(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.
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!”
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.
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…
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.