Support BikePortland

Exclusive: TriMet bus operator placed on administrative leave following blog post

Posted by on July 22nd, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Screen grab from Christensen’s
blog post (before it was taken down).

TriMet has placed a bus operator on administrative leave after they determined a blog post about an interaction with a man on a bicycle that was published to the operator’s personal blog earlier today was inappropriate. TriMet has also referred the issue to the police and the District Attorney’s office.

TriMet bus operator Dan Christensen — a man known for his humor and writing talents who was just named one of Portland’s ‘Best People’ by the Willamette Week — posted a story to his “TriMet Confidential” blog earlier today titled, “PORTLAND! KILL THIS BICYCLIST!”

“Once we learned of this post, we immediately placed the operator on administrative leave. It is a very serious matter. We are also referring this to the police and DA.”
— Mary Fetsch, TriMet

The post — which was just removed by Christensen a few minutes ago but can still be viewed here — was made after he says he had a harrowing interaction with a man on a bike on SE Hawthorne Blvd. The post also included a photograph of the man riding the bike which was taken by one of Christensen’s passengers. I was able to read the post before it was taken down. It was clearly labeled as a venting of Christensen’s personal feelings, but the wording of the title and the tone and words of the actual post created an obvious problem for TriMet — especially coming off the blog-related issues raised by bus operator Al Marguiles last month.

In addition, this blog post made it difficult for the community to understand how exactly Christensen felt about other people riding bicycles (many people read the post after it was sent around via Twitter). Was he just letting off some steam? Or was this window into his personal feelings an imminent threat to public safety?

After learning about the post from a reader, I emailed the link to TriMet spokesperson Mary Fetsch to see if she had a response. Here’s what she sent back:

“Once we learned of this post, we immediately placed the operator on administrative leave. It is a very serious matter. We are also referring this to the police and DA.”

According to Christensen’s account, the interaction happened about a month ago on SE Hawthorne between SE 20th and 40th. (There’s no bike lane on this portion of the street, traffic volumes and speeds are high, and there’s on-street car parking. It’s also just a few blocks from where a now infamous bus/bike interaction occurred just last month). He wrote, “I experienced a bicycled [sic] so out of control and dangerous it undid every atom of good feeling I have towards bicyclist.”

Even weeks after the incident, Christensen wrote that, “just thinking of that day makes my heart race and my face flush with rage.”

Here are the final two paragraphs of the post:

Attention Fool: When you interacted with my bus you put your life in my hands. At that time I took extreme measures to avoid crushing you despite your best effort to get under my tires. However as a holder of your life I wish to exercise that option now that I’m not behind the wheel. Thank you for putting your faith and trust in my skill, perception and reaction time however I think I’m going to now exercise your life in my hands options and have you killed. Thank you for putting your trust in my training and my willingness to throw people around my bus by violently breaking. However as a holder of your life I think now after long hours of contemplation I shall exercise the death option.

In closing I would like to say that though I can only keep my fingers crossed and hope that someone out there takes me up on my plea, I will be lucky and blessed if someone does. This I can assure you, People often get what’s coming to them, when you get what’s coming to you as a result of your carelessness I will rejoice as should every bicyclist you shame and motor vehicle operator you ever encountered.

It’s not clear what exactly led to the incident Christensen wrote about, but it apparently left him physically trembling and very shaken up unlike anything he’s every experienced in his driving career. From the post, the man on the bike showed a wanton disregard for his own or anyone else’s safety as he rode down Hawthorne. Christensen wrote about seeing, “The most dangerous light threatening situation of my life.”

Before removing the post entirely, Christensen published an update to try and clarify where he was coming from. “Just so you know, I’m not against bikes. Love em. Own one…” he writes. “This rage is at one person and everyones [sic] mission should be to stop him not matter what you ride, drive, hop or sail.” Christensen feels like the man’s riding was so dangerous that he is “a blight on all bicyclist, he is destroying what you are working so hard to build.”

It was clear to me that Christensen’s blog post was more an emotional and literary exercise than a sincere proclamation of anger — but that’s due in part because I know him. I know he’s a talented writer and that he’s often candid about his experiences while operating his bus (you might remember him from back in 2008 when he reached out to the community on the Rose Quarter Transit Center bikeway project). However, not everyone is aware of that context and as we’ve explored countless times on this site, people are understandably very sensitive about the emotions that can lead to road rage and they need to be taken very seriously, especially when the person expressing the feelings operates a large vehicle and is under the employ of an agency like TriMet.

Given that TriMet is still recovering from the tragic collision in downtown Portland back in April that claimed the life of two people who were walking in a crosswalk and that they’ve just announced new, more stringent safety policies after new GM Neil McFarlane said safety is the agency’s highest priority, it’s not surprising they erred on the side of swift action with Christensen.

This is an unfortunate situation all around and should serve as a reminder that our behavior out on the roads — from both sides of the windshield — can have a huge impact on others.

UPDATE: Christensen has published a thoughtful “Mea Culpa” about his controversial post.

UPDATE: Read the original post in its entirety here.

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

165
Leave a Reply

avatar
163 Comment threads
2 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
85 Comment authors
Al CordleWayne TysonJohnSix_of_OneVelophile in Exile Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Amos
Guest

Disappointing to say the least. I have enjoyed Dan’s writing in the past and I know that he is a talented and no-b.s. guy, but he made a huge mistake here, and he has lost my respect.

Samuel John Klein
Guest

It’s a shame that this is happening to Dan. I’ve read his blog for a while and he’s usually a passionate and happy … if not entirely ready-for-prime-time … sort of guy.

Was his behavior intemperate? Yes. Was it justified? Depends on your situation. TriMet drivers I’ve known always take the fact that they drive a huge, meat-crushing machine astoundingly seriously, and if someone in front of them … car driver, bike rider, or pedestrian, does something thoughtless, they’ll curse and swear sometimes, but that’s from panic and fear of being the driver that ends someone’s life on the street, when they didn’t have to.

When lives are on the line, not everyone’s going to act pretty and polite and nice. That’s life. That’s people.

Perhaps someone at TriMet should have had a little chat with him about it.

But suspension and reporting to the DA? That’s like nuking him from orbit.

TriMet drivers have enough to worry about. Since I bike to work regularly now and depend on TriMet to help me get over the rough spots until I’m back in shape, I see the driver as a partner, not an adversary, and I do everything I can to make it easy on them to help me get to where I’m going.

Matthew
Guest
Matthew

Good for TriMet.

This is beside the point, but I’m suprised to see Mr. Christensen referred to as a “talented writer.” I just have a few tweets and one rage-fueled blog post to go by, but his writing struck me as being quite poor, frankly.

(That was hardly the most troubling part of his wildly innaproppriate post — my favorite part had to be where he compared people who ride bikes to Nazis — but since you mentioned it twice in your article, I had to comment)

Kim
Guest
Kim

I felt safer knowing Dan was on the road and wish more TriMet drivers were like him. I’d also feel safer if this cyclist wasn’t on the road.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Guest

Matthew,

I think your perception of Dan’s writing shouldn’t be based on this blog post. It was very hard for him to write and it was more a pouring-out-your-guts type of thing.

Kim,

That’s a great comment. I agree… he is very likable and careful driver. This was just a very challenging and strange situation for Dan and TriMet.

BURR
Guest
BURR

1. Traffic on the section of Hawthorne isn’t supposed to be fast – the speed limit is 25 MPH. However, I’ve never seen any enforcement of this speed limit.

2. Cyclists are allowed to take the lane on this section of Hawthorne, the lanes are too narrow to share, ORS 814.430(2)(c).

Esther
Guest
Esther

Fundamentally, this comes down to something Dooce.com (one of the most famous blogs) learned in 2002 and still gets interviews about- you can get fired for stuff you write on your blog about your employer or place of employment. When that includes incitements towards bodily harm of an individual, well, all bets are off.

Felix
Guest
Felix

Thanks for being balanced about this, and giving him the benefit of the doubt. He scares me no end–so angry that he’s still shaking weeks later, and still driving a very large bus, and risking his job by publicly posting about his anger online–but you know him, so I will try to modify my own anger at his calling for a hit on this cyclist. No one, no matter how reckless, deserves to be killed or attacked.

moodymeow
Guest
moodymeow

First, it was obvious that he was writing from the perspective of a frustrated driver – not calling on all Portland residents to kill this moron. Second, It was smarter for him to write about his feelings rather than squish the guy into the pavement.

We were safer on the roads when Mr. Christensen drove, regardless of his anger towards one cyclist.

Matthew
Guest
Matthew

Jonathan,

Fair enough. It was kind of a snarky thing for me to say, anyway.

Incidentally, I’m super curious to find out what the heck this guy on the bike did!

what about day?
Guest
what about day?

Not to condone the post, but it made me wonder is Sandi Day back driving a bus? I hope that Tri-met isn’t going to be punishing drivers more severely for after the fact road rage on the internet than they are for actual negligence/murder…

151
Guest
151

I’m also interested in the details of their traffic interaction. If you can dig up any info, that would be great.

Nipple
Guest
Nipple

@Kim

“I’d also feel safer if this cyclist wasn’t on the road.”

Why? I read the whole blog post before it was removed. I couldn’t tell you what the cyclist did.

rupert_pupkin
Guest
rupert_pupkin

@Matthew I agree.

I’ve enjoyed Dan’s blog for a long time, largely because it offers window into the experiences of a Tri-Met driver. I’ve been more careful when interacting with buses while on both bike and in a car because of some of the stories he has told. I wish I knew what this guy did to piss him off so much.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Guest

Dan’s post didn’t really go into detail about the incident itself. Even so, I just added some more quotes from it to the story. From what I can gather, it was a classic daredevil-type rider who swerved around cars and cheated lights, etc… while hauling up Hawthorne and with Dan’s bus right behind him.

Jason
Guest
Jason

Why anyone would ride down Hawthorne when Lincoln and Salmon are so close is beyond me. Why deal with the vehicles, noise, air pollution and danger when you could ride on one of the most pleasant bike routes in all of Portland? It just irritates me to no end whenever I see someone riding on Hawthorne/Burnside. The airplane analogy would be like voluntarily passing up a seat in first class so you could take a middle seat in the last row between a newborn baby and an obese person.

Kim
Guest
Kim

@Nipple, I been reading Dan’s blog and tweets from quite some time and have found him to be very fair, balanced and kind. When he says “I experienced a bicycled so out of control and dangerous” and “I took extreme measures to avoid crushing you despite your best effort to get under my tires” and that he had to “throw people around my bus by violently breaking” I believe that is the truth, and if so, that the cyclist is a danger to others.

DP
Guest
DP

Sad to hear, but not a surprise.

KWW
Guest
KWW

If I read between the lines correctly, Mr. Christensen has a time machine, and he will go back in time to an alternate reality and run down the bicyclist.

This is 12 monkeys stuff at its finest.

I also a worried that he will also go back in time to give me a wedgie…

Brewcaster
Guest

littlepackage: @Dan_Christensen if someone mistakes me for that cyclist and kills me, you’ll have to answer to my mother. #WTF @trimet #trimet #pdx

Roma
Guest
Roma

I know we’re ‘allowed’ to take the lane, but I never understand why people ride down Belmont/Hawthorne. I feel much safer and more relaxed to cruise over and ride on Salmon or Lincoln/Harrison.

In my opinion, a lot of cyclists choose to ride 10mph down major streets so they can purposely antagonize motorists.

Felix
Guest
Felix

I think it should be pointed out that the bus driver’s post was not an off the cuff, heat of the moment posting. He clearly says he’s been thinking about this for weeks and months.

“About a month or so ago I experienced a bicycled so out of control and dangerous it undid every atom of good feeling I have towards bicyclist.

I thought I would write a blow by blow exposure of what this..

First off I have to stop here and breath deep to let the rage subside….

See even after months just thinking of that day makes my heart race and my face flush with rage.”

He then calls for Portland drivers, criminals, and other cyclists to kill the cyclist.

“If you are a murderer, drug dealer, violent criminal or your your life is empty and you are at a dead end, don’t think of suicide when you can do one last act that will have a lasting positive effect on our city. KILL THIS BICYCLIST. Don’t throw your life away for no reason. Fill your empty heart up with a righteous cause and use your violent and homicidal tendencies for the good of mankind, Portland and the World. Then you can kill your self with a smile on your face having done one last good act.”

He doesn’t say in the lengthy post exactly what the cyclist did, except: “In all the years I been driving with TriMet and on my own I have never seen anyone so freaking dangerous who was not killed or injured.”

When someone rants like this after weeks of stewing in anger, I don’t take it as just blowing off steam. I absolutely think suspension is the right course of action.

I’ve read that being a bus driver is one of the most stressful jobs around, because they constantly must provide a good, safe, punctual service, even though they have no control over their working conditions, including all sort of idiots on the road. Time for this driver to get some help with handling stress.

Eric G
Guest

This is ridiculous and frustrating.

I’ve met Dan and have read his blog off and on for years. He’s one of the good guys.

But today, I read the post in question and cringed – there was no way this was going to end well. Dan’s a passionate guy and it’s clear that this cyclist’s behavior seriously got under his skin, but nobody that knows Dan or has ever read his blog would believe that he was seriously advocating for the guy’s death. The hyperbole might have been harder to make out than usual, but I don’t have any doubt that hyperbole is what is was, just Dan trying to make a very emotional point.

On the other hand, there’s no way that anybody – Trimet driver, great author, doesn’t matter who you are – can write a blog post entitled “KILL THIS BICYCLIST!” and not expect some degree of backlash. Especially not in this town, not with the ever-increasing acrimony between cyclists and drivers and with Trimet still reeling from recent events with Al and Sandy.

I wish Dan all the best and hope to see him driving again soon – the last thing this conflict needs is another casualty (literally or figuratively).

mikeybikey
Guest
mikeybikey

I think that unfortunate events like this should serve as the canary in the coal mine for our bicycle infrastructure. These types of things are examples of conflict in a space that is painfully inadequate for the increasing presence of bicycles. I love the bicycle boulevards. The new sharrows everywhere are great and NE Going Street is great, but the lesson coming from the cities ahead of Portland is that you have to pay attention to the major streets too and Dan’s encounter and his reaction should remind us of that. It is time to get aggressive and start paying attention while the conflicts are still at the level of people venting. I wish Dan could have expressed his feelings in a way that made this notion more apparent, did not startle so many of us in the cycling community, and did not put his job in jeopardy.

Marcus Griffith
Guest
Marcus Griffith

“However as a holder of your life I think now after long hours of contemplation I shall exercise the death option.”

Maybe it doesn’t meet the threshold for criminal conduct, but it should send ripples down anyone’s spine.

Oh, and thats PAID administrative leave.Make a threat, get paid time off, thats a lot like being rewarded.

Brad
Guest
Brad

Just because you have freedom of speech doesn’t mean that you need to always exercise it.

Lance P.
Guest
Lance P.

Jason, People ride on both Hawthorne and Burnside because that is where most shops are. I typically take side streets until i’m close but to get to most shops you need to take the main road for at least 1/2 block to get to your destination.

Caroline
Guest

I was very disappointed in Christensen’s choice to publish those poorly spelled private thoughts on his blog, and to have suffered paranoia on the bike all afternoon after reading it.

Was someone going to mow me down because I might look like that cyclist in Christensen’s photograph?

It just isn’t funny. Sometimes Christensen is funny (and I’ve followed his Twitter for well over a year now) but today he was not funny.

I wasn’t a bus driver, but I was a R.N. in hospitals for a long time, and had quite a few situations that made me shake, scared and furious. But nothing could have made me risk my job by blogging about it. Tremendous mistake, Mr. Christensen!

Crime of passion!

I think Tri-Met has done the right thing today. It’s a really harsh reality for Christensen, but he has to know that he can’t just say “KILL SO-AND-SO” without consequence. Requesting that someone be killed is a really serious thing!!! You never know when someone might actually kill someone for you!

And, he really has 18,000+ followers on Twitter? Still?

nuovorecord
Guest
nuovorecord

I don’t care what the cyclist was doing, it doesn’t warrant Dan’s response. This guy needs to find employment elsewhere. He has no business driving a public transit vehicle or being a public servant.

Disgusting.

e
Guest
e

Wow. Thank you TriMet for getting this guy out from the behind the wheel of a BUS!! I hope he never drives another one again.

Psychoke
Guest
Psychoke

Not sure this has come up, but people do drugs, people are schizophrenic, people do things that defy explanation. This happened when, and he’s still shaken up by it? Call the police on the spot: one option. Get the bike rider off the street. Posting a piece like this is just inexcuseable, sorry. Parody can be excused if the “writer” is well known for it and it doesn’t reflect on an employer, two things that don’t apply to Dan.

Marcus Griffith
Guest
Marcus Griffith

Like Al Margulies’s blog, Dan Christensen’s blog has bizarre hints of racism.

“..It’s been a while since America has had a good villain. We had Native Americans, Nazi’s, Japs, Communist and to a lesser extent Canadians…”

-How Trimet Lost Tens of Millions.
http://danbusdriverman.blogspot.com/

So, why exactly is Dan Christensen using the racial slur “Japs”? Let’s not forget that one of the Portland was a tragic home to such a camp (thats what the Expo memorial right off the max line is referencing).

*** portion of comment deleted ***

fuzzyjay
Guest

I have enjoyed reading Dan’s blog for many months. I think he went way too far on this blog entry, but as someone already said, he’s one of the good guys. I have much more respect and understanding of his job since I started to read his blog.

I think administrative leave was appropriate, but I hope he gets back on the job soon and continues to write about it.

BURR
Guest
BURR

I guess summer is here….

Vance Longwell
Guest

I really don’t understand what anybody would see in Christensen. I’m much more interested to learn whether or not what he wrote is protected speech. In my opinion, there’s merit in the argument that a web-log shares more similarities with the notion of a, “town square”, than differences. Additionally, Christensen’s diatribe was clearly a fantasy. He’s not conspiring, or premeditating. He’s making his death wish in a context that cannot exist, in that he is speaking to a past event. It’s obviously provocative, effectively made so in what is clearly just a wish, that he’d made a different choice. He’s not engineering a murder, he’s writing an essay.

What about the pamphleteering movement of the 18th century? The printing-press played a crucial role in our thing, man. Nah, I think that blogs should be protected, whether they are not, and Christensen ought not be on the hook.

It’s not a matter of taste, it’s a matter of law, or something like that. At the very least, I’m taking it upon myself to allow Christensen his voice. ‘Cause it’s like America and shit.

KWW
Guest
KWW

yep, he has a time machine, wedgie…

Ian Hopper
Guest

I too have been reading Dan’s twitter posts for at least a year, and he routinely makes me laugh. I was rather alarmed to read today’s post on his blog after everything blew up on Twitter. I don’t think Dan would ever try to run someone down, but the poor choice he made in publishing the blog may have cost him his job for good. He knew the consequences of doing it, he even mentioned it in the blog entry. Dan, if you are reading this, I hope that you haven’t lost your job, but please, if you’re feeling murderous rage and that level of anger while you’re driving, it’s time for a break my friend. Seek counseling, go on a yoga retreat, whatever it takes. I also thought it would have been instructive to have described in detail what the cyclist in question did… most of us are left wondering how bad it really was to shake you up like it did. Be well Dan, may you find some peace when this is all over with.

Christian
Guest
Christian

I’m tired of the jerks out there that turn motorists against cyclists. They’re going to get the rest of us killed.

ILikeYourNewHaircut
Guest

I read his blog. Dan has always seemed funny and nice, this is way out of character.

He would have been better off saying “Some cyclists ride like assholes on Hawthorne” and I would have agreed with him. There’s no need to call someone out with a photograph. I still like you Dan, but please acknowledge that a mistake was made.

Sara
Guest
Sara

Dan is a great and safe driver. Perhaps his blog post should have waited for a 2nd or 3rd edit before posting rather than the obvious raw emotion. Hopefully he will be back in the driver seat very shortly. TriMet needs more operators that care as much as Mr. Christensen.

BURR
Guest
BURR

so is Dan on ‘adminstrative leave’ with or without pay?

Alex.F
Guest

Seems strange that there is any defense for Dan or his words. It was a violent tirade with the sole purpose of inciting death on another human who had bothered him. Psycho rants that fuel the fire that dangers us all is not what “good guys” do.

shirtsoff
Guest
shirtsoff

Dan’s feelings aside, what did the cyclist do that threatened his life and made a reckless impression on others? I’m curious. Sometimes I ride on Hawthorne, because it has a passing lane (two lanes in each direction) and bike about three feet over from the edge of the cars while maintaining my trajectory as advised by P-BOT. I tend to cycle around 20-26 MPH so it may impede some traffic but with the passing lane, it shouldn’t be an issue. I’m curious what this cyclist was doing that made his presence seemingly unbearable so that I may avoid doing so myself.

sparewheel
Guest
sparewheel

“It is time to get aggressive and start paying attention while the conflicts are still at the level of people venting.”

Its not just people venting. Bicyclists are becoming an important freeper/wingnut wedge issue.

The question is how to fight back without alienating the local majority that supports us.

Red Five
Guest
Red Five

This cyclist was clearly trying to instigate a situation.

Michael M.
Guest

Hmm, I wonder if this was the same guy I saw headed west on NE Couch, just after the new couplet starts. He bombed through motor traffic, riding on the white median line, then cut right in front of a car, zoomed in front of me (I was riding down Couch on the right, like a normal person), came to a stop at a red light, which he then proceeded to run when he determined he had the opportunity to get through the intersection.

Just another day in Portland. I can understand how Mr. Christensen feels.

The really sad part was that after this bozo decided to run the light, another cyclist, already waiting at the intersection, whom he had cut in front of, decided to proceed through the intersection too. Then the driver of the first car at the light started to accelerate, into the crosswalk, then stopped abruptly when he realized the light was still red, and backed up to his original position. That’s another thing these renegade riders never consider — other vehicle operators often take visual cues from the behavior of the rest of us on the road. You see somebody go, and your first instinct is “It must be okay to go.” Of course, you should always double-check, you should always look at the light (and at crossing traffic) before you proceed into an intersection, but it doesn’t always work that way. There’s a reason why “safe” closely correlates with “predictable.” Happily, this driver caught himself before he did himself or anyone else harm.

But I’ve little doubt the jerk on the bike will do himself or others harm sometime soon. I also have little doubt we can kiss the Bike Master Plan goodbye if we don’t figure out how to get this kind of behavior under control.

Ignatz
Guest
Ignatz

The blog post was juvenile but I understand the anger. What’s infuriating about irresponsible cyclists is that they endanger so many others, not just themselves. I cross the Hawthorne Bridge into town every day and often a cyclist will swerve into/around cars, forcing them to brake suddenly and endanger cyclists behind them.

are
Guest

yeah, he was trying to instigate his bike from point A to point B.

trail user
Guest
trail user

‘Kill’ is such a harsh word. ‘Maim’ would have sufficed.

Poor guy, probably didn’t realize running over a cyclist is best done accidentally, not overtly.

TonyT
Guest
tonyt

I find it very odd that Mr. Christensen was “provoked” to such a level of hostility, to the point of wishing others to KILL a perfect stranger, yet Mr. Christensen couldn’t find it in himself to explain exactly what it was that the cyclist did.

It seems likely that Mr. Christensen knew that what the cyclist did did not in fact match the rage he/she inspired.