Holiday Sale at Western Bikeworks

For the love of lights, bus driver wants to throw us a party

Posted by on May 4th, 2009 at 8:50 pm

TriMet bus operator
Dan Christensen.
(Photo courtesy
Dan Christensen)

[The following guest essay was written by TriMet bus operator Dan Christensen. You might remember Dan as the guy who started a petition among bus drivers in opposition to the new bikeways through the Rose Quarter Transit Center. Shortly thereafter, I shared a letter he wrote explaining his position.

If that episode didn’t tell you what an outspoken and candid guy Dan is, the essay below will. It came to me in an email from Dan last week and I got his permission to share it. It’s not earth-shattering, but it’s a nice bit of rare, positive vibes from the other side of the windshield.]



If I had my way right now I would throw a party for all the bicyclists in Portland. There would be horns and streamers and one giant bicycle shaped cake.

Why? Why would I, a bus driver be honoring the bicyclist of Portland? Have I gone crazy? Am I mad? Has some unknown agent from another planet that is hunted by the FBI possessed me? Nope.

Story continues below

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“What is super fantastic is the almost arms race like growth in the quality of the lights.”

I am happy, now let me tell you why.

In the last 6 months I have seen a huge jump in percentage of bicyclist who are using lights at night. No joke, starting about midway through last summer the number of glowing bikes has gone way up. That has prevented many of what I like to call “OH MY GOD!!” moments. I’ve asked around for other drivers to pay attention and they also confirm my observation, a few have even given me head counts.

This is awesome.

Bike Light Parade

(Photo © J. Maus)

But the reason for my total fired up willingness to spring for a city wide bike party is not just more lights… no that’s great, but what is super fantastic is the almost arms race like growth in the quality of the lights.

I’m talking lighted vest, helmets, gloves, undergarments…(just kidding) Bars of lights, spinning lights, pulsing lights, double pulsing lights, cylon light bouncing back and forth lights, pulsing and moving lights. Hey I thought I was high tech when I got a light that went on my helmet but I am falling way behind on the light race. It’s stunning, dazzling and most of all it’s way safe.

There are times that I can see bikes further away then cars. I can look up in the dead of night and say “that my friend, way way way up there is a bicyclist” If anything I may be in danger of being blinded by the OMSI Lightshow like effects that are rolling around Portland. In the name of all that is good, pure and special about our great city.

I say to all of you

GOOD ON YA!!


I’ll keep you posted on the party details. By the way, Dan is a seriously talented guy (beyond driving a bus). He’s the curator of the TriMet Confidential blog and you can follow his fun musings via Twitter @Dan_Christensen (like this one: “Portland cleaned by the rain, Buzzed by the caffeine, made happy voodoo doughnut, Destroyed by rush hour, happy commute everyone!”)

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

30 Comments
  • John Lascurettes May 4, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    It’s impossible to be too visible is my philosophy. Glad to be a ripple in the pond.

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  • Krampus May 4, 2009 at 9:08 pm

    Cool letter, but I still think some people overdo it. Sometimes (on the Corridor at night especially) I’ll have to deal with someone coming my way with one of those MEGA RIDICULOUSLY BRIGHT lights aimed right at my face and I pretty much have to come to a complete stop, put my foot down and wait for them to pass lest I try to ride blindly and crash.

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  • Amos May 4, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    Light ’em up!

    BTW, maybe I missed it along the way but It would be interesting to get Dan’s and other drivers’ take on the Rose Quarter Transit Center bike Situation now that it’s been in place for some time.

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  • gabriel amadeus May 4, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    Yaaaaaaay!

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  • Dan Liu May 4, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    This is awesome. My neighbor awhile back was a TriMet driver, and we talked a couple times about how nervous bus drivers are about not seeing poorly-lit bikers wearing dark clothing.

    German law requires all bikes over 11kg to have a dynamo-based lighting system, which has led to innovations such as auto-on sensors and light optics designed specifically to keep the direct beam out of people’s eyes (you still see a bright spot, but it’s not shining into your face).

    It’d be nice if the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) would update American standards a bit to do something similar. A side-effect of doing so would be to make even department store bikes more suited to daily use.

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  • Joe Rowe May 4, 2009 at 11:07 pm

    Hey Mr. Dan Christensen.

    What do you now think of the green bike path that goes through the Rose Quarter?

    I really hope you can have an open mind, and tell us your thoughts and the other driver’s thoughts. I’m guessing the sky did not fall.

    The 75 feet of green rose quarter paint is the best thing for my cycling in Portland under the categories of a) improved safety b) lower commute time and c) dignity of cyclists to the road we deserved in the first place

    It does little good to write 100 happy letters if you are going to attack the most important safety project for thousands of people.

    ps:Funny thing is that I need to own two white front lights. One that saves my life by blinking and doing the real job. The other light stays on solid because a blinking light does not meet the rule of law in Oregon. Dusty laws and backroads mindsets.

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  • Hart May 5, 2009 at 12:24 am

    I think the PPB handing out lights helped a lot. Kudos to whomever greenlit that one.

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  • Barney May 5, 2009 at 1:59 am

    One day, I left my bike on the bus rack and exited the bus and totally forgot to get my bike. An hour later, I called Trimet and they told me my bike was probably being stashed in deep SE at their facility, but I could try catching that same bus on the next loop. I went back to the bus stop and found my bike still on the rack when the bus pulled up. It was a different driver from before, and this new driver was Dan Christensen. He said that they he could have ditched it at the facility at shift change, but decided to hang onto it for his shift just in case we serendipitously crossed paths. Can’t beat that.

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  • Dan Christensen May 5, 2009 at 6:00 am

    Barney!!! I remember you waiting for the bike. Wow! I’m glad you remembered that day. Hey everyone keep those lights going. Being a safe bus driver is all about giving your self time and space. WHen you are light up well that gives us more time and space to make the right call. So “LIGHT UP PORTLAND” and be seen by everyone.

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  • […] on this blog, we don’t mean it as a good thing. But today, courtesy of Streetsblog Network member Bike Portland, we bring you a windshield perspective that is actually quite helpful. TriMet bus operator Dan […]

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  • Paul Tay May 5, 2009 at 7:18 am

    Well, two can play the cake-making game. {snif} Big bus cake, anyone?

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  • Schrauf May 5, 2009 at 7:26 am

    Great letter Dan. Most cyclists are smart enough to light up, but many are not. Even during the day, flashing lights do wonders for visibility, if they are bright enough.

    I much prefer an excess of lights, to one little flash of neon clothing.

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  • Dave May 5, 2009 at 7:31 am

    Having been a regular night rider since before James Williamson joined the Stooges (bike lighting in 1971 was horrible!) I can only give him an attaboy on this. Bike lighting has improved beyond all recognition and better yet cyclists willingness to use it has improved similarly! Next–when will these morons ditch their art-student black-on-black “lemming suits?”
    Neon yellow saves lives!

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  • 3-speeder May 5, 2009 at 8:26 am

    Thanks to Dan for the letter and to Jonathan for posting it.

    I realized a few months back from casual observation in my inner SE neighborhood that the percentage of bikes which are lit has increased phenomenally. This is a great indication of how bicyclists’ behaviors can change to improve safety. I hope those setting and enforcing bicycle policy and law make effort to understand why this has happened and apply the lessons to other situations.

    BTW – I didn’t realize (as commented by #6) that front blinky lights didn’t meet the letter of the law. Is that accurate? I also use two front lights, one blinking and one not, but for different reasons.

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  • bikieboy May 5, 2009 at 8:27 am

    Joe (#6): “Funny thing is that I need to own two white front lights. One that saves my life by blinking and doing the real job. The other light stays on solid because a blinking light does not meet the rule of law in Oregon.”

    This WAS true until a few (5 or so?) years ago, when the Oregon law said you needed a SOLID beam white light up front. Now the “solid beam” has been removed, & your light just needs to be visible from a certain distance.

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  • David Feldman May 5, 2009 at 8:38 am

    #15, remember that a white front blinker probably won’t let you see the 2×4 in the road that will take you off the bike and let your arm get broken when you hit it. Front white blinkers are NOT headlights.

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  • bahueh May 5, 2009 at 8:42 am

    nice. thanks Dan.
    I witnessed a fellow courteous TriMet driver this morning at SE 10th and Madison…two cyclists went down for some reason (I honestly couldn’t figure out what happened…it was a weird as they apparently collided in the sidewalk area which would have meant one of them was crossing illegally in front of traffic) between two TriMet buses (one stopped at a p/u station, the other on the right side of the bike lane)…..one of the drivers got out to make sure they were OK….which they appeared to be.

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  • philbertorex May 5, 2009 at 9:33 am

    Thanks Dan,

    It’s so nice when someone notices us doing the right thing.

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  • ScottG May 5, 2009 at 9:34 am

    Thanks Dan – regular communication between transit operators and the bicycling community is very good for both of us.

    I’d venture to guess that using hand signals is likely another top behavior we can do to keep each other’s lives running smoothly.

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  • Kt May 5, 2009 at 10:12 am

    Love the hat you’re wearing in the pic, above! 🙂

    Great letter, Dan. It’s nice to know our lights are doing one of their intended jobs, that of making us be seen! 🙂

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  • […] on this blog, we don’t mean it as a good thing. But today, courtesy of Streetsblog Network member Bike Portland, we bring you a windshield perspective that is actually quite helpful. TriMet bus operator Dan […]

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  • Drew May 5, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    These days the lights available are better than ever before because of LED technology. My generator light is so bright that at times I am wondering if a car is following me.

    I always wear a highway worker safety vest. It helps get the attention of distracted drivers. I would support a law requiring installed lights (or better yet integrated into the bike design) on all bikes sold for use on the street, but I have not heard of any lawmakers in the US agitating for that.

    Bright lights dazzling the eyes of others can be a problem. My light is like a low beam, with a sharp cutoff so little light goes up in the trees or in the eyes of oncoming riders (Edelux). But if I am coming over a rise, it can shine into someones eyes, and some have complained to me. I wear a cycling cap at night to protect my eyes from brilliant lights; it works quite well for cars and bikes.

    It’s encouraging to hear about the trend toward more lighting. Thanks Dan!

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  • Dan Christensen May 5, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    Oh and yes Hand signals are also on the rise. It warms my heart to see them. I ride my bike to work and I even sometimes forget. It’s one of those get in the habit stay in the habit things.

    Even a bus driver has stuff to learn.

    Thanks for all the good feedback

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  • Dan Christensen May 5, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    Oh and yes Hand signals are also on the rise. It warms my heart to see them. I ride my bike to work and I even sometimes forget. It’s one of those get in the habit stay in the habit things.

    Even a bus driver has stuff to learn.

    Thanks for all the good feedback

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  • beth h May 5, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    My brother-in-law also drives for TriMet, and not only has thanked me for being visible, but for riding predictably (using hand signals to indicate turning, also slowing or stopping) and for trying to use alternate routes that avoid bus-heavy streets (Hint: Rodney has no buses and is greener and quieter than Williams).

    I believe that TriMet drivers have a tough job and only want all road-users to arrive at their destinations safely. I applaud them for doing a challenging job well.

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  • Carl May 5, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    Re: #6 (“The other light stays on solid because a blinking light does not meet the rule of law in Oregon. Dusty laws and backroads mindsets.”)

    Don’t worry, #14. The only thing dusty here is Joe Rowe’s crotchety memory of the law. Blinky lights are NOT prohibited by Oregon law. To the contrary, they’re sold and encouraged in Judge Chris Larson’s Share the Road Safety Class and no cop will ever give you a hard time for using a good bright front blinky.

    Here’s the language as found in ORS 815.280 section 1:

    (c) At the times described in the following, a bicycle or its rider must be equipped with lighting equipment that meets the described requirements:
    (A) The lighting equipment must be used during limited visibility conditions.
    (B) The lighting equipment must show a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front of the bicycle.

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  • buglas May 5, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    On the headlight issue, I run in blinky mode when I need to be seen – overcast, drizzle, etc. but when I can still easily spot those 2×4’s ahead of me. I go steady on when I need my light to see the road.

    Dan, when I’m behind a bus at a light for a left turn lane, I put myself squarely in the driver’s mirror – usually on the left. During the turn, I move across and make a point of showing up in the right side mirror. Any thoughts or recommendations on that?

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  • Dan Christensen May 5, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    Dear Buglas

    Yes that is awesome. Passing busses on the left side is risky because they have a blind spot behind the driver.

    Your Left side stop, Right side travel makes you more easy to see.

    One other thing to watch out for is speed of passing on the right. Our Mirrors are curved on the right so we see a wider field. That makes bikes very small.

    Check out this link, In under five seconds the bike that is a little dot in the mirror passed me on the right. I have to move to the right lane when the light turns green so this is a danger area.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/48998917@N00/3328273045/

    As A bus driver we check our mirrors every seven to nine seconds. sometimes more and sometimes less. A driver just sitting at a light could make a move and not even see the bike until too late.

    Wow I can just go on and on about this.

    Lets recap

    Yes wait on the left, travel on the right.
    If you pass a bus on the right be aware of your speed and remember you are 1/3 side in the bus mirror.

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  • Brad Reber May 6, 2009 at 7:44 am

    Dan, have you considered doing a “How to ride safely around buses” event during Pedalpalooza? If you add an event before Friday it will still make it into the printed calendar. I’d show up for something like that.

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  • Dan Christensen May 7, 2009 at 1:55 am

    Hey Brad Reber great idea. I just signed up to do the last day of pedalpalooza. I will pull some strings to see if I can get a bus so people can sit in the drivers seat and see what is going on. Weeeee great idea.

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