Last week a reader shared photos of some intriguing bike lanes. 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 type of thing, that felt weird.
And second, they were in a location where I have never heard of much cycling demand ever. Not that I believe we must demonstrate the presence of bike riders before building infrastructure for them (just like we don’t have to show how many people swim across a river before we build a bridge), but this location was very curious.
The bike lanes have been built in the far reaches of the Northwest Industrial district. Over five miles north of downtown, just about a mile south of the St. Johns Bridge on a section of NW Front Avenue just north of NW 61st Avenue.. It’s a place so empty it’s almost spooky, in a post-apocalyptic-god-I-wonder-what-type-of-hazardous-industrial-waste-was-dumped-here-100-years-ago type of way.
The only reason you’ve likely ever been near there is the Metro waste transfer station nearby (a.k.a “the dump”). When I first saw the photos, a voice inside my head said, “Wow! I can’t believe PBOT built these to prevent people from parking RVs.” I knew this this location had become a major spot for folks to camp — very similar to the large encampment of vans, trailers, and other vehicles parked on both sides of NE 33rd south of Marine Drive. At that location, PBOT recently helped clear dozens of campers from the road.
Wanting to check my hunch, I emailed Portland Bureau of Transportation spokesperson Dylan Rivera.
Rivera got back to me this week. He didn’t say anything about the campers that used to be there. He said a private company conceived of the idea. Here’s Rivera’s explanation:
“Siltronic approached us about the need for a bike lane there, adjacent to land the company owns. We found that the Bicycle Plan for 2030 does call for an in-roadway, separated bike lane on NW Front Avenue [the blue-and-white striped line in the map above]. Since the company was able to design and build it to our specifications, we were more than happy to accept this new addition to the city’s bike network.”
Siltronic is a massive, German company that makes “wafers made of hyperpure silicon, the basis for modern micro- and nanotechnology.” They employ 4,300 people and have offices around the globe. Their Portland headquarters sits on the banks of the Willamette River, adjacent the Burlington-Northern Railroad Bridge, and just north of these nice new bike lanes.
This isn’t the first time PBOT has happily accepted private help to fund and build bike infrastructure. Apparel giant Adidas funded and built the bike lanes on N Greeley Avenue in north Portland, and a developer paid for a Biketown station back in 2018.
It’s also not the first time Siltronic sprung for bike-related infrastructure near their property. The last time I was at this location on NW Front I went out to inspect a beautiful piece of the Willamette River Greenway path that runs right outside their offices (see map). It’s private property, 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 they can get to build out our cycling network. In fact, when he got back to me this week, Rivera included a pitch for other companies to step up. “We welcome offers from landowners who want to bring their street frontages up to modern standards that will help meet the city and the community’s goals for access to biking and walking. Check the map and give us a call!,” he wrote.
The “map” Rivera refers to is the City of Portland Recommended Bicycle Network map that was adopted with the Bicycle Plan for 2030 in 2010.
Any other takers out there?