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

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.

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