Waterfront Park altercations leave path users injured and scared

Waterfront Park altercations leave path users injured and scared

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Crowds are common in Waterfront Park.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Some people who use Waterfront Park have taken it upon themselves to enforce their version of the rules by instigating collisions with people who ride bicycles through the park.

“As I slowly got up, I turned back and saw him walking away across the park, shouting “fast bikes on Naito!”
— Ranjeewa Weerasinghe

In the past week we’ve heard of two separate instances from several different sources. In one incident a man was injured when another man allegedly pushed a skateboard into his path on purpose. The man then yelled, “Fast bikes on Naito!” which is a reference to signs installed by the Portland Parks & Recreation bureau last year that encourage faster riders to ride in the street instead of the park path.

According to our sources, this man with the skateboard has done this same thing more than once. In another case, a man allegedly stepped in front path users with the intent to make them crash.

On September 1st just before 5:30, Ranjeewa Weerasinghe was riding home from work, headed northbound on the Waterfront Park path along the Willamette River. As he approached the Burnside Bridge he was behind a line of other people riding bikes and they were going past a large group of people. Weerasinghe recalls there were about 15 people, half of them sitting and standing around a bench to his left and the others were leaning up against the guardrail on his right. Here’s what he says happened next:

“One of them leaning on the guardrail had a skateboard under his foot, pointing across the path towards the bench. As we rode past, he shouted something at the first cyclist, then kicked his skateboard across the path. It hit my front wheel, sending me over my handlebars onto the ground. As I slowly got up, I turned back and saw him walking away across the park, shouting “fast bikes on Naito!”

Weerasinghe suffered “quite a few scrapes and bruises” on his forehead, shoulder, arms, and hands. He slammed on the ground so hard his right hip was sore the next day and a piece of his helmet broke off.

He didn’t report the incident to the police until he learned he wasn’t the only one this has happened to. When Weerasinghe told his co-workers about the incident the next morning, one of them said they saw a very similar incident last month involving a skateboard and a man yelling, “Fast bikes on Naito!” Realizing it wasn’t an isolated incident, Weerasinghe filed a report with the Portland Police Bureau.

One day after I heard about Weerasinghe’s incident I heard from north Portland resident Noah Brimhall about a separate altercation.

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Some people think this means bikes
are not allowed on the path.

Brimhall was riding in in the same direction as Weerasinghe at around the same time and around the same place. Brimhall also approached an area with a large group of people around a bench on one side and around the railing on the other, creating a path between them where other path users could go. Here’s how Brimhall described what happened as he rode through that path:

“I was slowing down to pass between the guys carefully when another man riding a bike passed me going a bit faster on my left and came up to the guys on the grass side of the path. At the last second one of the guys in that group, who was facing me and the other guy riding a bike, stepped into the bike riders path. In my opinion this was done very purposely to cause an accident.”

“When the behavior crosses the line and is criminal or threatening to people, that’s when we need to be involved.”
— Sgt. Pete Simpson, Portland Police Bureau

According to Brimhall the other rider (who he says wasn’t riding at an unsafe speed) had to slam on his brakes and swerve to avoid the man who’d stepped into his path. When Brimhall stopped, he was reprimanded by the man who stepped into the path. “He started yelling about how ‘you are going to fast’ and ‘this is a walking path.’ Brimhall argued back that the path is for everyone and that he shouldn’t step into the path on purpose. Brimhall said at this point the man and his “friends” were getting aggressive and one of the kicked his bike’s rear tire “very hard.”

At that point, Brimhall rode away to avoid any more confrontation. His rear wheel was now wobbly from the kick and he had to disconnect his rear brake to make it home. The wheel will need to be fixed by a professional before he can ride again.

These incidents have left both Weerasinghe and Brimhall with some serious questions. How should someone handle a situation like this? Should people simply avoid riding the Waterfront Park path? Can anything be done to fix this situation?

Portland Police Bureau spokesman Pete Simpson said the best thing to do if you get threatened or assaulted is to call 911 immediately. He said it’s crucial to give officers a good description of the alleged suspect.

Simpson also said the PPB is “keenly aware of the aggressive behavior” in Waterfront Park. “We acknowledge and are fully aware of the challenges between the community using the parks and the interactions between people walking and biking in the parks.” Simpson said the bureau walks a “fine line” around the issue and emphasized that they “we are not policing homelessness, we are policing behavior.”

“When the behavior crosses the line and is criminal or threatening to people, that’s when we need to be involved.”

Weerasinghe hasn’t ridden since his incident because he still needs to buy a new helmet and he wants his wounds to heal up. He initially figured he’s start using the bike lane on Naito, but now feels like he’ll return to the path through the park while keeping his eyes peeled for the group with the skateboard. “I know I won’t go on family rides with my daughter through there though.”

— The crowded Waterfront Path is not a new issue. Back in August we shared the story of a man who was riding a bike and hit someone and didn’t even stop. I’m afraid we’ll continue to hear stories like this until we build more adequate bicycle access and people start using the path with more respect for each other.

The post Waterfront Park altercations leave path users injured and scared appeared first on BikePortland.org.

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