Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on January 12th, 2016 at 3:08 pm
One month ago today Martin Greenough died while cycling on NE Lombard at 42nd. Martin was new to our city. In fact, we learned from his housemate that his ride home from work that fateful Saturday evening was very likely the first bike ride he’d ever taken in Portland.
“I am writing to you on behalf of my boyfriend, who died at the NE 42nd and Lombard on Saturday, December 12th and for every other biker who unknowingly chooses to ride in the Lombard bike lane.”
— Melissa Logan, in an email to ODOT Region 1 director Rian Windsheimer
In the past month, a lot has changed for the people who loved Martin. That’s actually a vast understatement. Just weeks before the holidays their lives were thrown into a state of shock and grief that most of us will never understand. But have we — a city of dreamers (like Martin), advocates, planners, politicians, engineers, and citizen activists — changed? More importantly, will the street where Martin died change?
Martin’s girlfriend Melissa Logan wants something to change. We’ve been in touch with her as well as the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance to get the latest on what — if anything — might change after this tragedy.
Lombard (a.k.a. Portland Highway) at 42nd is dangerous by design. It’s a road that looks and feels much more like a freeway where people drive dangerously, often going faster than 50 miles per hour. The section of road where Martin was hit is especially bad. He was under an overpass where there’s a gap in the bike lane. We flagged that gap (and others like it) here on BikePortland in 2013 and a woman filed an official complaint about it (describing the gap as “very terrifying”) with the Oregon Department of Transportation three weeks before Martin’s crash.
Today that gap remains and there are no concrete plans to do anything about it even though it’s a glaring public safety hazard that’s still shown as a recommended bike route on thousands of printed cycling maps people use every day.
The top ODOT official in our area is Region 1 Director Rian Windsheimer. On December 29th, Martin’s girlfriend Melissa Logan emailed Windsheimer with what she referred to as a “small request.”
“Dear Mr. Windsheimer,” she wrote, “I am writing to you on behalf of my boyfriend; Martin Lee Greenough, who died at the NE 42nd and Lombard on Saturday, December 12th and for every other biker who unknowingly chooses to ride in the Lombard bike lane. I have what I feel is a small request that could potentially save the life of a future rider and I’m hoping you can help make it happen.”
Her request was for ODOT to formalize an unpaved sidepath under the overpass and immediately install a sign encouraging people to use it (instead of the pinch-point bike lane gap). As I pointed out in a previous story, there’s ample space for just such a path behind the guardrail to put a path. And judging from the tire tracks I saw while I was at the site, many people already do this (it’s a classic “desire line” if there ever was one).
“Please know we are reviewing the site and looking for opportunities we can get on the ground quickly.”
— Rian Windsheimer, director of ODOT Region 1
Here’s more from Logan’s email to Windsheimer: “This way every biker would have the option to make a choice about their own safety: instead of putting it into the hands of a driver and a vehicle obeying a 45mph speed limit. I know Martin and I know he would have used the shoulder if he had seen such a sign in time.”
Logan wants the sign installed immediately so it can be “a placeholder while the state and the city figure out what else needs to be done to ensure the safety of those using the Lombard bike lane.”
In addition to the sign and the path around the pinch point, Logan wanted to make sure Windsheimer had visited the crash site. “I believe you’d see the logic behind it if you stood against the guardrail by the bridge where the bike lane ends and witnessed the vehicles going by at an average of 50mph,” she wrote. “I can’t even begin to describe how it felt to see it myself. I’d really appreciate it if you’d visit the site. None of this will make much sense until you do.”
Two days later, on New Year’s Eve, Windsheimer responded:
I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for taking the time to share your comments and thoughts about Lombard at 42nd and ideas for improvements there.
I recently visited the site with my Region Traffic Manager, Maintenance Section Manager, Bicycle and Pedestrian Liaison, and Area Manager so that we could all get a first-hand look at the site. These managers and their staffs are considering what opportunities we may have to improve conditions at the site in the short-term and what longer-term improvement ideas should be considered when funding for a larger scale project in the area becomes available. I’ve forwarded your idea for an additional sign to them for consideration.
I really appreciate you taking to time to reach out and share your ideas for improvements. Please know my staff and I take every crash on our system seriously and are continuously looking for opportunities to improve it.
The exact timing of deployment depends greatly on the types of improvements they come up with, but please know we are reviewing the site and looking for opportunities we can get on the ground quickly.”
Yesterday I asked Windsheimer for any further updates and he gave me the same response with the addition of, “I expect the short-term opportunities the team agrees to move forward to be implemented over the next couple of months as weather allows.”
It’s not clear what those “short-term opportunities” might be; but we plan to keep asking until something materializes.
For their part, the BTA launched an online petition on December 14th. Executive Director Rob Sadowsky told me today they’ve collected just over 60 signatures so far. They plan to deliver the signatures and a formal letter calling for bike lanes on Lombard to Windsheimer this Friday.
Related: The man who struck Martin with his car pleaded not guilty on Monday and is being held in jail on $275,000 bail.
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – firstname.lastname@example.org