If you’re new to riding bikes in Portland — or if you’re new to BikePortland — I have a very important message for you about River View Cemetery: Riding bicycles through the cemetery is a privilege, not a right. And public access could be revoked at any time.
I share this now because I just received a troubling note that once again thrusts this issue into the spotlight. I say once again because I’ve written almost two dozen stories about River View Cemetery access since first sharing a threat of it being closed to bikes in 2006.
And when it comes to riding through the cemetery, if you know, you know: it is a fantastic route that connects the west end of the Sellwood Bridge (via the bridge and the Willamette Greenway path) to SW Terwilliger and Lewis & Clark College. The unfortunate fact is that the road through River View Cemetery is private. It’s only open to public access thanks to the goodwill of the River View board of trustees and leadership. The other unfortunate fact is that the City of Portland doesn’t provide people any other alternative that is remotely safe or accessible. The only other route that would even merit consideration would be South Taylors Ferry Road, which (as you can see in the photo above) has very little space for cycling and is a relatively high speed arterial that is scary to ride on for 99% of the cycling population.
Which brings me to that troubling note. It comes from (yet another) person who claims to have had a very negative interaction with a bicycle rider during a visit to the cemetery. Here’s what they shared with BikePortland:
My 27 year old daughter was buried yesterday at Riverview, and I returned to the cemetery this morning in search of her gravesite. I encountered many bikers, most of who were respectful, until I encountered an entitled one who wasn’t.
This one nearly ran into me, while he sped downhill making a right turn onto a no bike road, and not visible to me until after I started a left turn onto that road. The biker first started screaming at me. I made the mistake of opening my window and letting him know of both the speed limit and no bike road, and asking him to be respectful of the dead. I added that I was looking for my daughter’s grave.
He called me a dumb ass, told me I was driving on a bike path, and said he was thankful for my loss. He made aggressive maneuvers toward me, at which point I found it necessary to abandon my search and leave the cemetery.
I have reported this to cemetery management, and encouraging them to enact a permanent ban on cyclists through this private property. I understand there have been multiple previous complaints from grieving families.
People are people. Some are jerks, some are respectful. The actions of one person don’t define an entire group. Yadda, yadda, yadda.
The fact is policies are often set because of emotional reactions to one situation that adds to a broader narrative — whether it’s fair or not.
If you don’t believe the person who sent me the note above, take it from River View Cemetery Executive Director Rachel Essig (an ally of cycling who’s helped stave off bans). “Over the years our staff and our families have experienced verbal abuse and threats of physical violence. We’ve had rider disrupts graveside services with loud talking, laughter and even using profanity at mourners,” she shared with me via email this morning. “We also experience ‘near misses’ with cyclists as we operate a lot of heavy equipment to conduct interments, we have had riders get in the way of our employees work to serve our client families.”
I’ve learned over the years that the River View board of trustees has long considered a closing the cemetery to bike access and it has only been maintained because cemetery staff like Essig (and her predecessor) have stepped in and promised they can manage the situation. Interactions like the one above make it harder for staff to keep that promise.
River View hosts over 350 funerals every year. On any given day they are serving at least two families who have just lost a loved one. Please keep that in mind — and remember that your access to those roads is a privilege, not a right — every time you roll through those cemetery gates.
— Learn more about the rules for riding through River View in this video.
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