An interaction between road users on North Williams Avenue during rush-hour last night turned ugly when a woman driving a car physically threatened a woman who was cycling by swerving her car into the bike lane and then chasing her into a nearby restaurant.
It started around 5:15 pm when Piedmont neighborhood resident Jessica Roberts saw a woman in a white sedan using her cell phone. Roberts told us this morning she first saw the woman on her phone when her car passed her while she was biking in the bike lane near North Stanton (Dawson Park). As usual during the evening rush Williams was completely backed up with auto traffic. Upon passing by the woman’s vehicle a few seconds later (near Fargo Street) Roberts looked at her and yelled, “That’s illegal!” In response, the woman, “Looked up and just exploded with rage,” Roberts says.
“She flung her car door open and left it running in the middle of traffic. I was terrified.”
Roberts doesn’t remember the exact string of expletives that came from both of their mouths but she remembers the woman in the car saying “I’ll get you!” According to Roberts the yelling continued for about three-to-four blocks. During that time Roberts claims the driver of the car swerved into the bike lane she was riding in multiple times. Roberts was screaming the woman’s license plate number. Then, worried that she might forget it, Roberts pulled out her phone and snapped a photo of the car. “That was really what made her super mad,” Roberts recalls.
After Roberts snapped a photo she claims the woman in the car stopped and came running after her. “She flung her car door open and left it running in the middle of traffic.”
“I was terrified,” Roberts says. At this point Roberts claims the woman was yelling something akin to, “You fucking delete that picture you goddamned bitch!”
Seeking refuge, Roberts ran away from the woman and sought refuge inside a nearby cafe. At this point a small crowd had gathered. Roberts says a cafe employeed told her to leave and didn’t want the fracas to impact business. “I refused to leave,” Roberts says, “because I was afraid if I went back out there I would get punched.” Just as the woman entered the cafe Roberts says a woman from the crowd came in and told the woman to get back in her car and threatened to call the police. The driver of the car went back to her vehicle (which had small children in it and was still idling in the middle of rush-hour traffic) and drove away.
License plate HXS115, texting while driving. She swerved at me, cursing, for 3 blocks & chased me into a store. pic.twitter.com/vVcGwxsXea
— Jessica Roberts (@jessicaroberts) April 7, 2016
Roberts isn’t sure what she’ll do next, but she’s hoping a few witnesses come forward in case she needs to corroborate her story in court. Roberts Tweeted about the incident last night. After posting the license plate number she received a response from a Portland Police officer. 45 minutes after her Tweet was published, Portland Police Officer Dave Sanders replied from the Portland Police Bureau’s Bike Theft Task Force Twitter account. Sanders said he ran the plate number and said he “Would pay her a visit.”
“How do we hold people accountable [for using phones while driving] without endangering our lives and with precipitating a totally pointless screaming match?”
Officer Sanders told us this morning that he stopped by the woman’s house twice last night but she wasn’t home. He has since spoken with her on the phone and is planning to meet with her in person today.
Roberts says Williams is her preferred route home and — before last night — she felt like the recent redesign of the road had calmed traffic down a bit. Her main concern is the larger question of how to deal with all the people she sees using phones while driving. Roberts, who sees people using their phones while driving “every single day” says she knows calling strangers out for their behavior almost never leads to a positive outcome. “I feel really strongly that being silent on this [people using phones while driving] is complicit,” Roberts says. “That makes it acceptable and it’s not acceptable to me. How do we hold people accountable without endangering our lives and with precipitating a totally pointless screaming match?”
Another piece of this story is the underlying tension about race and gentrification in the Williams corridor. The area used to be home to a thriving black community that has been dismantled, disrespected, and displaced after decades of systemic racism. In the past decade the corridor has changed dramatically as old buildings and homes have been demolished for new apartments and businesses that cater to — and attract — a much different, and whiter, demographic. These tensions are what bubbled up during the debate around the Williams Avenue Safety Project. In this road rage case, the woman in the car was black and Roberts (who is white) recalls that during the yelling match the woman said something about the “hipsters that have moved into my neighborhood.”
“She was so mad,” Roberts recalls, “And I bet she drives Williams every day and I bet she’s mad every day. That’s kind of scary.”
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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