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At City Hall rally, demonstrators demand action for safer streets

Posted by on June 24th, 2015 at 12:44 pm

aaron brown wide angle

City Council members heard calls for safer streets loud and clear this morning.
(Photos: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

Brittany Gratreak

If the 75 or so Portlanders who came to City Hall this morning to kick off a full day of protests could be said to be speaking for any single person, it might as well have been one of the people there: Brittany Gratreak.

On April 8, the 22-year-old Portland State University student was riding her bike to school in Northeast Broadway’s bike lane when a man driving to work accelerated across Broadway from the south, seizing a gap in auto traffic but not considering the fact that he might run into something more fragile than metal. He did.

Gratreak was hit at a 90-degree angle, thrown from her bicycle and knocked unconscious. Once she woke up and received insurance information from the man who’d hit her, she decided to save money by calling a friend, rather than an ambulance, for a ride to the hospital.

She didn’t know at the time that by not paying for an ambulance ride, she was avoiding Portland’s little-known trigger for a police investigation. Two months later, Gratreak remains in physical therapy.

“I am not a special interest. Safe roads are a human right.”
— Soren Impey, BikeLoudPDX volunteer in official testimony to Portland City Council

“When I sit down I sit like an old guy,” she said in a Wednesday interview outside City Hall. “I’ve still got lots of pain.”

Gratreak is hoping the man’s insurance money comes through. In the meantime, she’s one of hundreds of supporters of the upstart advocacy group BikeLoudPDX who signed postcards or attended Wednesday’s rally to ask Portland’s city council why a city that has staked its future on being able to quadruple bike use in the next 15 years would tolerate a constant stream of similar stories.

“Vision Zero is not installing door-zone bike lanes on Foster Road,” BikeLoud event organizer Jessica Engelman told the crowd Wednesday, to applause. “Vision Zero is not ignoring the residents of Buckman who are pleading for diverters on Ankeny. Vision Zero is not failing to fix apathy and ignorance in the Police Bureau and the Department of Justice.”

who has been hit

Gerald Fittipaldi, an organizer of the new advocacy group Bike PSU, asked participants at the rally to raise their hands if they’d been hit by a car. More than half said they had.


Amanda Zrust, who with her partner sold her car and moved to North Portland for a job four months ago, said they were shocked when they arrived in the city they’d heard so much about.

“I was like, cool, I’m going to move to a city. We’re going to ride bikes. It’s going to be sweet,” she said. “But when we got here we were like, How is this different from any other city? I’m going to dodge traffic. There’s not protected bike lanes all over the place. The way Portland describes itself it’s like, it’s going to be so easy.

sarah hobbs

Sarah Hobbs of Northwest Portland came to Wednesday’s rally though a medical condition prevents her from riding a bicycle herself. She said she is haunted by the death, eight years ago, of her friend Brett Jerolimik on Interstate Avenue.

“Back then the city was like, oh, we’ve got a problem,” she said. “But now we’re right back where we were. You’ve got to address this every day, not just the crisis management that City Hall seems so notorious for.”

Hobbs says she now walks for most trips, and continues to feel unsafe.

“I’m a pedestrian; I have no car,” she said. “I swear the most unsafe spaces for me are crosswalks.”

sadowsky speaks

A long line of speakers Wednesday called Portlanders to action on the issue. Bicycle Transportation Alliance Executive Director Rob Sadowsky spoke out against Oregon’s state legislature, which he said seemed to have decided in the last few days to abandon a low-carbon fuel standard in the name of a gas tax hike that would direct most of its new money into road expansion rather than safety improvements.

“What’s winning out is not safety, it’s getting people places they want to go 13 seconds sooner,” Sadowsky said.

Sadowsky offered advice for the new advocacy group that had organized Portland’s first bike-related City Hall rally in five years.

“Don’t be afraid to ask,” he said. “If they don’t give you what you want, let’s find candidates to run.”

rowe with cards

Joe Rowe, a BikeLoud member, urged those present to do more than just call their political representatives in support of street safety improvements and bills like HB 2621, which would allow Portland to install up to 20 anti-speeding radar cameras on the city’s most dangerous streets.

“Don’t just call those numbers, save those numbers in your address book like they’re your mother or your uncle,” he said. “We are here and we are here to stay. So keep involved with BikeLoud, please.”

Rowe presented a stack of 500 cards signed by people in support of the rally’s five demands:

– Shifting funds away from car throughput and toward safety
– Divert cars off neighborhood greenways
– Enforce existing laws about speed, phone usage, safe passing
– Investigate all collisions involving vulnerable road users
– Stop repeat traffic violence offenders

roberta robles

Roberta Robles spoke, she said, in support of the many people who couldn’t attend a Wednesday morning event downtown, which had been scheduled because it’s the only time the Portland City Council takes open public testimony.

“They can’t be here because they’re riding two hours across town to get to their second job,” Robles said.

Dan Kaufman, who MC’d the event, acknowledged the large number of white men on the day’s speaker list, and also the emphasis of those present on Portland’s relatively safer inner neighborhoods.

“The thing is that it’s not fair that only certain neighborhoods that were built in the 1920s or earlier are accessible,” Kafuman said.

mayor speaks

The event drew two speakers from the city government itself: Mayor Charlie Hales and Timur Ender, a transportation policy aide for Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick.

Hales urged people to call the city’s traffic hotline, 503-823-SAFE, to request enforcement of traffic laws in any locations where people were breaking traffic laws. (In reply, several people shouted “everywhere.”)

Hales said the police bureau’s traffic division captain was very willing to dispatch police to enforce traffic laws. “They’ll go out,” he said. “They’re interested in traffic safety.”

Hales also urged people to call their legislators in support of the gas tax hike that Sadowsky had just spoken against, saying it would increase the city’s transportation revenue, which would free up more money for safety improvements. He also urged support for HB 2621, the safety camera bill.

“We have the bike system we have because of activism in the community,” Hales said. “And we need more activism to build a safer system. … When we feel the heat, we see the light.”

Ender detailed various actions the city is already pursuing to improve its streets.

“I’ve seen the look on PBOT staff’s faces when someone dies on our roadways,” he said. “It’s a personal loss.”


Many rally participants had made their own signs; some borrowed them from others.

more bikes more kids slower cars


fewer cars lower speeds

vz action

not enough better

none of routes are safe

cycletracks downtown

diverter not dirty word

vz for drivers too

should feel safe

fittipaldi speaks

road diet

safe 4  everyone rowe

reckless driving kills

more clean air

engleman speaks

hales sign

After the outdoor rally, many members filed into the city council chambers in support of two BikeLoud speakers and two Bike PSU speakers who called on the council to prioritize street safety.

“As I sit here asking you to make safe routes a priority, I am not a special interest,” said Soren Impey, BikeLoud’s direct action organizer. Vision Zero, he said, “is not a series of commmunity meetings. It is an ethical duty.”

impey engleman

Marissa Trujillo-DeMull of Bike PSU expressed dismay at the lack of any northbound bicycle route away from the campus, which she said is related to the decline in campus biking rates from 13 percent of students in 2010 to 7 percent in 2013.

“We really want portland to remain a platinum city, but right now most of us are afraid of their ride home,” she said.

Fittipaldi echoed her.

“Some of my friends bike to campus,” he said. “The ones who don’t all say the same thing: I’m afraid I’m going to get hit.

The protests continue all day today with the Downgrade Portland ride meeting at 4:30 at NW Park and Couch followed by a big, encore rally back on City Hall steps at 5:00 pm. Follow the action at #SafeStreetsRally and @BikeLoudPDX on Twitter.

Correction 1:15 pm: A previous version of this post referred incorrectly to Engelman’s role with BikeLoud.

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BikeLoudPDX’s co-chairs are actually Ted and Emily, I’m just a very active member and co-organizer of this event.


Interesting juxtaposition between this story and the one about the bus allegedly plowing through a group of cyclists.


The Mayor holding an “I <3 the 2030 plan" is a nice photo op… Unfortunately, it's just a photo op.

Todd Hudson
Todd Hudson

>Hales said the police bureau’s traffic division captain was very willing to >dispatch police to enforce traffic laws. “They’ll go out,” he said. >“They’re interested in traffic safety.”

Translation: The mayor (who is also the commissioner of the Portland Police Bureau) thinks it’s a great idea, but won’t commit to anything.


great event today, that said, how does one “join” bikeloudpdx? i wasnt able to attend the testimony as i had to go to work, but a key theme needs to be highlighted as Jessica said in her opening remarks outside city hall. “we need to engineer our transportation system WITH human errors in mind”. “the roads must keep us safe even when we make mistakes, or drive distractedly”. anything less will just lead to more injury and carnage. if i run into S___, i get hurt, and that’s my motivation to be aware, but that does not prevent people driving from maiming ME.
we need diverters now. we need engineered traffic calming now. that road rage post about clinton blvd only highlites the dire need we have.


75 or so people?
If we want the city to take safer streets seriously, we need to be a city where more than 75 people show up to the first City Hall rally in five years.

Sarah Hobbs
Sarah Hobbs

Eight years ago Brett was killed when a trash truck right hooked him, and ran over his head. When I heard recently a rider was hit, and lost their leg at the site of the accident, I thought dear God, it is happening again. :'( I am no longer able to ride, but will keep fighting city hall, and their lack of determination to find, and fund perminate solutions to the bike problems this city faces.


I didn’t miss the fact that Hales very adeptly passed the buck in suggesting that ‘all of you should keep up what you’re doing’ while not making any commitment himself. I thank Joe Rowe for calling him out on this.


I had pretty mixed emotions on the whole thing.

Lots of good points and rallying speeches and all, but I also saw many of the same pitfalls which hindered much of the environmental movement in the 90’s, which I was much more active in at the time. Which makes it hard to get excited about any of it.

Lisa Marie

Thank you, thank you to everyone who attended. Reading this, however, I am a bit disheartened. I have been fighting in every way I can for safer streets for years, the awesome people at BikeLoud and Oregon Walks and Better Block (and I was glad to see the BTA there, too) are spending countless hours organizing and rallying and pushing for action, and still Hales offers only niceties – no tangible action.

The police are happy to investigate? What planet are you living on? Just ONE example: A close friend of mine was mowed down at nearly 40mph in a marked crosswalk on MLK in broad daylight, and NO CITATION of the driver despite multiple witnesses testifying as to his fault (and the driver in the neighboring lane showing the prudence and ability to stop). When my friend called the police station to inquire after getting out of the hospital many days later, they said that “well, the driver is moving to Washington, so it’d be a hassle to follow up with giving him a ticket”. Someone driving carelessly and speeding nearly kills someone and is completely let off the hook. Happy to investigate MY ASS. Now this person lives with permanent issues with their legs, permanent disfigurement, and they couldn’t get even get compensation to cover the extensive physical therapy. Why? Largely because there was NO CITATION.

I’m so, so, so tired of this. Of the tears, of the pain, of the holes left in peoples lives and communities for no reason other than the inability of our elected officials to get off their asses and make REAL CHANGE. BE A DAMN ADVOCATE FOR OUR COMMUNITIES. That’s what we HIRED YOU TO DO. We have no money? Stop paving anywhere but major arterials, start saving lives. Stop receiving pay higher than the average worker in portland, put those funds into diverters. No one deserves to go through this – not people in cars, not people on bicycles, not people on foot.

Don’t just pat us on the back for speaking up – step up and DO SOMETHING or we’ll find people who will.

(NOTE: I have had some great interactions with the Portland Police, too. Don’t write them off as not caring, we just need Hales to press them to do more, and some harsher laws/consequences. Drivers are not evil – many are respectful and obey the law. I’m talking about protecting everyone, in a car or no, from the lack of safety in our streets.)


I first heard about this rally about a month ago, so I requested time off of work and was able to join at City Hall in two occasions. And still worked half of the day. This was a great event! 🙂


There seems to be a perception of danger in the streets which has come to a head recently for some. My emphasis is on perception. I would be interested in seeing statistics on car vs bike injuries say over the past 10 years normalized for population. How does portland compare vs other cities of comparable size? Some would say any injuries are a problem but the modern world has effectively decided this is the cost of doing business. The cost is diffused therefore unless you are directly affected it is near to invisible. With this in mind, what is your end game? At what point have you succeeded? If the answer really is zero injuries ever then that sounds like a massive hole to dump money into and you will never get there. I’m not saying there cannot be improvements. There certainly can be but there is a baseline hazard that you are going to have to accept unless you want to live in the 19th century. Maybe you do but I don’t.


If you don’t want to get hit, follow the laws of traffic. The same rules apply to bicyclists that apply to cars. Don’t ride under the speed of traffic in the middle of the lane. Get out of the way. Don’t think that just because you stick your hand out to signal a lane change, cars have to yield to you. Don’t weave through traffic to get to the front of the line at traffic signals. Get in line like everyone else. Don’t split lanes. Don’t run red lights. And if there’s a bike lane for you to use, you better damn well be using it. 95% of the bicyclists i see everyday are breaking traffic laws. Even right in front of the police station on 4th! Yes, we need more police presence. But not for cars, to enforce laws broken by bicyclists. You all want to be able to ride around wherever you want on roads paid for by auto drivers, but you don’t want to follow any of the laws. And the police let you. Then you go so far as to demand more bike lanes, again paid for by auto drivers. Nothing pisses me off more than having my commute lengthened because auto lanes are being removed and bike lanes put in their place. It’s not hard to understand why “traffic violence” is a problem.