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Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler breaks ribs in bicycle crash

Posted by on November 16th, 2017 at 10:13 am

Sunday Parkways September 2015-7.jpg

Wheeler biking across the Tilikum Bridge in 2012.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler is recovering after he fell while riding his bike on Sunday morning.

After a reader noticed a reference to the crash in an article posted by The Oregonian this morning, we followed up with his office to find out more.

Wheeler’s Director of Communications Michael Cox said the mayor was biking by himself when the crash happened. “He was riding down a hill, braking on a wet road, and his bike slid out from under him,” Cox shared with us via email this morning. Wheeler went to the emergency room and suffered several broken ribs.

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Wheeler lives in a hilly area of southwest Portland and with all the rain this time of year the streets can be very tricky to navigate.

The mayor isn’t a stranger to cycling. He has competed in triathlons and he regularly rides his bike to work. We reported back in January that he rode to his first day on the job at City Hall in freezing temperatures.

Hopefully he makes a full recovery and continues to ride.

UPDATE: Mayor’s office confirms that leaves were not a factor in the crash. The Mayor says, “It’s really slick out there. Plan stops well in advance, especially going downhill.”

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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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

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Mick O
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Mick O

Vision Zero Broken Ribs

The City has been directed to get right on this forward thinking new initiative…

Evan Manvel
Guest
Evan Manvel

Here’s to a speedy recovery. Wishing you the best, Mr. Mayor.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

Who is responsible for keeping our streets clear of hazards like wet leaves? Is it the adjacent property owner, or the city? How about people (and hired crews) who just blow all of the leaves into the street?

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

As I understand it, the city is responsible for street cleaning, while property owners are responsible for sidewalks. You are not supposed to blow leaves into the street, with one exception: in leaf pickup zones, the city allows property owners, who are paying for leaf cleanup, to rake leaves into the street so they can be picked up.

“Use the Leaf Zone Locator to verify that you’re in a service zone and confirm your service dates. If you are not in a Leaf Service Zone, gather your leaves and place them in your yard debris roll cart. Please do not rake your leaves into the street. Only customers in a Leaf Service Zone who pay for the service are sanctioned by the city to rake their leaves into the street.” https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/55380

I live in an area with a lot of leaves, in a leaf pickup zone, and pay for leaf pickup. My practice is to rake my leaves into piles by the curb and to sweep clear the bike path in front of my house. People tend to drive through the piles, but I manage to keep the bike path clear.

Wishing the mayor a quick recovery. Slippery surfaces are inherent in winter cycling – that could have been any of us.

Mark
Guest
Mark

Actually, my understanding, after reading the city’s leaf day literature, is that you’re allowed to rake your leaves into the street the day before your scheduled pickup. Raking them into piles in the street well in advance of leaf pickup seems like a hazard and a nuisance to road users.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

However, a lot of the leaves fall in the street.

J_R
Guest
J_R

Plenty of people in my neighborhood don’t even use the big green bin to gather their few leaves during the first few weeks of leaf-drop season. Instead, the immediately rake their leaves into the street. I’ve even seen people raking leaves into the street the same afternoon after the first leaf pick-up.

Just a few minutes ago I watched a neighbor who opted out rake leaves from her yard into the street in front of a neighbor’s house.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

Shouldn’t the cyclist have been riding at an appropriate speed to avoid or react to a road hazard? You know, like we expect drivers to?

Beat Stauber
Guest
Beat Stauber

If leaves were indeed the cause (could also be oil that dripped from a car), I’m not sure there is a safe speed on two (relatively skinny) wheels.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

There absolutely is — all season cycling would otherwise be too dangerous. I would observe that it seems like a higher percentage of winter riders are on 23-25mm slicks than those who only ride in good weather. Having said that, even the best cyclists make mistakes and there is such a thing as bad luck. Anyone can fall.

Other common threats in the hills include gravel, rocks, and sticks which are hard to spot in the dark among the other pavement issues such as cracks and holes. Other common traction hazards include black ice and frozen fog.

It is unreasonable to expect anyone to keep any section of road fully free of hazards inherent to being outdoors, especially those associated with the season.

Toadslick
Subscriber

Those conversations are always about a driver seriously injuring or killing other people or causing damage to property. This point is underscored by our mayor’s unfortunate injury, which illustrates the fact that when someone loses control of their bicycle they usually only hurt themselves.

I think it’s sick that you’re using Mayor Wheeler’s injury to try to score a “gotcha” here.

Many of us express sympathy and outrage when reckless drivers and highway-like road designs cause harm to people, even when those people are drivers or passengers of motor vehicles. BikePortland articles on the St. Johns Bridge and Columbia Blvd are evidence of that.

We don’t use their suffering as gotchas, we point to them as evidence of a system that is failing all of its various users.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

It all still distills down to the simple issue of a road user operating responsibly and safely. Your pivot to whether or not others are harmed is irrelevant. In fact, you just made the case for cars to run stop signs when no other users are present – nobody else is at risk!

Toadslick
Subscriber

People can operate their vehicles safely and responsibly and still slip and fall. People make mistakes. Casual errors by road users are usually only a death sentence when cars are involved.

But you know that. You’re attempting to troll and provoke, and it’s completely inappropriate.

Maddy
Guest
Maddy

Huh? The potential injury to others totally matters. Wet leaves thwart the most cautious pedestrians and cyclists. Luckily few self powered folks have the mass, or speed to injure more than themselves.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

I don’t agree with either of your points.

Wet leaves have never caused me to fall as a ped or a cyclist *knock* *knock*. It’s not for lack of time spent on them.

I’m not sure why people on this blog seem to think cyclists don’t hurt peds. For all the VRU talk, I’ve always found it strange that the general population seems to understand that running into someone at cycling speed can hurt them but people here struggle with that concept. Both my dad and uncle had bones broken from bikes crashing into them.

If crashing into a ped where all the energy gets absorbed nearly instantly isn’t a big deal, I’m sure you’ll also agree that it’s also not a big deal for a cyclist to hit debris and fall since the crash dynamics will lead to better energy dissipation.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I
Paul Atkinson
Guest
Paul Atkinson

You’re making a common mistake here by conflating two very distinct meanings of the word “safe.”

Taking risks that endanger oneself is, well, that’s called “life” and we all get to choose our level. Doing something “unsafe,” in that context, is a personal decision. We may be uncomfortable taking the risks we perceive them to be taking but they get to make their choices. No societal responsibility exists there.

Risking others’ well-being without their informed consent is also behavior that’s called “unsafe.” That’s something we have laws about, and a fair amount of our cultural morality is tied directly to saying that’s not okay.

Drunk driving isn’t illegal because you might hurt yourself, it’s illegal because you might hurt someone else.

Like DUII, a great many of our laws — traffic, criminal, and others — are based around allowing as much freedom to take personal risks as you like while prohibiting people from unreasonably endangering others. Drunk driving isn’t illegal because you might hurt yourself, it’s illegal because you might hurt someone else.

So when we demand compliance with the laws, the cultural understanding includes “because you don’t get to hurt other people.” When we identify laws that prohibit behavior that doesn’t hurt other people we’re a lot less likely to demand compliance and a lot more likely to demand that the law be changed.

tl;dr: it’s not a pivot, it’s a clarification that’s usually not necessary

Paul Atkinson
Guest
Paul Atkinson

And directly related to your last point:

When a person drives a car through a stop sign because they didn’t see anyone crossing, that doesn’t mean no one was crossing. That risk — the chance the driver missed something that might result in death — is why that’s illegal. If the number of people injured or killed by drivers passing through stops they thought were clear went to zero, perhaps your argument would have merit.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

The reason cyclists don’t injure so many people isn’t because they don’t hurt them when they crash into them. Rather, it’s because there are so few cyclists and peds so conflicts are not that common. Best way to avoid injury is for neither of the parties who can be potentially injured to even exist in first place…

Glenn
Guest
Glenn

I’ll have to try that, Kyle, thanks.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

It’s a simple math thing. There are very few cyclists and very few peds. But there are loads of vehicles. From this one can determine:

1) The chances of a bad cyclist (let’s call this person a bottom 1 percenter) encountering an inattentive ped is low. This means that serious injuries will be rare.

2) It is a mathematical certainty that same bad cyclist will regularly encounter bad drivers (let’s also call them bottom 1 percenters). Note that individual bad drivers will encounter inattentive cyclists in peds only rarely even if the population of bad drivers commonly encounters them.

From these observations, it follows:

1) One cannot pretend running into peds with bicycles isn’t dangerous just because death rates are low and serious injury data are not systematically compiled

2) You need to watch out for other road users. That you are less dangerous to peds than cars and are unlikely does not absolve you of responsibility to operate safely and treat all road users with respect. That drivers should logically be held to a higher standard of operation does not change the fact that all people sometimes make mistakes and some people are bad drivers.

soren
Guest
soren

“One cannot pretend running into peds with bicycles isn’t dangerous just because death rates are low…”

an absolutist strawman wrapped up in a contradiction.
kyle, you are outdoing yourself!

Glenn
Guest
Glenn

What is your point, Kyle? A statement that “doesn’t change” or affect another statement is also known by the shorthand of being “irrelevant” to that statement. So crashing your bike into people is bad? Thanks for that, but we were talking about cars right here. How did you switch over to bikes? Also what’s a ped? Is it dangerous? I heard Lance Armstrong was busted for peds. Or do you mean the dinosaurish holdover term from old-fashioned 1950s-ass, Robert-Moses-style dehumanizing urban traffic mismanagement?

The appeal to “simple math” doesn’t really fly either. First of all if you want to talk mathematical certainty, every event with a nonzero probability is mathematically certain to happen eventually, at least if you believe in the concept of infinity. A bunch of monkeys with typewriters will write the Declaration of Independence eventually. (Though admittedly they might evolve into “peds” before that happens.)

Another example, I WILL hit a “ped” on my bike if I keep biking. In fact I already have. 3 times, in the 15-year period of stubbornness leading up to my finally being convinced that riding on sidewalks is dumb. 100% of them walked away from it unharmed, by the way. In the 10 years since, I have hit 0 pedestrians. A little “anecdata” there for ya.

Anyway the interesting question with probability isn’t whether, it’s when. Many things can be pretty well modeled with a Poisson distribution, which gives you a probability of something’s happening once or any number of times within a certain time interval. Though that assumes a few things that probably aren’t true about urban travel, including that the probability of a given traffic incident remains constant, which is never true in a complex/chaotic (in the Gleick sense) system, not to mention that the probability of any event anywhere at any time can be accurately known — it can’t really.

In short, statistical math isn’t really “simple,” and the simpler it is made, the coarser and less predictively useful is the model of reality that it presents. Here’s some math that’s a bit more useful: Take two “peds,” yourself and me for example. We’re standing in the road. There’s a bike and a car, each going 20 mph toward us. It’s an experiment, so they’ve both agreed to run into their assigned “ped” without applying brakes until after impact. Would you choose to be hit by the car or the bike? Assume for the moment that your original suggestion of non-existence is not available as a strategy.

Kinetic energy is proportional to mass, and the car is about 10-15 times more massive, so I’d probably choose to be hit by the bike. Throw in a more realistic speed differential (e.g. the bike is going 15 mph and the car is going 35) and that multiplies it by another factor of 5.4 which is (35/15)² because kinetic energy is proportional to the square of velocity. Now you’re talking 50 to 80 times more kinetic energy in the car. This of course does not change the fact that killing puppies is very mean. We are obligated to treat puppies and other cute things with cuteness and talk baby-talk to them.

In other, shorter words (though this was fun), I think it’s reasonable to think injury rates from bicycle/pedestrian collisions are low because of BOTH
1) low numbers of cyclists on the roads, leading to fewer collisions, AND
2) better physics, leading to better outcomes from the number of collisions that do happen.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

I keep forgetting that everything here is always about cars despite this being a bike blog. This particular discussion began with a guy who fell after riding too fast on a slick surface. So I should expect it to eventually lead to something about driver responsibility.

Middle of the Road Guy states it well, namely that it boils down to the simple issue of a road user operating responsibly and safely.

But to return back to the tangent at hand, the physics and math are precisely why peds and cyclists need to be careful and why focusing exclusively on the drivers can’t possibly result in optimum safety.

Number of times I’ve hit a ped on my bike in my entire lifetime — zero. As a ped, I walk/run in the street rather than on sidewalks whenever possible because I don’t like to be near ambush points. Number of times I’ve had a close call with a vehicle — also zero. Your odds are totally different than aggregate statistics if you pay attention.

soren
Guest
soren

Kyle: “Number of times I’ve had a close call with a vehicle — also zero.”

Turning down the hyperbole a bit will help you hook more people on your line.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

That’s kind of funny advice to offer here. Removing all the melodrama and hyperbole from BP would render this place virtually empty.

But I digress. They mayor screwed up and crashed his bike — let’s get back to talking driver responsibility.

Pete
Guest
Pete

Drivers regularly roll stop signs where I live; in fact, they even coined a term: “California Stop.” Are you saying it’s illegal??

Pete
Guest
Pete

On your point on whether damage level is relevant: cars and trucks are subject to numerous mandated safety features ranging from seat belts and air bags to anti-lock brakes and DRLs, with many more on the way. The fact there are so many mandated technologies speaks to the insurance lobbyists able to out-argue the manufacturers’ lobbyists on the scale of harm that cars (drivers) do.

If the costs of crashing bicyclists ever came remotely close to that of the automobile, you can bet we’d see similar widespread regulations.

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

What’s your point?

rh
Guest
rh

Ouch…broken ribs hurt and take quite a while to heal. Get well soon Mr. Wheeler.

wsbob
Guest

Double ouch. I can relate. It’s only happened to me once, but that’s enough. It was painful to breathe.

Falls when the pavement is wet can happen easily for the rider that’s not holding back a little from their normally brisk pace, if that’s their style. Rounding tight curves, especially downhill when your weight in the normal seating position, naturally shifts more to the front wheel, can help a wheel slide commence. Too much braking on the front wheel can do it too. That sucker can lock up and start sliding right out from under you. Wait until it’s dry to do your hotroddin’ .

Joe
Guest
Joe

leaves are all over the bike lanes this time of the year.. get well dude!

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Yes – get well. Glad to know that there was no car traveling too close behind him at the crash.

As its “not the fall that kills cyclists, but what follows the fall”.

Jason McHuff
Guest

From the Oregonian article:”Wheeler arrived via Lyft after the city car he was in ran out of electricity.”

He’s having some real transportation issues.

rick
Guest
rick

Is Wheeler on Montgomery ?

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

Kudos to him for biking in the Winter. Get well soon Mr. Mayor.

Matt
Guest
Matt

Still autumn, yet.

Mike
Guest
Mike

I heard that a squirrel could have been involved! Eradicate the varmints! 🙂 Get well soon on two wheels too.

B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

I thought the squirrels all work for orthopedic surgeons and dentists. They’re just doing their jobs, bringing in patients.

Justin
Guest
Justin

I used to feel bad for squirrels but those little shits are absolutely suicidal. They’ll run right out in front of me when I’m cycling!

fourknees
Guest
fourknees

The only spill I’ve taken in the past 10 years was due to wetness—The U turn in Washington park going downhill from the rose garden just past the elephant house. I suspect there was thin layer of moss (no leaves and it wasn’t raining, but wet pavement). Luckily I was going slow and felt like the fall was in slow motion and my handlebars took the brunt of the fall. Stay upright out there!

Caitlin D
Subscriber

Aw, that sucks! I hope he heals quickly.

Dabby
Guest
Dabby

I wish the mayor a speedy recovery.
I also wish he was not our mayor.

Tom Hardy
Guest
Tom Hardy

Kudos Fourknees. Same spot I took a spill from a sprinkle on the same morning as the memorial ride for the missing cyclist from cycle O. Broke my helmet, skinned my hand on the up side. Kept on riding.
Have a speedy recovery Mr. Mayor!

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

I often debate other bike folks about the merits of riding clipped-in vs regular shoes. One of the reasons I ride regular shoes on platform pedals is for the very reason discovered by the mayor. When I approach dicey corners with mud, leaves, loose gravel or metal plates I drop the inside foot and take the corner motocross style. This has saved me from face-planting ( hip planting, rib planting etc,) at least 4 times over the years. This obviously does not apply to riding higher speeds in traffic, or falling on a slick patch when going straight but my middle aged body is glad I did.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

There are situations where your method works as you describe (BTW, there’s no rule saying you can’t unclip one foot temporarily)

I personally feel significantly safer clipped in for a number of reasons. Among other things, you feet won’t slip off the pedals at an inopportune moment, and in many crashes, it’s better to stay clipped in and try to tuck and roll rather than have body parts flailing about getting broken.

emerson
Subscriber

Clipped in tuck and roll??

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

Yes. There are different kinds of crashes, but the general idea is to dissipate energy rolling and sliding rather than impact.

Essentially, you keep your hands on the bars and elbows in while you roll over a shoulder if you’re going over the bars or come down so your thigh, hip, and shoulder hit (in that order) if you’re going down on the side.

By definition, you’re already out of control if you’re falling. However, you can still dramatically reduce how badly you’re injured

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

why is it that you clip into ‘clipless’ pedals? Is that like parking on the driveway and driving on the parkway?

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

Yeah, except the definitions are exactly opposite of what you’d expect.

BTW, I didn’t really expect an answer, it was more or less a rhetorical question.

soren
Guest
soren

if someone becomes accustomed to spd pedals there is no more difficulty in unclipping than in taking your foot off the pedal. it becomes an immediate learned movement.

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

35 mm cross tires are best for foul commuting.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

what pressure r u riding?

🙂

Dan A
Subscriber
Dan A

I can’t imagine they last very long.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

Depends on what you mean by foul commuting. 35mm is like using a chain saw to cut butter unless you have to deal with conditions that involve particularly rough surfaces or loose stuff that could mess you up.

Zoobomb
Guest

Zoobomb!

Justin
Guest
Justin

He needs a bike with disc brakes maybe?

Dan A
Subscriber
Dan A

Do disc brakes somehow slow the bike in a way that makes the rubber grip the road better? Honestly curious. My rain bike has got a v-brake on front and cantilever on back. Does that make me more likely to slip when stopping? Is it a modulation issue?

BradWagon
Subscriber

In my experience riding disc v. rim in the winter I am much more worried about my rim brake either locking up and sliding the wheel more quickly or not providing enough braking resistance and making stops longer / slower / more unpredictable. My disc brakes just seem to be more predictable and consistent / controllable. Also note though that my disc bike has different geometry and tire size than my rim brake bike so not a direct comparison.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

There may be brake adjustment or wheel issues as well. Untrue wheels affect rim braking far more than disc braking. Also, misaligned pads or those set up without proper toe in can get grabby.

Having said that, discs are much less susceptible to grime, wet, etc.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

Bike snob would probably say that this level of cycling skill is typical of triathletes.

K'Tesh
Guest
K'Tesh

Sorry to hear that he was hurt.

Prayers for a fast, pain-free recovery.

Be safe out there everyone.

Steve Scarich
Guest
Steve Scarich

He’s clearly an unskilled rider. How many of us who ride a lot, just fall down while braking? I am approaching 500,000 miles in 60+ years of riding, and have never just fallen down riding downhill, including almost 20 years racing. . He was either going too fast for conditions, or does not know how to apply brakes. I’m sorry he is hurt, but he must be an amateur. PS I did once go down while riding downhill, but that was when I hit a deer at 35 mph on a blind corner.

colton
Guest
colton

I didn’t realize that I need to log 500,000 miles to be considered part of the club. I guess I’ve been visiting the wrong blog.

colton
Guest
colton

This must be a pretty small blog if you have to average 8,333 miles a year for 60 years to join.

Dan A
Subscriber
Dan A

Yeah, I’ve never seen a pro cyclist slip out on a wet corner. Oh wait…

soren
Guest
soren

a cycling savvy or LAB-certified bike education class might help pros and bike racers develop effective bicycle driving skills. sadly, most of these brash youngsters think they know better. no wonder they fall so much!

mh
Subscriber

I did it on unexpected ice a couple of years ago, and saw another rider get a foot down just in time moments later.

soren
Guest
soren

i must be among the most unskilled riders in portland then! lol!

Trek 3900
Guest
Trek 3900

At least Ted had the good sense to ride a nice Trek bike. 🙂

It is slick out there. Take off from an intersection in your car and it isn’t hard to spin the tires even if you don’t want to. Same for stopping – wet tire on wet pavement reduces the coefficient of friction.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

maybe lighten up on the accelerator or get a manual tranny, the ultimate anti-theft device.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

So what’s the BikePorland commenter take on this? My hypothesis is this – because Ted wiped out on his bike, he should make the cycling infrastructure and road maintenance better in this city? Or should he take some cycling lessons? Other opinions?

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

Maybe there is no take on it. Someone wiped out on a slick, steep hill. It happens and always will.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

In other words, it’s not news-worthy except that he’s the mayor? Got it!

Andy K
Guest
Andy K

GET WELL SOON!

Fred
Guest
Fred

Jonathan, have you ever done a piece on the city’s efforts to clear bike lanes of leaves and other debris? – maybe follow a street-sweeping crew? How many crews are there in Portland? How much road can they clear in one day? etc. Where I live in SW PDX, a bike lane will suddenly be swept and then it won’t happen again for months. Who manages the cleaning program and how effective is it? Thanks.

Bald One
Guest
Bald One

Yes, this! And who develops the sweeping schedule, and how is this schedule justified relative to key routes and known trouble spots?

mark
Guest
mark

I’ve called the city twice and left voicemail requesting a call back with information about the city’s plans to keep the newly installed protected bike lanes clear of debris. Of course I got no call back because there is no plan in place. I will likely have to visit in person to get a response.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

I can see it now…

Mark: I’m outraged by leaves in the bike path

City employee: Sir, it is autumn

But you may be onto something. All this wet and wind really discourages cycling. The city needs to correct this.

Takethelane
Guest
Takethelane

Speaking of squirrels, I knew a guy that endo’d hard after a squirrel got caught in his front spokes. Stay alert out there!

AB
Guest
AB

It was definitely leaves that caused the fall. The u-lock loosely hanging off of the head tube dangling on the fork crown had nothing to do it it.

–the mayors office

Harth Huffman
Guest
Harth Huffman

I missed this article yesterday because I was in surgery after breaking three ribs and my clavicle on Sunday while descending Lovejoy. No love nor joy was felt, that is for sure. Yes it was icy slick. No, there were no leaves involved. Yes, pavement hurts and I hit it hard, just for good measure. Thanks to the doctor who stopped his bike ride and stayed with me til the ambulance arrived.

Best wishes to our Mayor. Heal up well, Mr. Wheeler.