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Eyewitness describes bicycle rider’s collision with MAX train

Posted by on March 20th, 2018 at 12:59 pm

Streetview of where our eyewitness commenter was stopped in his car while he watched the collision unfold. The red lines show the path of the bicycle rider. The crossing and collision is marked with an “X” in the background.

On March 13th a man riding a bicycle was involved in a collision with a MAX light rail train in southeast Portland. We haven’t heard much in the way of official updates in the case, but thanks to a comment left on our story yesterday we now know more about where and how it happened.

This crossing just south of Powell is where the collision occurred.

A commenter named “Jeff” says he say it all unfold. His version of events (edited for readability) is below:

“I saw this happen. I was in my car going northbound on 17th when I was stopped by the gate for the MAX train to come through (I was at the curve starting to go west). After about 20 seconds, I saw the train slowly coming down the tracks getting close to the intersection. Then I saw a biker biking what seemed fairly slowly perpendicular to the train going northbound. A second later, confusion started to sink in that he was still biking towards the track with the train coming.

Then I saw him casually (and I mean super-casually like a jogger could have easily kept up or passed him) keep going over the tracks and then get hit. Endorphins instantly raced through me and I shouted out, “Oh my God!“, which shocked my wife (a registered nurse and has worked in Behavioral Health) who was in the back seat with our 19 month-old son. She said “What happened!?” and I said a biker just got hit by the MAX train and she said,”Let me out!

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She ran to him and was the first on the scene. I stayed with my son. She said the biker just wanted to get up and said he had things to do and needed to go but she convinced him to not move a muscle and kept him down until an off-duty fire fighter showed up to help and then shortly after a fire engine showed up. She said he was most likely on something but maybe just in shock and completely out of it from getting hit, maybe even just alcohol but he smelled quite bad, was wearing not so great clothes (to put it nicely), and the bike was quite old and beat up as well (not just from this incident). Yes, there is a chance he could have been homeless. I really do hate making assumptions but perhaps it should be know to help piece the story together?

Now I’m going to feel bad saying this if the guy is a good man who was just down on his luck having a rotten day and his shower hasn’t been working for days, but that was his current situation. Her description of him went along with my guess that he was on something because how could he have not seen the train coming with him going so slow and the train going quite slow too? It made no sense to me how that could happen. Seemed like there could have been a hundred signs, gates, bells, and lights and this guy still would have gotten through it all to finally meet the front of the train.

I do hope to hear the final report about him. I’m so so glad he survived. Who knows what his situation is and I never look down on people that have been dealt a bad hand in life. I hope he comes out of this OK and has a good recovery. And looks both ways next time.”

Crossings have been a major concern for TriMet and the community since the Orange Line opened in 2014. As we’ve reported, TriMet has installed gates and other measures at other crossings (where there are both light rail and heavy rail crossings). At this particular crossing there are no gates installed.

We’ve asked TriMet for an update on the riders’ condition and will update this post when we hear back.

— 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

27 Comments
  • Jeff March 20, 2018 at 1:11 pm

    Good to hear it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. This particularly crossing certainly doesn’t need gates – with the zig-zag nature of the fencing, there’s no way to cross it at speed.

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  • bikeninja March 20, 2018 at 2:11 pm

    Last thursday I watched a cyclist with a set of full coverage head phones riding North on Interstate where it crosses Tillamook. They pulled over out of the bike lane in to the left turn lane seemingly oblivous to the Max Train pulling up behind them northbound. The light was red, and the train coming notice was flashing but they began a slow left turn on to Tillamook anyway, luckily the Train blew its loudest horn ( not the ding ding bell) and woke them from their stupor. The cyclist acted startled, and rode a distance up the interstate before they doubled back to retry the turn. So I nearly missed the same horrific scene that the witness in the story is recounting.

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  • jeff March 20, 2018 at 3:00 pm

    someone is going to die at 12th and Clinton someday. so many pedestrian and cyclists crossing while the gates are down and not looking both ways across all 4 tracks. too many times I’ve watched riders wait for one train and then just bolt across the 2nd set without looking. Amtraks move through at 40-50mph far too often..

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty March 20, 2018 at 5:06 pm

      That’s because the signals stay on well after the train has departed, so people learn to ignore them. PBOT & TriMet — if you want people to respect your signals, they have to mean the train is coming. If the train has passed, turn them off, quickly! If the train is still in the station, don’t turn them on!

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      • Dave Hogan March 20, 2018 at 9:01 pm

        I’m pretty sure because it’s also a railroad corridor they’re restricted by FRA regulations.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty March 21, 2018 at 12:39 am

          Not by OMSI it isn’t; the Water Avenue crossing is terrible!

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      • Mike Quigley March 21, 2018 at 5:29 am

        Yeah. Gotta make sure everything possible is done to protect people from themselves. Or why not simply let Natural Selection work its wonders?

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      • jeff March 21, 2018 at 10:30 am

        sorry, ignoring them is a pretty stupid thing to do. I just hope I’m not to watch someone explode on the front of a train…

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      • jeff March 21, 2018 at 10:32 am

        yes, because everyone is as impatient as you are, right?

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty March 21, 2018 at 10:52 am

          You’re missing the point. It’s not about impatience. It’s about the signal warning people not to cross when there’s no danger. It’s about people becoming habituated to ignoring the signal because they know that much of the time the lights are flashing, they can cross perfectly safely. This lesson gets people killed.

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          • jeff March 21, 2018 at 12:27 pm

            you just described impatience.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty March 21, 2018 at 2:05 pm

              I described a situation that conditions people to disrespect safety precautions and make dangerous decisions. You can ascribe an underlying fault of impatience, but systems need to take account of the way people are, not the way we may wish they were.

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              • Bdog March 21, 2018 at 4:17 pm

                I’m guessing there’s one signal relay for the warning lights that covers both tracks. In other words, the lights go on and off at the same point regardless of which direction the train is headed. It’s cheaper and safer in case trains need to go backwards for some reason. Bottom line is this: ignore the flashing warning lights at your own peril.

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            • Kyle Banerjee March 22, 2018 at 6:15 am

              Overwarning is not impatience. It’s a serious issue that researchers have been aware of for a long time. If you warn when there is no threat or exaggerate the threat, the warnings lose their meaning.

              Having said that, I hadn’t noticed that these particular signals keep operating longer than other locations nor that there’s any kind of issue with signals being too long.

              With regards to inconveniencing people, it’s way better to be on foot or on a bike when a train comes than in a car.

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  • Todd Boulanger March 20, 2018 at 4:21 pm

    Jonthan, the driver’s POV would have been up closer to the stop bar (gate)…thus seeing more of the track crossing (vs. the image the has more of the landscaping in the way of the bicyclist’ approach).

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    • Jason McHuff March 20, 2018 at 10:30 pm

      In any case, it seems to me that putting thick trees there, in the line of sight between sidewalk users and MAX operators, was a bad idea.

      Also, if anyone wants, I have communications of TriMet dealing with the aftermath.

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  • Charley March 20, 2018 at 5:14 pm

    Well, that answers a lot of questions.

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  • Middle of the Road Guy March 20, 2018 at 5:40 pm

    You can’t out engineer human fallibility.

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    • Dan Kaufman March 21, 2018 at 12:49 pm

      True but good engineering accounts for it accordingly.

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  • Kittens March 21, 2018 at 1:42 am

    It’s almost like planners set out to make as many bike/ped RR crossings as possible in this short distance from here to South Waterfront. The logical outcome is more conflicts.

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    • Middle of the Road Guy March 21, 2018 at 8:49 am

      Only if people continue to make illogical choices.

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  • Steve Scarich March 21, 2018 at 8:50 am

    I see this kind of behavior frequently on the part of pedestrians. Again, not to generalize, but they usually look like ‘down and outers’, who will cross four lanes of fairly busy traffic with barely a glance at the traffic. It is like they are daring the cars to hit them, expecting them to stop, which they obviously do. It is sort of baffling behavior, somewhere between suicidal and just not caring what happens to them.

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    • Carrie March 21, 2018 at 11:26 am

      I have an personal theory that for people who live on the literal edges of ‘society’, following the rules don’t make sense anymore. Rules around where to live, how to survive, etc. So following the traffic rules and crossing at a light or with the light just don’t matter, because so many of our other societal rules don’t play in their daily lives anymore. It’s a visual of the breakdown of the system.

      Confession: I rode my bike in front of a MAX train (I was headed north on 12th) that was very slowly departing the Clinton St Station two weeks ago. 100% my fault — I was deep in thought re: Trump and the EPA and the flashing lights and bells were just background noise that I encounter daily at this intersection. I ALWAYS slow down and stop/look there, except this one time I didn’t. I still don’t think anything should really be changed at that intersection, just pointing out that all those lights do become false alerts after a long time.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty March 21, 2018 at 2:11 pm

        I share your theory.

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      • Steve Scarich March 21, 2018 at 3:47 pm

        Agree. I just remembered that a friend of mine was killed at a gated RR crossing about 10 years ago. He was an expert cyclist, professional guy, family man, and, for whatever reason, wove through the crossing arms, and did not make it. Nobody saw it and we have no idea how such a competent guy could die that way.

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        • Kyle Banerjee March 22, 2018 at 6:25 am

          Trains are notoriously difficult to judge distance/speed. And as Carrie points out, people just screw up sometimes.

          That’s why they’re called “accidents.” Even if most accidents are preventable and they should be prevented, things will still happen.

          That the bells and lights constantly going off at this location has the effect of making people tune them out is another issue. Just a little further on this same line at Moody near Tilikum Bridge is even worse about having the stop lights go excessively.

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  • K'Tesh March 21, 2018 at 4:04 pm

    “A commenter named “Jeff” says he *SAY* it all unfold.”?

    or

    says he saw…

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