A new video just released by veteran transportation reform advocate Doug Klotz (we profiled him back in November) shows that the new swing gates installed by TriMet along the Orange Line in inner southeast Portland pose a significant barrier to people in motorized wheelchairs.
In the video, Joe VenderVeer, a former chair of the Portland Commission on Disability, can be seen struggling to open the gate. After lots of trial-and-error, VanderVeer does get through — but only because of his amazing chair-driving skills and a dazzling reverse spin move.
TriMet’s swing gates have been roundly criticized by cycling and walking advocates because of how they unecessarily limit use of the path along the new Orange Line. TriMet says they are needed for safety (there is both a light rail and heavy rail line and it’s a no-horn “quiet zone”).
When we first reported on the gates back in July, TriMet heard a wave of opposition. The gates were then officially opposed by City’s pedestrian and bicycle advisory committees.
The bike advsiory committee was worried about “the operating difficulties they will impose on members of the traveling public” and the pedestrian committee said, “swing gates still create an unnecessarily difficult barrier for people using wheelchairs and other mobility devices. No one deserves that disadvantage when there are better ideas on the table.”
TriMet changed their plans in response to these objections; but they still moved forward with swing gates at SE 11th. To bolster their case for the gates, TriMet released a video of their own showing a wheelchair user easily getting through.
Klotz remains concerned for users like VanderVeer. It’s a concern he first raised last summer. People with limited hand movement to control their chairs, he said in a BikePortland comment on July 16th, “will not be able to use these gates.” Now he’s got the video to prove it.
We sent TriMet the video and asked for their response: “Now that the gate installation is complete, we are monitoring how they work. We appreciate users’ observations and feedback.” You can tell TriMet what you think via their comment page.
UPDATE: Here are two more videos that show local women trying to get through the gates with their loaded cargo bikes:
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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Good for Doug for making this video! I never found TriMet’s video “evidence” that the gates are accessible terribly convincing (slam the door open and hastily wheel through before it slams shut back on you? Does this method work on a windy day?)
their video is also of a much more agile and maneuverable wheelchair user, not really the norm.
Very nicely done, Doug and Joe!
And with a musical score, no less!
I have to say that Joe’s counterclockwise piroutte was genius–and superbly executed.
Seems to me that if he used some kind of hook on a pole he could have pulled the gate open from straight on and motored right through.
“Traveling by motorized wheelchair? Don’t forget your hi-viz, reflective hook-on-a-pole!”
It would be even easier to just order his butler to hold it for him.
Oh ya. The old Pole-hook. I think that is issued to all citizens as part of the ADA, right?
What kind of pole, what kind of hook? Maybe you could make one up and let Joe see if it could work for him.
So, now he will have to carry a hook on a pole every time he wants to go through there? What if he’s a visitor having never been to Portland? Where are those people going to get their hook on a pole?
Luckily, Trimet will soon be announcing a “hook on a pole” sharing program, so people will be able to borrow one up when they need it. They just need to find a sponsor.
the TriMet campaign will be “Get hooked on mobility”…
If this was another site I would be advising you to donate to the multi-dimensional Pun Vault, but BikePortland doesn’t even have a pun jar.
I’m looking forward to the ads, victim-blaming someone for dying because they didn’t have their “hook on a pole”.
Oregonlive will call it an “accident”.
Is this an ISO certified, ADA compliant hook? Last time I checked, none such exist. Maybe he could buy a marine hook? Obviously this is ridiculous.
Trimet needs to build future max lines with grade-separation, with crossings either over or under the tracks. These types of issues could be completely avoided.
What an awful, awful design that swing gate is. I encourage everyone to click on the link at the end of the article and leave Trimet your comment.
Thank you for contacting TriMet.
Your comments have been documented, properly coded and sent to the proper department for review.
We value your feedback and continued support of public transportation.
TriMet Customer Service
…and rather than do that again, I’m guessing Joe might consider just taking the street (even though he’d be heading into oncoming traffic). Hardly a win for safety.
TriMet uses automatic lift-gates at NE 28th Ave in Hillsboro (just west of Fair Complex MAX) and they work great. Never understood why they didn’t use them everywhere.
“…automatic lift-gates…..Never understood why they didn’t use them everywhere.” chris
In past stories, bikportland has answered this question. Greater expense, and inclination of people to vandalize motorized pedestrian lift gates, is the reason that option wasn’t chosen.
That sounds like an excuse, not a reason.
“That sounds like an excuse, not a reason.” bob
If Trimet had an infinite budget, choosing to not spend money on more costly to install and maintain automated gates, might be an excuse if for some reason, the agency just didn’t want to bother with such a gate…or even install any kind of gate whatsoever at this crossing.
My impression from info gained about the situation from bikeportland stories, is that Trimet very much feels that gates at this crossing definitely are needed for safety reasons. People tend to be very uneasy over huge and growing budgets of government and public agencies…so the money, even on relatively small projects like this crossing’s infrastructure, can be a big deal.
The gates are really necessary. That’s why they’ve only installed them on the south side of the rails, not the north side of the rails- because nobody crosses in the southbound direction?
And, arguably, the UP trains are the more dangerous ones… usually slow, but occasionally traveling really fast, and with far more difficulty stopping than the Trimet trains pulling into or out of the station.
“And, arguably, the UP trains are the more dangerous ones… ” kitty
I wouldn’t have thought that Trimet has jurisdiction over Union Pacific train crossings. Aren’t they independent of each other? Ask the UP management about their rationale for crossing infrastructure.
There is no infrastructure on the UP side. Only on the less dangerous Trimet side.
“People tend to be very uneasy over huge and growing budgets of government and public agencies…so the money, even on relatively small projects like this crossing’s infrastructure, can be a big deal.”
I don’t think people get that uneasy over giant highway projects; they just start drooling over all the empty lanes they’re going to have to speed in. The uneasiness seems to come from projects that don’t directly benefit drivers.
Why do we need lift gates for autos at track crossings? Shouldn’t a red light be enough? We have neither lift gates nor swing gates for anybody downtown. Do people suddenly lose their senses when they get over the river or over the hills? In this location, why do we a) feel that additional barriers are necessary for drivers, and b) feel justified in spending the money to make those barriers as automatic and convenient as possible? Why do drivers deserve protection and convenience, but pedestrians—especially disabled ones—and bicyclists only deserve “protection” at the expense of their convenience?
Let’s also not forget that the whole bridge project came in millions under budget, so I’ll bet they could have found the money somewhere for automatic gates of whatever type.
So if these gates are prone to frequent and expensive vandalization, they won’t be used in the future?
I have a commercially available backpack cutting and welding torch, and I’m quite positive I don’t have the only one in existence. About 3 minutes time could either permanently close or open one of those gates and that includes setup and teardown of the equipment. It doesn’t have to be a pretty weld, just a solid one.
Dear God, no one should permanently close them! Southbound people would be stuck on the tracks!
I’m sure these swing gates are immune to vandalism.
Actually they claimed vandalism for their motorized swing gates. The ones they built weren’t sturdy enough. Their stated reason for not using the lift gates, which are thanks same as used for cars, is the crossing is not dangerous enough to warrent them.
Beaverton Transit Center used to have this swing gate system and they switched to a non-gate zig zag verion (not sure of the exact name). I wonder what made them change their mind at that location after all these years?
Are you talking about a switchback? That’s what TriMet installed at the other crossings near this intersection.
which also suck but for a different group of users – cargo bikes and bike trailers
It sucks but it’s hands free, and still easier to navigate than this mess. I think it’s widely agreed lift gates would be best, but the zig-zag is still better than these swing gates.
That’s me in the 2nd video and I can tell you that Elle (3rd video) and I got our cargo bikes through the switch back at 8th with no problem the day before these were filmed. She was on a rented Workcycles Kr8 that day, not the Douze in these, and I’m not sure of the length on either; my 8′ Bakfiets had no issues.
At Beaverton, at least one of the gates was electrified and opened with a button push, just like many accessible doors.
They call the new design “channeling”
“channeling” – aka, how can Trimet further inconvenience the public and discourage ridership?
If they need anything, these crossings should all have standard railroad crossing swing gates.
How many times does TriMet need to hear this before they get the message???
Let’s ziptie those damn things in the open position.
See my comment about portable self-contained welding units above.
So, I guess it’s TruMet’s fault they don’t design everything for every disability? I suppose they could, but it would cost you, and then you’d be whining about that too!
This is a particularly boneheaded design. Trimet showed it around, it was universally panned, then they went with it anyway. I saw them present this in a number of forums, and I never heard even a single person supporting the design.
If they listened at all, they’ve known this was coming.
Yes it is. There is literally a law that states this exact thing. It’s called the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Except as a “rail road” guess who is exempt.
Trimet is not a “railroad,” it is a transit operator.
“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” – Abraham Lincoln
That was a particularly impressive balletic move on Joe’s part, at the end–I agree w/ 9watts. 🙂 Compelling video. I hope the problem gets fixed, and soon.
ADA fail TRIMET. How does something like that even see the light of day?
Shitty management, most likely. More concerned about CYA regarding liabilities if people get smushed by trains in their crosswalks.
Submitted a comment. PS- I love when you include a link or contact options about various issues. If I have time I certainly take advantage of the opportunity to voice my thoughts through my fingers.
Also awkward with bikes. Maybe their envisioned users are more agile than I am when trying to balance a bike and hold open a gate. It’s awful.
Great work – Doug and Joe for putting a human face on this previously described problem…
I was wondering if he was going to have to do a ‘whirling dervish’ attack on the gate to get through…
[Any plans on forwarding this video to the US Access Board or contacting TRIMETs ADA Coordinator?]
for all the money spent on signs, lights, gates, employees standing around they could have just make a ped bridge that went right over the top of the lines and road.
I doubt it. Height necessary to clear train and pantograph (the thing above the train that contacts the overhead electrical wires), plus shallow grade necessary for ADA, probably makes for an 800 foot long bridge. Cost: millions?. And people would be complaining about the climb.
How do countries who actually care about their populace tackle things like this? Any examples? Might be good (maybe) to send a couple on over to Trimet as well.
David Hembrow, who writes the blog “A View from the Cycle Path” wrote a good piece about why tunnels are better than bridges. That would apply here. He did not have to include “and better than swing gates.”
>How do countries who actually care about their populace tackle things like this?
I’m sorry, but did you get the impression that the United States actually cares about its populace? Why would anyone ever think that? We’re a capitalist, dog-eat-dog society. 🙁
Also, TriMet “fixed the glitch” that allowed you to forcibly prop open the swing gates by opening them 180º. There are now metal stoppers that prevent this.
Check out Elle Steele @TinyHelmets trying to navigate Trimet’s new gates on her cargo bike with kids across the Orange Line LRT tracks at SE 11th Ave. and the Clinton Street Greenway in Portland.
Elle’s latest post on her blog http://www.tinyhelmetsbigbikes.com/blog-we-ride is titled “Adventures by Light Rail”.
Kath Youell has a better idea:
These are great!
Here’s my contribution:
Elle’s video underlines the crazy thing I couldn’t get out of my mind: someone in a wheelchair or on a cargo bike could become so engrossed in getting through the gate that they might barely notice that a train was coming by the time they finally make it.
What on earth was Tri-Met thinking?
Is Elle’s little son saying “I do not wanna die!” at about 44 seconds?
That’s what I heard. I think he knows enough about warning signs and I’m sure he’s reading, so it probably seemed like we weren’t supposed to be going through there at all. It didn’t stick with him though because he didn’t mention it again as we hung out at Ford Food and Drink drying off.
As a former exhibit designer, this would have NEVER passed our process. We took ADA very seriously, letter and spirit. Shame on TriMet.
The beauty of the lift gate… You can’t open it when there’s a train coming. There’s no chance for someone to do that I-Can-Make-It-At-The-Very-Last-Second-Crossing. When it’s down, it’s down, and when a train isn’t coming, it’s up and out of the way.
Any good examples in the area to look at for this kind of implementation?
So… While you are dicking with the death gate… The train comes by at full speed. Woo hoo!
Just now got chance to view the bid. Joe is quite skillful at operating his chair. He managed to get the gate opened even though positioning his chair so he can reach the gate with his hand to open it, blocks the gate. One possible answer to this problem: attach a simple strap extension, maybe 18″ long out past the open edge of the gate so people in chairs can grab it and flip the gate open with out blocking the gate.
More money and engineering, but another fairly low tech but broader serving answer to the problem of opening the gate by people in chairs, is to the frame of the gate, mount a solenoid that when activated by the push of a button, or weight applied to a ground plate, would give the gate a gentle push that would open it two or three feet…enough for someone waiting, to start to roll, walk or bike on through.
Think of the solenoid that locks and unlocks car doors. They don’t cost a lot of money, and work on DC current. This idea would use the present, non-motorized gate, thereby wouldn’t come up against Trimet’s resistance to putting in motorized pedestrian gates due to the agency’s concern that those type gates are susceptible to vandalism.
I think either of these would work.
Admittedly, someone who is almost entirely paralyzed and can only control their electric chair, but has no ability to reach, grasp, push a button, would still be stymied. I mean like the people controlling their chairs with a chin control or similar.
“…Admittedly, someone who is almost entirely paralyzed and can only control their electric chair, but has no ability to reach, grasp, push a button, would still be stymied. I mean like the people controlling their chairs with a chin control or similar. …” john liu
Although I prefer an entirely manual approach, that’s why I mentioned use of a ground plate possibly activating a solenoid that could give the gate a little push open…at which point the person in the chair or bike could start moving their vehicle through and be able to keep it open with their body or vehicle until they’ve passed through.
The closure spring on gates of that type that I’ve tried, isn’t very strong. It has just enough contained energy to return the gate to close after it’s been used. So, spring applied pressure from the gate onto the person or their vehicle passing through may not be so great as to pose a big problem of rubbing up against the user.
I’m trying to think of some easy, low tech, economical ways to solve the problem here, and stay within the safety guidelines Trimet is seeking to adhere to, short of eliminating the gates entirely, or tearing out them out and starting from scratch again on a new design. There may be better ideas of that type than have occurred to me.
And another sarcastic dude with no knowledge but plenty of opinions is pleased to chime in. Do you think Joe is the only person in PDX who uses a motorized wheelchair? Stop posting hot takes for 20 minutes and go for a walk. You’ll see them everywhere.
Quigley ought maybe to have avoided framing his objection to some of the critics of Trimet’s gate choice in those terms, but his thought that expense is something people tend to be concerned about, is a valid one.
Also, in an earlier comment, he offered a possible answer to the problem of opening the gate…not the most sophisticated or perhaps practical…but it responded to the root of the problem which could conceivably inspire other people reading here, to offer other simple, more workable ideas, other than the motorized swing gates.
Unfortunately, Quigley is far from the only person here, being sarcastic. The sarcasm in comments to this story is way overboard. That kind of tone is a waste of energy, breaking up efforts to come up with better, viable ideas for this pedestrian rail crossing.
Welcome to America’s Bike Capital!
You’re joking, right?
I’m gonna put myself in the hotseat here and note that TriMet’s gate is in reality a self-closing door. It works just like any other such door, and like any exterior door on a public building that needs to be ADA compliant, it should have a push-button activator. Doors are not unreasonable things to install, but ignoring design requirements given by law is something TriMet may want to take into consideration before they get slapped with a fine and/or lawsuit.
I think a strong case can be made that most of the facilities surrounding the connection of the Tilikum and Clinton/11th were not designed with the convenience of cyclists in mind; these gates are simply another non-exception to that. This, unfortunately, should come as no surprise when we discuss the agency. They care about transit just like ODOT cares about highways. Truth is, cycling needs its own government agency if we ever want to see the same kind of focus on cycling infrastructure, and then that agency can have free reign to pretend like other modes of transport don’t exist too. It might not be ideal, but it would be a hell of a lot more fair than the way things are going now.
In the meantime, TriMet needs to be held accountable for not following federal ADA design regulation for a public facility. These gates should either have push-button activators installed, or they need to be removed in order to comply.
I love the bicycle advocates are pulling for accessible transportation and streets. It is a travesty to make these so inaccessible.
But there is no reason you would have to go through it on a bike. That side of the argument doesn’t make sense to me. It would put you on the wrong side of the road on a sidewalk. If you cross the street to get to the correct side there is a wide bike lane (and a large sidewalk, if you want to ride there). I cross those tracks everyday and have never had to use it. Is it just confusion? Not sure why you would choose it on a bike.
To get to Ford Food and Drink (or Blaq – I really need my cover upgraded) you have to go through one of these. I suppose I could take the lane on Division. Where do you think I should ride with my kids? 😉
I can see that. While it’s not with the flow of traffic, I see how you would have to cross the street twice if you were coming from the south and that would be annoying. If you were coming from the west I would just make the earlier turn.
Thank you for responding!
Not a problem! After I posted that I realized that I could ride all the way down to 8th then come back to businesses in the Ford Building on the sidewalk. I just hate riding my huge bike on the sidewalk if there’s another way to go. This should be a safe way to go, and we should all be advocating for Universal Design principles to be used.
Thanks to everyone who made these videos. They were fun to watch and very effective at making their point.
The reason these gates make me really nervous is less about how to open them fr the inside, and more about how to open them from the inside.
When you are standing on the tracks, and you gave a wheelchair, or a stroller, or a bike, you are basically having to stand there and push with the front wheel or wheels of those objects to open the gates.
Since the gates utilize leverage, you need to make sure you’re pushing in the right space. Too close to the hinges, and the gate won’t open.
And because they’re spring-loaded, guess what? They’re actually heavy, and feel really hard to push open.
And remember, you can’t really reach the gate with your hands to push it if you’re holding a bike or stroller.
I feel VERY unsafe standing ON THE TRACKS with my child in a stroller, farting around trying to get this gate open with no hands to escape the danger zones.
It is a device that reduces safety, because it significantly delays your escape OUT OF a danger zone.
That aligns with my experience in the southbound, pushing them open direction.
Why are we conceding that a gate of any kind is necessary?
What problem is this solving? Trains run all through downtown without a gate to be found. Can us east-siders not be trusted to cross a track without killing ourselves?
Of course now, I’m thinking back to all the people suing the government for not putting a guard rail on every inch of highway, or anti-jump fencing on bridges and maybe I get it. Maybe we as a society have sued ourselves into this ridiculous mess.
Either way, I’m still not willing to concede that a gate is necessary. My proposed solution is an electric drill with the appropriate size socket for those hinge bolts.
Refer back to earlier bikeportland stories on this issue. From memory, I can’t exactly remember the reason given by Trimet, reported in those stories, but it seems there were some quotes by officials to that effect. People went to public meetings too, at which Trimet reportedly answered questions as to why the agency felt the gates at this location were necessary.
Trimet has a budget to manage, so it’s doubtful to me that the agency would have spent the money on working out a security measure for this crossing, if there wasn’t a genuine need for one to be there. Reading over the comments to this story, while they don’t seem to exactly know, a few people have considered possible reasons Trimet has persisted with the feeling that a gate at this location is needed.
It’s disappointing that more people reading here haven’t devoted effort to considering why the agency feels gates are needed at this crossing, and not at others some have mentioned. Also disappointing that more people haven’t given thought to possible simple adjustments or modifications to the gate designs’ operation that could allow them to be used efficiently by people ranging from those with disabilities, to those that simply have larger than average size bikes, or bikes with trailers.
Heartbreaking. I hope the next step is a lawsuit.
“TriMet released a video of their own showing a wheelchair user easily getting through.”
Their example shows a wheelchair user with apparently full upper body mobility and full use of both arms.
What I don’t understand is why, out of all the miles of trimet track in this town where you don’t need gates of any kind, did they decide to put one here? I don’t need gates downtown! It seems like this is just a really stupid idea, implemented in the worst way possible. Also, when I cross these tracks (southbound) I just ride straight into the gate which flings it open and I can continue riding without having to dismount. It would be one thing if the gate were before the tracks (again, I’m going south) but to have to stop and dismount ON THE TRACKS to open these stupid goddamn gates is just ridiculous.
I’m with on that , Jason. Seems kind of perverse.
Worse, I had to slam the thing 3 times with my heavy bike (90 pounds + 130 pounds of kids). Maybe it was because I was sick?
Because it also crosses a freight line.
I will say, some freight trains blow through this stretch very fast. Funnily enough, the Union Pacific freight engines go pretty reasonably speed-wise through this stretch.
But the BNSF engines absolutely floor it! It actually took my breath away how fast I saw two of these go here on two separate occasions! I’m not sure if there is a train “speed limit” or not.
But a spring-loaded gate is ridiculous.
Why not just use the staggered barriers Trimet uses at other crossings, like on Interstate Ave’s Yellow Line?
The gates are only south of the MAX tracks. On the west side of 11th (that video wasn’t posted) there’s a holding area between the 2 sets of tracks. I’ve parked there and hung out to wave to friends going by on Amtrak (Hi, Kristi!) It seems to me that these gates protect no one from the freight line tracks, they just make it possible for people to get stuck on the MAX tracks trying to get out of that mess. If they HAD to put them there they should be 8′ south of the MAX tracks so that no part of my bike is on them if someone with a bike my size or pulling a trailer has a hard time opening the gate. It’s horrific.
I’d like to thank Betsy for alerting me to the problem, coordinating a time to make the videos while Elle was still in town, standing there in the rain with us, and getting them off her phone and out to the world.
I’d also like to thank Elle for being such a good sport and doing this craziness in the rain to make cycling better in a town she doesn’t even live in.
Lastly, thank you for including us in the piece, Jonathan. I don’t think that this is much difference than an Universal Design issue: if it’s ADA compliant it helps ALL of us. Everyone can use ramps, but only some can use stairs; anyone can use a (properly spaced) switchback, lift gate, or button to open one of these horrible gates; only some can use the gates as they exist now.
I’d like to point out that the last 2 videos are of us going north on the east side of SE 11th. We used the light and crossed to the west side and made sure that we had the same problem with the gates there. Coming south where you would think a heavy cargo bike could bash the gate open I had to bump it 3 times. These gates are REALLY heavy! After the 2nd time my rear tire was in the space between the rail and the cement (perpendicular to the tracks) and for just a split second I felt stuck. I can imagine someone expecting to go through southbound really easily and cutting it too close, or having a train appear while you are still working on getting through. (Tl,dr: These gates don’t work southbound when you just have to push them open either.)
That’s my kiddo yelling “I do not want to die!” because we talk a lot about train safety. I actually didn’t even notice the train coming at first until Kath alerted me to it because I was so focused on the stupid gate. There was another time that we crossed where the kids ended up parked on the tracks for a bit because the gate wasn’t easily opening from the other side. It’s a terrible system! I would be terrified to do that in the dark and by myself.
My father used to have a descriptive phrase that applies perfectly to this design, “piss poor”!
I really appreciate the time that Doug, Joe, Kath, Elle, and Betsy took to make these videos. These should be mandatory “How NOT to Design a Gated Crossing” material for civil engineers.
The best part, IMHO, is the inclusion of “How Other Cities do It …” at the end of the first video. I find this to be critically important. It’s not just a whiny, complainy rant with no answer. They document a real-world, cost-effective, implemented solution used in middle America.
My only suggestion — put the lift-gate segment first! Since we’re the choir here, we all watched until the end. The casual viewer (think OregonLive, FOX12, KGW, KATU …) will probably just think “yeah, yeah, I get it, but what else can you do?” and then bail before they see the final still shot.
If someone could do a short mashup of all three and submit it to the TV stations, that might even get some traction. Especially the part where Elle is so distracted by the frustrating gate it takes a while to realize another MAX train is on the way.
We’ll never get to 25% if our local agencies keep putting up barriers in our path. Literal barriers. facepalm.