and lawyer Mark Ginsberg collided
with a MAX train while crossing E. Burnside
in January 2011.
(Photo © J. Maus)
The intersection of E Burnside, 97th Ave, and the I-205 multi-use path seems to have a worse safety record than I first realized. It’s more dangerous than I realized when I posted about Sharon Fekety’s nasty tumble on the tracks back in 2007. It’s also more dangerous than I realized when I posted about the spill Thomas Crosslin took Wednesday morning while biking to work.
I learned about both of those incidents (not to mention others shared in comments) before I knew that noted local lawyer (who specializes in bike law), accomplished bike racer, daily bike commuter, and long-time Portland citizen activist Mark Ginsberg was involved in a collision with a MAX train while bicycling through that same intersection in January 2011.
According to Ginsberg, he was riding the north on the I-205 path with a friend after a long ride. When the I-205 path gets to E. Burnside, it switches from the west side of the freeway to the east side. To make this switch, the route directs bike traffic onto the south sidewalk of the E. Burnside overpass to go east and then it takes an abrupt left turn to go north via the painted crosswalk on E. Burnside (see graphic below). This turn shifts a rider’s eyes view from looking directly east to looking north and midway through the intersection is a set of MAX tracks.
On January 2nd, 2011, Ginsberg made that turn, rolled half-way through the crosswalk and then collided with a MAX train that was turning from south to east. Here’s how Ginsberg remembers it:
“Molly [person he was was with] screamed ‘Mark, watch out!’ and next thing I know a train hits my bars from my left… It takes my bike about 50 feet down the tracks. I instinctively rolled backwards off the bike. I was very fortunate. I fell backwards and scraped my knee. I only ruined a water bottle.”
Ginsberg said the MAX operator stopped, had him board the train and meet a TriMet staff person who was waiting at the next stop to take down an incident report. At the time, TriMet still had a bicycle planning specialist on staff (they don’t anymore, but they say they are interviewing for a new Active Transportation planner this week, says spokesperson Mary Fetsch). Ginbserg says he talked to the bike planner and was assured that TriMet was working to make the intersection safer. “But nothing ever came of it,” recalls Ginsberg.
Ginsberg admits he was at fault. “They had the right of way. I just didn’t see it or hear it.” Despite his errors, Ginsberg feels the intersection is dangerous and in dire need of improvements.
And, as it turns out, TriMet feels the same way.
In their own Light Rail Pedestrian and Bicycle Crossing Final Report (PDF) published on September 8th, 2008 (the one promised by the agency after Fekety’s fall one year earlier), TriMet analyzed this intersection.
In the “Site Assessment” section, TriMet concluded that “Visual and physical strengthening of the north/south pedestrian crossing over East Burnside is needed.”
The report also listed several “Recommendations”. One of them specifically addressed Ginsberg’s situation:
2. Explore methods to increase sight distance to an oncoming LRV [light rail vehicle] for pedestrians and bicyclists traveling west along East Burnside. Options for implementation may include: (a) convex mirrors could be installed on existing or new poles; or (b) seek cooperation of ODOT to remove enough of the sound wall along I-205 multi-use path (+/- 50 linear feet) to enable maximum sight distance between the pedestrian walking west along East Burnside and an LRV turning from the I-205 ROW [right of way] onto eastbound East Burnside…
3. Enhance conditions that warn pedestrians and cyclists of an oncoming LRV by considering the addition of active warning devices and channeling devices to the East Burnside westbound sidewalk crossing. These can include a flashing “train” signal, pedestrian gates, railings, or bollards and cable, and creative use of landscaping.
For how tricky this intersection is — it mixes a two-way roadway, multi-use path, crosswalk and MAX tracks — and given its alarming record of collisions, injury crashes, and documented concerns, I’m very surprised more safety-related infrastructure still doesn’t exist. And, judging from your comments and experiences, it remains a dangerous intersection.
I’ve asked TriMet for an update on any actions they’ve taken to improve safety at this intersection and/or any steps made to implement the recommendations found in their 2008 report. I’ve also requested the incident report from Mr. Ginsberg’s collision. I’ll share more from them when I hear something back.