the window of a TriMet bus.
(Photos: Screen grabs of Dan
At the end of last month, TriMet bus operator Dan Christensen published a shocking essay on his personal blog. The essay was titled “PORTLAND! KILL THIS BICYCLIST!” It went into detail about how Christensen was so frustrated with a man riding a bike in front of his bus on SE Hawthorne Blvd that he pleaded with someone to kill him and he himself wanted to “exercise the death option.” The post also included a photo of the man on the bike’s face that was taken by one of Christensen’s passengers.
“I don’t want to be responsible for making people feel the way I made Christensen feel…I’m much more mindful of the way I ride now.”
— Paul Higgins
Once the blog post (read it here) came to their attention, TriMet immediately placed Christensen on leave. He pulled the story down hours later, but not before it was picked up by the AP wire. After the dust had settled, Christensen was back to work a week later.
Christensen, a well-liked driver with a clean record, was obviously shaken up by what he saw, but the specifics of what the guy on the bike did to set him off have remain unknown. Until now. Below is a Q & A I had via email with Paul Higgins, the man who inspired Dan Christensen’s blog post.
What do you remember from that day?
“I remember approaching the light on SE 30th and Hawthorne in the right lane. The bus was in front of me and was just beginning to accelerate after the light turned green. I was going significantly faster and decided I could pass the bus without impeding traffic. I increased speed and moved onto the striped white line dividing the two eastbound lanes, passing both the bus and another car in the left lane. Once clear of the bus I moved back into the right lane so I wouldn’t impede faster-moving traffic in the left. I don’t remember hearing Christensen honk or anything like that. Neither do I recall pulling any other stunts on my way to work, though I may have blown through a light. (I always at least slow down and look and listen. I don’t believe that traffic control devices are responsible for my safety on the road, it is my ability to identify and respond to threats and danger that keep me safe.) When I arrived at work and was locking up he stopped the bus, opened the doors and shouted “Hey that was some fancy drivin’!” I didn’t turn around, I just said thanks and finished locking up and went inside. I really don’t like it when motorists yell at me.”
Where you surprised to read Dan Christensen’s account of what happened?
“What account? He claimed to have taken “extreme measures” to avoid hitting me; that “it was so bad and lasted for blocks,” yet said nothing of what actually happened. He mentioned vaguely that he may have had to brake violently and “throw people around my bus.” As I stated earlier, I was going faster than he was, that is what necessitated me passing him. The only reason I can come up with which would cause him to brake is if I surprised and scared him. It makes sense. I mean, I passed him on an unexpected side, out of a blind spot, in a maneuver that many would deem unsafe. But that’s conjecture. I have no way of knowing his account of what happened. One could only make assumptions based upon his poorly written, emotional tirade.
I was surprised at the length of time it took him to write about the incident, and to still be so filled with venom about it a month later is just ridiculous. After some consideration I can see that his blog was cathartic, and I’m glad he has a place where he can air out his demons. However, it may have been a better choice for him to have kept this particular writing exercise private. I mean, my mom almost cried when she heard about it, and he almost lost his job.”
Where you surprised at what a big deal this turned into?
“Incredibly. I was in front of that bus for less than five minutes. Let’s boil it down: A bus driver got mad at a cyclist and a month later posted a blog about it and then felt a bit better. Literally at the end of the blog he states, “Wow I feel better now.” It should have ended there.”
What kind of rider would you say you are?
“Fearful. I feel a bit like a mouse. I leave my tiny little home to try and scrape up some cheddar, and instead of snakes, cats, mousetraps and housewives with brooms; I have potholes, cars, pedestrians, other cyclists, cops, road debris and equipment failure that can all potentially kill or maim me. I deal with that by making myself a real presence on the road. When making my way through heavy traffic I’m big, aggressive, and loud. I get quite an attitude much of the time. Don’t get me wrong, I love riding. I get a thrill out of it. I like knowing that I reached my destination by burning calories instead of gas. I like that my legs and ass are fucking statuesque. I like that I don’t pollute, that it’s inexpensive, that it’s healthy, that I get to experience the elements, that every time I ride I overcome a challenge and am bettering myself.”
Has this experience changed how you think about bike/bus interactions and your own riding style?
“I’m on the watch for Dan. I want to shake his hand and tell him I’m sorry about the trouble I caused him. I don’t want to be responsible for making people feel the way I made Christensen feel. It’s wrong and no one deserves to be scared or bullied on the road. What’s tough is figuring out what’s my fault and what is just him overreacting.
I’m much more mindful of the way I ride now. I think about how my actions will affect others around me, and if my actions are in line with my ideal. My goal in life is to just be a good dude, I won’t achieve that if I ride like an asshole. My solution is rational, compassionate response to the people I share the road with, rather than a knee-jerk, fear-based reaction to people I perceive as threats.”
I’m grateful for Paul’s willingness to answer my questions candidly and thoughtfully. It’s clear he takes his role in this incident seriously. I hope this episode has been an opportunity for all of us — whether operating a vehicle with or without a motor — to learn that doing so comes with a lot of emotions how we behave can have an impact way beyond ourselves.