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Dispatch from downtown on sidewalk biking enforcement day

Posted by on July 31st, 2014 at 3:03 pm

Crowded sidewalk where we should create a plaza-4

Things got crowded earlier today at the food carts on SW 5th and Oak.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

With today’s police enforcement action targeting bicycling on downtown sidewalks, I took a few minutes to check out the action for myself.

Here are some of my thoughts…

The downtown core is really amazing this time of year. Or crazy and annoying, depending on your perspective. Sidewalks, stores, and cafes are jam-packed with all types of people. Drivers barely get anywhere as they wait for crosswalks to clear. Today, there was a huge live concert on stage at Pioneer Courthouse Square and people were dancing with themselves, strangers, and their babies in arms. Put another way, it’s very crowded everywhere you look.

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Given the above, I can see why the Portland Police (and/or the person who requested today’s enforcement action), would want to highlight the sidewalk bicycling law. On the streets where it applies (“bounded by and including SW Jefferson, Front Avenue (Naito Parkway), NW Hoyt and 13th Avenue”), bicycling on sidewalks is an uncool maneuver.

That being said, not all sidewalk bicycling is the same. If someone is flying down a crowded block with reckless abandon, throw the book at them! But on the other side of the spectrum are people who safely roll a few yards on their bike before dismounting at their destination. Between those two things is where we must rely on the good judgment of the fellow citizens we entrust with enforcing the law (a.k.a. police officers).

While I don’t think a targeted enforcement of sidewalk bicycling is that big of a deal, the thing that does concern me is how it gets handled in the local media. Headlines that include “sidewalk bicycling crackdown” leave the audience thinking one of two things (neither of which help make our city better): “Yeah! Get those damn cyclists off the sidewalks before they kill again!” or “Hmm, I had no idea this was such a huge problem.”

Which leads me to my next point: Relatively speaking, sidewalk bicycling downtown just isn’t that big of a problem. For anyone who’s been hit by someone riding on the sidewalk, or knows someone who was hit, it’s a very big problem. But outside of anecdotes and personal annoyances, we have much larger public safety issues happening in our city every day.

So, what exactly went on during this targeted enforcement action today? I spent about 45 minutes or so biking and walking around looking for some of the action.

The first encounter I had was with two, middle-aged women walking by as I unlocked my bike: “Watch out, they’re out looking for you biking on the sidewalk!” one of them warned. They stopped to chat and were actually really upset. They’d just seen two cops busting a guy one block away. “I would never ride in those streets,” she continued, sweeping her hand at SW 4th Avenue near Oak. “Where do they expect people to ride?! I almost went up to them and said something!”

pulled over for sidewalk bicycling downtown-1

Warning from police

Warning notice being handed out today.

After that unexpected exchange, I saw a man clearly pulled over for biking on the sidewalk. I waited for the police to ride away and then talked to him. He said just got a warning and that he’s totally fine with what the cops are doing. “They were cool about it,” he said. The man said he rides on the sidewalk because he was once hit by a car while biking in a bike lane in Salem. “I ride against traffic now,” he said, “so I can see what’s coming at me.” He also said he was completely unaware of the boundary where sidewalk biking is illegal and was thankful that the police explained the law to him.

pulled over for sidewalk bicycling downtown-2

A few blocks over I saw another guy who has just been pulled over. After the cop rode away, I tried to talk with him but his words were almost completely unintelligible. Was saying something about how he had just “taken a huge hit” and didn’t really know where he was. Suffice it to say, he was thankful all he got was a warning about biking on the sidewalk and nothing more.

Over near the MAX stop at SW Stark and 5th a motorcycle officer was stationed up on the sidewalk facing the street. I saw a man on a bike riding down 5th (illegally, in the bus/train lane). He then rolled up onto the sidewalk right in front of the police officer. He biked about 30 yards before dismounting and looping back to wait for a nearby train. I saw the officer’s head follow the man’s movements, but the officer decided to ignore it. I was happy to see this. Technically a law was broken, but the officer used his discretion and made the right decision.

In conclusion, I know it’s frustrating to see this type of thing going on when many of us see such rampant law-breaking and (truly) unsafe behavior by other road users every hour of every day. In fact, our friend Kirk P. shared an image on Twitter a few minutes ago that perfectly captures this frustration. As you can see below, the image shows a man who had just been stopped by the police for biking on the sidewalk while several other illegal traffic behaviors were taking place nearby…

kirkdowntown

What did you see out there today? How are you feeling about this? I’m interested to see how the local media handled it. Stay tuned for an update on the official PPB tally of warnings and citations.

UPDATE: PPB has announced results of today’s enforcement action. 58 warnings were issued. No citations. Read more about it via the official statement.

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Alan Love
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Alan Love

In 2012, more than four thousand pedestrians were killed in auto-related collisions. Meanwhile, to my knowledge, one singular pedestrian was killed by a person on a bike (the case in SF of the Strav-A-hole). Yes, let’s remind people on bikes of how to ride safely, but the public perception of the reckless scofflaw on 2 wheels is so grossly out of line with reality…

Reza
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Reza

I’m impatiently waiting for the first “illegal driving on the transit mall” sting. Preferably on a Saturday.

Ron
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Ron

Great point Alan. The 24 hour news frenzy feeds the causal viewer only the perspectives that create buzz and outrage and the public generally lacks the motivation to think critically. Many people just form the opinion they are fed.

Joe
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Joe

I’m ok with the educational effort today, but not in the vacuum that currently exists. Without addressing the root cause of why people choose to ride on he sidewalk (usually because it feels safer), it’s not going to accomplish much. Where is the accompanying enforcement of dangerous driving? I am tailgated, yelled at, passed unsafely, etc, every single time I ride downtown, without fail. All it takes is taking the lane on any street without bike lanes (most of downtown).

All told, I’d have been ok without today’s mission at all.

michweek
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michweek

Will the cops please educate drivers on where bikes belong? Especially those drivers that like to yell at me to ‘get on the sidewalk’. Cool, also we need a hell of a lot more crosswalk stings, marked and unmarked. And please amp up the ticketing on cars that are parked in the crosswalk as well.

John Liu
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John Liu

The reaction to this “eduforcement” action is much fuss over nothing.

VTRC
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VTRC

I know it’s Summer, and a bunch of people are out there who wouldn’t normally be riding. They might be riding like people who are new at it. How about a mass push of the bike manual and other good information in a non-enforcement manner…

Pete
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Pete

“I ride against traffic now so I can see what’s coming at me.”

Using an appropriate rear-view mirror would achieve the same results without placing you in the dangerous position of going against traffic (and positioning yourself where drivers are not focused when they pull out of driveways).

Joe
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Joe

Pete
“I am tailgated, yelled at, passed unsafely, etc,…”
This happens to me every time I drive, because I’m bold enough to strictly obey speed limit laws (and not floor the gas pedal at every green light) where it’s hugely unpopular.
Recommended 0

Ha! Me too. Also happens when yielding to pedestrians or just stopping for them to be courteous.

Dwaine Dibbly
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Dwaine Dibbly

If that guy is salmoning (on Salmon?) I’d rather he was on the sidewalk!

If more people ride on the street, it will have a traffic calming effect and make it safer, right? Either that, or we’ll all get hit & killed. I can’t decide.

John Lascurettes
Guest

It’s sociopathic that they expect an average person (i.e., not a bike wonk) to know what the no-sidewalk-boundaries boundaries are in downtown Portland with exactly zero signage or demarcations of any type whatsoever. It’s particularly tough on tourists – how are they ever to know?

wsbob
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wsbob

“…For anyone who’s been hit by someone riding on the sidewalk, or knows someone who was hit, it’s a very big problem. …” maus/bikeportland

About this, you’re right Jonathan. And not even as extreme as being hit, but having had or hearing about close calls and anxiety in using the sidewalk as a pedestrian, over encounters with people misusing the sidewalks with their bikes.

Given many people’s woeful lack of good judgment, it makes very good sense for the city to have some of its busier sidewalks bike free.

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

If the PPD expects this “no bicycle riding on sidewalks” law to be obeyed the boundaries need to be labeled, both with actual MUTCD standard street signs AND paint on the sidewalks themselves delineating every square inch of the boundary.

Signs are easy, cheap and quick to install. The painted boundary on the sidewalks needs to include a big red line.

I’m thinking something IKEA would come up with: red line on the prohibited side of the boundary with a bike symbol in the standard red circle with a crossbar, green on the other side with a green circle and a smiling bicycle stick figure. Attached to this line out of sidewalk traffic needs to be one of the official MUTCD signs explaining everything in plain English y Español.

I don’t agree with our unilateral ban on sidewalk riding but if a government intends to enforce vehicular laws on bicycles they need to put the same effort in to communication with bicycle users as they do automobile user. The current paradigm of “I heard from a friend” is not effective communication of a law nor is it fair to otherwise law abiding citizens.

Kevin Wagoner
Guest
Kevin Wagoner

I live on SW Spring Garden St where it is not uncommon for someone to drive 45mph in a 25mph zone. I bought a speed gun to capture data to include it in my many attempts to get enforcement. There is a light that often gets run between two school. I’ve called and emailed the PDX safe line a lot. I’ve encourage others to do the same, some have. If you look at crimereports.com it is pretty clear that there is next to no enforcement on this street, last time I checked there were zero tickets this year. I’ve actually had the local cop show up at a neighborhood meeting and tell us we need to enforce it ourself. If I felt like our city did a good job enforcing people driving violations (which kill and injure many people) then I would be completely cool with them enforcing other transportation laws. I just don’t think this is a good prioritization of their time. This is a big fail in my opinion.

reader
Guest
reader

“I just took a huge hit.”

Comment of the week!

reader
Guest
reader

I wonder what the overall ticket-to-warning ratio was.

“Avoiding a traffic hazard in the immediate area” provides a lot of room for interpretation. Who decides if there was a hazard and if it was in the immediate area? The rider? The cop? The judge?

It is quite hazardous to ride a bike in nearly all of downtown. There is mad vehicle, pedestrian and other bike (and skateboard) traffic, but many dangers are static and ubiquitous, like disappearing bike lanes and bone-crunching rail tracks.

I live near downtown and ride my bike all over the city but almost never downtown, except along the Eastbank Esplanade, in the bike lanes on Jefferson Street (west) and 14th Avenue (north), and taking the lane on NW 18th/19th (south/north) and Salmon (east).

Greg
Guest
Greg

I think it’s crazy for the PPD to enforce this law (thankfully just giving warnings) without any sort of signage about where the boundaries are.
I asked 6 cyclists at work today where they thought the northern boundary is, none got it right at Hoyt, myself included.

Steve
Guest
Steve

ONE HAS TO DECIDE! Are you a pedestrian or a cyclist? It a sideWALK SO GET OFF AND WALK or with the consequences.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

“…UPDATE: PPB has announced results of today’s enforcement action. 58 warnings were issued. No citations. …” bikeportland

“…It is quite hazardous to ride a bike in nearly all of downtown. …” reader

You and others riding Downtown’s streets by the rules, and regularly, in ever greater numbers, has the potential to check some of the hazardous conditions.

Dan
Guest
Dan

In our neighborhood you can borrow a speed gun and write down the license plates & speeds of passing cars. Then the county will mail out ‘nasty grams’ to the drivers (ooh! scary!), but only if they are exceeding the speed limit by 10mph. 34mph in a 25mph zone is considered compliance.

Roger Averbeck
Guest
Roger Averbeck

Any breakdown of warnings for cyclists vs skateboarders?

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

Isn’t it time for a stop sign sting at Ladds Circle?