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County now using magnetic sweeper to pick up tacks off Hawthorne Bridge path

Posted by on January 29th, 2015 at 10:11 am

They’re coming for you tacks!
(Photo: Multnomah County)

Three weeks after we heard our first reports of thumbtacks scattered somewhere around the ramps of the Hawthorne Bridge, fresh reports keep coming in.

Image sent by a reader of a
tack picked up at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday.

“(Tuesday) they found about 12 tacks, Monday they found about 20 and Friday they found in the 20 to 40 range,” Multnomah County spokesman Mike Pullen told KOIN-TV yesterday. Also yesterday we heard from KOIN reporter Elishah Oesch that her cameraman picked up 14 tacks from the east end of the path near the TriMet bus stop.

The county, which maintains the Hawthorne, Morrison, Burnside and Sellwood bridges, said Wednesday that it’s made a new plan to protect the safety and property of bridge users: it’s going to sweep the bridge daily with a large magnet.

County spokesman Mike Pullen told us yesterday that, “We are now having staff walk down the sidewalks and bike lanes with a large magnet to find the tacks. Very strange situation.”

Pullen added that the County can help the Portland Police Bureau document the incidents. For their part, the PPB has yet to make any public statement about the incidents. According to KOIN-TV’s report Sgt. Pete Simpson, a PPB spokesman, said Wednesday that no formal reports have been made. (Note that this doesn’t mean no one has called the police, just that no reports have been officially filed.)


There’s no justification for this sort of vandalism, of course, and no telling what might be in the mind of the person or people doing it. It’s possible that someone is upset about people who pass too fast or too close while biking across the bridge; it’s just as possible that this is a completely random series of attacks.

Screenshot from

But whatever is going on here, the number of separate incidents suggests it’s more than a coincidence or an idle prank. Back in 2011, similar tack attacks on North Williams and Vancouver Avenues continued for several weeks but eventually abated.

When the first incident happened early this month, we brushed it aside as an isolated incident; but now that it has continued and shows no sign of letting up, we think a more serious response from PPB is warranted. An enforcement solution is probably not feasible at this time, but we’d like to see the PPB and/or Multnomah County issue some sort of joint statement about the problem.

A strongly worded statement could have three key benefits: It would show the community that the PPB takes this crime seriously; the statement, and resulting media coverage, might scare the perpetrator(s) into stopping; and it would raise the awareness of the incidents and possibly lead to new tips or information that could lead to an arrest.

On several past occasions, when vandals slashed automobile tires in southeast Portland, the PPB issued a press release (using their “Crime Stoppers” program) and encouraged the public to call in tips. These tack incidents are just as serious as the slashing of auto tires and should met with a similar response.

The Hawthorne is Portland’s most-biked bridge and one of the highest bike traffic spots in North America. This time of year, it carries about 4,000 to 6,000 bike trips on a typical weekday.

If you happen to witness anyone who seems to be responsible for similar vandalism, you can call 911 to report them. If you become the victim of one of these incidents, call the police non-emergency line at (503) 823-3333 or use the police bureau’s online reporting tool. That may at least add pressure on police to dedicate some resources to the issue.

Jonathan Maus contributed to this story.

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  • q`Tzal January 29, 2015 at 10:13 am

    I guess no one makes brass tacks anymore.

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    • Granpa January 29, 2015 at 11:11 am

      Aiding and abetting the enemy?

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      • q`Tzal January 29, 2015 at 11:25 am

        Flashback to a movie line. Keyboard diarrhea.

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      • q`Tzal January 29, 2015 at 2:06 pm

        Oops – thought crime!

        Doesn’t matter: brass is too expensive and weak versus steel. No one is selling them. If someone wanted 100% brass tacks they’d have to make them from scratch. If you are going to that much effort for crime there are better things you could make than tacks.

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    • Art Fuldodger January 29, 2015 at 6:20 pm

      I’m entirely down with brass tacks.

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  • q`Tzal January 29, 2015 at 10:14 am

    Where’s Big Brother and the ubiquitous surveillance cameras when you need him?

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    • colton January 29, 2015 at 10:35 am

      From the KOIN article:

      Pullen said the county has “cameras on the bridges and so far they haven’t been able to identify anything going on.”

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    • was carless January 29, 2015 at 1:36 pm

      The cameras are probably not HD, and they probably aren’t zoomed in to wherever this is happening. Also, you could probably drop ~20 tacks without anyone noticing.

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  • Paul Souders January 29, 2015 at 10:27 am

    “These tack incidents are just as serious as the slashing of auto tires and should met with a similar response.”

    As serious as slashing auto tires WHILE THE CAR IS MOVING.

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  • Adam H. January 29, 2015 at 10:37 am

    Better yet, PBOT should just hand out free Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires to everyone.

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  • q`Tzal January 29, 2015 at 10:42 am

    You want this to stop? Offer an enhanced reward/bounty for homeless people.

    Now I suppose that the fact that this bout of “tacking” is isolated to the Hawthorne is indicative of some sort of territorial snit from some mentally unstable homeless person. This just means that the reward needs to be higher.

    Realistically the homeless are the best surveillance system: people go out of their way NOT to notice the homeless but look for cameras.
    Just because a person is homeless doesn’t make them care less about others or make them worth less as a person.

    Someone down there knows; perhaps the real question is what is going on so bad that no one has ratted out the tacker?

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    • PDXPixel January 29, 2015 at 10:44 am

      That’s what Sherlock would do!!

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    • invisiblebikes January 29, 2015 at 11:20 am

      I like your thinking, if we could crowd fund a reward I’m sure we could come up with a couple hundred bucks.
      Put up a couple signs/posters stating a reward of 100 to $$? to anyone that provides information leading to the apprehension of the perpetrator(s)

      I’m sure there are few homeless people that would rat out the perps!

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      • q`Tzal January 29, 2015 at 11:30 am

        Unless of course there is some violent thug down there who consistently gets released from police custody and takes it out on the marginalized people with nowhere else to go.
        Until you’ve been stuck in a violent & toxic situation you don’t understand why people stay. Pretty consistently the only way to disarm a situation like that is a drastic shakeup of the paradigm.

        Hopefully this is not the case.

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      • Natalie January 29, 2015 at 8:09 pm

        Because offering lots of money in exchange for pointing fingers has such a clean track record.

        Sarcasm aside, it’s a totally understandable idea but in practice can just incentivize all sorts of undesired consequences. Guantanamo’s majority population of innocent civilians handed over in exchange for understandably tempting $5-10k bounties for “terrorists” offered by the American government comes to mind.

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  • Tony T
    Tony T January 29, 2015 at 10:54 am

    I would also keep an eye on the Steel bridge. If the attention on the Hawthorne scares them off, I bet they just move somewhere else.

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    • q`Tzal January 29, 2015 at 12:21 pm

      Something about the exclusiveness and persistence of this tack crime spree screams of a specific territorial issue. Someone thinks this bridge “belongs to them”.
      They need to be educated of the error of their ways.

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      • Natalie January 29, 2015 at 8:12 pm

        Or it’s just how they get to work every day.

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  • Loaf January 29, 2015 at 11:10 am

    I got “tack”-ed Monday evening east-bound across the bridge. I sent an email to the county address listed in the previous article, but received no response. Should I also submit a police report?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 29, 2015 at 11:24 am

      yes. Call the police. 503-823-3333. ask to file a report. please let me know how they respond.

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    • soren January 29, 2015 at 3:03 pm

      I got tacked on Tues but managed to make it to work before I realized that my tire was slowly deflating around a bent tack (guess that aramid lining works).

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  • Granpa January 29, 2015 at 11:10 am

    I have seen the magnet man twice this week and made a point to thank him.
    FWIW I have the Schwalbe Marathon and had two flats in the last two weeks. a chunk of glass was deeply imbedded in the tread, but only poked the tube when it was under pressure and under weight. (I ultimately dug that sucker out and it was a great relief)

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    • Adam H. January 29, 2015 at 11:16 am

      Sorry to hear that. Was it a Schwalbe Marathon or a Schwalbe Marathon Plus? I used to run Marathon Pluses on my old bike, and never got a flat. I’m planning on replacing the stock Conti Touring tires on my new bike with Marathon Pluses once those wear out.

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      • Patrick January 29, 2015 at 2:32 pm

        The Marathon +s work until they don’t then it time to replace them. It’s also good hygene to filp your bike over and dig out all the glass once-in-a-while (you’ll be surprised how much you find).

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      • John Lascurettes January 30, 2015 at 9:45 pm

        Look into the Marathon Supremes. They’re harder to find than the Plus for all sizes, but they’re lighter and I rode on a pair until I had exposed the puncture resistant fabric embedded deep in the tire without a single flat (I estimated around 5.5K mi.).

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    • invisiblebikes January 29, 2015 at 12:46 pm


      Expensive flat resistant tires (like the Schwalbe marathon or marathon plus) do a decent job of deterring blowout style punctures but strong tacks or embedded materials (like glass shards or sharp metal shards) will eventually work through the narrow reinforced area, which is just a thicker layer of denser rubber and only runs along the center of the tread area.

      For a commuter set up the best flat protection is to use a mid level flat resistant tire (that offers softer rubber for better performance and feel) along with a sealant like NoTubes or Slime in your tubes (or pre sealed tubes).
      Sealants work wonders for the majority of most punctures, they seal around the foreign object (tack or glass) so once it works its way through the tire and punctures the tube it seals immediately and doesn’t release any air… so you keep riding without catastrophic failure.
      most of the time you’ll ride for months without noticing you’ve got a puncture!

      I’ve designed commuter tires and puncture resistant tires for bicycles for years working with well known US brands using the largest most advanced tire manufacturing facilities in Taiwan (they manufacture about 75% of all bike tires on the market)
      The research and development process we used (and is widely available to consumers) always resulted in levels of protection (to deter flats) ending with full protection coming from good old “fix a flat” type sealants.

      The Tack issue on Hawthorn sucks but it would easily be circumnavigated by using a sealant under any tire. Most of them guarantee 100% sealed punctures around the size of a tack.

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      • Granpa January 29, 2015 at 12:56 pm

        Lots of good info there. Regarding my flats no big whoop. Replace the tube with one I keep with me, then patch the punctured tube when I get home. Not my first and won’t be my last.

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        • was carless January 29, 2015 at 1:39 pm

          Yikes. For me that would be a 5 mile walk home! I had to do 3 miles once, took me about an hour and a half with fully-loaded panniers and a rear flat (I had to walk and carry the rear half of the bike to prevent rim damage). Not fun!

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      • davemess January 30, 2015 at 12:09 pm

        Does anyone use tire liners anymore? They are pretty tough to fit in narrower road tires (23-28), but work pretty well in larger ones. I had really good luck with them protecting against thorns on my cross bike in Colorado.

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  • Joe January 29, 2015 at 11:33 am

    bike haters why they hate?

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    • silkyslim January 29, 2015 at 12:11 pm

      They hate us cause they ain’t us. – The Interview

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    • Cota January 29, 2015 at 2:50 pm

      They hate that big F’in smile on my face.

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      • lyle w. January 29, 2015 at 5:11 pm

        They hate us cuz we’re so sexy, and we so in shape, and we so fabulous!

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    • Natalie January 29, 2015 at 8:19 pm

      Nah man, they hate us because of the 5% who are total assholes to pedestrians, cars, and even other bikes. Let’s not fool ourselves. Anyone reading the unpredictable swerving, the red-light run, and other acts of douchiness should know that all the innocent commuters just trying to get to work get to deal with crap like this in retaliation.

      Obviously, I don’t condone pointless damage like this. It’s childish, dangerous, and just the lamest thing I’ve ever heard of. Someone clearly needs a therapist and a hobby.

      But let’s not kid ourselves that this anger is due to us smiling while we ride, for chrissakes.

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      • Wyatt Baldwin January 29, 2015 at 10:06 pm

        A similar percentage of people driving cars are selfish/inconsiderate too (people are people after all), but it’s rare to see this kind of targeted attack against car drivers. So I don’t think that really explains it. Part of it, I think, is simply that it’s easy to do. That and the fact that poor driving behavior is normalized to the point of almost being invisible, whereas poor biking behavior seems to be magnified to an absurd degree, even amongst people who are bike-friendly.

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      • soren January 30, 2015 at 3:42 pm

        If bike scofflaws/jaybikers are the cause of this “hate” then why is there not similar “hate” directed at jaywalkers/pedestrian scofflaws?

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  • 9watts January 29, 2015 at 11:38 am

    “These tack incidents are just as serious as the slashing of auto tires and should met with a similar response.”

    Thanks for that comparison. I think these are really instructive.

    It would make an interesting list to tally up all the parallel instances like this, showing the degree to which things that happen to people who drive/their conveyances are taken seriously as a matter of course.

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  • Stretchy January 29, 2015 at 11:38 am

    It would be hard for cameras to pick up the perpetrator. The motion of scattering a handful of tacks wouldn’t be that obvious and it’s unlikely a regular security camera would have the resolution to be able to actually see the tacks coming out of someone’s hand.

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  • Stretchy January 29, 2015 at 11:42 am

    One other thing, it would be helpful to have a large amount of specific data to determine when the tacks appear. Rather than just generic, “I got hit Tuesday morning” you could post, “Eastbound Hawthorne, 8:45am, Jan 27, tacks found”

    If several people crossed eastbound earlier that morning and, had no problems you could infer that the perpetrator scattered the tacks in the morning.

    This in and of itself is not helpful but, if a pattern emerges, you could keep an eye out during the likeliest times and perhaps stand a better chance of catching someone in the act.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 29, 2015 at 11:46 am

    Just updated post with picture of the magnetic sweeper brooms the County is using…

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    • Patrick January 29, 2015 at 2:35 pm

      I used to use these as a carpenter picking up nails on the jobsite in the grass–they work great! They have a handle to release the magnet and all the metal drops off for inspection & disposial.

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      • Patrick January 29, 2015 at 2:37 pm

        Lets mount them on a bike!

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        • Cota January 29, 2015 at 2:56 pm

          A backwards trike.

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          • The Odd Duck January 30, 2015 at 12:24 am

            With the right type a forward mount would work. BTW I ride a adult trike.

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        • q`Tzal January 29, 2015 at 3:51 pm

          The same mounting spars/rods that are used for mounting fenders could be used to position a magnet 3″-6″ in front of the tire contact patch and 1″ above the ground – closer if you have a light N52 magnet and very rigid mounting.

          If someone did this they’d only need a magnet wide enough to clear their tire width. These rectangular mounting magnets seems ready made for the task. Magnet pre-mounted in a bracket that directs the field down it already has mounting holes that will work with 4-40 screws (and maybe 6-32 if it is a little light)

          Swipe some carbon fiber/graphite spars from your collection of old stunt kite hardware (doesn’t everybody have this pile of odd scrap?) and make a mount for your own personalized tack sweeper today!

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  • q`Tzal January 29, 2015 at 12:25 pm

    With all the tacks they’ll be collecting with this technique they should be able to create a mosaic of interlocking segments of a complete fingerprint of the perpetrator.
    No single tack will have a full print but with this many tacks a full print must exist once the puzzle pieces are put together.

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  • Paul January 29, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    If the tack sweep occurs same time everyday (let’s say early morning), and the perp is someone nearby with a lot of free time, then it’s not going to very hard for them to come in and re-tack after the sweep. I hope this is not the case, but hopefully they’ll get seen, and we can narrow down the time when this atrocious vandalism occurs.

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    • q`Tzal January 29, 2015 at 1:01 pm

      Pair the sweep with observers posted some distance away with binoculars.
      As you say watch intensely for the 1st hour after a sweep.

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  • JJJJ January 29, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    I love the fact that at some point in time, someone decided that buying a magnetic sweeper would be a good idea. “See Jerry? I TOLD YOU WE’D NEED THEM” I hope they were charged to Homeland Security

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    • q`Tzal January 29, 2015 at 1:03 pm

      These are generally a device used in mechanic’s shops to clean up loose metal hardware and shavings from metal working/sawing,drilling.

      This magnetic device is DECADES old and pretty durn cheap.

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    • Harald January 29, 2015 at 1:09 pm

      Makes me wonder if it’s maybe Big Magnet that’s behind the tackattacks.
      1. Distribute tacks
      2. Panic among Portland cyclists
      3. Sell dozens of magnetic sweepers
      4. Profit!!!

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      • K'Tesh January 29, 2015 at 1:48 pm

        would that be a tackattacktactic?

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        • Spiffy January 29, 2015 at 3:55 pm

          I’m sure they would think it a fantackstic idea…

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  • Allison January 29, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    I’d like to contribute to a “Buy the person who is going out to the bridge to run the magnetic sweeper a coffee” fund. Anyone else in?

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    • lyle w. January 29, 2015 at 5:08 pm

      Yeah, it’s called Taxes.

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  • Leaf_blower January 29, 2015 at 4:10 pm

    It’d be easier to use a leaf blower and blow all the tax away in case the tacker wisens up and goes with brass tax. Car and bus tires are impervious to thumb tax.

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  • April January 29, 2015 at 4:12 pm

    Someone one dumped a whole box of them into the bike lane of se 52nd, just south of Foster. I borrowed a broom from a local resident and swept them all into the curb. And then walked to a bike shop because I had two flats via nine tacks.

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    • April January 29, 2015 at 4:12 pm

      (This was several months ago)

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    • lyle w. January 29, 2015 at 5:10 pm

      Hmm, the 14 stops right there and also where the tacks on the Hawthorne bridge are turning up.

      [suspicion intensifies]

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  • John Landolfe January 30, 2015 at 9:11 am

    Thank you, county!

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  • tom January 30, 2015 at 9:46 am

    what an a##hole. people walk there dogs across that bridge too.

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  • Oregon Mamacita January 30, 2015 at 10:05 am

    Has anyone mapped the tack attacks?

    It looks like someone is meting out group justice to remedy a situation.
    Or, they could hate one person. It could be politically motivated (wacko politics) or it could be someone with a mental illness.

    Also- while the guilty party or parties (copycats) are 100% behaving in an oppressive, nasty and aggressive manner, the BP readers risking making the situation worse by “they hate us cuz they ain’t us” remarks.

    If you are searching for the truth, what if the truth turns out to be a person with a legitimate point who then uses that point as a springboard into a cowardly attack on the general public. You won’t be to process the truth if it involves something unflattering about men in spandex, or buzzing pedestrians.

    Because- I can tell you with 100% certainty- the guilty party(ies) are cowards. Whoever the guilty party is they aren’t an outlaw motorcycle gang or MMA fighters.

    Now, get yr heads out of the sand about how the spandex/showers pass crowd is viewed by the general public. You may be perceived as aggressors and not attractive victims of resentment.

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