Support BikePortland - Journalism that Matters

Comment of the Week: A woman’s fear of riding on the I-205 path

Posted by on March 18th, 2019 at 10:46 am

Southbound on 205 path where it goes under Sandy Blvd.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

A comment written by Roberta on March 9th touched on an issue that we’ve addressed several times in recent years: People who live on and adjacent to multi-use paths.

In response to our story about paths along the Columbia Slough, Roberta said conditions on I-205 have become so bad she’s afraid to ride on it. And several other readers echoed her concerns.

Here’s her comment:

“Right now 205 path is scary and I won’t do it again. On Sunday March 3 I joined the 205 bike path at Prescott, heading north to go shopping at Target by the airport. Near the Sandy underpass there was a large encampment with guys stripping bike frames. The scary part was the encampment under Sandy. Homesteaders had their belongings spread over nearly all the entire bikeway, leaving a path just barely wide enough for my bike tire and pedals. Bike frames hung overhead and I had to duck to avoid being hit by the “inventory”. People were inside the tents. Propane tanks and then pure garbage abounds. I chose not to bike home that way – too creepy. So I chose to bike home via Alderwood > Cornfoot > 47th by Whitaker Ponds. Crossing Columbia at 47th/42nd was fine but that hill heading south on 42nd is too steep and too narrow. I walked my bike on the sidewalk on the opposite side (facing traffic) and that sidewalk ends as well. Way too narrow for uphill biking and fast cars.

I’m a woman in my mid-50’s, and I’ve been bike commuting in Portland since the 90s. Not the timid 80 y/o used as an example, but also not strong enough to keep up with traffic when the hill is steep and the road narrow.

I sure would like to see that encampment under Sandy cleaned up. It’s been there a long time, but never taken up so much traffic space as this week. I would have taken a picture, but no way with those people working on all those bike parts. I might have gotten beaten up or my own bike taken from me.”

Advertisement

Roberta’s comment reminded me of a story from another woman who’d contacted me with similar concerns about this exact location two years ago. The woman had used the City of Portland’s PDX Reporter app to report the camps and trash. She said much of the path under the Sandy Blvd “tunnel” was blocked by trash, tents, and other items.

In response to Roberta’s comment, a reader named “curly” wrote, “It is a tragedy that the city, and east Portland residents in particular, have effectively lost this premier active transportation facility because it is considered unsafe to ride. I would also add that it is the only lighted Multi Use Path so it’s usable 24/7 were it not for the described unsafe conditions.”

I chose Roberta’s comment for several reasons: It highlights an important, complicated, and sensitive topic many people are afraid to talk about out of fear of being called uncompassionate or “anti-houseless”; She’s a woman in her 50s and I’m eager to amplify non-male voices here; And she shares a personal vulnerability and experience I think many others can relate to.

Thank you Roberta.

If you see a great comment, please flag it for me by writing a reply that includes the words “comment of the week” (so I can find it via search).

For more on issues related to people camping on paths, see our homelessness archives.

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

Never miss a story. Sign-up for the daily BP Headlines email.

BikePortland needs your support.

NOTE: Thanks for sharing and reading our comments. To ensure this is a welcoming and productive space, all comments are manually approved by staff. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for meanness, discrimination or harassment. Comments with expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia will be deleted and authors will be banned.

90
Leave a Reply

avatar
37 Comment threads
53 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
52 Comment authors
Matt S.dwkRobertKTayloreddie Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
GrannyGear
Guest
GrannyGear

It’s worse than this post suggests.

Chainstays
Subscriber
Chainstays

Sadly, the path along I-5 north, under Marine Drive near Delta Park is currently facing a similar situation. While I have never felt unsafe from the folks living there, the amount of waste, both human and otherwise, will be a barrier to some.

JP
Guest
JP

I am also a woman who lives in east Portland and used to ride the 205 path regularly. I’m not afraid of homeless folks, but I’ve also stopped using the path in recent months because I feel it’s unsafe. The underpass at Sandy is a perfect example. It’s been totally blocked for months, and the city hasn’t responded to dozens of reports about it. We have precious little bike infrastructure out here, and it’s a real shame that the 205 path is no longer a safe route for vulnerable road users.

dan
Guest
dan

I’m a strong and confident male rider in his 40s, and I am not comfortable with riding the 205 path. I’d rather take my chances in traffic. Like JP, I think it’s a very disappointing state of affairs – beyond that, it becomes a reason to not invest in building more separated infrastructure.

P
Guest
P

I’m in a similar demographic as Roberta, having similar issues with the pedestrian underpass tunnel-thingy that I use to get to the bus stop. It’s dark, about half the width of the 205 path, and completely enclosed except for the entrance and exit. Super creepy even when it’s empty.

Over the winter it filled up with campers and their belongings and trash. A large pile of syringes appeared at one end. Nobody every bothered me directly, but I had to stop walking that way because it was so crowded in there that I was afraid of stepping on a sleeping person (I was literally stepping over people who were lying across the full width of the walkway), or into a pile of broken glass or worse. The alternatives are to either run across 4 lanes of traffic on Naito, or walk nearly a mile to the next closest stop.

I’ve made numerous reports to PDX Reporter over the past couple months explaining this entire situation (including how unsafe I feel), but so far it has not been cleaned up, or even appeared on their list of sites that they say they will clean eventually (https://www.portlandoregon.gov/toolkit/71771).

Matt
Guest
Matt

Wow. How is this possibly acceptable? A camp in a street under an overpass would be cleared immediately.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

that path has been unusable for years due to the conditions that are directly caused by the people who have taken it over to live there. I have always felt safer mixing with cars on sandy than riding under the overpass there, and Sandy is NOT bike friendly from Killingsworth to Prescott.

B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

My wife is a woman in her late fifties. We live adjacent to the river bike path system in Eugene. PDX has homeless issues, but our neighborhood has 4500 housed residents and another 700-1100 unhoused “residents” and many of them have taken to camping along the bike paths. It’s an entirely different level of experience than most people can even imagine.

Let me tell you why my wife, who is a lifelong cyclist and has about half a million miles in the saddle, limits how much she rides on these paths without an escort even though they connect us to most of the city:

About 18 months ago, a homeless man who subsequently was convicted of two armed robberies went after my wife on a pre-sunrise ride. What he didn’t know, because of the darkness and her bright headlight, was that she was riding captain on a tandem with a large man riding stoker. While the thug called off his attack once he realized it wasn’t just a lone woman, it was an unsettling experience. Six months later, the same thing happened in the same place. Six months after that, she had yet another such experience, but this time she was on her single bike. Fortunately, I wasn’t far behind her and her assailant realized his attack wasn’t going to end well for him if he continued.

Then there’s all the times we have seen people from these camps laying in wait, sometimes up on adjacent fences or right behind shrubberies. Every few months a lone female is attacked on these paths and usually fends off her assailant, but those women tend to be much younger than my wife and don’t have disabilities like my wife does.

It shouldn’t be relevant, but I do spend a lot of time and energy helping our local homeless community. I’m part of a team that got two actual indoor plumbing bathrooms opened up 24/7/365 plus three porta-potties (with garbage cans and sharps drop boxes), all in our neighborhood. Our team is working to get better facilities opened up so that people don’t camp on the river and streets, but that’s a big fight where it feels like for every half-step forward we are forced to take 0.49 steps back. The need is enormous, the resources aren’t.

jonno
Guest
jonno

Male voice here echoing anger at the loss of our precious off-street routes. I rode the 205 path a couple weeks back with my wife and brother and it was a terrible experience. Camps under Sandy, the path completely blocked just north of Burnside, garbage and needles and menace everywhere. I felt vulnerable riding in a group; my wife refuses to ride on it again under any circumstances, especially by herself.

This past weekend with the wind out of the east would have been a perfect chance to ride a loop including the 205 path. I opted to enjoy the sunshine elsewhere.

Scott Kocher
Guest
Scott Kocher

This was supposed to be temporary due to housing emergency but probably predictably has become ongoing.

maxD
Guest
maxD

similar problems in North Portland, particularly on the Going Path between Interstate and Swan Island, and the path along the river south of Daimler. These were once popular jogging routes, dog walking routes and places I would bike with my daughter and other kids from the neighborhood. We would often bike down to the river, spend some time picking up trash that washed up, then play on the beach. Now the path is lined with tents, there is human feces on the path!. The beach is FULL of garbage that goes directly into the river. The sand has syringes, broken glass and human waste in it. The residents are often territorial and menacing. None of the women I know will run there anymore, People have stopped taking their kids there. The City is completely failing everyone in these situations.

Bradley Ling
Guest
Bradley Ling

I live in NE Portland, and avoid this segment of the 205 Bike path in particular, because this encampment makes me nervous. They often take up so much space that if there was a cyclist coming in the other direction, a crash would be likely. It is very frustrating to be pushed out of this potentially great cycling infrastructure.

PS – I received mail from the City of Portland sometime this winter saying they were planning on clearing many homeless camps from the I205 Bike Path Corridor this winter, apparently that has not happened…

CaptainKarma
Guest
CaptainKarma

It’s going to take making someone in high places sweat and squirm and be uncomfortably unconcomfortable. I don’t want to immediately jump on the mayor, but! He needs to ride these routes. Of course he will have bodyguards, tho.

Jamie
Guest
Jamie

Likewise – back in January I rode through this section of 205, as I was passing through, something was thrown at me, bounced off my front wheel and slammed the fence. It was a grill grate from something like a Weber 22 inch grill. I was lucky not to crash, or worse. I’m also a late 30’s male, with confident riding abilities, but didn’t stick around to see what/why it was launched at me. Such a sketchy place, won’t go through there anymore. The 205 as a whole I’ve pretty much written off at this point, I’m so disappointed with the trash strewn about this area and the city as a whole, but threatening behaviors is next level.

dwk
Guest
dwk

It is unacceptable and just getting worse.
Wheeler is so disappointing… He should just resign since he appears to have lost all interest..
This city has so much going for it (except the now terrible traffic) but this problem which is really not being addressed at any serious level is ruining the livability of the city.
One issue that should have all hands on deck to address is just not being addressed at all in a lot of areas in the city.

John
Guest
John

On a practical note, Maywood Park / NE 99th is a nice bypass to the 205 path in this area (which along with the between Stark / Burnside is one of the more problematic spots). Jump off after the 84 exchange, then back on after Sandy.

I recognize that this isn’t a solution… just want to point out a nice bypass which is simultaneously more pleasant and also faster (though there are a few stop signs on NE 99th).

Hazel
Guest
Hazel

The area near E Burnside on the path is bad too. Lots of trash and often wide encampments where you can barely squeeze by. I’ve seen the camps being cleaned up but new camps just spring up a few days later.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

Look at the upside, if things keep going this way , people will stop moving to Portland and home values and rents will go back down to reasonable levels. Then perhaps some of the campers can afford to live in real dwellings. The world is full of feedback loops that push things back and forth toward equilibrium.

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

I am a 57 year old large man, and I will never again ride the I-205 path between Holgate and Burnside until something changes. This is not just a “woman’s fear.” I don’t mind the homeless, but I do mind the path being an obstacle course. I would rather take my chances on 92nd Ave. There are not enough safe North/South Routes in this area so it’s kind of sad to see this great resource unavailable. If this was happening on a street, the city would act (or is this ODOT’s responsibility?) Not sure why its okay on the I-205 MUP.

— The section between Holgate and Washington/Stark is a crazy mess with garbage and camping right onto the path. You are stuck between a chainlink fence and the Freeway sound barrier with not much room. The tents and other stuff can force you to walk your bike to make it through.

— The section from Glisan St through Gateway Green and Maywood Park are fantastic

— You decide between taking the Merge onto Sandy Blvd (My Choice) or going under Sandy Blvd to Killingsworth. Neither are great options. The Merge onto Sandy puts you in the travel lane because of re-stripping creating three travel lanes with NO shoulder, or you go under Sandy Blvd

— If you jump on at Killingsworth to ride over I-205 into Vancouver its pretty good accept where the path goes under I-205 and comes up between the freeway. I ride that daily and notice ODOT does a decent job keeping the trash and shopping carts cleaned out underneath and up over the bridge.

Not sure why ODOT seems to ignore other sections

Maria
Guest
Maria

I just rode there Sunday (mid-day) and it was downright scary. I’m a bold rider but it was pretty dicey. The firepit in the middle of was pretty hot.
It’s great that we can all vest our frustrations and fears here, but is there something being done to notify those in an official capacity who may be able to do something?

rick
Guest
rick

Does it help with rent-control and government overreach? Government this and that.

Al
Guest
Al

I just rode through there on Friday evening. The path pictured was so blocked that I had to walk my bike through as I didn’t know if the sleeping bags crossing the path had people in them. The folks there were super polite and cleared the rest of the way for me but this is definitely a safety and security concern to the point where it can’t be allowed to continue.

The problem is that the city has cleared areas where homeless people were previously camping without additional remedy for them. This only leads to people seeking other accommodations which, in many cases, are worse than where they were previously camping. Any actions the city takes to removing homeless people from areas such as this need to be followed up with a larger program to provide space, amenities and resources for them. Because this brings up the issue of budgeting, you can’t discuss this problem without getting political. I know people like to “just bike” and all but then you get into this topic and unfortunately, you need to broaden the scope of the discussion and the hard part here is that no single authority will be able to deal with this. The city can’t solve it. Communities affected can’t solve it. The county can’t solve it and the state can’t solve it. This needs to be addressed at EVERY LEVEL coordinating with the others! Unfortunately, the country’s executive branch is preoccupied by fake emergencies to put off action on real issues because everyone’s misery is someone else’s business model. This “government is the problem” mind set has proven to be a failure over and over again for the past 40 years! People with this ideology need to be kept as far from government as possible.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

The homeless camping problem is one that no big or medium sized West Coast city has been able to solve. I think this is too big for any one mayor or city councilor to solve. It is a widespread, complicated and entrenched side effect of the direction of our economic and social system over the last 40 years. There are no quick cleanups, policy tweaks, get tough policies or half backed funding fixes for this one folks. We need a big picture solution that is shared with all the other affected metros on the West Coast. If you think it is bad now, wait till the oncoming recession arrives.

Paolo
Guest
Paolo

I went on a ride on the 205 path south of Division last summer with my daughter. She is 16.
Beside the camps, trash and guys just hanging out, at one point they were doing hard drugs just in plain sight, it was horrible, she was so scared even if I was there with her.
She asked me to go another route on the way back so we had to ride on the street and avoid the path.
Last time we rode that way and it is too bad since the paths were such a nice thing to have in SE.

X
Guest
X

The I-205 path is a place where you are not going to randomly see a police officer. It’s basically a no-go zone for police unless they are reacting to a report of a serious crime and then the response time is going to be well into the double digits. I think the reason people are camping here, besides it being a bit of sheltered real estate, is that it’s essentially an authority-free zone.

I’m not a huge fan of police but I also see that they have a hard job to do. It’s easy to envision a situation where the arrival of some cops would be a great relief. I’m no hero.

Portland police, and police generally, are not trained, equipped, and directed to do things like patrol separated bike lanes, encounter the problems of people who frequent remote places, and facilitate relationships between groups of people with little in common. The conditions under the Sandy overpass are a case study of what’s wrong with the idea of policing.

Solutions? Offer people places with shelter where they have at least water and sanitation, with some degree of autonomy. Let them create community. ¡What subsidize hobos! you say? We subsidize airports, freeways, mortgage interest payments, oil production, sports arenas. . .like bike lanes, hobos are cheap.

Keith
Guest
Keith

If the camping was occurring in a vehicle lane or parking space, it would be removed in a minute. What’s wrong with this picture of the Platinum bicycle city?

Hazel
Guest
Hazel

The plan for a new bike route to avoid the Halsey overpass is an underpass. I can’t imagine that it won’t have the same kind of issues.

Columbo
Guest
Columbo

Last year on the path I saw a man climbing the fence behind Home Depot; when he noticed that I’d spotted him he flashed a Bowie knife.

***Paragraph deleted by moderator. We will not tolerate any reference to violence in this context.***

Ken S
Guest
Ken S

I’m in the “bold and brave” category. And male. And a big guy.
I won’t ride the 205 path.

The only issues with the path used to be dangerous intersections with surface streets and narrow path width around blind corners. Those can mostly be mitigated with awareness and caution.
But now it’s also dodging debris, loose dirty needles, wondering if you’ll be clothes-lined or ambushed, plus stories of women being sexually assaulted and raped.
No way in hell will I take my wife on a ride on the 205 path, which is tragic, since the path connects so many destinations and she’s getting confident in doing 40-60 mile rides.

TJ
Guest
TJ

If we don’t like the current situation (I don’t) and we blame current and past city leaders (I do, at least in part), we should show up at city council meetings and express ourselves (but I don’t). Until then, we’re just complaining to each other on a bike blog, myself included.

Mike M
Guest
Mike M

I’m a bike commuter who rides this stretch from Montavilla to NE Vancouver daily. I rode the 205 South and Springwater east to Gresham for years before changing jobs and while that stretch got bad at times, it was never anywhere near as bad as what exist in the past few months north of Maywood Park on the 205 path. The camp in the tunnel is dangerous and menacing – I don’t say this lightly. The folks there build fires in the path, strip piles of bikes, and block the path with tents, tarps, pallets and their bodies. I finally stopped riding that section after getting flats caused by what seemed to be intentionally placed debris, including small pieces of sharp bent tin that I can only assume were intended to cause flats, and bricks placed in the path in the darkest part of the tunnel. I now detour up and down 99th from Maywood Park to Columbia blvd to avoid the worst of it. This detour isn’t perfect but for those looking for an alternative until the problem is cleaned up I recommend it.

John
Guest
John

JP
Maywood Park is certainly lovely, but it’s not an alternative route for this stretch of path. If you want to bypass the 205 path between Prescott and Killingsworth, you have to either take Sandy, or cut through Sumner to Killingsworth and then brave the Killingsworth bike lane to get back to Sandy and hop back on the path.

Take Prescott to 99th, turn left on 99th. In a couple of minutes, you come to a cul de sac and cross Sandy / re-join the path (avoiding the other Sandy crossing which is the underpass).

It’s the same Maywood Park bypass I’m talking about but with an entry from Prescott instead of the 84/205 exchange.

If you follow the path, you cross Sandy twice… once at the underpass and once on the surface where Sandy and Killingsworth meet.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

This reflects what the city thinks of people who walk and bike. These camps completely block the path, or at best narrow it to one lane. If people pitched their tent in the curb lane of Powell Blvd there would still be plenty of room to get around, but the camps would be removed within minutes. Obstruct a sidewalk or bike path? It gets left there until they get around to cleaning it up months later.

Maybe a protest camp-in on Powell would send a message that drivers of motor vehicles aren’t the ones that should be getting prioritized mobility.

Actually, move the campers off the path and onto the streets. Tell drivers that they’ll be camping there until the problem is taken care of. Then you’ll see that there is suddenly a lot of money to fix the camping problem.

We can’t even use the facilities that were built for us, but the thought of slightly slowing down motorists is taboo.

Where are the bike path protests?

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

As a “strong and fearless” rider I feel much more comfortable taking the lane on Powell or Sandy than taking the I-205 MUP.

KTaylor
Guest
KTaylor

It’s a nice idea to offer shelter to everyone who wants it, but we have a great local example of why this does not work–the crash and burn of Deborah Kafoury’s ‘right to shelter’ program (about a third of participating families admitted moving to Oregon to take advantage of the program, and many were simply not asked, so likely the proportion of people who heard of the program and came was higher–and btw, I’m not blaming them– they were desperate). The program was $1.5 million over its $2 million budget when it was finally shut down in December 2017.

Portland, Gresham, Multnomah and Clackamas Counties and the State of Oregon throw tens of millions of dollars at the homeless problem every year and the problem just keeps getting worse. What we need (urgently) is not just one but several different federal programs to address the different reasons people become homeless. Until then, cities, states and counties have a responsibility to their citizens to use a stick as well as a carrot, and that means putting more money into policing campers and uprooting camps quickly, before they can get established. If Portland becomes a less welcoming place to live on the streets, people who have the choice will go elsewhere. If services are available only to people whose last address was in Portland, services will stop being such a draw. We absolutely should take care of our own, but there’s no reason we, Seattle and LA should take care of everyone else’s too.

Here’s an interesting article about the viability of ‘right to shelter’ programs from the Seattle Times. It has more details about Portland’s experiment:

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/homeless/portland-wanted-to-shelter-every-homeless-family-why-the-plan-backfired-and-the-lessons-it-offers-for-seattle/

eddie
Guest
eddie

I’ve been cycling around this city since 1992 – been watching this issue grow more and more over the years. I don’t think it will go away, and I only see it getting worse as the economy continues to decline.

Perhaps if more than 5% of the population regularly used bicycles as a primary means of transport, there would be cleaner and plentiful bike paths…

Robert
Guest
Robert

Hi all,
I ride the I-205 MUP regularly and stopped going through the Prescott/Sandy Blvd under passes long ago due to all the campers and trash. Instead when going north I get off the path at Prescott take a right and ride down Prescott to 97th or 98th, head north to Sandy and reconnect with the path at the Sandy Blvd/I-205 intersection. Ditto when going south. This route is actually faster and shorter than following the path and riding through the camps. The only down side is you have to wait at the light to cross Sandy Blvd to get to the transit center.

It is a shame that we have so many homeless people in our country, but it is a reality and it is a reflection of the overall economic and social situation in the nation. As an over 60 non-white male, I have never had any confrontation with any of the campers/homeless on the Springwater or the I-205 mups, but I’m also well aware of numerous incidents that have occurred to other cyclists.