Tour de Lab September 1st

Police response to Greenpeace action closes south sidewalk of St Johns Bridge (updated)

Posted by on July 29th, 2015 at 5:07 pm

Activists hang from the St. Johns Bridge
to block an oil ship’s passage.
(Photo: Greenpeace USA)

Update 5:45 p.m.: Police now say that only the southeast sidewalk (upstream, closer to downtown Portland) is closed and that officers were mistaken when they previously blocked people from crossing the bridge on bike or foot.

“It was just that someone didn’t get told,” Portland Police Bureau spokesman Sgt. Greg Stewart said Wednesday evening. “We’re just having people use the other side of the street.”

An updated version of the original post follows.

Some Portland police officers ordered the sidewalks of the St. Johns bridge closed to foot and bike traffic in response to a direct action on the bridge Wednesday.

Late Wednesday, police changed their operation and closed only the southeast (upstream) sidewalk to people on foot or bike.

The action, organized by environmental group Greenpeace, aims to block a Shell Oil ship from heading to the Arctic. The Oregonian and other outlets reported Wednesday that activists are prepared to remain dangling from the bridge by rope for days. A police spokesman said the sidewalks would remain closed until the rope-sitters are gone.

The bridge is the only bike-foot crossing of the Willamette River between Longview, 50 miles to the northwest, and the Broadway Bridge in downtown Portland. The lanes of the bridge, which have relatively high speeds and low-visibility but are marked with sharrows, remain open to people on bikes and in motor vehicles.

Hamilton described the Greenpeace action as “to stop an icebreaker from leaving for the polar ice cap, or at least what’s left of it.”

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sharrows on St Johns Bridge-6

Sharrows were added to the St. Johns Bridge in 2012.

Portland Police Bureau spokesman Sgt. Greg Stewart said Wednesday that his understanding is that police officers will be stationed at the sidewalks on the bridge landings, turning sidewalk traffic back. Stewart said there are “several” reasons to close the sidewalks, but that the “primary” one is the safety of the demonstrators.

“The ropes are accessible, and there could be conflict between the parties up there and other people crossing,” Stewart said. “We want to be extra certain given that they’re hanging, it looks like a couple hundred feet in the air, that they’re safe.”

“There’s a whole host of things that can happen when people are 300 feet over a railing and things are really tense,” Stewart said. “Until that’s resolved, there won’t be any pedestrian traffic.”

Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman Don Hamilton said Wednesday that his agency, which oversees the bridge, is complying with a police request early this morning to close the sidewalk.

Hamilton said the demonstrations began around 1 a.m. Wednesday. The Portland Mercury has a summary of the action itself.

“We have no estimated time right now for reopening,” Hamilton said.

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77 Comments
  • Avatar
    stace July 29, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    I was just told by the cops on the St. Johns side that I couldn’t bike in the lane and that the only way to cross on a bike was to get on a bus.

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      Do you know if they’ve arranged with TriMet to offer free rides across the bridge on whichever lines serve the St. Johns Bridge? It would be nice if you could get a free ride just from one end to the other, so pedestrians and people biking had some option.

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        stace July 29, 2015 at 5:29 pm

        I asked the cop if riding the bus would be free and he said no. I turned around and didn’t wait for a bus. It sounds like the officers are not fully informed on multiple levels.

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      Joseph E July 29, 2015 at 5:24 pm

      Nonesense! Bikes are still vehicles in the eyes of the law in Oregon. This causes numerous problems, but it certainly means bikes are allowed to cross this bridge in the main traffic lanes whenever cars are allowed.

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      stace July 29, 2015 at 5:51 pm

      Sally Ramirez @KGW said on Twitter that she just confirmed with ODOT that bikes are not being allowed in the traffic lane.

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        Nick July 29, 2015 at 6:09 pm

        Last time I crossed the St. John’s bridge, there were sharrows in the lanes… Are those gone now?

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          AndyC of Linnton July 30, 2015 at 10:34 am

          Nick, they are still there, but pretty worn away. Also, they are white on a light colored background. I called last summer about them fading away and about maybe putting a dark colored background behind them.
          So…..it’s a year later…ODOT really could care less.

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      rick July 30, 2015 at 7:08 am

      what a joke

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    John Lascurettes July 29, 2015 at 5:26 pm

    How is it the police can decide that no bikes can go across the bridge in the traffic lane either, where they are perfectly allowed as traffic?

    How about some consistency and shutting down all lanes to all traffic? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

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      wsbob July 29, 2015 at 6:11 pm

      If the lanes are open, the law likely allows people riding bikes to use them especially if for some reason, there has been cause to close the sidewalks and bike lanes. Some provision in the lanes for foot traffic likely will have to be made too, if the sidewalks will be closed for more than a day or two.

      Interesting demonstration tactic. Wonder if they’re intending to somehow spend days without a break, suspended in body harnesses, or if they’ll have platforms allowing them to at least lie down and stretch out. For them, it could be an especially long, hot August, barring some mishap.

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    Dan Kaufman July 29, 2015 at 5:28 pm

    But cars are just fine…

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    Spencer July 29, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    Ride it

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    Vinny July 29, 2015 at 5:32 pm

    Some good irony, blocking all modes of transportation that don’t burn oil.

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      Jim July 29, 2015 at 5:44 pm

      Look on the bright side, at least they kayaked out in giant chunks of plastic made from petroleum.

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        Dan Kaufman July 29, 2015 at 6:48 pm

        Seems like a good use of petroleum to me.

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        John Lascurettes July 29, 2015 at 7:05 pm

        The protest is about Arctic drilling (i.e., sensitive environment), not petroleum use per se.

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        oliver July 30, 2015 at 9:46 am

        If people are going to complain about activists using petroleum byproducts to protest pollution, they should quit breathing air to do it.

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        Captain Karma July 30, 2015 at 2:09 pm

        Weird comment but certainly not an original thought. Can we all just say it once? “Their kayaks are plastic! Try have no credibility”. They’d be hemp but the corporations keep that illegal, hmm who would want that?

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          BikeJunkie July 31, 2015 at 11:30 am

          I was at Cathedral Park.
          *****I rode my bike there.*****
          A man came there with a similar complaint. Mentioned even oil used to make bike tires.
          Why was he upset? He was **inconvenienced** trying to drive over the bridge.
          When we see triple-digit temps around the world, billion-gallon oil spills, and massive life-threatening storms….please keep that in mind when complaining about activists. Deadly weather patterns resulting from climate change cause MUCH MORE inconvenience.

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            esther2 August 1, 2015 at 11:09 am

            we are more inconvenienced every day by the huge tractor trailers clogging our streets, causing accidents, when they’re delivering cargo that could fit in the back of a sprinter van. Trucks parked in the middle of the street to deliver kegs of beer, a few crates of food, etc. My interchange at Lombard and Interstate was blocked for hours last week by an tractor trailer trying to turn right where it clearly states no right turns for trucks. the turn is way too sharp and narrow for a truck to navigate.

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    Psyfalcon July 29, 2015 at 5:41 pm

    Once again, our police department doing a wonderful job.

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    mran1984 July 29, 2015 at 5:41 pm

    That is complete b.s I only ride in the proper lane. Sidewalks are for walking. Oh, I forgot that many restaurants believe that sidewalks are for free table space.

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    LoneHeckler July 29, 2015 at 5:42 pm

    “The bridge is the only bike-foot crossing of the Willamette River between Longview, 50 miles to the northwest…”

    KInda sorta. It’s the only east-west *water* crossing, but the Willamette ends 5 miles to the north. Longview is on the Columbia. 🙂

    But, ouch, the bigger point is that a detour to the Broadway bridge will cost you 12 miles. Seems the St. John’s Bridge roadway should be kept open for bikes.

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      Psyfalcon July 29, 2015 at 5:44 pm

      They should block of a lane for the pedestrians too.

      Total ban if you don’t have bus money and you’re walking. Maybe a ban if you’re biking on the road, and then 4 lanes of happy driving.

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    PNP July 29, 2015 at 5:55 pm

    Well, this makes little sense for another reason. If they’e worried about a pedestrian somehow endangering one of the protesters, what’s to keep someone in a car from driving partway over the bridge and then stopping, getting out, and causing a problem with the protesters?

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      John Lascurettes July 29, 2015 at 7:06 pm

      And speeding away faster than a pedestrian or bike could at that.

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      Gerald Fittipaldi July 30, 2015 at 12:33 am

      Stop making sense.

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      Captain Karma July 30, 2015 at 2:12 pm

      They are just trying to turn public opinion against the protestors, as in Occupy.

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        Dan July 30, 2015 at 6:09 pm

        It worked. I’m seeing people on the news saying, “Oh, I agree with that they’re doing, but now I’m trying to get home and this is making me very frustrated.”

        The protesters did not close the bridge, the police did.

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          BikeJunkie July 31, 2015 at 11:31 am

          *******************EXACTLY*****************

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    ben b July 29, 2015 at 5:55 pm

    When I was out there this morning, they had one cop blocking the sidewalk only. I admit I wondered what he would do if I were to come around the corner in the lane and just bike on to the bridge without stopping to talk to him. Probably shout and then get in his car and pull me over? Where’s a bike swarm when you need one?

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      Dan Kaufman July 29, 2015 at 6:50 pm

      good question

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        AndyC of Linnton July 30, 2015 at 10:04 am

        I’ve been pretty busy, but I would be down to help with something like this.
        Maybe get BikeLoudPDX involved?

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      9watts July 29, 2015 at 10:47 pm

      “Where’s a bike swarm when you need one?”
      protesting Shell’s icebreaker perhaps?

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      Jayson July 30, 2015 at 8:19 am

      Depending on your skin color, you may be shot.

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    Bjorn July 29, 2015 at 5:55 pm

    This makes total sense, if someone wanted to cut one of them down and then flee by far the best way to get away would be to be on foot, rather than stopping their car in the middle, cutting someone down, and then fleeing in a car.

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  • Chris
    Chris July 29, 2015 at 5:59 pm

    Perhaps a call to the mayor’s office about the bike ban might be in order?

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    Adam H. July 29, 2015 at 6:44 pm

    Car Culture

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    Dan July 29, 2015 at 6:49 pm

    Definitely not Platinum.

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    Allan Folz July 29, 2015 at 7:12 pm

    Wow, perfect timing for a 10 yr anniversary ride!

    What say ye?

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      Eric Leifsdad July 30, 2015 at 11:07 pm

      Hah! Maybe just disrobe whenever taking the lane on this bridge?

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    armando July 29, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    looks like ornaments!

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    angularcontact July 29, 2015 at 9:26 pm

    It makes me so happy to see people actually .doing. something.

    Yay activism! Yay Greenpeace!

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      Granpa July 30, 2015 at 8:54 am

      The issue Greenpeace is protesting, oil drilling in the arctic, is so much bigger than the inconvenience imposed upon cyclists that the complaints sound petty. The fragile arctic ecosystem is something Portland cyclists value, peak oil and the petroleum economy are concerns of Portland cyclists, and the nature of the rope hanging protests, putting their well being, financial status and freedom in jeopardy is nothing short of heroic. If we were all so brave and selfless the world would be a better place. BUT Portland cyclists on this blog sound like protesting the oil drilling in the arctic is only a good thing if they are not put out by it.

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        Dan July 30, 2015 at 8:55 am

        Sure, so block the bridge for cars too.

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        Zach H July 30, 2015 at 10:32 am

        Gotta agree with Granpa here — us complaining on this blog about a commuting inconvenience for a very important tactical/symbolic protest just seems to me to be really… whiny.

        Also, I might be mistaken (I live and work in SE, so correct me if I’m wrong), but is the St. Johns bridge really that crucial of a cycling connection? I understand people use it for getting to Forest Park, that it’s the only bikeable bridge for 50 miles, etc., but from a commuting standpoint, do that many people take 30 all the way out to it from downtown?

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          Dan July 30, 2015 at 11:00 am

          This was not a ‘commuting inconvenience’. This was 14 ADDITIONAL MILES, if you follow this route: http://ridewithgps.com/routes/9548129

          That’s more than many of those drivers ride in an entire year.

          Making cyclists take a detour like this when there is a perfectly good lane available is just ridiculous.

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            Zach H July 30, 2015 at 11:45 am

            Dan, I get your point with your map, but my point was to ask how crucial of a commuting/errand-running (i.e., non-recreational uses) link is this bridge, really. There’s not all that much on the highway 30 side by the bridge, though I know Linnton is there, AndyC. 🙂 Somehow I don’t think the route you mapped out is a reality for that many folks for non-recreational uses.

            AndyC’s point makes more sense to me — sounds more like a bad call on behalf of some officers that didn’t know the law as well as they should have.

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              KristenT July 30, 2015 at 3:54 pm

              To the people who commute, reside, or work in that area and need that bridge as the most direct route, this is probably a major problem.

              Your dismissal of it as a problem dismisses an entire community as irrelevant to you and anything you consider important– which, clearly, doesn’t include your own city, or at least parts that you don’t live or work or commute in.

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                Zach H July 30, 2015 at 4:45 pm

                Okay yeesh, well, not at all what I said — but my skin’s not in this game, so I’ll slink off.

                Been exciting to watch the progress of the protestors today though.

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          AndyC of Linnton July 30, 2015 at 11:24 am

          I understand the point you and Granpa are making. There is a propensity to see everything always through the tunnel-vision of bicycling, especially on a bicycling blog. However, there are still people that have to use this bridge for non-recreational use, and as awful as it is to use a bike or walk, it is indeed a crucial link. It is the only connection for miles over the river for many.
          I think the bigger point here is that the first reaction of PPD, even if it was miscommunication, was to ban pedestrians and bicycles from using this facility. I believe that really shows who gets priority on routes like this all over the city.

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            Eric Leifsdad July 30, 2015 at 10:52 pm

            Yeah, it’s no fun to have to tell police “so, write me a ticket and I’ll see you in court” when you know the laws and they don’t. I had a traffic cop tell me that bicycling on any sidewalk in Portland at “greater than a walking pace” was against a city ordinance (which he could not name because it does not exist.) See also, tickets for filtering in gridlock. Sad that PPB won’t write the tickets for 1-10mph over the speed limit because they don’t want a failed day in court, but they’ll make up fake laws to cite people not-in-cars.

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              soren July 31, 2015 at 7:54 am

              And when someone biking in portland gets one of these frivolous tickets they essentially have no legal recourse since traffic court is essentially a rubber stamp.

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      Pete July 30, 2015 at 3:13 pm

      You do understand that comments on the Internet are packets relayed by servers powered by power plants still fueled (primarily) by coal and natural gas, yes? (And the company serving ads on this site has a server farm sitting next to a salmon-killing dam just east of Portland).

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    hat July 30, 2015 at 5:30 am

    Time to dedicate a separated full lane to bikes. Three lanes for cars is more than adequate, with the median lane switching directions as needed.

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      TJ July 30, 2015 at 9:56 am

      Biking and driving the bridge often, I do believe ODOT had it right to keep all lanes available for cars. During rush hour, both directions are pretty full and backed-up — in part to brief bottle necking at the ends.

      For several years I felt perfectly comfortable taking the lane during morning and evening rush hours. However, the past few months I’ve moved to sidewalks weekday between 7am-7pm.

      Traffic has and will only continue to increase. It’s a favorite short-cut for those avoiding 26 and I-5 congestion. This is quickly becoming a city-wide issue.

      The bridge needs those less than lovely sidewalk additions tacked on.

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        ethan July 30, 2015 at 10:47 am

        “During rush hour, both directions are pretty full and backed-up — in part to brief bottle necking at the ends.”

        So what? When there isn’t even safe access available to every mode, congestion should definitely take a back seat.

        If congestion is the #1 focus, we should widen all roads and make them bike only, because, as we all know, roads become congested with bikes during the Naked Bike Ride once a year, so that’s total justification for having all roads bike only 24/7!

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          TJ July 30, 2015 at 11:04 am

          Hi Ethan- I hear ya, but creating move congestion into the St. Johns neighborhood and up our beloved Germantown is not the answer either. Too, 30 is still a state highway that sees some pretty serious numbers during peak commute. The 2012 argument is even weaker with today’s numbers.

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            Chris I July 30, 2015 at 2:29 pm

            Reducing the bridge to one lane for the uphill portion would not increase congestion. On both the east and west approaches, the intersections only feed one lane onto a two-lane bridge. The second lane simply acts as extra storage space for cars once they hit the other end of the bridge. A St. John’s bridge with one uphill lane, opening up to two lanes for the signals on each end would move just as many cars as the bridge does to day, but that one lane reduction over the total length would allow enough space for bike lanes. The lane reduction would have the added bonus of reducing the rampant speeding that happens on that bridge, improving everyone’s safety.

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    Cycle dad July 30, 2015 at 6:23 am

    Anyone want to ask if the extra Green Peace people want to volunteer to do some trash pick up on the UP railroad north of I84 (Sullivan’s Gulch) while they are waiting around? There is plenty of it and it would help in a practical way to keep Portland green…or is that not high profile enough?

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      Chris I July 30, 2015 at 2:30 pm

      Shouldn’t Uncle Pete clean up garbage on his private property?

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        q`Tzal August 1, 2015 at 10:09 pm

        Uncle Pete got permission from Uncle Sam to never worry about how much trash and spilt slop he has in his backyard.

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    Buzz July 30, 2015 at 11:03 am

    FWIW apparently the ice breaker did try to leave port this morning and was turned back by the activists.

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    Tom Hardy July 30, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    And about noon a judge decided to start fining the protesters (Greenpeace) $2500 an hour for obstructing traffic on the river. Need his or her name so the judge can be replaced.

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      rainbike July 30, 2015 at 1:37 pm

      I think that replacing this judge will require an act of Congress.

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      Lester Burnham July 30, 2015 at 1:41 pm

      Why? Because the judge is upholding the law?

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    LC July 30, 2015 at 1:24 pm

    How do the people hanging from the bridge poop? I assume they’ll eventually have to poop?

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    Angel July 30, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    Can I please have permission to add that first photo to the Wikipedia gallery for the St. Johns Bridge?

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      Angel July 30, 2015 at 1:41 pm

      because it’s beautiful

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      ethan July 30, 2015 at 3:19 pm

      Just do it. If anyone talks back, tell them “It’s okay, ethan said I could do it.”

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    Angel July 30, 2015 at 4:00 pm

    They’re requesting protesters to come down to the park right now. Live stream at: http://www.wweek.com/portland/blog-33534-us_coast_guard_police_are_preparing_to_remove_protesters_hanging_from_st_johns_bridge.html

    From the link:
    “Support needed ASAP,” they wrote in a mass text. “Climbers are being extracted.”

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    Joe Adamski July 30, 2015 at 8:56 pm

    The Greenpeace folks were suspended from the South side of the bridge. Separated by four lanes of very active traffic, bike/ped use of the North side of the bridge would have presented no challenge to the control/authority of the cops. This was just another exercise in cops maintaining control because they are cops. that is their nature. I really had no problem with the bridge being closed, however. it reduced the number of rush hour maniacs blasting through the neighborhood to get to I-5, 3 minutes faster. I don’t know what it is about Vancouver that makes folks rush to get there.

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      Dan July 30, 2015 at 10:27 pm

      Think about it, though: If you are Mayor Hales and you don’t want this protest to gain steam and attract additional support, your best bet is to inconvenience the general public by screwing up their ability to get home, and make it seem like it’s the protesters’ fault.

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    BikeJunkie July 31, 2015 at 11:37 am

    I was out on the water in a kayak. What I saw on the water had *very distinct* parallels to what happened up on the bridge. Just like every roadway, the river is public property. The sheriffs were telling kayaktivists that they were “trespassing” and would be arrested. However I saw several times more expensive motorboats being escorted through the area by police jetskis. So the only people ‘trespassing’ were people keeping their boats under the bridge to block the icebreaker.

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      Psyfalcon July 31, 2015 at 9:54 pm

      Did they really use the word trespassing?

      It is possible for the kayaks to be violating the right of way of the ship though. Large ships, restricted to a channel DO have right of way over paddlecraft.

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    esther2 August 1, 2015 at 11:16 am

    I had no trouble crossing the bridge by bike on thursday. The south sidewalk was closed but when we got to where the protesters were we easily crossed over to look down at the view. We could have ridden back on that sidewalk but chose not to since we didn’t want to go against the plan and their wasn’t much sidewalk traffic. There was a police presence at both ends, they seemed relaxed and friendly.

    I do think closing the bridge when the coast guard demanded the protesters be removed was wise. Any screw-ups could have been life threatening to protesters and police. I also think that for the protesters safety it was time for them to come down. Being suspended like that in 100º weather for that length of time could have all sorts of health implications.

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