Portland nonprofit BikeLoud PDX plans to sue the Portland Bureau of Transportation for not building legally required cycling facilities when they did major road projects — a requirement outlined in ORS 365.514, a law known as the Oregon Bike Bill.
The bill was last tested in 1995 when the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (now The Street Trust) won a lawsuit against the City of Portland and forced PBOT to include bike lanes through the Rose Quarter.
Nearly 30 years later, another group of Portland advocates want the Bike Bill to have its day in court once again. BikeLoud PDX announced their plans at a meeting Wednesday night. Scott Kocher, a lawyer with Forum Law Group who has won transportation-related lawsuits against PBOT in the past, will represent the nonprofit. (Disclaimer: Kocher is a financial supporter of BikePortland.)
“The suit seeks implementation of key improvements identified in the City’s Bicycle Plan where those improvements better serve current needs,” a BikeLoud press release states. “Portland roads need safe facilities to reach our climate, community, equity, and safety goals for all road users.”
According to BikeLoud, there are “numerous locations where the city has failed since 1971 to provide safe and adequate places for people to ride and roll when streets were constructed, reconstructed or relocated.”
One of these locations – and a primary impetus for this lawsuit – is SE Hawthorne Blvd. Advocates wanted the city to include bike lanes in its Hawthorne ‘Pave and Paint’ project completed last year, but PBOT refused. Zach Katz, a former Portland resident and bike advocate who has since left the state, raised about $13,000 in a GoFundMe campaign to sue the city for its Hawthorne decision. That money will be used to fund BikeLoud’s suit, although they’ve decided to take on more than just Hawthorne.
The suit will include a list of over 20 projects BikeLoud feels did not comply with the law.
The bike bill requires that agencies provide walkways and bikeways on all roadway construction, reconstruction or relocation projects. If, for example, a bike lane is not feasible on a specific road project, a viable alternative must be provided. Advocates began looking more closely at the bike bill in 2020 when The Street Trust attempted to expand the bike bill through the state legislature.
“BikeLoud volunteers write letters, testify at hearings, meet with elected leaders, and take staff on policy rides because we are dedicated to serving people who are outside of cars who want to go places too,” the press release states. “We feel change is too slow coming when the need is so great.”
BikeLoud says they tried to work with the City of Portland, but when PBOT refused to cooperate with a public records request that sought information about projects that might have skirted the Bike Bill, the nonprofit felt a lawsuit was necessary.
The plaintiffs-to-be are not looking for a financial settlement. They want the city to build the bike infrastructure they believe they’ve failed to provide in the past. If it’s not possible to build bikeways on specific streets that were reconstructed, a judge could help both sides negotiate a fair settlement that would build higher-quality, nearby alternate bike routes.
This lawsuit has the potential to put BikeLoud in the spotlight in a new way, and members are ready for it. At a BikeLoud member meeting in southeast Portland Wednesday night, the excitement was palpable. It’s clear members think this could provide the energy needed to reinvigorate biking in Portland.
“There’s a general feeling this city has lost some of its vision,” BikeLoud chair Kiel Johnson said at the meeting. “Bicycling doesn’t solve all the problems, but it does make things a little bit better. I think it’s a really important thing to advocate for.”
BikeLoud will lead a ride this Friday (11/18) to file the lawsuit at the Multnomah County Courthouse.