Cycling Advocates Will Sue Portland for Failing to Make Required Bike Lane Improvements

A 1971 law has been leveraged in previous successful lawsuits.

On Friday, the cyclist advocacy group BikeLoud PDX will bike down to the Multnomah County Courthouse to file a lawsuit against the city of Portland, alleging it failed to make proper infrastructure improvements as required by a 1971 Oregon Law.

The law, the Oregon Pedestrian and Bicycle Bill, requires that when a street is constructed, reconstructed or relocated, the infrastructure must also be improved for pedestrians and bicyclists.

That law has been leveraged in previous successful lawsuits. In 1995, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance compelled the city to secure bike lanes along streets in the Rose Quarter. BikeLoud PDX is pointing to a variety of developments in Portland since 1971 where the city did not follow through on its obligation, including Hoyt Yards in the Pearl District and along Southeast Division Street.

According to BikePortland’s fatality tracker, three cyclists have been killed as a result of traffic crashes this year. In 2021, zero cyclists were killed in collisions.

But traffic deaths remain high. Last year, 63 people died in traffic. That’s the highest number of traffic-related deaths since 1990. Forty-seven people have died so far in 2022.

There was outrage from the cycling community last month when Portland chef Sarah Pliner, a cyclist, was hit and killed by a driver along Southeast Powell Boulevard. (That road is owned by the Oregon Department of Transportation, not the city—but activists have implored the state to transfer ownership of the road to the city.)

Scott Kocher, the attorney representing BikeLoud PDX, says the nonprofit submitted public records requests about completed developments that are potentially out of compliance. He says the city declined to provide the records.

“Based on the research our volunteers were able to do, we will have a limited list,” Kocher says. “We expect that when we are able to get documents from the city, we will find many other locations.”

Kocher says the lawsuit is complicated by outdated and unclear guidance in the 1971 law. But he is optimistic about the lawsuit’s chances of forcing change.

“There’s a range of positive outcomes here,” Kocher says, “and we hope that the city will view this as us helping them to do their job better and prioritize what needs to be done.”

Dylan Rivera, a spokesman for the Portland Bureau of Transportation, declined to comment on the impending litigation.

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