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.