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Portland’s bike-friendly cemetery

Posted by on April 18th, 2013 at 3:56 pm

River View Cemetery-5
Through this gate is a somber and spiritual place — that
also happens to be a very popular and important bike route.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

River View Cemetery, perched in lush green hills above the Willamette River just south of downtown Portland, is just like any other cemetery in America except for one major difference: it’s bike-friendly. Even though it’s owned and operated as a private business, River View’s board of directors and management have gone out of their way to accomodate people who ride through their 350 acre property on bicycles.

It’s been almost three years since River View installed bike-specific pavement markings and route signs through their property. I rode through the cemetery myself a few days ago and figured it was time to check in with David Noble, the executive director of the River View Cemetery Association.

Before sharing some thoughts from Noble, here are some photos of how the cemetery accommodates people riding bikes…

This sign greets riders at both entrances:

River View Cemetery-1

These pavement markings (which will be re-painted in a few weeks) give turn-by-turn directions through the cemetery…

River View Cemetery-4

River View Cemetery-2

And these signs make it clear where you are not allowed to ride:

River View Cemetery-3

Noble has been instrumental in working with bike advocates and his board of directors to maintain bike access even as tensions have flared over the years. For those who aren’t familiar with the area, the roads through the cemetery (which are not open to through auto traffic) provide an excellent cut-through route for bicycle traffic that is much safer and more pleasant than other options. The roads are used by many students and staffers from nearby Lewis & Clark College; but they’re also very popular for training rides and weekend warriors just out for fun.

I asked Noble to share his impressions on how things are going since the new signs and markings have gone up:

“Since stipulating a specific route through the cemetery, along with informational signs at each gate, virtually all of the problems that we had been having with bicyclists have disappeared. I was admittedly skeptical whether riders would stay with the selected route, since it’s not the shortest, nor was it the “favorite” of many riders. But I’m happy to be wrong in this case, because very close to 100% of riders follow the route religiously. That percentage drops slightly in the evenings and on weekends, but not to a point of concern.”

Noble says the biggest concern they have these days are the lycra-clad folks, the “trainers” he calls them, who “ride up and down and up and down and up and down.” These more serious riders are the ones who don’t always follow the 15 mph rule. “But fortunately,” he says, “they mostly ride on weekends.”

(Please spread the word that there’s absolutely no excuse for riding fast through River View Cemetery. It is extremely uncool on many levels.)

Noble also wants to share a huge note of caution about the Sellwood Bridge project which has brought heavy construction activity to the lower gate (on Highway 43). This means you should expect delays and use extra caution when coming down the hill to avoid large trucks and all the gravel and dirt that’s on the road. The construction will last for several more years as the bridge is built, so keep your head up and slow down. (When it’s all done, Noble says “the mechanism for bicyclists to access the bridge from the cemetery will be much enhanced,” so that’s great news.)

Do you right through River View Cemetery? What has been your experience?

Learn more about this issue in the archives.

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Comments
  • sbrock April 18, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    That’s awesome. He has very valid concerns with speed (15 mph). I have absolutely zero problems doing any intervals elsewhere. What a great example of hopefully,a win win situation for the community.

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  • longgone April 18, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    Thank you Mr. Noble. I love having access of the cemetery roads. I am one of the “trainer types” who fully adjusted my behavior when hearing we could possibly lose this route up the hill. I dont even take the shortcut in photo #4 no matter how bad my legs hurt. I hope all others do the same :)

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  • Joe April 18, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    awesome question will this put you out in Lake O? reason I ask is it might get me to Wilsonville from downtown Portland.

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    • Blair April 18, 2013 at 4:44 pm

      The cemetary is an east-west/uphill-downhill connector between Hwy 43 and near Terwilliger. One way to get there from LO is to go north through Tryon Creek State park (a path follows along Terwilliger) and then after moving through a few neighborhood streets you can get to the top/east entrance to the cemetary. The bottom of the cemetary is right near the sound end of the Willamette Greenway, which gets the rest of the way to Downtown.

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    • Jason April 18, 2013 at 4:47 pm

      It doesn’t put you directly in Lake O, but up by Lewis and Clark, which makes it just a couple quick turn before you are heading down Terwilliger into LO. I used to work in Wilsonville and live in inner SE, that hill was my wake up for 5 years….

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    • Mikey D April 21, 2013 at 9:24 pm

      Joe this was on my route to wilsonville. Loved it!

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  • Art Fuldodger April 18, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    Kudos to David Noble and the Riverview Board for being willing to keep their property open to cyclists, when in many ways I’m sure it would have been easier for them just to say “no”. I for one am entirely appreciative of it, & the long, slow, winding, peaceful, quiet, & gradual climb it affords me. I always plan my rides to go that way uphill, as this maximizes my enjoyment of the surroundings. Riverview has gained a (hopefully distant) future customer…

    They’d be a good nomination for a “Spirit of Portland” award. I think they’ve won an Alice Award already…?

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  • Drew April 18, 2013 at 4:48 pm

    Road routes to lake Oswego (43, taylors ferry) are quite risky on a bike. Being able to ride thru the cemetary has probably saved lives. And its the best part of my commute.

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  • Stephen April 18, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    Someone should get Strava to remove all the segments through the cemetery. That would discourage idiotic behavior.

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    • Rob April 18, 2013 at 5:30 pm

      We should hold the individuals accountable that choose to behave badly, not an entire class of users.

      http://app.strava.com/terms – Read their TOS. Strava isn’t responsible for rider conduct. If Strava segments were to go away tomorrow, there would still be those riders that act irresponsibly.

      As a longtime rider in the Cemetery, a huge thank you to David Noble and his board of directors for allowing us to share this enjoyable space.

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    • A.K. April 19, 2013 at 8:46 am

      Yes, because no one does anything dumb without Strava telling them to! *rolls eyes*

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    • davemess April 19, 2013 at 4:57 pm

      It’s pretty tough to go above 15mph up the cemetery, so what’s wrong with that?

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  • Paul April 18, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    I don’t ride in Riverview, but I run up it a fair deal and I’ve never had any issues with speeding cyclists. It’s a beautiful, serene place and I’ve even seen some wildlife there. Kudos to Riverview – perhaps we can all live together!

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  • Timur Ender April 18, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    Thank you for highlighting this story. SW is perhaps the most lacking quadrant of Portland. This cemetery provides an absolutely critical route for many L&C students. They should be commended. This route is an oasis in SW Portland when you consider the alternatives (Barbur, Taylors Ferry, Boone’s Ferry, Sellwood Bridge, etc.)

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  • Andrew Holtz April 18, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    Thank you to Mr. Noble and others at River View for making the effort to accommodate people who want to bike through the cemetery.

    And thank you to my fellow cyclists who respect the place as we enjoy the ride.

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  • Burk April 18, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    Thank you Mr. Noble & River View! So glad you let folks ride through this beautiful spot. As someone with family there, I can always feel them cheering me on as i climb the hill.

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  • kevin April 18, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    I just started using the cemetery to commute from NE to PCC Sylvania and love it. It’s my favorite part of an already beautiful and peaceful ride. Big thanks to the cemetery and Mr. Noble for welcoming us and for not letting the occasional bad egg give us all a bad name!!!

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  • Kevin Wagoner April 18, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    I ride it on my commute more in the summer than the winter. I road it a few times in the last couple of weeks. I love it. It is by far the most enjoyable part of my ride. I always stay on the path, I think it is awesome that they created it and let us continue to ride it. Much appreciated!

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  • Keith April 18, 2013 at 8:35 pm

    When trouble was brewing a few years ago, I was very concerned that Riverview Cemetery would (rightfully) close, leaving Taylors Ferry or an out of direction route as the only alternatives. Particularly after crossing the uncomfortable and noisy Sellwood Bridge, getting to climb in the cemetary is peaceful and beautiful. It’s one of the best routes in the city – or anywhere for that matter. Just demonstrates how great things can happen when everyone works together.

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  • Lenny Anderson April 18, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    Wouldn’t it be great if the Union Pacific RR applied this approach to the Ash Grove Cement Road to Swan Island? So much better than “No, No, and No!”

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    • Chris I April 19, 2013 at 9:32 am

      Uncle Pete is notoriously surly with regards to anything he views as an encroachment on his private property. Considering that our government nearly destroyed the railroad companies just a few decades ago, this attitude is somewhat warranted.

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      • longgone April 19, 2013 at 11:10 am

        Chris- Pardon my ignorance, but who is Uncle Pete?

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        • eddie April 23, 2013 at 5:50 am

          Union Pacific. Also called Uncle Paul. Old Hobo term.

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  • Zaphod April 19, 2013 at 9:15 am

    Thank you Mr. Noble

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • pixie April 19, 2013 at 9:32 am

    Coyote, deer, and bald eagles have graced my ride while commuting through the cemetery for the past twenty years. The hill is always a challenge, the views are wonderful while climbing and descending, and the whole experience makes me appreciate being alive.

    Thank you to David Noble and the Board for being so accommodating to those of just passing through for now.

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  • Jonathan Gordon April 19, 2013 at 9:50 am

    Suggestion for the repainting: I rode through the cemetery last Fall and missed a turn because the markings were covered in leaves. So whatever can be done to make them more visible, possibly shifting them closer to the center of the road, might help. Thanks!

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  • varner April 19, 2013 at 10:27 am

    I use this as a regular route, but like many others I only ride it uphill.

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  • GlowBoy April 19, 2013 at 11:16 am

    I ride through the cemetery at least once every few weeks (downhill on the way home from work) and I’m very grateful for the ability to do so, since there are so few safe routes in that part of town. I’m really thankful that the management went to such lengths to work with the cycling community and come up with a successful solution.

    By the way, not only is Riverview bike-friendly, but it’s a great cemetery, period. Besides the caring staff and beautiful grounds, it’s a nonprofit. Now a plot owner myself, I was surprised to find the price for a small plot to be VERY reasonable.

    Riverview is also incredibly rich in Portland history. It was founded by Henry Corbett, Henry Failing and William Ladd, and the list of prominent Portlanders buried there just goes on and on: George Abernethy, Abigail Duniway, Henry Pittock, John Couch, Lola Baldwin (the country’s first female police officer), Simon Benson … take some time to walk around the grounds and you’ll see many names kept familiar by streets and landmarks around town.

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    • eddie April 23, 2013 at 5:49 am

      don’t forget henry weinhart!

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  • Velowocky April 19, 2013 at 11:36 am

    Grateful for the access, it’s a great route. Still think that putting a rail trail along 43 should be the highest priority for Portland bike transit.

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  • Adam April 19, 2013 at 11:43 am

    I love Riverview Cemetery! It is a really crucial biking link. Although, I don’t know what I would do if my commute was really, really early or late in the day – don’t they close the gates after hours?

    My main beef with it, isn’t the cemetery per se, but more, how to *get* to the cemetery from the Sellwood Bridge area. It is the scariest area I have ever biked in, trying to get across Macadam. There really needs to be a better, safer link between the cemetery and the bridge for cyclists and pedestrians.

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    • A.K. April 19, 2013 at 3:59 pm

      You go to the right and under the bridge to get to the cemetery, correct?

      I don’t ride it often, but after I across the Sellwood bridge I can a sharp right and go under the bridge, and am immediately presented with a light-controlled intersection where I can wait to access the cemetery. No scary crossing required.

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    • davemess April 19, 2013 at 4:59 pm

      That’s what all the construction is going to lead to, we just have to be patient for a few years. It will be awesome!

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  • mork April 19, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    I am not a ‘trainer’, but I rode (both directions) fairly frequently while in grad school at L&C and I was actually quite relieved once the designated route was established – I was always anguishing over which route had the least agonizing elevation/duration combination, sometimes opting for really stupid routes through the cemetery. Once the designated route went in, no more anguishing. Thanks, Mr. Noble.

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  • Sharon Fekety April 19, 2013 at 7:27 pm

    I love riding up through the cemetery. There is hardly any car traffic and it is a great work out. Thanks, Mr. Noble, for marking it for cyclists. I always used to get lost before. Hopefully, cyclists will continue to obey the rules because there really isn’t any good alternative.

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  • Mike Gilliland April 21, 2013 at 11:43 am

    I am a direct neighbor to the cemetery across the upper entrance on Taylor’s Ferry, so hills and traffic are part of my daily fitness cycling regimen and I applaud Mr. Noble and the board for addressing and their voluntary participation in the bike culture. I see very few rules broken by cyclists and the result provides a safer alternative to the hilly geography of the area, with respectful public usage of a private facility. Public access to the cemetery also provides a deep historic reference to the founding family monuments throughout the cemetery, which slows your passage to recognize these names and Riverview’s role in the fabric of Portland.

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  • jared April 22, 2013 at 4:48 pm

    I ride through everyday on my way to work. It’s a crucial element of my commute and I would be much less happy (and possibly forgo biking) if it weren’t for this. Nice article.

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  • eddie April 23, 2013 at 5:45 am

    I’ve been riding through the cemetery ever since my first day at Lewis and Clark College in 1992.

    Were it not for a route through the cemetery Sellwood would be virtually inaccessible and many of us would quite frankly ignore the rules and “bomb” down to the river anyway, am i wrong?? Taylor’s Ferry is a deathtrap: aside from going all the way to LO on Boones Ferry or the streets behind the college there’s really no other way down to Macadam.

    I’m glad someone brought up the “trainers”. I’ve definitely been hollered at by people who use the cemetery as their training area and take their hobby way too seriously – Gods forbid someone chooses to bike slowly or maybe even get off and walk their bike on a nice day once in a while…

    It ain’t no racetrack people, it’s a cemetery. Chill out. Thanks.

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  • Nat April 23, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    Kudos to the construction workers both around the bridge and now in the cemetery entrance for being so accommodating to bikes.

    They’ve been really good about noticing approaching cyclists and waiting a few seconds to wave us through before coming out onto the street with heavy equipment or whatever. Also, the ride across the bridge has only improved since the work has started. I’m sure the flagger at the west approach must be getting tired of so many happy “good mornings” every day.

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  • Susan Rosenthal April 23, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    Kudos to Mr. Noble and Riverview Cemetery.

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  • Jessica Roberts April 25, 2013 at 9:58 am

    When I started biking in Portland in 1997, I lived in Sellwood and went to Lewis and Clark. The Sellwood Bridge alone nearly scared me too much to continue, but what if I had been forced to take Taylor’s Ferry to boot? I would have thrown in the towel. Luckily, the beautiful, quiet, slightly meandering route through the cemetery saved the day for me. I am sure that any other cemetery would simply have closed their gates when tensions flared up. I’m so grateful for David Noble and the board for their willingness to work with cyclists to keep the route open.

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  • Dan July 13, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    Can you bike thru the cemetery earlier in the morning than 8am? Are the gates open earlier than that?

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  • pixie July 14, 2013 at 9:54 am

    Yes, there is a bike/ped-only gate open earlier and later, and you’ll see quite a bit of bike traffic between 6 and 8 in the morning.

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