Portland to Enforce Sidewalk Bicycling Laws

Portland has long been known as a city where huge numbers of people use bicycles for a wide variety of purposes—to get to work, to see the sights, to protect the environment and of course, for exercise. Sadly, the ever-increasing number of cyclists has led to safety issues for cyclists, skateboarders and pedestrians. As Portland bicycle accident lawyers, we applaud any efforts to increase the safety of bike riders and pedestrians.

In an effort to improve Portland bicycle accident prevention, City Commissioner Amada Fritz has warned that the Portland Police Bureau will be cracking down over the holiday season on bicyclists and skateboarders who continue to use downtown sidewalks. Commissioner Fritz made the announcement at a press conference on Wednesday, December 7, and by the weekend, more than 80 Portland cyclists had received citations for failing to obey the rules, in what was described as a concerted set of “sidewalk enforcement missions.”

The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) weighed in behind the commissioner. “Fast moving bicycles on sidewalks pose a real safety risk for pedestrians,” they said in a statement released after the press conference. Commissioner Fritz has frequently made statements expressing concern about unsafe cycling and skateboarding in Portland. She has, in fact, come into direct conflict with cycling and skateboarding groups, some of whom attended the press conference on Wednesday. They included Bicycle Transportation Alliance’s Margaux Mennesson, and Billy Meiners of PDX Downhill, a skateboarding group.

Commissioner Fritz has placed responsibility for Portland bicycle accident prevention firmly at the feet of the cyclists. She said in August she would she would not support Portland’s federal funding request for a bike-sharing system until “I see bike riders using downtown streets and sidewalks in a safe manner.” She went on to make what was deemed at the time a highly controversial statement, and one which cycling enthusiasts vigorously refuted, when she said she frequently saw cyclists both endangering and harassing pedestrians. She went on to give cycling organizations a verbal slap on the wrist when she said “The cycling community seems to be doing little or nothing to educate riders or reduce these dangerous behaviors.”

Mayor Sam Adams issued a statement that many would have seen as more diplomatic than Commissioner Fritz’s. He said crowded sidewalks pose a significant safety concern, a view shared by Vicki Herson of Elders In Action, who also attended Wednesday’s press conference. She urged people who ride bikes and skateboards in downtown Portland to stay on the roadways and give senior citizens their own safe space on the sidewalks.

Mayor Adams went on to say that making sidewalks and roadways safer was the responsibility of all groups. “We’re working with the community to issue a friendly reminder that downtown sidewalks are for pedestrians and not people on bikes and skateboards,” he said.

Margaux Mennesson conceded that cyclists need to be mindful of laws governing the use of roads and sidewalks. She said that obeying those regulations was a key factor in Portland bicycle accident prevention. She urged cyclists to “be considerate, obey the law and ride safely in the road… It’s just the right thing to do.”

To further emphasize the city’s determination regarding the enforcement of bicycling laws, cyclists have been reminded that Portland has a bicycle exclusion zone for all sidewalks. This area extends south to Jefferson Street, east to Naito Parkway, west to NW 13th Street and north to NW Hoyt.

Portland Police Lieutenant Eric Schober reminded cyclists and skateboarders of the penalties they face should they be caught riding on sidewalks where such activities are banned. The typical fine for a cyclist would be a not-so-cool $182, while someone caught skateboarding on a downtown sidewalk could be deprived of $122. The entire initiative is seen as an attempt to avoid conflict between pedestrians, cyclists and skateboarders during the busy holiday season, when downtown sidewalks are typically teaming with shoppers.

Whatever the rights, wrongs and responsibilities surrounding the issue of cycling and skateboarding on sidewalks, it’s clear that City Hall has decided to make what they call this “friendly reminder” on behalf of pedestrians who have become increasingly frustrated by the dangerous practice of people using sidewalks as bike lanes. Portland bicycle accident prevention is in everyone’s best interest, including—and maybe especially—the cyclists themselves. The fines being issued may, taken from that point of view, be seen to be a form of tough love. Cyclists have said that they would be happy to use designated bike lanes if they weren’t blocked by illegally parked vehicles or frequently ignored by motorists on busy roads. It’s unlikely we’ve heard the last on this issue from all sides of the debate.