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Guest article: From sadness to action

Posted by on October 23rd, 2007 at 2:37 pm

[This is a guest article by Greg Raisman. Greg is a Traffic Safety Program Specialist with the Community and School Traffic Safety Partnership at the Portland Office of Transportation. I have worked closely with him on many issues over the years and I have never met anyone more committed or who worked harder to turn their passion and expertise into real, positive change. I hope his personal story and call for action helps move us all forward.]


(Photo © Jonathan Maus)

Too many people have been touched by tragic bicycle crashes. We must renew our vigilance to work together to make our roads as safe as possible and our resolve to operate our vehicles in a way that reduces our chance of having a crash.

Each of these is harsh. There’s always a huge web of pain. There’s always a heightened amount of fear. There’s always hope that it will bring something good. Let me give you a personal view of one crash.

I’m part of the circle of people who know all too well how painful these tragedies are. This February will mark ten years since I learned that harsh and sudden lesson. I was playing racquetball when two friends came to take me to the hospital because my roommate had been in a “bad accident.”

It turned out that Don was hit about a block away from home – by two cars. He was so disfigured that I had to take a photo of him to the hospital so the nurses could see what he looked like. We were in Indiana and his family lived in Colorado. So, I took care of Don’s needs until his family arrived more than a day later.

“Speaking from experience, I can tell you that you can do something to make our streets safer.”
–Greg Raisman

What a terrible day. When I first saw Don, it really didn’t matter if he was on his bike, walking or in his car. The fact was that he was another traffic crash victim. I stayed in the waiting room for a while, greeting our friends as they arrived. They had lots of questions and talking a little before going into the room seemed to help. I had to go through his address book and call his other friends that I knew he was keeping in touch with.

His family arrived and had the conversation with the hospital about turning off life support. I can’t imagine the pain involved with making the decision to stop the machines.

After Don died, I remained the contact point. When people die, hospitals stop giving out information. As the contact person, I received the call from the student who laid the lethal blow in the crash. His pain was something I’d never heard before. Then, I helped his mom pack his stuff.

I flew to Denver for the funeral, met his other circle of friends, his family, and I found a new resolve. After a lot of work on advocacy and activism for poverty, homelessness, and environmental issues I decided it was time to change my focus.

Speaking from experience, I can tell you that you can do something to make our streets safer. Volunteer. Start your own effort. Support funding efforts that provide the necessary resources. Attend every street project meeting you can. Join the huge network of people who are working hard to make Portland or the streets where you live safe and pleasant. Remember that as we increase safety for the most vulnerable roadway users, we increase safety for everyone.

Be the change.


Greg Raisman
SE Portland

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  • David Guettler October 23, 2007 at 2:59 pm

    Thank you, Greg, for a touching point of view.
    At times like these I struggle with what I think the accident victim would want me to do. The only thing I\’m pretty sure of is they would not want me to do nothing. It is hard to come up with something postive and constructive.

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  • Adam Robins October 23, 2007 at 3:08 pm

    Thank you for relaying that personal experience. Too often these things get wrapped up in acrimonious battles over who \”has a right to the road\” when actual people get hurt. Your story brings this back to the personal. I think often about those who get in fatal crashes with automobiles. I was lucky when I got hit that I only ended up with some occasional arthritis and a disfigured fingertip.

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  • BURR October 23, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    Greg, from your position in PDOT, the actions you personally could take would be to immediately stop the design and installation of death-trap right-hook bike lanes, and immediately begin the process of removing or redesigning those bike lanes already in place.

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  • Greg Raisman October 23, 2007 at 3:18 pm


    From your personal involvement in these issues, you know that our office is constantly working to improve the safety of the streets. You\’ve disagreed over time with some of our decisions or the decisions of others that you\’ve worked in advocacy and advisory roles with. But, that doesn\’t mean that you\’re not heard or that we\’re not looking to ways to address the issues you\’re concerned about.

    Thanks for the significant amount of work you\’ve done over time to make cycling here better. Please keep it up.


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  • BURR October 23, 2007 at 3:47 pm

    sounds like the status quo isn\’t changing anytime soon, that\’s really too bad.

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  • Mick October 23, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    Although I think it\’s great that Greg has devoted his life to furthering the cause of bike safety, these incidents demand action from all of us. The Portland Police Department is not going to enforce any of the existing laws with regard to the bike lane unless we do something about it. We need some sort of community action. Some public accounting of how many people have been cited for driving into the bike lane. We can\’t accept that there can be such a thing as a \”blind spot\” on vehicles that can kill us. The burden is on motor vehicles to follow the law and we have to figure out how to get the PPD to enforce it.

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  • PoPo October 23, 2007 at 3:59 pm


    Thanks for making yourself vulnerable and sharing a tragic personal experience with us. As you and everyone who has worked in govenment knows, these issues are always, always more complicated than they seem at first glance, and change requires patient, reasonable persistance. Thank you for devoting so much time and energy and emotion toward making us all safer. And thank you for maintaining such a professional demeanor, even when challenged by impatient people you are doing your best to help.

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  • Mmann October 23, 2007 at 4:04 pm


    What I appreciate most about your personal story is how you point out the ripple effects these tragedies have. It\’s easy to villify the anonymous (ie \”the driver\”) and, whether he\’s at fault or not, he\’s got to be hurt by this in a deep way as well. More than once as a driver I\’ve had close calls and, thank God, no one was hurt. But I always wonder afterwards what it would be like to live with it if I made some really dumb mistake and someone else got hurt or killed. I pray I never find out. I\’m not excusing if there\’s blame, but just acknowledging there\’s more than one tragedy here.

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  • Kirsty October 23, 2007 at 4:40 pm

    Thanks Greg for sharing with us.

    I just want to reiterate a point Greg made about the importance of getting involved in issues you care about if you do have the time.

    Whether it\’s volunteering a couple of hours a week to help as a chaperone teaching bicycle safety to kids for Safer Routes to Schools programmes, or showing up to your neighbourhood meetings, open houses & the like and making your voice heard when you can, it does make a difference!

    As a member of the PDOT team working currently on the 82nd Avenue of Roses High Crash Corridor Safety Project, I have to say that good, consistent community feedback has been absolutely invaluable in helping us identify and then choose where to make critical safety improvements along the corridor.

    For info on transportation-related events going on, try –


    Kirsty Hall
    Community and Schools Traffic Safety Partnership
    City of Portland Office of Transportation

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  • BURR October 23, 2007 at 5:10 pm

    @ #8 I wonder if the PDOT engineers who are striping these bike lanes really feel as bad as the surviving drivers of the trucks do.

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  • C9 October 23, 2007 at 5:23 pm

    I\’m not sure I understand why you are vilifying Greg.

    He strikes me as being eminently \”on our side.\”

    You, on the other hand, strike me as being eminently naive and unrealistic if you seriously believe that Greg as an individual has the ability to

    \”immediately stop the design and installation of death-trap right-hook bike lanes, and immediately begin the process of removing or redesigning those bike lanes already in place.\”

    WTF? Do you think it\’s up to just one person?

    Affecting change involves cooperation, persistence and patience. I fail to see how you are being constructive in any way.

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  • Adam Robins October 23, 2007 at 5:28 pm

    I\’ve met Greg and I\’ve gone riding with Greg and I see no way Greg could ever ignore any chance to improve bike safety. His heart and his head are in the right place, and he works daily on these issues.

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  • Susan Otcenas October 23, 2007 at 5:31 pm


    Thank you for sharing this story.

    PLEASE, submit your article as a guest editorial to the Oregonian. More people than those who read this site need to read your words and take them to heart.


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  • Hal Ballard October 23, 2007 at 5:39 pm


    Thank you for writing so thoughtfully and making this a pronouncement. Requests may often be brushed aside with reason or excuse, not to be a judge, but telling folks to step up and make a difference is what is needed.
    Thank you.

    Washington County Coordinator,
    http://www.andwebike.com campaign

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  • Dan (teknotus) October 23, 2007 at 5:46 pm

    There are meetings that you can attend. There is one tonight, and another tomorrow night.

    N Portland
    Tonight, 10/23, 7 – 9 pm
    Rosa Parks Elementary School
    8960 N Woolsey

    NW Portland
    Wednesday, 10/24, 7 – 9 pm
    Metropolitan Learning Center
    2033 NW Glisan


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  • BURR October 23, 2007 at 6:12 pm

    C9, the city has had many opportunities over the years to revisit their design standards for bike lanes and other road treatments for cyclists. Many flaws in their designs remain uncorrected years after being brought to the city\’s attention.

    I\’m also wondering when the city will finally introduce a meaningful motorist education campaign aimed at improving motorist behavior in the vicinty of cyclists on the road, this is something else that we\’ve been waiting years for, but haven\’t yet seen.

    It\’s really too bad this month\’s tragedies are required to finally force these issues.

    I know Greg doesn\’t have the power to act alone and the bureaucratic process is slow, but when is the appropriate time to act if not now?

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  • C9 October 23, 2007 at 7:23 pm

    I appreciate and agree with your most recent post (#16).

    I very much respect the strength of your convictions. I just think we need to keep our eye on the ball, rather than being personally antagonistic to those who are doing some truly good work. From Greg\’s response to you in these comments, it would seem that you can count yourself among that group.

    Hopefully we can work together as a community to affect some positive change from these awful tragedies.

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  • Sarah October 23, 2007 at 8:33 pm

    Thank you Greg for this story. I admit, reading the coverage of these last couple of “accidents” has really scared me and made me feel powerless against such collisions. Your article is a positive reminder that I need to get actively involved in these issues. I can’t just read bikeportland.org and hope for change to emerge from the work of others (although this site is fantastic-kudos to you Jonathan). Thank you.

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  • wsbob October 23, 2007 at 10:09 pm

    Greg Raisman\’s words give me a sense of confidence that he\’s well qualified to help solve motor vehicle/bicycle challenges facing people in this city.

    Naturally, everyone wants a prompt, effective solution to dangerous situations often occurring where motor vehicles and bikes are together. It looks as though the problem defies a simple solution, so everybody is going to have to set their jaw and work hard on this if a workable solution ever is to come about.

    Motorists and bicyclists in the Portland Metro area are a long ways from adequately acknowledging each others presence on public roadways. Any traffic management engineering or laws implemented to address ever present potential danger between these two types of vehicles will always come second to this essential acknowledgment.

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  • Kris October 23, 2007 at 11:50 pm

    I concur with wsbob that education and increased awareness about traffic safety issues, current traffic laws, and the \”share the road\” concept should be our first focus. Directed to both the motorist and cyclist population, and in extension to our elected officials and the law enforcement community. It seems a more productive approach, one that I suspect more people are willing to embrace. Making changes to traffic laws or the guidelines for traffic infrastructure design might ultimately be required as well, but it will take more time and patience. And they\’ll only be effective if the prevailing attitudes (and sometimes outright ignorance) with motorists and cyclists alike have changed as well.

    Just my 2c.

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  • […] Guest article: From sadness to actionPosted by Jonathan Maus on October 23rd, 2007 at 2:37 pm [This is a guest article by Greg Raisman. […]

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  • […] From Bike Portland.org: Guest article: From sadness to action […]

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  • Lenny Anderson October 24, 2007 at 10:45 am

    With all due respect, bike lanes still end willy/nilly (NE Multnomah between Grand & MLK); commerical parking is valued higher that bikers live & limb (NE 7th avenue north of Weidler), signals allow too much speed (NE Broadway/Weidler)and motorists haven\’t a clue that they are on a \”Bike Boulevard\” (NE Tillamook.\” And this is just on my little ride to the Rose Quarter…where all bikers are \”outlaws\” and there are only four bike lockers.
    There are probably a thousand little fixes out there that are just not being made. What\’s the hang up? Are we waiting for the Bike Master Plan?
    Commissioner Adams needs to move as fast on this as he did on zebra crosswalks and 20 MPH postings in commercial districts after a pedestrian was run down on NW 23rd two years ago.

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  • […] we can do is speak and take action. Greg Raisman, perhaps, put it better than I will be able to. The message is the same. Talk to people. Take […]

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  • Meghan October 25, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    If only all drivers were like my husband — he said to me recently, \”I drive with the idea that every bicyclist I encounter is you.\”

    If every car driver could see someone they love in the bicyclists they share the roads with…that would be a great thing.

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