Last week, the Portland Parks & Recreation bureau announced a plan to remove 243 lampposts from 12 parks around the city due to “structurally unsound anchoring systems that may pose a life and safety hazard to the public.” The news concerned many Portlanders who use these parks and don’t want them to go dark after sunset. And given the list of parks where the lights are set to be dimmed, Parks’ decision could hit Portland’s bike community especially hard — because some of the parks on the list are popular gathering spots for evening group rides throughout the year.
The parks affected by the lamppost removal include Irving and Colonel Summers, both of which are frequently used as the meeting/after-party spot for group bike events that sometimes go on late into the night. Those days are over, it seems — even if you can light your own way with headlights, all of the parks in question will now be closed at 10 pm — hours before post-bike ride dance parties could even get started. PP&R will be sending Park Rangers to affected parks to make sure the rules are being followed at night.
What’s the impetus for this? According to a Friday story in the Willamette Week, PP&R may be shutting off the lights because of litigation fears. WW acquired documents revealing that the city began investigating park lampposts after receiving a tort claim by a person who was injured last summer when a light pole fell on her after she tied a hammock to it. Some public responses indicate frustration that the bureau’s reaction to this lawsuit is to limit a public resource for everyone.
“Am I the only one frustrated about PP&R’s reaction to remove light posts over load-bearing that poles weren’t designed to do and because we live in a litigious society?” one person asked on Twitter.
“So endanger everyone’s nighttime safety because of one person’s accident. Yep, makes perfect sense…in Portland,” a commenter on the WW story said.
This incident has also brought to light (sorry) some of the budget woes facing Portland parks. Evidently, similar to the Portland Bureau of Transportation, PP&R has a substantial maintenance backlog ($600 million). This means they can’t afford to replace all the lampposts they’re removing, at least not anytime soon.
“PP&R redirected $5 million from already budgeted major maintenance funding to remove the light poles and begin the partial replacement process. Currently, the project is estimated to cost $15 million.” a Portland parks statement says. (That means $60,000 for each lamppost.) “PP&R does not currently have sufficient funding to replace all light poles in the park system.”
The parks bureau has provided a timeline for replacing only the lamps at Irving and Mt. Scott, where they plan to install replacements within 16 months. That’s a pretty long time, but it’s a better prognosis than what we have for the other parks, which are to remain without lamps indefinitely.
According to PP&R director Adena Long, one in five park assets could be removed or closed within the next 15 years if the bureau doesn’t find a new, sustainable funding source.
One of the ways the city might find the funding for PP&R’s maintenance backlog is by creating a new taxing district for parks funding, allowing the bureau to access its own pot of money just for local parks and recreation needs. For now, though, Portlanders are going to have to deal with the cuts.
So, how will this impact bike meetups? The full reality of the situation might not hit until Pedalpalooza goes into full swing this summer, but I asked Moorland Moss, who leads rides for Naked Hearts: PDX all year-round (many of which are based at Irving Park), and he’s not too worried about it.
“I am prepared to host rides and parties even if the world literally ends,” Moss told me. “We can definitely survive the city taking down some lampposts. I am prepared for the apocalypse.”
Those who aren’t as prepared as Moss might have a more difficult time adjusting to the dark. But it’s good to know that Portland’s bike rides will carry on.
You can find more information, including a list of all the planned lamppost removals, at PP&R’s website.