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

Posted by on August 7th, 2015 at 4:07 pm

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.”

sunken grate prepaint

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.

odot knows straight

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.”

A tour of the West Side-21

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:

ODOT shows up to fix the issue...

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

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  • ethan August 7, 2015 at 4:11 pm

    Media attention does wonders. But I wish ODOT would have just fixed it from the beginning. Now that we know that “vandalism” is an acceptable path to getting things fixed, I’ll make sure to bring white paint with me wherever I go.

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    • 9watts August 7, 2015 at 5:27 pm

      ODOT Loses Face, then Scrapes Egg Off and does the right thing.

      Three cheers for Jim Parsons!

      “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.”

      Well, not exactly. But a nice attempt to make an omelet.

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      • rick August 7, 2015 at 6:47 pm

        thanks for the hard work

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    • K'Tesh August 7, 2015 at 5:35 pm

      I’d recommend that you try got go through proper channels first. Photographs, emails, and phone calls have done wonders for me in the past. Save the paint as a last resort.

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      • ethan August 7, 2015 at 5:47 pm

        But paint is quicker, it seems. And I’ve been going through “appropriate channels” for a lot of my requests.

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        • Dave August 7, 2015 at 6:32 pm

          Naahhh–“proper channels” go nowhere.

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        • K'Tesh August 7, 2015 at 6:52 pm

          Get other people to add their voice to yours. Share your issue, and gain allies.

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          • ethan August 8, 2015 at 9:37 am

            In some cases, I have PBOT engineers on my side. But, even then, they say they lack the funding to do things right away. There were a few things that I’ve been really insistent on (wheelchair ramps and crosswalks), and the ones I demanded are actually being implemented now… But for some of the restriping bike lanes, they haven’t done anything yet. I’ve even offered to paint them myself, but no one seems to want free labor or expediency for bike projects.

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      • Pete August 10, 2015 at 12:24 pm

        Absolutely. I’ve had considerable success in working with our local authorities. As evidenced here, having a reasonable proposal (or two) for a solution can get better results than just complaints. It’s good to keep local BPAC members in the loop too, and sometimes city council members.

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  • MaxD August 7, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    I was thinking the same thing! Interstate Ave could use A LOT of white paint!

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  • Adam H. August 7, 2015 at 4:18 pm

    Funny how it took media attention for them to fix the pothole. Can’t have the public thinking ODOT is incompetent!

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  • Esther August 7, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    No better time to say this to Jim: Qapla’!

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    • K'Tesh August 7, 2015 at 5:06 pm

      I am Honored!


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  • brian August 7, 2015 at 4:26 pm

    Don’t be the squeaky wheel in china.

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    • K'Tesh August 7, 2015 at 5:03 pm

      I think things in the Kingdom of the Bicycle will be a little better than much of the US, they’ve been doing it for a lot longer and with a lot more people than we have.

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  • Dave August 7, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    Remember, bottle cage on a fork blade for that paint can!

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  • K'Tesh August 7, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    Let’s not forget to thank ODOT for the change of heart.

    And I’d like to say thanks to everyone who helped support this decision!

    Rubberside Down!

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  • Rob Chapman August 7, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    Thank you Jim, have a great adventure in China. Thanks ODOT for doing the right thing.

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  • Ed Birnbaum August 7, 2015 at 5:48 pm

    Seems like you should be a strong contender for the Alice. For what it’s worth, you’re an example to me. How many times have I groused to myself about something that needed fixing? I’m going to start carrying the relevant phone numbers AND a can of spray paint as a backup. Thanks, Jim.

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  • Dwaine Dibbly August 7, 2015 at 6:23 pm

    Clearly, I need to add a can of paint to my tool kit….

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  • Eric Leifsdad August 7, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    Doesn’t sound like a proper fix, and maybe still needs some paint. I don’t want to go for a jump at 30mph next to traffic. Let’s see if the grates end up at road level.

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    • 9watts August 8, 2015 at 7:03 am

      “Let’s see if the grates end up at road level.”

      That might cost too much. 🙁

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      • K'Tesh August 8, 2015 at 7:26 am

        If the southern one gets the groove filled it’s fixed. The northern one just needs a smooth transition from the road level to the grate level, and grinding the edges will do that, resolving the issue there.

        When the area gets repaved (whenever that is), I’m sure ODOT will make sure that the grates are up to code. If not, people need to alert them, and hold them accountable.

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  • K'Tesh August 7, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    “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.”

    BTW folks, anybody can do this. If you see something that worries you, you can get involved and get it addressed. It may take some time, some emails, photos, phone calls, testifying at meetings, (and occasionally… paint 😉 ) but ODOT and all the other agencies are our partners, and it is worth working with them (even if they don’t see it at first).

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  • Chris Anderson August 7, 2015 at 7:39 pm

    If the safety issues reported by concerned citizens were publicly available we’d be able to make an ODOT Knows app that alerts you when you are near unfixed hazards.

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    • peejay August 8, 2015 at 9:18 am

      The icon for that app should be a clean picture of the grate with Jim’s paintwork.

      I would pay for this app.

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      • WAR August 10, 2015 at 2:12 pm

        While were at it lets build an app to unlock our bikes.

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  • Andrew August 8, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    Thanks for your persistence, Jim! I bike Barbur into downtown a couple times a week.. soon to be every day.. and it’s nice to know those grates are being addressed!
    It’s a good first step towards what’ll hopefully be some larger scale changes on that corridor as the SW HCT moves along.
    You’ve inspired me to be more ‘pesky’ regarding stuff like that!

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  • rachel b August 8, 2015 at 1:24 pm

    Hurrah, Jim Parsons! 🙂

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  • was carless August 8, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    This unfortunately will be just a drop in the ocean. I went out riding a few days ago up to Vista House, and the streets in Gresham and Troutdale featured sunken grates in the bike lanes of every street we rode. I should mention that the traffic volume on streets such as NE Stark and Eastman Parkway are far, far higher than what you would normally find on Barbur.

    Sadly, the proper solution would be to install under-sidewalk grates so that the maintenance authority would never have to spend money or effort in fixing recessed grates:




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  • nuovorecord August 8, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    I commend ODOT for doing the right thing…finally.

    But I would really commend them if they would say (in so many words):

    “We get it. You’re right. A lot of our roads are pretty s#!+ty for cycling and walking and getting to transit. Properly fixing them is going to take millions of dollars and time. But, we’re going to set aside $XXX in our maintenance budget each year to address these quick fixes, identified by the public. Raising grates, repainting, fixing signage, keeping bike lanes clear, things like this. We probably can’t do them all at once, but we can do what we can, one fix at a time, and make incremental improvements that mean a lot to people using their bikes and feet everyday to get around. We owe the public the best transportation system we can provide, and that means everyone, not just people driving cars.”

    Rian…I’m waiting.

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  • Cormac August 8, 2015 at 5:59 pm

    Way to go Jim Parsons!

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  • JonM August 8, 2015 at 11:11 pm

    Only in the Portland metro area have I seen these ridiculously sunken manhole covers and grates and no matter if they’re in the middle of the road wrecking our cars or int he bike lanes causing hazardous conditions…keep Portland weird, I suppose.

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  • K'Tesh August 10, 2015 at 5:32 am

    BTW… PBOT never did fix those grates over by PSU.


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  • Adam August 10, 2015 at 9:23 am

    Thanks Jim!

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  • Mitch August 10, 2015 at 3:20 pm

    Now can we get these repairs up on Terwilliger next? These same grates are in multiply areas all along Terwilliger between Hillsdale and Duniway Park bike lanes heading into downtown.

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    • rick August 12, 2015 at 11:23 am

      Portland Parks owns the road on the Terwilliger Parkway. It is a linear park.

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      • K'Tesh August 13, 2015 at 7:31 am

        I called the PBOT 24 hour hotline (503-823-1700) and complained about a few of the drains I saw as I was riding down from the VA hospital yesterday. The worst one I saw was where just downhill from the turn where the Southwest US Veterans Hospital Road meets Terwilliger. Mind you, I was only going from the VA, so there are likely a lot more of these.

        I also offered to meet with them to point them out to whoever comes to inspect them.

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    • Eric Leifsdad August 12, 2015 at 11:10 pm

      They are not as severe as that, but I agree if you’re moving at 20-25, they aren’t safe. More of us should take the traffic lane. Maybe they would get fixed if motorists were calling to complain that they couldn’t speed because a bike was in the lane.

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  • James August 11, 2015 at 10:14 pm

    So, apparently “fixing” the grates mean trying to kill me. I ride that stretch of Barbur home from the Capitol Hwy ramp north, and today I was surprised to see a “Bike Lane Closed Ahead” sign…in the bike lane, just after hitting 20 MPH coming down the ramp. After quickly signaling and swerving out into traffic, I was treat to another sign..in the bike lane, as well as cones across the bike lane in front of both of those grates, again forcing me out into traffic. This is stupid, and I am not a paranoid person, but it feels like someone at ODOT is having a “if you think the grates were dangerous before” moment. If they’re going to close the bike lane for repairs, and do it for multiple days as they appear to be doing, close the freakin’ right traffic lane, too, so I have someplace to go. Yeesh.

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  • James August 12, 2015 at 9:49 pm

    Okay, since I ranted yesterday, I should come back and say that work was finished before I headed home today, and they did a very good job. It almost looks like they raised the grates to road surface level, but it was had to say without stopping to take a closer look. Lane closure could have been handled better, but the end result is a definite improvement.

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    • Alan Love August 13, 2015 at 9:39 am

      Oh, and the new grates are lovely. Great job, K’tesh for being extra squeeky! Also, are you Klingon or Goa’uld?

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  • Heather August 13, 2015 at 2:58 pm

    FYI I passed a crew fixing the grate on the southbound bike lane behind Moda Center this morning on my way to work. I shouted “THANK YOU!” to them as I biked by.

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    • K'Tesh August 13, 2015 at 5:16 pm

      Oh… I’ve been so caught up with Terwilliger, and Barbur, I spaced that… Thanks for the update! Any pics?

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  • K'Tesh August 13, 2015 at 8:51 pm

    tlhIngan jIH

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