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Oregon State Police blames vulnerable victims while driving deaths spin out of control

Oregon State Police blames vulnerable victims while driving deaths spin out of control

Don't pay attention to this, but please make sure you wear hi-viz clothing next time you take the dog for walk.(Photos: Oregon State Police)

Just some of the Oregon driving carnage of the past two weeks.
(Photos: Oregon State Police)

This is an editorial.

The Oregon State Police issued a relatively rare safety message to the media today. In light of three collisions in the past nine days that resulted in the death of someone trying to walk or roll across a state highway, they included the following message in a press statement (emphasis theirs):

***This is the third fatal crash involving pedestrians that OSP has investigated in the past week***

OSP urges pedestrians and bicyclists to wear bright colors, have reflective material and use extra caution when there is limited visibility due to hours of darkness or inclement weather. Also be knowledgeable of the laws pertaining to biking or traveling near and on highways. Please visit the Oregon Department of Transportation’s pedestrian safety [web] page for further information on pedestrian safety.

(Note: In at least two of the three collisions, the stretch of highway was not well lit and didn’t have any place to cross.)

The message was picked up by The Oregonian a few minutes ago with the headline, “State police urge pedestrians to be careful on highways.” The lead paragraph states, “Three people have died within eight days after crossing in front of moving cars on state highways, the Oregon State Police said Friday afternoon.”

The way that reads, it’s as if these people willfully put themselves in harm’s way and were asking for it.

While I appreciate the OSP’s concern for safety — their focus on “pedestrians and bicyclists” in this context is misplaced and troubling. They are blaming victims in collisions where we’ll never know what truly happened (because we can’t ask the person who was hit). That being said, this isn’t about blame. The State Police play a huge role in our transportation culture and we need them to set a great example for other agencies, the media, and all Oregonians. Dividing road users into unhelpful labels like “pedestrians and bicyclists” — especially in the context of blaming victims — is simply not in line with best practices and it needs to stop.

What’s also troubling is how the OSP treats these deaths to people outside of motorized vehicles so much differently than fatal crashes that involve only people driving cars.

While OSP felt the need to issue a special message about “pedestrians and bicyclists” safety because of three fatalities in nine days — they issued no such blame or special notice when seven people died and two were seriously injured in five separate collisions in the five days between October 21st and the 25th. That doesn’t include a 10-year-old girl who died Tuesday when the car she was in “drifted off” Highway 78, rolled several times, and ejected her from her seat.

Look at these headlines from the Oregon State Police in just the past two weeks:

  • OSP Continuing Fatal Crash Investigation of a Child Passenger on Highway 78 – Malheur County (Photo) – 11/03/16
  • Two Killed In Collision On I-84 Near Boardman – Morrow County – 10/25/16
  • Three Killed In Highway 211 Crash North Of Molalla – Clackamas County (Photo) – 10/23/16
  • New Mexico Man Killed In Crash On Highway 26 Near Madras (Jefferson County) (Photo) – 10/23/16
  • California Couple Seriously Injured In Friday Morning Crash Near Sisters – Deschutes County (Photo) – 10/23/16
  • Coburg Man Killed In Crash On Interstate 5 – Lane County – 10/21/16

That sounds like a huge crisis! Where is the special safety message from the OSP imploring people to use more caution while driving, slow down, and be extra careful?

The OSP is going out of their way to blame our most vulnerable road users while ignoring driving deaths. This not only shifts the agency’s safety resources and policy attention away from where it should be, but it results in an unnecessary fear of walking and biking and a corresponding lack of fear about the dangers of driving. This is the opposite of what we should be doing to get more people to walk and bike and fewer people to use cars.

OSP’s messaging needs to improve if the State of Oregon is going to reach their stated goal of zero deaths by 2035.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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Sheriff’s office blames deceased victim in early morning collision near Stayton

Sheriff’s office blames deceased victim in early morning collision near Stayton

The scene on Shaff Road SE near Stayton this morning.(Photo: Marion County Sheriff's Office)

The scene on Shaff Road SE near Stayton this morning.
(Photo: Marion County Sheriff’s Office)

A person was killed this morning while bicycling on a rural road just east of Stayton, a small town about sixty miles south of Portland.

We don’t always cover fatal bicycle collisions so far away from the Portland metro area; but the statement about this one just released by the Marion County Sheriff’s Office deserves a closer look. The language used in the statement shows how far Oregon law enforcement agencies have to go to create a culture around traffic deaths that is in line with Vision Zero principles.

According to the Marion County Sheriff’s office, the collision occurred when someone driving a motor vehicle hit a bicycle rider from behind. Read their official statement (released just two and-a-half hours after the collision) and think about how the language paints the relative culpability of each party:

Around 6:30 a.m., this morning, deputies with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office were called to a vehicle versus bicyclist crash on Shaff Road SE near Rainwater Road SE near Stayton. When deputies arrived they found a single vehicle had struck a bicyclist killing the cyclist instantly.

Early indications show that the cyclist was traveling east on Shaff Road when an eastbound minivan struck the bicycle. The area the crash took place has very little shoulder and no lighting. At the time of the crash it was dark, rainy and the cyclist was wearing dark clothing and no light on the bicycle.

The driver of the vehicle remained on the scene and is cooperating with investigators. Identities of the involved will be released once the appropriate notifications have been made. Shaff Road was closed for 2 hours while investigators processed the scene, Shaff Road has now reopened for regular traffic.

When this information is absorbed by the public via the local media — most of whom simply reprint these statements verbatim without telling the audience they’re doing so — what do you think the takeaways are?

The Sheriff’s Office statement goes out of its way to make excuses for the auto user and creates the perception that the bicycle user was acting irresponsibly. A culture where driving is the dominant paradigm interprets a statement like this as something like, “Well, that bicyclist had it coming. They really ought to stay off those dangerous roads.”

Let’s be clear: There is no Oregon law against riding in the dark, riding in the rain, riding to the left of the fog line (especially when there’s no shoulder to ride in), or wearing dark clothing. Oregon law also says you don’t need a rear light (only a rear reflector). Despite the fact that the bicycle rider appears to have been operating legally on the roadway, this statement unfairly creates an aura of guilt around one party while creating sympathy for the other.

This orientation of supportive language around the person operating the motor vehicle, combined with the tone of blame used to describe the actions of a potentially innocent bicycle user who can no longer speak for themselves, is all too common.

Meanwhile, the person who was operating their vehicle in such a way that it collided with another road user and caused their death, is portrayed as being a good citizen who, “remained at on the scene and is cooperating” — actions that are not only required by Oregon law but are potentially felony criminal offenses if not obeyed. Furthermore, in this case the person driving the car had much more legal responsibility to begin with because they decided to overtake a vulnerable road user, not to mention the greater moral responsibility that comes with operating a vehicle that’s so easily capable of killing another person.

Given all that, why does the Sheriff’s statement not mention whether or not the auto user was distracted? Or whether or not their windshield wipers were turned on and working effectively? And why no mention of Oregon’s safe passing law that requires people to give bicycle riders plenty of space when overtaking them? Why no language about whether or not the auto user was going a safe speed given that it was dark, rainy, and there was no shoulder for a bicycle rider to use? Was the driver using the car’s headlights?

If Oregon is serious about vision zero, law enforcement agencies need to get a lot more perspective and sensitivity around these issues. Language is powerful and it shapes our culture — the same culture that informs the behaviors of road users and the people who design and patrol them. Police agencies must stop assigning blame in media statements. Stick to the facts known and leave other speculative assumptions out of it — especially when those assumptions are the result of inherent bias in favor of one type of road user and against another.

This is the 379th person to die while using Oregon roads so far this year, a total that’s nearly nine percent higher than the 348 people who had died by this date in 2015.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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Hey Portland, it’s not just “bicyclists” who want safer streets

Hey Portland, it’s not just “bicyclists” who want safer streets


The kids who showed up for a safe streets vigil in the Arbor Lodge neighborhood last week are not “bicyclists”.
(Photo: Katy Asher)

Everybody wants safer streets — but you wouldn’t know that by reading local headlines or watching local news. That’s because the media often frames street safety issues as being something that only “the bicyclists” want.

That framing leads to more clicks and comments, but it’s not true. And it creates a road block to Portland’s progress.

Not "bicyclists".

Not “bicyclists”.

A recent opinion piece from well-known driving advocate Terry Parker published in The Oregonian turned a critique of vision zero policy (something that’s not bike-centric at all) into a toxic, anti-bicycling screed. Responding to an article by Oregonian columnist Steve Duin (who doesn’t think Portland’s vision zero policies go far enough), Parker waded into his familiar territory of insulting “bicyclists” with falsehoods and making outlandish claims that “bicyclists don’t pay” and that redesigning roads to include access for all users is “social engineering.”

Coverage of the “Better Naito” project — that aimed to reconfigure Naito Parkway into a safer, more humane place with slower driving speeds and more room for walking and biking — was generally framed as a project for “bicyclists and pedestrians.” Let’s be clear: Better Naito is about a more livable and vibrant waterfront. When that street is finally tamed, everyone — business owners, nearby residents, employees, tourists, and all road users — will have a more pleasant experience, whether they’re going through or to the area.

And the most recent example was a story that framed the need for lower neighborhood speed limits as something that only “cyclists want.”

It’s a weird phenomenon. It probably happens because there are a lot of people in this town who care deeply about bicycling and they tend to be good at making their voices heard (this blog plays a big role in that). It also has something to do with the lazy “us versus them” narrative that’s so seductive to many editors and producers. If a story has a clear antagonist that is seen by the majority of the audience as an outsider or a threat to the status quo, it will get more editorial priority. That’s just how the news business works. Unfortunately here in Portland, “those bicyclists” are too often that antagonist.

The problem is, this framing not only relies on a clumsy label (what the heck is a “cyclist” anyway?) to attempt to define a diverse and multi-faceted community, it also fails to tell the true story.

The truth is, Portlanders from every corner of the city and from every racial and economic background are clamoring for safer streets. Grieving moms and dads and friends and sisters and brothers and grandmas and grandpas are bravely speaking out to shake us out of our stupor and prevent their deep sense of loss from happening to others.

Fallon Smart's mom Fawn Lengvenis testified at City Council last month.

Fallon Smart’s mom Fawn Lengvenis testified at City Council last month.

Did you see the heartbreaking testimony at City Council last month from Fallon Smart’s mom Fawn Lengvenis? Fawn is not a “bicyclist”.

Did you read about Wendy Rattel, the employee at a local preschool who laments the city’s removal of an unsanctioned crosswalk because she’s afraid for the safety of the children in her care? Wendy is not a “bicyclist”.

Did you see the dozens of Arbor Lodge residents — young, old, rich, poor — who came out on a weeknight to hold a vigil for a man who was run over and killed by someone driving a car dangerously down their neighorhood street? None of them are “bicyclists”.

Or maybe you’ve seen one of the hundreds of city-issued and home made signs scattered all over the city that say things like, “Slow down,” “Kids playing,” and “Drive like your kids live here.” (The City of Portland tells us they’ve mailed out 710 of their road safety yard signs since 2006.) The people who erect these signs in their yards are not “bicyclists”.

Portland is changing fast and our streets are a very visible — and visceral — part of that change. We must have some extremely important and difficult discussions ahead if we want to create a city where everyone — not just people using cars — has access to the basic mobility and freedom our streets were intended to provide. Those conversations will be easier and more productive when we finally move beyond unhelpful labels and framing.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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Traffic civility in Portland’s new era of congestion

Traffic civility in Portland’s new era of congestion

Portland bike traffic-1.jpg

It’s not just Portland’s freeways that are crowded these days.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Please welcome back Sarah Gilbert. She’s written for us in the past about a cargo biking adventure and the psychology of anger.

Crystal was egged one day coming back from a bike tour, her guests trailing behind her on their bicycles. We don’t know why; just, bam, splat. The assailants only got her.

We’re both tour guides for the same company and I heard the story when I got back to the shop that afternoon. It’s busy work, with the tourist industry on the same upswing as everywhere-to-Portland immigration.

gilbertheadshotI didn’t remember about the egging when, a few days later a woman walking on the Hawthorne Bridge path intentionally shoved me off my bike. I was riding next to a tour guest from New York, chatting. I almost knocked my guest off her bike too, into the car traffic. My crime, as far as I can tell: being where she thought I shouldn’t, in that murky middle of the busy biking/walking pathway.

How did we come to this?

Hours later I remembered how these things had happened in succession. It seems at first as if we’ve lost some kind of civility, but maybe that’s not it, maybe it’s somehow the opposite. Certainly there is an unhinging… it’s as if we’ve all got the pieces, the doors and walls and windows, but we’ve lost half our hardware and we’re swinging wild.

I’ve been that way too. And my instinct after I recovered from shock was to run after this woman, hold her accountable. We love that phrase, don’t we? It’s so simple and full of judiciousness. “Accountability.”

Only I have a practice of not holding anger after years of it being directed toward me. I’d had enough of letting that simmer; it’s a force, yes, a powerful one, but I’m not sure how useful it is. Anger is for fighting and my analysis says we need empathy, that winning battles loses everything. War on drugs/war on poverty/war on homelessness and all I see is collateral damage.

I couldn’t chase her anyway, it wasn’t practical, I’d have had to ride my bike the wrong way down the Hawthorne bridge and I had a group of tourists who didn’t know their way back without me. I led them back and thought.

The thing is that I broke her rule. I don’t know exactly what her rule was: something about where bicycles should be. Here, not there; I was probably the nth-plus-one person to do it and I was riding slow and not paying attention to her. Violation, opportunity. She’d been brought to the brink.

This is what happens when people move to a place that has such a reputation for passion and anarchy as Portland. We all come here with our unique contexts and childhood education. I’ve taken drivers tests in Virginia and North Carolina and Oregon but Oregon law is home to me. There might be two dozen home laws on that bridge sidewalk on a Friday afternoon and we’re all pretty sure ours are the most civil.

Is it still civility when we take the law into our own hands? Probably not, but can you blame anyone for doing it? Any mode of transportation can seem dangerous if you’re smaller or slower.

Is it still civility when we take the law into our own hands? Probably not, but can you blame anyone for doing it? Any mode of transportation can seem dangerous if you’re smaller or slower. I’ve seen some runners who put fear in my heart.

I’ve been at the receiving end of a few collisions with bicycle riders while I was walking. I got a lot of apologies and didn’t “hold them accountable” — but fuck it hurt. I get it.

“Have you ever imagined killing anyone?” a close male friend asked another in my presence. “Every day, every day,” came the response.

“Me too…” said the questioner.

“The only thing that holds me back is my rational brain,” said the other, almost ruefully.

I know traffic is causing lots of those fantasies. Traffic is bad and getting worse in every mode. An Oregonian columnist said it has a “chokehold” on our city.

There are intersections that terrify me as a driver, into which I pull with certainty that one day the right distraction will mean I’ll plow into something. I came within inches of running into a family of tourists one day because I saw a coworker on the sidewalk and was wondering what he was doing with that bike trailer. “Hello!!!!” said the mom in the crosswalk with the doughnuts, as I said “sorry sorry sorry sorry” because I couldn’t think of anything else to say. It was totally 100% my fault.

Maybe that woman who pushed me off my bike was doing that to me. We jump to blame people of “mental illness” but if she’s afflicted maybe we all are. Is mental illness endlessly pervasive? Or could it be a state to which we slip in and out? Maybe most of the time this woman acts in a rational manner, serving as we all do: judge and jury but not executioner.

We don’t believe (at least not most of the time) in a black and white human state, that there are good and evil people. Yet we mete punishments out this way, both on a judicial level (look at the way convicted felons all but lose citizenship) and a social one (look at local hoteliers accused of funding a Trump event).

As I was working on this piece, I took several groups of tourists to ride the Gorge historic highway. The ride we do isn’t long and is popular with bike riders, but car operators have been getting more and more impatient. It used to be a rare complaint: people laying on their horn behind us (or shouting at us to get off the road). Many of our riders have reported people blasting their car horns to show frustration. And often, passing our riders only to sit in a 45-minute backup for parking at Multnomah Falls less than a half-mile away, (a problem for which I never, ever hear horn blasts).

Video of Historic Columbia River Highway by Ted Timmons shows how congested the Gorge has become.

“Why is this?” a tourist asked me. She was from Manhattan, and had been having a lovely time up until the last mile.

“It’s mid-August,” I replied. “They’re realizing summer is almost over and they’ve barely done half of what they want to do.”

They had now all heard my story about the woman pushing me off my bike; I told them as a way of explaining this sense of angry urgency. “What did you do?” asked the tourist from Manhattan and the older couple from Calgary and the young couple from the Bay Area.

“What could I do?” I replied. “I am just glad to have not been hurt. And now that I know more about what mood we’re in here, I can be more prepared.”

That’s all I have. That’s my only solution. Beyond telling the story I can only just know, how people are feeling, and if I’m lucky, why.

Next time I’m on the bridge I’ll give everyone more space. I’ll save conversation for later. I’ll keep both hands on my handlebars and take a deep breath and watch for the inevitable anger and just hope it doesn’t take anyone else, anyone more vulnerable and less ready, dangerously off guard.

– Sarah Gilbert, @sarahgilbert

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Opinion: If we’re serious about cycling, let’s get serious about cycling infrastructure

Opinion: If we’re serious about cycling, let’s get serious about cycling infrastructure


The traffic diverter on the Rodney Neighborhood Greenway was installed 17 months ago. Now it’s an eyesore and a dumping ground. What does this say about the City of Portland’s priorities?
(Photo sent in by a reader)

Every time we turn around we hear another city staffer or elected official tell us how serious they are about cycling. They say it’s key to our health outcomes, it’s the only way we’ll reach our climate change goals, it buoys our national reputation, and so on and so forth.

But if we’re really serious about cycling, why don’t we take our cycling infrastructure seriously?

There are too many examples in Portland where the design and implementation of our cycling infrastructure has not been completed with the care and seriousness it deserves.

Here are a few of those examples:

Northeast Couch at the Burnside Bridge

Bumps already ripped out on Couch-3.jpg

(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The City of Portland’s Bureau of Transportation has known for years that the design of Northeast Couch as it approaches the Burnside Bridge is dangerous. The problem is that people in cars cut the s-curve and drive in the bike lane. Their latest attempt to fix the problem was to glue “rumble bars” to the pavement in hopes that the jarring noise would alert clueless vehicle operators. That attempt failed miserably. Today only a few of the bars remain and the rest are scattered all over the street.

Southwest 13th at Clay



(Photos taken by Ted Timmons.)

In another attempt to protect bicycle riders from dangerous driving behaviors, in January PBOT installed plastic wands to separate the bike lane on Southwest 13th as it approaches Clay. Within a few hours of installation a wand had been ripped out by a careless driver. As of today just one wand remains.

Northwest Lovejoy ramp toward 9th

In December 2011 PBOT installed plastic wands to help separate the downhill bike lane on NW Lovejoy (westbound on the ramp toward 9th) from the adjacent lane. After streetcar tracks went in, many people in cars drove in the bike lane to avoid driving on them. Just four days later, many of the wands had been ripped up by people who lacked the skill and/or respect to maintain their lane of travel. One month later they were re-installed. Then a few days later they were ripped up once again.

PBOT ultimately gave up and has never even attempted to replace this safe cycling infrastructure.

Northeast Multnomah

multnomah bikeway

Paint? What paint?
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The bikeway on Northeast Multnomah is often held up as PBOT’s best “protected” bike lane in the entire city. Unfortunately it’s become so tattered and unkempt since it debuted in 2012 that it’s merely a shell of its former self. Much of the bold “beeswax” paint is gone, all the plastic wands have long been ripped out and never replaced, and even the massive concrete planter boxes have been hit and damaged and moved around. This lack of maintenance is even more troublesome because it’s been almost two years since the project’s task force agreed to make this bikeway permanent.

Northeast Rodney at Ivy


The mess at Rodney and Ivy.
(Photos J. Maus/BikePortland)

In order to preserve a low-stress cycling environment on Northeast Rodney (a key parallel bikeway that complements North Williams Avenue), PBOT decided to put a traffic diverter at Ivy. That diverter was installed 17 months ago. Just a month after it went in, the design was so meager that many people simply ignored it and drove right through it. Today PBOT still hasn’t done anything to improve the design. Most of the plastic wands are on the ground and people are dumping trash around it. In the words of a reader who lives in the area, “It’s a big, gross mess.”

It’s very important that we get this right.

There are real safety risks to consider. Because nearly all cycling infrastructure in Portland is still created with only paint and plastic, it stops working when either one of those things goes away. In every example above, the dangerous behaviors PBOT tried to stop have started up again.

But beyond a lack of effectiveness, there’s something equally troubling. This lack of seriousness is a signal to all Portlanders about our priorities. When bike infrastructure is allowed to decay it tells everyone we’re not willing to invest the time and care it takes to make it work and we ultimately don’t care about the people who use it.

I know we can do a better job at this. Let’s do it. Seriously.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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Opinion: Welcome to blame the victim season

Opinion: Welcome to blame the victim season

“The bicyclist was wearing dark clothing and had no rear lighting on the bicycle.”
— Oregon State Police statement

For the past week I’ve been standing by, reading headline after headline about “distracted pedestrians.” And then I get this in my inbox (emphases mine):

The Oregon State Police is continuing it’s investigation into Thursday evening’s fatal crash involving a bicyclist.

At approximately 9:05PM a Lane County Deputy in a patrol vehicle was traveling northbound on SR99W near MP118 (just south of Beltline Highway in Eugene) when he struck a female bicyclist in the northbound slow lane. The female was pronounced deceased on scene.

The highway was blocked for approximately 1 hour. The highway was then partially open, reduced to one lane in each direction. The scene was cleared at 1:00AM.

Preliminary information indicates the bicyclist was traveling northbound in the travel lane at the time of the incident. The bicyclist was wearing dark clothing and had no rear lighting on the bicycle. It was full darkness with very little ambient lighting when the crash occurred.

Efforts are still ongoing to make next of kin of the deceased. The Oregon State Police is the lead investigating agency and is being assisted by Eugene Police Department and the Oregon Department of Transportation. This in an ongoing investigation and more information will be released when it becomes available.

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The following behaviors — mentioned in the statement above — are perfectly legal in the state of Oregon:

  • Riding without “rear lighting.” The law only requires a rear reflector.
  • Wearing “dark clothing.” Oregon residents are free to wear whatever they want while operating a vehicle on public right-of-way.
  • Traveling in the travel lane. Bicycle operators are allowed to leave a shoulder to avoid hazards.

Yet despite what appears to be completely legal behavior – and before her next of kin have even been notified — the Oregon State Police has already acted as judge and jury and essentially declared her at fault for her own death. Imagine how this woman’s family and friends would feel if they read the comments under the media’s coverage of this crash — especially since most local media outlets run these police statements verbatim.

This should not be an acceptable communications strategy from the Oregon State Police.

It is unecessary and unfair to mention the behavior of the victim prior to a traffic crash and not also mention the behavior of the survivor. Was the deputy speeding? Surely “very little ambient lighting” is good reason to slow down and use extreme caution right? Was the deputy distracted for any reason?

I ask those questions not to blame anyone, but to make a larger point.

I’m all for educating the public about safety. That is very important. But it’s also important to be fair and sensitive to everyone involved in these tragedies. This issue is particularly upsetting to me because when someone dies or is incapacitated to the point of memory loss, we never hear their side of the story.

As I’ve advocated for many years now, one solution to this problem would be for police agencies to only release the very basic facts of a crash. Because emotions run high after serious injury and fatal crashes, police statements should refrain from making unsubstantiated and irrelevant claims about the behavior of crash victims until a thorough investigation is completed.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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Talk of a disastrous earthquake got you down? Just keep on biking

Talk of a disastrous earthquake got you down? Just keep on biking


People who bike together, stick together.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Bikes won’t save you after the Big One, but the community built up around them just might.

There’s been a lot of unease in Portland since the publication of a fascinating yet gut-wrenching article in The New Yorker that laid out the impending Cascadia earthquake in excruciating detail.

After I read the piece, I was sort of numb for a while. Then my mind wondered (as if often does) and I started to ask the default question I ask myself around any seemingly intractable issue or policy, “How can bikes fix this?”

After the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March 2011, we started asking that question: When a similar fate hits Portland, what role will bicycles play in the recovery? A year later, using bikes in disaster relief efforts had become a serious thing in Portland (and beyond). Our story archives on the topic have since become filled with reassuring vignettes of this positive trend.

But the “Really big one” Kathryn Schulz wrote about on July 20th seems so overwhelming that it didn’t feel like the right time or place to re-hash our optimistic editorial tone about how bikes will help smooth over the rough patches of recovery.

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Then it hit me: The thing that makes bicycling so powerful isn’t just the bicycles themselves, it’s the people and community that tends to gather around them.

When you do your research into survival tips (notice I said “when” not “if”), one thing you’ll learn is that many experts say the best way to ameliorate the devastating impacts is to turn to your community. Get to know your neighbors and build a community, they say, and you’ll be much better off.

That advice bodes very well for people who frequently use bicycles. While some see just a means of fun and transportation, I see a powerful community-building machine.

If you’re an advocate, activist, loyal BikePortland reader, dedicated rider, or all the above, just stop and think about how many people you’ve gotten to know through cycling. Think about how many people at your work, on your street, or at an event you’ve talked to and gotten to know better for no reason other than the fact they were on a bike.

I’ve covered countless events where hundreds — sometimes thousands! — of people have come together simply because of bicycles. I’ve seen people rally around strangers who’ve gotten seriously injured while riding. I’ve seen a tremendously strong community organize itself around the simple idea that bicycles are awesome.

When the shaking stops, it’s naive to think that bicycles alone will save us from tragedy and turmoil. They won’t. But the strong ties we’ve created through bicycling bind us together and make us more resilient — even in the face of an incomprehensible disaster. And that’s something that should make us all feel better.

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Opinion: Just 5 hours of Sunday Parkways is not enough

Opinion: Just 5 hours of Sunday Parkways is not enough

Sunday Parkways North Portland

Willamette Blvd as it should be.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Another Sunday Parkways is in the books, and it was simply sublime. The weather, the people, the parks — it was Portland summer and community spirit at its finest.

As I rode the nine-mile loop with my family (going slower than usual to ride alongside my wife Juli who decided to jog the loop), I kept wondering why it only happens in my neighborhood for five hours a year.

Just five precious hours out of 8,766 hours every year.


PBOT says an estimated 30,000 people participated in the event yesterday. As I passed by a few thousand of them, I thought to myself: This wonderful diversity of ages, skin colors and body types is so inspiring! This is what cycling can be and should be every day!

But where are all these beautiful people the other 8,761 hours of the year? I never see them in the bike lanes I ride every day.

We all know the answer to that question. Many of them would never consider cycling (or allow their children to do it) because they are afraid. Afraid of riding bikes next to people driving cars.

The removal of cars from the traffic equation has a transformative impact on our minds and our neighborhoods. It allows us to make choices about how to move around without the fear of death or injury factoring into that choice.

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The street environment we all enjoy during Sunday Parkways shouldn’t be seen as a luxury item offered up as a special treat by the City of Portland only to be consumed by certain neighborhoods for a mere five hours a year. It should be seen as a basic service that everyone can access on a much more regular basis.

Everyone knows Sunday Parkways is an unqualified success by every measure (thank you PBOT!), so isn’t it time we started to do it more often? Let’s start by doing it five months a year in each neighborhood quadrant. Then let’s do it weekly throughout the summer just like they do in Bogotá, Colombia, the place that inspired us to do Parkways in the first place.

2018 will be the 10th anniversary of Sunday Parkways. I hope by then we have a lot more of it to celebrate.

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Enough is enough: Another death must spur real action

Enough is enough: Another death must spur real action


Aftermath of man who lost control and drove his car up onto the sidewalk.
(Photo: Portland Police Bureau)

Enough is enough.

A man lost control of his Subaru Forester SUV while driving eastbound on the Burnside Bridge Sunday afternoon. He swerved across the lanes and hit two people who were walking on the sidewalk.

35-year-old Bridget Larrabee was seriously injured and her friend Ben Carlson, 36, died at a hospital a few hours later. Carlson and Larrabee lived together in northeast Portland. The man behind the wheel of the SUV was 59-year-old Beaverton resident Douglas Walker. The police originally said he suffered a medical incident and KGW just reported that he apparently “choked on some soda.” Walker remained at the scene after the collision and was released shortly after.

Enough is enough. Now is the time for the City of Portland and City Council to act. No more proclamations or promises, just actions. Get out there and do something before another innocent person is hurt or killed.

We have known for years that the Burnside Bridge needs a physically protected space for people to walk and bike. Currently it is very wide and functions like an urban highway while also serving as a popular bike/walk route. Despite it’s proximity to downtown, vital importance in our bike network, and ample unused road space, for some reason the Burnside Bridge has only a standard bike lane.

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Back in 2012 I was part of a team of local planners and designers that participated in GOOD Magazine’s Ideas for Cities project. Our entry focused on a simple concept: to make bicycling as safe and easy as driving or taking transit. We envisioned a system of protected lanes across the city — including one on the Burnside Bridge.

Here’s a mock design we shared (Please note: This is just a concept. We are well aware that plastic wands would not have prevented Sunday’s collision. The idea is that we need to design physically separated space on the bridge and there is ample room to do it. The details of the design can be easily worked out):


And here’s an excerpt of the narrative I wrote to go along with our presentation:

“Contrary to popular belief, bicycling in Portland isn’t all unicorns and rainbows. Cars still dominate the streetscape. In fact, there isn’t a single A-to-B route in this city that has the type of dedicated, connected, safe, easy-to-use facilities like we provide for motor vehicles and transit.

There is no mystery here. To encourage ridership and prevent collisions, we must separate motor vehicle and bicycle traffic…

We don’t lack the knowledge to do this, we lack the political will.”

That was three years ago. Today the solution is still just as easy and cost-effective, but I’m sad to say that we still lack the political will.

The reality is this: If we had physically protected space on the Burnside Bridge, there is a very good chance Ben Carlson would be alive today and Douglas Walker wouldn’t have to live with the sadness and guilt that will plague him for the rest of his life.


“Ghost Ped” placed at site of collision.
(Photo by Scott Kocher)

This isn’t about “bike infrastructure,” this isn’t about who’s at fault, this isn’t about budgets, this isn’t about excuses: This is about being a great city. Great cities do not have dangerous streets like Burnside running right through them. Great leaders do not sit back and only form committees, sign pledges, and hire more planning consultants while innocent people are hurt and killed — over and over and over again.

The community has done everything Mayor Hales could ask for. We have taken action on the streets and in City Hall. Now it’s time for the City to match that action. I realize some baby steps have been initiated; but we need concrete steps taken immediately.

Speaking of concrete… I know there are a bunch of concrete jersey barriers sitting in a maintenance yard somewhere. Let’s get them out on the bridge! Now! Let this immediate action serve as a tangible symbol that Mayor Hales, County Chair Deborah Kafoury (the County owns and manages the bridge), and PBOT Commissioner Steve Novick truly care about the health of their constituents.

What’s the alternative? Do we have to wait until more people die? Do we have to wait until the victim is a family member or close friend of a City Council member? I hope not. Not if Portland is a great city.

Stay tuned. We are eager to report on the upcoming actions and bold leadership of our local elected officials.

— BikeLoudPDX will lead a memorial walk, ride and protest tonight at 5:00 pm on the Burnside Bridge. Facebook event details here.

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What next? My suggestions for actions City Hall should take on bike safety

What next? My suggestions for actions City Hall should take on bike safety


Your move guys.
(Photos J. Maus/BikePortland)

It’s been one week since an “urgent” street safety meeting was called by Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick. City PR staff insisted the meeting was “multimodal” but it happened only because a scary spate of collisions involving people on bicycles was dominating the news cycle and social media. That meeting didn’t bear much fruit and was referred to later by the Mayor’s office as nothing more than a “listening session.”

Not surprisingly, the urgency around bike safety that existed two weeks ago among the local media and the greater Portland community is gone. The only people still focused on this issue (at least publicly) are the dedicated activists that played such a large role in putting the issue on the Mayor’s radar in the first place.

Those same activists — and many other Portlanders — are now wondering what’s next. “Has anything changed since that meeting?” was how one person put it on Twitter this morning.

The good news is that volunteer activists — many of them affiliated with BikeLoudPDX — are feverishly trading emails, ideas, and meeting plans. They have not let up and I’m excited to be seeing the most promising groundswell of bike activism Portland has had in the past 10 years. Meanwhile, professional advocates at the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, Oregon Walks, and other groups are also working to get Mayor Hales and Commissioner Novick to fully embrace Vision Zero.

On that note, last week I joined Novick’s Transportation Policy Advisor Timur Ender, the BTA’s Rob Sadowsky, and PBOT Bicycle Coordinator Roger Geller on the KBOO Bike Show. Give that show a listen to better understand the state of city in terms of bike safety.

While all these efforts continue, I thought it might be helpful to share a few of my own ideas about what concrete steps City Hall can take to make biking better in Portland right now. I’ve been critical of the lack of leadership and lack of action on this topic, so it seems only fair that I put some ideas on the table.

So, here are the things I’d like to see happen right now:

Policymakers Ride 2014-13

Doesn’t count.

Mayor Hales needs more real-life biking experience
One problem with our politics in Portland right now is that no member of City Council (including Mayor Hales) has the perspective of a daily bike rider. Sure, Mayor Hales and Commissioner Nick Fish ride bikes, but they only do it for photo ops that usually include some type of closure and/or police escort. That is not realistic. There’s simply no way to understand the urgency of the bike safety issue unless you are in the trenches — and that means riding every day through all types of conditions on all types of streets.

Mayor Hales should make a public promise to bike as much as he can everyday for a week. This would be a great PR stunt to bring attention to issues and at the end he’d have a much better understanding of why so many of us are so passionate about the need to make biking safer. Now.

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Put a line on the map
I think Hales and Novick missed a huge opportunity last Tuesday when they didn’t announce any new infrastructure projects. They are currently sitting on about $6 million in earmarked federal funds to build protected bikeways downtown. That project has languished for over two years now. Let’s commit to something. Let’s put a line on the map and say, “This street will be the best street for biking in America!” We have the money, we have the public will, we have the momentum. There’s nothing to be afraid of except the consequences of doing nothing.

Update the Community Policing Agreement
It’s been seven years since advocacy groups partnered with the City to write the first-ever, transportation-oriented Community Policing Agreement. Ironically, it was first drafted in April 2008 following a tragic spate of bicycling collisions that included two fatalities. It’s time to update that agreement. And I’m not the only who thinks so. New Portland Police Chief Larry O’Dea has mentioned this to me several times now. The agreement could include policy commitments as well as a road map for how city agencies and local advocacy groups could work more closely together. (Download the current one here.)

Paving projects should be safety projects
Much of the debate about PBOT spending is about “paving versus safety.” That isn’t helpful. Mayor Hales and Commissioner Novick could rise above that debate and commit to doing a safety and striping audit as part of every paving project. PBOT has a great track record of already doing this, and even Mayor Hales himself has mentioned it. At last week’s safety meeting he said: “We can be smart with investments… when we’re repaving do the right type of striping at the right time.” He and Novick should go one step further and make a public promise, in writing, to analyze each paving project to make sure safety improvements happen whenever possible.

Create a temporary diverter program
One of the only real “bike safety action items” Mayor Hales has committed to since last week’s meeting is to experiment with traffic diverters. This comes after Portlanders have pressured him to decrease the amount of driving on neighborhood streets where bicycling should be prioritized. I’d like to see this set up, not as a one-off experiment, but as a full-fledged program within PBOT similar to the crosswalk enforcement actions they’ve been doing for many years. This one should be easy for advocates to get since Hales has already said he’d do it. All that’s missing is a location to start with and a timeline to implement it.


I think all of these proposals are reasonable and politically viable. All that’s missing is the follow-through and execution. If Mayor Hales and Transportation Commissioner Novick want to be taken seriously as leaders of our city, they’ll stop making promises and start taking action. These suggestions won’t fix everything, but they’re a good start.

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