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February 22, 2011 > Proposed Portland bike path could be tuneful

Proposed Portland bike path could be tuneful

By Joseph Rose, The Oregonian
Submitted By AP Wire Service

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP), Feb 18 - Someday, bicycle commuters and the new Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail bridge could make beautiful music together over the Willamette River.

Or a bunch of annoying, disjointed noise.

It depends on whether TriMet's newly proposed ``sonic bike path'' over the nation's largest car-free transit bridge works as imagined.

The agency is considering a path with an intricate sequence of concrete grooves that would play a melody when bicycle tires roll over them. (Sort of like a giant record, with cyclists playing the needle.)

The song: Simon and Garfunkel's ``59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy).''

The sonic path would also double as public art.

TriMet is trying to scratch together local matching funds for the $1.5 billion MAX line from Portland to Milwaukie. But the agency also requires that 1.5 percent of its projects' civil engineering budgets go toward art installations. Several pieces of public art are planned along the line.

On the bridge, TriMet architect Bob Hastings said the grooves would ``sing out'' along the last 150 feet at each end as bicyclists leave the span.

```Slow down, you move too fast,''' Hastings said, quoting the classic song. ``It's a subtle reminder to riders that they're about to enter traffic again.''

With the blessing of Portland's Bicycle Advisory Committee, TriMet is working with two artists on a prototype.

``There are very few examples in the world of where this sort of thing has been tried,'' Hastings said. ``This will have no moving parts or electronics. Just the sound of wheels bumping out the song.''

Actually, there may be nothing exactly like it in the world. In Seoul, Korea, bicyclists travel on what's called a ``xylophone path.'' But their musical journey is created by internal hammers that hit notes as cyclists ride over wooden planks.

Only trains, buses, streetcars, pedestrians and bicyclists will be able to use the 1,720-foot bridge, the centerpiece of the proposed 7.3-mile MAX Orange Line, when it opens in September 2015. Initial work on the four-pier, cable-stayed bridge will begin in July.

Still, some regular bicycle commuters in Portlandia don't think a sonic bike path is so hip. They worry about everything from safety and practicality to potential costs.

On the Bike Portland blog, where a post on the proposal had generated 86 comments by Thursday afternoon, one online commenter wrote: ``Aah! The tuneful sound of tax dollars at work.''

There's also the possibility of a broken-record effect.

Cyclist Matt Picio, president of a bike-camping nonprofit called Cycle Wild, isn't convinced the grooves will sound all that good in practice, especially as several riders move over them at once at different speeds.

Even if it does work, ``people will think the tune is cute at first,'' he said, ``but they'll get sick of it after a few weeks. They'll try to avoid it.''

Not groovy.


Information from: The Oregonian,

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