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After man adds warning paint to sunken grate, state roads agency calls it vandalism

Posted by on August 5th, 2015 at 1:23 pm

sunken grate prepaint

A 2012 photo of the offending grate, long before Parsons’ unsanctioned paint job.
(Photos: Jim Parsons)

Update: After this and other media coverage of Parsons’ action and ODOT’s repsonse, the agency has announced plans to fix the grates and says it is grateful for Parsons’ work.

A local man who says he’s been warning state officials for seven years about a sunken grate in the middle of Barbur Boulevard’s northbound bike lane has finally gotten some action from the agency.

After he marked the grate himself with yellow warning paint and with the letters “ODOT KNOWS,” the agency is planning to visit the site … to erase his paint.

In a Wednesday email to the man, Jim Parsons, an Oregon Department of Transportation staffer with the title “citizen’s representative” scolded him for what she said would make the street more dangerous.

odot knows straight

“Cyclists may take that as a sign that they must avoid the drain and steer themselves into a lane of traffic,” wrote the staffer, Monica Bustos. “Mr. Parsons, I was made aware that you painted the drain yourself. It is dangerous, you are on the highway without proper traffic control to advise the public that someone is on the roadway. It is also illegal to vandalize (paint) ODOT property. The ODOT Maintenance Manager will now be spending the already limited maintenance budget funds on removing the vandalism from ODOT property.”

In an interview earlier this week and in previous emails to ODOT over the last week, Parsons said he had first notified ODOT about the problem in 2008, but was moved to start worrying about it again in June after he accidentally crossed it while biking to Portland State University and broke a spoke from the impact.

“Front wheel in, front wheel out, rear wheel in, rear wheel out,” Parsons said Wednesday, describing the jolts of crossing the grate. Here’s a photo he took showing the depth of the grate:

prepaint with foot

In an email to ODOT Monday and in an interview with BikePortland Wednesday, Parsons said his preferred solution would be to “grind the thing smooth.”

“You don’t have to raise the grate, you don’t have to pave it, you just have to grind the damn thing,” Parsons said.

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Parsons said the site is north of Barbur’s two narrow bridges where the bike lanes vanish and south of the crosswalk that ODOT installed after the 2010 death of a woman walking her bike across the street.

Parsons said he decided to paint the street himself only after a series of responses from ODOT dating back to 2008.

“Every time I call they’re like, ‘Oh, we’ll be paving that area next year,'” Parsons said in an interview last week. “They just don’t think it’s a problem.”

Beaverton to Tualatin ride-14

Jim Parsons in a 2011 photo.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Parsons applied his paint Friday. The “ODOT KNOWS” message, he said, was intended to be a message to any lawyers whose clients might be injured by collisions with the grate.

“It’s downhill,” Parsons said. “With a tailwind, you can hit 40 mph easy. … Sooner or later, somebody’s going to hit that thing the wrong way.”

Parsons said he had previously painted warning paint around the grate back in 2012, but without the “ODOT KNOWS” message.

Also on Friday Parsons also applied paint to another location just to the south. Here are his photos of that grate before his paint job (with a Home Depot paint stirrer to show the scale):

paint stirrer wide

The divot between grate and pavement runs parallel to the roadway, so a bicycle wheel might be caught in it.

paint stirrer closeup

And here’s his unsanctioned treatment:

odot knows yellow

odot knows curve

Parsons does seem to have received one fairly detailed email reply about his problems, sent on Monday by ODOT Active Transportation Liaison Jessica Horning. She sent this in response to his emailing a link in which he shared his photos of the unsanctioned paint job.

Hi Jim,

Thanks for the update. I’ve forwarded your message on to our maintenance crew, who will take another look at this area. As I mentioned last time, we plan to adjust these grates next time we have work scheduled in the area. I do not currently have a timeline to give you.

As I mentioned on the phone, ODOT recently conducted a Road Safety Audit on Barbur. The whole RSA team rode over these grates on a bike ride from Naito to the “Crossroads” (Capitol Highway/99W/I-5 interchange) and back… and the consultant leading the RSA bike commutes on Barbur daily. The RSA report will include prioritized recommendations for near and long term bike safety improvements on Barbur. I know that storm grates are included on the long list of issues that were noted during the RSA, but do not know where they will fall on the draft prioritized list. I will let you know when there is a complete version of the RSA report ready to share. You can also read more about the Barbur RSA on our website: www.BarburSafety.org.

(We reported about ODOT’s in-progress road safety audit in May.)

On Wednesday morning, Parsons received the email from Bustos, saying that “The ODOT Maintenance Manager has looked at the drain and determined that paint lines are not in the best interest of anyone” and informing him that ODOT would be spending part of its maintenance budget to remove the paint. It didn’t mention any schedule for fixing the grates.

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John Lascurettes
Guest

Unbelievable. Just. Wow.

Rob Chapman
Guest
Rob Chapman

Good on Jim, shame on ODOT.

rainbike
Guest
rainbike

Imagine the equivalently scaled hazard in the adjacent auto lane, and how long it would be allowed to persist.

Captain Karma
Guest

Paintgrate scandal. Like watergate.

K'Tesh
Guest
K'Tesh

What’s more… the northern grate has the sudden drop-off that parallels the direction of travel, you drop down, then try to steer out of it… You are going down. You’ll be lucky if there isn’t a passing car, or bus there to run over you as you sprawl out on the road.

Dan
Guest
Dan

Grow up ODOT.

invisiblebikes
Guest
invisiblebikes

Jim, we’ve passed each other a few times on that section of our commutes and I have also reached out to ODOT and gotten zero response along with using the PDXreporter app (which is useless!) for this exact issue.

Michael or Jim is it possible for you to post that email from “Monica” with her email address so we can respond individually?
Jim can you post it on FriendsofBarbur Facebook page?

K'Tesh
Guest
K'Tesh

Hi Mr. Parsons,

Thank you for contacting Ask ODOT at the Oregon Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) Citizen Representative Office. Per our discussion, I am following up on the concerns you shared during our conversation on Thursday, 7/30/15.

1. Status of locust trees on SW Caruthers, 5th Ave and Broadway (where 5th and Caruthers meet). As I mentioned in our conversation, the locust trees have been cut back in the past. They have grown back. Our crews began cutting and trimming the area yesterday (8/4/15).

2. Could paint be added to the storm drains to make them stand out? No. The ODOT Maintenance Manager has looked at the drain and determined that paint lines are not in the best interest of anyone; cyclists may take that as a sign that they must avoid the drain and steer themselves into a lane of traffic. Mr. Parsons, I was made aware that you painted the drain yourself. It is dangerous, you are on the highway without proper traffic control to advise the public that someone is on the roadway. It is also illegal to vandalize (paint) ODOT property. The ODOT Maintenance Manager will now be spending the already limited maintenance budget funds on removing the vandalism from ODOT property.

3. Need for maintenance on 4th/ Caruthers/ Broadway where trees are growing and cracking the sidewalk. The ODOT Maintenance Manager has made me aware the City of Portland is responsible for that sidewalk. You may wish to bring this to their attention by calling 503-823-1711 or emailing sidewalkrepair@portlandoregon.gov.

Thanks again for contacting Ask ODOT. Please feel free to contact us again if you have further questions.

Best Regards,

Monica

Citizens’ Representative
Ask ODOT
1-888-275-6368 FREE Toll Free
503-986-3434 Direct
AskODOT@odot.state.or.us

PNP
Guest
PNP

Yet another example of more concern about paint than safety.

TonyJ
Guest
TonyJ

Funny how ODOT was able to make changes to the “tire eating” Arch Bridge in Oregon City less than a month after Joe Rose reported on it. http://www.oregonlive.com/commuting/index.ssf/2015/07/oregon_citys_tire-popping_arch.html

Lester Burnham
Guest
Lester Burnham

LOL…now you know what it feels like to live and bike in east PDX.

Adron Hall
Guest

If that’s vandelism, the road work that ODOT often does should be considered full on assault.

Seriously… they need to get their perspectives straightened out.

TonyT
Guest
Tony T

“Cyclists may take that as a sign that they must avoid the drain”

Imagine that!! Because they should!

Riders are MUCH more likely to wreck and end up IN traffic, then they are likely to get hit from momentarily nearing the white line.

Absolute and total failure on the part of the Oregon Department Of Driving.

Terrible. Seems that the only way to get them to move on anything is for someone to lose a limb. Any volunteers?

LC
Guest
LC

So take the lane instead of riding in the gutter. You won’t surprise anyone by veering into traffic because you are part of traffic.

Todd Hudson
Guest
Todd Hudson

Never antagonize bureaucrats.

K'Tesh
Guest
K'Tesh

FWIW: I found the same kind of problems going up to Pill Hill (coming Up from Barbur to the VA Hospital) today. However, I was on my way to an appointment, and was in unfamiliar territory, and very tired.

nuovorecord
Guest
nuovorecord

“It is dangerous, you are on the highway without proper traffic control to advise the public that someone is on the roadway.

Lemme see if I understand ODOT’s line of reasoning here. It’s dangerous to be painting lines on the shoulder of Barbur. But perfectly OK to walk or ride your bike there. Amirite?

rick
Guest
rick

ODOT has lots of money for new overpasses, by-passes, interchanges, but where is the cash for people?

Charlie
Guest
Charlie

ODOT’s response is one for the ages. Please, whatever you do ODOT, don’t fix the problem.

I guess the bright side of this is that it clearly shows ODOT is aware of the grate problem… So when someone is maimed after hitting it and losing control proving liability won’t be an issue.

Patrick
Guest
Patrick

If ODOT wants to “remove” the paint, all it takes is some gray spray paint and 10 minutes of time. It shouldn’t be a big deal.

Bike Manufacturer
Guest

We have been complaining about the grates, grooved gutter, and narrow lane since before 2000, with ZERO positive response. The street has been completely re-paved and stripped at least twice since we started complaining with no improvements to the road for cyclists. We now use the side street route pioneered by Portland skateboarders in the 60’s as an alternative. Taylor’s Ferry Rd./2nd/Ruby Tr. or 5th/5th/ Terwilliger. Ruby Terrace is very rough for bikes.

kittens
Guest
kittens

ODOT’s pissy response is telling and transparent, going out of the way to say it will take money from the maintenance budget. Like this will cost a hundreds of thousands of dollars to paint over.

They are just *so* annoyed at regular people taking initiative to increase safety but can’t be bothered to fix the underling problem lest we realize how easy and simple some of these fixes are and how bad ODOT is at responding to them.

Someone in ODOT with half a brain should do a cost/benefit analysis and determine it is not in the agency’s interest to respond like this, if only for purely political reasons.

Pat Franz
Guest
Pat Franz

Well at least ODOT did experience shame, it caused them to lash out…
Next step for them: growing up.

I think this citizen action is a great idea. Nothing has been done for 7 years. Something had to be done, and it was. And it looks like it would be a great help to everyone that rides there.

Next great idea: making a stencil, so the job can be done quicker and more safely. And more easily done in more places. And more easily redone when state resources are wasted massaging egos at ODOT.

I realize everything can’t be fixed right away, and that ODOT has a lot of things to do, but there is a simple fix for something that SHOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN CREATED. Whoever did the paving should never have done that. Whoever inspected and approved the paving should never have allowed it. It should have been fixed by the contractor a long time ago.

Instead of sending a crew to paint over the paint, send a crew to FIX THE PROBLEM.

THEN the problem will be fixed. And the PR and liability problems too.

dan
Guest
dan

“It is dangerous, you are on the highway without proper traffic control to advise the public that someone is on the roadway. ”

LOL, and yet it’s safe enough for cyclists to ride there? Don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Dan
Guest
Dan

“You don’t get to make the road more dangerous for cyclists! Only we get to do that!”

Fred
Guest
Fred

This is why I ride a fat bike.

Ed Birnbaum
Guest
Ed Birnbaum

Jim, did you talk to or Email anyone at BTA about this? Has anyone? Response? I’d like to know if BTA (I’m a member) can be our voice for this sort of thing or would they say only for larger matters of policy. I don’t think this is trivial. And it does seem to crystallize the way ODOT has behaved in general. Makes me wonder whether anyone at ODOT has ever ridden a bike when they suggest that riding around the grate constitutes the real safety issue!!

Alan Love
Guest
Alan Love

I’ve been riding that section of Barbur for years, and noticed the improved “signage” a few weeks ago. At no point did I feel compelled to take the lane (the bridges, however, are a different story) because of the warnings, but did appreciate the extra bit of warning time from seeing the bright paint sooner. Should ODOT decide legal action against Mr. Parsons is needed to deter such citizen improvements, I would gladly testify on his behalf regarding the actual vs. perceived implications of such marking.

My only criticism of his signage is that I was uncertain if ODOT themselves painted the “ODOT KNOWS” markings, as in ODOT saying “Yes, yes, we know about the problem and we intend on fixing it. Stop calling to tell us about it.” Wishful thinking, I guess.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

Honestly, I’ve also been thinking of carrying a can of marking paint to mark all the hazards that exist along my normal bike routes. The alternative is just to ignore them until someone gets hurt.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

I applaud the painting.

Sure, ODOT doesn’t want people to be painting whatever they want on the roadway. But that just means they should get out there and fix the hazard.

B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

Silly me. I thought Oregon adopted the (grossly inadequate) AASHTO standards decades ago. Those standards require that bike lanes have a minimum of three continuous feet of rideable surface. Unless someone at ODOT has redefined what is rideable or what distance a foot is, it looks like it is ODOT who is violating state law.

Wouldn’t it be fun if someone found a way to hold the bureaucrat responsible accountable in some meaningful way.

ac
Guest
ac

There were crews there most of last winter dealing with the bridge guard rail extensions.

They had traffic control there for MONTHS — the grates could have been simply dealt with then, no?

i just rode this Sunday and I intentionally avoided each and every one by taking the lane
(granted Sunday morning is easier for that)

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

K’Tesh
2. Could paint be added to the storm drains to make them stand out? No. The ODOT Maintenance Manager has looked at the drain and determined that paint lines are not in the best interest of anyone; cyclists may take that as a sign that they must avoid the drain and steer themselves into a lane of traffic.

See the problem is this is EXACTLY backwards.

If there is a hazard in the bike lane we are permitted, possibly requied, attempt to avoid it.

ODOT has acknowledged that the hazard exists but does not think that bicycle riders are allowed in to their precious automotive space or that there is any reason to leave the bicycle lane.

The Oregon Vehicular Code provides the legal right to ride a bicycle safely EVEN IF that means leaving the bicycle lane.

ODOT just wants to bury their heads in the sand.

Michael
Guest
Michael

If ODOT removes the paint, there is no good reason not to paint it again, and to start painting warnings at other locations that present road hazards.

Reminds me of the successful effort to get the Soviet Tank removed from the city of Prague: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monument_to_Soviet_Tank_Crews

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

K’Tesh:
Do you have a written record backing up this statement:

K’Tesh
“Every time I call they’re like, ‘Oh, we’ll be paving that area next year,’” Parsons said in an interview last week. “They just don’t think it’s a problem.”

It would be useful in building a case for targeting ODOT’s institutional inaction.

fourknees
Guest
fourknees

Barbur Blvd – The Deadliest Road in Portland…For all users.

Really ODOT, the cost is too much? I’m sure the cost will be less than the $100,000+ settlement that is reached when a cyclist is severely injured here. I just hope they don’t fall into the first lane where traffic drives below the “45” mph speed limit.

Another ODOT road, same issue and it was fixed?
http://bikeportland.org/2012/01/12/after-activist-action-odot-repaves-danger-spots-on-hall-blvd-65087

City of Tigard at least tries to warn people before a permanent fix:
http://bikeportland.org/2011/12/26/stripes-in-bike-lane-pose-interesting-legal-question-64315

encephalopath
Guest
encephalopath

“‘Cyclists may take that as a sign that they must avoid the drain and steer themselves into a lane of traffic,’ wrote the staffer, Monica Bustos.”

I’m starting to think some of the people at ODOT don’t really have even half a functioning brain.

Curtis Roth
Guest
Curtis Roth

I ride that on my commute to work. It wouldn’t be acceptable for cars. Add to that the area where Barbur connects with Front – rough paving that jolts the rider.

J_R
Guest
J_R

Matt Garrett (ODOT Director), Rian Windsheimer (Region 1 Manager) and Monica Bustos should all be REQUIRED to ride bicycles over that grate next to an ODOT dump truck driving 45 mph and straddling the bike lane stripe.

THEN they can each certify that it is SAFE in it’s present condition. If they do that, I’ll pay to have the “vandalism” removed.

peejay
Guest
peejay

Nothing more to be added, other than we should do a class action suit against ODOT for gross negligence.

Brian
Guest
Brian

I love it. There are many great ways to have a positive impact on the safety of our streets. http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2015/05/potholes_not_pots_for_hamtramc.html

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Hey…don’t push ODoT so hard they detour maintenance funds away from “my” safety deficiency locations north of Kenton. ‘-)

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

ODoT – the critical thing to remember is that many of your facilities are key regional bike commuter routes that have may be the only bike route or have very poor second options without travelling miles out of direction.

Ed Birnbaum
Guest
Ed Birnbaum

Congratulations, K’Tesh, on your graduation! And thanks for what you did for us.

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

The following will be generically applicable but targeted ato this specific situation:

Jim Parsons:
“Every time I call they’re like, ‘Oh, we’ll be paving that area next year,’” Parsons said in an interview last week. “They just don’t think it’s a problem.”

This situation has been acknowledged by ODOT as a genuine safety concern and they are on record as saying it is on the work list for construction projects.
Problem is that “next year” keeps getting pushed back.

The fact is that this and other bicycle infrastructure safety issues have been placed in a perpetual construction limbo.

SO…. Lets use this unintentional construction status to force something slightly safer to occur.

Let’s pretend that this actually IS a construction zone hazard. This is not much of a stretch; ODOT keeps saying it will be part of a construction fix but this is simply left as an open pit hazard.

continues

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

Kafka would be proud, ODOT.

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

I’d post my MUTCD suggestion dump in the forums if they existed anymore.
At least there I could include images.

ethan
Guest
ethan

If that’s vandalism, I wonder what they would call it if someone dug holes into the middle of the travel lanes?

Kevin Wagoner
Guest
Kevin Wagoner

Going downhill at roughly 30mph I absolutely avoid that drain. I’m not sure what would happen if I hit it at that speed, but it could certain cause me to lose control, wreck, pinch flat my tire and/or break my wheel. I guess none of those things could happen as well. As a rule I don’t just ride into a hole like that by choice and I’ve had everything above happen by riding into holes except for a broken wheel. As an experienced cyclist I actually appreciate warnings on hazards like that so I appreciate the paint. I’ve been wondering if that paint was an ODOT message or a concerned citizen…thanks for finding out for me! If paint is not the right answer it would be great to see it fixed.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

The aggravating factor is that Barbur does not need the additional northbound lane here. So frustrating.