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After media reports, state says it will smooth sunken grates on Barbur


Beaverton to Tualatin ride-14
Jim Parsons in a 2011 photo.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

For at least one last time, the squeaky wheel known as Jim Parsons has gotten some grease onto the gears of government.

After the veteran Portland-area bike advocate’s unsanctioned paint job of two sunken grates in Barbur Boulevard’s bike lanes landed them on TV news for two consecutive days, the Oregon Department of Transportation said Friday that it’ll follow his recommendations for addressing the problem within the next week or two.

An agency spokesman added that ODOT owes thanks to Parsons, who recently finished a degree at Portland State University and is planning a move to China.

“He frequently brings maintenance issues to our attention, and we go out there and address them,” regional ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton said Friday. “We rely on that, and this guy has been a valuable player.”

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

It was a sharp turnaround from Wednesday, when a different ODOT staffer had responded to Parsons’ scolding of ODOT with a scolding email of her own, describing his unsanctioned warning paint as illegal and irresponsible graffiti and saying he should not have applied it.

Parsons says he applied the white and yellow warning paint (along with the slightly ominous message “ODOT knows”) only after complaining to ODOT about the problem intermittently for seven years, starting in 2008, and seeing no change. Earlier this year, Parsons says he broke a spoke on his bike while crossing one of them.

Some of Parsons’ DIY street markings.

After receiving ODOT’s email on Wednesday dismissing his concerns, Parsons forwarded the email to BikePortland. We wrote about it Wednesday; KGW’s coverage followed.

In a reply-all email Friday morning to several people including BikePortland, ODOT regional manager Rian Windsheimer wrote that “my crews have had an opportunity to review the grates and will be making adjustments to improve them over the next week or two as the equipment needed is available.”

On Friday afternoon, Hamilton clarified that though the agency is “not exactly sure” of what adjustments will be made, “we’re planning to grind them out and smooth them out, one of them with some cement grout. The other one will be ground down. And we’re going to wash out the paint and replace it with black.”

Those were the quick-fix actions Parsons had proposed to the agency earlier this week.

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Hamilton said that the agency hasn’t recorded any bike-related crashes at that location, but that the sunken grates “probably would have been addressed” eventually as part of the broader road safety audit that ODOT is conducting on Barbur.

“This has not been our top safety priority in the Portland area,” Hamilton said, but given the “significant amount of attention” ODOT was receiving, “we want to make sure that we can take steps that will allay concerns the public has about this.”

Parsons in 2009.

This is the latest victory for Parsons, whose years of dogged digital and physical activism for bike safety have prompted profiles on BikePortland and Oregonlive. It’s a sequel of sorts to his similar action on Hall Boulevard in Tigard and a cousin to his email campaign to fix storm drains that are slightly too small for their slots.

(Another memorable Parsons tale: the time he got egged on his bike by a carful of boys but managed to get them to donate two bicycles to the Community Cycling Center in apology.)

Hamilton said that despite his colleague’s earlier email to Parsons, the agency is grateful to him for helping it keep its streets safe.

“We appreciate that,” Hamilton said. “We try to treat everybody with the respect that is deserving of people who take the time to contact us.”

As for Parsons, he wasn’t too proud to indulge in a little shameless campaigning Fiday for Portland bike advocacy’s most prominent honor.

“When it comes time for the Alice, don’t forget me,” Parsons said over the phone, sotto voce. “I’ve never gotten one.”

Update 8/12: One of the two grates has been fixed. Here’s a photo (also by Parsons) of the result:

Apparently the other grate is marked as a road hazard; we expect it to be smoothed over soon.

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