March 8, 1995: Cyclists Sue the City Over the Blazers' New Arena

In July 1993, the city of Portland broke ground for the arena now known as the Moda Center. Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen and then-mayor Vera Katz wielded backhoes to begin construction of the glitzy new arena.

Most of the city was excited at creating a new home for Portland's only major-league sports team—but bicycle advocates were chafed.

Hard to imagine now, but the original plans for the area had no bike lanes. The green boxes that carry cyclists across the Broadway Bridge and up to the Vancouver-Williams corridor weren't in the plans, and neither was the bikeway on the lower deck of the Steel Bridge.

Portland's nascent Bicycle Transportation Alliance wanted to change that, and thought it had a trump card in the Oregon Bicycle Bill, a 1971 law that requires the inclusion of facilities for pedestrians and bicyclists wherever a road is built or rebuilt.

The BTA asked city commissioners to update the plans, and were rebuffed. Commissioner Earl Blumenauer, now a bow-tied U.S. congressman who makes bikes part of his shtick, told the BTA the project was exempt from the Bicycle Bill. According to BTA co-founder Rex Burkholder, Blumenauer attempted to dissuade the BTA from pushing the issue further.

Katz also opposed updating the plans to include the bikeway that now connects to the floating esplanade named for her. According to Burkholder, she said, "So, sue us."

The BTA did just that, filing the landmark lawsuit Bicycle Transportation Alliance v. City of Portland. On March 8, 1995, the BTA won in the Oregon Court of Appeals, and the plans were redrawn.

The area, which became a crucial connection point to North and Northeast Portland, currently gets 3,000 to 4,000 daily bike trips, numbers rivaled only by the Springwater Corridor and Hawthorne Bridge.

And it's not just about bikes: Try to imagine the gentrification of North and Northeast Portland if bike-loving hipsters had to cross all the way down at the Burnside Bridge.

"It put the state and other cities on notice that if you wanted to construct or reconstruct any individual roadway, you were going to have to provide bicycle paths," says BTA spokesman Gerik Kransky.

Kransky cautions against celebrating the Bicycle Bill or court judgment too much.

From the Archives:

Power to the Pedal, February 17, 2010 cover story on the Bicycle Transportation Alliance

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