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

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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