Advertise on BikePortland

Police ticketing riders for not following signs near SE construction zone

Posted by on August 8th, 2013 at 11:02 am

SE light rail construction detours-2

Navigate poorly and you could wind
up with a $260 ticket.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

On Tuesday, the Portland Bureau of Transportation proudly boasted about their traffic law enforcement crackdown around the light rail construction zone in inner southeast Portland. They issued 316 citations, 104 warnings, and arrested four people in just over two weeks of patrols. In press statements, PBOT says this stepped-up enforcement effort is being done in the name of safety and that their efforts are — understandably so — directed at speeding and, “motorists who are distracted, impaired, or aggressive.”

But what they haven’t said is that people on bikes are being ticketed simply for failing to properly navigate the confusing, stress-inducing, and inadequate detour signage.

The same day PBOT’s latest press release went out, we heard from a reader named John M. (he didn’t want his last name used) who received a $260 ticket while trying to get to SE Division from the Springwater Corridor. “I’ve been riding there for years,” John said via a phone interview. “I went the way I normally go, but everything was blocked.” Confused, he swung right down a road to look for help from a flagger. Not seeing anyone, he then did a u-turn, hopped up a curb and onto a sidewalk. Then he noticed the sidewalk had some sort of freshly laid substance on it, so he jumped back down onto the road. Looking north, he noticed a freshly paved crossing of the railroad tracks that looked wide open (see photo below), so he rode right on through.

Photo of path that John rode through prior to getting pulled over and ticketed.

What he didn’t realize was that the area was technically closed. He claims he never saw the sign due to his u-turns, sidewalk ride, and general confusion. Then he got pulled over. “There was a cop waiting right there for me and he gave me a ticket.”

John read me the words on his ticket: He was cited for “Failure to obey a traffic control device – road closure.”

During their conversation, John said he tried to explain to the officer that he was genuinely confused and that he is a very careful rider. “I was lost at that point, so I asked the officer if I could go back the way I came,” John recalled, “Then as we looked back a woman did exactly what I just did. I waved and yelled, ‘You’re going to get a ticket!'”

As part of the light rail construction, there are a lot of new sidewalks and paths in the area. John rode on a path across the tracks that looked very wide open and passable from his perspective. “There is no barrier and lots of people were biking over the path and through the closed street,” he shared.

John claims the police officer went over and photographed the “Road Closed” sign that was further up the block, as if the officer was proactively prepping the case in traffic court.

As is common policy, the officer gave John the option of paying $30 to attend the Share the Road Safety Class in lieu of the $260 fine and mark on his record. But that’s hardly a consolation for John. “I don’t have $30 for that,” he said, “I’m just so mad about this.”

The day after we heard about John’s case, we noticed several people writing about the situation on the Shift email list. Erin Flasher saw the officers writing tickets that day and wrote, “The signage and routing in that area are so confusing and change every day… Giving pricey tickets instead of warnings is crazy.” Local author Joe Kurmaskie also saw the incident and wrote that the two motorcycle officers were “working in tandem — one waiting just south of division and circling back around after handing out tickets — round robin style. They just reopened the road and have lots of confusing/detour signs still up in places. It does seem ridiculous to hand out tickets instead of education.”

In an interview yesterday, PPB Traffic Division Lieutenant Chris Davis told us his officers are simply focusing on keeping the area safe. He said officers based their decision on whether or not to cite based on several things, including the nature of the violation, someone’s driving history, and so on.”We really don’t target bikes, and it’s never been my intention to target bikes specifically, being a cyclist myself.” Then Lt. Davis added, “That being said, as supportive as I am of all things bike, I’m also very concerned about safety and if folks are doing things that are dangerous, I want to change that behavior.” (Note that John’s ticket was for not obeying a “Road Closed” sign, not for engaging in dangerous behavior.)

At this point, John has started a discussion with a lawyer and is likely to contest the ticket in court.

If safety, speeding, and other dangerous driving activities are truly the City’s focus with this stepped up enforcement, we’d love to see them devote as much police resources to those things as possible. And if they see someone doing their best to navigate what is obviously a confusing area, perhaps an offer of help is a better policing strategy than punishment?

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Chris Sanderson August 8, 2013 at 11:17 am

    Poppycock! Please send these safety conscious officers to SE Belmont and 39th to monitor motor vehicle speeds and cell phone users.

    Recommended Thumb up 40

    • 9watts August 8, 2013 at 11:22 am

      Or any other location….
      The glee is a bit hard to understand. Would they be as gleeful to nab 200 cell phone using drivers on Hawthorne in a day? If not, why not?

      Recommended Thumb up 31

    • Ron August 8, 2013 at 2:50 pm

      Exactly! Or NE Fremont, or almost anywhere else. Safety conscious my arse. Harassment of cyclists, plain and simple. Easier to catch cyclists than to chase a speeding cager.

      Recommended Thumb up 5

  • Todd Hudson August 8, 2013 at 11:25 am

    Other than what happened to John, I don’t see what the problem is. His situation is unfortunate, and could easily be contested. Yes, that wastes his time, but there’s nothing further that can be done about that.

    I’m the signage is confusing, but I’m also sure there’s a lot of people that choose to ignore it.

    Both cyclist and motorist scofflaw-ism makes me groan.

    Recommended Thumb up 7

    • 9watts August 8, 2013 at 11:34 am

      are you really equating
      * confusion, wrong turns by someone on a bike with
      * speeding in a construction zone in a car?

      I concede that the PPB appears to be as well, but that doesn’t make it any more logical or understandable.

      Recommended Thumb up 23

      • Todd Hudson August 8, 2013 at 11:56 am

        I already indicated that John’s situation is problematic. Why are you suggesting that I’m equating the two things?

        Recommended Thumb up 2

        • 9watts August 8, 2013 at 11:59 am

          your last sentence.

          Recommended Thumb up 24

    • longgone August 8, 2013 at 12:39 pm

      Todd Hudson:
      “… but there’s nothing further that can be done about that.”
      Really? why?
      Why not call PBOT, and the PPB, and tell them to employ a flag person, or create manageable, consistent signage in the area while construction is going on.
      Or…get 50-100 zoo bombers and bmx kids to plow through there every afternoon until something is done about it.
      This is a stupid sting to generate cash..
      Perhaps someone has/could provide a link to the proper people that could change this as well.

      Recommended Thumb up 6

    • Matt August 9, 2013 at 10:22 pm

      Did you read the story?

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • mezay August 8, 2013 at 11:36 am

    very unfortunate. I wish I could have been a “fly on the proverbial wall” watching and listening to the cyclist and officer’s behaviors.

    If the motive is to change people’s dangerous behavior, is there any evidence that providing a warning in this situation would not have an equal effect on changing people’s behavior? I think police officers use the “traffic safety course option” as a scapegoat for giving full tickets when a warning would be more than appropriate.

    Do they depend on revenue from tickets? It would be nice if all ticket revenue went to some independent organization. I wonder what effect that would have? Do officers have “quota’s” of how many citations they must write in a certain time period? (week, month, year, etc?)

    Any enlightenment folks can provide is appreciated.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Hillsons August 8, 2013 at 11:39 am

    Yes. If someone is genuinely confused and in need of help, offering them a fine instead makes it seem like the officer is disconnected from the real world. If you can’t determine whether someone made a simple mistake or actually violated a law by having a conversation with them then I’d go as far as suggesting a different career.

    Recommended Thumb up 20

  • Cory Poole August 8, 2013 at 11:42 am

    I’ve been through there recently and I’m still not sure if I did the detour the right way. The signs are very confusing.

    Recommended Thumb up 14

    • 9watts August 8, 2013 at 11:48 am

      Typical authoritarian response (police in US today) –
      lie in wait for the confused, write ticket

      Typical we belong to the same community response (police image of itself in 1950s)
      help confused across the street/through the tangle of signs

      Recommended Thumb up 8

      • 9watts August 8, 2013 at 12:14 pm

        Or why not go one step further (dream)?

        Police asks person on bike – ‘what was confusing? where were you trying to go?’ Explains intended route/detour; asks ‘what signage would communicate this better?’ Radios ODOT/PBOT site manager the suggestions. Site manager then convenes meeting of signage team and revisions are made–revised signs include actual directions for typical routes that predated confusion and a phone number for suggestions.

        Recommended Thumb up 10

      • Editz August 8, 2013 at 1:26 pm
      • tonyt
        tonyt August 14, 2013 at 4:02 pm

        Don’t confuse our increased awareness of authoritarian response for an actual increase in said response. I don’t believe in the good ole days of police work by a long shot.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

        • 9watts August 14, 2013 at 5:05 pm

          I don’t either, FWIW. That is why I said ‘police image of itself.’

          Recommended Thumb up 0

    • dr2chase August 8, 2013 at 8:37 pm

      I recommend taking the lane and slowing waaaaaaay down. Can’t be too careful, right?

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • tnash August 8, 2013 at 11:46 am

    Blowguns, People on cell phones running over everybody, bicycle thefts, getting fleeced by the police — maybe it’s time we stand up for ourselves and form a local bike mafia

    Recommended Thumb up 21

  • dan August 8, 2013 at 11:51 am

    That area is a complete and utter mess. I noticed the other night there is now work being done on 99E now as well. ODOT seems to be trying to choke out Sellwood right now. Every few days it’s something different.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Dave August 8, 2013 at 11:59 am

    Doesn’t bother me–as long as PPB is using officers taken off auto theft detail.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • GlowBoy August 8, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    I traverse this area every day, and live near enough that I have also been taking frequent walks there to watch the progress of construction. II see a lot of confused pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. On more than one occasion I have helped give directions to people who were trying to figure out their way around this mess.

    I don’t think someone should get more than a warning for being genuinely confused and finding themselves in the wrong place. The signage is terribly confusing and incomplete, and the detours are not obvious except to those of us who took a bunch of time in advance to figure them out. Tickets should be reserved for people who take out their anger at the inconvenience by driving aggressively through the area and actually endangering others. And believe me, I have witnessed PLENTY of that!

    Recommended Thumb up 21

  • GlowBoy August 8, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    Not specific to the ticketing, but on the topic of these railroad closures:

    1. Overall I’m absolutely thrilled at the new bike lanes on Milwaukie, especially the northbound one from Powell to Clinton. But why does the southbound one end a ways BEFORE Powell? At the Powell light, cyclists still have to squeeze into a too-narrow spot next to cars, or else use the sidewalk and dodge pedestrians on the narrow sidewalk in front of the Aladdin. Overall things are much better than before, but the southbound crossing of Powell is still dangerous for cyclists, especially where two car lanes merge into one in front of the Aladdin, and motorists trying to merge left are NOT watching for bikes. The station plan on TriMet’s website showed a bike lane all the way to Powell and even a bike box, but it looks like we didn’t get those amenities. I’d be interested to know why.

    2. What’s the holdup in reopening the 8th Avenue railroad crossing? It was originally supposed to reopen on Monday morning along with the 11th/12th/Milwaukie crossings. Then a few days ago I got an email from TriMet saying the opening would be delayed until Wednesday morning. But as of this morning it was still barricaded off. Anyone heard any updates? This is part of my usual commute route.

    Recommended Thumb up 4

    • GlowBoy August 8, 2013 at 3:15 pm

      By the way, I’ve been in contact with TriMet and have now received answers to the two non-ticket-related questions I had above about the construction work on these crossings:

      1. The southbound bike lane disappears before the Powell intersection because there wasn’t enough right of way to add a bike lane there without a bigger redesign of the intersection, and that’s beyond the scope for the light rail project. I’m disappointed, but I understand that fixing that intersection would be a big project unto itself. In any event, the new bike lanes have already fixed a couple of safety problems than IMO were more serious anyway, so on balance I sure can’t complain.

      2. Reopening of the 8th Ave crossing is now delayed into next week due to the complexity of the new traffic signals and testing. Also, Division Place at 9th Avenue (this is on the north side of the tracks) may remain one-way eastbound for a few more weeks, and some of the sidewalks may remain closed until some additional work is completed.

      Recommended Thumb up 1

  • michael downes August 8, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    I ride through there almost everyday. Although 9th is closed from Powell to Division I still ride down there to connect with Ivon (currently one way heading east) so that I can access Water Avenue and the esplanade. For weeks flaggers have been directing me to the side walk to turn left on to Ivon. No one has ever suggested I was doing anything wrong or tried to discourage me. Confusing to say the least…..

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Terry D August 8, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    My best friend and activst partner from the 1990’s was here for a visit last week and of course we had to see the light rail bridge construction. Even though I knew about the deteurs and read about the route we could not figure out how to safely get to 9th…so we climbed the ancient stairwell instead and cut through Ladd’s on 16th. …..a pain, but a nice view for a tourist fascinated by infrastructure.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Chris I August 8, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    He doesn’t have $30 for a ticket? What is he going to do if a part fails on his bike, start walking?

    Recommended Thumb up 3

    • 9watts August 8, 2013 at 1:56 pm

      I read that as ‘I don’t have money for this sort of nonsense.’

      I can relate.

      Recommended Thumb up 7

      • Chris I August 8, 2013 at 3:28 pm

        I’m sure every speeding motorist that gets a ticket feels the same way.

        Recommended Thumb up 3

        • 9watts August 8, 2013 at 3:36 pm

          …except that the speeding motorist (who as we know typically *does not* get a ticket) was breaking a law and endangering others whom said law was designed to protect. Having trouble finding your way through a thicket of changing detour signage on a *bike* at, what, 3 mph(?) is hardly on the same page in a right-side-up world.

          Recommended Thumb up 3

          • A.K. August 9, 2013 at 9:10 am

            (who as we know typically *does not* get a ticket)

            How do you know that? I’ve been ticketed for speeding before. $190. BOOM!

            Recommended Thumb up 0

            • El Biciclero August 9, 2013 at 10:20 am

              I know that because I often catch myself speeding (when I drive) and I still notice that most of the other hundreds of drivers around me are still going faster than me. None of us gets a ticket. I’ve been ticketed for speeding before, too, and while I’m sitting there talking to the officer, everyone else (with rare exceptions) is still speeding and not getting tickets.

              Recommended Thumb up 7

              • A.K. August 9, 2013 at 3:44 pm

                I break plenty of laws on my bike and have never gotten a ticket while engaged in that mode. While drivers do plenty of things that put themselves and other in danger, saying they don’t get tickets is silly. By that standard we can say cyclists hardly get tickets, either.

                Recommended Thumb up 1

              • El Biciclero August 15, 2013 at 11:49 am

                Nobody said drivers don’t get tickets. What I think we can agree on is that hardly anyone gets tickets for anything, regardless of mode. I frequently do any one of a few technically illegal (although I like to think not dangerous) things while riding as well, and have never gotten a ticket.

                Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Joe August 8, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    same cost as a car 🙁 i see ppl in cars blow thru that all the time ride it daily. cell phones hey lotta ppl still using them and driving PDX, oh side note hear about 19yr kid hitting 2 girls in wilsonville on the sidewalk talking on a cell. ugh!

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • kittens August 8, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Portland’s finest. I am sure all these tix are going to be thrown out anyway which means this was a waste of time for all involved.

    Recommended Thumb up 5

    • 9watts August 8, 2013 at 2:44 pm

      not to mention money. Paying those cops to stand there and achieve nothing but annoy those who pay their salaries is worse than unproductive.

      Recommended Thumb up 8

  • redhippie August 8, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    A couple of things here.

    Just fight it in court. If everyone who got a ticket contested it the court and the officers time would be swamped and not cost-effective for them to conduct their mission. It is only the fact that people just pay it that it can occur.

    Second, you go a few blocks closer to the spring water and there are piles of stolen bikes at the homeless camps. So, is this mission really about public safety or revenue generation?

    Recommended Thumb up 4

  • DK August 8, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    Go to court people!
    If you have a point to make, make it in the forum that can effect the outcome. Your silence won’t help anyone.

    BTW…you don’t need a lawyer…it’s just traffic court. If you can’t afford $30 for a class, how are you able to afford a lawyer? The law library at the courthouse is available to the public and free to use. Spend a couple hours researching your case, go fight it yourself, and save a little coin. Use the justice system to get yourself some justice!

    Recommended Thumb up 4

  • q`Tzal August 8, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    What would be really nice, and conform with the spirit if not actual wording of the MUTCD, would be:
    (1) set out ACTUAL construction zone signage for cyclists and peds with the same turn by turn detail as is required by automobiles.
    (2) frame the orange construction signs for bikes & peds in that MUTCD specified fluorescent lime green. It draws attention to both the detour, the construction and driver’s attention to the fact that bikes & peds are going to be in unexpected places.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Webster August 8, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    For court you may want to go back and take another picture of that seemingly open sidewalk. It’s now barricaded and signed making it obvious the path is closed.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • gutterbunnybikes August 8, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    As one that works in construction I will only add this. If there is an area in which the public isn’t allowed while I’m working, it gets fenced or coned off…..period. Most construction companies have this same policy both sub-contractors and general contractors.

    If it’s a temporary blockade, there is at the very least a flagger for each lane of traffic blocked, though best is cones, tape and a flagger.

    I’ve got dozens of horror stories of people even blowing through fenced and coned areas as well.

    If I got a ticket for riding a bike through an unblocked drive like that which is pictured, I’d complain to the general contractor. You can generally tell which trailer it is on a site (biggest sign, people actually in it most the day).

    If your not comfortable with a face to face with the foreman, the company usually will have their phone number on the side of the trailer. Make sure if you call you can identify the area you are concerned about, and talk with the project manager (not the foreman) of that project, they’re the ones that can negotiate a letter for the courts or reimburse you the amount (though that’s a long shot), but enough complaints and something will get done even if it’s just getting the signs moved and routes better defined.

    Surely the blame of the situation goes to the contracting firm in charge of the project, of course they in turn will blame the sub contractor. “IT” does travel down hill after all.

    Recommended Thumb up 10

  • Joe Adamski August 8, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    Remember Critical Mass and the heavy handed enforcement? Somethings never change.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Adam August 8, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    I’m sorry, but if that path was “closed”, then it should have had a fricking barrier across it. Or was it an existentialist “closed” sign, or something?

    Recommended Thumb up 4

  • John August 9, 2013 at 9:32 am

    I may contest the ticket in court, but I don’t have the money right now to gamble with $260.. I’m not sure if the Officer actually saw the path I took and just assumed I took the immediate left. Once I was across he turned on his lights and pulled me over, and lectured me about all of the clearly marked detour and road closure signs which he had photographed, obviously to use as evidence in court against indignant cyclists he had just ticketed. I haven’t been through this intersection in over a month and it had completely changed since then. The detour was an unfamiliar road and so I did a U- turn and easily navigated over the sidewalk track crossing. If the path was marked as closed I didn’t see the signs. I was just stunned to have received this $260.00 ticket. I thought he was just checking my background for something outstanding, rather than crafting a ticket. I told him that I was a very good law abiding cyclist and citizen, to which he replied ” I’m sure you are” and then handed me a ticket. I noticed yesterday that a big barrier went up over the path I took.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

    • DK August 9, 2013 at 11:45 am

      …and that’s the story you tell in court. The judge will make a judgement, based on you and the officer’s testimony.

      Incidentally, if the officer doesn’t show to tell his side of the story, your side is what the judge will hear. Even if he does show up, your side seems like a pretty reasonable explanation and I’m sure the judge will take that into consideration.

      Lastly; if enough of the folks that got ticketed show up in court to fight it, the judge may identify the pattern and throw all of them out if there is some common thread of heavy-handed enforcement. You may not only help yourself, but your fellow citizens.

      Best of luck!

      Recommended Thumb up 5

      • osmill August 10, 2013 at 6:48 pm

        Actually, if the officer doesn’t show in court, your ticket will get thrown out, and you won’t have to / get to give your side of the story.

        Recommended Thumb up 2

    • kenny heggem August 10, 2013 at 1:59 pm

      Go to Court. You NEED to go to court. Sickening.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

    • tonyt
      tonyt August 14, 2013 at 3:58 pm

      Take pics of the new barrier. Seems like an admission that their signage was not up to par.

      And then perhaps mention this:

      She got NO ticket.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • John M. (Same name, different guy) August 9, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    I got the same thing on 26th and Clinton for a roll stop right hand turn! No one EVER stops there and a roll stop is extremely safe for bikers. Furthermore, it is not even near that construction.

    All the cop kept saying is, “do you think I like doing this?” Well, why don’t you get a job you like doing instead of making me late for the job I like doing?

    Yes, I was technically breaking a law b/c this isn’t Idaho. How many people do you see stopping before entering the Ladd’s addition round-a-bout? Bikes are not cars. We can visually clear intersections before we get to them and stopping / restarting at every stop sign is just not needed.

    The cop was waving people in on the other side of the street. Meaning, if you got caught, you have to cross the road with potential cross traffic at a non-cross walk. Crossing the street to get my ticket was far more dangerous than a roll stop right turn.

    Shame on the money grubbing PPD for shamelessly funding their bike safety class, putting us in an unsafe situation and not focusing on real traffic violations.

    Recommended Thumb up 7

    • rainbike August 9, 2013 at 1:54 pm

      I think that yours was a “real traffic violation”. You broke the law, got caught and have to pay the fine.

      Recommended Thumb up 5

  • kenny heggem August 9, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    I find this city to have inadequate signage, or EXTREMELY over worded to the point of WTH? when it comes to everything from parking, to detours. Can someone please sit ODOT down and explain the “less is more” in explaining something method? I drive (rarely)… but after getting a ticket in a location after I DJ ed at a night club (a pole that had 3 freakin signs on it!!! to explain various when to park and NOT to park crap on it)… well, let’s just say.. I rarely want to consider going DT on a car, ever. Cluster *uck Hell.
    Just block the area off, make it clear. It seems they WANT people to make mistakes. Money hungry?

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • howard draper August 10, 2013 at 9:14 am

    Anyone else notice they blocked off this exact sidewalk, yesterday? Seems like that reaction might be useful in arguing against tickets while it was open.

    Recommended Thumb up 4

    • John August 11, 2013 at 7:49 pm

      That would have helped me not get a ticket!!

      Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Lynne August 12, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    perhaps someone should clue whoever is in charge of plotting the approved detours to put these down on the route. Better to say “go this way!” than “Don’t go this way!”

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • tonyt
    tonyt August 14, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    So let me get this straight.

    A woman drives a CAR on a bridge bike lane and the cops don’t cite her because “she made a mistake,” but some guy on a bike gets the full fine treatment?

    Recommended Thumb up 5

    • El Biciclero August 15, 2013 at 11:53 am

      That’s because poor drivers are just trying to get along on the streets–and it’s hard! Cyclists, on the other hand are a scofflaw menace. If a cyclist breaks the law you know it was on purpose, ‘cuz we’re stickin’ it to the MAN.

      Recommended Thumb up 3