Crews remove bike racks from new transit mall

Portland Mall crews remove a bike
rack on NW 5th Ave. last Friday.
(Photo: Michael O’Leary)

Staffers at the Bicycle Transportation Alliance offices on NW 5th Avenue were surprised when they noticed work crews removing the bike racks outside their offices on Friday morning of last week.

When I rode by later that evening, all that was left of three staple racks were holes in the bricks (see photo below). With a lack of bike parking capacity already an issue on the new Portland Mall, why would existing racks be removed?

The answer has to do with design standards — the same standards that I reported on back in January.

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According to Roger Geller in the City of Portland’s Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), the racks were removed because the blue staple racks don’t meet the strict design standards that were adopted years ago when the project was first started. Now, work crews need to replace the bricks the racks are bolted to, so the racks had to go.

No more bike racks in front of the BTA headquarters in downtown Portland.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Both Geller and Bob Hastings, the TriMet architect working on the Portland Mall project, told me that the standard blue staple racks were placed on the mall early on in the project to meet demand but were only installed on temporary basis.

“We were hoping to get [federal] stimulus dollars to replace them and to fill in gaps where we need more, but that didn’t come through. So basically, we’re scrambling around trying to find money.”
— Roger Geller, PBOT

“We were hoping,” Geller told me on Friday, “to get stimulus dollars to replace them and to fill in gaps where we need more, but that didn’t come through. So basically, we’re scrambling around trying to find money.” (Geller was referring to a $200,000 request made by PBOT for federal stimulus funds that was not granted.)

Finding that money has been made even more challenging because the racks that meet the new design standards cost well over $400 each — compared to the $80 for the standard blue ones.

I asked TriMet’s Hastings if there were immediate plans to replace the racks that were removed on Friday. He said, “Yes,” but added that the ball is now in PBOT’s court to find the money and install them (which so far, they haven’t been able to do). TriMet, Hastings said, has already installed all the staple racks required of them by federal regulations.

These are the only type of
racks allowed on the downtown
transit mall.
(Photo © J. Maus)

However, federal regulations don’t require nearly as many racks as are needed, so a lack of capacity remains an issue. That lack of bike parking, combined with the prohibitively high cost to add more, has put PBOT in a challenging position.

When I presented this conundrum to Hastings, he blamed “the perfect storm of bad economic news” that has “thrown a money wrench into things”. “Obviously,” he said, “there is a budget challenge that hit everybody between the eyes.”

Hastings also feels like there are still funding avenues PBOT has not explored. “I don’t know that they’ve exhausted all the other funding alternatives.” But according to PBOT’s bike coordinator Roger Geller, “There’s no source [of funding] that has been identified.”

How does the BTA feel now that the bike racks in front of their downtown headquarters have been removed and will not be replaced in the foreseeable future?

Staffer Michelle Poyourow told me today that, “I appreciate the desire to have a really good looking transit mall,” and then added, “but if we’re at the point where we’re discouraging biking to Mall destinations in favor of the “look” of the Mall, we don’t support that.”

Poyourow said that the BTA hopes the city can get the supply and quality of bike parking on the mall back up to pre-construction levels, “even if it means messing up the color scheme with blue racks.”

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