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.)
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 email@example.com
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