Group proposes bicycling barrier on Willamette Greenway Trail through Riverplace

Willamette Greenway Trail through Riverplace-5.jpg
Riverplace has shops, restaurants, and lots of tourists.
It also has a popular path running right through it.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Friends of Riverplace formed earlier this year to help reclaim South Waterfront Park and the Riverplace Marina from “loitering, drug dealing, and off-leash dogs.” The group, made up of property owners, condominium residents and business owners in the area, does regular foot patrols has had success in improving safety for the many tourists, restaurant-goers and others who frequent the area.

Now they’re focused on a different problem: people who ride bikes on the path with no regard for the safety of others.

Susan West at the BAC meeting last night
with Helmut Gieben and Laurie Ogan looking on.

Friends of Riverplace volunteer Susan West, Riverplace Condominium Association Board Director Helmut Gieben and Mia’s Boutique owner Laurie Ogan came to the City of Portland’s Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting in City Hall last night to share a proposal.

Their idea is to erect barriers at each end of the Greenway Trail (between SW Montgomery and Harbor Way) in order to force people riding bikes to get off and walk.

“This is a critical and alarming issue,” West shared at the BAC meeting, “Almost everyone has been hit and we’re afraid of a lawsuit.”

“This is not your typical multi-use path,” Gieben added, “Imagine having bicycles in a mall.” “Even though there are signs that say bicycles have to yield to pedestrians, it actually works the other way around.”

According to Ogan some of her customers won’t return because “They’re afraid to walk on the Esplanade down there.”

West, Gieben and Ogan each shared stories of people zooming through the area on bikes and striking fear into the hearts of other path users.

“The large number of people that are coming through are racing and are commuters. The signs don’t work, we need a barrier to protect the blind people, the babies, and so on.”

Instead of the path along the waterfront, they want people to ride on SW Montgomery and Harbor Way. They referred to those streets as having a “new bike path” that should be a viable alternative. And besides, they said, “It’s just two blocks that we’re asking people to walk.”

The groups says they’ve asked the Portland Parks Bureau to change the use-status of the path. “We want people on bikes to come, but we don’t want them riding through the area,” West said. “We’re interested in seeing if we can get the bike committee to support this idea of a change in use. The Parks Bureau has been reluctant to make this change because it’s designated as an MUP [multi-use path], but we’re hoping that would change.”


If this sounds familiar to you, that’s because very similar concerns arose in August 2007. Back then condo residents got so upset over bicycle riders that they erected an illegal sign that said “Bicycles Must Be Walked” and then had private security guards enforce it. That episode ended with a stern warning to Riverplace residents from the Parks Bureau reminding them they have no right to require people to walk on what is a federally funded and officially designated multi-use path (not to mention part of the 40-Mile Loop).

I went down to observe the area today around 2:00 pm. While not as hectic as it is during the evening rush hour/happy hour, there was a steady flow of people on foot and on bike: A mom was blowing bubbles as her baby took what looked to be some of her first steps; tourists ate ice cream; restaurant workers set out tables; people pedaled slowly as they took in the sights of a gorgeous fall day.

It’s very rare for a multi-use path to have adjacent commercial and residential use.
There’s seating for cafes on boths sides of the path.

All the people I saw on bikes rode slowly and with courtesy. One guy on a bike even stepped off his pedals momentarily when he came up to people walking 5-6 abreast.

Then Gary Sansom and Shawn Harper rolled up. They live in northeast Portland and were on their way to the Portland Sports Bar. It’s a ride they’ve been doing for 15 years. “This is just part of my loop,” Sansom said. He goes from the Rose Quarter to the Sellwood Bridge. “It’s gotta’ be one of the largest non-traffic loops in the country.”

Gary Sansom (L) and Shawn Harper cruising en route to a nearby bar.

What would you do if someone put up a barrier and required you to walk? I asked. “I’d ride anyways,” Sanson replied, smiling.

“It is supposed to be used by everyone, including, like it or not, people who are rude or obnoxious but who have every right to be there.”
— David Hampstem, PBOT Bicycle Advisory Committee member

At the BAC last night, several members concurred that rude riding on paths like this is a problem. But the barrier request didn’t get much support. “I disagree there’s a ‘bike path’ close by,” said the BTA’s Carl Larson, speaking to the assertion that since there’s a safe bikeway one block west there’s no need to ride on the Greenway path. “It’s not a ‘bike path’ [on Harbor Way], it’s a street with a little bit of paint [sharrows] and a hotel with a lot of out-of-state rental cars on it.”

David Hampsten, a BAC member who represents east Portland interests said the core question is whether or not the city still considers the Riverplace section of the Greenway Trail to be a multi-use path. If it is an MUP, than it needs to maintain a 15-foot width at all times. “If this is a MUP the tables and other stuff should maybe be moved so that there is more width and cyclists can go thru,” Hampsten said. “It is supposed to be used by everyone, including, like it or not, people who are rude or obnoxious but who have every right to be there.”

At the end of the meeting, BAC Chair Ian Stude acknowledged that dangerous riding on this congested path is a serious issue. But, he said, “It’s more complicated than it seems.” Stude said the committee will come back to the issue at a later date and that they will not recommend any course of action at this time.

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