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Activist takes road hazard fix into own hands for under $20

Posted by on January 4th, 2012 at 9:11 am

Dangerous storm grate on
Hall Blvd.
(Photos courtesy Jim Parsons)

Last month we took a look at reflective warning stripes installed by the City of Tigard to warn people on bikes to the presence of hazardous drains in the bike lane.

Those stripes were installed, in part, because of attention brought to the issue by citizen activist Jim “K’Tesh” Parsons (a man whose efforts have garnered him headlines both here and in The Oregonian). Parsons recently turned his attention to a sunken storm drain grate that has been annoying him for years. Below is the story of how, after years of nagging ODOT to fix the bike-crash causing bump, he recently took matters into his own hands…

Towards the end of 2009, Parsons started a series of conversations with the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) about a drain well at the southern end of Hall Blvd in Tigard. He explained that the depth of the drain presented a hazard to people riding bikes and the drain was particularly hard to see, especially at night or when the sunlight on the road is uneven.

Sunken drains like this one
pose hazards to bike traffic.

At one point Parsons remembers running into an ODOT crew who said they were going to investigate the drain; but ultimately no action was taken.

In September of last year Parsons took photos of the drain and sent them along with a note via email to contacts at ODOT, Washington County and others. His message pointed out that page 174 of the State of Oregon’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan (PDF) addresses how drainage grates impact bike safety. “A bike-safe drainage grate at the proper height improves bicycle safety,” reads the plan. The plan itself recommends that cities, “Raise catch basin grates flush with pavement.”

While raising deep drain grates isn’t immediately feasible, Parsons pointed out how the Cities of Tigard and Tualatin have started using reflective striping to warn approaching bike riders of the hazard (Hall Blvd. is managed by ODOT, unlike those other examples).

Several months passed and Parsons was disappointed that ODOT had still not addressed the hazardous situation. Then, shortly after the start of the new year, we received an email from Parsons with a photo of the drain marked with white and yellow paint.

Were the new markings the work of ODOT?

As it turns out, no. Parsons decided to take matters into his own hands and marked the drain himself with paint he purchased at the hardware store for less than $20 (and he’s got the receipts to prove it).

While he was painting the drain he talked with a homeowner who has seen a number of people crash on the grate over the years they’ve lived in the area. Here’s more about their conversation from Parsons himself:

“I talked to the owner of the house immediately adjacent to this grate, and he told me that he’s witnessed crashes, and has even scraped up people from the pavement (including one within the last few days) after they wipe out…I told him that ODOT has been made aware of the issue in the past, and that anybody else hurt here should be advised of that.”

In a conversation I had with him later, Parsons wondered if ODOT might have acted more quickly if the hazard impacted auto traffic in the same way.

ODOT has yet to respond to Parsons’ emails to explain their plans for addressing the hazard presented by the drain, but at least for now it’s a bit easier to see.

For less than $20, Parsons is helping everyone who rides a bike on Hall avoid one big bump in the road.

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  • Alexis January 4, 2012 at 9:30 am

    Woot! I should do this on Woodstock. I’ve reported some drains there and don’t think they’ve been fixed yet.

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  • John January 4, 2012 at 9:31 am

    Great work! There are a number of areas like this where I often think we need to do something similar until PBOT or ODOT gets around to fixing the problem.

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  • Julia January 4, 2012 at 9:33 am

    So awesome. No reason to wait for ODOT when the fix is so easy. Great to see folks like Parsons take care of business. Love it!

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  • 9watts January 4, 2012 at 9:36 am

    “Parsons wondered if ODOT might have acted more quickly if the hazard impacted auto traffic in the same way.”
    I think that is a rhetorical question.

    Good job, Parsons!

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  • Amy January 4, 2012 at 9:38 am

    I with you Alexis…those drains are nasty on Woodstock!

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  • K'Tesh January 4, 2012 at 9:54 am

    I wouldn’t call it a fix, but at least it’s something to help make people aware of the hazard. A fix would have the problem eliminated.

    As it stands, the homeowner also told me that the grate doesn’t even work. Due to poor placement, runoff from the SW Hall goes straight into his unpaved driveway, and not the drain.

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    • K'Tesh January 4, 2012 at 9:59 am

      Oh, and for fun, I went out there last night and took a night shot… This is the same drain as in the photo with the cyclist’s leg at night after being painted, and I was using a Planet Bike 5 LED Beamer headlight to illuminate the road.

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    • 9watts January 4, 2012 at 10:09 am

      “As it stands, the homeowner also told me that the grate doesn’t even work.”
      In that case I have a fix (and this would be a fix) that would cost ~$5.
      2×8 blocks cut to size and dropped onto the grate. Shore up with spacers as needed to match road height. If I lived closer I’d to take care of that tonight.

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      • K'Tesh January 4, 2012 at 10:41 am

        If you want to paint it, I recommend STRIPING paint, not “marking” paint. Marking paint is designed to fade over time.

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    • K'Tesh January 4, 2012 at 10:32 am

      I’m going to try that one again…

      Oh, and for fun, I went out there last night and took a night shot… This is the same drain as in the photo with the cyclist’s leg at night after being painted, and I was using a Planet Bike 5 LED Beamer headlight to illuminate the road.

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      • q`Tzal January 4, 2012 at 11:56 am

        It would be nice if it was easy for us to lay down compliant retro-reflective paint.
        I ran your picture through a (brightness contrast intensity) sweep once:
        Then twice:
        Here’s all three side by side:

        Cameras don’t match well what the eye sees in the dark but that lack of visibility is almost criminal.

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  • tom January 4, 2012 at 9:56 am

    sure wish Gresham could figure this one out ..lots on bad storm drains on 242 south of Stark and Burnside hill

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  • K'Tesh January 4, 2012 at 9:59 am
  • DerosaBill January 4, 2012 at 10:00 am

    I’ve called in low grates on 2 or three occasions to PBOT’s bureau of maintenance and got very quick response (fixed within a week). I also had real good luck with ClackDOT. I have called in and talked to crews in the field about ODOT facilities numerous times and have never seen any signs of a response.

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  • K'Tesh January 4, 2012 at 10:01 am

    Damn computer, posted before I had the link pasted

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  • Jerry_W January 4, 2012 at 10:36 am

    Thank you K’tesh for all of the things that you do to improve cycling safety. While many people just complain, you are taking action to improve things for all. Well done sir!

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  • K'Tesh January 4, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Just received this from Shelley Oylear (Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, Washington County)

    “I have spoken with operations about the markings and we agree that it would be a useful interim treatment but the real solution is to address the situation. To that end there are two things that we have identified. First, to refresh or remind contractors, operators, and inspectors–that as overlays are scheduled that they need to pay attention to the catch basins and determine if they need to be raised prior to the overlay. They also need to be alert to the quality of work around the catch basins. With this step we hope not to create more issues. The second point is to address existing locations where there are problems. The challenge is a) identifying these locations and b)figuring out which entity (city, county, clean water services, private development contractor) should take responsibility for the fix, scheduling to get it done, and following up to make sure that it’s completed. We are improving our interagency coordination but we need help from cyclists out there to identify where the locations are that need attention by reporting them on .”

    Again, not ODOT, but the link could help…

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    • q`Tzal January 4, 2012 at 12:03 pm

      It’d be nice to have a smartphone app for Washington County like Portland does (City of Portland PDX Reporter).

      Or maybe something as easy as a moderated forum that users have to post photos, time, location(GPS EXIF data if possible) and description.

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  • daisy January 4, 2012 at 11:09 am

    The irony here is that we probably don’t get hurt enough for this stuff to register as a problem–if the cops and an ambulance were called any time we wrecked on stuff like this, it’d become a known hazard.

    I wonder about this because I know cyclists get in accidents all the time — even hit by cars — and don’t call the police, maybe because we’re not that hurt, etc (like if there was a small fender bender between two cars). But this keeps the accident stats artificially low, no?

    (I thought about this after I got hit by a car a few years ago. I was mostly fine, and the driver, who was at fault, paid for my bike repairs. I was so startled / shocked that I didn’t think to call the police right away. Wish I had.)

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  • Art Fuldodger January 4, 2012 at 11:19 am

    is SW Hall even a State (ODoT) highway? Perhaps they have a maintenance agreement with the City of Tigard..?

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    • K'Tesh January 4, 2012 at 11:27 am

      SW Hall is Oregon State Highway 141. As for a maintenance agreement… I don’t know.

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      • Kristen January 5, 2012 at 9:09 am

        I’ve always been told by Tigard that ODOT is responsible for maintaining/fixing/cleaning Hall. Same as with Upper Boones Ferry Rd.

        So we’re stuck waiting for ODOT to do something.

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  • Todd Boulanger January 4, 2012 at 11:56 am

    Art does bring up a good point – that local maintenance agreements help ‘fog up’ which agency is responsible for maintenance. As is often the case with faded crosswalks on state facilities in cities.

    It is a sad point that many pavement overlay managers and inspectors are not as diligent about raising catch basins in bike lanes as they seem to be for manhole covers or catch basins in car lanes.

    And as previously mentioned…directly calling the local maintenance hot line is typically the best option – as they are pretty diligent. And if not fixed then try the agency’s risk/ legal office. They might be of help before you have to call your state representative, etc.

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  • Todd Boulanger January 4, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    Though in the case of the last photo…it may not be able to raise it at all…the lack of a vertical curb face means that a raised catch basin would be higher than the yard…and the runoff could flood the private property via the driveway. These poorly designed/ cheaply built suburban legacy facilities are alway a bear to deal with.

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    • wsbob January 4, 2012 at 12:29 pm

      Todd, good point about the effect of raising the catch basin grate to the bike path pavement grade. Raising the grate might deliver more runoff from the road onto the property owners driveway.

      But maybe not. Looking at the picture you mentioned, I wonder if this section of the road really even needs a catch basin at all. There’s no curb at all along this section of the road. Water from the road is draining off onto adjoining properties all along the road into the distance as seen in the picture.

      Installation of the catch basins were probably required as part of this particular road construction, but until the street eventually gets curbs and sidewalks, the catch basins may not be able to drain much runoff. For the present, maybe it would be better and cheaper to cap them and even out the bike path grade.

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      • Machu Picchu January 5, 2012 at 8:33 pm

        Very insightful, Bob. You asked before for me to clarify options for improving these, alas, you had the last “reply”. One cheaper option is to drop a riser frame in where the grate goes – one that flares out to receive the grate X inches higher. Then you pave right up to that new “riser” frame. This technique is used on manholes all the time. One downside to this is pavement may be less stable and prone to cracking than that which is butted against concrete. A lot of the overlays we’re seeing, though, have this same frailty, plus the height differential. You make an excellent point in that raising the drain isn’t going to push all the water from the road into the adjacent property, as that drain will continue to take any water that makes it to that location as long as it’s not above grade.

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  • Schrauf January 4, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    Seems like many jurisdictions avoid marking hazards they or their contractors created (such as this) simply because they believe they are opening themselves up for more liability. Sort of like saying, “Hey, we messed up, and we can’t afford to fix it and/or don’t care about some transportation modes, but here is some paint so you have a chance to veer into traffic and trade one hazard for another. Good luck.”

    I’m glad Tigard installed the stripes they did install, because it will reduce injuries, but I’m surprised they did it themselves.

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  • was carless January 4, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    I remember this storm drain. If I recall, there were two of them – I used to cycle to/from Tualatin several years ago when I worked out in the suburbs. They were most definitely dangerous, and it is indeed virtually impossible to see them at night, as trees help to block the streetlights.

    Maybe they’ll repave the street in 20 or 30 years and fix it!

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  • Joe January 4, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    awesome work thanks ! safe travels to all.

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  • Jim Hook January 4, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    Starting in March of 2009 I had a series of email exchanges about Hall Blvd with Basil Christopher, Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, ODOT Region 1. Storm water inlets were one of the five issues I brought up then. His emails were polite, and he copied all the right people, but effective action was not taken on this important safety issue. Since then there have been a number of road maintenance activities in areas where I had identified specific concerns; only one of the five concerns has been addressed.

    Hall is an important bicycle corridor. It provides relatively safe north-south connectivity from Tualatin (via the bike pedestrian bridge that connects Tualatin Community Park, Durham City Park and Cook Park (Tigard) to Oleson (connecting to Multnomah, giving access to several routes to Portland) and also to the Fano Creek MUP.

    I would like to see a Regional Transportation Plan for cycling that identifies priority routes for cycling, and see jurisdictions, including ODOT, cooperate to execute the design and maintenance activities necessary to make them safe and inviting. I think Hall would be an obvious candidate for a regionally important bicycle collector.

    I want to commend Jim Parsons for his excellent work encouraging local jurisdictions to do the right things to make cycling safe and effective. There are many opportunities for risk reduction and hazard elimination that can be accomplished with increased awareness on the part of ODOT and other jurisdictions. Many of these are cheap (or free if done right the first time).

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  • Jim Hook January 4, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    This is one of my least favorite trios of storm water inlets on Hall. They are not as catastrophically below grade as the one Parsons has painted, but I tend to roll through here with a lot of speed and find the cluster of three unpleasant to negotiate:,+OR&hl=en&ll=45.430746,-122.764663&spn=0.003802,0.008047&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=68.558336,131.835938&vpsrc=6&hnear=Tualatin,+Washington,+Oregon&t=m&z=18&layer=c&cbll=45.430746,-122.764663&panoid=mmcZLXjrnpChVW6XJ94h2w&cbp=12,273.89,,0,13

    (I hope this awful link works)

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  • Jim Hook January 4, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    Here is another feature I identified in my 2009 email to ODOT. The bike lane narrows in this curve in front of City Hall. On the other side of the street the bike lane is overly large. I think they simply put the paint in the wrong place.,+OR&hl=en&ll=45.426102,-122.765887&spn=0.003818,0.008047&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=68.558336,131.835938&vpsrc=6&hnear=Tualatin,+Washington,+Oregon&t=m&layer=c&cbll=45.426183,-122.76596&panoid=7UNuddCidJAi9e-9SLm9iA&cbp=12,193.93,,0,15.54&z=18

    The last time I rode this the paint had completely worn off. The good part of that is the cars don’t think I’m leaving the bike lane to make a safe turn ;-).

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  • Liz January 4, 2012 at 6:08 pm


    Now let’s get a few folks together to build a couple of diverters on SE Ankeny bike boulevard. We could do for say, a hundred bucks’ worth of cement & blocks, what the City apparently can’t do for $200,000!!

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  • El Biciclero January 5, 2012 at 9:48 am

    I don’t understand why the pavement around catch basins–if they must be sunken below grade–can’t be given a more gradual slope down to the grate. Why do so many seem to have a sheer drop-off of 4 to 8+ inches right at the drain area? Couldn’t the pavement just be ground away around these problem drains to create a more gentle dip?

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    • Machu Picchu January 5, 2012 at 8:48 pm

      Yes, is the simple answer. They also can be(and are, as shown in some of the above-referenced photos) sloped with a rake as the overlay is put down. They frequently are sloped at an angle (too steep) determined by the raker or a foreman who may never have ridden a bike over such a thing. A down side to this method is that it can make the asphalt less stable as it tapers and becomes thinner. More prone to cracking and blowing out. Then it’s a low drain with a pothole next to it.

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    • Machu Picchu January 5, 2012 at 8:53 pm

      Also, I don’t know that any drain “needs” to be sunken. If the water makes it to the drain, it will go in. No need for the drain opening to be below the level of the pavement around it. These are almost always a result of little or no consideration given (at the time of an overlay) to ensuring the drain and overlay end up at the same grade, as the drain and the original pavement were.

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  • K'Tesh January 11, 2012 at 6:03 pm
  • Spiffy January 12, 2012 at 10:32 am

    here’s the location:

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