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TriMet-Albright lawsuit: One year later

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on January 17th, 2007 at 7:44 am

The punch that started it all.

It's been one year since the news broke of Randy Albright's lawsuit against TriMet.

The story sparked a heated local dialogue, garnered national media attention and had a major impact on this site and the Portland bike community.

At the time, it was by far the biggest story I had ever covered. When it finally hit the front page of the Oregonian and the video from the on-board cameras ran on the local TV stations, it seemed the entire city was talking about it...and some very hateful words were flying between cyclists and motorists.

The publicity and polarization of the community made Randy very uncomfortable. At one point, he told me he turned down an interview with Good Morning America.

Randy Albright, at a bike swap meet on 5/14/06,
displays the sticker he helped create.

It was clear that Randy's actions (both legal and on the bridge) had split the community. The incident brought out the worst in motorist bike-haters and surprisingly also drew the ire of other cyclists who felt his response to being buzzed by a bus during his morning commute were inappropriate.

City leaders had to do something about the situation before it got worse.

I Share the Road Rally
Speakers line up at the
I Share the Road Rally. (1/27/06)

After an emergency meeting of the minds at PDOT headquarters, the plan was to kick off an "I Share the Road" campaign with a share the road rally at Salmon Street Fountain.

That rally was a powerful statement of unity and brought together advocates and bureaucrats from the traffic safety, bicycle, pedestrian, law enforcement, public transportation, and public school communities. That day made me proud to be a Portlander.

Shift volunteer Kirsty Hall
captures the spirit of the moment. (1/27/06)

Grassroots bike group Shift also joined the response in their trademark way; by handing out thank-you cards and free donuts to TriMet bus operators (unfortunately, TriMet required me to delete all the photos of the drivers, but I can speak from experience and relay that (mostly) all of the drivers were tickled by the goodwill gesture).

Eventually the story died down and we didn't hear much until the trial got underway. Quite unexpectedly I was subpoenaed by TriMet's lawyers. They wanted to use a sentence from one of my posts to paint Albright as an erratic and extreme character. I didn't want to cooperate and thankfully, time ran out and I never had to get involved.

The arbitrator in the case ended up finding fault with both TriMet and Albright.

Almost a full year after the story first broke, I reported last week that TriMet had significantly revised their bus operator manual to include more information about sharing the road with bicycles. According to a source inside TriMet, this revision was a direct response to the Albright lawsuit.

In the end, whether you agree with how Randy acted on the bridge or not, his actions have had a significant impact on our city.

Do you remember this? If so, do you think it has had a net negative or net positive impact on the community?

===
Editor's note: Hope you enjoyed this little trip down memory lane. I'll be re-living similarly significant moments in BikePortland history throughout the year.

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Comments
  • adam January 17, 2007 at 8:52 am

    I remember it. Unfortunately, it made no difference.

    Trimet responded to a lawsuit against their driver(who clearly broke their own rules) with a time consuming and costly legal battle. You could argue that the bus driver attempted murder by his actions - then, to allow someone off the bus? crazy. I heard the assailant got what was coming to him. I just wish I was there on the bridge that day to deal with it myself. Randy deserved better.

    **sentence deleted for inappropriate and inflammatory language***

    I am THRILLED that they changed their manual 18 months after this happened. that is superb management. don't get me started on Trimet - I avoid buses at all cost. The inefficiency at trimet deserves its own blog. anyway...

    I am glad to know Randy. He is a good man who likes to enjoy life. That, to me, is what is important.

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  • gabrielamadeus January 17, 2007 at 9:17 am

    In other court news.... revphil goes back to court today. Wish him good luck!

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  • Brian E. January 17, 2007 at 9:26 am

    Jonathan, did Trimet "request" or "require" you to remove the bus drivers names? I'm just curious about how the world works. Thanks.

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  • Dan Kaufman January 17, 2007 at 10:07 am

    Reverened Phil's court date is cancelled. No juries are being called today do to snow.

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  • Lenny Anderson January 17, 2007 at 10:31 am

    The tone of many comments against bicyclists made here and elsewhere no doubt lodged in the subconscious of those foolish teenage girls who decided to act out the other day up on Vancouver.
    The leadership through out this community, political, social, religious, etc, need to speak out in support of those who get around by bike...we don't pollute, don't use Saudi oil, don't wear out roads. We should be honored, not assaulted. What's behind the hate?

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  • Attornatus_Oregonensis January 17, 2007 at 11:03 am

    The Trimet driver in this incident should have been charged with a felony, something on the order of assault with a deadly weapon. The cycling community should exert its collective effort to lobby prosecutors to charge these kinds of crime against cyclists, crimes which are unfortunately all too common. Without the force of law to protect cyclists, such hatful, illegal, and immoral actions will continue to make cycling a transportation option that the majority of the population feels is unsafe.

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  • Steve January 17, 2007 at 11:09 am

    Adam,

    As an employee of a local government, I take great exception when you group Trimet employees in with "city" employees. (Not to mention your "lazy city worker" comment) Your inaccuracy only erodes your credibility. Regardless of the outcome of this case it has certainly opened up dialogue eh? I'll patiently await your apology.
    Steve

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  • Jonathan Maus January 17, 2007 at 12:06 pm

    Brian,

    After I published the photos, I was contacted by TriMet PR person Mary Fetsch.

    She said that the inside of buses is technically private TriMet property and that I must have prior permission to photograph it...especially because my photos included the faces of operators who did not consent to them.

    I respected her request and decided to remove the photos.

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  • Burr January 17, 2007 at 12:10 pm

    Not to excuse the TriMet operator, but if the city had done their job in a satisfactory and timely fashion in 2004, this incident never would have happened.

    So as far as I'm concerned, the test of whether anything useful resulted from this whole imbroglio will occur in the next few days as the current snowfall melts off, and we get to finally see if PDOT and the Bureau of Maintenance, under the direction of Sam Adams' office, has finally learned to prioritize the removal of gravel from the bike lanes on the Hawthorne viaduct, the approaches to other bridges used by bicyclists, and on other major bike routes, in a manner that is both timely and satisfactory, for the safety of cyclists using these facilities.

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  • Donna January 17, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    Is it PDOT that is responsible for county bridge maintenance or is it Multnomah County?

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  • Burr January 17, 2007 at 3:16 pm

    The county owns the bridges and contracts with the city to clean them. PDOT crews were out this morning shovelling the sidewalks on the lift span, and the City's Bureau of Maintenance is responsible for cleaning the roadway.

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  • adam January 17, 2007 at 4:55 pm

    ***comment deleted***

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  • Gregg January 17, 2007 at 6:39 pm

    Sorry Jonathon, but the caption up there with your image is so far off. "The punch that started it all". What? Who decided to block an entire bus load of people from getting to work when a PERCEIVED illegal act ALLEGEDLY happened? Since when are bus passengers responsible for the acts of their driver of the day?

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  • marc January 17, 2007 at 7:39 pm

    adam-

    i have to agree with steve on this one. your blanket statements on government employees really does negate ANY message you are trying to communicate. there are plenty of hard working city, state and federal workers that make sure you have safe water to drink, build and maintain the roads you bike and drive on (not to mention the food you buy to the store where you shop, the ones the fire and police use to protect you), they also provide a financial system that allows you to protect investments and make financial transactions simple, they regulate the power infrastructure to power your web browsing and heat your home, they also develop the laws and regulations that make sure the roof over your head is sound and won't collapse on you tonight. i could go on and on but hopefully instead of attempting to rebut any and all of my examples here you get a clue and realize alot of sh!t in our society works because of government.

    as for your attempted criticism of steve posting on the clock i'd say you didn't look outside today or realize that we have these things called 'breaks' or 'wireless internet' or...oh nevermind.

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  • Matt Picio January 17, 2007 at 9:50 pm

    Gregg - I think Jonathan's title is right on. People block other vehicles every day (somtimes blocking buses), and no one cares. This wasn't an issue until the driver let a passenger off the bus who then feloniously assaulted the cyclist.

    I'm also confused what the bus passengers had to do with this - I didn't see them in the caption.

    Three facts we know that were important in this making headlines and polarizing the bike community: A bus passenger feloniously assaulted a cyclist who was blocking the bus, the driver did not report the assault to the police, and the driver let the passenger back on the bus after the crime was committed. Now, the first item is a crime, the other two were violations of Tri-Met policy, and additionally, the third act could be considered aiding in the escape of the criminal.

    Randy Albright was guilty of a traffic infraction (blocking the bus), but that does not excuse the other acts. We shouldn't paint Randy as a rose-colored saint in this incidence, but we certainly shouldn't ignore or forget the actions of the passenger and the driver.

    In any case, it wasn't controversial until the punch was thrown, so it truly was "the punch that started it all".

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  • jami January 18, 2007 at 1:44 am

    i think mr. albright's lawsuit has led to bus drivers being more aware that we're on the road and that we have a right to be there. it's great that they've added more bike info to the bus driver manuals.

    it's not perfect yet (i've heard about some bad bike-bus interactions since then), but i think it did help. it could have turned into some sort of ongoing brawl between cyclists and bus drivers, but the "share the road" campaign turned it in a more positive direction.

    as i recall, the bus driver died in a boating accident not long after the fracas. i, too, hope trimet would have at least punished him, but that's moot now.

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  • adam January 18, 2007 at 7:26 am

    ok, marc - let me see if I can address your issues here.

    1. I have some good friends who work for the city and are dedicated(rarely work more than 40 hours per weed ;)) and are smart and are trying hard to affect change from the inside. fair enough. I don't know steve - he might be retired, he might be crazy, he might be mayor potter, who knows? so how can I know if he is lazy or brilliant or anything? I asked Steve to let us know how he is serving our needs but I cannot seem to find his response...in my orginial comment, I was referring to, SPECIFICALLY, the trimet leadership. I could name names here, but you do the research. Marc, can you take a guess on what trimet spends "administering" itself? Marc?

    second, Marc, you go on about how "they" do so much for us....

    "there are plenty of hard working city, state and federal workers that make sure you have safe water to drink" - OK, thanks for the safe water - bull run is a treasure and should be protected. of course, as a city, we, portlanders, WASTE(granted we pay for water use which is good but it is hard to decipher those bills, I have heard) loads of water a year that we now have to fork over loads of dough to rip up streets and put in more "waste water" iifrastructure. how about trying to STOP WASTING WATER?

    "build and maintain the roads you bike and drive on (not to mention the food you buy to the store where you shop, the ones the fire and police use to protect you)" - OK, Marc, since you know me so well, maybe you can explain to folks that I don't drive a car. And, I have a few bikes which seem to work very well without roads. further, it is well known that bike infrastructure gets

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  • peejay January 18, 2007 at 9:18 am

    Jonathon:

    I believe Adam's remarks are bordering on flamebait, and you should consider removing them. Steve's original complaint is that 1) Tri-Met employees and city employees are not the same thing, and 2) the stereotypical characterization of both groups as "lazy" adds nothing to the discourse. Both are indisputable. Adam's reply is that Steve must prove his personal value as a city employee to Adam before he'd consider an apology. Aside from being rife with logical flaws, Adam's replies are not germane to the topic of this post, and not fair to the other readers and commenters, who wish to discuss this issue without personal attacks.

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  • Jonathan Maus January 18, 2007 at 10:00 am

    peejay,

    I appreciate your comment and I agree with you. The volume of Adam's comments coupled with his tendency to make personal attacks makes my job of moderating much more difficult.

    Adam,

    I value your participation, but please stop using my blog as a platform for launching personal attacks and insults. Contrary to what you might think, this is not a purely public forum...you do not have the right to say whatever you want.

    I am very reluctant to discourage comments, but you have repeatedly (even after private admonishment) attacked other commenters with your bullying tone and I do not appreciate that at all.

    Sorry if this sounds harsh, but I value constructive discussion on this blog very highly and I get concerned when I feel that something or someone puts that in jeapordy.

    Thanks for understanding and let me know if you are not clear on any of this.

    Now, back to the topic...

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  • Jessica Roberts January 18, 2007 at 11:48 am

    Confusingly enough, the bridges are owned and managed by different agencies.

    Let's see if I can remember all this (and please correct me if I got something wrong):

    Sauvie Island: ODOT
    St. Johns: ODOT
    Fremont: ODOT
    Broadway: Multnomah County
    Steel: Union Pacific Railroad
    Burnside: Multnomah County
    Morrison: Multnomah County
    Hawthorne: Multnomah County
    Marquam: ODOT
    Ross Island: ODOT
    Sellwood: Multnomah County

    Unfortunately, the City of Portland has the best response to maintenance requests, but they are not primarily responsible for any of the bridges. (I believe they have some level of cooperative maintenance agreements with the county on some of the bridges, but couldn't speak to the details).

    It can be very difficult to get even routing maintenance work done if you don't know who is responsible for the bridge. Sometimes the 823-CYCL / 823-1700 operators can refer you, but not necessarily.

    So, if something is wrong with a bridge, I would check who operates it, then call:

    ODOT: Basil Christopher (ODOT Region 1 bike/ped coordinator; 503-731-3261 or basil.r.christopher@state.or.us)

    Multnomah County: Ed Abrahamsom (Multnomah County bike/ped coordinator; 503-988-5050x29620 or ed.abrahamson@co.multnomah.or.us)

    And as ever, for City of Portland needs try 503-823-1700 for a sweeping request or maintenance emergency, or 503-823-SAFE for safety concerns like speeding, light malfunctioning, or requests for new facilities.

    This is particularly important now that the snow's melting and all the dumb gravel is everywhere!

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  • Jessica Roberts January 18, 2007 at 11:49 am

    Oh yeah, and I remember hearing recently that there's some talk of creating a Willametee River Bridge Authority, which seems like a good idea in terms of clarity for citizen advocates. Especially if we could get a good multimodal advocate on it.

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  • Matt P. January 18, 2007 at 12:03 pm

    One brief comment: waste water is not the issue, storm water is. Wastewater increases with population, and that *is* a problem, but storm water increases with the amount of paved (impermeable) land. The easiest way to reduce stormwater infrastrucure (which is what they're building, not wastewater infrastructure) is to stop paving the ground and to build more catch basins, eco-roofs, and putting more grenery and plants in place to soak up the water rather than running it off into the drain.

    Sorry, Jonathan, I know that's OT. Anyone interested in debating / learning about this topic, feel free to comment on my non-cycling blog, http://tgapw.blogspot.com/

    City employees aren't the issue here, nor is the whole private/public weirdness of Tri-Met. The issue is that someone got away with committing a felony,and the story made the news. The circumstances involved are what generated the controversy. I'd be surprised if more than a few of us who read this site haven't gotten really upset at some other road user to the point where we blocked their vehicle, hit their vehicle, yelled obscenities, made an obscene gesture, or placed flyers on someone's windshield telling them how stupid we think they were. Let's face it - almost every other vehicle out there is 20-50x heavier than we are. When we screw up, their paint gets scratched. When they screw up, we die. That tends to get people pretty emotional. The general public doesn't cycle, and many have NEVER cycled. They don't understand how dangerous they are when they're in their vehicles, and they don't understand that a few pounds of foot pressure translates into the force of 1/3 of a stick of dynamite.

    (3,000 lb. car at 35mph hitting a stationary cyclist. If head-on with a cyclist going 15mph, it's equal to 2/3 of a stick of dynamite)

    Make it a 50,000lb. Tri-Met bus going 35mph over the Hawthorne bridge, and you've got the force of more than 5 sticks of dynamite. Yeah, if I got brushed by a bus (or nearly so), I'd be upset too.

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  • Evan Manvel, BTA January 18, 2007 at 2:16 pm

    Thanks, Jessica! Sauvie Island Bridge is maintained by Multnomah County.

    List of bridges the county maintains.

    And some of the bridges have some split responsibilities, as far as on-and-off ramps, etc. which is why Sam Adams is budgeting for some work on the Steel Bridge ramps.

    Confusing, confusing.

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  • Ethan January 19, 2007 at 7:11 am

    Bikeportland.org is a bone fide news outlet. I do not understand how Tri Met could require you not to use photos taken for a story.

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  • Jonathan Maus January 19, 2007 at 7:49 am

    "Bikeportland.org is a bone fide news outlet. I do not understand how Tri Met could require you not to use photos taken for a story."

    Ethan,

    2 reasons. 1) I did not get prior approval as a media event. 2) TriMet said once I stepped on the bus to snap the photo I was on their private property and had no rights to the photos.

    And the third thing is that I value my relationship with TriMet more than I value photos of their drivers eating donuts! ;-).

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  • Matt P. January 19, 2007 at 3:22 pm

    I think 3 is most pertinent. #2 is really shaky IMO. There are no posted signs on Tri-Met equipment prohibiting photograhpy, and the law says that you can take pictures so long as the individual has no expectation of privacy. A public employee, driving public transportation, encased in a vehicle with clear glass windows in every direction, IMO has no expectation of privacy.

    Now, reproducing those photos *for profit* requires a release form, or prior permission.

    So, can Tri-Met legally require you to remove the pictures? No. Not unless your lawyer sucks or they spend enough on their lawyers to pay all our annual salaries. What they CAN do (and this is where #3 comes into play) is ban you from riding Tri-Met.

    So, in the interest of playing nice and having continued access, it's easier to obey their "rule".

    Hey, Tri-Met: Why not actually make your rulebook available in PDF form on your website so we can all read these rules?

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