Portland International Raceway officials directed traffic onto a bike path

Note: Video has no sound. Filmed by Jonathan Maus.

On Sunday afternoon I was biking home from Vancouver. As I headed west on the Columbia Slough path toward North Denver Avenue and began to roll down the path under the overpass, a large box-van came rumbling toward me. Given that this is a bike path, I was shocked to see a driver there. However, since I knew there was a big event (Indycar race) at Portland International Raceway, I figured the van was part of the event and needed some type of special access to the path.

Before I share what happened next, please realize I’m actually a very reasonable person. Despite the caricature some haters on the Internet like to draw of me, I’m not one of those people who get irate whenever any driver blocks a bike lane for any amount of time. Yes it bothers me when bike lanes are ignored and disrespected, but we live in a city and I realize that people need to do things, not everyone in a car is evil, sometimes things just suck, and sometimes we just have to move on.

So while I was a scared and surprised at this one utility van coming at me, I was prepared to simply gesture my dissatisfaction at the driver and move on. But as I rounded the corner there were more drivers coming at me. A line of them! On a bike path!

Now I was mad.

When I see a sign like this, I think there might be a bump in the road, not a 4,000 vehicle coming at me. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

I quickly realized someone at PIR made the decision to direct traffic leaving the venue directly onto the path. I watched dozens of drivers motor down the path, totally unaware they were sharing it with bicycle riders. And I watched bicycle riders use the path totally unaware that there would be multiple drivers coming in the opposite direction. Since it was an underpass, there was also a downhill-uphill involved. Combine that with the clueless path users (some of whom just watched a car race!) and a sharp corner with reduced visibility and you had the recipe for a collision.

Once I realized what was going on I rolled into PIR and started yelling my concerns at a traffic worker. He said he was just following orders and didn’t care about what I had to say (I don’t blame him). I didn’t have time to hang around, but as I started to leave, I noticed three Portland Police Bureau SUVs drive toward me as they left the event. I gestured to the first officer to roll his window down. Still on my bike, I described to him what was going on. The officer’s reaction was very disappointing. He looked at me like I was crazy and then said, “It’s pretty obvious [what’s going on], just ride around them,” or something like that. He clearly thought it was no big deal (despite not really taking time to understand my concern).

That first officer pulled away before I was done talking, so I flagged down another one. The next officer just looked at me and said, “Yeah, it’s a big mess,” as he continued to drive away.

(Graphic: ODOT with BikePortland additions)

Background

PIR is owned by the City of Portland Parks & Recreation. I’ve reached out to their office and will share details from them when I hear back.

This bike path used to be a section of North Schmeer Road. However, in 2014 the Oregon Department of Transportation (who owns North Denver Ave because it is Highway 99W), closed it to cars as part of a road realignment project (see graphic above). As I reported at the time time, “Currently the northbound transition from Denver Avenue to Schmeer is a rarely used section of the road with pavement that’s in terrible shape. ODOT plans to repurpose that road and make it open only for walking and biking.”

Please note that I don’t think it’s totally unreasonable for PIR to temporarily use this path for exiting car traffic after large events. However, when you put drivers in the same space as bike riders, there must be significant traffic controls in place. On Sunday there was only one orange “Caution” flag up. I saw it and like all the other bike riders out there, continued to ride. Nothing about “Caution” says, “There are cars and drivers driving directly at you ahead.” PIR should have placed either: Directed traffic somewhere else; installed hard barricades with “Bike Path Closed” signage; or they should have placed a human flagger on both ends to make sure no conflicts happened.

If we want people to ride bikes, we must respect the spaces we tell them to use.

We have enough problems with people using this path illegally, the last thing we need is our own government adding to the mess.

I hope this never happens again.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

48 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Evelyn
Evelyn
25 days ago

The same thing happened to me, riding home from Het Meer. It’s not an exaggeration to say I felt like I was going to die when a moderately fast-moving vehicle pops out of a blind corner, hugging the inside of the corner because of the way the path is painted. It was very surprising and frightening. I must have gone through later in the day than you, because there wasn’t that much traffic anymore, just a sign pointing to the bike path that read “exit”. Unless they were familiar with that area, cars wouldn’t necessarily know they were exiting on a closed walking/biking path. There was no due diligence done to protect the path users. I don’t know if the caution sign was still there, but I didn’t see any indication to look out for motorized traffic. I emailed the emergency address for PBOT but did not hear back.

steve scarich
steve scarich
25 days ago

Somewhat similar to what happened to me in Bend yesterday. I was out in the country, riding my bike, on a 55 mph rural highway. Came up to construction and the flagger told me to go ahead as the convoy coming the other way passed. Usually that means that it is a relatively short, 30 mph section being repaired and they wait for me to be the last vehicle. But, as I pulled away, the flagger said ‘You’re on your own’. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but found out in about a mile, when a convoy came the other way, behind a pilot car taking up the entire lane that I was also in. I dodged about ten cars. If I had of been hit, the construction company would have been legally liable. btw I am a certified traffic flagger in Oregon and California and would have told my boss if he had put me in such an untenable position. The City of Portland would have been liable if JM had been injured. Just dumb risk management.

DW
DW
25 days ago

Classic Portland police response.

Davey J
Davey J
25 days ago

Too late.

Vehicles on our MUPs has been normalized by City Council allowing homeless to drive and park and do as they please in areas that are supposed to be car-free.

Word of these conditions has spread; everyone knows there’s no enforcement and practically zero consequences. Here’s a gas powered scooter club doing the same thing in May:

https://forums.bikeportland.org/t/twist-n-play-scooter-club-riding-illegally-on-mups/2034

Chris I
Chris I
25 days ago
Reply to  Davey J

This was my exact thought. I’ve had to shoulder my bike and scramble up the dike to escape dangerous people driving on the Marine Drive MUP (they passed once and then turned around and sped back towards me), and had dozens of other illegal vehicle encounters on MUPs around town. I haven’t seen an article on these encounters (which I’m certain are happening to many cyclists in Portland all the time).

It seems like PIR misdirected this traffic. They have an exit gate and driveway that leads directly to Denver, just north of here. When the big races like this end, the mass exodus requires multiple exits, as there is normally just a single lane exit to the north.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
25 days ago

Oh the police don’t care and didn’t do anything at all? Wow, totally was not expecting that, they are usually so attentive and quick to respond to the community’s concerns /s

James C
James C
25 days ago

>Despite the caricature some haters on the Internet like to draw of me

You’re starting to sound like 45.

Kurt
Kurt
25 days ago
Reply to  James C

How does stating truth make him sound like that treasonous liar?

Jeff
Jeff
24 days ago
Reply to  James C

Ageist

Ray
Ray
24 days ago
Reply to  Jeff

I’m pretty sure the “45” was referring to our former president.

Robert Anderson
Robert Anderson
25 days ago

Was at the race on Sunday and witnessed the traffic worker at this exit first-hand as I was leaving PIR.

[side-note: I rode my bike and took the Slough trail nearly all the way home, zero time wasted in traffic or trying to find parking. Biking or taking light-rail to PIR is really the way to go for big events like these.]

I mention the traffic worker because they really were doing their best to direct the line of vehicles towards the main gate at the North side of the track, but they were also taking an good amount amount of yelling from drivers that just wanted to take the nearest gate and cut-through the Slough right-of-way.

One person in a car justified this by telling the volunteer that she was “a City of Portland employee” and it was totally fine to drive out through the exit across the path. From my observation I believe at some point the traffic workers just gave into the pressure from the drivers.

Midwest Farmer
Midwest Farmer
25 days ago

I had assumed Portland had defended the police department.

TheCat
TheCat
25 days ago
Reply to  Midwest Farmer

I assume you meant to say “defunded.” That has not happened. Their budget was increased by $12 million this year.

Watts
Watts
24 days ago
Reply to  TheCat

The police bureau was partially defunded during the “defund” mania, and funding was later restored when people realized it was a really bad idea.

qqq
qqq
24 days ago
Reply to  Watts

The PPB is its own worst enemy with “defunding”. In this article, they appear, but do nothing. When they do nothing, it gives Parks to opportunity to say or think, “The police were there. They saw no problem with what we were doing. If we were doing something wrong or dangerous, they would have acted. That proves we weren’t doing anything wrong.”

If the police hadn’t shown up at all, Parks couldn’t even try that stance. A reasonable conclusion–not the only one, but certainly a reasonable one–is that it would have been better if they hadn’t appeared at all.

I’m not making an argument for or against defunding–just saying that the “show up and do nothing” or “don’t show up at all” police responses give ammunition to the defunding argument.

Chris I
Chris I
25 days ago
Reply to  Midwest Farmer

They have sufficient budget, but cannot attract applicants. We have fewer cops than any comparably sized city:
https://www.oregonlive.com/data/2021/11/why-portland-has-less-cops-now-than-any-point-in-past-30-years.html

Go ahead and insert your own assumptions as to why we’re having trouble attracting police to work in this city.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
24 days ago
Reply to  Chris I

they had over 600 applicants this year but only hired 27. it doesn’t sound like the number of people applying is the problem

Racer X
Racer X
25 days ago

ACTUALLY, the real long term solution…as Portlanders…its to tell the City Council and Mayor (and the Parks Department to act) is to get out of the car racing business at PIR (its land use is a ‘park’)…in the past the reasons were: for noise pollution, air pollution and water pollution (brake dust and historical leaded fuel) impacting us area residents and businesses…now we can add traffic safety / parking circulation mismanagement. PIR might be the biggest net negative impact Park on the city’s climate plan.

clbs
clbs
25 days ago
Reply to  Racer X

How about instead Portland should get out of the overboard cycling concessions with it’s wasteful excess spending on bike and mass transit to the exclusion of much needed road infrastructure for the other 95%. This policy has only led to increased congestion leading to smog from idling traffic jams as the city cows to minority cyclist special interest

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
25 days ago
Reply to  clbs

Of course crazy idea, but those that don’t like sitting idling in traffic jams should be looking at other forms of transportation then. Bike, walk, run, hula, skip, bus, train, skateboard, scooter, etc.
I’m no fan of TriMet, but I take it because I’m too cheap to pay the crazy prices for parking down town.
If I didn’t have such ridiculous hours, which would mean biking when dark out, I’d likely bike in.
I’m not an overly big fan of some of what the city has been doing with bike infrastructure, but something needs to be done to get you, and others, out of their cars. To really get people biking more the bike lanes need to be a heck of a lot safer than they are now.
What will you do to step up and do something positive for the environment?

PS
PS
25 days ago
Reply to  Racer X

Maybe remove cars from all Portland Parks before worrying about closing a race track for its intended use.

cc_rider
cc_rider
25 days ago

Still on my bike, I described to him what was going on. The officer’s reaction was very disappointing.

I’m surprised you even wasted your time. Portland cops hate people on bikes (and Portlanders generally).

PIR is such a stain on the city. Its so gross that we own it.

Joey Joe Joe
Joey Joe Joe
25 days ago
Reply to  cc_rider

Actually PIR is cool. Sorry you don’t like it, but a lot of us do.

David
David
25 days ago

Two things about this are especially funny to me. First is how much PP&R kicks and screams anytime a new MUP is proposed in a park, yet apparently sending drivers onto a MUP is fine. Second is how irritating PIR is in general and for how long Parks has ignored the City’s own noise ordinances, despite already being sued over it. Time to revisit that lawsuit I think.

Bryan Morris
Bryan Morris
25 days ago

We essentially live in a lawless society now where cops, butt hurt that they are finally getting oversight, are engaging in what is effectively a sit down strike. Meanwhile, drug addicts who have taken over a section of the Springwater Trail have renamed it Needle Trail.

Hotrodder
Hotrodder
25 days ago

Now can we get mad about all the cars on all the rest of the MUP’s?

Andrew Kreps
Andrew Kreps
25 days ago

Wow. I used that route for years as the safest way to bike to PIR, your video doesn’t quite do the blind corner justice. You can come down that hill carrying some speed (I usually did, as it was carfree at the time) and to find someone going a similar speed that outweighs and outsizes you by 20x would be… a disaster. Looking at the map, they saved the drivers about a half mile of driving but removed the easy freeway access of the main exit.

As a contrast, I heard Nevada state police limited the burning man exiters to 800 vehicles per hour. All it would have taken was someone posted at the exit to warn drivers of people on foot/bike/etc on the path and to go slow and be responsible about this.

Chris I
Chris I
25 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Kreps

I would never recommend coming down that hill with any kind of speed. It’s usually blocked by garbage and/or tents, or covered in broken glass anyway. And this isn’t the first time we’ve had to dodge vehicles driving in this spot. It happens regularly (often with no lights at night).

douglas
douglas
25 days ago

I love riding bikes, I also enjoy watching auto racing the path is a very good way to disperse traffic from events that have thousands of people @PIR, it’s maybe only two to four events of the year,, it is not for a long distance and there are other ways to maneuver the area on a bike, it keeps traffic moving, it helpswith pollution as cars aren’t sitting in line not moving, I have been routed on the path, it is a minor inconvenience for bicyclists, and only occurs rarely,, it would be nice if bikers had advanced notice

Jim Haviland 2.0
Jim Haviland 2.0
25 days ago
Reply to  douglas

I love riding bikes, I also enjoy watching auto racing

Impossible! According to a handful of zealots.

We forget that most cyclists at least occasionally drive a car. And most drivers at least occasionally ride a bike.

I see so many negative and derisive comments above, and the whole tone of this article seems to be encouraging the “us vs. them” narrative.

It’s tiresome.

John D.
John D.
25 days ago

I don’t believe that this is a new phenomenon. I attended the rose cup races (a much smaller affair than Indycars) at PIR a few years ago, and on the way out they also directed us out using the path.

I was quite surprised that they directed us out that way, and (for that event at least) it didn’t feel at all necessary. As someone in a car (as the passenger) it was also confusing to leave by a different route than on the way in. I was trying to give directions to my friend because neither of us were expecting it.

If there’s something wrong with the traffic flow exiting onto Expo Rd, then perhaps they should direct traffic out behind the Expo Center and onto Marine Drive. Don’t put cars onto some of the few car free places in our city.

Jim Calhoon
Jim Calhoon
25 days ago
Reply to  John D.

I was there Sunday and they did have the North gate open to go to Marine drive. This is how I left the race. JM I am sorry this happened to you. Putting Pedestrians and Bicycle Riders in harms way in this manner should never happen.

Peter S
Peter S
25 days ago

PPB out protecting and serving as usual, I see.

Brian L
Brian L
25 days ago
Reply to  Peter S

PPB – “There’s nothing we can do.”

Bess
Bess
25 days ago

P.I.R. is NOT owned by Parks and Recreation

TheCat
TheCat
25 days ago
Reply to  Bess

It only takes a quick search of the Internet to learn that PIR is owned by the City of Portland.

qqq
qqq
25 days ago
Reply to  TheCat

Looks like it’s owned by City of Portland but managed by Parks: https://www.oregonlive.com/portland/2014/09/portland_parks_recreation_hire.html

Michael Foster
Michael Foster
24 days ago
Reply to  Bess

Unfortunately it now is.
I learned of the change when they began handing out tickets for smoking a cigarette during a Thursday Night Motocross event there.
“To error is human, to really mess something up requires Government assistance”
Thank a Liberal

Michael
Michael
25 days ago

Well guess what, I hate when bikers don’t follow the rules of the road. You should get a ticket just like a car does, you should have lic. Plates and pay insurance. To travel on the roads. And have to pay for tags just like everyone does. I had two different bikes run into me, and just ride off as fast as they can go, leaving two dent in my truck that I had to pay to fix.

Chris I
Chris I
25 days ago
Reply to  Michael

Was your truck wearing Hi Viz?

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
24 days ago
Reply to  Michael

Were you wearing a helmet?

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
25 days ago

I thought the video of cars, especially that giant RV, coming through the bikeway without warning was terrifying. I was shook up just watching it and imagining my kids on their little scooters, in the path of cars, with curves and hills adding to the dangers. A clear sign would definitely be needed, “watch for car traffic, permitted (date and time)”–put up at least a few days prior, if that was to be allowed at all… but it didn’t look like a safe situation and I would not have responded “reasonably.”

Sonny
Sonny
25 days ago

We share the roads they shared a bike path. Signage would have been good but it probably was a quick decision. No one was hurt the situation is over. Let it go. There are always situations and we all have to adapt. Be flexible. Life is a bunch of surprises that we have to figure our way through. It would be boring otherwise.

Ray
Ray
24 days ago
Reply to  Sonny

I’ll use your suggested de-escalation the next time a driver comes up behind me driving impatiently. “Be flexible. Life is a bunch of surprises that we have to figure our way through. It would be boring otherwise.”
It never ceases to amaze me how many times drivers use this when they aren’t willing to concede the same.

qqq
qqq
24 days ago
Reply to  Sonny

A main reason for NOT “letting it go” is that addressing it can lead to the people who screwed up not screwing up again. No one was hurt this time, but next time could be different. A detour that routes people into oncoming traffic is always wrong.

Few people would choose getting hit by a car–or driving their car over someone because of a faulty detour– as a way to relieve boredom.

Michael Foster
Michael Foster
24 days ago

Momma always warned me to never ride my bicycle on the street, “Stay on the sidewalk, and stay away from busy roads”…
Alas, Portland was raised by a dumb mother….