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More on Waterfront Park biking issue

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on January 18th, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Spring on Portland's waterfront-101
The path in Waterfront Park.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Early last Friday morning, a man was kicked out of Waterfront Park for 30 days by a Portland Police officer because he was riding in the park at 4:30 am (the park is closed from midnight to 5 a.m.). The incident has sparked an interesting debate about how the Portland Parks Bureau deals with park facilities that have paths used as transportation corridors within their boundaries.

Unlike other popular multi-use paths that are inside Parks-managed properties (like the Eastbank Esplanade and the Springwater Corridor), the path that runs through Waterfront Park is not technically considered a transportation corridor. The official reason is because it was not funded with federal transportation dollars (the two examples above were funded through the FHWA's Transportation Enhancement grant program).

On Friday, I had a conversation with Portland Parks Public Information Officer Beth Sorensen (unfortunately, Parks' Public Safety Manager Mark Warrington, is on vacation). Sorensen confirmed for me that because the path was not a designated transportation corridor, the park closure hours, 12:01 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. apply to people using the path.

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"The federal government, it seems, has higher standards for multi-use trails than Portland does."
-- From a blog post by the BTA

However, even though the park is closed, Sorensen added that people biking through the park would not be cited for trespassing unless there was an "incident" (which I take to mean some sort of interaction/altercation between two people -- especially if one of them happens to be a police officer). She also noted that "viable alternatives" exist on SW Naito Parkway (which has bike lanes and sidewalks).

According to Sorensen, the issue comes down to a lack of enforcement capacity. To help me understand, she offered an analogy: "We don't have the capacity to enforce the off-leash dog rules. It's only when it becomes an incident -- like when a dog is aggressive or they mow down children -- that we can enforce that."

I pointed out to Sorensen that the idea of maintaining transportation access through a park at all hours was perhaps a bit more important than playing catch with Fido, and as such, the issue might deserve a more formal policy change.

Blue: bike lanes on SW Naito
Red: connection from Naito to Steel Bridge deck
Purple: Waterfront Park path

Adding urgency to the Waterfront Park situation is that, even with bike lanes on Naito Parkway, the lower deck of the Steel Bridge (which is a federally-funded transportation corridor) is technically closed off for five hours a day because it can only be accessed via the Waterfont Park path. Sorensen said she'd take that feedback "under advisement" and she seemed open to further discussions (that might include granting an easement from Naito to the Steel Bridge deck -- see graphic at right).

The case of the man being formally excluded from Waterfront Park is unfortunate, but the larger issue here is how the Parks Bureau deals with biking and walking traffic through their facilities.

Carl Larson of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (he's recently began to represent them on advocacy issues in addition to his role as a kid's Bike Safety Educator) weighed in on this issue Friday night. Larson had strong words for Portland Parks that could foreshadow more formal discussions -- and perhaps a policy change -- in the future.

Here's an excerpt (emphasis mine):

"The BTA feels strongly that safe, direct, and popular transportation routes through our cities should remain open and legal to pass through at all times. Waterfront Park, just like the Eastbank Esplanade, the Springwater Corridor, and 82nd Avenue, is an important transportation corridor. Unfortunately, unlike the latter three, Waterfront Park is not required to remain open because it was not built with federal transportation dollars. The federal government, it seems, has higher standards for multi-use trails than Portland does."

The BTA urges the Parks Bureau to officially recognize that paths "like those through Waterfront Park, Laurelhurst Park, Gabriel Park, and Irving Park... aren't just for daytime strolling" (it's worth noting that this issue was already on the radar of former BTA executive director Scott Bricker).

Given that City Parks Commissioner Nick Fish understands bicycle transportation and has proven to be open and sensitive to the topic, I wouldn't be surprised if we see some movement on this issue. Stay tuned.

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  • Jonathan Maus January 18, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    New blog post:: More on Waterfront Park biking prohibition http://bikeportland.org/2010/01/18/more-on-waterfront-park-biking-prohibition/

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  • John Lascurettes January 18, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    Misquote?

    “We don’t have the capacity to enforce the off-leash dog rules. It’s only when it becomes an incident — like when a dog is aggressive or they known down children — that we can enforce that.”

    I can't tell exactly what that's supposed to say, but I'm assuming that "known" is not the right word there.

    -- thanks for catching that John. Was supposed to say "mow down". fixed it -- Jonathan

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  • Cycle Blogs January 18, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    Bike Portland: More on Waterfront Park biking prohibition:
    The path in Waterfront Park.(Photo © J. Maus)

    Early l... http://bit.ly/8dDsGj

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  • Good Causes Portland January 18, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    RT @BikePortland: New blog post:: More on Waterfront Park biking prohibition http://bikeportland.org/2010/01/18/more-on-waterfront-park- ...

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  • Vance Longwell January 18, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    Can the South Park Blocks get a little love too? Not only are the rules and regs for that place hard to find, it's rife with selective-enforcement as well. Add to this, PSU seems convinced that's their property to do with as they choose, and I'm convinced they've got a bullet-proof, "We just don't like the looka you", provision for themselves.

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  • Vance Longwell January 18, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    RT @BikePortland: New blog post:: More on Waterfront Park biking prohibition http://bikeportland.org/2010/01/18/more-on-waterfront-park- ...

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  • Jim F January 18, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    Why is this even an issue? Were it not for the crying of a self-rightous guy harassing a cop who was just doing his job, it would not be one. The city has a reasonable justification for closing the park - it lacks the resources to protect you. I can just see the outcry if a cyclist was asaulted in the park at 2am. The park is dangerous late at night - you'd have to be nuts to ride through it after 8 or 9pm anyway. Take another safer route.

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  • RyNO Dan January 18, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    I just do not understand why this and the other article equate federal funding with 24-hour access.
    Fed funding does not always mean there is 24-hour access.
    And local funding does not always mean there is not 24-hour access.
    You are propagating a myth unnecessarily.
    And thus the "higher standards" quote is sorta lame.

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  • Paul January 18, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    Dangerous after 8 or 9? Hmm, I think that only happens in the movies.

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  • organic brian January 18, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    Jim F, what is another "safe route"? The oft-suggested Naito Pkwy? A drunken-driving corridor where a motorist could plow over a cyclist in the bike lane if they drift for just a second to the right while dialing on their cell phone?

    What is self-righteous about someone wanting to look out for their fellow person in a city where abuse of authority and harrassment by officers is commonplace? Is this your catch-all phrase for anyone who tries to enact change or prevent wrongdoings? Why would you object to someone quizzing officers and taking pictures?

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor-in-Chief) January 18, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    Jim F,

    This is an issue because the Parks Bureau manages a lot of properties in the city that also have (or could have) a transportation corridor running right through them. Therefore, it seems like there should be more of formal policy guidance on how to deal with those situations.

    This is also an issue because the City of Portland promotes official bikeways through parks that we are know being told close during certain hours. Official transportation routes should never close, even if it's just a policy loophole like this seems to be.

    RyNO Dan,

    The reason you are confused is because it's an imperfect situation. I am not "propagating a myth". The fact is that Parks agencies (both ours and The City of Gresham) have used federal funding as a crutch to help them justify policy regarding trails in the past.

    I think that's a mistake.

    Agencies should come up with their own clear policies for this situation so we don't run into more confusion down the road.

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  • Michael42 January 18, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    As Mr. Maus states.

    And a parallel situation I forgot to go directly to last post:

    http://www.nuvo.net/news/article/monon-tickets-forgiven

    (from http://www.theindycog.com/2009/11/more-in-depth-look-at-monon-after-dark.html)

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  • Matt Fitzpatrick January 18, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    BikePortland.org » Blog Archive » More on Waterfront Park biking prohibition http://ow.ly/XXUt

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  • Fixed Dallas January 18, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    Bike Portland: More on Waterfront Park biking prohibition: http://bit.ly/8dDsGj

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  • suburban January 18, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    http://www.portlandonline.com/shared/cfm/image.cfm?id=143776

    I ride this water front park at night once a week, and never had any issues. I-5 seems too dangerous for bicycles, although it does provide a more direct route north/south.

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  • rwl1776 January 18, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    how about allowing night time access to Leif Erickson in Forest Park? I think that would qualify as a transportation corridor. Try to find a way around that park at night, on a bike.

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  • #pdxbikes January 18, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    RT @fixeddallas: Bike Portland: More on Waterfront Park biking prohibition: http://bit.ly/8dDsGj #pdxbikes

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  • Anonymous January 18, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    Was he kicked out for riding his bike or for trespassing?

    Is biking prohibited in Waterfront Park, or is trespassing?

    As I understand it, the homeless were being moved for trespassing, not riding their bikes.

    I have altered the headline and regret any confusion it may have caused -- Jonathan

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  • Toby January 18, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    The question of access from Naito to the lower deck bike/ped crossing of the Steel Bridge is an interesting one. Though it's a little disappointing that it wasn't hashed out during the planning stages of the Esplanade project. What's the use of a path that doesn't officially go anywhere at night? Unless of course the lack of enforcement that allows most of us to ride through there is semi-official...

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  • wsbob January 18, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    "As I understand it, the homeless were being moved for trespassing, not riding their bikes."

    According to the bikeportland story, the homeless people were cited for trespassing, and so was Cleinman. Neither were cited for trespassing related to using the sidewalk through Waterfront Park as a transportation corridor.

    So, if the Parks department decides to grant an easement designating the sidewalk as a transportation corridor, and someone thereafter decides to wander off of it after park closing hours to question cops about what they're doing with homeless people camping out under the bridge, that person will likely still be trespassing.

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  • Paul Johnson January 18, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    There needs to be some signage at the rotary shown there. I tend to treat that as a roundabout, going around the median on the right to make the left onto the bridge going eastbound.

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  • Matt Picio January 18, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Jonathan wrote: "not technically considered a transportation corridor"

    Well, not considered such by Parks. I'm curious as to what PBOT thinks. It's considered to be part of the Willamette Greenway loop, and it's obviously used for transportation purposes. Until the bike lanes were put on Naito, it was the only N-S route in the area, and it's still the preferred route. It could easy be argued in court that it *is* a transportation corridor by virtue of prior use. Parks & Rec might not want to hear that, but that doesn't change the facts.

    Jim F (#3) said "The park is dangerous late at night" - um, really? Can you cite any record of assaults / etc? According to this map:

    http://tinyurl.com/yb9yhjk

    There are much fewer crimes in the park than in the downtown core in general - you're actually SAFER in the park. Criminals go where their targets are, and they like to be able to take people unaware. The park has a lot of open space and is reasonably well-lit - it's easy to avoid strangers.

    I can understand why some people feel unsafe in the park, but the statistics don't back that feeling up.

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  • Semoria January 18, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    More on Waterfront Park biking issue http://bit.ly/69KREg

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  • Keith January 18, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    We have similar laws here where our city parks are closed from 11pm until 5am but people riding or walking through what is an extensive park system have never gotten busted unless they stop. Even then, parks officers will just ask that you keep riding / walking through.

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  • Steven J January 18, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    I ride through 2:30-5am nearly daily.
    what I wanna know is how the Saturday market vendors can clog up the park at 2-5am on Thurs-Sunday following the same guidelines.
    They don't need a trespassing ord. they need a camping Ord to enforce

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  • Mike January 19, 2010 at 12:59 am

    I've also ridden through the park between 12-2am on many nights and haven't had any problems from anyone. I feel completely safe. It's sad that the only reason he got a ticket was because he cared. I don't think any of us riding through the park need to worry about getting a ticket if we're just riding through. BUT it would be great if we weren't technically trespassing every time we did it!

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  • jim January 19, 2010 at 1:25 am

    perhaps a toll for bikes. then they can pay for security

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  • Donna January 19, 2010 at 11:08 pm

    As long as I can take an income tax deduction on it, jim.

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  • Mike January 20, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    It doesn't need more security.

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  • Duncan January 22, 2010 at 6:55 am

    It isnt the governments responsibility to keep me safe... although it is great when the police show up when the shit hits the fan (as much as cops may irritate me from time to time, I have also been in the situation when I was quite relived when they arrived.).. that being said if the idea of the park closure is "for my own safety" then they can just let me take my chances- I know that the police are not everywhere at all times, and take safety into consideration whenever I leave the house...

    Besides in the summer when it is 90 at 3 am, going down to the waterfront when I cant sleep is one of my favorite Portland things to do.

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  • naess January 22, 2010 at 9:58 am

    duncan #30 "if the idea of the park closure is "for my own safety" then they can just let me take my chances"

    unfortunately, in the sue-happy society that we seem to live in, that's probably not a real option for the city.

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