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‘Policymakers’ get taste of Portland’s good, bad, and ugly bikeways

Posted by on August 5th, 2014 at 3:31 pm

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Oregon State Senator Ginny Burdick and former Portland Mayor Bud Clark rode in the (narrow and outdated) Naito Parkway bike lanes during the Policymakers Ride last Friday.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

For ten years now there’s been one annual organized ride that might have more impact on biking in the Portland region than any other. It’s not the largest or the most high-profile ride, but it’s list of invitees definitely carries the most clout: I’m talking about the Policymakers Ride.

First held in 2005, the ride was envisioned as a way to hasten the development of a network of bikeways criss-crossing the region. But instead of another stuffy conference with panel discussions and keynote speeches, its founders — urban wildlife advocate Mike Houck and Cycle Oregon pioneer Jonathan Nicholas — figured getting bureaucrats, advocates, academics, elected officials, and other policymakers out of their offices and onto their bikes would be a much more stimulating way to educate and inspire them.

They were right.

I don’t know if you can draw a direct line from the Policymakers Ride to specific projects and progress, but I do know that big things often start with small conversations, and this ride is where many such conversations get started. It’s also one of the only times each year some of these very influential people see bicycling conditions (good, bad, and ugly) first-hand — an imperative step to building political urgency.

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PBOT Bicycle Coordinator Roger Geller chatted with former Portland Mayor Bud Clark before the ride.
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Colleagues and friends old and new caught up and traded notes.
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Alta Planning and Design Principal Jessica Roberts, ODOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Sheila Lyons, and ODOT Region 1 Active Transportation Liaison Jessica Horning.
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ODOT Region 1 Director (outgoing) Jason Tell and Chair of the Oregon State Parks Commission Jay Graves.
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Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard (L) and Portland Mayor Charlie Hales.
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BTA Director of Advocacy Gerik Kransky (L) with Oregon State Representative Tobias Read.
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Former TriMet communications staffer (now living in New York City) Thomas Ngo, TriMet Active Transportation Planner Jeff Owen, and TriMet Strategic Planner Eric Hesse.
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Andy Smith (L) and Nils Tillstrom with the City of Portland’s Office of Government Relations.
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Andrew Plambeck, a field rep for Congressman Earl Blumenauer (L) and Craig Beebe from Metro’s planning communications team.

Here are a few other faces I saw in the crowd: Metro council members Shirley Craddick, Kathryn Harrington and Sam Chase; two Portland Planning Commissioners; PBOT Director Leah Treat; Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick Chief of Staff Chris Warner; former Metro Council President David Bragdon; Washington County Commissioner Dick Schouten; and numerous other advocates, city staffers, and planning professionals from around the region.

And then there was Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, invited to Portland (by PBOT bicycle coordinator Roger Geller) specifically to participate in this ride. Ballard became something of a celebrity in the bike world after a keynote speech at the National Bike Summit last year.

Friday’s ride began at the Moda Center where about 150 people gathered to hear opening remarks from the ride organizers. The focus of the day was to experience the good, the bad, and the ugly of local biking conditions and to consider whether some of Portland’s iconic bikeways could become the state’s first urban route to be designated an official “state scenic bikeway.”

From the Rose Quarter Transit Center we rolled along the Willamette down to Sellwood Riverfront Park, then back north along the river to OHSU’s new Collaborative Life Sciences building in South Waterfront.

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Mayor Hales rolling down the Esplanade ramp.
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We went up through Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge to take residential streets through Sellwood.
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Oaks Bottom and the city skyline in the background and Swan Island Business Association Executive Director Sarah Angell in the foreground.
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Urban wildlife advocate extraordinaire and co-founder of The Intertwine Alliance Mike Houck told the crowd how Oaks Bottom was once slated to be a motor-cross track.
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Regence Health Sustainability Program Manager Jackie Yerby (L) and Filmed by Bike founder Ayleen Crotty.
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The group listened to a few speeches under the awning of the new OHSU Collaborative Life Sciences building, a mere stone’s-throw from the Tillikum Crossing bridge.

In South Waterfront, we heard from Portland State University President Wim Wiewel. Wiewel kept to a theme that found its way into several speeches: that Portland is resting on its laurels and despite all the cool stuff we’ve done, we need to keep moving forward. He urged assembled leaders to be wary of “Portland disease” that comes with the risk of “staying stymied.” For his part, Wiewel promised to tap into his “Dutch impatience to continue to get things done.”

In the shadow of the new Tillikum Crossing Bridge, we then heard from TriMet Senior Project Manager David Unsworth, who told us the first public access on the bridge will be during Bridge Pedal on August 9, 2015 (news The Oregonian reported a week ago).

From South Waterfront we rode north on Naito and Waterfront Park, across the Steel Bridge deck, then onto the NE Multnomah protected bike lane to Holladay Park.

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This section of Naito Parkway should be a major bike facility. Today it only has a standard bike lane; but there’s talk of reconfiguring the northbound (east) side into a two-way protected bike lane.
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Crossing with the bike-only signal at NE Lloyd and Interstate.
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On the NE Multnomah protected bike lane through the Lloyd District.
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Tamara Kennedy-Hill with Travel Portland.

At Holladay Park we heard from Tamara Kennedy-Hill with Travel Portland. She said Portland’s bike infrastructure is one of the agency’s “top brand stories” and that bicycling makes the region a national and international attraction.

Then Kyle Andersen with GBD architects, the firm working on the Hassalo on Eighth project, said the Multnomah Blvd road diet was an “asset to redevelopment” of the Lloyd District. He spoke of a “new paradigm” of development in the area where livability and bike access are taken seriously. Hassalo on Eighth is slated to have 1,200 bike parking spaces. The investors behind the project, he said, came from out of town and “They were surprised to learn bike parking was a requirement, but car parking wasn’t.”

From Holladay Park we headed west to University of Portland via Williams Avenue, Ainsworth, and Willamette.

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Construction progress on Hassalo on Eighth project.
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The “mixing zones” on NE Multnomah caught several people off-guard. “I hate these things!” said one woman I was riding with.
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Perhaps one of the most powerful moments on the ride was when we came to Williams Avenue and everyone had to experience how busy and stressful it is. Fortunately in a few months it will all be re-designed.
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Molly Haynes, the director of community health at Kaiser Permanente navigates Williams Ave.
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ODOT Region 1 Director Jason Tell (L) must be thinking: “Portland says we can’t manage our roads safely? What about Williams?”. (That’s BTA Executive Director Rob Sadowsky riding with him.)

Our stop at University of Portland was on a bluff overlooking Swan Island and northwest Portland. From this vantage point we heard from college Vice President Laurie Kelley who shared her gratitude for the improvements PBOT just made to Willamette Blvd. Kelley said bike access is crucial because of their record-high 1,100 student freshman class, many of whom won’t have cars.

David Bragdon, the former Metro council president, founder of The Intertwine Alliance, and now Executive Director of Transit Center, Inc. in New York City, also took to the stage at U of P. Bragdon urged the crowd to not be afraid of taking risks, and that many great projects began as bold experiments that weren’t part of a long, drawn-out planning process. “Even the first light-rail line,” he recalled, “was a big political risk.” He said people were against the project until the day it opened.

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David Bragdon still presides over Portland.

Bragdon said the goal should be to create something that is, “not just a government program, but a movement of the people.”

From U of P we rode back to the Moda Center via Willamette Blvd, the Concord neighborhood greenway, Skidmore, and Vancouver Ave.

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Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard on Willamette Blvd.
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Rolling down the corkscrew ramp of the Going St. overcrossing.
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Mixing with traffic and construction zones on Vancouver near N Cook.

Back at the Moda Center at the end of ride, the group was treated to a catered lunch at Jack’s restaurant. Before going on our separate ways, we heard closing remarks from Mayor Hales and Mayor Ballard.

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In his speech, Mayor Hales spoke about what he got out of the ride. “This has been a very helpful experience for us as city leaders… To hear the good ideas, to have the good conversations, to talk about the what-ifs.” Then Hales mentioned a new project that illustrates one of these “what-ifs”: “What if we just took that east lane on Naito Parkway and went ahead and made it into a bikeway? You know we really don’t need all those lanes on Naito Parkway.”

After Mayor Hales it was time for the Mayor Ballard to address the crowd.

When Ballard, a Republican and a veteran of the military took office in 2008 (it was a surprise victory in a city of Democrats), there was just one mile of bike lane in Indianapolis. Now there are 82 (including what I think is the most important piece of bicycle infrastructure in the country: the Indianapolis Cultural Trail.) By next year, Ballard hopes to have 200 miles of lanes and paths.

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“It’s just common sense,” Ballard, said. “I believe the competition in cities is for talent, and bicycling is a part of that competition for the talent. I’m not doing this stuff because I like to ride bikes, I’m doing this because I’m trying to attract people into the city of Indianapolis.”

Ballard said the Cultural Trail has spurred over $100 million in development so far. “That’s a lot of property taxes,” he said. The trail has spurred not only private investment but it has also helped make the case for more biking and walking paths because planners are seeing the value they bring to the community.

While he touted his cities accomplishments, Ballard was also quick to remind us of our own. “You’re still the model; but people are catching up,” he said, “People still look to you. So get on it!”

Hopefully this powerful peloton of policymakers follows that order.

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Man… I would have liked to go… Damn Hernia

Adron @ Transit Sleuth

Love that the piece ends with a Republican standing up and pointing out the smarts behind pushing for bicycle infrastructure. It’s simply good business from a Republican’s POV, it’s environmentally sound from a Democrat’s POV… now if we can just help the blockers move out of the way of progress. 😉


I love the pictures of the truck blocking the bike lane on Williams. So typical… Williams and Vancouver are two of the busiest bike lanes in all of PDX because they connect North and NE to downtown and unfortunately they are not safe for kids. Really looking forward to the improvements coming this fall. Nice job PDOT!

Kari Schlosshauer

So bummed I missed this ride. My excuse? Husband was hit by a car while on his bike, and required surgery that happened that morning. 🙁

(He’s okay and recovering, and my desire to make our streets safer is stronger than ever.)

Jim Lee
Jim Lee

Cat 1 coverage, JM!


I agree about Naito needing to be updated for cyclists. During the summertime, the Waterfront Park bike path is a MESS. A good mess (ie it gets used), but a MESS nonetheless. There are thousands of tourists staggering EVERYWHERE unpredictably, making it really dangerous to bike through. But I find the bikelane on Naito uncomfortable, and still prefer to take the Waterfront Path.

And let’s talk about closing the “Naito Gap” too, shall we? What’s the point of a bikelane on one side of the Steel Bridge, a bikelane on the other side of the Steel Bridge, and NOTHING inbetween. I still can’t teleport!


I’m so glad you all went up Williams and down Vancouver. It’s been incredibly stressful there this summer, with several major projects having taken over the sidewalks and part of the streets around both north and south of Fremont. It’s quite frustrating and at odds with the “bike highway” that people like to tout.

Todd Boulanger
Todd Boulanger

Yes Williams was the “ugly” part of this year’s ride…not so ugly compared to past “ugly” facilities visited in past years (ugly = lack of any facilities)…but ugly given the volume of bike traffic on existing bikeways AND motorized road operator behaviour…plus the cluster f— of the development projects without good traffic management and TDM (creating alternative construction detour routes for bikes and others).

I sure hope next week’s project open house really solves this corridor’s bike traffic growth and the traffic pains…


I somehow missed the pic of Steve “never met a tax I didn’t like” Novick riding.

Chris Anderson

My one disappointment with the messaging is that there is almost nothing about Greenways OR parents and kids biking / safe routes to school.

My 3 year old can navigate the Going St / 33rd cycle-track, but if the policymakers don’t, then how can they prioritize my emails to ? Family biking is such a vital part of Portland, but it doesn’t get much air time.


If policy makers care about building bike infrastructure instead of “fixing outdated” already existing stuff like they like to waste money on, send them up my way – let’s put their money where their mouths are and have them ride down 92nd/Glisan or the Halsey overpass. This is kind of a joke.

Yeah, middle class white people are inconvenienced with less than stellar bike commuting. How about making transportation accessible to low-income minorities?

Kevin Wagoner
Kevin Wagoner

This is great. Good coverage and thanks to the policy makers (and others) for taking the time. I am really interested in hearing more about the comment from Mayor Hales about Natio Parkway. Many people in the SW end up on Natio Parkway after the roll off Barber. There are lots of opportunities to make Barber and Natio Parkway better, if it were made as safe as the Williams lane you covered today we would see a lot more ridership.


“The city of Portland could easily add 1 million inhabitants and jobs within the central city”

I prefer density to sprawl as much as the next person–no, probably more–but what you just wrote is insane. Jobs and building lumber isn’t the half of it, Joseph E. What about food? water? sanitation? transportation? … This leads nowhere any of us want to be. We haven’t figured out how to solve any of the major social, economic, environmental problems we already have; you’re not really suggesting that adding a million people will improve our chances are you?

“where should they live, instead?”

Let me propose that instead of repeating this hopeless mantra endlessly we consider the conclusion of the Rockefeller Commission’s 1972 report Population and the American Future:

“After two years of concentrated effort, we have concluded that, in the long run, no substantial benefits will result from further growth of the Nation’s population, rather that the gradual stabilization of our population through voluntary means would contribute significantly to the Nation’s ability to solve its problems. We have looked for, and have not found, any convincing economic argument for continued population growth. The health of our country does not depend on it, nor does the vitality of business nor the welfare of the average person.”

(link to report in comment replying to Ciaran)


So, in reference to the other post today re. attendance at public meetings, why bother when these people make all the decisions? Probably better to start an actual (old-school) letter writing campaign than to waste time at endless advisory committee and neighborhood assn meetings…or go on one of these rides (if you know about it) and harange those in a position to make policy and project decisions…

Robert Burchett
Robert Burchett

Corking or not corking?

jeff bernards
jeff bernards

In a conversation with Tobias Read, “bikes should pay a registration fee” and “studded tires should pay nothing” he was also a huge proponent of the failed CRC. I hope he learned something on the ride.

jeff bernards
jeff bernards

Bud Clark is still riding a bike, be it an e-bike, beats driving anyday.


Great post! Outstanding photos and text – thanks.


Probably because he can’t ride a bike. As mentioned once on bikeportland, it’s on his list “along with learning Italian.” (
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Yeah well, he’s already learned to talk like a pirate

“‘Garrrrr, ‘tween giving half our pieces of eight back in tax rebates to the rich and jumping at every new drivelswiggered GOP project that comes along, ’tis no wonder there be no booty in our hold,'” Novick was heard sayin’ as he loaded supplies for International Talk Like a Pirate Day. “Methinks it be fine time old ‘Red Ink’ was retired from command of the good ship Junior Senator from Oregon.”


That Ashland motorcycle cop would have been in a frenzy , if he’d been there ….. all those riders out of the bike lane .. 🙂

Ed Reece
Ed Reece

The first picture’s caption stated the bike lane was narrow and outdated. It sure doesn’t look that way to me. The few bike lanes we have in Houston, Tx are much worse than that. They were laid out with paint with an eye to minimizing width, no other improvements at all. There is a lot of bike riding here but we all have to have confidence to take the lane.


Who are the organizers of this ride? I didn’t happen to see any mention of who puts it together in the article.


I love that pic of Naito. I still cant believe that it was repaved without a two way cycletrack. That facility is ridiculously unsafe, so like most others, I dodge people on the waterfront path so I can avoid the frequent stop lights and cell phone using people speeding down naito

El Biciclero
El Biciclero

I wouldn’t say “never”…Some of the residential streets I take on my way home are 2/3 blocked by parked cars, leaving only about one car-width for travel. Oncoming drivers usually expect me to yield to them on such streets, even when I’m huffing it uphill. I guess yielding to uphill traffic only counts among motor vehicles.


it looks like this ride is helmets-required…

if they really want to get a sense of how comfortable the streets are for the entire population it should be required that nobody wear a helmet…

if all of those riders feel safe riding without a helmet then we’re doing something right…