river view cemetery
“The purpose of Memorial Day and a cemetery is for remembrance… for safety reasons we must exclude cyclists.”
— Rachel Essig, River View Cemetery executive director
One thing I’ve realized about doing daily local news in a fast-growing city is that even if we’ve covered something several times, many people who are new to town are still in the dark about some things.
At least I hope that’s the case with a recent incident in River View Cemetery.
So if you’re new to town, please listen up: That forested path through the cemetery that takes you safely between the Sellwood Bridge and SW Palatine Hill Road/SW Terwilliger Blvd is private property. We are extremely lucky that the Board of Directors of the nonprofit that runs the cemetery have given us (via the City of Portland) the right to pass through. They do this because there is no other direct and safe option. And because they are nice people. Suffice it to say, the River View path is a gem that’s used and adored by many — from commuters to racers and weekend warriors — and it’s a privilege to use it, not a right.
Before we get the inevitable, “Hi BikePortland! Did you hear that River View Cemetery is closed to bikes!?” emails; please plan ahead for the upcoming closure of this route on Memorial Day weekend.
Just like they did last year, the cemetery has decided to prohibit access through the cemetery during the busy holiday. The move comes in response to complaints from cemetery visitors about rude and dangerous behavior by bicycle riders. When this closure first happened in 2017, some of the Board of Trustees (who manage the cemetery) were convinced that a permanent ban was needed.
However, that disaster was averted thanks in part to the collaborative approach to problem solving and internal advocacy from River View’s Executive Director David Noble (and the work of The Street Trust who has helped broker these conversations for many years).
As several of you may have noticed there’s a new gate at the lower entrance to River View Cemetery just across from the new Sellwood Bridge.
The bad news is it’ll be closed at 4:00 pm from now on. The good news is that it’s intended for motor vehicle drivers and they’ve left a space for bicycle users to walk around it.
We received several emails about the gate last week from readers concerned that the gate was the disaster we had hoped to avert when we reported on this issue last month. As you recall, cemetery staff are in a tough spot. The private nonprofit must balance its desire to maintain public access to their roads while maintaining a safe and respectful environment for their customers. The issue continues to bubble up because the cemetery receives many complaints about people riding bicycles too fast and without respect for others.
After hearing about the newly closed gate we contacted River View Cemetery Executive Director David Noble. He said the gate is now operational and is programmed to open at 6:00 am (specifically for morning bicycle commuters — staff doesn’t show up until 8:00) and close at 4:00 pm daily.
I have good news and bad news about the future of bicycle access in River View Cemetery.
As you might recall from our reporting last month, the privately-owned roads through the cemetery in southwest Portland (between the Willamette River and Terwilliger Blvd at the Sellwood Bridge) were closed to bicycle riders over Memorial Day Weekend. These roads are usually open to bikes because the cemetery recognizes that they provide a much safer alternative to the other roads in the area. Unfortunately many people don’t respect the cemetery for what is — a place for quiet reflection — and use it as a training route and/or speed through without regard for cemetery visitors.
(Note: The route is even a segment on the popular riding app Strava — which encourages people to ride fast to improve their ranking. The segment has been flagged for removal in the Strava system but has not yet been removed.)
With complaints on the rise, River View Cemetery Executive Director David Noble contacted us with a serious warning: If behavior of bicycle users doesn’t improve, he’ll be forced (by the cemetery’s member-owners) to ban bikes completely. In the interim, Noble decided to ban biking during the long Memorial Day holiday. If that ban was disrespected and if the poor behavior continued despite it, a complete ban would have been on the table.
Thankfully, most bicycle riders heeded the ban and there are no plans for a prohibition on pedaled vehicles.
That’s the good news.
Bicycles will not be allowed to roll through River View Cemetery this coming Memorial Day weekend (Friday, May 26th through Monday, May 29th).
If that news bothers you, consider this: We’re lucky it’s open to us at all. And if we want it to remain open in the future, we better start riding with more respect.
The historic cemetery that sits on 350 acres of prime real estate overlooking the Willamette River just west of the Sellwood Bridge is a private nonprofit organization that was founded in 1882. Its Board of Trustees generously allows free bicycle access through the property because it provides a safe, direct, and pleasant connection between Sellwood and southwest Portland. The alternate routes on SW Boones Ferry and Taylors Ferry roads are out-of-the-way and very stressful on a bike due to their outdated and car-centric design.
However, despite this amazing gift bicycle riders have been given, far too many people abuse this privilege by riding in a way that fails to show the respect due to this venerable place and the people who visit and staff it.
A popular bicycle route through River View Cemetery is set to close on August 12th and not re-open until September 27th. Multnomah County officials sent out the traffic alert today, saying the closure is necessary so construction crews can build the new entrance to the Cemetery along Highway 43 that’s coming with the Sellwood Bridge project.
To make room for this work, the road just above the funeral home will be closed. “Unfortunately,” writes County spokesman Mike Pullen, “this work in a very steep area will also close the trail that bicyclists and pedestrians use in the cemetery.”
also happens to be a very popular and important bike route.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)
River View Cemetery, perched in lush green hills above the Willamette River just south of downtown Portland, is just like any other cemetery in America except for one major difference: it’s bike-friendly. Even though it’s owned and operated as a private business, River View’s board of directors and management have gone out of their way to accomodate people who ride through their 350 acre property on bicycles.
It’s been almost three years since River View installed bike-specific pavement markings and route signs through their property. I rode through the cemetery myself a few days ago and figured it was time to check in with David Noble, the executive director of the River View Cemetery Association.
Before sharing some thoughts from Noble, here are some photos of how the cemetery accommodates people riding bikes…