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Protestors make show of force against ODOT’s ‘unnecessary’ removal of 26th Avenue bike lanes

The Street Trust Executive Director Jillian Detweiler.

(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

About two dozen people stood on the corners of SE 26th Avenue and Powell Boulevard last night to protest plans to remove a pair of bike lanes. As big, wet snowflakes fell, people rang horns and bike bells and held signs high that read, “No backpedaling on our safety,” “It’s always biking season,” “Keep your hands off our bike lane” and “Vision Zero now”.

“Why are we getting rid of bike lanes? We should be improving them and getting more.”
— JJ Heldmann, mother of Cleveland High School student

As we reported yesterday, despite the fact that Portland Commissioner Dan Saltzman (who oversees transportation) does not think removal of the lanes will improve safety, the Oregon Department of Transportation is forcing the Portland Bureau of Transportation to take them out. (Note that ODOT has no jurisdiction over 26th. PBOT owns and manages that road. ODOT only has leverage here because of an agreement the two agencies signed in 2016.)

Last night’s rally was organized by The Street Trust and marked a significant ratcheting up of their action around this issue. The organization’s top policy staffer Gerik Kransky and their Executive Director Jillian Detweiler were among the attendees.

In an interview, Detweiler said she’s spoken to ODOT Region 1 Director Rian Windsheimer — yet she still hasn’t heard a clear justification for removing the bike lanes. “He expressed concern for bike safety,” she said, “But his plan seems to be to force people to 28th and that’s just not realistic. Bikes have a right to be here. Bikes will be here. And bikes need to be as safe as they can be when they are here.”

Detweiler says removing the bike lanes is “Completely unnecessary” and she worries once they’re gone drivers will only go faster. “And drivers won’t be looking for bikes,” she added. “These are meager bike lanes for sure, but they at least provide the bikes some space.”

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Tom Durkin.

ODOT says they are making conditions safer because the lack of bike lanes will encourage more people to use a new, safer crossing two blocks east at 28th. But that’s not adequate, Detweiler says, “Greenways are great between places, but ultimately they are rarely where your destination is, and people have to be safe when they arrive at their destination. A high school could not be a more important destination.”

Southeast Portland resident JJ Heldmann showed up to the rally because she has a son who attends nearby Cleveland High School, which is directly adjacent to the bike lanes. Feldman’s son currently bikes to school, but she says he won’t use 28th because it’s too far out of the way (they live on 21st). “This intersection is scary,” she told me last night. “Why are we getting rid of bike lanes? We should be improving them and getting more.”

Tom Durkin lives in the area and he and his family have used the bike lanes since they were installed in the 1980s. His son graduated from Cleveland High and rode his bike on them everyday. Durkin is worried that if the lanes come out, people will still use them. “This is a traditional bike route and people know it’s here. For them to take away this infrastructure is unconscionable.” “I think people will continue to ride on the road here,” he continued, “And it will be unsafe.”

30-year-old Mt. Tabor area resident Andew Demarrias agreed with Durkin. “If they take it out I don’t think it will stop bike use, it’ll just make it more dangerous,” he said. “It sounds like flawed logic. They make the assumption that removing things will push people to other places. But really, this is the most convenient thoroughfare. People aren’t going to stop using it. You’ve really got to make both of them safe.”

So far no date has been announced for the removal. As for next steps, The Street Trust’s Detweiler says, “I’m hopeful we can get the plans revised.”

Here are a few more photos from the event:

That’s River City Bicycles owner David Guettler in white and former Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee Chair Jerry Zelada on his left.

Dan and Lucas Kaufman.

For more on this story, see our archives. And stay tuned, we’ve got more reporting on this coming soon.

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

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