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Disaster averted (for now) as most riders comply with cemetery biking ban

Most obeyed it, but still too many did not.
(Photo: David Cushman)

I have good news and bad news about the future of bicycle access in River View Cemetery.

As you might recall from our reporting last month, the privately-owned roads through the cemetery in southwest Portland (between the Willamette River and Terwilliger Blvd at the Sellwood Bridge) were closed to bicycle riders over Memorial Day Weekend. These roads are usually open to bikes because the cemetery recognizes that they provide a much safer alternative to the other roads in the area. Unfortunately many people don’t respect the cemetery for what is — a place for quiet reflection — and use it as a training route and/or speed through without regard for cemetery visitors.

(Note: The route is even a segment on the popular riding app Strava — which encourages people to ride fast to improve their ranking. The segment has been flagged for removal in the Strava system but has not yet been removed.)

With complaints on the rise, River View Cemetery Executive Director David Noble contacted us with a serious warning: If behavior of bicycle users doesn’t improve, he’ll be forced (by the cemetery’s member-owners) to ban bikes completely. In the interim, Noble decided to ban biking during the long Memorial Day holiday. If that ban was disrespected and if the poor behavior continued despite it, a complete ban would have been on the table.

Thankfully, most bicycle riders heeded the ban and there are no plans for a prohibition on pedaled vehicles.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that there were still a lot of jerks who biked through on Friday. Noble says about 200-250 riders ignored the signs that day alone. Then, when he stopped them, far too many were downright rude. Here’s part of a report Noble sent me via email:

I won’t share quotes from other staff, as that would be second-hand hearsay and I don’t want to mis-quote anyone, but personally, I had cyclists say the following things to me:

“I don’t care if you put in a 365 day a year ban, I will still ride through here.”; “What are you going to do, arrest me?”; “Who are you to tell us we can’t ride through here?”; “You let cars ride in here, so you are required to let bikes in, as well.”; “If you try to close this route, we’ll go to the City of Portland and have them take over your roads.”; and, of course, I was told to ‘Fuck Off’ by several particularly rude people, despite only having nicely asked them to please respect our private property over this special weekend.

We also heard from a reader whose uncle visited the cemetery on Monday. Portlander Joe Snyder said he was passed by at least eight riders. As a group of three came up the hill (those going down were riding so fast he couldn’t stop them and he didn’t want to yell), he stopped them to explain that the road was closed for the weekend. “Each of them turned back, thankfully, but all three professed complete ignorance, despite having ridden by two large signs, one placed on a cone right in the middle of the road,” Snyder reported. “Such blatant disrespect pretty much illustrates the problem,” he continued. “I occasionally ride through there and would be sad to lose the privilege.”

Who are these people? If it was you, you need to take a serious step back and get yourself together. If it was someone you know, you need to call them out for being jerks and set them straight once and for all.

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According to Noble, compliance with the ban drastically improved Saturday through Monday with an estimated 95 percent compliance rate. Why the big change? Noble says on those days the cemetery had “Young Marines” in full uniform at each gate. Here’s more from Noble:

While cyclists on Friday had no qualms whatsoever in ignoring adult staff that told them the route was closed, when a 10-year-old in full Marine uniform held up his hand to stop and said “I’m sorry sir, but the bike route is closed today”, the riders would just turn right around and go back out the gate! Or, if they said anything at all, it was a polite “OK, thank you, we’ll find another route.” It was refreshing to see that people still have a hard time being rude or disrespectful to a young person who asks them nicely to do something.

Noble said last year he estimated about 750 to 1,000 riders a day during Memorial weekend. This year the number plummeted to just a couple of dozen riders each day. “It was much better compliance than I had thought would happen, especially after Friday’s events,” he shared. (One possible reason for the change — besides the uniformed gatekeepers — is the difference in mindset between people biking to school or work on Friday versus people just out for a leisurely weekend ride.)

Despite the better compliance during the weekend, keep in mind that cemetery staff heard comments from visitors that they appreciated the bike ban — and some urged them to make it permanent. Every person who drives a car into the cemetery receives a feedback card. Out of a few hundred filled out, Noble said 12 comments mentioned bikes. Here they are:

1. “Thank you, thank you for no bikes this weekend.”
2. “Thank you for keeping bikes out on this holiday.”
3. “Love the no bikes on Memorial Day. No bike signs are great. No Bikes!”
4. “Thank you for not having cyclists in the cemetery.”
5. “Glad there are not so many bicycles this year. They should not be allowed in cemeteries anyway. This is no place for them – they are rude people.”
6. “I am really glad that bikes weren’t allowed in here on Memorial Day – thank you!!!”
7. “Thank you for closing the cemetery to bicycles for this weekend. It created a peaceful atmosphere.”
8. “Thanks for not having bikes going through today – we were able to concentrate on the pathways rather than watching out for speeding bicyclists!”
9. “Saw two bikers – would be nice if they obeyed signs.”
10. “Saw bicycles – not good.”
11. “The weekend ban on ‘no bicycles’ did not work. Wish the bicycles would slow down!!”
12. “Stop the bike riders 365 days a year. I paid for three plots; this is private property. Why do I have to listen to riders cussing about the ‘big f-ing hill’? I’m sick of being interrupted by rude, inconsiderate riders.”

Some of those comments should make you cringe. But it’s better to know how you are perceived than to live in ignorance of your impact to others. And keep in mind that Noble feels a majority of cemetery clients are supportive of the bicycle access and are willing to let bicycle use continue.

Based on all of this, Noble says the Memorial Day Weekend closure will definitely happen every year from now on. He might consider starting the ban on Saturday instead of Friday because he doesn’t want to inconvenience Lewis & Clark Law School students. And as long as people exhibit respect for others while they bike through, Memorial Day Weekend will be the only ban all year.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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