out to make your ride (or walk)
safer and more enjoyable.
(Photos © J. Maus)
It wasn’t long into a full day tour through Beaverton and Tigard that Jim “K’Tesh” Parsons needed to stop and get to work. We were riding on the path adjacent to Highway 26, just west of Washington Park, when he noticed some overhanging branches.
He stopped, swung his backpack around, took out a pair of gardening shears, and dove head-first into the tree in search of the guilty branch. A few yards further down he pointed out a tree stump a few feet from the edge of the path. It used to be a spikey Hawthorne tree, he said, and “I’m not a fan of spikey trees, especially when they grow too closely to the path.”
On that occasion, since it was a full tree he wanted removed, he called in his concerns to the proper authorities (ODOT in this instance). A few weeks later the tree was gone.
When Parsons is on the “hunt” (that’s how he refers to it); no tree, branch, improperly placed road sign, dangerous sewer grate, or narrow bike lane is safe. Parsons has an obsessive enthusiasm for his work.
Parsons, who doesn’t own a car, moved to Beaverton in 1999. In 1990, a friend of his who is legally blind was on a walk. When Parsons rolled up, he noticed his friend nearly walked right into a branch hanging across the sidewalk.
“All of the sudden,” Parsons said, “It was like, click!, I could have been biking along and I would have hit that branch.” Ever since then, Parsons has been dedicated to this quest.
I first met Parsons at Bridge Pedal a few years ago (in addition to his bike advocacy he works as a balloon guy for extra cash on the weekends. He’s a travel agent by day). Since then, he has become the most prolific member of the Portland Bike Forums (where he’s posted 1,682 posts) and I’ve watched his street-level activism grow to new heights.
Not only has he single-handedly called in hundreds of dangerous and (often) illegal “wheel-eating” storm grates and overgrown trees, he is also constantly encouraging others to do the same. He has started a forum thread titled, What have you done lately? where he documents his weekly pursuit of safety improvements.
He photographs problem spots (check out his “Grate Danger” photoset) and then hounds the responsible agencies until they are fixed. Sewer districts, DOTs, transit agencies — they’re all on his speed dial.
A few weeks ago, I joined Parsons for a tour around his “hunting grounds”. We rode down from Washington Park (that Highway 26 multi-use path is great), out through the Cedar Hills Shopping Center (an abysmal place for biking), and beyond.
We spent several minutes at the intersection where Austin Miller was killed (the sidepath-to-roadway transition at SW Murray and Farmington Road is very poorly engineered), we discovered a BMX pump track at Eichler Park, and we weaved our way through backstreets and multi-use paths all the way to the Fanno Creek Trail.
It was my first experience on the Fanno Creek Trail and I was taken aback. It’s surrounded by lush meadows, marshes, and greenery. The trail itself is quite bumpy in parts, and many of the crossings and connections leave a lot to be desired (especially at SW Hall, where a sign urges trail users to go a half-mile out of their way just to cross the road), but it is nothing less than a regional gem.
After a great lunch and a beer at Max’s Fanno Creek Brew Pub (we stopped because they had excellent bike parking), we rolled back to Portland via 99W and Barbur Blvd.
Parsons is our region’s unsung bike hero. A true citizen activist and a tireless crusader for a better, and safer, biking and walking experience for us all.
Keep it up Jim!
— For more photos and insights from our tour, check out the photos and the captions in the slideshow above.