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A tour of the West Side with an unsung bike hero

Posted by on May 28th, 2009 at 2:29 pm

A tour of the West Side-21
Jim “K’Tesh” Parsons is always looking
out to make your ride (or walk)
safer and more enjoyable.
-Slideshow Below-
(Photos © J. Maus)

It wasn’t long into a full day tour through Beaverton and Tigard that Jim “K’Tesh” Parsons needed to stop and get to work. We were riding on the path adjacent to Highway 26, just west of Washington Park, when he noticed some overhanging branches.

He stopped, swung his backpack around, took out a pair of gardening shears, and dove head-first into the tree in search of the guilty branch. A few yards further down he pointed out a tree stump a few feet from the edge of the path. It used to be a spikey Hawthorne tree, he said, and “I’m not a fan of spikey trees, especially when they grow too closely to the path.”

On that occasion, since it was a full tree he wanted removed, he called in his concerns to the proper authorities (ODOT in this instance). A few weeks later the tree was gone.

Story continues below

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A tour of the West Side-43
Parsons noticed this dangerous
grate on SW Naito during our
ride. It has since been replaced.

When Parsons is on the “hunt” (that’s how he refers to it); no tree, branch, improperly placed road sign, dangerous sewer grate, or narrow bike lane is safe. Parsons has an obsessive enthusiasm for his work.

Parsons, who doesn’t own a car, moved to Beaverton in 1999. In 1990, a friend of his who is legally blind was on a walk. When Parsons rolled up, he noticed his friend nearly walked right into a branch hanging across the sidewalk.

“All of the sudden,” Parsons said, “It was like, click!, I could have been biking along and I would have hit that branch.” Ever since then, Parsons has been dedicated to this quest.

I first met Parsons at Bridge Pedal a few years ago (in addition to his bike advocacy he works as a balloon guy for extra cash on the weekends. He’s a travel agent by day). Since then, he has become the most prolific member of the Portland Bike Forums (where he’s posted 1,682 posts) and I’ve watched his street-level activism grow to new heights.

Not only has he single-handedly called in hundreds of dangerous and (often) illegal “wheel-eating” storm grates and overgrown trees, he is also constantly encouraging others to do the same. He has started a forum thread titled, What have you done lately? where he documents his weekly pursuit of safety improvements.

He photographs problem spots (check out his “Grate Danger” photoset) and then hounds the responsible agencies until they are fixed. Sewer districts, DOTs, transit agencies — they’re all on his speed dial.

A few weeks ago, I joined Parsons for a tour around his “hunting grounds”. We rode down from Washington Park (that Highway 26 multi-use path is great), out through the Cedar Hills Shopping Center (an abysmal place for biking), and beyond.

A tour of the West Side-27
The Fanno Creek Trail is in
full bloom this time of year.

We spent several minutes at the intersection where Austin Miller was killed (the sidepath-to-roadway transition at SW Murray and Farmington Road is very poorly engineered), we discovered a BMX pump track at Eichler Park, and we weaved our way through backstreets and multi-use paths all the way to the Fanno Creek Trail.

It was my first experience on the Fanno Creek Trail and I was taken aback. It’s surrounded by lush meadows, marshes, and greenery. The trail itself is quite bumpy in parts, and many of the crossings and connections leave a lot to be desired (especially at SW Hall, where a sign urges trail users to go a half-mile out of their way just to cross the road), but it is nothing less than a regional gem.

After a great lunch and a beer at Max’s Fanno Creek Brew Pub (we stopped because they had excellent bike parking), we rolled back to Portland via 99W and Barbur Blvd.

Parsons is our region’s unsung bike hero. A true citizen activist and a tireless crusader for a better, and safer, biking and walking experience for us all.

Keep it up Jim!

– For more photos and insights from our tour, check out the photos and the captions in the slideshow above.

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Comments
  • amos May 28, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    Jim joined us for an easy riders ride one Sunday and found and documented several hazards along the way. It was a real treat to see someone that dedicated.

    Thanks, K’Tesh!

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  • A-dub May 28, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    Great story. Living in Tigard, I am very familiar with many of these routes (the bad intersection along Fanno Creek is actually at Hall). I’ve seen Jim along 217 and am always amazed. Keep up the great work!

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  • A-dub May 28, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    PS: “jay-walking” across Hall during peak travel times is nearly impossible. A better option is to leave the trail near the Fanno Farmhouse and cross the street at Creekside Place. It is still out of the way, but at least you don’t have to deal with the sidewalk and the intersection of Hall and Greenway.

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  • peejay May 28, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    Where does the online name K’Tesh come from? Inquiring minds want to know!

    Jim is a Trekkie… K’Tesh is his Klingon name. — Jonathan

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  • amos May 28, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    Peejay, It’s a good story. I don’t remember the details but it somehow involves blood pie, i think.

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  • ScottG May 28, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    I’ve gone on several rides with Jim in the past few months. He is incredibly knowledgeable and dedicated to improving bike safety, and “walking the walk” by spending large amounts of his time documenting dangers and pruning branches that post a threat to cyclists. Thanks Jim for all that you do.

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  • naomi May 28, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    Wow, I admire that guy. That’s really really thoughtful of him to do.

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  • indy May 28, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    It was that forum thread that I originally found through a google search that brought me to bikeportland.

    There are several spots on barbur that I’ve been meaning to post about in that thread, haven’t had the time. Mostly the street “paint” for the bike lane is coming off in several spots. Will PDOT do anything about these?

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  • Andy May 28, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    Great story. It’s nice to see the ‘burbs getting some love. There’s some good biking to be had out here, and now I see one of the reasons why. Thanks, Jim.

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  • Patrick May 28, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Two weeks ago I rode with my daughter down Fanno Creek Trail & Oregon Electric Trail (former rail line): if you’re in the neighborhood its well worth the ride.

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  • Martha R May 28, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    Great story, and an excellent reminder that many jurisdictions around here do actually respond to maintenance requests from the public. In other words, we can all follow Jim’s lead and notify the “proper authorities” about maintenance issues. The trick is knowing which number to call.

    Jonathan, you’d be doing a great public service if you could post some of those phone numbers that K’Tesh has on his speed dial.

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  • Mitch May 28, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    Jonathan, thanks for doing this feature on K’Tesh! I’m a fellow west-sider and have had the pleasure of encountering K’Tesh in my travels on several occasions. You’re right, he is an unsung hero and passionate advocate of bike safety. I can attest that he genuinely cares about other riders’ safety.

    Mitch

    PS: I’ve often wished I could pick his brain about who I should call re: e.g. construction signs blocking bike lanes in Beaverton. K’Tesh, if you’re reading this, are there any contact numbers or departments you can cite?

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  • K'Tesh May 28, 2009 at 11:07 pm

    @Martha R

    Here’s a link to some of those numbers:

    http://bikeportland.org/forum/showthread.php?p=20242#post20242

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  • Shawna May 28, 2009 at 11:41 pm

    Someone needs to make K’Tesh a bad-ass set of Klingon pruning shears. Pretty please with mot’loch on top?

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  • Brian E May 29, 2009 at 8:52 am

    K’Tesh what you do is great. Much appreciated!

    Brian

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  • Kim May 29, 2009 at 9:38 am

    Thanks for this profile and the focus on the west side. My family has taken many recreational rides along the Fanno Creek path and I recommend it at the best place for parents to take kids that are new 2-wheel riders as it’s off-street and mostly flat. With the play structures sprinkled along the path it makes for great destinations. The crossing at Hall is insane though. We always take the extra time and effort to go to the crossing because of the young kids (and that is a lot of extra time b/c we have them walk their bikes on the sidewalk) but more often than not we’ll skip that part of the path. Who do we need to lobby for a tunnel or even a crossing signal? THPRD??

    Thanks K’Tesh!

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  • K'Tesh May 29, 2009 at 10:01 am

    @Kim

    “Who do we need to lobby for a tunnel or even a crossing signal? THPRD??”

    Crossing signal… I’ve tried, I’ve been told that that will not happen as there is too much traffic turning onto SW Greenway there to allow for a signal, even back to SW Creekside.

    As for a tunnel, I’d try every avenue possible… I’m fairly sure that SW Hall is ODOT’s department, but THPRD, Beaverton, Washington County, as well as the WashCo BTC, and the BTA could all have a hand in it.

    I fear that it will take a serious crash before anything will be done.

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  • Kt May 29, 2009 at 10:45 am

    Thanks, J, for doing a profile on one of my favorite bikey people– and my ‘hood! :) There are a lot of good places out here in the SW ‘burbs for riding, although it can also be a little frustrating.

    Max’s is an awesome place– they usually have a lot of picnic tables and benches set up with umbrellas in the front of the building, and the food is excellent. They make their brews there, too, deliciousness! :)

    The Fanno Creek trail is, from Fowler Elementary School (where I get on) to Denny, 4 miles long. There are a lot of short pieces to it all the way from Fowler to the Tigard Library, but they are all chopped up and disparate and unconnected. Yes, it’s bumpy, but K’tesh has got the City and Parks folks to fix a lot of it, so it’s not as bad as it has been.

    The crossing at Hall!! Terrible!!! They could at least put in a crosswalk right there, if nothing else. We take our chances darting across the road there (two lanes each way and a center turn lane). The closest crossings are uphill past the Albertson’s, or downhill far far far away. Not fun.

    As for Main St Tigard: on my ride home from work today, I noticed that it seems like all the roads with bike lanes take you AWAY from Main St. The only way to safely get into downtown from the Fowler-area is to drive. Which sucks, because parking down there is not so good. It’s close enough that people should be able to walk and ride to take advantage of that area, which the City is trying to turn into a “destination”. Since they tore up the extra rails for the old railway next to the WES/Freight line, they should think about a rail trail. That would be handy! :) No need to worry about bikes taking the lane down Tigard St, or people walking in the street or in the bike lane because there’s no shoulder or sidewalks! :)

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  • IanO May 29, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    Re #17 a tunnel under Hall would be problematic due to drainage, since you are in a flood plain. A pedestrian overpass or dedicated signal (like the awesome one at NE 42nd and Burnside) would make more sense.

    (My dad biked the Fanno creek trail to work for fifteen years. It is gorgeous, I agree.)

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  • Andy May 29, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    I don’t know what it is with THPRD that makes them think a trail that just ends at a major street and reappear on the other side is reasonably usable.

    There was a story on the BTA blog recently about the “opening” of a new link in the Westside Trail “connecting Tualatin Hills Nature Park with Schuepbach Park.” Nevermind that the “trail” includes a section where you turn onto Blanton Street, ride up to 160th, turn right and cross TV Highway. Is that really a trail? Those streets don’t even have bike lanes. The Fanno Creek crossing at Hall is intuitive by comparison.

    But I’m whining. At least we’ve got trails and people who dream of connecting them.

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  • keith May 29, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    Thanks Jim! I recently moved from bike ground central (read: Inner SE) to Beaverton/Hillsboro. You’re a community hero for sure!!

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  • Kate May 29, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    I met K’Tesh a few times while biking to work in Tigard. He gave me great suggestions on how to be more visible to cars, what I could do to make my clothing more reflective, where to bike down there, and how to keep my bike safe while riding the bus. It was great to read this story about him, as I knew he is a stellar asset to the cycling community, but didn’t know just how helpful he really is. Thanks a ton, K’Tesh, and I will start using those phone numbers you posted right away.

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  • old&slow May 29, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    Kudos also to K’tesh. While I live on the east side of town, I commute to Wash. Sq. so do a lot of riding in the burbs. Keep up the good work, Fanno creek is a gem in this city.

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  • Pete May 30, 2009 at 12:08 am

    Thanks for the story Jonathan, and thanks for all you do Jim! Yay Max’s!! I just love the Reverend’s Daughter…

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  • Vance Longwell May 31, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    I find K’tesh’s presumption that this is all somehow his responsibility a bit off-putting. It seems rather arrogant to me. No offense intended, but it also seems an abuse of the reporting systems he’s utilizing. Furthermore, with his demand for high levels of service, where does that leave the rest of Beaverton when it comes time for another citizen to use that system?

    Is K’tesh an arborist? I mean, does he have a background in pruning trees, and shrubs, in such a way as not to kill them? Speaking of which, are these trees/shrubs private property? I’m just curious how it is legal for him to possibly endanger the life/health of a tree, or shrub, that could very well be some one’s private property? Isn’t that illegal? Can’t you folks just ride around them?

    Well, clearly where others see charity, I see a passive-aggressive, even arrogant, abuse of the system. A demand for service levels higher than experienced by the average citizen is not kool. Abuses of this sort almost always result in diminished access for everybody else.

    Curious also, what kind of brain-damage do you have that you would actually ride over a storm drain like that one depicted? Any moron can see that most bicycle wheels will fit right in that thing. Absolutely preposterous waste of money to replace them. If you suck so bad at riding a bike, that an obstacle of this sort proposes a safety hazard to you, you do not belong on a bike, in a car, or anywhere but your feet or the bus.

    I don’t know what my problem is. Clearly, it’s much better to service a bunch of soft-yuppie’s, “Safety”, needs than to feed and house people. Clearly. What WAS I thinking?

    Guess what newbs? There’s trees, and bugs, and mud, and broken glass, and cars, and motorcycles, and bacteria, and murderers, and all manner of risky things in this world. Not to mention 6 billion other human mammals. Safety is not a zero-sum endeavor. Unless of course you already buy into some fiendish belief system like a magic-Jew-fairy-king-in-the-sky. Then your faith in absolute safety has a perfect justification. Unfortunately it’s the same justification we usually reserve for lunatics right before permanently committing them.

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  • wsbob May 31, 2009 at 11:43 pm

    Vance, you can relax…most if not all of the foliage growing next to roadsides is hardy indigenous, or weed plant material. K’Tesh knows at least some of the scientific names for them. That’s more than can be said for a lot of people. Anything K’Tesh does to scale that stuff back is highly unlikely to kill it…at least not forever.

    And, there seems to be plenty of overgrowth in lots of places that cities could use volunteer help to scale back. Perfect work for cranky people that need to blow off some steam. Know anyone like that?…Vance?

    Much of the infrastructure provided out there for bikes is an afterthought, adapted for bikes after the roads it’s on was designed and built for motor vehicles. If that weren’t so, decent storm grates that could be rolled over without so much as a blip would be there instead of those ‘fixed’ ones.

    I couldn’t say I really know the specifics of city laws and city responsibilities. I just figure that if they build it, it better be safe enough so they’re not at fault when someone has a problem. Millions of taxpayer dollars can disappear very fast that way.

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  • Sarah O June 1, 2009 at 11:22 am

    K’Tesh: Thank you for going above and beyond. I’ve often considered calling in obstructions I pass on my daily commute, but I’ve never stopped and taken care of the problem myself – saving time, money and hassle. You, sir, are a man of the community. Thank you for setting an example I hope more people follow. We need more riders like you.

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  • Duncan Watson June 2, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    I love the assumption that using the system as it was set up to be used is somehow an exploitation of it. Jim Parsons seems to be doing good work and I thank him for it.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) June 2, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    For the record, I want folks to know that I just deleted about 15 or so comments originally published on this story.

    I have never done that before and I hope to never do it again.

    i deleted the comments because in my opinion, they began to detract from an otherwise innocent piece. It started with Vance’s first comment above… which I’ve left in its entirety.

    i have nothing against different viewpoints, but i get concerned when I have people emailing me saying they no longer read comments, or stories, or the site at all when comment threads get so off-base.

    thanks.

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  • K'Tesh June 2, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    @Mitch

    Quote:
    I’ve often wished I could pick his brain about who I should call re: e.g. construction signs blocking bike lanes in Beaverton. K’Tesh, if you’re reading this, are there any contact numbers or departments you can cite?
    /Quote

    In my readings of Pedal Power, it would seem that there is unfortunatly little that can be done about construction signs, or construction equipment in bike lanes if it’s part of official road work. If it’s something else, I’d recommend that you try Code Services.

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  • Charles July 10, 2009 at 7:40 am

    I know Jim and have for a long time. K think it’s really ignorant to brand him as a hero for cyclists when he’s “worked” just as hard to give us a bad wrap.

    He has admitted to blinding motorists with his plethora of headlights when he has traveled towards them in parking lots; often weaving in and out as well as against the flow of traffic. It’s important to note that he was involved in a head-on collision with a car where he sued and thesejver’s statement included that they were unable to see due to lights aimed in their face.

    Jim has also taken it upon himself to knock over and push trash cans into traffic because it was trashday and they were blocking his way. Ask him, he’ll admit to that one as well.

    His list of infractions is long and many have been legally documented, including an incident where he rear-ended a car on the off ramp of 217 at BH Hwy headed north. No one in Wasuingtkn County does more to make cyclists look irresponsible and confrontational that Jim Parsons.

    I guess when your mother has to cover your tracks with a plate of cookies or brownies to keep people from suing you for being a jerk, that makes you a bike advocate.

    A pretty one sided piece of reporting as usual Mr. Maus.

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  • K'Tesh August 22, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    @Charles

    You label Jonathan’s article as one sided… Yet you fail in your own reporting.

    I have NEVER been involved in a head on crash with a motorist. I WAS left crossed by a motorist who admitted to full blame in the crash. He told the responding officer that he didn’t even look before making his turn. He was ticketed. The issue of what (or how many) lights I had on at the time was not made any part of the issue. It was reported that it was after dark, and I did have lights turned on. Oh, and I was riding to the right of the center of the lane (near the curb), when he made his turn (not against traffic as you claim).

    You mentioned my crash on Hwy 217′s off-ramp. Yes, I was ticketed, but you forgot to report how that turned out. I went to court and was able to defend myself, without retaining legal services, and acquitted. You didn’t mention the fact that I was RUN into the back of the vehicle, by a truck that suddenly turned into my lane, and was heading straight for me. I crashed while I was trying to avoid being hit from behind.

    As to removing trash cans from sidewalks on trash day, I think that anybody would recognize that the sidewalk is for people. I repeat, People (not trash cans), not peds, not bikes, but people. There is no statewide law, nor citywide law banning bikes on sidewalks. I was EB on Farmington between Hockins, and the Beaverton Highschool, where there are no bike lanes. High traffic counts/speed makes riding in the street very risky through there.

    I’d rather be the “jerk” you talk about than the LYING COWARD that you are.

    LYING because you failed to report the whole truth. I can back both of my responses through public record, or inspection of the area involved.

    COWARD because you don’t admit who you are in your accusations.

    Oh, and you don’t mention any kind of advocacy you’ve done. I’m getting things done around here. I’m not for sitting on my A**, and not doing things that I see that need to be done. I’m not a saint, I’m not perfect, but I’m getting things fixed. I might not make a friend of everyone I encounter, but you cannot say that I’m letting things slide. Apathy will get you nothing.

    Actions! Not Words!

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  • K'Tesh August 22, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    @Charles

    oops… I re-read your accusations… I removed trashcans from the sidewalk, not pushed them into traffic as you claim.

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