Portland Biker Takes Safety Seriously

In 2011, a total of 319 people lost their lives on Oregon roads. That figure is almost identical to 2010 statistics. Tragically, however, the number of cyclists who were killed in traffic accidents more than doubled in the past 12 months. This raises questions regarding the safety of Oregon roads for bicyclists, and what can be done to prevent accidents in the future. One Tigard man, who knows the rules as well as any bicycle lawyer in Oregon, decided he’d had enough of waiting on bureaucrats to address an issue he’s been highlighting for years.

His name is Jim Parsons, and ever since 2009, he has been in contact with the ODOT about a storm drain on Hall Boulevard in Tigard that poses a serious risk to anyone riding a bike on that street. After more than two years of nothing being done, this cycling activist took safety matters into his own hands. The irony is that the safety measures he put in place cost him less than $20, and he has the receipts to prove it!

While the City of Tigard installed reflective warning stripes to warn people on bikes of the presence of hazardous drains in some bike lanes, Hall Blvd. is the responsibility of the ODOT. Parsons has been writing to ODOT about a sunken storm drain that is extremely difficult for cyclists to see, especially at night or when the sun is low in the sky. Parsons spoke to a man whose house is directly adjacent to that grate. The homeowner told Parsons he had “scraped up people from the pavement after they wiped out,” including one in the very recent past.

Parsons reminded the ODOT through photos, e-mails and notes what every bicycle lawyer in Oregon knows. Sunken drains like the one on Hall Blvd. pose a serious risk to cyclists. He also pointed out that page 174 of the State of Oregon’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan (PDF) addresses how drainage grates impact bike safety. “A bike-safe drainage grate at the proper height improves bicycle safety,” reads the plan. The plan itself recommends that cities, “Raise catch basin grates flush with pavement.” Parsons accepts that while it may not be feasible to raise grate levels immediately, other steps could be taken to make cyclists aware of the impending danger.

Months passed, and Parsons received no response from the ODOT. Finally, as 2011 drew to a close and with no sign of an official response to the issue, Parsons made a trip to a local hardware store. He spent less than $20 on some white and yellow paint and marked the drain himself. In spite of the fact that the ODOT haven’t even bothered to reply to Parsons’ query about how they plan to address bicycle safety on Hall Blvd., cyclists on that road will now be able to see when they’re approaching the crash-causing bump in the road. The question should be asked, however, as to whether the ODOT would be so slow to act if it were motorists who were crashing in large numbers at the same spot in the road.

While it’s up to cyclists and motorists to follow the rules of the road and be wary of potential hazards at all times, it’s also true to say that state and local government have their role to play as well. Providing a safe route for those people who, after all, are using the most environmentally friendly form of transport, is the responsibility of those who write and enforce the laws governing the use of those roads. Sadly, this doesn’t always happen, and it’s up to people like Parsons to take action. If you’ve been injured while riding a bike, and the accident was caused by someone else’s negligence—including the city or county who left you with an unsafe cycling lane or intersection, then you should seriously consider contacting a bicycle lawyer in Oregon, who will assess your case and explain the options that are open to you.