Bike advocates sue City of Portland for failing ‘to meet its most basic legal obligations to provide safe streets’

City has 'systematically failed to comply’ with a law requiring construction of bike and pedestrian facilities

A biker in Portland, Oregon
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A bicycle advocacy group called BikeLoud PDX filed a lawsuit against the City of Portland on Friday for ‘systematically failing to comply’ with a 1971 Oregon law requiring infrastructure improvements.

This law, ORS 366.514 better known as Oregon Pedestrian and Bicycle Bill or simply “the Bike Bill”,  requires the creation of pedestrian and bicycle facilities whenever city streets are constructed, reconstructed or relocated.

That same law was successfully leveraged in a 1995 lawsuit, when the Bicycle Transportation Alliance demanded the city build secure bike lanes along the streets surrounding the Rose Quarter, a 30-acre sports and entertainment district. 

This lawsuit comes at a time when Portland, often considered the bike capital of the U.S., is grappling with increasing traffic fatalities and serious crashes. In 2021, 63 people died in traffic crashes in Portland, the highest number of annual traffic deaths since 1990. In 2022, the death toll is at 47 with at least 26 people killed while walking or bicycling. 

It therefore comes at little surprise that bicycle mode share —trips taken by bike versus another mode of transportation— in Portland has now stagnated below 7% and begun to decline, despite the City’s adopted goal of 25% by 2030.  And while research by the City of Portland indicates that approximately 60% of Portlanders want to be able to ride bikes, they don’t because they’re afraid. 

BikeLoud PDX, the plaintiff listed on the official complaint, hopes to counter that trend. 

A non-profit organization founded in 2014,  BikeLoud PDX exists to ensure the City of Portland follows its own goal to make the city a place where one quarter of all of our trips are done on bicycles. The 250-member strong organization spends its time advocating for Safe Routes to School, a safe and complete bicycle network, bikeway maintenance and vehicle speed reduction through letter writing campaigns, testifying at hearings, meeting with elected officials and various on-the-bike events.

The litigation is its first and is backed by a powerhouse team of legal council including Scott Kocher of Forum Law Group  and the law firm of Thomas, Coon, Newton & Frost.

The complaint states that the City has ”not only failed to implement its Council-approved Plans to provide safe places for people to bicycle, walk and use mobility devices on and around Portland streets, the City of Portland has failed to meet its most basic legal obligations to provide safe streets.” 

BikeLoud PDX points to 22 specific road projects that do not comply with the requirements listed in the 1971 Pedestrian and Bicycle Bill though they’re certain there are numerous more. 

The organization submitted public records requests about other completed road projects that are potentially out of compliance but the City has yet to provide the records.

The suit goes on to state that the members of BikeLoud PDX are affected by the City’s failure to comply to the street improvement requirement, stating they “suffer real and probable injury by virtue of their inability safely and efficiently to use the initially-identified locations…for walking and cycling, and all non-compliant locations city-wide."

"The relief requested in this case will have a practical effect on their rights to the safe and efficient use of the public right-of-way and transportation facilities at the initially-identified locations and citywide.”

With the lawsuit, BikeLoud PDX does not seek any financial compensation beyond legal fees. Instead it asks for

- The City to release a statement acknowledging it has violated the Pedestrian and Bicycle Bill of 1971 at the locations listed

- An injunction from the court requiring the City to comply with the requirement of the 1972 Bill at those locations

- An additional injunction that requires the City to build the bike facilities as outlined in the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Bicycle Plan for 2030 in the locations where the City can prove it does not have to comply with the Bike Bill

- A further injunction from the Court to halt any current or future road projects subject to the Bike Bill until the City can prove they are in compliance with the law.

“Building infrastructure for all Portlanders, whether on foot, on bike, or on any mobility device is all we ask," BikeLoud PDX states.  

"We hope our case sets a precedent for all Oregonians to know how the Bike Bill can hold our transportation agencies accountable."

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