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Woman assaulted, man spooked: More security concerns on Springwater Corridor

Posted by on August 7th, 2012 at 1:30 pm

“I have lived in Portland a long time, been down plenty of pretty sketchy roads and this was the first time I was concerned about getting mugged.”
— Duncan Newberry

What can we do to improve safety and security for people who ride on the eastern reaches of the Springwater Corridor?

Back in October I shared the experiences of several people who said riding on the Springwater in the area around (and east of) SE 82nd Ave at night makes them feel unsafe. “I never take it when it’s dark… It’s really dicey back there and I definitely don’t feel safe,” said one person. “This is unacceptable!” and “This has to stop!” said others.

It’s a question I ask again today because of two more incidents that have come across my desk this week.

Last night, Portland Bike Forums user randy5235 posted that his wife had been pushed off her bike while riding on the Springwater:

“My wife was pushed off of her bike on spring water east of Powell butte. around 8:30 PM 8/6/12. Thought the community should know. She was not robbed. She got back on her bike and rode off. Two white males in t-shirts and jeans.”

randy5235 says his wife suffered a bit of road rash but was not seriously injured. They have filed a report with the police.

And already in my inbox from a few days ago was an “odd series of events” shared by reader Duncan Newberry who bikes home from work on the Springwater from SE 122nd to Sellwood (before turning south to Milwaukie):

“Three different times on the way home I had people who were hanging out (drinking and smoking mostly) tell me to slow down… I was going no more than 13-15 MPH with lights and all. The last time there were a bunch of people at least one whiskey bottle and they were all over the path standing chatting. Given I was alone, outnumbered by people who were already yelling before I got there (I heard them blocks away) I decided to proceed with all due haste through the party.

They were fairly pissed (both in general and at me) but I have to wonder what they were thinking — no one is going to want to slow down for a bunch of drunk people on an unlit pathway at night. I started wondering if something else was going on. Is saying “slow down” a way to advertise drugs? Or do they really think its OK to just hang out on a dark path dressed in black and drinking and everyone should stop so that they won’t hit them? I have to say I have lived in Portland a long time, been down plenty of pretty sketchy roads and this was the first time I was concerned about getting mugged.”

Duncan thinks the answer lies in more police presence to stop a downward spiral. “My concern is that the more this kind of thing happens without response, the fewer people will use the trail after dark, the worse this problem will get.”

These experiences show that the problems I shared back in October are still very much happening today. So, what should be done about it? I asked the question on Twitter this morning and here’s what people said:

I think all of these ideas have merit and should be considered. Unfortunately, thus far, the issue has not gotten the attention of regional leaders. KATU-TV will run a story about it tonight, so perhaps a few more folks will hear about it. Perhaps we can get county commissioners and the mayors of Gresham, Portland, and Milwaukie out on a bike ride one night this summer for a bit of first-hand experience?

In my opinion, this issue deserves attention. It’s clear that people are getting messed with and that many people don’t even ride in the area in night out of what might happen to them. This is unfortunate. The Springwater is a transportation facility and just because it is only used by people walking and biking, doesn’t mean people should have to accept dangerous conditions.

How would people respond if a major arterial road like SE Powell or 82nd went completely dark at night and people were hanging around assaulting and heckling drivers as they passed by?

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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jaime
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jaime

What about the community organizing a Volunteer Bike Patrol? That would be easy, free and draw more attention to the matter.

Elliot
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Elliot

“How would people respond if this were happening on a major arterial road like SE Powell or 82nd?”

Jonathan, you might consider removing this sentence. You don’t need to ask this question to make a point. Obviously crime happens on “major arterial roads”, and it’s an issue there too. I invite you to compare:

SE 82ND AVE & SPRINGWATER TRAIL CORR
versus
SE 82ND AVE & SE POWELL BLVD

I think the issue that intimidates most people is the level of isolation on the Springwater; that if something were to happen while they were walking/riding through, there might not be anyone else around to help.

peejay
Guest
peejay

I’m glad of the attention but I don’t trust KATU not to sensationalize the story. They could scare away many of the potential new users of the path who might make the route safer.

S.
Guest
S.

How interesting…that this post appears after I encountered more sketchy characters on I-205 and the Springwater (east) yesterday evening. This includes a young man riding a motorized Vespa-type scooter down the trail! It would have been nice to have bike cops around to nab this fellow.

Also, just generally speaking, I think that we can only expect to find at-risk folks hanging out in the few areas that can still be considered public/the commons. Symptomatic of an increasingly privatized society, like so much else. That along with dwindling social services, poor economy, etc. … deep root causes that are harder to solve in the long term but could be assuaged by shorter-term measures.

Love the Sunday Parkways idea, especially if it means involving East County folks more directly, allowing them to have a bigger stake in conditions along the trail.

paul g.
Guest
paul g.

This is a hard issue and potentially volatile since class, race, and bike/ped divisions may overlap.

The corridor passes through one of the highest crime areas in town at that point (just search on 87th and Flavel at porlandmaps.org, for example, and you’ll see crime rates that are at the highest frequency category available–500+ incidents annually). It’s an area with lots of working class folks and recent immigrants who may be less familiar with or sensitive to the concerns of cyclists.

For instance, yes, I DO think a lot of users think it is OK to hang out in the evening in dark clothing drinking and partying–that’s what they use the path for at that time of night. Yes, they DO think you should slow way down or stop.

I realize that for many here this is a bike freeway, but for local residents, this is their version of a park. Is that wrong?

It’s a multi-use path, after all, and I’m not sure why this is any different than slowing way down on the east side promenade on a sunny weekend. (I suspect it’s not intention above, but why do we assume “slow down” means “slow down” on the promenade but means “hey man want to buy some weed” at 82nd and the corridor? Maybe slow down just means slow down.)

The best way to avoid walker / loiterer and bike conflict would be to widen the area where people can hang out, as they did west of 47th. Problem with that suggestion is that the corridor is very narrow at that point.

The problem with more lighting is that this is a dense residential area and lighting would be very invasive for the residents.

As a regular rider on the corridor, frankly I would simply avoid that area once evening approaches, no different than I avoid other sketchy areas when riding or walking.

CaptainKarma
Guest
CaptainKarma

I use this trail a lot. I have never had a problem, but I think the groups hanging out there lately are getting less, er, stable. The best thing in the world would be to make it less inviting for those groups. That means actual police or park rangers on bikes, or atv type vehicles, randomly and often, shining lots of spotlights into the bushes. Checking IDs of loiterers, etc. Not sure that citizen patrols would deter that much, but am willing to join one today! At least there would be dedicated eyes to report incidents after the fact.
In actuality, the most trouble I’ve seen or heard of was from neighborhood punks, not vagrants.

Granpa
Guest
Granpa

When patrolling the trail, take cell phones, not firearms.

thefuture
Guest
thefuture

I really wish the city would do a campaign to encourage donations to organizations that offer services rather than just hand people on the street cash or change. I think handing someone cash / change enables this type of lifestyle and behavior that happens along the springwater and in a lot of other places in the city. No, not everyone ends up on the street because of alcohol or drug abuse and yes it feels good to try to help someone but IMO if you really want to help save that change and give it to an organization with professionals who really know how to assist someone.

Carter
Guest
Carter

This sounds like young men with nothing better to do than hang out, drink, and look for trouble. More cops should do the trick. With cops around, they would risk arrest. Then it would no longer be fun and they will go do something else.

Brian
Guest

FYI, Fanno Creek Creek is patrolled by the THPRD Park Patrol. They either work on foot or drive the SUV on the trail.

I’ll tell you It’s a bit of a surprise when you come upon them at night. The first time I saw them I thought it was a drunk driver that was lost.

Sunny
Guest
Sunny

Call 911 and let the K9 units track down the perps.

Brian Willson
Guest

I am interested in being part of a Volunteer Bike Patrol on the Springwater Corridor. How does this get organized?I am a handcyclist who lives not far from the Springwater, meaning I don’t travel as fast as a cyclist. How many cyclists makes a practical size volunteer patrol?

Terry D
Guest
Terry D

More police presence is not the answer, as a city and country we already have enough of a police presence. This is too long a corridor with too many neighborhood problems to prevent all the congregation from occurring. You have to build more inviting areas to be than in the middle of the trail.

The problem is that there is not enough space next to the trail to congregate in, so people congregate on the trail. Some sections are narrow, but there is enough empty space…..by empty I mean filled with blackberries or other nice invasives……that hang-out nooks could be and should be built at regular intervals with benches, rocks or other focal points. Think of it as a “ribbon park” while of course keeping the environmentally sensitive areas off limits. At the same time post occasional warning signs to not “congregate and block the trail.”

Night time lighting could be accomplished through either downward facing overheads, or possibly even reflector type LED’s at the side of the trail. We were just down there at about 11 pm a few nights ago. It was so dark that I could have easily ran into someone and I was not going very fast and had a head light. The locals hanging out did not bother us. The 205 path on the other hand was a breeze to ride on since it is wider and mostly well lit.

There is over head electrical lines so access is not the problem. As always the problem is having the will to pay for it. Lighting would solve much of the problems and personally I do not see the difference from a safety and transportation perspective between the 205 and the Springwater paths.

jocko
Guest
jocko

The problem spot is the trail from johnson creek up to east 82nd. This is the only stretch where I have encountered large groups of party animals on a semi regular basis. Mostly right after you pass 72nd going east. This is also an easy part of the trail to cut out with a detour.

Bike Milwaukie
Guest

We’ve invited the Milwaukie City Council out on a ride every month for the last year. They are either too old and out of shape, or too busy with other things to go on a 2 hour Sunday morning ride. Meanwhile we’ve had many great rides with many residents.

gl.
Guest
gl.

those are scary stories! i was in that area at the same time last night as randy5235’s wife; so sorry it happened to her. this type of behavior is undoubtably worse in the summer months, but still scary.

having a place to ride that is beautiful and dark at night is a rare and wonderful thing, and is one of the things i treasure about the springwater — when people aren’t being jerks.

i’s like to see more patrols. i understand why lights seem appealing, but the people who cause trouble on the Springwater at night also cause trouble there during the day. or in a MAX car full of people. or in other areas where supervision is light and consequences don’t exist.

has anyone noticed the super bright and ugly light clusters they’ve installed on the esplanade, pioneer square and in the park blocks? is that part of the same theory of security? because i notice that it makes someone like me unlikely to want to stay in the area, but it seems to have no effect on the groups and individuals who camp in those areas during the day, too.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

I thought I had heard a while back that the problem with lighting was that it would disrupt the nocturnal rhythms of local wildlife. If that is true, then it sounds as though the confusion about whether the Springwater is a park or a travel corridor still exists. Is it both?

Don’t complain too loudly, or some agency will make sure the whole thing is closed 1/2 hour after sunset, making anyone’s presence illegal. I know some municipality (Gresham?) attempted this a couple years ago for one segment and was overruled, but nothing says it couldn’t still be done. The irony of that would be that to enforce a closure, some kind of patrol would need to be added to roust the ne’er-do-well scofflaws that would jump the gate and continue to hang out…

Craig Harlow
Guest
Craig Harlow

Ding Ding! I think it’s worth considering the old standby of ringing your bike bell well before you overtake someone on foot or on a bike, in motion or not. Especially after daylight fades.

Be properly lit.

Also, adopt a riding style that includes slowing down well before someone feels the need to ask you to slow down. The path is narrow, and in the dark a suddenly approaching bike is probably startling.

If you don’t have a bell or proper lights, or if you overtake other path users without regard for their safety or their perception of safety, shame on them, expect startled, instinctively hostile responses.

This, of course, doesn’t excuse assault of any kind.

Ride safer. Ride nicer.

Dan V
Guest
Dan V

One problem I see is that for the vast majority of the population, the Springwater is NOT a transportation corridor, but a recreational path (you know, since bikes are kids/idle rich toys).

pdxbikeworm
Guest
pdxbikeworm

Folks, as a regular rider – including at night during the winter – I’ve encountered maybe 3 iffy situations, mostly in the areas near 82nd Avenue, but also some threatening teenagers one night at Foster Rd. One thing I do when passing is to try and shield my light – its pretty blinding, and that pisses people off. I think the bell works as well, and a few polite words. A lot of these folks aren’t really threatening – they’re just poor and want to be treated with respect, not fear.

I don’t like the idea of lighting the path – its not a bike freeway, its a park, and one of the beautiful things about the park is taking a night ride on a warm evening to a quiet, unlit spot (rare in the city) to enjoy the night sky and the quiet. There are some particularly wonderful spots between 136th(?) and Jenny Road, near the pasture where the sheep graze and the city has reclaimed the original Johnson Creek landscape. In addition, the street lights along/near this path tend to be rather blinding, making visibility even worse, as there are few lights around to provide a more consistent light “landscape”.

I’ve been riding the Springwater Corridor since before it was paved. The best deterrent I have found is increased usage.

DIO
Guest
DIO

So if the issue is having law enforcement patrolling the Trail at night, why can’t this be done? I don’t know when it was exactly, but definitely within the last 3 years, I was taking a break by the Linneman Station one day. Off in the distance, I saw this bright headlight coming down the path. As it was broad daylight, this bright light was really interesting to me, so I waited to see who this rider was, thinking that I’d ask him/her where they got their headlight since it was so bright. As it turns out, it wasn’t a bicycle rider at all, it was a Portland Police officer on a motorcycle riding down the Springwater Corridor Trail. If this can happen during the day, why can’t they send someone down the path at night?

Ed
Guest
Ed

I commute along the Springwater from SE 17th to Flavel at least once or twice every week. I’ve done that for more than 13 years. The homeward leg is always after 8 PM, so often in the dark. Granted, I’m a male, so it’s a very different experience than for a woman. There’s definitely a population of homeless people, men and women, along the route. Waxes and wanes, but seems to be growing over the past couple of years. Of course, there are more of them in the summer. There’s a concentration somewhere between 82nd and Bell Ave, where there’s sort of a continuous party happening at one point on the south side. Yeah, they look pretty wasted. Occasionally one of them yells at me about my light being too bright and sometimes they spill over across the path. But I’ve never felt any real threat. I’ve had male teens yell or even throw things from windows of pickup trucks on ordinary streets, which is far worse. More often these folks are actually friendly and quite a few actually have bikes–hopefully not stolen from some of the readers of this blog!! So, I’ve got mixed feelings about this issue. On the one hand, I want everyone who wants or needs to ride a bike to be and feel absolutely safe riding on that corridor, male and female. On the other, this homeless population exists, will continue to, needs to be somewhere, are mostly harmless, and I don’t want to see them hassled and abused by the police, as they will be. Probably not a terribly helpful comment, but from the heart.

Scott
Guest
Scott

The second email disturbs me. I read it as “I was afraid my person may come to harm, or my property may be taken, so I sped up to a speed I felt increased my safety although it put others in harms way.”

This is acting under the assumption that anyone drinking on a public trail at night is bad. That’s just plain stupid an borders on puritanicalism in its leaps past points of logic.

Assuming that at some point you will be hit by a car is good math. Assuming that at some point you will be mugged is fox news.

Quit getting Rush Limbaugh’d. Stop and introduce yourself to the people, then next time yell, “Hey So and So, it’s me so and so just coming through.”

dan
Guest
dan

Scott
Also there are no sketchy roads in Portland, so that part of his statement must be disregarded. This town is butter soft, if you feel unsafe in this city it is because you have never really experienced a place where you were not supposed to be.
Recommended 1

LOL at the Internet tough guy. I used to work in Old Town, and one morning they found a corpse in front of my building. I think that qualifies as sketchy…though I continued to leave work on my bike at 10 or 11 p.m., I was always very mindful of my surroundings.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

I remember another story about the Springwater, not too long ago, where the dominant comments seemed to be that the people hanging out along the trail were ALL just harmless homeless folk, and anyone who was concerned for their safety — even women riding alone — were just being wusses.

Glad to see that (with the exception of Scott) there seems to be more respect for what appear to be valid concerns. Personally I don’t want Portland to get dragged down to the level of other, higher-crime cities. Including my hometown of Minneapolis. People assaulting or harassing others for simply trying to go about their daily business should NOT be tolerated. Anywhere. I refuse to shrug my shoulders and accept that as an inevitable consequence of life in a city.

As for paul g’s advice to simply avoid the area at night … I doubt that most people passing through there at night are riding recreationally. I’d bet a fair number are trying to get home from (or to!) work. Riding many of the surface streets of outer east Portland at night may be less likely to get you assaulted, but probably more likely to get you killed. So really, “avoiding the area” means taking a car instead.

And BTW, I would second Chris I’s comment that ding-dinging a group like this with your bell is NOT a good idea. Riding along with high-powered overly-broad-beamed headlight (such as the ultra-popular MagicShine) is not a good idea either. I’ve attached a shroud to the top of my light so help keep the light on the pavement where it belongs. No guarantees, but avoiding blinding everyone you meet on the trail might just help avoid conflict with groups of people hanging out there.

Tom
Guest
Tom

I ride from 122nd to Ochoco a couple of times a week, tho never after dark. Yes , there is usually a group near the 72nd crossing …but I give them a smile and weave through slowly and they are mostly friendly.

Jessie
Guest
Jessie

Ok look, I ride this from Sellwood to SE 128th everyday. I have worked security in malls as well as in a tough night club for over 8 years. I would never ride this trail alone after dark. Not just the felony flats sections, around 52nd and Johnson Creek area is very dangerous as well; I think due to the proximity to public restroom facilities many homeless live nearby.

Having friends in law-enforcement and also friends who have lived the not so straight and narrow path; I have been told by both sides that the tactic of taking over the entire path is to actually get you to slow down, which makes robbing you easier. Typically they want you to slow down so that they can surround and rob you. Those of you defending these vagabonds have clearly never encountered them. Yes, we understand social inequality and its consequences on society. I worked very hard with organizers during Occupy Portland, and from day 2 there was already a “rape” committee formed due to the high amount of sexual assault from the homeless population.

Great article and something definitely needs to happen soon. Unfortunately if we want the city to act it would take a serious incident 🙁

John, Doh!
Guest
John, Doh!

“Outlaw” bike clubs, part of the problem or part of the solution?

Sunny
Guest
Sunny

A handful of pennies dropped on to pavement makes it as though lots of free money is available for the taking. No thug or homeless could resist. This gives enough distraction to pedal away.

davemess
Guest
davemess

More (or any) police presence is needed. I ride and run these sections of the path consistently and agree that it is a sketchy area. I’m pretty sure that the area around SE111th at Beggars Tick Refuge is a big drug dealing spot. Always suspect folks/cars hanging around there.

There are all kinds of little paths and homeless areas on and around the path in this area, and yes it makes me a little nervous on the rare occasion. I can’t foresee my wife ever wanting to go on this section after dark, and I definitely don’t blame her. And that’s a problem, as this is one of the only MUPs in the entire city. It should be safe for users.

Joe
Guest
Joe

carry spare change.. FTW 🙂

Marsh
Guest
Marsh

Lived in Gresham for 22 years growing up, and now 6 years in the Woodstock neighborhood. I use the trail often and love it! That being said, last Sunday around 10:30 I had a very intoxicated woman jump out at me,just west of 82nd, then literally 10 blocks east, rocks thrown at me. Would be interested in a volunteer bike patrol.

Brian Willson
Guest

Volunteer bike patrol would be good. How to organize it?

Seth Alford
Guest
Seth Alford

This story illustrates yet another hole in the BTA’s (and others’) theory that MUPs are going to address the timid but looking-for-an-excuse demographic’s fear of riding a bicycle.

CaptainKarma
Guest
CaptainKarma

I’ve been assaulted twice on the west bank with lotsa lights and people around, on my bike. Never, ever on Springwater. Just sayin.

Duncan
Guest
Duncan

I am the Duncan quoted in the article. Let me clear up a couple of points:
1) I am not a person who is, in general fearful of my personal safety. I go pretty much wherever I please in Portland without worrying- then again I am 6′ 6″ and close to 300lbs (hey I said I was out of shape) but at a fairly youthful-feeling 44 I still feel up to dealing with one or two unarmed men. If someone like me feels hesitent to deal with a group, how do you think that a more timid person my feel?

2) To all the people who suggest slowing down- THIS IS A VERY BAD IDEA- given the situation (out-numbered, presumably unarmed versus an unkown adversary or group of adversaries) slowing down/stopping is giving up your one advantage. Once a group knocks you down, out there far from any help you are at the mercy of a group whose motives are unkown to you- maybe they are just partying, but drinking groups can and do make bad decisions. Keep moving. If I (in my current desk jockey condition) can out pace them, so can you. The safest thing you can do is flee with all due haste.

3) Craig do you really think that it is impossible for groups of macontents to hang out planning to do harm? Jesus have you never heard of gangs? What the hell do you think they do? Have you never heard of riots, gang rapes, or the mafia? Yes those people exist, yes they work together. Yes also they are the tiniest minority of the human race, but the last thing you want to do is put your welfare in the hands of a group of drunk angry men in the dark far from help, because while it is unlikely that they are capable of seriously harming someone if they are your are seriously, rightously screwed.

4) The true equivilent of my experience on 82nd would be if a bunch of drunk people attempted to block the road and tell me to get out of my car- or in the case of the assualted woman had they broken her window and dragged her out of her car. Had either of these two events happened on 82nd AVE, the police response would have been immeadate and thourough. I am sure that whatever jurisdictional issues existed at the time of either of these hypothetical instances would have been quickly and efficently worked out.

I am sorry that these people feel they have nowhere else to go, but this is a pathway- sitting in the middle of it defeats the porpose of having it. Yelling/ threatening/ injuring people who are lawfully using the commons is unacceptable behavior. I have no issue with people getting drunk in public (lord knows I have done it enough times) but however drunk I got I never thought that it was OK to harrass, threaten or intimidate anyone. Nor did I ever stand in a street and get pissed that people were driving on it. This behavior needs to stop. In some countries the locals would just go and beat the crap out of them. Here in this country we give the task of dealing with people acting in a way that threatens or harms others to the police. I am totally OK with that- but they need to do their job.

The area where I was approaced was right after an intersection with a store. Perhaps this is where the alcohol fueling the party comes from? Perhaps the OLCC can make sure that the visibly intoxicated are not getting more stupid juice.

I will end with the advice my Uncle (another drinker) gave me before I went camping with my friends at 16. “If you are going to drink in publice, don’t be an asshole to anyone. It just invites scurtiny”. My belief if the police whould intensify their scrutiny, the drinkers would mellow out or face the consequences of their own choices.

Duncan
Guest
Duncan

Also I would encourage anyone who has an incident on the springwater to report it to the correct authorities. Be the squeaky wheel on this one.

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

Eyes. It’s too solo.

Julie
Guest
Julie

Re Duncan…”slowing down/stopping is giving up your one advantage”.

As a rollerblader/unicyclist/walker on public pathways, too often have my kidneys been threatened (stealthily, from behind) by…yup, biker’s handlebars. I haven’t been knocked down (yet!), but I have been suddenly grazed, or at least, had cold steel passing an inch or two from my soft body parts by speeding bikers. So, Duncan, “your one advantage” is a telling one. Yes, you (6’6″, 300#) can threaten others with your speeding machine…and still you wonder why you encounter hostility from the (rest of the) World? C’mon…