Portland property owners have been growing increasingly creative when it comes to blocking homeless campers from resting on the sidewalks adjacent to their properties. From giant concrete planters to piles of boulders to turning galvanized livestock troughs into sidewalk gardens. But, just when you think the city's passive NIMBYs have run out of ideas—allow me to introduce perhaps the most Portland form of "hostile architecture": bike racks.
On Wednesday, a reader shared with the Mercury a photo of 22 newly-installed single U-shaped bike racks on one block along the eastern sidewalk of NW Broadway between Flanders and Glisan. There is about about four feet between each rack. Notably, this wall of bike racks appeared in front of what appears to be a vacant, boarded-up building with no attractions that would require hoards of bike parking. Bicyclists do frequently use SW Broadway's bike lanes, but there is no business or destination in the nearby vicinity that would call for such an extreme amount of bike parking (aside from neighboring Pacific Northwest College of Art, which already has ample bike parking.)
The property does lie next door to one of the city's homeless villages at NW 6th and Hoyt—which announced its closure last week due to rising crime—and is in the middle of the city's Old Town neighborhood, which boasts many of the city's homeless services. It's not unusual for multiple tents and other ad-hoc shelters to line this block in particular. The city's homeless encampment reporting system shows that members of the public have repeatedly reported campers on the sidewalk that's now dotted with bike racks.
Using bike racks to deter homeless camping isn't a novel idea. In 2017, Seattle's transportation department coordinated with police to install bike racks on a sidewalk shortly after sweeping a homeless camp in the area. In this case, however, it's not a city-sponsored program.
The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), which regulates sidewalk use and bike rack installation, said the new racks were completely off their radar.
"We were not aware of this and did not permit this bike rack installation," said PBOT spokesperson Dylan Rivera Thursday. "We're taking a look at the situation and considering our next steps."
The vacant property adjacent to these bike racks—622 NW Glisan—is owned by Harsch Investments, a private real estate company owned by Portland's Jordan Schnitzer. Schnitzer is known for bankrolling the transformation of a vacant jail in North Portland into a private homeless shelter called Bybee Lakes Hope Center. Since before the creation of Bybee Lakes, Schnitzer has lobbied City Hall and state politicians to find solutions that would remove unhoused people from populating downtown Portland blocks, arguing that it's "unfair" to downtown property owners like him.
The property manager for the Harsch building declined to respond to the Mercury's inquiry Thursday on why the 22 bike racks were installed. Perhaps an homage to Pedalpalooza? We'll update this post if we learn any new information about the racks.