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Homeowners along Sandy River defend ODOT’s bike-unfriendly guardrails

Posted by on July 2nd, 2020 at 4:26 pm

Former biking space on Historic Highway.
(Photo: Forum user amadeusb4)

We’re still trying to learn more about why the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) installed three sections of guardrails in the paved shoulder of the Historic Columbia River Highway south of Interstate 84 last week. These guardrails narrow valuable space used by many bicycle riders and their dangerous placement increases odds of stressful passes and collisions.

The fact that ODOT did this without any public notice and on one of the most important and valuable cycling routes in the state is unconscionable and just the latest example of the agency’s negligent stewardship of our transportation system. We’ve reached out to ODOT leadership for further comment and clarification but haven’t heard back.

Since our story posted on Monday, we’ve read dozens of comments expressing grave concerns and outrage. Now homeowners who live along the road where the guardrails were installed are defending the project, saying the guardrails are necessary to thwart illegal campers and to make the road safer for drivers.

“I’ve personally taken it on to become friends with all the sheriffs, police officers, and all of the ODOT people… They all know me by name. When they decided to put those guardrails up, it was the happiest day I could remember.”
— Nancy Ritz, nearby resident

Yesterday two homeowners called me to share their views on the project. Another person who lives there has left several comments about them. I’m not sure how these folks found out about BikePortland but it’s clear they’re concerned about our criticisms of the project.

The first person I heard from was Nancy Ritz, who lives on the highway just a few houses away from the Tippy Canoe restaurant (which burned down in January).

“Of course we love the cyclists, they’re wonderful people,” Ritz shared. “But for the last five years we’ve had a tremendous amount of homeless people trying to park their campers and burn illegal fires in the turnouts.” Ritz went on to say she’s so upset about the presence of illegal parkers that she’s reached out and established relationships with the County Sheriffs, police officers and “all of the ODOT people.” “They all know me by name,” Ritz claimed. (She also told me her father is the late Associate Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court Richard Unis.)

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Ritz says her main concern is how the trash and human waste created by illegal campers might jeopardize the health of the many elderly people who live nearby (including her parents) and spoil the beauty of the Sandy River. “I have empathy for these people [who live in campers and cars], but I also have empathy for the people who pay those taxes and live in those homes and try to coexist with something that is pretty awful… So when they decided to put those guardrails up, it was the happiest day I could remember.”

Ritz says she didn’t recommend guardrails specifically to ODOT as a solution and that she would have been OK if they placed boulders in the shoulder instead (a tactic they use in Portland).

“There are many other places to ride that are safe and this highway is not one of them.”
— Lori Ryland, nearby resident

Another local resident, Don DeVore, called me shortly after I hung up with Ritz (again, these calls were unsolicited). He too assured me that he and other homeowners have “nothing against the bikers.” He referred to a meeting with ODOT scheduled to talk about the guardrails that was set for Tuesday; but when I questioned him for details about the meeting he said he wasn’t sure about it and had just heard of it secondhand. DeVore also described his frustrations with human waste and debris left by illegal campers and said he just wanted to, “Make sure all of us get on the same page.” “I’m all about keeping human beings safe,” he added.

And today a woman named Lori Ryland who owns an art studio in Sandy and also lives along the highway, left several comments on our story. “These guardrails serve a very important purpose: to protect this historic Columbia River Highway,” she typed. “There are many other places to ride that are safe and this highway is not one of them. You must ride here knowing that you ride at your own risk.” Ryland claims that car users can easily drive off the cliff and into the river and that the guardrails are necessary for their safety. She also feels that riding on this stretch of the Historic Highway is simply not a good idea (despite the fact that it’s the gateway to Mt. Hood and the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail and a part of Adventure Cycling Association’s Lewis & Clark Trail route). “It can be very desolated and unsafe should you get a flat tire and are stranded and unable to fix it,” Ryland wrote. “Please have some respect for ODOT.”

We still hope to hear from ODOT soon. So far only someone on their social media staff has said anything about the issue. “Thank you for pointing this out!” they said in a comment to our Instagram post. “We’re looking at some solutions.”

And we’re looking at how the placement of these guardrails is in direct violation of ODOT’s own design guidelines. Stay tuned.

UPDATE, 7/6: ODOT admits these were a “mistake” and is removing them now. See latest story.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Alex A
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Alex A

I rode this section of the highway today and got to experience the new “guardrails”, though they could use a new name given that their function is not to guard, but to restrict access. The amount of space now available to ride between the white road limit line and the barrier is the absolute minimum required for anything approaching safety, and you’ve got to be very focused to navigate it. What bothered me most is the amount of road shoulder that still exists **to the right of the rails**, now totally useless, and how easily the rail could have been pushed 2′ over to the right, retaining the bike lane. Very little thinking went into this.

I’m sympathetic to the homeless/camper struggles of those living along the highway, and I can’t help but to connect this particular issue’s “solution” with the degradation of biking infrastructure and routes throughout the PDX region due to homelessness. But I also don’t think these new barriers are going to totally solve that problem – there are still ample places one could squeeze an RV/van along the river’s edge – we might expect more of these barriers if so.

Lori Ryland’s comments are detestable and smack of some of the more toxic NIMBY-ism I’ve ever read. Not to mention just flat inaccurate. Sure, there are several sections of white barrier walls along the sharper-curved sections of this road, of a totally different construction, and purpose, than the new variety we’re challenged by. Conflating the two is deceitful.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

“how easily the rail could have been pushed 2′ over to the right”

Not easy due to buried gas line.

Alan 1.0
Subscriber

Jersey barriers don’t need holes in the ground and could be placed over the gas line.

Alan 2.0
Guest
Alan 2.0

Jersey barriers would not last as the kind of weather and wind that whips through the scenic highway in the fall would make it a massive waste of money and time. I’ve lived in Corbett my entire life and the only thing I’m certain of is that the highway was never built to support bycicalists and they continue to be a risk to everyone on the road. Simply put, the infrastructure isn’t there to support roadside campers, all the city dwellers who bottle up the tiny spring water, and the rest of the idiots who illegally park along the highway to get into dabney in the summer. #narrowtheroads

dan
Guest
dan

I think you may be thinking of something else. Alan 1.0 was talking about these. I know fall/winter weather in the Gorge is pretty fierce, but I don’t think it’s fierce enough to tear up concrete barriers.

EP
Guest
EP

Let me tell you about all the wind in my backyard, and how it erodes that concrete! Those cyclists should pay for all the added wind erosion they’re causing!

dan
Guest
dan

Or 2′ to the left, making a protected bike lane behind the guardrail!

Alex A
Guest
Alex A

Good point! Pretty much anywhere except where they placed it.

Lucy W
Guest
Lucy W

Thanks for doing so much investigating into this!

Ted Timmons
Guest

Playing the “neighbor feedback” drinking game:
– “illegal campers”
– “elderly people”
– this road isn’t for cyclists

I’m guessing there’s a post on Nextdoor. Wonder if you have referers in your access logs 🙂

BIKELEPTIC
Subscriber

Thank you! You hit the nail!
There’s also probably some FB Sandy Homeowners group with angry screenshots!

dwk
Guest
dwk

Another area ruined by houseless campers. Thanks for the support.
Cycling is second to your other causes. I think the people who called you just want illegal campers gone.
Sorry you don’t.

Jon
Guest
Jon

I used to live in inner SE Portland. There was a church a few blocks away that had a program to feed the homeless. The people running the program and pastor lived miles away in neighborhoods that did not have a homeless problem. Every night they ran the program the neighbors had to deal with homeless people getting out of the program, drinking, doing drugs, arguing with each other late into the night, urinating on your side or garage door, and leaving garbage all over the place. I have noticed that a lot of the people that defend the actions of the homeless troublemakers don’t live near where the homeless are causing the problems. You lose your empathy for the homeless in a hurry when you have to clean up human waste in front of your house and you see they are ruining the place you live. Unlike the church folks I could not go home to quiet, clean neighborhood at the end of the evening. I do a lot of bicycling but completely understand neighbors in that area that are having to bear the brunt of the homeless problems.

Matt Meskill
Subscriber
Matt Meskill

So what do you recommend Jon?

Jon
Guest
Jon

One answer is to move to a nicer neighborhood where the government is willing to preserve the livability of the residents – maybe one like they have along the Historic Hwy. The harder option is to start taking all the severely mentally ill and long term drug addicts and putting them back in institutions instead of just dumping them on the streets in big cities and hoping they get help. If you spend any time talking with first responders that deal with the folks on the street they will tell you that there are a small group of people that will never be well enough to function in society. The rest of the homeless could actually just use housing and support. Unless you are willing to help the folks that can benefit from the help and institutionalize the folks that will never make it we will have the same issues that we have had for the last 20 years.

Fred
Guest
Fred

Jon, you are missing the point here: ODOT could have solved the off-road access problem WITHOUT creating a safety nightmare for cyclists.

What cyclists in Oregon have seen for years is that ODOT is lazy and consistently takes impulsive and poorly reasoned actions that reduce safety for cyclists.

No one here (except for one or two) is unsympathetic to the plight of the homeless OR to the needs of local homeowners. What we’re angry about is the specific and completely shitty way ODOT addressed the problem.

Jd
Guest
Jd

“Another area ruined by capitalist fallout”. -There, fixed it for you

Jason
Guest
Jason

Guaranteed, you will get lectured about how capataliam doesn’t cause homelessness. Not by me though. Because it clearly does.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

It caused homeownership for me.

Jason
Guest
Jason

Boulders would have sufficed to halt homeless and left the route safe.

J_R
Guest
J_R

I hope that Ritz and DeVore set a good example by slowing to 30 mph to help protect cyclists who are forced by ODOT to ride in the travel lane. As for Ryland, she needs to explain why a guardrail that forces bicyclists to share a lane with cars is safer than one that is six feet from the fog line. Ryland should also demonstrate for us how changing the left rear tire on her car is safer with her car blocking the lane (because of the guard rail) than it would be if she could pull her car onto the shoulder.

The guard rails should be REMOVED. They violate ODOT design guidelines.

David Hampsten
Guest

It sounds like their advocacy with ODOT was highly successful. What do you think we can learn from their techniques?

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

Maybe we could pitch bike lanes as abti-homeless measures? That might get ODOT stoked on them.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

Curious how you see this connection.

If anything, they seem to exacerbate problems, not mitigate them.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

It is always good to leverage capital investments like that. Think Bioswales…

qqq
Guest
qqq

Were they successful because of how they advocated, or because of what they were advocating for?

Jason
Guest
Jason

No surprise, we learned that ODOT has no problem taking roads away from cyclists. The amount of lobbying required to see that outcome is neglegible

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

Technically, they took some of the shoulder away. The road is still there for you.

Concordia Cyclist
Guest
Concordia Cyclist

Technically, irrelevant. Functionally the same.

Jason
Guest
Jason

“For you”, does that mean you’re not a cyclist?

Middle of the Road Guy
Subscriber
Middle of the Road Guy

I consider myself one. What is your definition of a cyclist?

Roberta
Guest
Roberta

ODOT will do whatever it wants to do. ODOT can always find someone to support the a the status quo. So that enables them to dismiss all other concerns. These neighbors are confusing their property taxes with gasoline tax. The gas tax pays for the highways not the property tax. So the homeless people who paid gas taxes are actually tax payers towards the highways. So ODOT can just decide who to listen to then craft a PR spin on it. Usually its Don Hamilton who is the spin doctor. Remember ODOT has been blacklisting local transport professionals and are importing transport planners to take our Oregon tax jobs to pay for more state highways. EQUITY! If you are one of these planners, I hope you choke on your paycheck, cause we are still choking on the fumes.

Suburban
Guest
Suburban

North of Interstate 84?
So are these now hiker biker camping only?

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

So two calls and one elderly nutjob who flooded the comment section with her terrible opinions? I’m not sure that we can conclude much from this.

David Hampsten
Guest

…that she’s reached out and established relationships with the County Sheriffs, police officers and “all of the ODOT people.” “They all know me by name,” Ritz claimed.

I think the main issue is that for most of us cyclists, we only reach out to the top people and PR folks at our regional state DOT office (and then we bitch), but rarely do we try to be friends with the lower level employees, and never the police nor the elected sheriff. In most rural districts and for most state agencies, the sheriff is an unusually powerful and influential elected official.

This particular “elderly nutjob” was successful in developing friendships with the mid-level staff, the people who ultimately make the administrative decisions on common stuff that doesn’t cost so much, like guardrails or placing boulders. And ultimately it worked in her and her neighbors favor.

qqq
Guest
qqq

I think those are good observations, but the issue being advocated for still matters, too. Assuming cycling advocates could establish friendships/rapport with those same people, would those people be sympathetic to what people who bike want?

Also, establishing friendships and rapport is typically easier when people are similar. It may be much easier for midlevel staff to relate to other homeowners interested in protecting their property from impacts of homeless campers than to relate to people who bike on the highway.

David Hampsten
Guest

From reading past BP comments about homeless camps on the Springwater, how are mamil cyclists all that different from these homeowners? The main objection from cyclists (on BP) isn’t that the guardrail has been built, nor that it blocks homeless campers, but where ODOT placed the guardrail – right in the middle of a shoulder lane which effectively forces bicyclists into the traffic lane.

But my other point concerns the RQ project: bicycling advocates (and other allies) have focused on advocating with senior ODOT officials and have gotten nowhere, rather than advocating with mid-level designers, engineers, and whatnot at ODOT, and with state legislators statewide. If bicyclists in general, and bicycle advocates in particular, had an ongoing friendly relationships statewide with both the mid-level employees at ODOT in their respective regions, along with their local state legislators and their friendly local sheriff – and those bicycle advocates coordinated their efforts statewide – think of all the good that could come about rather than the current weekly bitch sessions we see on BP.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

It’s much easier to demonize an “enemy” than to sit down and talk with them. And advocacy-types usually need enemies.

Bicycling Al
Guest
Bicycling Al

There is still a solution for this and that’s to put a bike path on the other side of the guard rail! I contacted ODOT about this. They have yet to respond.

It’s not an ideal solution as it will be an afterthought implementation that doesn’t consider the line bicycles would normally ride down this road but it’s still better than what’s there now.

Ideally, this would have been designed with bicycles in mind. I would have loved to have a protected bike lane there and would be all over ODOT giving them kudos, but they decided to go their own way and satisfy literally one single stakeholder, the neighbors.

Chris
Guest
Chris

Good solution! It might even prevent the inevitable tent Encampment from being pitched inside the guard rail.

matchupancakes
Subscriber
matchupancakes

When did ODOT assume the operational role of administering the state policy on homelessness?

PdxPhoneix
Guest
PdxPhoneix

Maybe they didn’t want to be scolded by the PDX city councilor (who doesn’t seem to know how gov’t works) after they put boulders around highway entry ramps to deter the homeless campers there rather than spend their transportation monies on housing for said campers…

Eric in Seattle
Guest
Eric in Seattle

Couldn’t they have accomplished the same thing with this rail back about 2-3 feet (at the edge of the turnout rather than on the paved shoulder)?

Matti
Guest
Matti

Yep. Someone wasn’t thinking about all road users.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

No, because there’s a buried gas line there.

Bikeninja
Guest
Bikeninja

We keep beating our heads against the wall and assuming that ODOT will wake up and become the responsible and forward looking agency that we hope for. But can anyone cite a single organizational, structural or leadership reason that makes ODOT any less disfunctional than the complete failure that is the current Oregon Department of Employment. I spent 25 years in Salem, nearly all my friends worked for the state (in various agencies) and my wife worked in Salem city government for more than decade, so I know the inside scoop. A lack of focused goals, a system that rewards entrenched bureaucracy instead of accomplishment and confused direction from the legislature and government has left us with state agencies that are little better than placeholders. It does not have to be this way, when the Oregon Department of Energy was first created by Governor Tom McCall it was one of the most focused, creative and accomplished organizations in the history of this state or any other. It is high time we slicked this sucker off, and started it over with an agency that can take us in to the future.

Mark
Guest
Mark

I just drove it and live in this area (Corbett) plus cycle Corbett/Springdale area regularly. There are large sections just east of the new guardrails all the way to Corbett and beyond that have little/no shoulder. I don’t see how this is any different. In fact in my opinion no cyclist should be riding that short scary section uphill by the Springdale Job Corps center; it’s dark in the trees, narrow, and a sharp curve. Guardrails are up against the line. I always go up/over Neilson Road with very little traffic. On a side note, there is an unofficial parade using about 4 miles of the HCRH Saturday morning around 11am heading uphill. From Springdale to Grange Hall Rd. will be very slow or closed at times for an hour or two.

matchupancakes
Subscriber
matchupancakes

Mark, are the routes you’re describing collected somewhere online that people could be directed to?

Mark
Guest
Mark

I assume you mean skipping the short, uphill, scary section of HCRH? Nothing online. Just past Dabney Park and the “water of life” spring that people are always gathering around, angle left uphill onto Nielson, then right on Woodard back down to highway in Springdale. About the same distance but a quick rise and then flat/downhill.

matchupancakes
Subscriber
matchupancakes

Thank you. I can see why this would be a less stressful route for people to take.

Steve C
Guest
Steve C

I’m loath to say categorically that cyclists should not ride a road they have every right to be on. Even a potentially more dangerous section like the on you correctly identified here. The onus is on the drivers to be in control of their vehicle and pass safely. And I’ve ridden this section many times in the past and it is fine if you hold a line and stay as far right as possible. But lately I’ve avoided most of flat section next to the Sandy, where the new barriers have been installed, as well as the uphill to Springdale by taking SE Woodward to Springdale. Or you can go up SE Neilson.

qqq
Guest
qqq

What I like least of all about this is it seems like one of many examples where an agency lazily pits two groups of citizens against one another. The agency’s solution creates a winning group and a losing group. In order for the property owners to solve their problem, they had to “beat” the cyclists at convincing ODOT that their need had the priority. Then, when the agency does do the solution that benefits one group at the expense of the other, the agency casts it as a “We just can’t always please everyone” situation.

But it seems like there were potential solutions (guardrail moved inward with path behind it, etc.) that wouldn’t have pitted citizens against one another at all. It seems like ODOT failed in not pursuing those.

Jason
Guest
Jason

Please y’all, let’s have respect for ODOT. I literally puked in my mouth when I read that.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

To be fair, from her perspective, are your surprised? They did exactly what she asked for, and screwed over a group of people she doesn’t care about. Show some respect!

Jason
Guest
Jason

Dats tru

qqq
Guest
qqq

When you read the article?

setha
Subscriber
setha

At an Active Transportation summit a few years ago, PBOT talked about how they were going to fix inadequate sidewalk ramps. Why? Because they had been sued by a disability rights group, and the disability rights group won. So, I conclude that the magic formula to get a DOT to do what you want them to do is to sue them and win.

If we had a functional state-wide bicycle advocacy group, or even one that was metro-wide, that hypothetical organization would have already sent the letter threatening a lawsuit over this.

If we had a functional state- or metro-wide bicycle advocacy group over the past years, ODOT would have received similar letters, and perhaps been actually sued, from/by that hypothetical organization over that time. So, ODOT would have been trained to not do this sort of thing in the first place.

No, the Street Trust doesn’t count as that bicycle advocacy organization. They are not going to sue ODOT because they are not about to bite the hand that feeds them. From their web page, https://www.thestreettrust.org/financials

“Approximately 40% of our funding comes from Government Contracts with the Portland Bureau of Transportation, the Oregon Department of Transportation, and Metro.”

No, bikeloudPDX doesn’t count either, at least from what I understand. Last I heard, they hadn’t filed the paperwork to be a 501(c)(3) or a 501(c)(4). If I’m wrong about that, someone please correct me. Without that structure, I’m not sure bikeloudPDX can collect money to hire a lawyer to sue ODOT.

David Hampsten
Guest

PBOT has had an active sidewalk ramp repair program for a couple decades now, ever since the City of Bellevue Washington was successfully sued by that disability organization – the organization’s strategy is to sue one large city in each region, to frighten all other cities in the same region, a strategy that has proven to be very successful. PBOT has over 45,000 corners, so it will be a while before they finish fixing all of them.

State DOT’s have deeper pockets and are often protected by their own state supreme courts, but even they can be successfully sued. North Carolina recently lost a very expensive case just before Covid-19 hit, in which they were saving large sections of public right-of-way statewide for highways that had long ago been cancelled, and even earning money on rents related to them. NCDOT now has to give back those lands to the original owners, plus lost rents, interest, back taxes, and all other related fees – it will cost the state DOT billions.

About 30 years ago, the BC provincial legislature passed a bill that required the local bicycle advisory board or authority to sign off on any road or highway project in the province, be it a provincial, county, or municipal project, after being sued in court. At the time there were maybe 3 such bike bodies in the entire province, but nearly overnight every community created one. At first most were made up of self-appointed non-bicyclists who were simply rubber-stamping every highway and street project, but over time all the bicycle boards gradually came to have a variety of different types of bicyclists on them and BC now has excellent bicycle infrastructure province-wide. I continue to be amazed how few (i.e. none) of the supposedly progressive states haven’t done this yet.

Matt
Guest
Matt

<>

I think you mean “south” of 84. Not much north of 84 but Sandy River Delta.

Jm
Guest
Jm

Defund ODOT.

Shawn Hill
Guest
Shawn Hill

I live locally and am upset that instead of enforcing parking restrictions, mainly no overnight parking, they decided to restrict access, to those of us trying to access the river and for the bicyclist.