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Rider injured on Hawthorne Bridge shares her side of the story

Posted by on May 11th, 2009 at 9:01 am

Erica Rothman as of this morning.
(Self-portrait)

24-year old North Portland resident Erica Rothman was on her way to get a tattoo on Wednesday evening when a collision with another bike rider on the westbound side of the Hawthorne Bridge sent her to the Emergency Room (read accounts from an eyewitness and from the man she collided with).

Fortunately, despite tumbling onto the bridge’s coarse metal grating, Rothman sustained only scrapes and bruises. She was discharged from the ER Wednesday night with 17 stitches on her face, two staples in her elbow, and some major road rash on her shoulder.

Story continues below

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“My final recollection is of a dude, a young guy on a bike, speeding by me very quickly… we knocked handlebars… I lost my balance and was trying to compensate… and then I saw the grate coming at me…”
— Erica Rothman

On the phone Saturday she said her face was very swollen. “I look like a manatee,” she said, and in an email she wrote, “It’s so swollen my mom may not recognize me.” Despite her injuries Rothman is in good spirits. “Day by day I’m getting better,” she said, “It’s traumatizing and inconvenient, but it will heal with time.”

Rothman is thankful she’ll make a full recovery and expects to be up and riding again in a few weeks, but she’s concerned about her medical bills and the loss of her beloved bike.

Rothman says her memory of the incident is a bit hazy due to the painkillers she was given at the scene by EMTs, but from what she can recall, her crash was caused by one man’s dangerous riding.

According to Rothman, she was riding along in the middle of the bridge pathway when she noticed some pedestrians ahead. “I like to give pedestrians a lot of space,” she recalled, and so she started to veer over to the left. Before doing so, she said she quickly checked over her shoulders and saw a few bikers, “but no one that seemed to be coming up super fast.”

hawthorne bridge scene

Heading east on the
Hawthorne Bridge.
(Photo © J. Maus)

“My final recollection,” she continued, “is of a dude, a young guy on a bike, speeding by me very quickly…we knocked handlebars…I lost my balance and was trying to compensate…and then I saw the grate coming at me…”

Rothman said she didn’t recall hearing any signal that the man was approaching, but that it’s possible she just didn’t hear it. “I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he did signal.”

After she came to, she remembers that the man who caused the wreck stopped to check in with her and the two exchanged information. Rothman later called the other rider and the two spoke briefly about the incident.

Shortly after the crash, in an attempt to set the record straight after we published an eyewitness account of the crash, the man who collided with Rothman offered his side of the story. He said it was just an unfortunate “accident” and that Rothman, “turned her bicycle to the left and our handle bars slightly hit each other” just as he began to pass her.

At this time, Rothman is trying to decide her course of action. “For my part, all I want is my bills paid, my bike fixed, and an apology.”

“It won’t be easy, the first couple times I think it will be a bit of a shake-up… but you gotta do what you gotta do.”
— On riding across the bridge again

She said she isn’t angry or vengeful toward the man, but she does feel that it’s important that recognition is given that he was “biking very dangerously”.

Even though she realizes the man did not intentionally cause her any hardship, she said, “I don’t want to take this guy to court with the intent to take him to the cleaners or anything. These things happen, but at the same time there is some culpability here. I do feel there was some fault.”

Rothman is an experienced bike rider. She does not own a car and she logs about 100 miles a week on her 11 mile, round-trip commute from her home in North Portland’s Kenton Neighborhood to downtown Portland where she works as an administrative assistant in a residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility.

When asked what type of rider she was, Rothman said she’s definitely an enthusiast and fits “somewhere between the hipster and the REI category.”

Rothman has not yet talked to a lawyer and said she doesn’t really know her options at this point. She plans to file a police report and then take it from there.

Rothman plans to start attending law school in the fall at Lewis and Clark College, a commute that will take her across the Hawthorne every morning. “It won’t be easy,” she said, thinking about confronting her fears of riding across the bridge every day, “the first couple times I think it will be a bit of a shake-up… but you gotta do what you gotta do.”

One thing she knows for sure is that she’ll never bike without a helmet again. She had one on during this recent crash, but told me she sometimes (used to) go without.

With medical bill stacking up, and the loss of her sole means of transportation, Rothman sounded quite concerned about what lies ahead. Rothman says her frame is straight and she can still ride it. However, she estimates damages to be about $300-400.

If you’d like to donate to help Erica with her bike and her medical bills, we’ve set up a little PayPal button (this goes through BikePortland and all funds will be forwarded to Ms. Rothman):





*UPDATES:
— KATU-TV was out on the bridge Friday evening to cover the issue. They did a nice piece with interviews from riders and from PBOT employees:

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. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Lillian
Guest

Well wishes for a quick recovery!

And Jonathan, it might be helpful to add what size bicycle she’d need.

amanda
Guest
amanda

Oy. How scary. I remember after an incident with a car while biking (I did not get injured) that it took me awhile to get back up to speed and bike normally with the normal amount of precaution. So, my advice to her is to take that part a bit slow.

Anyway, best wishes for a full recovery and few long-term repercussions.

buzz
Guest
buzz

Hopefully someone has a bike they are not using and can give (or at least make her a great deal on) to Erica. If I had an extra one, I would do it.

Glad to hear you are doing better and hope you are able to get riding soon!

Allison
Guest
Allison

I was talking to my fiance about this – I’m not sure this would have helped in the least, but I know there are times when I would have appreciated it – what if it was customary to acknowledge a call of “On your left/right” with “Thank you” or “go ahead!” I try to do this anyway when I’m being passed – but the idea is, if you don’t get a verbal response, maybe repeat louder? Frequently I call “on your left” and I know quite well they didn’t hear me – especially joggers/pedestrians sometimes have headphones on and I shock the heck out of them when I do pass. Maybe if he’d realized Rothman hadn’t heard him, he’d have given her a wider berth or repeated himself and she might have had a chance to react.

Anyway, I for one intend to respond verbally when someone verbally signals a passing – if you think it could help the general safety, maybe you can, too. Think of it as the co-cyclists’ version of making eye contact with a turning driver.

Anonymous 2
Guest
Anonymous 2

Let’s see if Anonymous Rider steps up and does the right thing by Ms. Rothman.

Pete
Guest

Get well soon. Is anyone setting up a recovery fund to help with hospital bills and a new bike?

Ben
Guest
Ben

If you don’t have a bell on your bike and you ride in the city, go get one and put it on. It’s the unequivocal bike sound, fulfills your legal requirement to warn peds you’re passing, and helps other bikers too. Use your bell! For great justice!

gb
Guest
gb

Glad that Erica is healing.
And that she emphasized the importance of helmets.
I had a tumbled last Friday, with a hard knock of my head to the pavement. The only thing that saved me from a serious concussion and an ambulance ride was my helmet.

indy
Guest

He said it was just an unfortunate “accident” and that Rothman, “turned her bicycle to the left and our handle bars slightly hit each other” just as he began to pass her.

This is the critical piece of information. He is at fault. No riders should ever be close enough to touch, and since he was overtaking her, it is his responsibility to make sure he can pass safely.

Quite amazing he made the comments he did without an attorney present, it’s rather self-incriminating.

Paul Tay
Guest

The various charges on the passing bike driver: reckless driving, passing too close, and speed too fast for conditions.

I would definitely hate to be the passing, outta-control HEEL. According to Oregon statutes, bicyclists are DRIVERS of VEHICLES. We should be held to the same accountability as other DRIVERS of VEHICLES.

Burk
Guest
Burk

Here is your chance to do the right thing anonymous bike dude…

Matt Picio
Guest

I hope that Erica’s recovery goes quickly and smoothly.

Jonathan, since the frame is straight and it sounds like the bike is repairable – can you publish the name of whichever bike shop Erica takes it to? When I had my collision last year, a collection of friends anonymously paid a large part of my repair costs directly to the shop I had it at. Perhaps one of the local bike shops would be willing to accept some payments on Erica’s behalf from those who’d like to contribute to fixing the bike.

Best wishes on your recovery Erica!

Paul Tay
Guest

I take exception to the KATU remark about cyclist forced into “traffic.” Bikes ARE traffic.

The only thing keeping me from rolling with motor vehicles on the Hawthorne is the steel-grated surface.

Jonathan Maus (Editor)
Guest

Matt,

Her bike is at the Community Cycling Center. They don’t have anything set up to take in donations from the community for a specific thing like this.

peejay
Guest
peejay

In other news, PBOT held Motorist Education Events throughout the city this past weekend at the scenes of all recent motor vehicle crashes. The estimated 150+ locations, staffed with all available personnel as well as volunteers from the “motorist community,” provided safe pull-off areas for drivers to complete their mobile calls and finish applying make-up. Airbags were installed free of charge to vehicles that did not have them, and lights and brakes were tested for operability.

“We’re not trying to assign blame here to any of the individual drivers involved in these shocking incidents,” PBOT spokesman Chevy McDrivealot said. “We just want to hold the entire driving community to a higher standard. Perhaps we have to consider a radically new driver certification test.” McDrivealot also said that at seven recent fatal crash sites, the Bureau was evaluating whether to ban car traffic entirely in the immediate area.

Crews from all local TV stations covered these driver education events, where the news coverage included interviews with residents who questioned why driving is still allowed within city limits after this latest wave of motorist-motorist crashes.

One motorist interviewed at the event on SE Morrison St and 7th Ave said “I’ve been driving for years, and it’s just not getting any better out there. I hope the city does something to protect us from ourselves. It’s crazy out there.”

DJ Hurricane
Guest
DJ Hurricane

Best wishes for a full recovery, Erica.

I still don’t understand how one looks over one’s shoulder immediately before making a decision to move left to pass (the pedestrian) and then fails to see the approaching rider.

I also don’t understand how, if a rider passes and bumps you from the left, you then start or continue moving leftward over 3 feet (the approximate width of passing rider) to fall off the sidewalk.

My guess is that Erica will have a particularly good grasp of the concept of “contributory negligence” by the time she gets to her torts class at L&C.

Kt
Guest
Kt

+1, Indy, about the responsibilities of the overtaking rider.

Glad to hear her bike is mostly okay, too! Get better soon, Erica!

Rixtir
Guest
Rixtir

Probably a better grasp than you’ve got, DJ. The act of falling after somebody bumps you isn’t “contributory negligence.”

No shortage of “blame the victim” types here.

Zaphod
Guest

I understand how one might look over ones shoulder and not see an approaching rider if they’re going fairly fast or obscured by the complex gratework and motor traffic in the background.

I also understand how if an overtaking rider touches my handlebars that might cause me to steer left with little choice in correcting.

My guess is that Erica is a pretty good rider after logging so many miles. It also seems she is rather strong of character as she “doesn’t want to take him to the cleaners” but instead just wants what is fair.

Rixtir
Guest
Rixtir

And glad to hear you’re OK, Erica. Manatees are great, aren’t they?

Idegen
Guest
Idegen

DJ Hurricane, good thing for Erica that Oregon is a comparative negligence state and not a contributory negligence state.

However, I do tend to agree with the rest of your post.

Paul Tay
Guest

#15, peejay, reminds me of this Street Roots issue!

peejay
Guest
peejay

Get better soon, Erica. And yes, it’s almost always the overtaking rider’s fault. No reason to think it’s not in this case.

But please, is the amount of coverage appropriate for the scale of the incident?

DJ Hurricane
Guest
DJ Hurricane

Rixter (#18),

I’m not blaming the “victim.” I really don’t understand how you go 3+ feet to the left after someone bumps you from the left. Do you?

Idegen (#21), I think it might be bad for Erica that Oregon is comparative negligence. Whereas there might not be a finding of contributory negligence for failing to see the rider approaching, she might get her award reduced for that. But obviously, that’s just speculation.

philbertorex
Guest
philbertorex

Hang in there Erica. I had a crash under similar circumstances three years ago. It was really hard the first few times to ride past the place where I crashed. But after awhile, the anxiety disappeared and I began enjoying the ride again. So, once your bike is ready, ride and overcome.

naomi
Guest
naomi

peejay: the amount of coverage is totally appropriate because this story is very educational for some riders, and a reminder on safety issues for others. There is a lesson to be learned here.

I feel so angry at the cyclist who caused this though. He needs to step out from behind his anonymity and pay for Erica’s bike repairs and bills. He knows he’s at fault.. he knows it for sure.

Diogo
Guest
Diogo

It’s pretty obvious that most people have a bias against fast riders and pro- whoever sounds like a victim (that is, got injured). That, to me, is the only evident thing about this case.

Jonathan Maus (Editor)
Guest

peejay wrote:

“is the amount of coverage appropriate for the scale of the incident?

peejay,

we first covered this issue in Dec. of 2006. Last summer, the community again raised the question and the county said they were looking into solutions.

Now, a serious crash has happened. The crash could have been fatal and we all know it was inevitable.

bike/ped traffic is going up all the time and this is one of the most highly bike trafficked bridges in the country.

I think, given all that, that this is an important story.

Rixtir
Guest
Rixtir

EVen the rider who made the unsafe pass admits that she lost control of her bike after their handlebars touched. That’s how she went 3 feet to the left. And blaming her for the crash is “blaming the victim.”

If it were a contributory negligence state, she would only win her (hypothetical) case if the rider who passed her were 100% at fault. If she was found to be at fault in any amount– even 1%– she would lose her case.

In contrast, in a comparative negligence state, she wins her (hypothetical) case as long as the other rider is more than 50% at fault. Of course, her award for damages will be reduced by the percentage of fault that she bears for the crash.

DJ Hurricane
Guest
DJ Hurricane

I agree, Jonathan.

I think peejay’s point, if I may, was that given the rate of use, there is actually a remarkable lack of serious user conflicts on the Hawthorne. And just focusing on the one problem we know about may make it seem otherwise. Nevertheless, as I say, an issue worthy of close coverage.

naomi
Guest
naomi

Diogo,

Yes, people who race across the bridge, trying to squeeze past people without having the room to do so and end up causing “accidents” for other cyclists… yeah, I’m biased against those riders. Proudly so.

DJ Hurricane
Guest
DJ Hurricane

Rixter, I can see how someone bumping you could cause you to lose control momentarily. But I can’t see how it would cause the result here.

Are you saying that you have no obligation to look over your shoulder before moving left to pass? If not, then I can see why you conclude no fault by Erica. If you agree with me that you do have such an obligation, have you met it by falsely concluding no one is passing you?

And really your accusing me of “blaming the victim” is getting sorta silly. I am reaching a reasoned conclusion. If you disagree, fine. But do we really need to make it about who’s blaming who and what agenda they have, or can we just have a conversation about this?

John Lascurettes
Guest

@Allison (#4):

I do that (acknowledge a passer’s call) too when I can. A simple thumbs up or a quick “okay” sign with my left hand is great for both letting the passer know that I heard them and that I really appreciate them giving me the audible. I cannot stand it when I get buzzed close on N Williams with zero audible, especially when I’m ringing my bell about to overtake another cyclist too.

lacorota
Guest
lacorota

Wish you a healthy and speedy recovery. I’ll opine that after a few years’ inner city commuting, I’m convinced that road rage makes no distinctions . . . SUV, Dodge Ram, Beemer, or retro-bicycle.

The only difference is the weapon of choice. The selfish attitude is consistent across the board.

Why can’t we slow the F—k down during peak hours for the short span of a bridge?

Matt Picio
Guest

DJ (#31) – Erica stated that she looked over her shoulder and judged that the riders behind her weren’t coming on fast enough to be a danger.

She was going around a pedestrian, the blame is clearly on the overtaking cyclist, who should have slowed his approach and accounted for the possibility that she’d be far enough to the left to prevent safe passing.

Your reasoned conclusion is fallacious – it doesn’t fit the known facts.

As for how does someone go 3 feet left after a collision – it’s obviously never happened to you. Once you lose your balance, and especially if after the initial contact Erica’s front wheel contacted the other cyclist’s back wheel, recovery can be very difficult, and the bike can easily travel 3′ or more to the side.

DJ Hurricane
Guest
DJ Hurricane

So Matt (#34), you’re saying that if you’re passing me and and I want to move into your path to pass someone, look back and judge that the you are not approaching me fast enought to be a danger, then we collide, I have no fault?

Bob_M
Guest
Bob_M

DJ Hurricane #31

the result could occur by countersteering. Next time you are riding and there is no traffic, try a little experiment: gently push out on your right handlebar. This initiates a right turn. Push out on the left: left turn. The bump by a faster rider would push out on the left bar, countersteering the victums bike into a left turn. Strange but true

Rixtir
Guest
Rixtir

She lost control, and likely overcompensated (she says “I tried to compensate”). It happens– and the person who bumped her is still at fault, even of she overcompensated.

She also says she did a quick shoulder-check, and saw nobody coming up on her “super fast.” In a hypothetical case, it would be up to the trier of fact– a judge or a jury– to decide if her shoulder check was adequate under the “reasonable person” standard. My guess is that her shoulder-check would meet the reasonable person standard, and once she’s met her duty, it would be up to the person passing her to pass in a safe manner.

So, according to her, we have a cyclist approaching pedestrians, looking over her shoulder, and seeing nobody coming up on her, preparing to move left to pass the pedestrians. And between the time she checks, and the time she begins to pass the pedestrians, another cyclist passes her, “speeding by me very quickly.” And that account of him riding faster than the other cyclists on the bridge is borne out both by the eyewitness, and by the account the anonymous cyclist gave. Present those accounts to the trier of fact, and you are most likely going to get a finding that she met her duty to make a safe pass, and he did not.

Matt Picio
Guest

DJ (#35) – That’s correct, as the overtaking cyclist it’s my responsibility to wait until I can safely pass. That’s the law, and it’s common sense and common courtesy.

Idegen
Guest
Idegen

Rixtir, I agree if you only presented the Erica’s facts to the trier, then she would likely win. However, there are many facts that are not clear in any of the stories and there are some conflicting facts between the three stories. I think a careful trier would have to consider things like the actual speed of both parties, whether Erica just glanced casually or made a careful effort to see what was behind her before moving over, whether the warning given by the passing cyclist gave proper notice, how minor the bumping of the handlebars was, and so on. Unless more witnesses come forward, I don’t know if we are going to resolve these things on this forum, and I think it is best left up to a court rather than making judgments here.

Phr3dly
Guest
Phr3dly

DJ, I too am puzzled by the exact details of the incident. Personally I have chalked it up to fuzzy recollections by all involved.

But to answer your immediate question, if a rider on your left bumps your bars, your bars will turn right. When your bars turn right, you will turn very quickly and sharply to the left. If the other rider was moving quickly and is past you, it’s not at all surprising that you will end up in the road.

Not saying that’s exactly what happened here. Just that it could explain the seeming discrepancy.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Two different issues here.

1. Passing when it is not safe to do so.

2. Changing lanes when it is not safe to do so.

Both are the responsibility of the person making the maneuver.

Now in this case Ms. Rothman could be found guilty of the bad lane change since she was changing her direction of travel. This would assume you could say there are distinct lanes of travel in the MUP.

The anonymous cyclist when starting to pass could be considered doing so in a safe manner because without Ms. Rothman’s changing lanes there would not have been a collision.

Now take the Basic Rule and Apply it to this case and it points both cyclists not riding for the conditions presented by the MUP. Due to the way in which the path is used by both pedestrian and cyclist, a cyclist would have to ride knowing that other cyclists are going to maneuver to avoid pedestrians and other users of the path. Thus making both passing and lane changing a questionable maneuver.

So could fault lie equally with both parties?

Michael M.
Guest

How is there enough room on the Hawthorne bike path to pass anyone riding in the cycling lane? It’s essentially one lane — there shouldn’t be any passing going on. If you’re cycling in the area marked for pedestrians and you’re coming up on pedestrians, as it appears Ms. Rothman was and did, then absolutely you should look over your shoulder to ascertain whether any cyclists are coming up in the cycling lane behind you, before you move over into it. That’s not a 100% guarantee that you’ll see them, or be able to get an accurate enough assessment of their speed. OTOH, whatever the speed of the second rider, unless the second rider is practically on top of you when you move in the lane, he or she should be slowing down rather than attempting to pass you. It sounds like Mr. Anonymous was trying to pass Ms. Rothman when he shouldn’t have been and easily could not have. I fail to see how this possibly can involve any negligence on Ms. Rothman’s part.

I think I will henceforth refrain from riding in the pedestrian area at all, even when there aren’t any pedestrians around. I usually move over, to let faster cyclists by, but its too dangerous when there are jerks like Mr. Anonymous who haven’t mastered the concepts of sharing and courtesy.

Jim F
Guest
Jim F

I stay off of the Hawthorne Bridge and the entire Riverbank Esplanade during the good weather months — too many people out strolling. I realize some folks have no choice and can’t avoid the bridge, but people like the speedster who caused this accident need to slow the F— down and be careful. This time it was Erica. Next time it might be a 5-year-old kid.

pat h
Guest
pat h

“…painkillers she was given at the scene by EMTs…”

EMT-Basics do not give “painkillers”. _Paramedics_ would. Please correct this.

Rixtir
Guest
Rixtir

Idegen, 40:

I agree, all of those would be issues to consider. In particular, I think the basic speed law would be at issue in this incident, and I don’t think that issue works in the passing cyclist’s favor.

solid gold
Guest
solid gold

well, there are definitely some testosterone racer types every morning on the bridge, passing within centimeters, with visions of lance armstrong in their spandexed heads.

Wes Robinson
Guest
Wes Robinson

pat h, paramedics are considered a type of EMT in Oregon. See OAR 333-265-0000(17)

WOBG
Guest
WOBG

Said it before, so sorry for the rerun:

FOLLOW THE #$*&$%$%() SURFACE MARKINGS ON THE BRIDGE.

1. Cyclists, *stay* left so you don’t have to *weave* left to pass peds.

2. Fast cyclists, chill on the bridge and hold your position. Don’t ding your danged bell or bark “On your left” to make slow riders move right, into ped conflicts and danger.

Those two things would have prevented this crash. It is, in effect, a narrow bridge–and ought to be a no-passing zone.

PDOT, how about laying down a double-line stripe between the bike and ped lanes? And maybe “No passing” markings every xyz feet in the bike lanes? Might help until there’s something better.

Finally, something I haven’t seen addressed yet: If everyone on the bridge at rush hour were dinging bells every time they were about to overtake someone, the cacophony would make it difficult to know the meaning of any individual ding. Bells may not be all that effective in congestion.

G
Guest
G

A couple things in her account don’t mesh together very well.

…she said she quickly checked over her shoulders and saw a few bikers, “but no one that seemed to be coming up super fast.”

a young guy on a bike, speeding by me very quickly…we knocked handlebars…

So either their was someone able to handle tour de france speeds while swerving between cyclists or their was a misjudgment of speed and distance.