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Blogging TriMet bus driver gives bike riders good report card

Posted by on August 16th, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Portland City Tour ride -16

(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

TriMet bus operator Dan Christensen is blogging again, and he’s just published his “Portland cyclist report card”. The good grades Christensen gives people on bikes (see them below) is quite a shift from last time we heard from him.

Dan’s name might be familiar to some readers as the driver who started a petition against allowing bicycle access through the Rose Quarter Transit Center because he was concerned his and other drivers’ views on the matter hadn’t been heard by TriMet. Then, in July 2010, Christensen got into hot water with TriMet for his infamous “Kill This Bicyclist!” blog post. The agency put him on leave after that episode.

Now he’s blogging again and he emailed me his latest — “A report card for cycling that I have seen over the last three years.” Here’s how the grades came in:

“Your actions speak louder than any advertisement campaign, or any spokesperson blowing hard in the media. So riders who are doing it right, you are winning the battle with your good actions… I’m proud of all you and I think that’s good enough grades to go up on the refrigerator.”
— Dan Christensen, TriMet bus operator

Lights: A- up from C-

“the fact is more lights equals more lives saved. Thank you cyclist.”

Sticking Up: B+ from D

“Sticking up is not robbing people, it means Cyclist telling Cyclist what the hell they are doing wrong… policing their own.”

Path Abuse: C from a C

“I’m talking about three cyclist out for a ride on a busy street all side by side, swerving in and out of a bike lane. I’m talking about making traffic swerve way out of there way just so you can talk to one another during rush hour. Giving a grade here is not as easy as it seems. There is more of this Path Abuse going on but there are way more cyclist today so it’s hard to know if this issue is becoming more frequent overall. I’ll give it a C, so it needs improvement but it’s passing for now.”

Helmets: A+ Up From B+

Courtesy Downtown B+ up from C+

“Three years ago getting a bus in and out of bike lane was difficult and dangerous. It was as if there was a competition, as if the bus was the man and every cyclist wanted to stick it to the man… There is far more caution by cyclist around big rigs in the crowded streets and this makes me smile every time.”

Hand Signals D+ up from F

“I see a trend starting… Like bike lights I feel this is going to burst into use in the next three years.”

While bike riders did well, and are improving on all the subjects above, Christensen did give downgrades in two subjects:

Speed Differential: C down from C+

“Yes there are times you can go faster than traffic on a bike and sometimes on a downhill slope you can go much much faster than the traffic. The danger is this, by increasing your speed you lengthen your travel time when something goes wrong… remember you are not Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China, reflexes will not save you if physics refuses to make an exception for your actions.”

Signal Adherence: C+ Down From B-

“Stop signs, lights and other traffic control signals should not be treated as cyclist optional… I know what it’s like, when I bike home at 2 AM it’s hard to fight myself into stopping and doing the right thing.”

Christensen also announced that he’ll throw a $1,000 pizza party for “all cyclists in Portland” if he counts 15 different people using hand signals in a one month time period. Let’s hold him to it! And invite other bus operators!

Check out his full blog post. It should be noted that Dan is a great guy, and his candor in dealing with the very important subject of bus/bike safety is an asset to Portland. Oh, and he’s super funny too!

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PorterStout
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PorterStout

“Cyclist telling Cyclist what the hell they are doing wrong… policing their own.”

That goes over just about as big as Driver telling Driver what the hell they are doing wrong, and probably about as effective. Not disagreeing with his observations but let’s be realistic!

Sarah
Guest
Sarah

Overall, not too bad. $1000 pizza party for raising my left hand? I think I can handle that.

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

I dunno, I’m still seeing a lot of piss poor behavior out there…

Indy
Guest
Indy

Interesting. I use hand signals frequently, (and in the car I’m a nazi about it,) while I have been laxing on the stopping fully at stop signs more and more. I used to get so upset at other bikers that did this, now I guess I’m just as guilty.

Helmets are not A+, by any means. How can he begin to state that helmet use is near perfection?

Also I rarely see other bikers with lights, I think this could be much better. I’d give this the lowest grade.

encephalopath
Guest
encephalopath

Hooray for confirmation bias.

Dan my be a great guy, but his grading of other people’s actions based on his “observations” is utterly useless.

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

Dan
… reflexes will not save you if physics refuses to make an exception for your actions.”

Gravity does not apply if I don’t look down.

Matt
Guest
Matt

To be blunt…who cares what this guy thinks? He might be getting better but he’s got an awful track history. And who does he think he is to grade cyclists?!? Are you kidding me? Does this piss anyone else off or is it just me? I’ve seen horrible, dangerous driving by bus drivers on a fairly routine basis. Speeding. Running red lights. You name it. I’ve emailed Tri-Met and they basically say, “Get the bus number and let us know when you see it again” aka we’re not going to do anything about it.

Dan
Guest
Dan

What is the grade for people signaling while driving a car?

On a side note, it is MUCH easier & effective to signal while in a car. There are sections of road in Portland I won’t ride one-handed.

Rol
Guest
Rol

I think I’ve heard more than enough from this guy for my lifetime.

davemess
Guest
davemess

Pertaining to “Path Abuse”. What are the laws for riding 2 or 3 abreast in Oregon? I found this from 814:430, which seems completely subjective (“normal and reasonable”).

(e) When operating a bicycle alongside not more than one other bicycle as long as the bicycles are both being operated within a single lane and in a manner that does not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic.

Clearly Dan does not find ANY two abreast riding normal and reasonable.

Adron
Guest

Hell, I’d pitch in on the $1000 pizza party. I’m not a driver of anything, but I cycle all the time and would LOVE to see more hand signals. I see far to many “almost incidents”. I signal like my life depends on it (I was also one of those wierdo motorists that used to signal like crazy too), which sometimes it does.

But here here, to the improvement in ratings! …and cheers to Dan, he is indeed and awesome dude! 🙂

David
Guest
David

[I posted this on Dan’s site too]

I like the “sticking up” grade. I commute from NE over the Broadway Bridge into downtown everyday (by bike). Since cyclists tend to bunch up going down Vancouver and toward the bridge, I’ve noticed more disdain from the majority of cyclists when they see one get tired of waiting for a light and running a red.

A couple weeks ago one guy pushed his way to the front and tried to do a ridiculous track stand for awhile (on a normal road bike) and eventually just road through the red. A few of us in the pack who were stopped at the light (probably about 9 of us) just started laughing at him, and one yelled, “Where is he going??”

And today same situation, but on Broadway on the west side heading into the hotel district–cyclist passes a bunch of us on the right through empty parking spaces to blow through a red. One of the guys actually yelled at him this time, a really sarcastic “WOOOOO!” as he ran the light.

John Lascurettes
Guest

Hand Signals D+ up from F

I hope he doesn’t count those wimpy little arm twitches I see most cyclists make as attempts at showing their intentions for a turn. Even as another cyclist behind them, I’m thinking “what the hell was that? was that actually a signal?” half the time.

P.S.: personal preference (and totally legal and defined as such in the ORS), I prefer to use my right hand to signal straight out for a right turn (instead of the upright “L” with the left hand) as it’s much clearer in intention and visibility. It’s that usual left-handed right-turn signal that is so half hearted. Still, the way some riders signal a left turn too could also be construed as a stop signal.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

This is the same guy who didn’t think Sandi Day should be held responsible for running over 5 people in a crosswalk while making an illegal left turn right? Something about how she was short and there was a blind spot?

Police your own indeed!

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

Signals.

I signal left turns with gusto and military precision in arm placement and alignment. I stopped signaling right turns a few years ago. I used to have frequent close calls due to drivers pinching me while attempting to pass me during a right turn, or [oncoming drivers] turning left into me because they assumed I’d be hugging the curb of my destination street. In my experience, signaling right turns invited more close calls than it prevented. My only exception is if I know there is another cyclist behind me–to avoid being passed on the right as I slow down for the turn…

Well, and on the rare occasion, I’ll signal for a driver waiting to turn from my destination street to let them know that I am not intending to cross their path (knowing that they are not able to cross mine, either)

Spiffy
Guest

Helmets: odd, I’ve started wearing mine less and less… so I guess that means that about two other people have started wearing theirs more…

Hand Signals: we’re not required to use them if our hands are needed to control the bike… and usually when stopping you need both hands on the brakes… of course you have no excuse if you roll the stop…

Speed Differential: I’m not going to slow down to a crawl simply because motorists and pedestrians are negligent… if they can’t tell if they have enough time then they should wait…

Signal Adherence: unexpectedly? I see the same level of non-compliance across all modes: pedestrians, bikes, buses, and cars… expect it…

Joe
Guest
Joe

I think using hand signals while riding causes some drivers to just speed up.

Fred Lifton
Guest
Fred Lifton

I try not to be a safety nanny (I rode like a banshee in my youth so it would be kind of hypocritical), but lately I’ve been experimenting with booing loudly when someone blatantly runs a red in front of a whole group of stopped cyclists. My hope is that some of the others stopped with me will join in.

Joe
Guest
Joe

Hello Fred have you ever rode behind someone that jams on the brakes or
shoots around at stop lights, prolly yes, I think what happens is some ppl ride bike like thier in a bubble.. aka car. I make my choices based on the
time and place, but hear ya loud and clear. 🙂

Travis
Guest
Travis

Daily, I count a minimum of 3 – 4 deadly traffic accidents involving motor vehicles. TriMet drivers, at no-fault of cyclist or car drivers, have caused more high-damage accidents than cyclist. Are cyclist perfect? No. Should we care what Dan Christensen says? Yes. But only to note the degree to which our community wants to find (dis)approval of bikes on the road. When will be through justifying and excusing (all things considered) the sanest form of commuting in Portland proper? I believe, as a community, once we accept the notion that biking makes sense and is not a renegade endeavor, we can start to isolate problem cyclist in commentary like we do hot-dogging Subaru drivers, drunk drivers, and Nook reading bus drivers. ‘Cause seriously, if anyone cared to rate TriMet drivers based on non-scientific observations, who would take it seriously? The general perception is we trust TriMet to not squash us. Some how, Dan believes, despite the perceived odds, that bike riders must prove themselves and it is only at the expense of motor vehicle drivers that more cyclist aren’t injured. Everyday, cyclist as a whole are probably the the safest people on wheels –nonscientific.

jd
Guest
jd

I like the generally positive tone of his post, and it’s good to hear that he thinks more cyclists are acknowledging that a bus full of 1-50 non-driving alternative transit allies might have a right to merge back into traffic at some point.

For most of the observations, though, a report card like this would be more welcome from another cyclist, and I hope Mr. Christensen sometimes joins us down on two wheels, to see that perspective. In safe areas like Ladd’s Addition, I see plenty of signaling. In scarier areas, with damaged roads and buses merging, you want both hands on the handlebar, so you exercise your legal right to opt out of signaling, for safety reasons. I’m sure he would do the same.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

I can’t say I’ve seen ANY wholesale changes in the behavior of my fellow riders over the last couple of years.

A lot of cyclists wear helmets, and a lot of them don’t. I don’t know how we get an “A+” when every third or fourth rider in the inner eastside thinks they’re too cool for a brain bucket. Not that it should matter: IMO that’s their business, and doesn’t endanger other people on the road in the slightest. Chastising others for not wearing helmets is the height of Portlandia-style buttinsky self-righteousness. A lot of Portlanders are earnestly trying to do the right thing all the time, which can be great. But too often it leads to berating someone else for failing to follow YOUR personal code of conduct, and this disease is getting to be one of the few real drags about living in Portland.

A fair number of cyclists still run stop signs, but most don’t if there are other users approaching the intersection. Most cyclists do not run red lights, but a few do. A pretty fair number of cyclists use their signals, and I don’t know how it can be hard to spot 15 cyclists who signal. The law says you should signal only if it is “safe and practicable” and I think that’s pretty clear.

Most cyclists obey most of the OTHER traffic laws, but some don’t. Of course the ones who don’t are the ones who are noticeable, and that leads to availability bias, and the widespread (and faulty) perception that cyclists are all total scofflaws.

I’m wondering if Dan Christensen is seeing “improvement” because he’s less subject to availability (and confirmation) bias: either because he’s making a more conscious effort to pay attention and also notice the law-abiding cyclists, or maybe because he’s riding his bike more and seeing the other side of things. Because, really, I’m not seeing that much of a difference out there on the streets.

As for PYO, are you effing kidding me? I stopped scolding other riders for running red lights years ago, when I realized that it inevitably leads to defensiveness, anger and confrontation (at least among the perpetrators who didn’t appear to be mentally ill or challenged, which turned out to be a significant percentage). I could see that if I kept doing it, it would eventually lead to a physical confrontation. One that I would lose. If you big, tall, beefy guys want to keep doing that, fine. I’ve got less brawn than brains, so I’ll keep the focus on my own behavior, TYVM.

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

i call out motorists all the time. when someone speeds i always chase them down and tell them that they could have killed a puppy or a toddler.

not.

TriMetBusDriver
Guest
TriMetBusDriver

This is refreshing to see. As a TriMet Bus Operator, I’m often shocked (and somewhat offended [being a bicyclist myself]) by the vitriol I hear spewed by fellow drivers regarding bicyclists.

A few months ago, on the way back to the garage, a driver behind me saw a bicyclist illegally cross a very busy street right in front of my bus. When we got back to the garage, the other driver said we should put big stickers on the back of all the buses that have pictures of bikes with a circle/cross through them. I said, “No! We should not!”

That incident with the bicyclist is the only such incident I can recall in the last 6+ months. And that’s with driving a bus at least 5 days a week. With motorists, I have close calls and see them do incredibly dangerous and stupid things on MULTIPLE occasions EVERY SINGLE DAY.

I like to ask the anti-bike drivers, “How many people were killed this year by bicyclists? How many were killed by cars? How many people were killed or seriously injured by drunk bicyclists? How many by drunk drivers?” It’s amazing how many of my fellow drivers (and just drivers in general) have become so acclimated to the horrors caused by automobiles that all the deaths and injuries they cause don’t seem to phase them at all… but then one bicyclist cuts them off and it’s all about the “war on cars” and the annoying bicyclists that shouldn’t be allowed on OUR streets. They fail to see that bicycling is the SOLUTION, not the problem.

Finally, I just want to mention that, although many drivers are courteous to me when I’m driving my bus (such as yielding when I’m pull out from a stop [which is required by state law, but ignored by many]), I generally notice far more courteous bicyclists than automobile drivers. A good example is on the 14-Hawthorne, which I drive every weekday morning during rush hour. At SE Madison & Grand, just before the Hawthorne Bridge, there is a bike box, with a bus stop directly behind it. Almost every morning, I stop at that stop on a red light (leaving the bike box clear, of course). And every morning, without fail, once the bike box is full of bikes, the bikes still in the bike lane to my left stop and wait for me to merge across the bike lane and back into traffic. It’s a little dance we do together every morning, and it ensures the safety of everyone involved. It’s one of those things that I sometimes take for granted that would be very unlikely to happen in any other city.