Pearl District residents seek expansion of sidewalk bicycling ban

Pearl District residents seek expansion of sidewalk bicycling ban

People ride on the sidewalks on
NW Lovejoy to avoid the new streetcar tracks.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Pearl District Neighborhood Association wants to expand the area in downtown Portland where bicycling on sidewalks is prohibited. Currently, bicycles are not allowed on sidewalks in the area defined by 13th, SW Jefferson, Naito Parkway, and NW Hoyt (map). The PDNA’s Planning, Design & Transportation Committee passed a motion at their meeting on August 21st to modify Portland City Code 16.70.320 to extend that boundary to the Willamette River and I-405.

The motion to expand the boundary was brought to the PDNA by Neilson Abeel, a 72-year-old Pearl District resident and former Board Member who has also been called the “unofficial mayor of the Pearl District.” According to one source, Abeel has been on “a bit of a campaign” to expand the bicycling prohibition because he had a run-in with someone riding on the sidewalk. The source who told me about this effort also noted that there are many older residents in the Pearl who feel that, as the neighborhood is getting busier, “there’s a feeling that the bikes sort of meander and doodle around and take them by surprise.”

Patty Gardner, Chair of the PDNA Planning, Transportation & Design Review committee, confirmed the plans with me today. According to meeting minutes of the August committee meeting, Abeel asked that the PDNA, “be the lead in supporting a change to extend the boundaries to match the Pearl.”

Gardner, who is well-known for her bicycle advocacy and says she’d probably be one of the first people ticketed if the change went into effect, said that while Abeels’ run-in with a sidewalk rider is “probably more emotional based,” the change would fit with the neighborhood’s over-arching goal to expand the code in order to fold the Pearl District into the Central City. It turns out that the NW Hoyt boundary also comes into play with other City services and policies (like garbage collection and police patrols). This is a throwback to the old days when, “everything north of Hoyt was dirt,” Gardner says. The way she sees it, “If you’re going to call us the ‘Central City’, the whole neighborhood should be in the central city.”

Riding on NW Lovejoy sidewalks.
NW Lovejoy biking conditions-14

This is just one reason why people avoid riding on Lovejoy these days.

It’s worth noting that there has been a sharp increase in sidewalk riding in the Pearl District recently due to the negative impacts to the bike network brought on by the eastside streetcar project. In order to run the streetcar on Lovejoy, Portland Streetcar Inc., removed the existing bike lane on Lovejoy. They also turned Lovejoy into a one-way street. Part of the deal for removing the bike lane on Lovejoy was to make NW Marshall (one block north) into a bike boulevard. However, that plan has failed because many people also now drive on Marshall, making it a dangerous and unpleasant place to ride. (PBOT is aware of the problems on Marshall and is working to fix them – see below.)

The combination of Lovejoy — which used to be a key bicycle route —and Marshall being no longer pleasant or safe to bicycle on, along with other changes in the Pearl due to the new streetcar, means more people are riding on the sidewalk simply to get where they need to go and/or avoid hazards.

Is it really wise to make it illegal to ride on the sidewalk while the roadways remain inhospitable to people on bikes? Especially when PBOT is trying to make the Pearl a bike-friendly district?

If this effort is to move forward, PBOT needs to speed up their efforts to improve conditions on NW Marshall and Lovejoy. On Marshall, Gardner told me today that PBOT is set to install a traffic diverter at NW 10th and Marshall that will prohibit left turns by motor vehicles. This should help cut down on some of the auto traffic. (If it doesn’t, Gardner says the PDNA will push PBOT to put another diverter at NW 15th.)

Gardner says the PDNA is in the early stages of trying to get the code changed. We’ll keep you posted.

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