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Activists (temporarily) take the swing out of TriMet’s swing gates

Posted by on February 2nd, 2016 at 11:54 am

gates
TriMet’s swing gates at SE 11th are working as intended again as of this morning.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The latest chapter in swing gate-gate wasn’t open for long.

Elle Steele tries to open
the gate for her and
her bike.

Ever since TriMet announced plans to install manual gates on the path that crosses their new Orange Line MAX in inner southeast Portland, people have not been pleased. The gates require users to pull them open and — in addition to the permanent barrier they cause in the path (they are closed whether a train is coming or not) — concerns have been raised that the gates would be difficult for people with disabilities and cumbersome bicycles to easily use.

Turns out those concerns were warranted. Videos we published last week show a man in a motorized wheelchair having significant difficulty opening one of the gates. In two other videos, women with large cargo bikes full of children are seen struggling to pull open the gates and get through.

On Sunday afternoon transportation activists decided to take matters into their own hands.

People working on behalf of PDX Transformation, the same secretive group that put out traffic cones to protect a bike lane back in December, propped open the gates on Sunday and then announced their action on Twitter. An anonymous representative from the group told us they used steel cable and ferrules to do the job. They made sure to not damage any TriMet property and the gates were re-opened shortly after by the transit agency.

Reached this morning, a TriMet official said: “We were aware of this… Having the gates propped open does not help with our data gathering. We ask that people not tamper with these safety devices.”

That data gathering is part of an ongoing analysis of the new gates being performed by TriMet to determine their effectiveness. Despite being told numerous times by official advisory groups that the gates would be problematic for the community, TriMet installed them anyways out of concern for path users’ safety. It remains to be seen if they’ll change course.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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61 Comments
  • Ted Timmons (Contributor) February 2, 2016 at 11:56 am

    “data gathering”.

    what does that mean?

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    • Adam H. February 2, 2016 at 12:02 pm

      Collecting videos of people having trouble opening the gates?

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    • Buzz February 2, 2016 at 12:20 pm

      seeing how many people get hit by trains after being distracted by the gates?

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    • Spiffy February 2, 2016 at 1:44 pm

      probably to see if fewer people cross when the train is coming…

      I would think it would just delay those same people and make them come closer to being hit by a train…

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    • Granpa February 2, 2016 at 3:03 pm

      “data gathering”.what does that mean

      It means on-the-job-training

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  • Tom Hardy February 2, 2016 at 11:59 am

    I will stick to the traffic lanes in this area with the drop gates. If I am hit by a motorist, they will wish it had been a train.

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    • Adam H. February 2, 2016 at 12:11 pm

      The 11th/12th/Milwaukie/Clinton intersection is incredibly confusing. Approaching from the west, is one supposed stay on the sidewalk, or ride into the bike box in the busway? There is a bike signal, but the sign says “bikes use ped crossing”. Does one follow the arrow signal, the bike signal, or the ped signal? Once in the intersection, does one follow the roadway or ride onto the sidewalk?

      The problem here is PBOT/TriMet understandably wanted to give people different options, but in doing so, just created more confusion. For this reason, it’s better to give people only one really great option, rather than two mediocre ones.

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      • Jason Markantes February 2, 2016 at 12:48 pm

        You also can’t even see the bike signal when in the bike box in the bus lane. Incredibly frustrating, as my route continues straight, taking the lane onto Gideon.

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        • Adam H. February 2, 2016 at 12:54 pm

          It’s better than before, though. The bike signal used to be on the overhead signal arm and now it’s on a post on the sidewalk. Apparently, if heading straight, you’re supposed to follow the arrow signals at the far end of the intersection. This is not obvious, though. I had to ask someone at PBOT to learn this.

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        • Carrie February 2, 2016 at 2:11 pm

          If you continue strait onto Gideon (aka, want to stay in the road lane), do NOT follow the green bike signal. Because that is timed for users of the crosswalk — if you are using the road lanes and follow the bike green, it dumps you right into conflict with car drivers turning left on to northbound 12th Ave from the little tiny lane that is Clinton St at 11th Ave.

          Which is why that intersection sucks. If you are in the bike box in the bus lane, follow the “auto” signals. If you are in the bike lane (on the sidewalk!) to turn left/right onto 12th/Clinton, then follow the bike signals. But so NOT intuitive.

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  • redtech116 February 2, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    what bone head came up with these??
    that same bone head the placed giant control boxes that block the view right before a cross walk on that new tri-met bridge…
    Tri-Met really needs some new leadership from outside the establish norm of people from other government agencies.

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  • Dan February 2, 2016 at 12:18 pm

    I wonder what the liability issues around these sorts of vigilante actions might be…traffic cones are one thing, disabling a safety device is something else.

    The professionals at Trimet and PBOT might not always get it right, but I’d rather have them making the decisions than some anonymous collective.

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    • JeffS February 2, 2016 at 12:46 pm

      Safety device?

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      • shirtsoff February 2, 2016 at 2:56 pm

        I can’t stop laughing at the word choice either.

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        • wsbob February 2, 2016 at 8:52 pm

          You think ” Safety Device” used in reference to this gate design is funny? I wish you’d had the consideration to explain why you think so. This gate design, one that requires persons crossing at this point to manually open the gate, definitely qualifies it as a functional safety device.

          The design may lack for some refinements that could make it less awkward to use. It’s too bad the people bikeportland refers to in this story as a ‘secretive group’, instead of disabling the gate design’s function, didn’t try a more imaginative modification to the gate’s operation that would have allowed it to be more easily opened, still allowing it to close once people had passed through.

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          • Tom Hardy February 2, 2016 at 11:44 pm

            “Functional safety device!” Don’t you mean a functional unsafe device.

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    • 9watts February 2, 2016 at 12:46 pm

      “disabling a safety device”
      hahahaha

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      • q`Tzal February 2, 2016 at 8:21 pm

        It’s an “unsafety” device.

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  • Nick February 2, 2016 at 12:25 pm

    I think these gates are bad, but the lady with the cargo bike seems like one of those people on infomercials that make things look 10x more frustrating than they really are. Couldn’t she just have stood to the left of her bike instead of the right? Looks like it would’ve been dramatically easier that way. Anyone who’s walked through a door with a stroller or other unwieldy device figures this out quite intuitively, so I feel like she wasn’t really being genuine.

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    • Brian February 2, 2016 at 12:58 pm

      “I totally want to jump up and help, but that defeats the purpose.” How about saying, “You’re on the wrong side of your bike!!!” Wow.

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    • Kath Youell February 2, 2016 at 9:08 pm

      I’m sorry it looks that way, but maybe if you went on vacation, solo-parenting 2 little children, pedaled them around town in bad weather in 2 different long-john style bikes in 2 days, then on the last day took the 2nd bike out in POURING rain to try to help out a friend you would have some idea of what she was doing. She’d had that bike for less than 24 hours and it was the first time she’d tried to go through those gates. She was being filmed, which while voluntary still adds pressure. She started from the side of the bike that the gate handle was on which made perfect sense to me; my arms are shorter than average, are yours longer than average?

      Maybe go to Clever Cycles, take the Douze out for a test ride, and get someone to film you giving it a shot? Don’t forget to include a live load that will shift and drenching rain.

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      • Eric Leifsdad February 3, 2016 at 7:40 am

        And be sure to ask to borrow the high-viz hook pole so you have it as a fallback. I think walnut makes a leather hook pole carrier that straps behind your seatpost, not sure if clever has any in stock yet.

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      • Adam H. February 3, 2016 at 4:30 pm

        Clever Cycles doesn’t sell swing-gate-opening hooks? 😉

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      • Mao February 3, 2016 at 11:50 pm

        Little snippy there, adding on the extra reasons only makes for a weaker argument on why this is a bad ‘safety device’. Cargo bikes are surprisingly unwieldy to those not used to them even with nothing is a good enough point.

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    • wsbob February 2, 2016 at 9:11 pm

      “…but the lady with the cargo bike seems like one of those people on infomercials that make things look 10x more frustrating than they really are. …” nick

      Some of the infomercials’ over-dramatizing can be too funny. Maybe the people that produced the video you’re referring to, should have thought the gate passage procedure through a bit, to eliminate the obvious oversight they made you readily saw.

      It’s fair though, to thoughtfully critique Trimet’s r&d…research and development efforts on these gates design operation. The design has to support the manual abilities which may vary widely, of all the different types of people in need of passing through these gates. Conceivably, there likely is a fairly simple, economical design mod that will allow the manual operation of this gate by these people.

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    • TopHat February 2, 2016 at 9:28 pm

      I am a lady with a big cargo bike and I definitely have one side that is stronger in keeping my bike up than the other and so I heavily depend on that side from propping up and balancing my bike when maneuvering it. I imagine that’s true for most people. If I were you, I wouldn’t judge people based on my perception what I think should be their dominant side.

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      • devograd February 2, 2016 at 10:40 pm

        Same here! Nick’s comment had me wondering if I was the only one who favored one side of my cargo bike over the other.–Caitlin

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    • Shane February 2, 2016 at 9:28 pm

      It’s called “doing the best you can”.
      The gates are too difficult with any of these kinds of loads.

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    • Shirley February 2, 2016 at 9:29 pm

      Moving a very large bike with kids and holding a gate is not an easy task. Now you may think, “Well, have those kids get out”. Nope, with small kids, it’s safer they stay in the cargo part of the bike. It’s pretty disappointing when people assume how easy it is without trying it out for themselves. If you are up for a challenge borrow a cargo bike, load it something precious and do it all by yourself. So, as someone who has similar experience that video is NOT and exaggeration.

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    • Elle February 2, 2016 at 9:34 pm

      Hi, Nick. That lady is me. I highly doubt that changing sides would not have helped. The issue was that I couldn’t get the gate open on my own, keep it open, and then reach far enough back to get the bike off the kickstand and steer the bike through them. I couldn’t move the bike any closer because then I wouldn’t have been able to open the gate.

      While I’m glad that other people might see a better way to do that, I was simply trying to get through a gate. You could try to recreate the whole scene but there’s a good chance that your body proportions are different. A heavy, 8′ long bike with 100lbs of wiggly cargo, balancing on two wheels with linkage steering 4′ back is very different from a stroller that will self balance as you steer.

      So, thanks, guys, for the awesome mansplaining but all that video was was me doing what I could. Unless you guys want to stand there at the gate the whole time telling people how they should be doing things differently, people are going to deal with the gates the best way they can.

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      • Elle February 2, 2016 at 9:35 pm

        ***I highly doubt that changing sides would have helped

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      • Mike Reams February 3, 2016 at 7:58 am

        Apparently “Shirley” is mansplaining.

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        • Ted Timmons (Contributor) February 3, 2016 at 9:13 am

          Apparently “Shirley” is mansplaining.

          say what? Shirley is sharing her experience and replying to an uninformed post by Nick. Elle is sharing her experience and replying to an uninformed post by Nick (not replying to Shirley).

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    • EricIvy February 3, 2016 at 10:02 am

      If it would have been an infomercial, they would have been hit by the train, and the bystander would throw her arms up in the air, rolling her eyes, “Gee thanks Trimet!”

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  • colton February 2, 2016 at 12:32 pm

    “We ask that people not tamper with these safety devices” (Tri-met)

    Ask all you want but remember that we asked that these gates not be installed in the first place.

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  • Todd Boulanger February 2, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    Perhaps better would be taking a page out of the “Elly Blue et al” ‘super legal’ playbook…there could be a peak hour concierge / valet by PDX Transformation…

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  • JeffS February 2, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    Determining the effectiveness of what?

    Oh look. No oblivious people walked in front of the train today. 100% effective.

    Next project… mandatory nose helmets. Zero noses broken. 100% effective.

    ——–

    Let’s not over-think this people. Trimet is stealing the right-of-way, not protecting you. Like a highway bisecting the city and cutting off access.

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  • 9watts February 2, 2016 at 12:49 pm

    interferes with our data gathering… Seems to me if their data gathering were worth anything this tampering would be a major data point to gather.

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  • ethan February 2, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    It appears that the “look both ways” sign is purely informational and not binding. I’m thinking that opening gates and pushing a bike into an oncoming train would be a good way to show Trimet that swing gates are not the solution, especially because they can open when a train is coming.

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    • Dan February 2, 2016 at 1:05 pm

      Since you’ve obviously really thought this out, I think you should go ahead and give it a try.

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      • ethan February 2, 2016 at 1:06 pm

        I’m not saying it’s a good idea. But it would get Trimet’s attention.

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  • Spiffy February 2, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    the gates were re-opened shortly after by the transit agency.

    you mean they were re-closed…

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  • Adam February 2, 2016 at 1:09 pm

    What do they mean by data gathering?

    Are they video recording the gates and having students analyze?

    If so, what are their analysis criteria? How many people out of 100 need to not be able to use the gates for them to be considered a fail?

    Surely, with the Americans With Disabilities Act, the gates being a barrier to even *one* person on a wheelchair would be a fail?

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    • wsbob February 2, 2016 at 9:29 pm

      Those are fair questions you’re asking. Apparently today, in response to the secret groups’ cabling of these gates, someone from bikeportland contacted Trimet to find out what the transit agency knew about the situation:

      “…Reached this morning, a TriMet official said: “We were aware of this… Having the gates propped open does not help with our data gathering. We ask that people not tamper with these safety devices.” bikeportland

      Did bikeportland’s staff ask about the “…data gathering…” the Trimet official mentioned, and which a number of people commenting to this story have also asked about?

      Readers of bikeportland need to know what efforts Trimet is making to refine the operation of these gates’ design to satisfactorily meet the needs of all people making this crossing, if the transit agency is able and willing to answer questions to that effect.

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      • Opus the Poet February 4, 2016 at 12:42 am

        Ordinarily I don’t agree much with wsbob, but this time I do. If they are going to use “data gathering” as an excuse, then hold their feet to the fire as to exactly what kind of data they are gathering, and how.

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  • m February 2, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    They should just write a bunch of letters to Hales. That is guaranteed to work. 😉

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  • Jim Lee February 2, 2016 at 3:17 pm

    What is Leah Treat’s position on these?

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  • BeavertonRider February 2, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    Hmmmm…

    So bikeportland.org appears to be critical of the homeowners association on the waterfront for closing thr gate and blocking the path arguing that the association had no right.

    But here, despite a very clear act of civil disobedience, bikeportland.org is silent on the appropriateness of propping the gates open.

    Intetesting difference in treatment here.

    I would have thought I’d have some seen similar treatment in that this group is very clearly doing something they lack the authority to do just as bikeportland.org was critical of that homeowners association.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) February 2, 2016 at 4:42 pm

      BeavertonRider,

      Thanks for the comments. I was never “critical” of the homeowners blocking that gate. You might have perceived my coverage as being critical, but if I recall I was merely pointing out what they were doing… exactly what I’m doing here. I do have biases and sometimes they get the better of me, so if I’m mistaken and you can share a specific passage that shows how I’ve unfairly represented these issues, I’d love to see it.

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      • BeavertonRider February 3, 2016 at 12:23 am

        Not so much you, but Michael’s comments iirc

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      • Mike Reams February 3, 2016 at 8:00 am

        Gotta agree with Jonathan here. The story may have been a little slanted or biased (we all write from our own perspective) but, seemed to be heavy on facts and light on editorializing. The comments section is another thing entirely.

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    • wsbob February 4, 2016 at 1:01 pm

      I feel also that bikeportland’s coverage of the ‘houseless camps on the waterfront path’ issue was basically neutral, or maybe more importantly, ‘equally balanced’ in representing the positions of parties involved. Path users are faced with problems on that path, so are condo owners. Both got decent coverage in bikeportland stories That situation definitely poses a dilemma for people that’s wrong for the city to have allowed to fester.

      The bikeportland stories on the light rail crossing gates at SE 11th, I think have focused way too much on criticism of Trimet’s selection of the gate design presently being used at that crossing, without enough reporting on Trimet’s reasoning for that design, or on procedures the agency is using to get a sense of how effective the design is, and how well people are able to use the gates.

      Neutrality and balance in reporting has been lacking in the stories about the 11th Ave gates. Whether intended or not, the reporting has suggested an objective by way of the stories to rally public opinion against Trimet’s use of any gate at this crossing, and particularly this design.

      I’d like to think people need, or at least want, to know much more about infrastructure design choices, than that people like or don’t like the choice made.

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  • Lance P February 2, 2016 at 4:22 pm

    Thank you superheroes!

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  • Randy February 2, 2016 at 6:32 pm

    The gates are bandaids for poor design. Time for over or underpasses for bikes in that area, especially when or if new bridge traffic picks up.

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  • Mike Sanders February 3, 2016 at 12:35 am

    I have wondered why sliding gates weren’t considered, like the ones you see at supermarkets. Takes up less room. Push a button, gate slides open. Makes sense to me.

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  • EricIvy February 3, 2016 at 10:08 am

    There’s open track crossings all over the place in that vicinity. The fact that they installed one or two sets of gates just makes it all the more confusing, annoying and maddening to me. If they are a needed “safety device” then they should be everywhere.

    IMO, if someone is silly enough to try crossing tracks without looking, they are most likely silly enough to walk through a swing gate, and then again cross tracks without looking.

    PS- I’m very opposed to these swing gates and love what PDX Transformation is doing.

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  • Aaron February 3, 2016 at 2:27 pm

    A lot of people have already responded. I’ll add my voice to those being ‘mansplained by those unaware of what it’s like to haul cargo by bike. Even being a full able-bodied adult I experienced a lot of trouble the one time I was inadvertently routed through the gates. I can’t imagine what someone with a 250lb cargo bike must go through. Calling these gates a safety device when they put vulnerable people at *greater* risk is more then laughable. This is just Trimet flexing it’s muscles against bike riders and the disabled.

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  • Scott H February 3, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    TriMet is digging in with their data collection excuse? TriMet, if you want to collect something, go collect the dog turds that people are leaving on the Tilikum.

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  • Opus the Poet February 4, 2016 at 12:40 am

    Do I have to bring my welding torch from TX to do a 3 minute job?

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  • Mark smith February 4, 2016 at 7:40 am

    Kind of like when a benefits agent told me it took three hours to encrypt my file. Just making stuff up.

    Some well meaning at time put up a bone head idea and convinced the other non riding or non walking people to spend a bunch of money for safety. Probably how we got the worst route onto the tilicum.

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