was talking about how she'd be back for more next year. The kid is a badass.

So for 2016, Gwen decided we should try and form a team to encourage other kids and parents to ride with us. Kids riding for kids! We only found two teammates, but you can read about their awesome adventure with a bicycle bungee here.

We then plotted our own two-day, partially self-supported ride up and over Snoqualmie Pass. Day 1 we would be Courage Classic Lite riders, letting volunteers from UPS carry our camping gear over the mountains as we joined the Fat Tire First Day riders on the gravel trails from North Bend to Cle Elum using a tandem we borrowed from Tom, a fellow Courage rider. Then on Day 2 we would pack all of our own gear back over the pass on the tandem self-supported. This ended up being a bumpy 136-mile overnight adventure that I hope we never forget.

If you haven't had a chance to donate, or need to make good on a pledge, you can still #StandWithCourage and contribute to Gwen's fundraising efforts until Sept 30, 2016 using this link:


She's trying to reach $1000 and is so close to meeting her goal. I had never done anything like this at her age and more than once shed a few proud parent tears on the trail. Here's a quick photo montage to show you the highs and lows of our journey.

Day 1: 67.4 mi, 2841 ft up, 1145 ft down
North Bend to Cle Elum

Starting on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail

Dance Break or Break Dance?

Made it to the John Wayne Pioneer Trail. 10 miles in.

I caught her pulling a fast one but she was shocked when I told her this would be allowed. Periodically.

More stopping and stretching, because it's hard to get out of the saddle for a butt break on the tandem when the entire ride is uphill.

West entrance of the Snoqualmie Tunnel, 2.5 miles long. It's freakin' dark in there and she couldn't see anything because I was in the way the whole time. Try closing your eyes and pedaling for 15 minutes...

Summit lunch! We found volunteer Mark here shadowing the director. Last year he was the trail sweeper and zen master who helped get Gwen to the summit, so it was fitting that we got to see him here again. Riding high, making good time.

Keechelus Lake heading east. Downhill, but the gravel makes it feel flat.

Rails to Trails! This used to be the Milwaukee Line from Chicago. She still excited, right?

About 50 miles in and hitting the wall, we stopped to watch some trains. We really needed to find that afternoon rest stop.

OMG. We finally found the ice cream...an entire chest freezer full of it. Thanks Rotarians! Biggest save of the weekend.

Made it. Post-dinner smiles of exhaustion. Photo by Tom, who loaned us his tandem. We tent camped at Sundacia with the main pack of riders and had a cold night's sleep. I had underpacked knowing we'd pay for every extra pound of gear on Day 2.

Day 2: 68.9 mi, 1624 ft up, 3320 ft down
Cle Elum to North Bend

Rolling through Cle Elum on our way out of town. G wearing all of her layers. Photo by Monologue Photography.

Back on the John Wayne Trail. Own it, Kid. You are a badass. This is hard.

Gates to ride around at most road crossings. NBD.

Stopped at a stream to make good on a promise I hadn't been able to keep on Day 1. That water was coooold.

Looking west, near Easton Trailhead. Gwen had lost her gloves in here somewhere on Day 1, but I found them on Day 2: one was trailside and the other was 4 miles away at the trailhead!

Yo TWBC, I got your back.

Tunnel selfeez!!

Lake Easton. Ok, yeah, dads take selfies, too.

Getting tired again. These old rail mile markers show how far away you are from Chicago. We deduced that the Hyak Trailhead at the summit was around Mile 2115. Still 13 miles to go! This was about the point where we started binge eating Swedish Fish candies and making up songs. Delirium was setting in...

Our friend Gene was doing the same thing we were: riding back with his gear on Day 2. We told him to meet us at the summit for lunch, not realizing that the restaurant was about 500 vertical feet up from the Snoqualmie Tunnel trailhead. It was a brutal 2.5 mile climb on the tandem, but lunch at The Commonwealth Cafe was worth it. We also loaded up on treats and got ice cream at the gas station across the street. 

Snoqualmie Tunnel, east entrance.

View from one of many enormous trestle bridges.

Bombing down the western slope, we nearly didn't recognize our friend Madi as she was pedaling up the slope, heading out on a bike camping trip, too. We stopped to chat and she captured this photo at one of our emotional high points. Seeing friends on the trail was a huge spirit booster after a long weekend in the saddle.
Boom! Back in North Bend, still standing, still smiling, tired but stronger. So good.

Totals: 136.3 miles, 4465 feet up & down, 6 tunnels, 2 days, 1 dad, 1 daughter, 1 bike, and tons of Courage.


28 June 2016

Kids Pedaling for Kids

My daughter Gwen (10) has twisted my tiny bike rider arm and we're pedaling Courage Classic Lite again on  August 6. This year we're going to double-down in every way: riding a tandem together and riding 60 miles to the summit and back.

The "Lite" version is the shorter one-day all-trail version of the amazing 3-day Courage Classic ride over the Cascade Mountains. Both rides raise money to directly fund the Child Abuse Intervention Department at Mary Bridge Children's Hospital in Tacoma, WA, our hometown. We're pedaling to stop the cycle of child abuse in Pierce County. 

Last year Gwen pushed herself to the limits on this ride, pedaling her little folding bike 30 miles to the summit of Snoqualmie Pass. It was an extremely emotional and physical journey for her. 

You can donate to Gwen's fundraising efforts here, but she's also looking for other kids, parents, and kids-at-heart to join her Kidical Mass Tacoma team as Courage Classic Lite riders and fundraisers. Join us! 

The "Lite" route takes you up the Snoqualimie Valley Trail and John Wayne Pioneer Trail, which are closed to motorized vehicles.  The trails offer some stunning views as you cross old trestle bridges on your way up, up, up to the Snoqualmie Tunnel, the nation's longest people-only rail tunnel. It's 2 miles long and completely dark inside - you have to bring lights! Once through the tunnel you'll be treated to a great lunch, a shuttle back to the start point (for 30 mile riders), or go back through the tunnel and enjoy the descent you've earned (60 mile riders.) We may even drive over to Cle Elum and camp with the 3-day riders to show our support for them. It's gonna be a long day in the saddle, but I know it will be worth it.

So Donate! Join our Team! And THANKS!

05 June 2016

Pipeline Trail Adventure

There's a ton of buzz lately about trails in Pierce County and Tacoma. Evergreen Mountain Bike has partnered with Metroparks Tacoma to expand and improve mountain bike trails at Swan Creek Park, the Puyallup Watershed Initiative is looking at how we can build a trail network to reach Mount Rainier from Tacoma, and long-time advocates are helping to find funds to finish the missing links..

One piece of the trail puzzle is the Pipeline Trail corridor, which connects East Tacoma to South Hill in Puyallup. The land is owned by Tacoma Public Utilities and Pierce County, but the water pipeline right-of-way is open to the public for non-motorized use. You can add the trail to your Pierce County Bike Map by connecting the dots of Pipeline Road. 

TWBC member and trail guru Bob Myrick offered to show me the Pipeline Trail corridor and some of the other trails that can connect Tacoma to Puyallup. We were joined by another rider, Kent, who had also never been on this route. Bob was vague on details, but suggested we bring water and fat tires. "I'll get you back to the salt water at the end." Bob leads a mean boondoggle and Kent and I were game for an adventure. (There's a rough map of our route at the bottom with points of interest.)

The Pipeline Trail starts out as barricaded doubletrack segments from E 40th Street in the McKinley Hill neighborhood and heads southeast. Kent had no idea what Bob had meant by "the gates," but we both found out very quickly. You'll have to lift your bike over many of these barricades for the first few miles, though there are a few places where you can walk around. There's lots of broken glass in places, but we managed to complete the whole day without any flats.

As you reach the more rural edge of the Tacoma city limits, there are many places where Pipeline Road doubles as access for residential properties along the right-of-way, so the road is well maintained. The scenery is stunning and it's surprising how quickly we had entered the countryside.

Part of the corridor is marked and maintained by Pierce County as Orange-gate Park. We saw a bunch of well worn trails splitting off into the woods from the main Pipeline Trail as we passed through. A local resident heading for the trails stopped to explain that they are great for mountain biking and that he rides there 3-4 times a week. I can't wait to come back and check these out!

We left the trail at Fruitland Avenue and headed north on the road towards Puyallup. (To continue on the trail you have to jog down Fruitland Ave for about 200 feet to rejoin the trail, but it continues all the way to Meridian Ave in South Hill.) We could have taken Fruitland all the way to Puyallup, but Bob showed us a trailhead into Clark's Creek Park (also referred to as De Coursey Park) and we rode singletrack trail, instead. This gravel and dirt route from Tacoma to Puyallup is all kinds of fun! 

The trail ended next the the hatchery. There's some parking next to a gate and this extremely informative sign (see map below for location.)

I figured we would be on the road for a while through Puyallup, but Bob showed us a few cut-throughs on the Meeker Creek Trail and then the Silver Creek Trail. These are just short sections of public green space, but at this point I was amazed how little of our ride had been paved.

After a stop to fill water bottles at the new Playback Sports location in downtown Puyallup, we headed for Tacoma along Levee Road. Both Levee Road and River Road are the primary thoroughfares along the Puyallup River and neither of them are friendly places to ride bikes. Rider beware.

We stuck to the river as much as we could and after some round-about navigation, we ended up at another public green space right in the middle of the Port of Tacoma. There was even a parking lot and a welcome sign! At this point I was really scratching my head and wondering, Why don't we already have a trail to Puyallup along this corridor? We crossed the Puyallup River on the Lincoln Ave bridge and continued along the dike to S 11th Street. 

Not shown to the left of the photo above is a section of encampments. The homeless population in Pierce County is on the rise and this is one of the few places where folks camp relatively out in the open, mostly because there's no signage telling them not to. We only saw a face or two, and a pile of battered bicycles likely salvaged from other camps and used for spare parts. Each little makeshift tent had a bike parked out front. Bikes truly are the vehicle of the people.

This route was a great showcase of how a trail system in Pierce County could be easily built, connecting users to the Foothills Trail and destinations closer to Mount Rainier. Such a loop like this would be used for all types of recreation as well as a Commuter Connector for residents in the rural areas between Tacoma and South Hill. It won't take much improvement of the current trail infrastructure to get more people exploring Tacoma and Pierce County on bikes. 

Note: Depending on when you read this, parts of this route may be under construction. Some of the areas along the Puyallup River are inhabited with campsites and you may need or want to find an alternate route.

02 June 2016

Slow Down Nicely

I've been cutting through Highland Hills on my last few solo rides, heading back and forth to the Narrows Bridge. I noticed that there are a few large speed bumps and many polite signs encouraging drivers to slow down.

As I stopped to take on of these photos, a homeowner came out of his garage and asked if I needed air. I ask the same sort of questions when I see folks prowling around in front of my house. 

"I like these signs. You've got quite a collection along this street." The neighbor explained that the HOA had asked the City of Tacoma to help them with speed control and they did nothing. "We get lots of speeders cutting through to miss the light at N 21st an Pearl."

So the HOA paid to put in the speed bumps, with the help of some grant funding, and put up the signs throughout the neighborhood. The Highland Hills neighborhood has plenty of pedestrian traffic between the golf course, retirement communities, families and kids playing, and the bus line. The 25mph zone could easily be a 20.

I thanked the neighbor for the chat. He was happy to share his story and happened to be heading out on a bike ride that evening, too. His family was biking to a restaurant for dinner.

Until the City of Tacoma engineers safer streets and increases traffic enforcement, neighborhoods like Highland Hills will be forced to take matters into ther own hands. And they are even doing it nicely.