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Why does Multnomah County allow auto parking on the Morrison Bridge bike path?

Posted by on February 24th, 2016 at 11:28 am

bridgeparkinglead

Not a parking spot. Or is it?
(Photo: Jason J.)

Have you ever noticed a car parked on the Morrison Bridge bicycling and walking path?

As one of Portland’s precious few pieces of physically protected, non-motorized travel space it sure seems like a bad place to park. It would be one thing if this was a rogue private citizen, but in this case the cars belong to Multnomah County employees.

We first heard about this phenomenon last October from a reader named Jason J. Here’s an excerpt from his email:

“This is the third time in the past month that there have been cars parked on the path. The first 2 times, the cars weren’t marked and it looked like there was some work being done in the control towers, but this time, no one was around, just the car in the path. I don’t see county vehicles parking in car lanes to access the control booths on this or any other bridges, so I wonder why they think it is acceptable to park on a sidewalk/bike path here.”

Then we heard about the issue again on Monday afternoon via @sharrowPDX on Twitter:

So what’s the deal?

County spokesman Mike Pullen says the cars belong to bridge operators and electricians who need to work in the tower. Pullen confirmed that current policy allows these staff members to drive to the tower and park. “We ask them to not block the path for users. We don’t want a vehicle parked there for an extended period,” Pullen said in an initial email.

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We sent Pullen the image in our lead photo at the top of this story. He said the staffer was doing as advised and that the car was parked “so that the path could still be used.”

Pullen then did a bit more digging and found out that the reason county employees park on the path has to do with security concerns. Here’s more from one of his emails:

“For the security of employees working the night shift, the Morrison Bridge operator parks a vehicle by the bridge tower, on the outside edge of the path. Before this practice, the operator parked their vehicle off the bridge nearby. But we had repeated incidents of car break-ins.”

Pullen added that the Morrison bridge operator used to set out traffic cones and/or barricades around the parked car, but stopped doing that after those items were thrown into the river by passersby.

Pullen and the county acknowledge that parking a car on the bridge path is not ideal. To lessen the confusion and impact, he says they plan on marking the space and having employees drive “the smallest car possible.”

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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73 Comments
  • Avatar
    John Lascurettes February 24, 2016 at 11:35 am

    To lessen the confusion and impact, he says they plan on marking the space and having employees drive “the smallest car possible.”

    How about a bike? 😉

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) February 24, 2016 at 11:37 am

      Pretty sure the bridge will be in the bike-share service area.

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      Allan Rudwick February 24, 2016 at 12:12 pm

      folding bike would fit in the office probably

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    rick February 24, 2016 at 11:47 am

    More bad planning.

    ODOT recently paved a hillside on SW Raab Road in Sylvan by their ODOT office to add car parking. Nearby Sylvan Creek is badly polluted.

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    Alex Reed February 24, 2016 at 11:48 am

    This is government not being citizen-centered at its worst. So – we (County management) have this valuable asset (a bridge) that provides this valuable service (mobility) despite being extremely expensive per square foot. But, our employee has an issue with car security and we can’t/won’t/don’t feel like dealing with it by identifying a parking spot in a staffed parking garage and paying for it. (I assume the employees were previously parking on the street, presumably because it’s free at night). So, we’re just going to degrade the mobility service to citizens in order to provide car parking to employees (even though space in a parking structure is way less expensive than space on a bridge and the very mission of the bridges division is to provide mobility).

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      Spiffy February 24, 2016 at 12:26 pm

      why was the car being continually broken into? what did they keep leaving in the open in the vehicle that tempted thieves?

      I’d be scolding the employee, not coddling them by inconveniencing the public…

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        Dylan February 24, 2016 at 1:05 pm

        I don’t think victim blaming is really appropriate here.

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          J_R February 24, 2016 at 7:59 pm

          The only victims here are the cyclists whose safe path is sometimes blocked by lazy county employees with the acquiescence of managers who didn’t think this through.

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    Ben F. February 24, 2016 at 11:51 am

    When I was in Amsterdam bridge operators always showed up to open/close bridges on bikes – seemed like common sense to me! Of course, Portland is not Amsterdam… but why not give bridge workers a bike rather than a car?

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. February 24, 2016 at 11:52 am

    How hard is it for these employees to walk from the west bridgehead? Why should one person’s convenience take precedence over everyone else’s safety? Drawing a parking space on a MUP is not only illegal, it makes no sense, since the solution to this problem is easily solved by parking 1,000 feet to the west. The county even owns that parking lot!

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      Todd Hudson February 24, 2016 at 11:54 am

      You didn’t read the article did you? They had repeated car break-ins when they parked at the bridgehead. Their security and well-being of their property is more important.

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        Spiffy February 24, 2016 at 12:27 pm

        maybe stop leaving property visible inside the car?

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        Bjorn February 24, 2016 at 1:32 pm

        If it is that important why not park in the right hand motor vehicle lane?

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          John Lascurettes February 24, 2016 at 1:42 pm

          Right?! Let’s see how that goes over.

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          shirtsoff February 24, 2016 at 4:44 pm

          Thank you, Bjorn! That’s the question that was on my mind as soon as I saw the headline to this news article.

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        Eric U. February 26, 2016 at 12:23 pm

        I would like to see a collection of police reports. Otherwise, it doesn’t pass the smell test

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      John Lascurettes February 24, 2016 at 11:57 am

      According to the article, they were parking near the bridgehead – and he cars were getting broken into.

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. February 24, 2016 at 12:03 pm

        Fair enough. Surely there must be a better solution than blocking a multi-use path though.

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          K'Tesh February 24, 2016 at 6:35 pm

          Like have someone drive them out there, then come back to pick them up when they need to leave.

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. February 24, 2016 at 12:00 pm

      Turns out those parking lots were sold back in December for the public market development. Still, can’t these employees park in the space underneath the bridge? Or reserve a few of the on-street spaces along the north side of SW Morrison just west of Naito?

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    Buzz February 24, 2016 at 11:55 am

    If it’s parked in the sidewalk, I’d walk right over it.

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    Todd Hudson February 24, 2016 at 11:57 am

    “Before this practice, the operator parked their vehicle off the bridge nearby. But we had repeated incidents of car break-ins.”

    “the Morrison bridge operator used to set out traffic cones and/or barricades around the parked car, but stopped doing that after those items were thrown into the river by passersby.”

    This is why we can’t have nice things.

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      paikiala February 24, 2016 at 1:00 pm

      “Before this practice, the operator parked their vehicle off the bridge nearby. But we had repeated incidents of car break-ins.”

      Maybe it’s just my subversive nature, but the problem also appears to be the solution. They won’t park where the car keeps getting broken into.

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        Chris I February 24, 2016 at 4:46 pm

        Exactly what I was thinking.

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  • Anne Hawley
    Anne Hawley February 24, 2016 at 12:05 pm

    the Morrison bridge operator used to set out traffic cones and/or barricades around the parked car, but stopped doing that after those items were thrown into the river by passersby.

    I’m afraid I LOL’ed.

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    Allan Rudwick February 24, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    Adding weight to a bridge (like this car) lowers the lifespan of it. Not that significantly, but it does

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      Craig February 24, 2016 at 12:35 pm

      How exactly? I’d love to hear the engineering based explanation of your theory.

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      John Lascurettes February 24, 2016 at 1:43 pm

      It’s not on the lift portion.

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    CaptainKarma February 24, 2016 at 12:29 pm

    Interesting to know the situation. Perhaps they could install some signs at the bridgehead that can’t be thrown in the river, like a flip open sign or a blinking light. But yeah, i’ve seen unstable people throw safety stuff off the seawall at the riverfront numerous times. Might be some bikes down there, too!

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    Spiffy February 24, 2016 at 12:32 pm

    seems like a violation of ORS 811.550 (http://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/811.550)… they get no exemption because it’s not “necessary” for them to park there, only convenient…

    what time does the car get there and who wants to write the citizen citation?

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      David February 24, 2016 at 1:34 pm

      That’s what I thought. Call PPB to enforce the law!

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    Bill Stites February 24, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    I’ve seen this many times. Parking a car, and often a truck, on a pedestrian and bicycle only lane for the convenience of county employees – it is OUTRAGEOUS.
    Safety issue?? please. Why would they be exempt from what average citizens need to deal with? The exercise will do them good.
    It’s this mentality of privilege that leads to such inequities in our county systems.
    Any idea who we can complain to? I have a photo for every time I pass one here … then again, they are not denying it, they are justifying it!

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    MaxD February 24, 2016 at 12:36 pm

    This illustrates how undersized this path is. This path is nowhere near large enough for 2-way ped and bike traffic. It works, sort of, now because there are zero practical connections to it on either side. Even the most modest improvements to the connection to this bridge would render the path itself unusable. They should not invest any more money into this bridge or connection to/from it until they are ready to provide a significant route across it.

    That said, it is beyond lame that these operators are allowed to drive and park on the bridge- get a bike!

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    dan February 24, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    I’ve detoured around cars and trucks there plenty of times, and to be honest, never thought it was a big deal. They park to the side, and there’s plenty of room to get around. You could argue that they wouldn’t take up a car lane on the bridge for parking, and that’s true, but collectively, I think we have bigger fish to fry.

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      Eric February 24, 2016 at 2:36 pm

      Agree Dan. But everyone who comments on this website is easily outraged.

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        Alex Reed February 26, 2016 at 7:26 pm

        Am I going to spend actual useful time to organize a rally on this issue? No! Will I, while immobilized by rocking a baby to sleep, write a whiny yet cutting comment in case someone at the County who has the power to change this and is mentally open to the possibility reads the comments? Yes!

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    oliver February 24, 2016 at 12:46 pm

    The PBA and the city are currently employing a strategy to actively encourage employees who work downtown to take Tri-Met to and from work. One phase of this was to raise parking rates to $2.00 an hour, the next phase is to raise the parking rates at the off street parking lots downtown because ‘too many employees’ are parking in them. (I’m neither saying that I disagree, nor am I ignorant of the value of the turnover of parking spaces, only that it is happening)

    Why then, are we providing a free parking space, on the sidewalk no less, directly outside of this particular employees ‘office’?

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      paikiala February 24, 2016 at 1:01 pm

      The City doesn’t own the bridge. The county does.

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    Craig February 24, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    The car is there infrequently and for a specific and essential city function and makes a concerted effort to leave as much room for cyclists and pedestrians. Electricians have to carry heavy and valuable tools and equipment to do their jobs. Now that you know why the car is parked there, drop the issue and let them do their jobs.

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      Alex Reed February 24, 2016 at 12:57 pm

      Electricians, maybe. Bridge operators – no, I’m not aware of heavy equipment they have to carry.

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        Craig February 24, 2016 at 1:07 pm

        Since we are guessing here….I’m guessing that the bridge operator may have to move back and forth regularly between bridge control centers and the car helps these employees to perform their job function. Yeah a bike would probably work great for doing just that, but we can’t require people to ride bicycles, we can only choose to ride them ourselves.

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          Gary B February 24, 2016 at 5:09 pm

          Pretty sure City parking enforcement is required to use those 3-wheeled micro-car things. Seems like that’d be perfect for your hypothetical shuttling around.

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      Robert February 26, 2016 at 10:53 pm

      The car is there every Thursday and Friday afternoon. Of every week, for the past 6 months at a minimum.

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    Jim February 24, 2016 at 12:53 pm

    Wow people, get off the self entitlement horse (or bike). Show a little compassion for the bridge employees, and compromise a little. There’s still enough room to get past the car. Cars get broken into all the time that have no property showing, thieves go after the home address on registration so they can rip the place off when they know the resident is at work. Or they look for anything hidden or check the trunk. THINK!

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      Eric Leifsdad February 25, 2016 at 11:11 am

      Compromise? Park it in the auto lane.

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    Champs February 24, 2016 at 1:06 pm

    That BikePortland only became aware of this in October tells you what you need to know about Morrison. Like almost everyone else, is not my bridge of first choice, but as someone who prefers loops to out-and-back routes, I use it enough to know that the practice has been going on for years.

    This is at or near the bottom of my list of stressful issues. Government vehicles do need to be driven on bikeways from time to time, but I’ve never seen one faster than maybe 5MPH. Parked cars, even less of an issue.

    Not that it can be helped, but tourists taking group photos are the real menace on our bridges. Cameras on the bridges are red flags just like hybrids and European luxury cars near upscale grocery store parking lots: “Should I look before I back up? Nah.”

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      John Lascurettes February 24, 2016 at 1:50 pm

      The MUP on the Morrison is wonderful. I’d use the bridge more if it had better approaches and access.

      It also doesn’t help that from an address on SE Morrison to SW Stark, Google bike directions tell me to take the bridge, as in the auto lane, itself. Not only dangerous but illegal west of SE Grand (Nonmotorized Vehicles Prohibited sign just west of Grand). I’ve reported this many times (again today in fact) to Google and they’ve told me that it’s been fixed, but every time I look to see if it has been fixed, they tell me to ride my bike in the lane.

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        Champs February 25, 2016 at 9:05 am

        Does the Maps team fully understand that there are *two* Morrison Avenues and that you can’t get to one from the other?

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          John Lascurettes February 25, 2016 at 12:14 pm

          ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I’ve told them in my notes that the MUP can only be accessed via SE Water Ave or from the Eastbank Esplanade.

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        Easy February 26, 2016 at 12:05 am

        If you’re up for it, you can try to fix it yourself in Google Map Maker.

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    EPO Rider February 24, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    Yeah. Non-issue. It’s just a part of this bridge and has been for years. There is going to be a service vehicle from time to time. That’s the way it is and I don’t see any reason for it to change.

    Says a guy who hopes other cyclists continue to prefer the Hawthorne.

    🙂

    Saying hello to the worker up there at 6:30 a.m. in the morning is my reward for dusting up that nice, steep ramp most choose to avoid.

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    Steve B. February 24, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    I take the bridge regularly and pass parked cars like this every so often. Since the pathway is not as busy as other bridges (bad/no connections to bikeways on either end), it doesn’t seem to interrupt the flow of traffic too much.

    What baffles me is what they would do if there were no upgraded, separated pathway for them to use for this purpose. Would they park in the vehicle lanes previously? What happens on other bridges?

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    Boris February 24, 2016 at 1:41 pm

    Please use the TowIt app for either your iPhone or Android phone to document the cars parked on the walking/bike path. Should allow for a clear picture of which cars are parked on the bridge. Also, feel free to use TowIt in other parts of Portland.

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    James February 24, 2016 at 2:11 pm

    I don’t see how this a problem. Its the operator of the bridge. We should be more wise when we choose our battles.

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    tyea February 24, 2016 at 2:36 pm

    County personnel occasionally have to carry up to 80 lbs of equipment for bridge work down to the pit of the bascule pier, or out to to where the East and West leafs join on a catwalk underneath the roadway. Having a vehicle nearby the tower entrance saves a lot of time and physical exertion. In addition, the operators do have the security problems, especially night shifts during high water season.

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    tyler February 24, 2016 at 2:54 pm

    WTF!?

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    kittens February 24, 2016 at 3:10 pm

    The county should be ashamed.
    Once again, in ways big in small, they make excuses for poor decisions. The obvious parallel being the situation with the defective bridge deck nearby. Obviously this is not about safety and to think any sane person would believe this is an insult to our intelligence.

    The only excuse is laziness. If they have equipment, have a cart. If they can’t pull 80 lbs as part of work, reassign them to a position commensurate with their ability. If they are concerned with car break in, do what everyone else does and park in a safer place.

    This coming from a dyed in the wool “tax and spend” liberal. Ideally government officials should set an example of decency.

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      tyea February 24, 2016 at 3:15 pm

      How are you going to climb down ladders, stairways, through 3 ft square holes in steel plates with a cart? You also don’t want to drop anything in the river.

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        JeffS February 24, 2016 at 7:14 pm

        Is this a rhetorical question, or just a poorly thought out one?

        How are you going to climb down ladders, stairways, through 3 foot square holes with a car?

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    kittens February 24, 2016 at 3:16 pm

    And how may I ask, did they manage to operate the bridge safely for the first 50-some years before they build this MUP which now serves as a glorified employee of the month parking?

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    tyea February 24, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    Before the sidewalk widening,road traffic lanes were closed for maintenance vehicles. Can’t answer your question about the bridge operator vehicles.

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    smartin February 24, 2016 at 4:03 pm

    So where do the operators of the Hawthorne and Burnside bridges park their cars? Why does the Morrison Bridge person get special treatment?

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      smartin February 24, 2016 at 4:07 pm

      I meant Broadway Bridge, not Burnside.

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        Doug Klotz February 27, 2016 at 5:29 pm

        Well, the Burnside Bridge needs an operator too. (Or do they drive out there and park in the bike lane?) So, yes. Why does the Morrison Bridge operator drive to the control booth, when bridge operators at no other bridge do? Surely the Broadway bridge operator must worry if she or he parks in Old Town or the Eastside, that their car will be broken into.

        The answer seems to be “because they can!”

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    Cory P February 24, 2016 at 4:42 pm

    I would be happy to lend the bridge operators a skateboard to get from the nearest secured parking area to the bridge.

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    RushHourAlleycat February 24, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    I get car break ins too. Buy a cargo bike and a U-Lock.

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    Randy February 24, 2016 at 6:34 pm

    The county car does block bike/ped transport. There is no need for a car on this bike/ped path even if you’re an electrician
    http://federation.cyclelogistics.eu/members/evelo

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    Opus the Poet February 24, 2016 at 8:20 pm

    You guys think you have it bad in Portland? http://gothamist.com/2016/02/24/bike_lane_parking_plentiful.php

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    Anton February 24, 2016 at 8:38 pm

    Smugly suggesting that every county employee just ride a bike to their work station is just plain ableist.

    The MUP on the Morrison is wide and completely segregated from automobile traffic. The minuscule inconvenience this causes me has not even registered in my head as an annoyance.

    In a city where the government slapped a bunch of sharrow signs on the streets and called it good in the 2000’s, or in a country where distracted driving is becoming a cultural norm, is this really what we’re going to work ourselves up over?

    This entire discussion is about as ridiculous as motorists complaining about the five seconds it takes them to safely pass a bike rider. There are hundreds of other more worthy bike related issues in this city to be concerned with.

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      middle of the road guy February 25, 2016 at 8:25 am

      Agreed. How hard is it to bike a round a single car of a public employee performing a public service job?

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        Alex Reed February 26, 2016 at 7:31 pm

        How hard is it to bike around a myriad of minor inconveniences and dangers degrading our already-tattered bike network further? Actually, pretty hard. I’d say that the day-to-day de-prioritization of bicycle-related maintenance, detours, signage, etc. by local government is pretty high on the list of barriers to more biking in Portland. (Of course, behind infrastructure, education, enforcement, density, and removal of incentives to private motor vehicle use).

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    rachel b February 25, 2016 at 2:01 pm

    Wow. That’s some seriously primo, princessy parking! I’d like not to have to be inconvenienced or worry about vandals and thieves, too. Maybe we should tackle the vandals and thieves issue.

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    Bob February 26, 2016 at 11:39 am

    Really? This is a problem to get worked up about? Ride around the car. I use the Morrison weekly and have never been inconvenienced by the occasional car parked on the bridge.

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