Parks bureau says they’ll retrain staff following bogus sign ‘mistake’ at Mt. Tabor

Tabor is a nice place to bike, but not everyone knows what areas are off-limits for off-roading. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)
The (now removed) sign. (Photo: Carrie Leonard)

It’s one thing when when haters or NIMBYs put up an anti-bicycling sign. It’s another thing when a city government staffer does it. And it’s on a whole different level when a city staffer does it with what feels like an intent to push an agenda that doesn’t even align with city policy.

That’s why I and many readers were so dismayed by the signs installed in Mt. Tabor Park late last month. When an eagle-eyed reader first told me about the signs, they seemed so legit that I immediately gave the Portland Parks & Recreation bureau the benefit of the doubt. But as I looked into it further and then heard from another reader who had similar concerns, the incident came into focus. As I reported last week, a Parks staffer acknowledged the signs were legit and told the concerned citizen that the signs aligned with their preference for keeping bicycles off unpaved roads in the park.

The problem of course, is that bikes are actually allowed on some unpaved roads and paths in the park. And the signs — which were erected in a misleading location — also referenced nonexistent and non-applicable city code in what appeared to be an attempt to threaten law-abiding park users with enforcement. Thankfully Parks took down the signs once the situation became public.

Even though the signs were quickly removed, I remained unsettled about the idea that there might be rogue city employees using our tax dollars to create and install bogus, anti-bicycling signage. I emailed Parks Commissioner Dan Ryan’s office to ask if my view of the incident was correct. And if I was reading the situation correctly, I wanted to know if that employee (or employees) would face any discipline.

Ryan’s office passed my inquiry over to Portland Parks media relations leader Mark Ross. He said the sign was installed in error and there is no disciplinary action planned for any employees. Ross referred to the episode as a “mistake” (he previously said it was “unintentional”). Ross also said:

“Portland Parks & Recreation appreciates a neighbor bringing it to our attention. We are making sure that staff across the Bureau follow protocols about ensuring content is accurate and appropriate before signs are installed in the Portland Parks & Recreation system.”

Ross then reiterated that Parks is working on creating a clearer map (confusion over usage rules at Mt. Tabor Park have led to people yelling at bike riders) and a “system-wide comprehensive signage program that will prioritize safety and be informed by city code.” Ross added that they intend to look at bureau-wide signage practices in order to “improve protocols and avoid errors going forward.”

I’ve heard Ross mention that effort before, and it sounds like something that will improve our Parks for everyone. When asked for more details, Ross said Parks has not yet identified a project manager but the effort is in the planning queue. That’s a good sign. We’ll keep our eyes and ears open for an developments.

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Michael Mann
Michael Mann
2 days ago

I was one of the readers who initially flagged the sign, and the photo of the sign is mine – I posted it to the Bike Loud Slack channel and Carrie Leonard and others took it from there (yea Bike Loud!)
What’s pretty clear is that someone at Parks went Rogue. Calling the placement of the sign “unintentional” and then backpedaling to the only slightly less offensive “mistake” is just bureaucratic ass-covering. That sign took work and thought, and the whole process was done on our dime. Furthermore, as at least one comment in the previous story highlighted, the misleading sign actually helped create additional hostility towards a cyclist who knew he was in the right by biking on a path that the official park map indicates he was allowed to be on.

nic.cota
nic.cota
2 days ago

The biggest little detail of this is that sign was manufactured referencing made up city code. There’s no way in hell this was a mistake. It was done intentionally. It was a deliberate fabrication to mislead park users.

dwk
dwk
2 days ago

When the city says it will clarify the situation after basically lying about what happened and then comes up with the new “clearer” map, I would bet money that the “new” map will close off a lot of paths to cycling that were previously open…

Steve C
Steve C
2 days ago

Most people dislike cyclists. More often than not the rationalization of rules around cycling results in less or no access. See River View Natural Area.

With something as low stakes as Tabor trails, which are rarely used by cyclists, I don’t see the community going to bat for access, but maybe I’m just pessimistic. The last few years will do that to you.

alex
alex
1 day ago
Reply to  Steve C

Even if the community does, I doubt the city will care. See RVNA.

dwk
dwk
2 days ago

BTW, I ride the off road trails on Tabor frequently, they are fun and are nice easy off road gravel bike trails. You can get from bottom to top on legal paths and then I ride the paved road down.
I have never had a complaint. I get off my bike or nice people get off the trails and smile hello and wave me by almost all the time.
There is not a problem that I have ever seen which is why that sign was so strange.
Mt. Tabor is the nicest, most mellow people park in Portland.

one
2 days ago

We will investigate ourselves until we find out that we did nothing wrong. The staff member involved may or may not be on paid administrative leave, then get a promotion. Please go about your business.

Evan
Evan
2 days ago

Calling this a “mistake” reflects a determination to do nothing about it.

What was the start of the process for installing this sign? Somebody at Parks heard some complaints about bikes? Somebody at Parks is annoyed about bikes? Then, someone didn’t check if bikes were allowed before deciding to install a sign. How did they decide where to put signs? Was the sign already made and sitting on a shelf, or did someone have it made? Was it already designed (with erroneous citations of city code) or did someone design it for this specific purpose? Which Parks staffers can send people out to install physical infrastructure without any vetting?

If this was a “mistake,” it was ten. But if your organization can make ten mistakes in a row, is anybody paying attention? Hopefully when we have more than five commissioners, at least one of them will care how city bureaus are functioning.

Matt S.
Matt S.
2 days ago
Reply to  Evan

Trying to track down the erroneous city code may tell all. If the code use to exist, then it probably was made a while back and it did sit on a shelf. A parks employee then may have took it in their own hands to install the sign, I imagine the staff have leeway of maintenance duties.

Carrie
Carrie
2 days ago
Reply to  Evan

There’s also the underlying issue that Parks employees are on the verge of a walkout strike and have been without contract for nearly a year (credit Joan Petit for these ideas). There’s got to be some trust and oversight issues in general given the working conditions and it wouldn’t be surprising to have folks work ‘outside the system’, particularly if a park user approaches you several times a week complaining about “those damn cyclists on my trails”.

I see it as a really troubling manifestation of our City disfunction at the moment. As Evan noted, it wasn’t one mistake, it was a cascading series of intentional action and deliberate lack of oversight (or subversion) that led to its eventual placement. (It’s also weirdly frustrating because if someone at Parks can make a decision and place signage that doesn’t follow the statue, why can’t someone at PBOT just start putting out physical jersey barriers to protect bikeways or peds which actually does meet statue :)).

Bjorn
Bjorn
2 days ago

It seems likely the training will consist of a module about the right to remain silent and the anti bike bias will not be addressed.

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
2 days ago

When a politician says they aren’t going to investigate an error made by one of their bureau staff’s that usually means that the employee in question (or their manager) knows too much (the preverbal where the bodies are buried) and they wouldn’t want that information to get out.
If you thought all those golden parachutes were the CIty being nice to outgoing directors/managers, I got some swamp land out by the airport to sell yah.

Fred
Fred
2 days ago

This failure by city leaders to hold anyone accountable for rogue behavior just makes me even more excited for the new city gov’t structure in 2025. Get the hacks out and the professionals in! I can’t wait.

Chris I
Chris I
1 day ago
Reply to  Fred

As they say in the Parks Department, the grass is always greener on the other side.

PNWPhotoWalks
PNWPhotoWalks
2 days ago

After PP&R corrects the sign at Mt. Tabor, I’d like to see them address the wayfinding and information signs on the Eastbank Esplanade. Although 99% of the photos I’ve posted about Portland since 2010 are positive, in the past few months I’ve let a few of “what I really see” photos, such as these, slip through. It’s an anecdotal observation, but on all of my many walks along the esplanade, I’ve never met a PP&R ranger.

zuckerdog
zuckerdog
1 day ago

Well-placed use of a pun!

maxD
maxD
1 day ago

Speaking of anti-bike bike (or anti- everyone except those showing up in cars) bias at Mt Tabor: can we please get some safe, accessible, and easy to use entrances for non-car users? I love the gates restricting car access, but the ped/bike access around them is a joke! it is too narrow, terribly muddy, has ridiculous cross-slopes- totally unacceptable.

Chris I
Chris I
1 day ago
Reply to  maxD

They really need to revisit the traffic flow at Tabor. I get that they won’t shut the Salmon Way entrance to cars for good, but they absolutely could make it one-way eastbound, which would provide road space for walkers and cyclists. Salmon is too narrow for bi-directional vehicle traffic to be mixing with vulnerable road users.