Bike messengers comment on bus mall plans

No one knows our downtown streets better than bike messengers. So you think they’d have a loud voice in any plans to drastically alter that landscape. After all, they’re are a group of road users whose lives (and livelihood) depend on safe and accessible streets because they sometimes have just a few minutes to deliver a package from one end of town to another.  The impending construction of a new bus mall in the heart of downtown will have a huge effect on their daily lives.

Yet despite this, their voice and input has been completely absent from the public planning process.

I think messengers have a unique and important perspective to share so I asked a few of them for their thoughts on this situation:

“The timing seems very bad. Naito is torn up and all that traffic is being diverted to 2nd. From about 3PM on 2nd Ave from Market to Burnside is a parking lot. The Burnside Bridge is trashed for the foreseeable future. This makes Burnside proper and all its feeder streets within a couple of blocks pretty hairy also. Our reputation not withstanding bike messengers actually prefer moving predictable traffic. If 5th and 6th are off limits for all traffic and diverted to the already congested east side of downtown it will be havoc. The buses will be throwing their weight around to make their stops. The cars with no other street detour options will be dodging the buses. Then the bike messengers with even less options will be dodging everyone. Messengers will put up with a lot, but the bike commuters might just give up. Or worse just get really really mad and end up on the cover of the paper again. Which is also bad for the messengers. However commuters behaving badly and the professionals being punished is a different topic. Move the buses to the west side or better yet wait till next summer. We can’t work around this one very well. The courthouses and bridges are still going to be in the middle of the mess. The clients and dispatchers are still going to want their packages moving at inhuman (inhumane?) speeds.”

This messenger wishes TriMet reached out to them more, but also calls out fellow messengers to get more involved:

“as messengers i think that we have to be and are highly adaptable to any street changes…It would be nice if trimet had some person to get feedback from the messenger community as we all use the same streets whether it legal or not…it seems to me that a lot of delivery personnel just sit back and let the city do whatever it wants and then whine about it instead of doing something to impact it for the better. it is a lot of meetings and bureaucratic work but i think it might pay off in the end and also pave the way for the messenger industry to be seen as a viable solution to the city traffic problem.

I was a little dissapointed to not see any cyclists in the video clip. also from a logistics point of view, i think all the tracks on the street in the rain might be tricky but that is where the adaptibilty comes in. from trimets perspective, the use of the bus mall by cyclists is a huge liability and i don’t think having a train will make it any better but we are there and we have to use it no matter what. i don’t think they should legislate morality but i do think they should acknowledge our use of the street. until then, a coworker of mine was talking about making bike stickers that say “i share the sidewalk” to offset the “i share the road” contingent.”

I realize TriMet has given opportunities for public input, but unfortunately it’s not in most messenger’s DNA to get involved with advocacy…even if it could make their job easier or even someday save their life. I hope this changes sooner rather than later.

For any messengers reading this post, I strongly urge you to attend the TriMet Open House this Wednesday. If you want to learn all the info and brush up on any details, here’s everything you need to know.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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18 years ago

I don’t know to what extent the messenger community feels represented by BTA, but the latter were well-involved with the planning process. Membership participated as part of the Citizen’s Advisory Committee, which nearly unanimously signed off on the project (all but one member approved). At the Mayor’s Steering Cmte meeting a couple weeks ago, red bike pins were on the lapels of more than one participant and observer.

In response to a commenter–the construction doesn’t start until 2007, and it will be phased in. The first year will be mostly utility work on the lines underground; it’s not clear that the whole mall will be closed entirely (although buses will be off it for sure fairly early on, I think). So Burnside should be OK by then; I think Naito will have switched to the southbound traffic at that point.

18 years ago

Honestly, and to be blunt, I know that in some way the BTA represents us all. As bicyclists…
But…. and this is a huge but…… I have never felt represented as a messenger, by the BTA. Never.
And of course the BTA represented well during the planning.
But, as Jonathan pointed out, we were certainly not. I believe it was pointed out to me that no consideration what so ever was given, or has been given for years, by the city or tri met, into disrupting not our way of life as some may think, but our way of making a living.

The bus mall is a crutial part of downtown that we can neither legally use, nor afford to stop using, in order to do our jobs. That is what I beleive Joseph Heller calls a Catch 22.
This also means, in my opinion, that the ticket I risk getting, in order to do my job, could easily be doubled, for most of downtown will be a construction zone. And buses will have the full right of way on the only major arterials that will be left through downtown.
I really feel that the BTA, or anyone, signing off on this deal was a mistake.Especially scary is the word unanimously…. By saying this, I mean that for any cycling organization, that is looking out for cyclists alone, signing off on anything less than full bicycle access all the way across downtown, on every road, need to take a second look. Heck even a third.
‘Cause I can bet Tri Met has a bettter hand than us.
Hell, I bet they have a The bullet (ace of spades) up their sleeve.
I know that during construction, things will be screwed, and roads will be closed. I am not going to be able to stop TRI MET and the great white horse they rode in on from doing that.
But, the end result had better have a bike lane all the way down it, is what I am saying.
Platinum status is what I hear. Platinum status with roads bicycles are not allowed on, so that motorized vehicles can use them exclusively?
I think not.
Why do we want TRI MET running our downtown like this? Why are we subsidizing this?
I admit, that the new TRI MET line has done a lot for Interstate avenue, in the form of making it fairly impossible for anyone to drive there anymore. Hence less cars. Oh, and less trains too, so we are smashed like sardines into the north end trains… Good luck fitting your bike on half the time….

We already have tracks running down the east side of the river. Why not a east side line, that would obviously be able to hook up with the rose quarter transit center.Then run it on down south, then east.

I believe that this might put us, as messengers, into the position of “Taxation Without Representation”, and we all know what happened in Boston…

18 years ago

Personally, I think the trains should run underground through the downtown area, like they do in most other major metropolitan areas worldwide. There just isn’t enough room on the downtown streets for all the vehicles the City, TriMet and the Portland Business Alliance would like to cram onto them. The track flanges will also be a major hazard for cyclists, and I predict a dramatic rise in crashes and injuries resulting from cyclists getting their wheels caught in the track flanges if this project is built as proposed.