Weekender Ride

TriMet decides against ‘sonic bike path’ idea on new light rail bridge

Posted by on October 6th, 2011 at 10:16 am

Image from a TriMet presentation of
the idea back in February.

Remember TriMet’s idea to turn the bikeway on their forthcoming Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Bridge into a sonic piece of public art?

While TriMet says their public art advisory committee was “intrigued” by the concept, they weren’t ready to pull the trigger due to its price tag of over $200,000.

The idea, which was presented to the City of Portland’s Bicycle Advisory Committee back in February, was to add grooves in the pavement that, when rolled over with bicycle tires, would create a tune. While the “budget reality” wasn’t music to their ears, the committee also cited “unresolved technical issues and potential safety risks” as factors in their decision.

Read a letter sent this morning to the BAC from TriMet Public Art Manager Mary Priester below:

October 6, 2011

Dear Bicycle Advisory Committee:

I am sorry to inform you that the PMLR Art Advisory Committee voted at their last meeting not to procede with the Sonic Bike Path. They made their decision based primarily on recently received estimates for the project, which totaled over $200,000. The cost for the fabrication and installation of the mock-up alone came in at $30,000.

This project was originally conceived as an infrastructure project and was not included as a line item in the art budget. The committee was legitimately intrigued, but once presented with the budget reality, did not consider it a priority for their limited funds. Unresolved technical issues and potential safety risks were additional factors in the committee’s decision not to proceed with the proposal.

Staff and committee appreciated the opportunity to present the Sonic Bike Path to the BAC and were gratified by your support. If you have any questions regarding the decision, I would be happy to answer them by attending a meeting or answering emails.

With regards,

Mary Priester

TriMet Public Art Manager

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  • Paul Cone October 6, 2011 at 10:21 am

    Well, that’s a bummer. What are they going to spend their art money on instead?

    Also does anyone know how much they’ve spent on art on the MAX stations? Some of those are at least 5 figures, I’d bet.

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    • Paul Johnson October 6, 2011 at 10:59 am

      Hopefully making the structure itself less unattractive. Portland’s civic architecture is just godawful, especially compared to the elaborate art deco bridges popping up in the midwest these days.

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      • q`Tzal October 6, 2011 at 11:19 am

        One person’s pile of excrement is another’s High Art(tm).
        It is easier to appreciate art, or at least tolerate it, if you consider it one of those subject like religion or politics: something you will not sway the opposing party on and not to be brought up in polite conversation.

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      • A.K. October 6, 2011 at 12:35 pm

        The renders on the Trimet site make the bridge look pretty nice. At least it’ll be better than the Ross Island or Sellwood.

        Speaking of Art Deco, I was quite suprised near the end of the the construction of the new MLK/99 Viaduct that they put those “art-deco-ish” spires on the bridge. I though those added a nice touch, and I got a pretty sweet photo of them last weekend when I went under them on a ride.

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  • gregg woodlawn October 6, 2011 at 10:26 am

    Public art costs money. Every great city is filled with public art. Art inspires people.

    We’ve spent how much PLANNING the highway expansion project CRC so far? 200 million?

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  • Michael, Portland Afoot
    Michael, Portland Afoot October 6, 2011 at 10:29 am

    Paul, it’s been a lot: 1.5 percent of TriMet’s civil construction budget on the Red, Yellow and Green MAX. Also WES and the new transit mall. That’s just civil construction, so it doesn’t include costs like planning, land purchase, etc.

    The policy to spend on art essentially flows from the Federal Transit Administration, which recommends an art allocation for projects it funds through federal grants.


    I agree, major bummer. Personally I loved this idea.

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    • Michael, Portland Afoot
      Michael, Portland Afoot October 6, 2011 at 10:42 am

      To clarify, I should have put this: “recommends that projects funded by federal grants allocate money to related public art.”

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  • Scott Mizée October 6, 2011 at 10:29 am

    too bad, but I understand the budget realities of such projects. I hope we can find another location in our community to fund and build this type of facility.

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  • NW Biker October 6, 2011 at 10:42 am

    I enjoy public art, but I’d rather see that $200K spent on buffered bike lanes or something else that improves cycling around town. I mean, sure, I’d have ridden over it for fun, but in times of short funds, I’d prefer practicality.

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  • pdx2wheeler October 6, 2011 at 10:51 am

    Rumor has it… if you were to ride on this sonic path in the opposite direction you’d hear satanic messages!

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    • A.K. October 6, 2011 at 10:56 am

      A+1 for you sir (or ma’am)!

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  • Chris I October 6, 2011 at 10:55 am

    Here’s an idea: How about a good chunk of the art budget goes towards creative and interesting bike racks at the stations? It would be like getting additional bike racks for free, as the art funding has to be spent on something.

    I like art, but I love functional art.

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    • Paul Johnson October 6, 2011 at 11:01 am

      Bike parking doesn’t need to be artistic, it needs to be functional. Artistic rack designs are rarely, if ever, functional. Worst well known offender: Powell’s Books “bookcase” rack.

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      • Paul Cone October 6, 2011 at 11:04 am

        Sorry, not true. Have you taken a look at the racks installed on Clinton this past spring? Or how about these?


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        • Paul Johnson October 6, 2011 at 1:13 pm

          Out of those, only 1, 3, 4, and possibly 7 look obviously parkable with a U lock that isn’t a mile long. The rest fall somewhere between a PITA and impossible, and/or enocurage parking too close/double parking.

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          • Chris I October 6, 2011 at 2:30 pm

            Yes, but when you roll up to the MAX station, and all of the standard bike racks are full, wouldn’t you prefer that the station art doubled as a substandard bike rack?

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  • laura October 6, 2011 at 11:06 am

    maybe they can do something musical like this:


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  • Joe Rowe October 6, 2011 at 11:36 am

    I’m torn both ways. I’d like the near quarter million put to human services for at risk youth. Kids should not be cemented in poverty for life due to parent choices.

    Or seen another way….Art helps entrench the culture of bikes into the culture of the future.

    In the year 2050 it will be hard for the tea party to tear out Clinton Street bikeways if there is art. They won’t easily convert this bridge from bikes to cars in 2050 if it has art. The children of the future won’t have their bike lanes removed when conservatives make the next swing into power.

    Art can incubate more investment of money and public acceptance of bikes. We are a society in denial about our oil/car addictions. We have yet to move past denial and into embracing all modes of transit. Once that transition happens, a society may soon revert to the old ways, unless we have art and rituals to help us maintain and cherish the new ways.

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  • q`Tzal October 6, 2011 at 11:39 am

    If we have funding specifically set aside for ART then that’s what it should it be spent on. You can’t allow radical functionalists such as myself or Paul Johnson to dictate that “art is a waste of time, effort and money and thus should be eliminated.”

    On the other hand: I’d be quite happy with something nice and ugly. Can you imagine the crowds of tourists lost in the reverie of architectural appreciation? Gawking, stopping unexpectedly, dodging obliviously in to the path of cyclists at safe operating speeds.

    Yup, somthin` nice and ugly. The fewer people there to appreciate it the faster I can go.

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    • Paul Johnson October 6, 2011 at 1:17 pm

      I didn’t say that it was a waste of time, I like art when it’s not a net-detractor like noisy art that would add to the cacophony of an already loud city. A musical bike path might be more appropriate on a slower, lower traffic suburban route like a path cutting through a small park. Could even be considered a safety feature in locations prone to wildcats or bears, as the additional noise would make wildlife more aware of human presence, thus reducing dangerous or deadly interactions.

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  • Joe Rowe October 6, 2011 at 11:44 am

    Tri-met could easily put out a bid for an artist or art group to build community and volunteer labor to make something bigger and better.

    In San Francisco there is a mural that is almost a quarter mile long and 25 feet tall. It’s party funded, partly maintained by volunteers.


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  • Ben Waterhouse October 6, 2011 at 11:56 am

    I’m glad this idea is dead. It would be amusing for the first couple weeks, but do any of us really want to hear the same off-key ditty every morning during the commute? Just listen to the Honda-sponsored “musical” road that no doubt inspired this idea. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJgCLq4Qo6A&feature=related). Also—wouldn’t it be really bumpy to ride over?

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    • Paul Cone October 6, 2011 at 12:12 pm

      I agree with your sentiments on the song choice, but that doesn’t seem like a reason to kill the whole probject. The science museum in Boston (their OMSI) had (not sure if it’s still there) a stairway that would play a scale as you went up and down. Seemed less likely to get tired of than Simon and Garfunkel (and would RIAA and ASCAP get a cut for every rider?)

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    • Editz October 6, 2011 at 6:42 pm

      Some perspective:

      “The Civic Musical Road was built on Avenue K in Lancaster, California, United States, on 5 September 2008. Covering a quarter-mile stretch of road between 60th Street West and 70th Street West, the Musical Road used grooves cut into the asphalt to replicate part of the Finale of the William Tell Overture. It was paved over on 23 September after nearby residents complained to the city council about noise levels.”

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  • wsbob October 6, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    I love lots of different types and examples of art, but wasn’t persuaded this sonic bike path was going to be a positive addition to Portland’s civic art.

    The validity of art can be dubious when it’s imposed on people, as this noisy bike path would have been. People not wanting to listen to the sound it made would have had to take an alternative route.

    Good riddance to the sonic bike path noise maker. City’s got enough noise as it is. Artistic ideas for reducing traffic noise would be worth looking at.

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  • GlowBoy October 6, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    I was all for this idea, but if there are unresolved issues then an expensive and potentially crowded bridge is probably not the place to do it. It could just as easily be implemented on ANY bike path anywhere, right?

    Because if there are problems, you KNOW we’ll hear no end of whining from the anti-bike crowd about the money spent on it.

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  • sabes October 6, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    How about taking the $200k and doing absolutely anything in our power to stop cyclists from complaining so much?

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    • Chris I October 6, 2011 at 2:32 pm

      This is Amurka! Go back to communist Russia with those ideas.

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    • noah October 6, 2011 at 10:44 pm

      Yup, sure do hate people who go on these blogs and complain…

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  • Hugh Johnson October 6, 2011 at 6:32 pm


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  • John Russell (jr98664) October 6, 2011 at 10:47 pm

    I’ve had many spokes break after a day of riding over rumble strips, and while these are obviously less pronounced, it wouldn’t surprise me if they might have had similar effects over a longer period of time.

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    • Paul Johnson October 7, 2011 at 6:07 am

      I’m pretty sure a musical roadway could be done for bicyclists using considerably smaller grooves, such as those found on 185th Avenue and other Hillsboro-area concrete roads. I’d be more concerned about the cheese grater factor if you bite it than broken spokes with that design assumption.

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    • Chris S. cerevisiae October 7, 2011 at 3:37 pm

      Why would you spend a day riding over rumble strips? Is this a new sport? You might try buying better wheels. People have ridden on cobblestone for over a hundred years, without issue, when their bikes are properly cared for. There was a story on here a couple weeks back where some testing was done on rumble strips for the purpose of evaluating tire pressure vs. velocity. I’m sure those guys could recommend some good wheels. Honestly, your spokes shouldn’t break that easy.

      Some art is simply painful, but sometimes it’s worth it. Riding in the rain at 33 degrees is also painful, and also worth it.

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  • resopmok October 7, 2011 at 5:59 am

    I wonder if the technical glitch has to do with the fact that they still don’t know if it would actually do anything anyway. IDK, but bike tires don’t make nearly as much noise on the pavement as car tires do so if there was anything it would probably be barely audible. $200k seems like a lot to spend on something that could just end up being nothing more than some bumps in the road.

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    • Hugh Johnson October 7, 2011 at 6:31 pm

      geeze put the money into something that benefits us more as cyclists. This simply does nothing.

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  • kittens October 7, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    $200k is like the cost of a ramp meter on a freeway. We are fighting over crumbs!

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  • Grandpa October 8, 2011 at 7:17 am

    Back in the days of my impetuous youth, I put $5 worth of quarters into a juke box and selected Barry Manlo’s Copacabana for every play. I left before they played out but knew it would torture the bar patrons.
    In regard to the musical bridge, one person’s art is another person’s torture

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  • GlowBoy October 10, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    I’m sure the grooving would be MUCH shallower than rumble strips. I can’t imagine this would cause anywhere near the “spoke damage” that you get from riding on chipsealed and potholed roads.

    I wouldn’t be surprised, however, to find that there’s a safety issue in terms of traction. This bridge’s ramps will have a significant slope to them.

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  • q`Tzal October 11, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    I would be really cool if they could do this not with surface treatments but with some sort of guard rail related item.
    First thing that comes to mind is a children’s science museum exhibit trick where light beam sensors spaced every few feet cause a tone, or possibly a series of rail cap mounted lights, to be triggered.

    Personally I’d go with a subtle deep wind chime/gong sound and tons of little white LED lights embedded in the hand rail that race ahead of the cyclist visually alerting other users that faster traffic approaches. Kinda like an optical wake counterpoint to surface water wake produced by boats underneath.
    Too bad it would require electricity and be expensive to install

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    • q`Tzal October 11, 2011 at 12:49 pm

      It would be …
      I am anythin` but cool.

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    • Paul Johnson October 11, 2011 at 2:20 pm

      I’m totally down with that. The Washington Park MAX station used to have accent lighting that would fade on as a train approached the station and fade out as it pulled away; not sure why they ripped that out, ripped out the good arc lighting, ripped out the stone garbage cans and most of the stone seating and replaced it with dim, headache-inducing fluorescent lighting, next to no seating and just let the trash pile up in the tube…

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