Tour de Lab September 1st

Tech, tragedy, and triumph: Our 10 most read stories of 2015

Posted by on December 29th, 2015 at 10:35 am

“My heart is so full of love for this city, and for everyone far and wide who somehow heard my story and took a moment to care and empathize.”
— Megan Holcomb upon the recovery of her stolen bike back in July.

It’s been the best of times; it’s been the worst of times.

If 2014 was the year when Portland first came to terms in a meaningful way with the fact that it’s no longer the nation’s undisputed biking capital, 2015 has been the year when Portlanders responded. It took a year of tireless work by local volunteers and pros, working alone and in institutions new and old, but it culminated in a series of major victories in late summer and fall:

There’s been lots of bad news too, from horrific collisions to frustrating decisions, reminding us of how much work remains.

As always, most of the bike stories that captured Portlanders’ imaginations were the ones about individuals — people whose stories fit into the city’s best and worst trends. Based on our traffic logs, here are the stories of the year that caught the most curious clicks, starting with #1:

Jan. 13: “This $50 device could change bike planning forever”

Knock Software founder William Henderson with an early prototype of a low-cost automated bike counter.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

In the first week of 2015, we came across a city document about a project code-named “Honey Bee Bike Counters” and wondered what was up. A quick tip from a city staffer connected us with William Henderson, whose local startup Knock Software was at work on two projects: a cheap box that could automatically count people passing on foot or bike and a mobile app that could easily track the stress of people’s biking routes.

Starting with the question “Do bikes count?”, our post focused on the first project. It’s the second one, now called Ride Report, that’s coming to market first. But Henderson’s plans for the counter remain alive, much to the enthusiasm of transportation professionals who (eager for this project to work) shared our post widely in their networks.

March 17: “Touring Tilikum: My first walk across the new bridge”
My first walk across Tilikum Bridge-16

Looking west toward South Waterfront from the eastern end of the new bridge.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Our new car-free bridge across the Willamette is Portland’s signature transportation accomplishment of the year, and the popularity of this post in March was an early sign of the stunning public excitement about Tilikum Crossing when it finally opened in September.

Despite the shortcomings of Tilikum and its immediate surroundings (and the fact that it could never live up to sky-high expectations) it’s a major accomplishment that will feel, 10 years from now, like a no-brainer that the city couldn’t live without.

April 6: “Hit-and-run bike rider leaves one duck dead”

Certainly our most infamous post of the year, this emailed account of an avian bike fatality on the path near Bethany Lake in Washington County was notable partly for the sad story it told but mostly for the epic comment thread that sprouted from it, which included a not particularly gracious apology from the man who killed the bird.

May 28: “Rider in Gladstone fatality graduated from Reed College last week”

Mark Angeles.
(Photo: Reed College)

A post May 27th about a man killed by a truck at noon in a bike box on a major bikeway in the middle of the city’s bikeable grid startled and angered many Portlanders.

The follow-up the next day, that the man had managed Reed College’s bike co-op and had just graduated the previous week, deepened the tragedy.

Four months after Mark Angeles’ death, the co-op renamed itself in his honor. Angeles’s legacy also continues in the city’s actions following his death: its new Vision Zero and neighborhood greenway policies, both of which commit the city to proactive, empirical measures to improve its streets systematically rather than just ticking projects off wishlists.

Aug. 5: “After man adds warning paint to sunken grate, state roads agency calls it vandalism”

Not allowed, but it got results.
(Photo: Jim Parsons)

Before moving to China this month for a job teaching English, longtime local biking advocate Jim Parsons left the Portland area with one last priceless story.

Seven years after his first complaint to the state Department of Transportation about a pair of sunken grates on Southwest Barbur Boulevard, Parsons got fed up by the lack of action, spray-painted them in yellow warning paint with the words “ODOT KNOWS,” posted the photos online and sent an email to BikePortland.

Even that guerrilla action might not have been a big story if not for ODOT’s official response: an email to Parsons accusing him of vandalism and scolding him for forcing the agency to send a crew to the site to … remove his paint.

That response was too much for BikePortland readers, several of whom have turned “ODOT KNOWS” into a sort of recurring meme. Fortunately, the TV coverage that resulted was too much for ODOT, which fixed the grates a week later and said in an official statement that it welcomes warnings from gadflies like Parsons.

May 10: “Sunday morning collision at 26th and Powell severs leg of man on bike”

Oregon Bicycle Racing Association Executive Director Kenji Sugahara and Alistair Corkett.
(Photo courtesy Kenji Sugahara)

Mother’s Day was darkened this year by the terrible news that Alistair Corkett, 22, had nearly been killed in a collision with a truck turning left in front of him as he headed straight south on 26th at Powell. The Bike Gallery employee and regular bike racer lost a leg on the scene.

Crockett survived and is likely to keep moving with the help of prosthetics. Though the collision (like that of Angeles) didn’t result in any criminal charge, it did trigger a broad, continuing conversation about the perpetual safety problems on the ODOT-controlled Powell Boulevard.

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June 19: “Why are these 11 buildings illegal in most of Portland?”

2314 and 2316 SE Salmon: built in 1927, illegal to build today.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

Inspired by a PedalPalooza ride that sent participants on a search for the “missing middle” of Portland’s housing market — duplexes, four-plexes, townhomes and low-rise garden apartments — we shared photos of 11 buildings that went up before the 1959 zoning reform that mandated separated yards and driveways for new homes on most of Portland’s residential land. As we saw, many of the small pre-1959 homes seem to fit perfectly into their blocks, and in fact are some of the only units that remain somewhat affordable in some of the city’s most bikeable neighborhoods.

The city is currently circulating a public survey asking residents whether it should re-legalize things like internal home divisions in an effort to ease Portland’s housing shortage, or whether it should take the opposite tack and crack down on creating new homes.

July 28: “Security video helps police nab prolific bike thief (yet again)”

Johnathan Dubouis in March 2015 in Waterfront Park under the Burnside Bridge.
(Photo: Portland Police Bureau)

The last three stories in our top 10 all concern one of the biggest bike stories of the year: the fight against theft. First up was a July report about the arrest of Johnathan Marcel Dubouis, a man who’s been arrested repeatedly for bike theft. Dubouis allegedly decided it was a good idea, in an interview with police, to blame bike owners for using cable locks.

Dubouis’ latest arrest was possible because he seemed to have been caught on a security camera stealing a bike outside the tony Multnomah Athletic Club. It was also a milestone for the Portland Police Bureau’s two-cop anti-bike-theft team, which is looking for any tools available that can slice the cables of the city’s underground economy of stolen bikes.

Dec. 22: “Portland’s most wanted bike thief gets unprecedented prison sentence”

Leroy Parsons on a video monitor
during a hearing last month.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Leroy Parsons showed up as a minor character in the Dubouis story: a cautionary tale that even the worst repeat offenders are typically out of jail in a matter of weeks at the most. But that changed last week, when Parsons (described as a “kingpin” of bike theft by Portland police) received a sentence that included 18 months in prison, mandatory drug treatment and an unusual deal that will forbid him from using any bikes unless he can prove to police that he bought them legitimately.

It may be hard to pity a man who has confessed on camera that he steals bikes, but (like Dubouis) Parsons is also an illustration of the sad links between drug addiction, mental health, homelessness and property crime.

July 24: “Megan Holcomb has recovered her stolen bike!”

Reunited.

Sometimes, the good team wins.

Days after she rode across the country from Washington D.C. to Portland, the Surly Long Haul Trucker that Megan Holcomb had made the journey on was stolen. Because she knew almost no one in Portland, she didn’t have much hope, but she created a Facebook post with a description and four photos of the bike. The post went viral and two days later she had gotten it back with the help of Andrea Gellatly, who Holcomb dubbed “Portland’s new hero.”

“My heart is so full of love for this city, and for everyone far and wide who somehow heard my story and took a moment to care and empathize,” she wrote. “Not because it brought the bike back, but because it brought us all together. This city is definitely weird but dang do you all have heart!!!”

We couldn’t ask for a better epitaph for 2015. Here’s to more weirdly successful cooperations for the greater good in the year to come, Portland.

If you appreciate our work and want to see it thrive in 2016 and beyond, please subscribe today and join the 195 other readers who make BikePortland possible. We need your help now more than ever.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

Please support BikePortland.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

27 Comments
  • Avatar
    Harald December 29, 2015 at 11:05 am

    Could you please do a follow-up on the Knock bike counter story? When I read the story back in January, I thought, “This almost sounds too good to be true.” I’d love to hear what progress has been made.

    Oh, and thanks for yet another year of great stories, many of which were and are relevant even for readers like me, living about 2000 miles away from Portland.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) December 29, 2015 at 11:22 am

      Good idea! We’re continuing to keep tabs on it but haven’t done a full post yet. The mini-update as of earlier this month is that:

      – To work, the $50 tiny counters needed to be embedded in the pavement but sticking up, the combination of which made them too expensive to install.

      – The revised counter is larger (more like the size of a tissue box) and more expensive (like low three figures) but still radically cheaper than the alternatives. It can be attached to roadside posts, etc.

      – The counts seem to be accurate.

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        William Henderson December 29, 2015 at 11:54 am

        This is all accurate. I think we’ll have more to say in the coming weeks.

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    Todd Hudson December 29, 2015 at 11:44 am

    What’s the follow-up on Jonathan Dubois?

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    William Henderson December 29, 2015 at 11:48 am

    It’s quite an honor to have the story of our counter go so far, though a really mixed one to be in the company of such tragic stories. I wonder though, did we get an unfair leg up for being posted way back in January? Or does the ranking take into account number of days the story was in circulation?

    Either way, thanks for a year of great reporting!

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    soren December 29, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    That “not-gracious” apology was spot on:

    Again… I am sincerely sorry for the duck… but feel much more pain over the chickens cows and hogs that populate your dinner table than I am about this unfortunate duck who was being fed human food.

    I’m sure many of those who were so outraged on that thread recently munched on factory-farmed humane-washed turkey flesh purchased from a co-op or yuppie natural grocer (e.g. diestel farms).

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    rick December 29, 2015 at 12:46 pm

    Don’t forget the new pilot trails program for the city of Portland and the many new trails and boardwalks being built in the suburbs!

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. December 29, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    I’m looking forward to 2016. Some great things coming down the pike: we’ll have bike share on the ground, hopefully a new ten cent gas tax, Powell-Division BRT will have the route and stations finalized, we’ll have more info on the SW Corridor, construction on the Foster Streetscape project (bike shortfalls notwithstanding) will be started, and hopefully we’ll elect a new mayor that will take some bold steps on reducing our reliance on the private automobile.

    Should be interesting.

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      Peter December 29, 2015 at 1:39 pm

      Adam, Thank you for the positively worded post.

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      Eric Leifsdad December 29, 2015 at 3:28 pm

      Good to stay positive. I’m hoping for some real resolution and political leadership in the new year, but I’m doubtful that we’ll see the vision or swift action until we get much deeper into crisis. Certainly there isn’t a firm push for the end of cheap gas and heated seats / congestion + free parking. Too little too late, reactionary politics, etc. ODOT could start a sea change with a few months, some paint, and backbone. We have a pretty bridge now though.

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. December 29, 2015 at 4:29 pm

      Oh, and I totally forgot to mention parking reform. Sorry, Tony! 😉

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    PNP December 29, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    I’ve wondered many times how Alistair Corkett is doing. Is he still planning to get back on his bike (if he hasn’t already)? An update would be great.

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) December 29, 2015 at 2:51 pm

      Hi PNP,

      I’ve been meaning to get an update together. Just hasn’t happened. I follow him on social media and he is definitely back on a bike. And lifting weights, and doing everything else you can imagine.

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      Eric Leifsdad December 29, 2015 at 3:12 pm

      And is Peter Anderson riding again?

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    A December 29, 2015 at 2:54 pm

    http://bikeportland.org/2015/06/15/enough-enough-another-death-must-spur-real-action-144397

    Any follow ups on the soda choking crash/fatality? Was there a civil lawsuit filed?

    Any discussion for the use of concrete barriers at least as an experiment for the sections of burnside that don’t impact bridge lifting/merging?

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    buildwithjoe December 29, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    The car driver who killed a pedestrian on the sidewalk was never given a ticket. I’ve done days of court record searching. The mayor’s staff have given me false leads and they are stonewalling questions. Several laws were broken including leaving the lane. Please keep calling and demanding a call back (503) 823-4120

    Facts here
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1br_9fmxJpQ4z9tDEB4cdAYJTe-hIzE7R8qBLRizCTJI/edit?usp=docslist_api

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    Jeff December 29, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    The lady who hit Henry Schmidt on Barbur was released from jail in October. Would be interesting to know if she’s now getting around by bike.

    http://bikeportland.org/2013/10/25/driver-pleads-guilty-in-barbur-hit-and-run-96164

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      Eric Leifsdad December 30, 2015 at 6:50 am

      She was driving with a suspended license when that happened. Maybe she’s reformed now?

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        Mark December 30, 2015 at 4:17 pm

        Well, given that there’s no significant penalty for driving while suspended, she’s probably back in the driver’s seat every day.

        I am so frustrated by these toothless laws.

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  • Anne Hawley
    Anne Hawley December 29, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    Congratulations on another year of outstanding journalism, Jonathan and Michael.

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    kittens December 29, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    Might be nice to have some numbers and ranking to give some context to which stories resonated.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) December 29, 2015 at 8:34 pm

      These are ranked in descending order, with the exception that Mark Angeles’ death was actually our 4th and 5th most-read posts. I combined the two to avoid redundancy.

      These stories ranged from about 10,000 pageviews to about 25,000.

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    K'Tesh December 29, 2015 at 7:59 pm

    Ok… a few follow up requests… Behind the Moda center they fixed that grate right? Any word from PBOT on the grates (and man hole covers) coming down from the VA hospital? That’s also another area that a person to take a nasty fall.

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      K'Tesh December 30, 2015 at 8:20 am

      My mom’s reply to the article… the bike community might miss me… But #ODOTWon’t

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        Joseph E January 6, 2016 at 12:17 am

        How long till you return?

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    Joe December 31, 2015 at 9:32 am

    happy bike year 2016..

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