Last week, a reader shared photos of intriguing bike paths. They raised my eyebrows for several reasons.
First of all, I hadn’t heard anything about the project. As someone whose job it is to know this stuff, it felt weird to me.
And second, they were in a place where I never heard of a great demand for cycling. Not that I believe we have to demonstrate the presence of cyclists before building infrastructure for them (just as we don’t have to show how many people swim across a river before building a bridge), but this place was very curious.
The bike paths have been built within the confines of the North West Industrial District. More than five miles north of downtown, about a mile south of the St. Johns Bridge on a section of NW Front Avenue just north of NW 61st Avenue. It’s such an empty place that it is almost creepy, in a post-apocalyptic god-I-wonder-what-type-of-hazardous-industrial-waste-was-dumped-here-100-years-ago-way.
The only reason you’ve probably ever been nearby is the nearby metro waste transfer station (aka “the dump”). When I first saw the photos, a voice in my head said, “Wow! I can’t believe PBOT built these to stop people parking RVs. I knew this place had become a major camping spot for people – very similar to the large camp of vans, trailers and other vehicles parked on both sides of NE 33rd south of Marine Drive. At this location, the PBOT recently helped clear dozens of campers from the road.
Wanting to check my hunch, I emailed Portland Bureau of Transportation spokesman Dylan Rivera.
Rivera got back to me this week. He said nothing about the campers who were there. He said a private company came up with the idea. Here is Rivera’s explanation:
“Siltronic approached us about the need for a bike lane there, next to company-owned land. We found that the plan for 2030 bikes calls for a separate bike lane on the roadway on Front Avenue NW [the blue-and-white striped line in the map above]. As the company was able to design and build it to our specifications, we were more than happy to take on this new addition to the city’s cycling network.
Siltronics is a huge German company that manufactures “hyperpure silicon wafers, the basis of modern micro and nanotechnology”. They employ 4,300 people and have offices around the world. Their Portland headquarters is on the banks of the Willamette River, next to the Burlington-Northern Railroad Bridge, and just north of these beautiful new bike paths.
This is not the first time that PBOT has happily accepted private assistance to fund and build cycling infrastructure. The clothing giant Adidas financed and built bike lanes on N Greeley Avenue in North Portland, and a developer paid for a Biketown station in 2018.
This isn’t the first time Siltronic has created bike-related infrastructure near their property, either. Last time I was at this location on the Northwest Front, I walked out to inspect a nice piece of the Willamette River Greenway trail that runs right past their offices (see map). It’s privately owned, but I’ve since confirmed that they paid for and built the paths with their own contractors.
It’s no surprise that PBOT wants all the help it can get to develop our cycling network. In fact, when he replied to me this week, Rivera included a pitch for other companies to step in. “We welcome offers from landowners who want to bring their street frontages up to modern standards that will help meet city and community goals for cycling and walking access. Check the map and give us a call!” he wrote.
The “map” Rivera is referring to is the City of Portland Recommended Cycling Network Map that was adopted with the 2030 Cycling Plan in 2010.
Any other takers out there?