16 November 2016

TWBC Legacy

About a year ago, I was talking with a neighbor and amateur historian about what I knew of Tacoma's bicycle history.  Specifically, I referenced the "World's Longest Highest and Only Exclusive Bicycle Bridge in the World" that was built by the Tacoma Wheelmen in the 1890's. To my surprise, he not only knew of the bridge, but owned an original copy of Scientific American from May 8, 1897, that highlighted this very bridge. Here is a scan of the cover and the article.

Here's a partial transcription:
     "Many people from the East visit Tacoma every summer. A good proportion of them are wheelmen, and they were surprised to learn in the early part of 1896 that the Wheelmen's Association had decided upon the bridging of the gulch in the southern part of the city which leads to the good roads beyond. The nature of the riding district makes the bridging of the gulch of more importance than the casual visitor may imaging. The opening of the elevated cycle path, which had been built the preceding year, was the means of lengthening the cycle path, so that the riders have now four miles of excellent cycle path from the bridge direct to prairie roads. Since the completion of the bridge, which is the largest cycle bridge in the world, the wheelmen cannot understand how they managed to get to the prairie roads by the inconvenient old route. Many of the citizens were opposed to the building of a cycle path. There was an argument as to how the bicycle license money should be expended, and it was finally decided to construct the bridge. Some few hundreds of the wheelmen objected to the license being enforced, but they soon saw the benefits derived from the levy, and to-day there is not one of the 2,500 wheelmen who objects to the payment of the $1 per annum license.
     The length of the bridge at the roadway is 330 feet, the height 110 feet, the width at the top 12 feet, the width at the bottom 50 feet. The trestle is built of 8 X 8 timbers thoroughly braced, the bents being 20 inches apart. The total cost of the bridge and approach was $984.50.
     The management of the local road improvements at Tacoma is admirably divided between the Wheelmen's Association and L.A.W. The former attend to all improvements within the city limits and the L.A.W. officials take care of the outside work. The road committee is now at work with new propositions for the convenience and accommodation of the riders, and, as a result of their labors, there will be several small bridges built in Tacoma. Those constructed under the supervision of the L.A.W. will bear neatly painted signs. The wheelmen of the district desire to demonstrate their banding together for concerted action. The bridge is a fine example of what good results a little money judiciously expended could produce. It should be an incentive to those interested in good roads to prosecute the work."
The original bridge is long gone. I believe it was replaced by the Delin Street bridge, a larger structure for car traffic, which was very recently renovated to include bike lanes. 

The Tacoma Wheelmen continued to operate as an active club for decades, had some off years, but was resurrected in 1974. Up until yesterday, they were known as TWBC, Tacoma Wheelmen's Bicycle Club. 

Last night a vote of the board and general membership approved a change to the club's name to Tacoma Washington Bicycle Club, removing the gender-specific language and keeping the longstanding acronym under which they have successfully advocated for decades. They currently operate as a 501c7 non-profit and I'm personally grateful that they have sponsored Kidical Mass Tacoma for the last four years.

As a member, I appreciate the more inclusive name. As cyclists we share the terrain of Tacoma with members past, present and future. Focusing on place in the club name is an excellent way for us to carry on the legacy of local riders. 

More local trail history on the TWBC website here

08 November 2016

Phase 4 of Water Flume Line Trail Completed

Flume Line Trail meets Prairie Line Trail here at South Tacoma Way and C Street.
The Water Flume Line Trail is a connected network of multi-use paths, bike lanes and sidewalks that connects South Tacoma to Downtown Tacoma in the South Tacoma Way corridor. The newest section to be completed is Phase 4, along S. Tacoma Way from C Street to M Street. This section is in the form of a wide multi-use elevated sidewalk. My son and I rode this section of trail for the first time today (Election Day!)

Here is a visual tour of the Phase 4 section which is now open for use. There's more information about Phase 3 and 4 on the City of Tacoma's website.

Looking uphill from C Street

Barrier separates bikes/pedestrians from car traffic

Looking back downhill. Plenty of room for all users.

Landscaping is going in today. 

Near M Street. Lots of space for users to navigate around each other.

Bike Route Ends (for now), but Phase 3 will continue this path from M Street to Pine Street.

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.