I don’t ride on Lombard. You probably don’t ride on Lombard. Heck, why would anyone ride on Lombard?
It’s a state highway, a freight route, and people drive about 50 mph on average! In many sections — especially around NE 42nd where 38-year-old Martin Greenough was killed on Saturday — Lombard is essentially an urban freeway. Biking is legally allowed, but practically prohibited by design.
But you wouldn’t know that by looking at a city bike map.
In the past few days I’ve noticed a familiar thread of conversation around this tragic crash: Why was Martin even riding on that section of Lombard when everyone knows to avoid it like the plague? Some people, on a website that shall not be named, even go so far as blaming Martin for being in a place not meant for bike riders.
But what if Martin had no idea just how dangerous Lombard was until it was too late?
For the past few days I’ve been trying to track down people who knew Martin. I want to share more about who he is so we can all remember him as something more than just “that bicyclist.” One thing I’ve learned is that he moved to Portland only two weeks ago.
I’ve spoken with one of Martin’s housemates, Monica Maggio, who shared some touching memories of him. I’ll share more of our conversation in a separate post (I’m still waiting/hoping to hear from his family); but one thing she told me was that Martin had just gotten a new job and was riding home from work when he was hit.
“He had just bought his bike… Saturday night might have been the first time he commuted to that location and back,” Monica said.
He very likely had no idea there was a dangerous gap in the bikeway on his way home.
Martin worked around NE 11th and Columbia and he lived near NE Alberta and Cully — a nice bike commute distance of about 3.6 miles with a direct east-west connection via Lombard.
If not for the admonitions from Monica and the other two housemates Martin was living with, he might have tried to get home via Columbia. “But we told him,” Monica said, “Please don’t ride on Columbia. Find another route. Columbia is too fast, too crazy.”
As many of us know, as dangerous as the biking conditions are on Lombard, Columbia is even worse.
So Martin chose Lombard, which was actually the lesser of two evils.
Monica said Martin was using one of the city bike maps of Portland to orient himself and find his route. It’s very likely that he simply opened up the map, saw that Lombard was listed as a bikeway and figured he’d take it to Cully, then up to Alberta. Straight and direct. Easy-peasy.
Unfortunately the bike map doesn’t point out that Lombard is a state highway where people drive 50+ mph. Or that the bike lane is often full of debris and gravel or that people often park their cars in the bike lane, forcing bike riders to contend with fast-moving auto traffic. (Stay tuned for our next post which takes a closer look at the riding conditions in this area.)
And inexplicably, the City of Portland bike map doesn’t list the notorious bike lane gap at 42nd as a caution area (it’s a wonderful map and the city staff who work on it are top-notch quality folks, so I’m sure they’ll address this in the next printing).
On the city bike map, the hostile and dangerous bikeway on Lombard is depicted in the exact same way as the relatively serene and safe bikeway on N Vancouver, or the civilized and respectable, grade-separated cycle tracks on Cully.
In other words, to someone new to town there’d be no reason to avoid Lombard. He wasn’t familiar with the neighborhood sidestreets and his map said Lombard would take him directly to Cully with a bike lane the whole way. And of course, Martin probably realized how bad it was once he got on it. But we’ve all done that. We ride on a street and think, ‘Dang, that was scary, I won’t ride here again.’ But we do. Because we might be in a hurry, or we might not have any other choice. Or, like in Martin’s case, we might simply not know of a safer place to ride.
“He was just getting to know the city,” said Monica. “He might have just wanted to give it a shot and see.”