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Comment of the Week: Lawsuits, the quiet pressure behind city decisions

Fri, 12/19/2014 - 15:43
Traffic on SE Clinton.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

As we wrote beneath the last Comment of the Week post, BikePortland has decided to be the only blog we’re aware of that pays for great comments. The person whose thoughts we select for this feature gets a crisp $5 bill in the mail, as a way for us to appreciate the site’s amazing discussion community. So watch your email — we might be in touch.

Street safety matters to cities. So does street comfort. But only one of those issues will land you in court.

That’s the insight shared this week by BikePortland reader paikiala, responding to the discussion on Wednesday’s post about a guerrilla traffic diverter installed on Clinton by anonymous activists.

Paikiala, who often weighs in with thoughts about a city’s perspective, was responding to another reader who asked why “safety issues” stemming from Clinton’s high auto traffic hasn’t awoken the city’s fear of a lawsuit.

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Here’s paikiala’s data-rich reply:

You’ll need to clarify what the safety issues are, or perhaps you mean the fear of safety issues? There is no need to worry, because frequently the City is sued regardless of the events of a collision simply because of the deep pockets and distribution of responsibilities that typically result from trials. This is also why the City, prudently, negotiates settlements to avoid going to trial. That said, much of PBOT’s efforts go into making roads safer.

‘Safety’ is a subjective word. In the last ten years there have been twelve reported bike involved crashes on Clinton between 12th and 50th, representing 12% of the reported crashes. Of those 12, 7 (58%) were blamed on motorist errors while 5 (42%) were blamed on cyclist errors – all crashes involved injury to cyclists.

Clinton has been retrofitted more than once (three times in the last 20 years) to alter the patterns and behavior of users. This process is happening all over the city on an annual basis where problems are occuring as resources permit. Citizens of portland see their local street or commute problems, while City workers see the problems of the City as a whole. The perspective is different.

What guidance are you citing? If you mean the most recently adopted ideal plan, true. But most streets fail to meet new policy every time new policy is adopted. It takes time to massage current systems into the new paradigm.

Lastly, regardless of those that say ‘do both’, daily PBOT front line staff is faced with choices. Say you’ve got $80k today to do what you want with for traffic safety in Portland. Do you add 2-5 diverters on a single greenway (that’s not so bad), or do you add one rapid flash beacon ped crossing (without refuge island) on a busy road in east Portland? You choose, and be prepared to defend your choice in court.

America’s tradition of litigation has been a huge shaping force behind the scenes of our society. Sometimes that’s for the better and sometimes it’s not. But as the bicycle advocacy priorities in this country have shifted further from safety and closer to comfort, it’s clear that there are some things litigation may no longer be able to help with.

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The Friday Profile: Kyle Carlson, Daimler Trucks’ 52-mile-a-day iron man

Fri, 12/19/2014 - 14:58
Kyle Carlson.
(Photos by M Andersen/BikePortland)

Kyle Carlson was a couple hundred feet up the hills of Northwest Portland when he mentioned he used to ride all the way home without switching out of his biggest front gear.

“I compromised,” he said. “Now I just never use my smallest gear.”

Carlson, an electrical engineer for Daimler Trucks North America, might have the most intense bike commute in the country’s bikingest state. After rising at 4 a.m. on summer mornings in his family’s Hillsboro subdivision, this single father of three bikes 26 miles to work on his Marin 29er hybrid. Then he bikes 26 miles home.

During the rainy months, he takes it easier on himself, rides only three days a week, and sticks to a 19-mile route — though that one heads directly over the West Hills.

“I like my heart beating,” he says.

Carlson is not, in general, a wordy man. His habits tend to speak for themselves.

Another of his habits: As part of his “5:2 diet,” on two days a week he eats only 600 calories total. He currently does this on Tuesdays and Thursdays. These are also days that Carlson bikes to work, a task that he says requires about 2,500 calories.

It’s easier than you’d think, he says.

This year, a whole month of 52-mile daily round-trip commutes were enough to net him the Bicycle Transportation Alliance’s annual prize for the most miles of any participant in the statewide Bike Commute Challenge. Here’s a map of his summer commute, which he takes every weekday of September in honor of the BCC:

And here’s his winter route:

On a Tuesday last month, I joined Carlson for the shorter of those two. We started at 4 p.m. at the secure bike parking area that Daimler added to its parking lot last year. Carlson said the quality and visibility of the structure has been a big factor in the rapid growth of biking at Daimler.

“In September, it was all full,” he said.

A bike had been Carlson’s main transportation when he was a teen in small-town Idaho. He rediscovered bike commuting as an adult while working for Boeing in Seattle.

“Only 16 round trip,” he said, “no big deal.”

Still, it was enough exercise for him to lose some weight at the time. That caught his attention. He moved to Wichita for a while, then back to the Northwest for the job at Daimler Trucks’ North American headquarters in Portland.

“When I started getting overweight again, I was like, you know, riding a bike worked last time,” he recalled. “And then the Bike Commute Challenge happened and it all just kind of clicked together.”

“The first day I rode, I rode a mile to the MAX,” Carlson said. “The next day I said, ‘I bet I could ride my bike from the Rose Quarter to Swan Island.’”

Each week, Carlson would get off the MAX one stop further from Swan Island.

The turning point came a few Septembers ago. Daimler, working with the Swan Island Business Association, had set up a map for employees to indicate where they lived in order to share commutes. Carlson decided to see if he could find a biking buddy for the long ride.

“I put my pin in,” Carlson said. “And a couple days later, I got an email that was like, ‘Howdy, neighbor.’”

The email was from Steve Taylor, a stranger who happened to live less than a mile from his house and had the same yen to ride. It was after the two started biking in together that Carlson was able to get religious about his commute.

Taylor’s company helped most, he said, when he was lying in bed in the dark, early in the morning.

If I don’t get up, I’ve got to call him, got to let him know,” Carlson would tell himself. “We just started inspiring each other.”

Taylor and Carlson still ride together sometimes. They’ve taken bike tours together, too, and shown “three or four” other people the way to bike in from Hillsboro.

“When people are looking for something to do and they see people riding, it just kind of clicks sometimes,” Carlson said.

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Carlson said Daimler’s rapid growth in biking — last year, the company led the state in new Bike Commute Challenge participants — has been driven by heavy staff turnover that followed a buyout during the recent recession.

“That brought in a much younger crowd, and it just fueled the surge in riding,” he said. “46 new riders. That’s crazy. In one year!”

Carlson’s own homeward commute from Swan Island involves navigating a couple of the industrial area’s parking lots…

…and up Going Street’s wide sidewalk, which was greatly improved in 2010.

Carlson said he used to illicitly ride the private Cement Road to Swan Island but stopped after taking a spill and realizing. He also switched, at some point, from taking the mixed uphill traffic lane on Going, shared with semi trucks, to taking the sidepath.

“I just thought, I’m a single parent,” he said.

At the top of the hill, Carlson likes to vary his route a bit. We took the Michigan Avenue neighborhood greenway down to Interstate…

…and over the flyover to the Broadway Bridge.

I asked Carlson for his advice on extreme commuting. Some tips from his experience:

Get a bike fitting. Carlson got one during the most recent Bike Commute Challenge. “That was amazing,” he said. “You may think you’re comfortable. A bike fitting is the best way to check.”

Choose where to put the cushion. “You either get the padded shorts or the padded seat. You don’t do both.” Carlson opts for the seat.

Gear up. Carlson wears Showers Pass rain pants and jacket in the winter. He always rides with water, a spare tube, a glueless tube patch kit, a bike multitool, a general Gerber multitool, brake pads, a shifter cable, a brake cable, a small pump and tire levers.

Keep building the music collection. Carlson listens to his Zune music player most of the way. He’s used a series of “10 free songs” cards to build a library of 300 to 400 songs &mdash “everything but classical” — which he said is enough for his needs.

Teach the kids to cook. Carlson’s youngest is 14, something he says has been important to his ability to bike-commute. He’s got each of the three cooking the family one meal a week.

Over the West Hills and through the multi-use paths along Sunset Highway and onto the bike lanes that line Washington County’s wide roads, Carlson sees few others riding, at least during the rainy months.

It’s a long ride, but Carlson is in good spirits as he nears his neighborhood. Next year, he’s thinking he’ll finally buy a new bike, possibly a Surly Long Haul Trucker or maybe a cargo bike, and head on the longest trip of his life: seven weeks across the country.

He’s also thinking next summer will be the time he hits his target weight, 200 pounds. That’s down from 320 before he started to ride.

“I made kind of this deal with myself,” he said. “If I get myself to 200 pounds, I’ll get a tattoo.”

A few years after that, his kids will be out of high school and he’ll start thinking about moving. I told him I assumed he’d finally move closer to Swan Island at that point.

Carlson shook his head slightly.

“I’m not sure I’ll move closer,” he said. “I’m thinking I might move a little farther out.”

Or not.

“Who knows?” he said. “I might go on a trip and say, ‘I’m done with this.’ I might walk to work.”

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PBOT hopes new signs, markings fix tricky Williams Ave intersection

Fri, 12/19/2014 - 12:59
The person in the truck was legally required to turn left at this intersection; but a weak design — coupled with a bad decision by the vehicle’s operator — led to an abrupt merge in tight quarters with other road users.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Now that construction of the North Williams Safety Project has nearly wrapped up, it’s time to address how specific parts the new design are working — and how they’re not.

There are several issues I plan to look into in the coming weeks. The first is a driving behavior and design concern we’ve observed between N. Knott and Stanton. These are the two blocks where Williams is split due to a median diverter island installed many years ago to decrease the amount of Legacy Emanuel Hospital visitors from driving through the neighborhood.

Even before the big redesign of Williams that took the right-side bike lane and put it on the left side, this location was always a tricky pinch-point. The new design has done nothing to make it better. While the pinching effect of the median is not as bad (and bicycle riders no longer have to deal with a bus stop), the northern part of this section — at Stanton on the south side of Dawson Park — has gotten much worse.

The good news is that we’ve just heard from the Bureau of Transportation that they’re aware of the issue and some fixes are on the way.

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The issue here is that the left standard lane is supposed to be for left turns only (like other sections in the new design where there are two standard lanes). PBOT’s intention was that people would only use the left lane if they wanted to turn left onto Graham or on Stanton. Unfortunately, the design is not strong enough and it fails to communicate proper use.

This is all you see approaching the split. It’s not clear the left option is left-turn only.

What happens in reality is that many people use the left lane to swoop by other people when there’s a back-up, or they simply use it because it’s there. Then, as they get to Stanton, instead of turning left (west), they try to merge back into the right lane. This behavior is not only illegal, it’s also dangerous.

At Stanton, the bike lane goes from being curbside to being to the right of a curbside parking lane. This transition puts the bike lane directly in the path of people who suddenly realize they want to continue straight. The illegal merging at Stanton from the left lane to the right lane puts drivers directly in conflict with bicycle riders in the bike lane.

Also adding to the stress at this intersection are many people who illegally nose their vehicles out from Stanton in an effort to find their place in Williams traffic. That behavior forces other road users to leave the bicycle lane — putting them in even more direct conflict with people using the left standard lane (as seen in the image below).

View of Williams looking south from Stanton. Another view of Williams looking south from Stanton.

After seeing this problem several times myself and hearing about others with similar concerns, I reached out to Williams project manager Rich Newlands.

Newlands said he was “definitely” aware of the issue. “We realized some time ago that what is in place does not communicate the approaching forced left at Stanton strongly enough, and hence through traffic ends up abruptly cutting back to the right.”

That was nice to hear. But even better, is that PBOT is already on the case. Newlands said there’s a contract change order pending that will do a few things aimed at more strongly communicating the left-turn-only mandate at Stanton.

Here’s what PBOT is doing to fix the problem:

  • Two more left turn arrow pavement markings will be added in advance of the existing one (which is right at Stanton).
  • Two more signs that will say “THRU TRAFFIC MERGE RIGHT”.
  • They’ll extend the existing 8-inch lane striping for the left turn pocket.

These changes should be installed any day now. If they don’t work and the illegal driving behaviors continue, Newlands said PBOT, “has discussed going to a more physical barrier to eliminate the ability to cut back to the right at Stanton.”

Interestingly, what’s out on the street now does not mimic the plans in the project’s final report (published in August 2012). On page 16 of that report the left turn lane doesn’t start until north of Knott, which seems like it would make people less likely to think it’s a through lane. The design in the report also includes “left turn ONLY” pavement markings way before the median island and “shark’s teeth” yield markings which are not present in the final implementation.

From Page 16 of PBOT’s Final Report: North Williams Traffic Safety Operations Project (August 2012).

I’ve asked PBOT for an explanation and will update this post when I hear back.

If you ride this stretch of Williams, please keep us posted on whether or not these changes help. Your feedback can help PBOT do what’s necessary to make sure bicycling conditions are as low-stress as possible.

— We are also collecting feedback on the Williams changes in general for future reporting. Please send in your comments via email, @BikePortland on Twitter, or however else you prefer to communicate.

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Weekend Event Guide: Holiday lights, braving the elements, makers, and more

Fri, 12/19/2014 - 10:11
Don’t let the rain keep you down. (Rob Sadowsky doesn’t.)
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Welcome to your menu of weekend rides and events, lovingly brought to you by our friends at Hopworks Urban Brewery.

You know what’s great about this town? Even with the cold/wet weather and the holiday season craziness, there are still fun bike rides and events to take part in.

Whether you are looking for a group ride or an event that lets you connect with other biking fans, there’s something for you in the roundup below. I have a feeling many of your bike rides this weekend will be of the shopping variety. If you do plan on doing some gift-buying by bike, remember to lock up your bike well and don’t let yourself become a bike prowl victim by leaving stuff in your bike bags.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, December 19th

Meet the Makers – 7:00 to 9:00 pm at PDX Pop-Up Shops (11 NW 5th)

Meet and greet with four seriously talented local craftsmen — three of whom might be familiar with bike lovers. Curtis Williams of North St. Bags, bike builder Jon Littleford, and Walnut Studiolo’s Geoff Franklin join local graphic designer Aaron Draplin for “an evening of mingling, networking, and insight.” Each maker will share a short speech and free food and drink will be served. More info here (FB).

Saturday, December 20th

Riders to the Stars – 4:00 pm at Portland IKEA store (by the escalator in the lobby)
If you’re looking for a great holiday ride, this is it! Join the fun-loving folks of Puddlecycle on this ride up into Vancouver where they’ll stop at a street full of amazingly decorated houses. Everyone who shows up gets a free bike blinky light. Easy access via MAX to Cascade Station. More info here.

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Wrench on Bikes – 10:00 am to 2:00 pm at Parks Building (920 NE 21st)
Help the Bicycle Transportation Alliance keep their fleet of bikes in good condition. Show up and you’ll help tune-up the bikes used by the BTA to teach 4th and 5th graders how to ride on Portland streets. The BTA promises “greasy fun” and rumor has it there will be plenty of free coffee and baked goods. More info here.

Braver than the Elements Ride – 9:00 am at Rapha HQ (1915 NW Kearney St)

Apparel company Rapha is gathering women in 13 cities around the globe to prove that riding in foul weather isn’t just possible, it can also be fun. This women-only ride will tackle a 40-50 mile loop in the hills northwest of downtown Portland. All finishers will a cool Braver Than the Elements roundel. RSVP and more info here.

Sunday, December 21st

Happy Valley Clackamas River Loop – 9:30 am from Lents Park (SE Holgate/92nd)
Join the Portland Wheelmen Touring Club for a 40-mile ride that will explore the Clackamas River area. More info here.

BikeLoudPDX Meeting – 2:00 pm at Hopworks (SE Powell & 29th)
Come and learn more about BikeLoudPDX and their plans to improve biking conditions on SE Clinton. This is an open meeting where you’re welcome to bring your own ideas.

— If we missed anything, feel free to let us know and/or give it a shout-out in the comments.

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Jobs of the Week: Quality Bicycle Products, Trek Travel, Chris King

Fri, 12/19/2014 - 08:51

Some of the bike world’s best companies have posted new job opportunities this past week. If you’re looking to break into the industry, check them out in the links below…


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For a complete list of available jobs, click here. If you’d like more information about the BikePortland Job Listings, contact us, or visit the Job Listings page.

You can sign up for all the latest job listings via RSS, email, or by following us on Twitter.

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The BikePortland Podcast will again take your questions

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 17:13
Team Podcast: Michael Andersen (L), Lillian Karabaic,
and Jonathan Maus.
(Photo: BikePortland)

It’s the end of the year, and that means the next couple weeks here on BikePortland will be rich with retrospectives and analysis from 2014 and predictions for 2015.

One of those will be part of a new tradition: the annual question show on our podcast. This is a fun endeavor where the three of us — Jonathan, me, and producer Lillian Karabaic — take questions from listeners and others and address as many as we can, on air, in 25 minutes. The only restriction: the questions somehow have to be about either the year past or the year to come.

Last year, we tackled subjects like proper use of crosswalks, the latest improvements to the Springwater Trail and the Nobel Prize for Physics.

It was a great time, and we’ve all been looking forward to this next edition. We’ll be taping on Monday, Dec. 29. Leave your questions about the year past or the year to come in the comments below or email podcast@bikeportland.org.

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City makes deal to legalize Uber, sharpening deadline for safety requirements

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 16:59
Uber inside?
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

If Portland’s street safety advocates hope to put special requirements on Uber drivers, they’d better move fast.

On Thursday afternoon, city officials reached a deal that will make Uber and similar ride-summoning services legal by April 9. In exchange, Uber promised to suspend its service in the city starting on Sunday.

According to Willamette Week, the first local outlet to report on the city’s deal:

Uber has informed Hales that it will suspend operations in the late evening hours of Sunday, Dec. 21.

In return, Hales has pledged to write new taxi regulations — or give Uber and other ride-sharing companies a temporary agreement to operate — by April 9, 2015.

“They have agreed to a three-month timeline,” says Brooke Steger, general manager for Uber. “We will be stopping pickups in Portland for the duration of that time. This is a temporary pause. We will be back.”

Hales will announce later today that the city is convening a task force to examine possible revisions to four city rules on cabs and ride-sharing. Those issues are the cap on the number of taxi licenses, the set fees taxis must charge riders, the number of cars available to people with disabilities, and safety requirements, including that drivers carry commercial insurance and receive thorough background checks.

Hales’ staffers tell WW the last item — safety assurances for passengers — will be the city’s top priority during the next three months.

The city’s transportation bureau will also oversee a study period, lasting one or two months, to see how Uber’s arrival changes the taxi market.

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Mayoral spokesman Dana Haynes said Thursday that the task force “hasn’t been put together yet. When we do have one, we’re going to tell them to move fast.” Haynes said Chris Warner, chief of staff to Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick, is leading this process for the moment.

Bicycle Transportation Alliance Executive Director Rob Sadowsky said Thursday that he planned to contact Warner and also Hales’ lead transportation staffer, Josh Alpert, about the issue.

“Is Uber willing to do some of the things that the Taxi Drivers Association of New York are doing? Those that have high levels of crashes are getting their medallions removed.”
— Rob Sadowsky, Bicycle Transportation Alliance

Sadowsky said the BTA would “love to see” the city require Uber and similar companies such as Lyft provide strong contingent insurance coverage for Uber drivers who might cause a collision on their way to pick up a fare. This requirement was a major part of the deal struck by Seattle last summer to legalize Uber.

Sadowsky also suggested that Uber drivers might be required to have commercial drivers’ licenses, or that the city might have some way of directly receiving complaints from passengers about Uber-style services — for example, if drivers are failing to pick people up in certain neighborhoods. And he raised the idea that private for-hire vehicles might be required to autodetect whether they’re speeding, or to pay into the state’s new per-mile tax instead of the gas tax.

“It’s interesting, when I was at the New York Vision Zero conference, how much people were talking about Uber,” Sadowsky said. “Is Uber willing to do some of the things that the Taxi Drivers Association of New York are doing? … Those that have high levels of crashes are getting their medallions removed.”

Sadowsky added that he feels there is “a really valid use to this model” in helping people lead low-car lives or get home safely after drinking.

“I used Uber when I was in Pittsburgh and it was so easy,” Sadowsky said. “It’s not like this is black and white, Uber’s horrible or Uber’s great. It’s a new industry.”

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DeFazio leads trio requesting GAO investigation into bike/walk safety

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 11:08
Rep. DeFazio in September 2010.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio — who likes to mention in speeches that he’s the only member of Congress who has ever worked as a bicycle mechanic — is taking his fight for safer bicycling to the United States Government Accountability Office.

Citing a “troubling increase in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities in recent years,” Rep. DeFazio has joined with fellow House Democrats Rick Larsen from Washington state and Eleanor Holmes Norton from the District of Columbia to request a GAO investigation into the issue.

In a statement released today, the trio said they want the GAO to investigate, “trends and causes of accidents involving pedestrians and bicycles and to make recommendations about improving safety.”

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Here’s more from the statement:

“The safety of everyone on the road should be our top priority. Thanks to coordinated efforts, motor vehicle accident deaths are declining. But the same is not true for the most vulnerable people on our roadways – pedestrians and bicyclists. The GAO can give us a better idea of the reasons behind why pedestrian and cyclist fatalities are going up. We want to know what more Congress can do to ensure the highest level of safety for all of those using our roads,” said Larsen, DeFazio and Norton.

And here’s the text of their letter they’ve sent to Gene Dodaro, Comptroller General of the U.S. Government Accountability Office:

Dear Mr. Dodaro:

While overall traffic-related fatalities have been declining in recent years, our most vulnerable road users—pedestrians and cyclists—have experienced an increase in fatalities. In 2012, 4,743 pedestrians were killed, or an average of one fatality every two hours. Also in 2012, 726 cyclists were killed on our roads. These pedestrian and cyclist fatality totals each represent a 6 percent increase from 2011.

Furthermore, we are concerned that conventional engineering practices have encouraged engineers to design roads at 5-15 miles per hour faster than the posted speed for the street. This typically means roads are designed and built with wider, straighter lanes and have fewer objects near the edges, more turn lanes, and wider turning radii at intersections. While these practices improve driving safety, a suspected unintended consequence is that drivers travel faster when they feel safer. Greater speeds can increase the frequency and severity of crashes with pedestrians and cyclists who are moving at much slower speeds and have much less protection than a motorized vehicle affords.

Because of these increasing fatality numbers among the most vulnerable road users, we request that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigate the trends and causes of these roadway fatalities and the challenges associated with improving pedestrian and cyclist safety. In particular, we are interested in information about the relationship between vehicle speed and roadway fatalities, and how roadway design speeds and other common practices may exacerbate this problem. Accordingly, we would like for GAO to examine:

  • The trends in pedestrian and cyclist accidents (including causes of such accidents), fatalities, and injuries in the last decade.
  • Challenges that states face in improving pedestrian and cyclist safety (including roadway design speeds and FHWA guidelines for road design), and the initiatives states have undertaken to address this issue. We are particularly interested in the effects of the common road engineering standard that sets speed limits at the rate 85% of drivers would use under regular conditions.
  • The extent that federal initiatives and funds been made available to assist states in improving pedestrian and cyclist safety, and additional federal actions that may be needed.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Rick Larsen
Member of Congress

Peter DeFazio
Member of Congress

Eleanor Holmes Norton
Member of Congress

This formal request comes on the heels of other signs from Washington that attention on creating safer conditions for cycling is on the rise in Washington.

The latest budget passed by Congress included a provision pushed by the League of American Bicyclists to set a national goal to reduce biking and walking fatalities. And back in September, US Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced an 18-month campaign to, “reduce the growing number of pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and fatalities through a comprehensive approach that addresses infrastructure safety, education, vehicle safety and data collection.”

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With or without Vision Zero, a safer Barbur might be an economic win

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 10:40
An organized ride on Barbur last year.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

A few times each day on the wooded four-lane stretch of inner SW Barbur Boulevard, state data released last week suggest, someone decides to hit the gas and zoom through at an average 55 mph or more.

And about a dozen times each year, Barbur’s crash history suggests, someone on this part of Barbur loses control of their vehicle and hits something. Once or twice a year, someone dies.

Since narrowing the road in this stretch to one lane in each direction appears to make many fewer people choose to hit the gas, a redesign that would replace one of the northbound lanes with a bike lane and walking path in each direction could be seen as a perfect test case for Vision Zero. That’s the principle, endorsed by Portland’s transportation director, that safety is always a higher priority than convenience when it comes to road design.

But even if you don’t subscribe to that philosophy, a local traffic engineering analyst has sent us an interesting email making the case that redesigning Barbur would also pay off using the current U.S. system that estimates the economic cost of injuries and deaths.

Here’s the unabashedly back-of-the-envelope calculation from the analyst, Brian Davis of Lancaster Engineering (disclaimer: this the same firm that has sponsored BikePortland in the past and who we share our office with). He’s drawing on two figures:

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Here’s a lightly edited version of Davis’s email, explaining his calculations:

The 68-second figure is probably an overstatement (even given that, as you discussed, delays the other two weekdays will be much lower). The travel time between April (2 NB lanes) and June/July (1 lane steadily closed for construction) is only 12 seconds. It increases another 56 seconds during the October period, when you have “intermittent lane closures.” As ODOT states, “This is likely attributable to the combination of seasonal variation (school being in session) and a more intense construction period in which the lane closure configuration varied from day to day.”

Well, that’s a factual statement, but I’d bet it’s far more heavily the latter than the former. In Portland proper, we simply don’t see all that much seasonal variation. The decrease in traffic from school being out is more-or-less cancelled out by an increase in tourist and recreational activity. The construction there is mattering greatly.

Still, even using the 68 second figure, we get an annual loss to the regional economy of only $442,000 due to the increased congestion.

Assuming the system is below capacity the rest of the day and there’s no significant delay from the lane reduction as a consequence (I think that’s what the report implies), then the 3,000 vehicles travelling in the morning will each experience that but few other cars will be affected.

If I then assume an occupancy of 1.5 people/vehicle, the daily added delay from the lane reduction is 85 people-hours. So let’s assume a cost of the delay to be something like $20/person-hour. With 260 work days per year (and don’t forget, the delays will be lower by ODOTs estimation on Monday & Friday, so now we’re overstating things), that means the lane reduction (if the observed effects were permanent) would result in a loss of about $442,000 in productivity.

Davis is only counting the productivity costs in the northbound direction. If we assume that narrowing Barbur in both directions would create a similar delay for southbound traffic, we’d be up to $884,000 in lost productivity. But even that, Davis said, would be dwarfed by the economic advantages of a safer street.

I pulled the last five years of crash data for the affected segment of Barbur between Hamilton and Bertha. The data show that the road is every bit as deadly as we suspected, with 6 fatal crashes, another 62 injury crashes, and 53 non-injury crashes from 1/1/2009 to 12/31/2013. Using the 2009 Highway Safety Manual’s crash costs, I can calculate the annual cost of crashes along the segment to be $5,596,000.

The PBOT study that you wrote about a few weeks ago found a 37% reduction in crashes along road dieted segments. While I think this road diet would be pretty different in character, it certainly seems reasonable that we might see similar reductions in crash numbers and severity given that we saw speeds pretty significantly reduced. That would save a little over $2,000,000 each year in crash costs.

I asked Davis if it was really fair to assume a 37 percent reduction in crashes, since that figure was based on more urban streets in east-central Portland that have lots of intersections.

It’s a good question. Without considering the PBOT study findings, if we can say that if the road diet reduced crash frequencies and severity by at least 8%, then we’ve outweighed the cost of the additional delay. Certainly, we would exceed that.

So even from a cold actuarial perspective where time is money, lives have prices, and money talks, the road diet would represent an overall benefit to the region’s economy.

I’m sure this is only one of many ways to look at this problem, and it’s admittedly a pretty rough estimate. Even so, let’s put it on a chart:

Thumbnail estimates by Brian Davis.

For a redesigned Barbur to not have economic benefits, these rough estimates would have to be pretty far off.

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Teen involved in throwing bricks at bike riders implicated in high school shooting

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 09:42

The law has caught up to a teenager who threw bricks at three men riding their bicycles in northeast Portland back in April.

16-year-old Marquise D’Angelo Murphy was picked up by police in Keizer, Oregon Tuesday night in connection with a shooting at a high school in north Portland on December 12th. Murphy was also arrested by Portland Police on April 20th for his role in the brick-throwing incident that injured Adrian Richardson.

Richardson was biking on NE Tillamook with two friends when Murphy and Robert Hudgens threw pieces of bricks at him. Murphy’s brick missed, but Hudgens’ didn’t. Hudgens was tried as an adult, found guilty of a Measure 11 felony and sentenced to four years in prison last month. Because his brick did not make contact with Richardson, Murphy was only charged with second-degree assault and entered into the juvenile detention system. He had been on probation since June.

The Portland Police Bureau found Murphy in Keizer and took him into custody for a probation violation while the investigation into last week’s shooting continues.

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Tonight: BTA hosts first-ever Bike Advocacy Clinic

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 13:58

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance wants more of the community to step up and become their own advocates for better biking. Tonight they host a Bike Advocacy Clinic that aims to give people with bike-related concerns and issues the tools they need to fix them.

The BTA has done free bike legal clinics for many years, but this is the first time they’ve offered a clinic on advocacy. The group’s engagement manager Carl Larson said today that they recognize there’s, “A need for informed advocates in our community and we can’t tackle every little problem.” “With some basic tools and and tactics,” he added, “our members and the public can make biking better.”

It’s sort of like getting to tap into the BTA’s 25-years of lessons and expertise. Topics that will be covered at tonight’s clinic will include messaging, defining success, figuring out who holds influence on your issue, finding allies, and the difference between pressure and persuasion.

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Here’s more from the BTA’s event description:

- There’s no place to park your bike at the grocery store.
- Your kid can’t bike to school because of one dangerous road crossing.
- Your neighborhood association is fighting a bike-friendly project.

The problem is clear. The solution might even be obvious to you but how do you get others on board? How do you get the problem solved?

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance has been advocating for better safer streets since 1990. In this free one-hour clinic, a BTA advocate will share some of the lessons we’ve learned about how to get your voice heard — how to get your community’s problems solved.

Larson said this clinic is a way for the BTA to help be a part of bike-friendly changes, without having to be directly involved with every little effort. “We get called about a lot of legitimate problems, like a dangerous intersection, but if we’re going to be an effective advocacy organization we just have to say no to some things.”

With some basic knowledge and guidance, the BTA hopes to create an army of community advocates to help usher in a bike-friendly future.

The clinic starts at 6:00 pm tonight at the BTA office (618 NW Glisan St., Suite 401). Learn more about the event here (FB).

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Portland Commissioner Nick Fish “sad” after getting his bike stolen

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 11:42
Commissioner Fish on his bike in May 2011.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Portland bike thieves’ latest victim works in City Hall.

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish got his bike stolen last night. According to an update to his personal Facebook page, Fish parked his bike in the racks in front of 24 Hour Fitness in Hollywood and went in for a workout. When he returned 30 minutes later his bike was gone.

“I have been reading about friends who had their bikes stolen recently,” Fish wrote, “Well, tonight I joined the club.”

The bike, which was locked with a cable lock, was a grey and black Trek hybrid that Fish says he bought with his Obama stimulus check.

Fish isn’t the first high-profile city official to get his bike stolen. Back in September 2013, Bureau of Transportation Director Leah Treat got her beloved bike stolen after leaving it overnight outside the Portland Building on SW Madison. Fortunately for her, it was recovered a few days later.

Hopefully Commissioner Fish with have the same luck.

— For more on the state of bike theft in Portland, read our take on the latest stats from the PPB.

EDITOR’s NOTE: The original version of this story included an embed of Fish’s Facebook post, a link to it, and more references to what he wrote on it. After consideration, I decided to delete these references and contact Fish directly for a quote and/or ask his permission to use his Facebook post. I regret any confusion this has caused.

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The simple way to end bike theft: Externalize the costs

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 10:56
OHSU covers the costs and reaps many benefits from the South Waterfront’s free-to-use bike valet. If we’re willing to listen, its success could be a lesson.
(Photo: Go By Bike)

Part of our series of guest posts, America’s Next Bicycle Capital, where we share community voices about the future of biking in Portland. This week’s guest writer is Kiel Johnson, owner of the Go By Bike shop and operator of the Go By Bike valet.

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Repeat after me: it is not your fault your bike got stolen. Even if you were a dummy and left your custom bike unlocked only to return several hours later and find it stolen, it is not your fault.

The solution to ending bike theft is easy. It starts with this fact: we are already dealing as individuals with the costs of theft.

Most of us are accustomed to occasionally replacing a lost light, a stolen seat, and in many cases a whole bike. To truly solve bike theft, all we have to do is cover those costs as a society — in the form of secure bike parking.

The problem, in other words, is that we have not externalized the cost of secure bike parking.

We need to create secure bike parking that takes into account the realities of parking a bike. Everyone sometimes forgets their lock and it is impossible to theft proof all the components on a bicycle.

I am fortunate enough to work for a place that provides secure bike parking and has externalized these costs. At Oregon Health and Science University you don’t have to carry a clunky lock. Your lights remain on your bike and you don’t have to lug your bags and helmets around wherever you go. Over the past 2.5 years, people have parked their bike over 100,000 times at the bike valet I operate. Every single time, they got their bike back.

(Data: Go By Bike. Chart: BikePortland.)

Having zero risk of your bike being stolen, as well as the social benefits and practicality of the bike valet, has created a huge spike in bike commuting to OHSU. After the first year, we had a 25 percent increase in valet users and after the second an increase of 35 percent.

The year before the bike valet opened, in the peak of summer, there were 202 bikes in the plaza around the tram. This past summer, with the addition of the bike valet, there were over 500.

Go By Bike valet operator Kiel Johnson soon after its 2012 launch.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

At the risk of their own demise, anti-density activists and bike-unfriendly businesses are resisting a crucial fact: Car parking is expensive and bike parking is cheap. OHSU understands this. Even when you pay someone to watch over your bike, guaranteeing 100 percent security it is still much cheaper. In 2013, the Lloyd Center Mall paid $3,354,000 in property taxes for about 33 acres of central Portland, 16 of which are dedicated to car parking. Finding ways to get some of those people parking their bike instead of a car and transforming that space into retail would mean big money.

The bike theft problem is only going to get worse if we continue to ignore it. If you ride in Amsterdam you have a 13 percent chance of having your bike stolen every year. Here in North America, the most depressing fact about bike theft is that 7 percent of victims never replace their bikes.

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What is the social cost of having those victims stop riding their bicycles? What is the cost of replacing over $2 million of reported stolen bikes in Portland, plus all the bikes that aren’t reported every year? Right now the victims and society are internalizing all these costs. If we know more bikes create value for society, we need to externalize those costs.

When I buy a bike, I should pay a small one-time registration fee, maybe $10 or $20, based on the estimated amount saved from bike thefts prevented the previous year.

One idea for how this could work comes from listening to what local gadfly Terry Parker has been saying for years. When I buy a bike, I should pay a small one-time registration fee, maybe $10 or $20. This fee would be based on the estimated amount saved from bike thefts prevented the previous year.

And I propose that when an individual buys a bike in Portland, the bike also comes registered. Registering bikes allows for police to flag used bikes as stolen prior to an individual buying it. The money from the fee would help pay for something that would benefit all bike users: a lot more secure bike parking. Here are some ideas of what could be incentivized:

  • Bike parking with cameras and signs that state the presence of cameras
  • Fenced bike parking
  • Security guards or small bike valets at grocery stores and popular nightclubs
  • Centrally located bike valets (like at transit hubs or big shopping centers)
  • Bike checks to go alongside coat and bag checks with signs alerting people to what businesses provide this service
  • An inexpensive long-term city bike loan fleet to reduce the incentive to steal a bike

None of this will happen if we keep blaming ourselves when our bikes get stolen. Bike theft is a huge problem and a massive deterrent against more people riding. Having fewer people riding bikes is bad for everyone.

We talk about safe street infrastructure like it is the only barrier to riding a bike, but it is not. And infrastructure is really expensive. To solve the social and practicality barriers that prevent people from riding a bicycle, we need to externalize the costs. A bike that is stolen and deters someone from riding more is not the fault of the rider, but of a society that has not taken into account the cost we all pay if that person takes their next trip in a car.

If you’d like to add your voice to this series, get in touch via email: michael@bikeportland.org.

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Guerrilla traffic diverters installed – then removed – on SE Clinton

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 10:31
Police observe while people ride down Clinton and City of Portland crews work to remove the unpermitted traffic diverters.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

“It’s important for us to take over these spaces… and show the city that there are people willing to go out and do it themselves because the city isn’t willing to do it.”
— Activist responsible for unpermitted diverters

I woke up this morning to the buzzing of my phone at 4:33 am. I didn’t catch it in time, but I listened to the message: “I would like to report,” said a voice, “that a group of anonymous members of BikeLoudPDX installed guerrilla diverters at 34th and Clinton and you should definitely check it out and take some pictures when you get up this morning.”

By the time I woke up, did my family stuff, and made it over there, it was 8:00 am and City of Portland crews were busy removing six large steel drums that had been placed in an arc on SE Clinton. The drums were placed on their sides and they stayed in place thanks to square steel rods welded onto them. A hole was cut into the middle where soil and plants had been placed. Each drum was hand-painted with an array of colorful scenes. One of them had “Don’t drive, fly a kite,” scrawled on the side.

The aim of the diverters was to block drivers from continuing east/west on Clinton and force them to turn onto 34th.

Police were telling people in cars to turn around.

By 8:30 am they were gone.

The man who left that 4:30 message on my phone, said he and about eight other people were up several hours before dawn to install the diverters. “The city isn’t doing anything on Clinton,” he said, when I called him back. “There’s so much community support and they refuse to do it… It’s important for us to take over these spaces… and show the city that there are people willing to go out and do it themselves because the city isn’t willing to do it.”

The man, who asked to stay anonymous, said he and the others involved all live in the area. Their goal, he said, was to “Get enough people seeing it and realizing that it’s very feasible and possible [to install diverters].” He added that he was inspired by last year’s placemaking demonstration at 26th and Clinton by Better Block PDX.

34th & Clinton this morning. Diverters finally come! @bikeloudpdx @BikePortland @PDXBikeSwarm pic.twitter.com/qI1jKzF5Rw

— Hart Noecker (@HartNoecker) December 17, 2014

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One person who rode through before city crews and two police officers arrived, said the diverters were working “perfectly.”

BikeLoudPDX
is a grassroots, all-volunteer activist group that has made SE Clinton their first major campaign. Just two days ago, we published a guest article by the man who started the group, Alex Reed. Reed and others from BikeLoudPDX recently met with PBOT staff to discuss conditions on Clinton.

The man I spoke to on the phone acknowledged that he and his cohorts represent a more aggressive wing of BikeLoudPDX. He wants to stay anonymous because he’s aware that some people active with BikeLoudPDX aren’t interested in these kind of guerrilla action. “We want to show there are people in the group who want to push things a little further,” he said.

Reached for comment this morning, Reed said he had no idea this was happening. We did however, receive a press release from a “Bike Loud” Gmail account*. “BikeLoudPDX is declaring a war on car culture,” it read, “a culture that values convenience over human life and takes away valuable investments that make our neighborhoods livable and enjoyable for Portlanders of all ages.” (Read the entire statement below.)

SE Clinton has become the focus of major concern since this past summer. Increased development on nearby Division Street has caused more people to use Clinton as a cut-through when driving in the neighborhood. The increase in auto use has come at the expense of what is supposed to be a pleasant and low-stress cycling environment.

The guerrilla activists responsible for this morning’s traffic diversion say they hope what they did inspires others to take action. “We encourage folks to go out and do this kind of stuff in their neighborhoods. Making safe streets is actually something they can do themselves. Even if it gets taken down, it makes a statement.”

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Full press release from “anonymous members of BikeLoudPDX”:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 17, 2014

In the early hours of this morning, anonymous members of the grassroots bike advocacy group BikeLoudPDX and Clinton neighbors took the initiative to do what the City of Portland has continued to drag its feet about: Install a traffic diverter on SE Clinton St at 34th. Cars traveling Westbound during rush hour are now required to turn onto Division and Eastbound auto traffic must turn onto Woodward.

Over the last several years, Inner Southeast Portland has seen a continued escalation of automobile traffic on Clinton Street, a neighborhood greenway, beyond the national guidelines for acceptable auto traffic. This is a street that should be safe for people from ages 8 to 80 to enjoy and use for transportation, but aggressive drivers have clogged the streets and subjugated cyclists on one of the few spaces that are designed for nonmotorized travel. The lack of stop signs and traffic diverters on the street make it appealing for cars wishing to bypass already-congested Division and Powell. As wealthier residents are moving in and redeveloping the area, they are also bringing more car traffic with them.

Recent detours onto Clinton and disproportionate targeting of bicycle riders in traffic stings on one of Portland’s most-heavily traveled greenways have made it clear how seriously the City takes our concerns. City Hall has become a place where “bike” has become a dirty word and Charlie Hales is out of touch with the needs of Portlanders to have safe streets. With no indication that there will be concentrated action in meeting the goal of 25% of trips being made by bike in 2030, we are demanding a truly connected system of bikeways that start with making all greenways, like Clinton, effectively car-free with a series of diverters and public gathering spaces to eliminate car traffic and promote community.

There is a worsening crisis of air pollution in Portland, a changing climate, and regular casualties from a war on people-powered travel. In response, BikeLoudPDX is declaring a war on car culture; a culture that values convenience over human life and takes away valuable investments that make our neighborhoods livable and enjoyable for Portlanders of all ages.

@BikeLoudPDX

#CarFreeClinton

(Photo by “anonymous members of BikeLoudPDX”)

*CORRECTION: The original version of this story said the press statement claiming credit for the diverters was sent from the “BikeLoudPDX” Gmail account. That is not true. It was sent from “Bike Loud” and from a Gmail account that is not the official account of the group. Sorry for the confusion.

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5 takeaways from the PPB’s latest ‘Bike Theft Trend Report’

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 15:29
Over $2 million worth every year.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

When it comes to the battle against bike theft, data plays a huge role. Online registration and listing services rely on data to aid in your bike’s recovery, the police use data to determine whether a bike is stolen or not, the public can use data to measure progress (or failure) over time, politicians often use data to determine whether or not a specific issue is worthy of their attention, and so on.

The latest numbers released by the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) are definitely worthy of attention. They show that bike theft is costing Portlanders well over $2 million a year and that at least 8 bicycles are stolen in our city every single day.

Just before the recent Bike Theft Summit, the PPB released their latest report (based on statistics from the Police Bureau Data System (PPDS)). Before sharing an analysis, keep in mind that improving the accuracy and availability of these stats is part of our larger effort on bike theft. I also want you to be aware of the following caveats:

  • I’ve noticed a few inconsistencies and I’m still working to clarify a few numbers with the PPB.
  • The 2014 numbers only go through October 31st, so I’ve made conservative estimates to arrive at annual numbers based on the past three full years of data.
  • The PPB estimates cases of bike theft are under-reported by about 15-30%.
  • These stats do not include bikes taken from residences/garages during burglaries (I’m not yet sure why). As many of you know, this is a huge chunk of the problem and we’ll be working on including these cases in a future report.

Even with those caveats, I think we have enough numbers to help us get a clearer picture of the problem. Here are my takeaways:

Bike theft has grown significantly since 2008

The chart below shows the number of reported cases from 2011 through October 2014 (I’ve estimated the total 2014 amount):

Going back further, I’ll use numbers reported by Sarah Mirk in her excellent 2010 article in The Portland Mercury. Mirk reported that there were 2,300 total reported cases in the 21 months between May 2008 and February 2010. That’s an average of 110 bikes reported stolen each month. In their most recent report, the PPB says there were 7,678 bikes reported stolen in the 34 months from January 2012 through October of 2014. That’s an average of 226 stolen bikes per month — a whopping 105% increase.

Based on my own estimates I think it’s possible that by the end of this year we’ll go over 3,000 reported bike thefts for the first time. That’s an average of about 8 bikes every day of the year.

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Are thieves developing a finer taste for bikes? Estimated value of stolen bikes and number of reports.
(Source: PPB)

About half the stolen bikes in the PPDS are given an estimated value. In all of the past four years, bikes with a value of about $500 have accounted for the most thefts. One interesting trend in the numbers is that the average estimated value of a stolen bike has more than doubled since 2011 — from $320 to an estimated $732 in 2014. This could mean that thieves are getting more selective.

Also eye-catching in the latest report is the number of high-end bikes being stolen. Over 16% of them had an estimated value of over $1,000.

The number of bike thefts is close to the number of auto thefts

According to the PPB’s latest bike theft report, from January 2012 through October of this year there have been 7,678 reported bike thefts. One of my goals is to get better data to compare these numbers directly to other, similar crimes. For instance, the PPB’s online CrimeStats tool tells us there were 8,956 cases of “vehicle theft” in the same period. That number includes cars/trucks and motorcycles, which leads me to assume the number of cars stolen in Portland is similar to the number of bikes. We need more data to get a clearer picture of this comparison (I’m also curious about total estimated value of cars stolen versus bikes stolen).

Portland’s $2 million a year (and growing) problem

Using these estimated values, the PPB says the total value of property loss due to bike thefts is over $2 million per year. According to my estimates, that number spiked from just around $1 million in 2012. The huge increase is from a combination of more — and more valuable — bikes being stolen.

Put another way, in the 34 months between January 2012 and October of this year, Portlanders lost an estimated $5,435,750 in stolen bikes. That’s about $160,000 per month.

Downtown/northwest is where the action is

Over 25% of all reported bike thefts from January 2012 through October of this year happened in the five neighborhoods we typically think of collectively as “downtown.” The Pearl District, Downtown, Old Town/China Town, Northwest, and Goose Hollow accounted for 1,931 of the 7,678 bike thefts in that period. Downtown led the way with 780 thefts while Northwest and the Pearl District had 422 and 411 respectively.

Getting more police resources dedicated to this problem is one of our top priorities. When that happens, we know exactly where we’d like them to focus.

——

These stats are a good start; but we need to make them even cleaner and more complete in order to really grasp the state of bike theft in Portland. Hopefully someday all the local datasets — Bike Index (which is the same as ours), Project 529, and the PPB’s reports, will all be integrated into one.

Stay tuned to our coverage as we continue to raise the profile of this issue and take more steps forward.

— Download the PPB’s Bicycle Theft Trend Report 2014 here (PDF).

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New Census data shows zero-car households on the rise in Washington County

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 13:51
Estimated rates of zero-car households in Washington County.
(Map: Census Reporter – click image for interactive version)

Central Forest Grove, Hillsboro and Beaverton are now as car-lite as many parts of east-central Portland.

More than 15 years after the MAX Blue Line tunneled westward into Washington County, and as the county prepares for investments in an array of bike infrastructure including a neighborhood greenway network, several protected bike lanes and its ever-growing network of multi-use paths, it’s becoming commonplace to live without a car in the county’s central cities.

“If you live in Orenco, it’s right on a transit line. It’s a very dense, walkable neighborhood where you have your amenities right there.”
— Jenny Cadigan, Westside Transportation Alliance

One possible factor: rising prices in central Portland may have pushed more low-income households into the suburbs. The lower your income, the less likely you are to own a car and the likelier you are to walk, bike or ride public transit for transportation.

However, Washington County’s poverty rate didn’t rise last year. It fell. It’s only added one percentage point to its poverty rate (from 9.9 to 10.9 percent) in the last five. So the shift might be that carlessess is becoming more viable for the poorest households. Also, non-poor people might be spending their limited income on other priorities.

“In my opinion, it’s whether you can get to your job easily without a car,” said Jenny Cadigan, executive director of the Westside Transportation Alliance. “If you live in Orenco, it’s right on a transit line. It’s a very dense, walkable neighborhood where you have your amenities right there.”

Whatever the reason, Washington County’s zero-car population is almost certainly rising. Though margins of error mean that we should give or take a percentage point on all these figures, the county’s estimated rate of zero-car households leapt by an entire percentage point from 2012 to 2013 and is up a point and a half since the 2008-2010 census surveys. That’d be the fastest increase in the metro area.

Source: 2013 and 2008-2010 American Community Survey. *2013 data is for one year only and has margins of error of give or take one percentage point. We focus on it in this post because the 2013 jump in estimated low-car households in Washington County was so large.
(Charts: BikePortland)

That’s not all. The sort of households BikePortland likes to call “low-car” seem to be rising fast in the county, too:

Source: 2013 and 2008-2010 American Community Survey. *2013 data is for one year only and has margins of error of give or take 1 percentage point.

Where are these changes taking place? That’s hard to tell with precision, but the map at the top of this post suggests that the shift is centered around the three swatches of the county that were built before the automotive age and retain their historic street grids.

(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

On the north side of central Forest Grove, the Census Bureau estimates that 27 percent of households live without cars, give or take 8 percentage points.

Washington County’s shift toward low-car life doesn’t seem to be related to changes in the number of people per household. There have been no clear changes to household size since at least 2007.

“My first instinct is that the county is attracting younger people who are choosing not to own cars,” Cadigan speculated. “I don’t know who Intel and Nike are hiring and attracting. People are choosing to live closer to their jobs.”

How does Washington County compare to other nearby areas? It’s not wildly different. Here are some more maps, all of them published Sunday on the wonderful CensusReporter.org and based on 2009-2013 census data released this month. Note that the color scales are different on each map; on Multnomah County’s, for example, census tracts of the second-lightest color have zero-car rates comparable to tracts of the darkest color in other counties.

Multnomah County:

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Clark County:

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Clackamas County:

"> The 44 percent carlessness rate in southeast Clackamas County is almost certainly a statistical fluke. The area has fewer than 100 households.

The trend here — zero-car rates of about 25 percent of households in the pre-car gridded parts of inner-ring suburbs — isn’t unusual nationally. You can see it in Kenton County, Kentucky, outside of Cincinnati:

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And in Clark County, Indiana, outside of Louisville:

One thing different in the above two counties is that they don’t have the further-out hubs of low-car life that are visible in Hillsboro and Forest Grove. But Montgomery County, Maryland, which is even more prosperous and job-rich than Washington County, looks more familiar. As in Washington County, you can see the neighborhoods where commuter rail lines have connected to (and allowed further development of) small historic downtowns:

There’s a possible lesson in these maps for those of us interested in reducing suburban dependence on cars. Advocates spend a lot of energy trying to expand bike, transit and walking infrastructure to new parts of suburbs, and that’s an admirable goal. But even in suburbs, low-car and car-free life seems to already be totally plausible in neighborhoods that have two things: densely connected street grids and frequent public transit into the central city. Maybe we should spend as much effort increasing the population capacity of these functioning neighborhoods — including the ability of low-income households to live there — as we spend fighting to improve sprawling ones.

You might also enjoy this recent comment of the week about making Beaverton the country’s #1 bicycling suburb.

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ODOT’s Barbur Blvd lane closure analysis finds 1 minute delay, big cut in speeding

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 09:28
SW Barbur in August, when repaving work created a temporary simulation of a possible road diet. The state studied the results, and they make a redesign seem feasible.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Converting one northbound traffic lane on 1.9 miles of SW Barbur Boulevard to two protected bike lanes with sidewalks would apparently prevent unsafe weaving during off-peak hours without massive impacts to morning traffic.

That’s one conclusion from data released Friday that analyzed changes to people’s driving habits during construction work on Barbur this summer. A repaving project had temporarily closed one traffic lane in each direction.

The study, led by the Oregon Department of Transportation because Barbur is a state highway, found that temporarily narrowing Barbur to two lanes at this point had added 68 seconds to the average northbound rush-hour trip.

However, that delay — a slowdown of about 23 percent for the length of this 1.9-mile stretch of road, from about 30 mph on average to about 24 mph — apparently bothered almost no drivers enough for them to switch routes.

The stretch of Barbur under discussion runs 1.9 miles from SW Bertha Avenue to SW Hamilton Street.
(Image: Portland State University PORTAL system)

Moreover, the proportion of northbound drivers who had been speeding at 55 mph or faster through this stretch during non-rush hours — often by weaving rapidly through midday or early evening traffic — plummeted 68 percent during the lane reduction, according to the same data set used in the study.

Though ODOT’s initial report didn’t highlight this, its data showed a sharp drop in extreme speeding. Almost all the drop came during off-peak daytime hours when traffic would have been present, but light enough for someone to weave between lanes.
(Data via ODOT study. Chart by BikePortland.)

Southwest Neighborhoods Inc., Lewis and Clark College, the City Club of Portland, Oregon Walks and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance have all urged for study of a redesign of this frequently deadly stretch of road, which last year accounted for three of the city’s 35 traffic fatalities.

Barbur also happens to be the only relatively flat connection between most of Southwest Portland and the rest of the city. It currently forces people biking and driving to merge into the same 45 mph travel lane as they cross two narrow bridges, or else to ride up a ramp onto a 3.1-foot-wide “maintenance walkway” that also functions as the closest thing to a sidewalk.

But ODOT last year rebuffed calls to redesign Barbur, citing “strong objections from stakeholders.” (As far as ODOT’s records showed, this was apparently a reference to one key stakeholder: the Portland Business Alliance, which is the region’s chamber of commerce. Seventy-nine percent of input the agency received on the issue was actually in favor of a road diet study.) The state agency publicly predicted “unacceptable impacts” on future travel times and neighborhood traffic if one of Barbur’s northbound lanes were closed to cars and trucks.

After much debate, ODOT agreed to this summer’s study not of an actual road diet but of changes to traffic patterns during the road work.

The results offered some ammunition for people on each side of the argument.

Weekday morning traffic delay: 68 seconds over 1.9 miles ODOT’s infographic comparing travel times on part of SW Barbur this summer. Compared to April, traffic moved slightly slower during the total lane closures of June and July, and somewhat slower than that in September and October when lane closures were intermittent and school was in session.

On one hand, the study found that the road work did indeed slow traffic: by an average of 68 seconds (30 percent) for northbound traffic on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings. Closures added as much as 108 seconds (48 percent) during the busiest half-hour of those mornings, which was 8:15 to 8:45.

This was somewhat heavier than expected. Last year, estimates from two different software programs had predicted traffic delay of only 11 to 34 seconds (5 to 15 percent) in the event of a road diet.

Traffic is typically lighter on Mondays and Fridays, so rush-hour travel didn’t slow as much on those days. ODOT chose to omit these days from their study; it’s not clear why. ODOT also omitted data from the fastest 15 percent and slowest 15 percent of road users, considering them outliers.

Both of these choices had the effect of increasing the average travel delay reported in ODOT’s study. Had the agency merely averaged rush-hour speeds across all weekdays, it would have found that road work led to a 20-second (9 percent) average delay for northbound traffic.

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Little sign of traffic diversion The green bars here (early April 2014, before construction) offer the closest comparison to the blue bars (September and early October 2014, near the end of construction). Red bars are from May 2013. Barbur’s own traffic on this stretch is the top left chart.
(Image: ODOT)

On the other hand, ODOT’s study found that very few people seemed to bother with using other routes to avoid the construction zone.

This had been a major concern for some neighborhood advocates. ODOT had predicted that 5 to 20 percent of Barbur traffic would switch onto other streets. No such shift was observed, however; traffic counts on Barbur were virtually unchanged during comparable periods, as were those at 12 nearby locations that might have been alternative routes.

Another significant discovery wasn’t mentioned in ODOT’s initial report but was visible in an analysis of the same data: speed data suggested that the biggest safety benefit of a road diet — preventing extreme speeding by making it impossible for the most reckless road users to weave their cars back and forth between lanes — worked well during the June-July lane closure. The percentage of cars observed moving faster than 55 mph fell from 10 per 10,000 to 3 per 10,000.

What’s more, all of the cars moving faster than 55 mph during the lane closures were doing so between midnight and 7 a.m., presumably because there were few other cars on the road. In April, when all four lanes of Barbur were open, more than half of extreme speeders were doing so between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.

The speed tests were conducted using devices that detect Bluetooth signals, so they represent only a subset of Barbur traffic: for the pre-construction period, the data came from 13,032 Bluetooth signals captured over 30 days; during construction, from 15,457 Bluetooth signals captured over 31 days. (You can explore the data for yourself here.)

Five reasons traffic slowed; only one would apply to permanent redesign during rush hour Typical midday traffic at the southbound approach to Southwest Barbur and Miles.
(Image: Google Street View.)

Why did rush-hour traffic move more slowly during construction? It’s hard to know from the data, but it’s presumably from some combination of these five factors:

1) Congestion during rush hour. Some of the change was probably due to two relatively crowded lanes merging into a single one.

2) Auto drivers getting stuck behind bicycle riders. For part of construction, people in cars and on bikes merged into a single lane, so drivers may have had to queue up behind bicycle riders. This wouldn’t happen if bike lanes were added.

3) Less weaving. With only one lane in each direction, people wishing to speed couldn’t weave between lanes to do so. This probably had little effect during rush hours, when Barbur is already crowded enough to prevent speeding, but a larger effect for the rest of the day.

4) Lower speed limit. During construction, the posted speed limit was cut from 45 mph to 35 mph, with warnings of increased enforcement and higher penalties. This might or might not apply in the case of a permanent redesign.

5) People in the work zone. The presence of road workers probably helped slow traffic, ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton wrote in an email Monday. This wouldn’t apply in the case of a permanent redesign.

One argument the Portland Business Alliance had mounted against a road diet was that the extra lane of Barbur is needed as an escape valve in case of a major blockage on Interstate 5. However, no such blockages happened during any of the periods studied.

“Therefore, we did not have an opportunity to measure the impact from such an event,” Hamilton wrote Monday.

BTA calls for separated lanes and sidewalks A BTA rendering of a possible permanent redesign of this part of SW Barbur.
(Rendering: Owen Walz)

In a blog post Friday, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance said Friday’s study “validates” the community’s “call for safety.”

“Their preliminary numbers on delays suggest that there’s no reason not to do the road diet,” BTA Advocate Carl Larson said in an interview Monday. “There was predicted lots of diversion, which is not what we’re seeing.”

Larson noted that this study looked only at the impacts of a work zone, not of a permanent road redesign.

“This is really preliminary information that we’ve been given, and it suggests, from what we understand, a road diet would go even more smoothly than the construction zone did,” Larson said.

He also questioned whether it even makes sense to be worrying about traffic delay on a street that has seen so many fatalities and injuries of people in cars and on bikes.

“We’re just focusing on trying to make the road safer,” Larson said. “From our perspective, you can’t pit safety against convenience.”

The BTA’s annual New Year’s Day ride will focus on their call to fix Barbur. The organization has also circulated a petition calling for “immediate construction of new physically separated bike lanes and sidewalks on SW Barbur.”

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Guest Article: Four things BikeLoudPDX has learned in their campaign for SE Clinton

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 13:42
Alex Reed.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Publisher’s note: We’ve been covering the work of local bike activist group BikeLoudPDX since their first meeting back in August. Since then they’ve been busy with their campaign to tame traffic on SE Clinton. The update below was written by their founder, Alex Reed. It follows a meeting the group had with top-level PBOT staff last week.

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Since August, BikeLoudPDX has been advocating for the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) to take action on SE Clinton Street. Clinton was one of the city’s first two “bike boulevards” and continues to be one of the busiest bike streets in Portland. However, as more people have moved to Portland, and especially as more buildings have been built on close-by SE Division Street, Clinton has felt less comfortable to bike on. The reason is simple: Too many people are driving on it.

In the meantime, PBOT has done nothing to deter people from using Clinton to get to or bypass the new destinations on Division.

We at BikeLoudPDX sounded the alarm bell in August and have been working since then to convince the City that auto diverters are urgently needed. On Thursday, we met with City staffers to discuss our concerns about Clinton.

This has been a wild ride already, and we’re only just beginning our campaign in earnest. Here’s what we’ve learned:

1. People who bike in Portland care about this. A lot.

When fellow activist Joe Rowe set up our meeting with PBOT last week, I thought it would probably be me and him and a few other die-hards. Then when I saw that there was a 60-mph windstorm forecast for the six hours surrounding our 5:30 meeting, I worried that it would be even smaller. But about twenty people ended up showing up, including two families, who brought three kids between them to an endless-to-a-kid 1.5-hour meeting. (Kudos to those parents. Gold-star child distraction.)

In hindsight, this response makes complete sense. Bike boulevards are the backbone of our low-stress bike network in the inner-eastside of Portland. As bike boulevards become less and less comfortable, people feel that the relatively nice biking experience that they previously had is a thing of the past. People do not like things they cherish being taken away — and will fight to keep them.

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2. The people “in the trenches” at PBOT get it.

It would be satisfying to imagine that Portland’s bike stagnation is solely due to apathy and malfeasance among the bureaucrats working on bike infrastructure here. If that were the case, biking in Portland could rise to new heights simply by cleaning house and bringing in staff who actually care about biking.

However, that’s just not the case at PBOT. The staff we met with — ranging from on-the-ground Active Transportation staff to management — all understand biking implicitly and care deeply about it. They all live in “car-lite” households, and all bike regularly for transportation. They’re part of the solution, not part of the problem. Be nice to them.

3. Politics is THE obstacle to change. At the table with PBOT.
(Photo: BikeLoudPDX)

The undercurrent to all of our discussion was, “We want to help you. Set us up to where we can.” The staffers we talked to meant “setting up” the micro-level politics — get the neighborhood associations, local businesses, schools, churches, neighbors, anyone you can on board. The staffers wanted, if not consensus, then a lot of support from a lot of constituencies, particularly local businesses.

It’s important to understand, though, that this need for near-consensus is because of the timidity of Portland’s current City Commissioners regarding bikes. As we’ve seen, “biking” is a bit of a dirty word in City Hall these days. Probably more important to Portland’s bike future than micro-level politics is macro-level politics — get our current City Commissioners to prioritize bike comfort, safety, and convenience, or campaign for new ones who will. For this reason, BikeLoudPDX is working with Bike Walk Vote to lay the groundwork for people who bike to have a real political influence in Portland.

4. Families that bike for transportation can be our very best advocates. Powerful lobbyists.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Imagine you’re a politician at a hearing to vote yes or no on our future Clinton project. You hear this from a disgruntled neighbor…

“If you install diverters on Clinton, I’ll have 10 more cars an hour passing in front of my house! My street is nice and quiet right now, and I want to keep it that way!”

You might be seriously considering a “No” vote. But say you hear this next…

“I have a 2 year old and a 6 year old. We are honked at and passed repeatedly, sometimes aggressively, on the way to and from school on Clinton and we are scared. Clinton is supposed to be a safe route to school, and it currently has more than 300 cars an hour during our school pickup trip. That’s just too much. We understand why people cut through on Clinton. It’s tempting for us to cut through ourselves when we’re driving and Division is backed up. But, you must approve this project, remove that temptation, and let our kids get to school safely and comfortably.”

I bet that would make you forget about that disgruntled neighbor (and the idea of voting “No”) really quickly.

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So what’s next?

Taking years to fix this urgent problem on Clinton is not good enough. We want the City to take quick action. One thing we’re working on is a very temporary installation of a proposed solution through Better Block PDX (the same group that had success on the 3rd Avenue demonstration). Better Block already did a project on Clinton this past spring which could fit in nicely with this one.

We want to get this issue on Clinton fixed soon and move onto all the other things that need to change, much faster than they have been, for Portland to reach its goal of having 25% of all trips made by bike by 2030.

To stay posted on this project, and all things BikeLoudPDX, sign up for our mailing list, follow us on Twitter @BikeLoudPDX, join our Facebook group, or visit our web site. Our next meeting on Clinton is Sunday, December 21, at 2:00pm at Hopworks (on Powell at 29th). Find us in the kid-friendly area :-).

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The Monday Roundup: Beer-battered driving, a Minneapolis bike win and more

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 09:29
Not actually an intoxicant.
(Photo: Edinburgh Blog)

Here are the biking-related links from around the world that caught our eyes this week:

Beer-battered driving: A Wisconsin man pulled over by a sheriff’s deputy said he hadn’t been drinking, only eating beer-battered fish. It would be his 10th drunken-driving conviction.

Minneapolis victory: The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition says the city’s new budget, with $750,000 for protected bike lanes (3-6 miles’ worth) and eight open streets events, is its “best ever.”

Ask not what…: The most effective bike advocates “don’t position themselves as a special-interest group fighting for a few feet here or a few feet there on the street, but act as part of a larger effort to make streets more livable.” That’s one of five bits of wisdom from the country’s leading bike tourist.

Regulatory slowdown: Two bike share launches in New Jersey have been delayed six months by a Federal Communications Commission review of German electronic components.

Dangerous helmet: UVEX Sports has recalled a bike helmet because its chinstrap was failing and threatening wearers with injury.

Tired truckers: Last week’s federal spending bill included a rule change that could let truck drivers spend up to an average 82 hours a week on the road, up from the current 70.

Stoplight detection: A North Carolina company is testing a smartphone app that could tell a stoplight that you’re on a bike, waiting for it to change.

Gas tax: The big gas price drop is a window of opportunity for gas tax hikes, some say.

Snow removal: Arlington County outside D.C. is setting aside $300,000 to plow bikeways.

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Amazon’s quicksilver: Amazon delivery drones aren’t here yet, but for now they’re hiring bike messengers.

Protected walking: Chicago advocates are pushing to separate walking and biking on their signature Lakefront Trail.

Popular bridge: The aging Forest Grove bridge that might be closed to auto traffic carries 1,100 motor vehicles a day.

Speed camera retreat: An estimated $30 million in annual revenue didn’t prevent the repeal of a new school-zone speed camera campaign on Long Island after a “deafening chorus of opposition.”

Gender gap: “Young women around age 11 or 12 or 13 start to go underground, really shrink into themselves,” explains one New York advocate for female biking. It’s one of many reasons to fight the biking gender gap.

Women on wheels: Hard to blame the reporter behind this 1896 story for being enthusiastic:

My costumes are ALWAYS tasteful and my skill striking. MT Brooklyn's female cyclists, 1896. pic.twitter.com/esGD4w9dtR via @yaybikes

— Jessica Roberts (@jessicaroberts) December 15, 2014

Night riding: “The number of times I see fancy, expensive utility bikes with cheap, inadequate headlights clipped to the handlebars like an afterthought never ceases to amaze me,” writes Lovely Bicycle in a post of tips for making friends with the dark.

Suburban bikelash: “The day is approaching in Marin when a cycling-comes-first approach becomes politically toxic,” writes Marin County newspaper columnist Dick Spotswood, predicting that the ill behavior of a few people on bikes is driving local action against biking improvements.

And in your video of the week, NYC’s transit agency has released a candidate for least realistic public safety announcement of the year:

If you come across a noteworthy bicycle story, send it in via email, Tweet @bikeportland, or whatever else and we’ll consider adding it to next Monday’s roundup.

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Police ticket man who was run over during ‘Don’t shoot’ protest

Sun, 12/14/2014 - 13:02
Guilty for “improper position on a highway”.
(Still from Multnomah County Copwatch video)

Portland Police have issued a ticket to a protestor who was taking part in a march downtown yesterday.

The march was organized by Don’t Shoot PDX, a fledgling group of activists who have organized a sustained movement for more police accountability and justice following protests in Ferguson, Missouri that started last month.

According to people involved with the march, there was a collision on West Burnside near Powell’s Books between someone driving a car and one of the marchers. A man who has uploaded video footage from the scene alleges that the driver swerved into protestors and yelled, “Get a job” before running over a man’s foot. The driver did not stop.

There was almost immediate outrage on Twitter once people learned that not only was the driver not charged with anything, but the man whose foot was run over was the one given a citation.

Below is a video from the scene uploaded by Multnomah County Copwatch:

In the video, PPB Officer Anthony Passadore dismisses allegations that the driver yelled “Get a job” before running over a man in the street. Passadore said the driver’s alleged statement was “free speech issue” just like the protestors were taking part in.

Julian Rist.
(Photo: Bette Lee)

Today the Portland Police Bureau offered their side of the story. In an official statement, the PPB confirmed 19-year-old Julian Rist suffered a foot and ankle injury. When officers responded, the statement says, “medical personnel were delayed due to all traffic in the area being blocked by the protest march.”

Here’s more from the official statement:

“Witnesses told police that the involved vehicle was driving eastbound on Burnside at the time of the crash and continued driving out of the area.

At approximately 3:30 p.m., the Milwaukie Police Department received a call from 37-year-old Thomas Munsey, who told police that he was involved in the crash but was too afraid to stop as the protesters surrounded his car and he was concerned for his safety and the safety of his family.

Traffic Division officers conducted the investigation and learned that Munsey was driving his 2015 Audi SUV eastbound on Burnside Street. The protest crowd of 30 or more people was in the street blocking traffic.

Rist was part of the group and was not in a crosswalk, standing in the eastbound lanes of Burnside Street when one of Munsey’s tires came into contact with one of Rist’s feet. Munsey drove slowly through the crowd and out of the area before calling 9-1-1.

After the completion of the investigation, officers issued the pedestrian, Rist, was given a citation for Improper Position on a Highway (ORS 814.070).”

People involved with Don’t Shoot PDX tell us they have retained the services of the National Lawyer’s Guild in order to look into this incident further.

CORRECTION, 4:31 pm: An earlier version of this story stated that “witnesses at the scene” alleged that Munsey yelled “get a job” prior to running over Rish. I made a mistake and should have made it clear that the only person making that allegation was the man making the video. I regret the error.

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