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McMenamins gets heat for stalling 12th Avenue project, GM responds

Posted by on June 7th, 2012 at 3:13 pm

Tracey Sparling's Ghost Bike-4

There’s a ghost bike right outside
the McMenamins on W Burnside —
so why would the company stall a bike
safety project?
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Some people in the community have reacted strongly after seeing the name of McMenamins General Manager Christopher Robbins on a letter calling for the halt of a PBOT project to improve bike access on SW 12th Avenue in downtown Portland. Frustrated that the project is stalled indefinitely, some have fired off emails to Robbins and I have seen the word “boycott” pop up in comments and on Twitter.

It’s easy to see why McMenamins — operator of many popular pubs, breweries, and hotels throughout Oregon — is a target. Not only did they support a letter that questioned the need for improved bike access on 12th, they also have an entire page on their website about how bike friendly they are. Making matters worse for some is that 17-year-old Tracey Sparling was run over by a truck and killed in October 2007 while waiting for a red light right outside the door of a McMenamins pub on West Burnside and 14th.

“Having a ghost bike right outside your front door for a couple of years and then still opposing bike safety is the height of callousness,” wrote one commenter yesterday.

At least two readers emailed the company directly to express their displeasure. One of them, Ken S., wrote to Robbins:

“It has come to my attention that you recently co-signed on a letter to PBOT and Mayor Adams in opposition to the planned bikeway on 12th Ave downtown. Frankly I’m shocked… Am I going to have to also start asking my friends to stop patronizing your establishments? What gives?”

Another reader, “spiffy”, sent the company an email with the subject line: “Why is Christopher Robbins not bike friendly like McMenamins claims it is?”

I’ve contacted Robbins to ask for a comment. I haven’t heard back, but spiffy did. Below is the full text of Robbins’ reply (emphasis mine):

Thank you,

I do, and McMenamins does support bike lanes and the cycling community. I have personally commuted by bike from St Johns to Crystal Ballroom and know the need for bike lanes. We have many employees that bike to work and want them to have a safe alternative to the car lanes. When we opened the Crystal Hotel McMenamins tried to install a bike corral on Stark between 13th and 12th to encourage cyclists and less driving, but it was been rejected by the city [PBOT disagrees with that]. We have added more bike racks to safely secure bikes wherever possible at all of our locations. My main concern with the proposed bike lane is a fear that we end up with another fiasco of an intersection like we currently have at 14th and Burnside. As you are probably aware a woman was tragically killed at 14th and Burnside and the city’s reaction (accidentally) was to create a confusing bike lane that turned into potentially more lethal intersection. I sit in Ringlers and witness the confusion of drivers and cyclists unfold daily. I have even taken to personally trying to inform drivers that they are in a parking space thinking it is a turn lane. We have recently witnessed a biker crash into a pedestrian crossing the street at this location.

My intent was not to stall the process but to garner more information as to how the proposed bike lane will work and to hopefully avoid potential dangers to cyclists. Bike lanes can errantly cause a false sense of security and we need to ensure that what we build now will not contribute to that.

Please feel free to call me to personally discuss this.


Christopher Robbins

So, it seems like Robbins has some very real concerns about, not the idea of bicycles using 12th, but the specific way that PBOT would go about making the changes. I think the BTA (who is eager to keep on their “Bikes Mean Business” message and see this through to a positive outcome for everyone) and the City should be pleased to read this. It gives them an opportunity to flesh out some designs and share them with McMenamins, the other business interests that have expressed concerns, and the public.

Stay tuned.

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36 thoughts on “McMenamins gets heat for stalling 12th Avenue project, GM responds”

  1. Avatar Dave says:

    That sounds awesome, and I frankly have the same concerns, given some of what PBOT has done in the past, and has proposed to do in recent weeks (between Multnomah and Williams). Big thanks to McMenamin’s for having real concern for what gets done, and now let’s try to dig further into why PBOT decided to completely shelve the project… what’s up, folks?

  2. Avatar browse says:

    The response from Mr Robbins is quite reassuring… until one reads the original letter to the PBOT he cosigned for McMenamin’s. .

    In that letter, the concerns raised were:
    – Oh no, you’re talking about removing a lane of car traffic! Why aren’t the bike lanes on Broadway and 14th sufficient?
    – Please provide a traffic impact analysis on the effects of removing lanes dedicated to car traffic.

    Somehow, the letter to PBOT seems to have missed Mr Robbins’ concerns that bike lanes be provided in an intelligent and safe fashion.

  3. Avatar Carl says:

    This rings hollow to my ears.

    I just read through the letter again. It asks “Please explain why the existing bike lanes on Broadway and on 14th are not adequate.”

    It concludes “…while we look forward to receiving the above requested information, we would encourage the City to evaluate other options than the 12th Avenue Bike Lane Project.”

    This does not sound like a business owner concerned for the safety of cyclists at an intersection. It sounds like someone who doesn’t want to lose on-street parking.

    1. i agree that his comments here don’t jibe with what’s in the letter… I guess I chalk that up to just being a signatory versus being the sole writer of the letter.

      1. Avatar Case says:

        Gotta read what you’re signing, your reputation is on that piece of paper.

  4. Avatar Rick says:

    It would be easy for me to boycott McMenamins. Their fries suck anyways. hahaha

    ps OK – that wasn’t constructive. 🙂

    1. Avatar oskarbaanks says:

      …maybe not constructive, but true nonetheless…

  5. Avatar Brian Davis says:

    Like the whole “cyclist” vs. “people on bikes” bit, it’s important to watch our language here. Throughout all correspondence, and now in the comments as well, folks are using the term “bike lane,” but that’s not what we’re talking about here! What has been proposed on SW 12th is a cycletrack, physically separated from traffic.

    In my mind, at least, that makes the supposed concern for the safety of cyclists ring a bit hollow. While the signatories on the letter may indeed have a point regarding a need for operational analysis, they need not worry that a facility like this will inadvertently make things less safe for people on bikes.

    Please, use the term “cycletrack” and force this project’s opponents to do so as well.

    1. Hi Brian,

      I agree that language is important… But you should be aware that the term “cycle track” doesn’t really mean what you think it does — at least in the eyes of PBOT. They have taken that term and now use it as a catchall for any type of protected lanes. It does not in their eyes mean a grade-separated, physically protected bikeway. The language thing is really frustrating to me and I think it’s gotten way out of hand in the local and national scheme of things…. Now folks are calling all this type of stuff (bike lanes 2.0 essentially), “green lanes” thanks to Bikes Belong. Ugh.

      1. Avatar oskarbaanks says:

        Speaking as someone who, for the lack of a better term, rides their bike around in a blissful sorta “Effective Cycling” (cough, cough clear throat sound) old school fog, is there a source for information regarding design that breaks down the types of amenities that are being discussed here ? Sorry to ask such a plebeian question.

        1. Oskar– The NACTO bike guide is what I think you’re looking for.

          Jonathan – I’d argue that “cycle track” means precisely what *I* think it does, though I couldn’t agree more with your point that the term has been used too liberally in the past by PBOT and elsewhere. My thought (and hope) is that there has been a lack of design guidance to this point that the NACTO bike guide addresses, so maybe the terminology will become standardized as well. My interpretation of the term as described in NACTO is that there must be _physical separation_ from traffic. What constitutes physical separation is a whole other argument, and I think NACTO is dead wrong here in implying that mere paint is adequate physical separation. Using parked cars as separation (a la SW Broadway) is pushing the limits of good engineering judgement as well.

          Still, using the term “bike lane” to describe what’s proposed here is not accurate, both from a technical “how it’s defined from the MUTCD” point of view, and from a colloquial “what people think of when they hear the term” point of view. There will be more physical separation here than a bike lane offers. Will it be enough? Perhaps another wonk night is in order in the near future to discuss…? 🙂

          1. no argument here Brian. You and I area on similar page. I have had that debate with PBOT folks myself. I don’t think they should call the Broadway/PSU thing a “cycle track” but they do (it’s really a parking protected bike lane).

          2. Avatar oskarbaanks says:

            Thanks Brian, I will jump in the rabbit hole.

    2. Avatar BURR says:

      I have never seen any convincing proof that cycle tracks would be inherently safer than bike lanes, and given the short blocks and high number of intersections the cycle track must pass through, the cycle track design may in fact enhance the possibility of either right or left hooks (depending upon which side of the street the cycle track is installed on) unless PBOT is also willing to either upgrade all the signals along the cycle track to include a separate signal phase for cyclists, or prohibit motorist turning movements across the cycle track altogether.

      1. Avatar Justin says:

        This has been something in Peter Furth’s research, although comparing cycle tracks to on-street cycling.
        He often talks about the flawed research and other methods that led to the myth of the unsafe separated paths. (Other Furth background here.

  6. Avatar ScottB says:

    Who at the ‘city’ rejected a bike corral requested by a business?

  7. Avatar JL says:

    I don’t necessarily think being “bike friendly” (or the general manager of a supposedly “bike friendly” establishment) means you have to champion each and every bike thing regardless of scenario. While his letter and his email response to the reader are quite different in terms of reasoning, what he is saying also makes sense. I stumbled upon the Tracey Sparling tragedy not more than 1 minute after it happened (I even saw the truck heading down to the stop light as I was nearing Cassidy’s). It’s a nightmarish scene I’ll never forget, and preventing that from happening again includes being smart about how and where we place bike lanes.

    I think the snap judgement on his reasoning, the instant accusations of dishonesty, etc, are premature. What good is a bike lane if, for whatever reason, how it spills onto (and through) Burnside is a catastrophe? It wouldn’t be the first time. Just because you hear the words “bike lane” doesn’t mean instant cyclist safety. Remember, we’re talking about downtown – I specifically avoid bike lanes because downtown bike lanes are all about the illusion of safety (and a fabulous way to get doored). It wasn’t even a week or two ago someone was run over while in a downtown bike lane. SW 12th is pretty docile at it is, it used to be my main route from Main through the Pearl.. clamoring for a bike lane here seems like a low priority, and thus the McMenamins guy wanting to stall the process and learn more about the full plan (as he mentioned, he has a good grasp on this area and the bike/car/ped issues) doesn’t seem unreasonable and certainly no need for a boycott.

    So let’s at least relax and let Jon Maus talk to Robbins and get to the bottom of things before rushing to judgement.

    And yes McMenamins fries suck but they make a delicious hot toddy.

    1. Avatar A.K. says:

      Well said JL and agreed. What I’d like to see here is for it to NOT turn into a project like Couch street crossing @ Grand Ave, where the bike infrastructure actually makes people more vulnerable if they use it.

  8. Avatar Spiffy says:

    thanks for bringing his response to light… he seemed way more concerned in his email to me than the letter that he signed onto… I’m thinking he should have sent his own personal letter of opposition instead of jumping on the bandwagon…

  9. Just to clarify, the bicycle corral request to PBOT was not rejected. Unfortunately the City has a long wait list for City subsidized corral installations and new establishments without existing bicycle parking demand do not rate as high priority locations. As of July 1 there will be a full-cost option that may be of interest to them. I will reach out to McMenamins so that that they have this information. Thank you, Sarah Figliozzi

    1. Avatar Spiffy says:

      oh great, so even when he’s trying to be concerned he’s not telling the whole truth… maybe he didn’t get the whole story and somebody just told him it was rejected…

      yes, it would be nice to let them know that it’s still under consideration…

  10. Avatar Last of the Mohicans says:

    Quite frankly I’ve been confused by the way that some of the bike trafic is routed, it appears as though several of the incidents involving motor vehicles and cyclists come at intersection corners. I had seen something interesting in the SF Bay Area where bollards are placed approximately 100 feet from an intersection starting at a fair distance apart then getting progressively closer as the cyclists approach the intersection to offer them protection from an encroaching vehicle. Apparently from what I’ve been told they are capable of gutting a transit bus and remaining intact. I think an idea such as this would also help to establish the boundaries for vehicles not to get into our lanes.

    1. Avatar Spiffy says:

      I would love to see some boundaries… even the flexible kind that just remind people with scratches and noise… well, as long as they’re bolted down…

  11. Avatar Greg Haun says:

    I would rather spend our downtown bike political capital adding “No Right Turn” signs to existing downhill bike lanes that don’t have dedicated right turn lanes. After that we can talk about building more downhill bike facilities.

  12. Avatar Paul Manson says:

    Its tough, looking at the 2030 Bike Master Plan there are so many proposed routes we all struggled for. They were put on the map, but just to languish.

  13. Avatar Terry D says:

    Christopher Robbins sent me exactly the same letter, word for word, to my “company comment card” on-line….and quickly. I responded back to him calling him out on the inconsistencies between the original “business letter” and this second “individual response” from him. His should have known better if he really was only focused on “safety concerns,” but he refused to stand up to big developers and went right along with them.

    The bigger issue here is addressing PBOT and their reluctance to stand up to the business community in any way. The Holiday debacle, Williams safety project, NE Multnomah and ADDING parking. Is this a progressive city or a big mall?

    1. Avatar Spiffy says:

      weird, I would think he would use a grammatically better form response…

  14. Avatar Curt Dewees says:

    Jonathan, your caption under the photo of the SW 14th ghost bike is well-intended, but it doesn’t accurately reflect Christopher Robbins’ stated concerns. In his response to “Spiffy,” he says, “My main concern with the proposed bike lane is a fear that we end up with another fiasco of an intersection like we currently have at 14th and Burnside. As you are probably aware a woman was tragically killed at 14th and Burnside and the city’s reaction (accidentally) was to create a confusing bike lane that turned into potentially more lethal intersection. I sit in Ringlers and witness the confusion of drivers and cyclists unfold daily….”

    I believe a more accurate caption to the ghost-bike photo would be, “McMenamins General Manager Christopher Robbins says he has concerns about the proposed bike lane on SW 12th because he doesn’t want to see more of these.”

  15. Avatar Tourbiker says:

    Chris understands, just painting lines on a road doesn’t make it necessarily safe , nor silly green boxes.
    Even if you make it no right turn at that intersection motorists (& bikes ) will turn right there. with the potential for more r-hooks.
    Tracey Sparling & Brett Jarolimek are 2 examples of fallen riders that may be alive today had they simply taken the lane and rode thru.
    I made it standard practice in high traffic areas.
    If you want to educate the public, I’d suggest signs that don’t say “share the road” that’s one corner that needs a sign that says “bikes take the lane”

  16. Avatar Chris says:

    I am not agreement with Chris on 12th but he does have a valid point about PBOT changing bike lanes isn’t always good. On SW Broadway where they moved the bike lane a while back to it’s own track sandwiched between the curb and parked cars is more dangerous. I have come amazingly close on more than 10 occasions, of hitting pedestrians (students I presume) as they saunter into the bike lane. This didn’t happen before the lane was moved. I also have had to lock up the brakes on several occasions and seen others do the same as right turning cars suddenly appear in front as they turn into a parking lot near the south end of SW Broadway. I can’t fault the drivers as bikes are nearly invisible on the other side of parked cars.

    Lastly, the other chance of being hit is when cars parking over shoot the parking space and end up in the bike lane. It is certainly not an improvement over the old bike lane in my eyes (I use SW Broadway section 2-3 times a week on average). I would easily take the old challenges over the new ones.

    1. Avatar Spiffy says:

      the cycle-track is also completely unridable in the fall when it’s covered in wet leaves…

  17. Avatar Andrew K says:

    I think that was very classy of Robbins to offer a personal conversation to discuss the issue. To me that shows he does not have anything to hide and he is willing to discuss the issue. Sometimes we can learn a lot from different perspectives.

    It was probably a mistake for him to sign on to the original letter to PBOT as it was worded rather poorly and sounded somewhat hostile and mis-informed.

    Regardless of all that, I do think Robbins makes some valid points in his response.

  18. Avatar Greg Haun says:

    @tourbiker “No Right Turn” can do something no amount of green paint can do– prevent iphones, tomtoms and fleet routing systems from sending trucks across the path of cyclists, taking the lane or not.

  19. Avatar peejay says:

    I’d like to give the guy the benefit of the doubt, but it would take something like him publicly admonishing the other businesses for their clear anti-bike stance for me to buy the argument that his objections are to the specific nature of the bike facility.

  20. Avatar Gregg says:

    Thanks for saying that peejay. I’d love to hear this as well.

  21. Avatar Jake says:

    I’m wondering what other businesses in the area think. Are any for the project? Who else is against it and why?

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