Turns out that allowing people to drive across the Columbia Slough bike path is part of a traffic control plan endorsed by the City of Portland.
After I witnessed a dangerous scene unfold Sunday afternoon as drivers left the Indycar event at Portland International Raceway and rolled head-on into me and several other groups of bike riders, I reached out to Portland Parks & Recreation to find out why it happened.
Along the way I learned something new: This section of the path, where the Slough trail goes under North Denver Ave (Hwy 99W) has not been completely decommissioned as a road as I previously thought. As I said in our previous story, this used to be N Schmeer Road, but it was repurposed to a multi-use path by the Oregon Department of Transportation in 2014.
What I’ve since learned is that it is also an emergency access road maintained by Portland Fire & Rescue*. Parks spokesperson Mark Ross clarified that the path crosses over this emergency access road. And it was this road that PIR staff directed car traffic onto.
(Note: There is zero information available to the general public that this is anything other than a bike path. And on Metro’s Bike There map, this section of path is given the highest quality possible bikeway designation. See graphic at right.)
Ross said what happened Sunday was all according to plan. The race promoter had a permit and a traffic control plan approved by Oregon Department of Transportation (since they manage Denver Ave/Hwy 99). The permit covers several large events at PIR each year including a NASCAR event, the Oregon Trail Rally, large swap meets, and so on.
Ross also said the plan requires PIR and their flagging contractor (in this case D & H Flagging) to do things that clearly were not taking place on Sunday. Ross said, “Five signs were placed along the bike path and about 40 cones sectioning off lanes,” and “There were three flaggers at this section of roadway.”
I told Ross that the plan is nice, but it was not implemented properly. When I was there on Sunday, there was inadequate signage, a lack of cones to separate path users from drivers, and no flaggers present at all. He said he’d pass my concerns along.
I then got a call from PIR Manager Ron Huegli. He said using the path after large events is a necessity because there’s no way to get 5,000+ people out of the main entrance, “Without it being a problem on I-5.”
Huegli disagreed with my assertion that the traffic plan wasn’t carried out as thoroughly as it should have been. I told him there were no flaggers present; he said they must have been on a potty break. I told him the cones were placed in only one small section; he said bike riders should have known not to even ride on the underpass. I told him the signage was totally inadequate; he said my video (which he watched), “Didn’t get it fully shown the way it was” (meaning, my video was an inaccurate portrayal of actual conditions).
Huegli saw how things went Saturday night. I know what I saw on Sunday night.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I know that PIR is a cherished venue for local bike racing and other events and Huegli and his team are a great asset to cycling in Portland. In fact, it took him a while to call me back because he was helping organizers of Tuesday’s PDX Trophy Cup cyclocross race with their event. We are lucky to have such dedicated folks who work on this stuff.
But when it comes to executing this particular traffic control plan, they must do a better job next time. Bike paths are sacred. We cannot just put up a few orange signs, direct car traffic onto them and hope folks figure it out! Huegli said he’d take my concerns into consideration. For that I’m grateful.
If you ride here, please let us know how it goes at future events.
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Sometimes shooting from the hip gets one wounded in the foot.
Seems like PIR didn’t follow their plan and now is trying to cover for it.
I can not believe that that many people needed to use the potty at the same time.
You’d think a bunch of road enthusiasts would know how to handle a flagging crew. I’m not sure the flaggers going on a potty break without it being covered is something that actually happens in other areas.
Literally every other customer facing job requires you to get coverage for your break but apparently keeping people from being destroyed by drunk motorists leaving an event requires no such thing.
The window to empty the venue was predictable, so flagging crew should have been ready, with empty bladders, in anticipation. As a certified flagger myself, I’m guess they did not have enough people hired. We are well paid now, but it is still a pretty thankless job. Especially when you have thousands of tired, fried fans, just wanting to get out of Dodge all at the same time. Reminds me of the Burning Man evac this week; Burners waited for half a day just to leave, ran out of gas, etc., major CF.
Inadequate plan, inadequate execution, inadequate response.
Bike paths are sacred? To whom? Certainly not to the City of Portland. Have you been on the Springwater Trail between 82nd and 122nd recently?
Nah, not for me. Close it down. We can race elsewhere, this facility is not essential. The city should not maintain a racetrack so close to residential Kenton and the Columbia slough. They’ve been knowingly exceeding legal noise pollution levels for years. Runoff pollutes the waterway. They operate at a financial loss for the city. Close it down.
To be clear, I agree all the car/moto racing events are not cool and I wouldn’t personally miss them at all.
Well it’s all about you, isn’t it Maus?
What’s all about me? Why are you obsessed with making stuff about me? What are you even talking about here?
It’s also just insane land-use-wise to keep a publicly owned racetrack directly adjacent to a high-capacity transit station.
Then close down the yellow line, because PIR is in a flood plain. We aren’t building housing there.
Seems to me developers could use piles as an excuse to jack up housing prices there and deem the dwellings “luxury”.
All over the country, and the world they put high capacity transit stations right next to sports complexes and places where crowds go to see events. It’s not an anomoly, not at all. It’s by design and for good reason. If more people were utilizing the high capacity transit (and if the transit was actually HIGH capacity and not medium capacity) then some of this traffic issue might be alleviated.
A better crtiticism would be a land-use matter – but as it is flood plain and swamp, a venue that uses a lot of land for a pretty small utilization rate really isn’t out of line.
Noise is a legit issue.
Just two relatively extreme examples of transit and sports / crowd event venues – The U.S. Tennis Open in Queens has subway stops that are huge (way bigger than necessary for the daily commuter traffic) and they run extra trains during events. At Belmont Park horse racing track they have an entire long Isand Railroad station just for the track with trains that only run on race schedule (although the track is being sold off and I think the LIR stopped sending trains there something like 10 years ago… just the idea of transit serving where crowds gather is exactly what transit should be doing. Regardless of whether we like the particular event or agree with how it is located.
Turn PIR into a big golfing complex, then turn a couple city-run golf courses into…parks for the people! I’m thinking Rose City and Glendoveer would be great new parks, maybe even add in some pump tracks and MTB trails. EVERYBODY WINS!
It’s very trendy to hate on golf courses lately, but maybe you know that. The people pushing that narrative argue that:
All of which is false, plenty of everyday Portlanders enjoy golfing at our public courses. Which are open to anyone and pretty damned affordable. You can show up in ripped jeans and putt around on mismatched junk clubs from Goodwill, really. It’s not some bougie elite interpretation of the sport, it’s just something these folks like to generalize about. Few if any have looked into it or played themselves, way too easy to post a slogan get attention on the internet.
I don’t see EP’s comment as hateful to golf courses given that he’s recommending turning PIR into a “big golfing complex” to replace “a couple” small courses. Even golfers might support that.
Your list omits the main reason I see people give for wanting to convert golf courses to other uses–that those large areas of public land could provide recreational opportunities for far larger numbers of the public if they were converted to parks, bike trails, dog parks, etc.
Also, golfing on public courses is only affordable (to the extent it is) because golfers’ fees only cover a portion of the costs to maintain the courses. Of course that’s true for other potential users of the land. But I doubt the costs of maintaining the land as trails, park meadows, etc. comes close to the maintenance and water use costs of golf courses.
I like EP’s idea, and would love to see some analysis of demand and costs. I wouldn’t be surprised though, if the result was that the courses should be converted away from golf, and that PIR should be converted away from auto racing, but into something other than golf.
The issue is that such a land use requires an intense amount of land. For an activity that is enjoyed by less than 10% of Americans, it is quite exclusive to those that want to enjoy the greenspace but don’t play golf. Golf courses have their place, but that place is not in dense urban cores served by great public transit.
My response wasn’t about hating golf, but as a suggestion for what we could do with such a large space like PIR, if it were shut down. It would lend itself to a golf course or two, like Heron Lakes. Can’t really build housing, because Vanport. Lots of wetlands limit extensive building. A big nature park, or wildlife refuge up there would be nice, like Smith & Bybee.
I think a land swap with some golf courses that are surrounded by dense housing could be great, and could have interesting results. What if suddenly PDX has a world class facility that golfers from all over want to visit? Maybe give 30 year old Pumpkin Ridge a run for it’s money?
I see a lot of cars in the lots at Rose City Park and Glendoveer, so it’s apparent they aren’t all “average joes” and “goodwill-jorts-wearing hipsters” in from the neighborhood. Check out RCP on a snow day and you’ll see hundreds of actual “neighbors” using a space they almost never get to just casually hang out in. Its amazing, and it’s a stark contrast to the stereotypical old white dudes always golfing there. I look at RCP as somewhat similar to Laurelhurst Park. Imagine if Laurelhurst was a golf course and you couldn’t just go hang out there? Imagine if they changed that, and suddenly you had access to a great public space with big trees and rolling hills? How great would that be!!!
We need to provide opportunities for lots of different types of recreation in the city, but auto racing definitely comes with a higher cost of entry than even golf. Maybe it’s cheaper than polo? When I lived in Kenton in the oughts I figured at some point I’d just give in to the constant noise and get into drag racing or auto crossing an old Miata or something. There ARE a lot of golf courses in this city. There AREN’T a lot of pump tracks or MTB trails, or good parks and playgrounds in certain areas. I’m all about creating more outdoor opportunities for more people, and parks and playgrounds are one of the best ways to do that.
only one part of this comment that I want to address – whether one approves of them or not, parks shouldn’t be required to operate at a profit.
how does one calculate the profit of a swing-set, a tree, a trail, a community event, or a sunset?
parks are a public works operation and the budgeting should serve the needs of their constituent users and the city.
comment of the week!
Fair point, I worded that poorly. I don’t mean to say all city parks should maintain a financial surplus, only to point out that it’s publicly funded and not independently solvent, so we have some grounds as citizens to argue for or against its existence. I’m not in favor of the city budget working to maintain auto racing facilities. I want it to be an actual public park.
“They operate at a financial loss”
“Knowingly exceeding legal noise pollution levels for years”
Do your homework! The noise that comes from that park is strictly monitored and any violators are no longer able to participate until it’s fixed and pass each the testing requirements! Years ago when I worked as the drag race announcer, 103db at 50ft. If you are hearing something exceptionally loud during the week, I lay odds that it’s one Portland’s thousands of vehicles driving around with no catalytic converter.
And occasionally the park does permit noise variances for select events. During such events, there are very strict rules and hours of operation.
Portland International Raceway has a rich history and is a success story on what was considered unusable land and I believe to this day is still considered a 50year flood plane. In the hay days of the 70’s and early 80’s, that track brought millions of dollars to Portland and Kenton areas. That changed when the noise ordinance was set in place. Back then, there may have been some blatant violations to curfews and the regulations were earned. That was 40plus years ago.
“Operating at a loss”
1. Please name one park that actually generates income, and then tell me PIR is run at a loss.
2. Portland public parks were never established to be “for profit”.
There’s one thing that you will not find on PIR acreage is homeless camps. As far as runoff polluting waterways, head east and bark up a flagrant violator that’s been poisoning everything and everyone for years, the airport. To this day piston powered airplanes burn a heavily leaded fuel. Somehow uncontested. Lead is good for no one, yet it’s sprinkled everywhere on everyone. That’s a real problem. Also, while yer there, see about the mufflers they use.
Also, what about the Columbia slough and Willamette rivers that are getting littered with stolen vehicles, human waste saturated with meth and fentanyl and god knows what else, dirty syringes, etc. I wonder how many toxins runoff of all of the special paints marking bike lanes and every other goofy idea Portland comes up with.
I could go on for days.
Sacred for me is that race track!
I’m sure this road can be shared just like every vehicle thoroughfare has been pinched into sharing.
And with lip bitten, I reluctantly hit send, ah f#c£ it!
You and Jim Calhoun below are making thoughtful arguments, with firsthand knowledge, about why PIR should stay, and how it’s being diligent in meeting noise regulations.
While other people may have arguments against those, I don’t think anyone could do a better job undermining your support than what PIR just did with its poor handling of the detour, and especially its even worse response when called on it.
For instance, with no personal experience with PIR, I have no reason to doubt you, Calhoun or anyone else who says that PIR is diligent in respecting noise limitations. BUT when I read Parks saying the detour was handled correctly, and Huegli trying to blame bike riders and potty-breaking flaggers for any problems, while I’m reading frightening eyewitness accounts and watching the video of the debacle, I’d be a fool to accept anyone’s word that PIR is diligently observing other regulations.
I’m not saying anything either of you said is wrong, or that you deserve to have your assertions questioned. I’m saying PIR has behaved so badly with its detour and response that it’s undermining its own supporters.
I was at the race on Sunday sitting 20 yards from the straightaway prior to the chicane. I have a sound meter app on my phone and I measured the sound. The Indy cars measure between 92 and 96 decibels. Far below the 103 max stipulated by track rules. In fact the City limit is 105 db. If you follow this link you will see that they monitor the track and the Kenton residential.
Portland International Raceway // Noise Information (portlandraceway.com)
I get that you don’t need the track and there a others that may agree with you. But then don’t go PIR, it won’t miss you. I like a great number of people in the area do enjoy the events there, including the bicycle races.
I don’t agree. If we lose a legal race track it may make illegal racing even more appealing. Which there is already a large problem with. I’d much rather give that crowd an accessible venue. And I can hear race weekends from where I live, has never really bothered me.
Remove Heigli from his job. While mistakes happen, his response is unacceptable. Three flaggers should not take a break at the same time. Even one on break during the peak period is an unsafe practice. The failure to acknowledge the missing signs and cones are two more. This is another in a long line of mid level city employees refusing to fix unsafe actions or hold the people responsible.
Huegli’s response was horrible. He denied that the video clearly showed the problems. He blamed bike riders for being there. He denied that the plan wasn’t carried out.
It was even worse that he invented an excuse–the flaggers must have been on a potty break–when you told him they weren’t there. He should have responded that he would find out why they weren’t there because that’s dangerous and he never wants that to happen again.
But the worst of all to me wasn’t inventing that excuse, it was his not understanding that saying they were on a potty break is so damning. It would mean he felt that the flaggers left for a justified reason, and the traffic plan was set up to allow them all to leave at once, leaving the traffic uncontrolled.
No flagging plan would ever say a flagger could leave mid-shift without another one taking their place. A flagger can no more do that than a lifeguard can leave their shift without a fill-in lifeguard, or a surgical team can leave their patient on the table in mid-operation while they take a group potty break.
If Huegli doesn’t do anything to show he understands how wrong his responses are, he shouldn’t be allowed to oversee traffic control at any more PIR events.
As this type of traffic is “permitted” on this shared use path at multiple times of the year…then the PBoT/ PP&R / PIR really need to install permanent signage that allows it to be well communicated (to confused drivers and cyclists) in advance and then covered when the sharing is not permitted…the traffic sign industry has a “horizontal hinged folding sign” for just such a situation…its secure and easily deployed and then put away…AND not rocket science if they cared to think this scenario through in advance.
PIR operates on a large chunk of public land but treats it like a fenced private club, for the exclusive use of motor enthusiasts with, I guess, some minor tidbits thrown to cyclists for image enhancement.
The same criticism could be leveled at the adjacent Heronwood golf course–public land used for the exclusive benefit of a narrow minority–but at least Heronwood is not so overtly hostile to the public at large. It is not fenced, and one can wander around in there or run through there after hours if one avoids the golfers.
The wider public (strollers, runners dog walkers, frisbee throwers, etc) are permitted a little scrap of land adjacent to the Delta Max station by the entrance to PIR
In both cases Portland city govt is at fault for letting this model develop and letting it persist.
I would not at all miss the summertime buzzing-bees sound of PIR in operation if the pace closed down , but barring that happy eventuality I would settle for public access to public land.
I could here the race cars as far away as N Ainsworth, nearly 3 miles away. How is that even legal?
There are times I can here laps being run at PIR from near exit 4 off Hwy 14 in Vancouver.
Yes, the races can be well heard at our previous house in Hough on 21st Street…which was 3 miles from the center of the race track…and thus easily a mile2 of Vancouver is impacted by this facility. And this is during the day which has more local background noise masking. I cannot imaging what it would be like if races were held at night. (The PIR racing sound is more sharp/ jagged than the unrelenting ‘river hum’ of the I-5 non-point transportation facility.)
PIR is a stain on our community. It creates noise pollution, water pollution, and people pollution.
It has zero redeeming qualities and its disgusting that the City of Portland owns it.
Good work, JM. Thanks for fighting The Good Fight.
You have uncovered – once again – the performative efforts of our public agencies to create a dedicated cycling network that is in fact not dedicated at all.
When push comes to shove and people in their cars need to be moved, those people in cars will always be prioritized over people walking or people on bikes. Always! They cannot be inconvenienced in any way.
I ride there all the time, they never have flaggers, never seen them one time. The drivers have no idea bikers are on the road and there is no signage for bikes, i almost got killed.
I appreciate this article and follow through. As I ride this section of path (road?) a lot every year and have never seen this, but hope PIR takes signing it more seriously.
Although part of me is disappointed that corner gate they would use to exit onto the path is never open to any bike events.