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‘Rogue’ union member blamed for candidate question tying road diets to bus driver attacks

Posted by on April 10th, 2018 at 1:58 pm

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(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Someone snuck their “pet issue” into an official questionnaire.

One of the many roles BikePortland plays in the regional transportation sphere is to keep people honest. A recent episode involving a candidate questionnaire gone wrong is a good illustration of that.

Last week a candidate running in an election in Washington County alerted us to a questionnaire from the Northwest Oregon Labor Council (NOLC). “Check out question #12,” he wrote to me in an email.

Here’s the question:

The City of Portland and Metro have advanced a concept they believe will motivate the general public to get out of their cars and seek alternative modes of transportation. Using speed bumps, bioswales, road diets, lane elimination, car lanes turned into bike only lanes, curb extensions and speed reductions to encourage more people to use Mass Transit. The unintended consequence is that it makes it impossible for Bus Operators, who share the same roads, to meet their schedules resulting in a record number of attacks on drivers. The number of assaults has nearly doubled each of the last four years.

Please share your thoughts on this strategy and do you think it makes sense to continue?

Naturally, these unsubstantiated claims set off major alarm bells here at BikePortland.

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“We honestly don’t know how there was such a breakdown in communication leading to this question appearing on the NWOLC’s questionnaire, but we’re looking into it. This question never should have been asked of candidates, and we’re embarrassed that it was.”
@ATU757pdx on Twitter

I immediately emailed NOLC Executive Secretary Treasurer Bob Tackett to learn more. Tackett said the questions were submitted by affiliates. In this case, the question came from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757, the union that represents TriMet bus operators.

The next day I heard from ATU’s Public Policy Coordinator Jared Franz. “First of all,” he shared via email, “let me be very clear that we do not believe that speedbumps and road diets are a direct cause of bus operator assaults.” Franz added that while it’s true operator assaults are at an all-time high and that passengers frustated by congestion are “sometimes” the cause of these assaults, he said road design isn’t responsible. “Except possibly in a very, very indirect way,” he added in parentheses.

Franz said he was surprised to see that question on the questionnaire and thought his group had submitted a different one. He said there was a “breakdown in communication.” “This question never should have been asked,” he wrote via Twitter, “we’re embarrassed that it was.” Franz asked Tackett to remove the question and I was assured it was.

After investigating the situation more closely, Franz said via the ATU’s Twitter account that a member “went rogue” and replaced a different question with his/her own in order to promote a “pet issue.”

We were pleased at how this was quickly addressed by the ATU and the NOLC. But it remains a concern that such a biased perspective is held by an ATU member with enough clout to influence this questionnaire — especially given the sometimes fraught relationship between bus operators and bicycle riders in Portland. Hopefully this is the last we hear of this road-diets-lead-to-operator-attacks narrative. If it’s not, we’ll know where it started.

— 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

24 Comments
  • m April 10, 2018 at 2:42 pm

    Clearly an unfair question. That said, I bet he learned this leading question technique from the lovely folks at the City of Portland (including PBOT). Some of the survey questions they put out are laughable biased.

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  • SafeStreetsPlease April 10, 2018 at 3:02 pm

    Feel free to leave them a (kindly worded) message. They need to hear that these actions are observed, and ultimately, attempt to unnecessarily drive a wedge.

    https://www.atu757.org/contact-us/

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    • Andrew Riley, ATU 757 April 10, 2018 at 3:13 pm

      My name is Andrew, and I’m the spokesperson for ATU who was corresponding with Jon on Twitter. I am starting to get emails about this issue, and want to share a response that I wrote in reply:

      Thanks for reaching out. As Jon at BikePortland mentioned today – https://bikeportland.org/2018/04/10/rogue-union-member-blamed-for-candidate-question-tying-road-diets-to-bus-driver-attacks-274880 – this question does not represent our union’s position on these issues.

      We DO NOT believe that bike lanes, bioswales, road diets, or other traffic-calming features lead to operator assaults. We support all of these infrastructure investments (and more!) as ways of alleviating congestion on the roads, as ways of keeping cyclists safe in a car-centric city, and as ways of making it easier for our communities to travel on foot, on bikes, and on public transit.

      What happened is unfortunate and embarrassing: a member who represents us at the NW Oregon Labor Council went rogue. Instead of submitting our union-approved question to candidates, this person submitted a frankly bizarre question speaking to the person’s pet issues. I don’t know how this person came to the conclusion that road diets, speed bumps, and bike lanes cause operator assaults, but to be really clear: they are wrong. As such, this member has been removed from their position representing the union at the NW Oregon Labor Council.

      The issue of operator assaults is serious, and has nothing to do with traffic-calming infrastructure. We regret that this question made it onto candidate surveys, and we apologize to the community for this breakdown in communication.

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      • SafeStreetsPlease April 10, 2018 at 5:26 pm

        Thank you kindly for this extended response. This is what I think many of us would like to hear. I would delete my original post, but it doesn’t look like that’s possible.

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      • Brian April 15, 2018 at 5:52 pm

        Which member? Have they been disciplined in any way for the shenanigans?

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  • bikeninja April 10, 2018 at 3:52 pm

    Wow, Is assaulting your bus driver when the bus is running late really a thing? No matter what the cause ( and I agree it is not road diets) this represents a real breakdown in societal norms that does not bode well for the future of civilization.

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    • B. Carfree April 10, 2018 at 8:33 pm

      I’m having trouble even wrapping my mind around the notion of assaulting a bus driver. When I sit on a bus, I’m usually just overjoyed that the driver is willing to take on all that awful stress for me. (Even though I used to drive trucks, I really hate driving.) All I ever toss their way are thank yous and compliments.

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  • Bjorn April 10, 2018 at 4:22 pm

    Can anyone confirm that there are 16 times as many driver assaults now as there were 4 years ago? If so I think this is something that Trimet needs to be more proactive about dealing with, but I have a hard time believing that the rate of driver assaults has really doubled in each of the last 4 years as the question states.

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    • Bjorn April 10, 2018 at 4:31 pm

      One thing to note is that if you look at the 2016 Trimet Security report that was presented last summer they note that in 2016 they changed how they counted assaults from the Summary Reporting System to the National Incident Based Reporting System. The new counting method will result in a higher incident rate than the old counting method and the report specifically states that the data from the old system should never be directly compared to the data from the new system for that reason. Due to this I think it is difficult to know if the problem is getting worse or not but it seems highly likely that the actual rate of assaults on drivers has not doubled in each of the last 4 years. https://trimet.org/meetings/board/pdfs/2017-07-26/2016-security.pdf

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  • buzz April 10, 2018 at 8:43 pm

    I don’t know what to say about this, it’s a black eye for unions just when they are needed most by workers.

    But maybe I should just chalk it up to the Ralph Kramden factor; that actually works for me!

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  • Steve Scarich April 11, 2018 at 8:51 am

    Despite Jonathan’s desire to stifle that unpleasant opinion, I suspect there is more than one driver who has those thoughts. Rather than rush to get apologies and condemning the thought, it might be more useful to find out what drivers really think.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 11, 2018 at 9:30 am

      Hi Steve,

      I’m not trying to “stifle” anyone’s opinion.

      Please read the story carefully and you’ll see that all I did was ask the authors of the questionnaire to clarify what I thought was a question full of dubious claims. They decided to pull the question. I never told them to remove the question. As someone who has given daylight to thousands of unpleasant opinions over the years, I’m sensitive to anyone saying I try to do the opposite. Thanks.

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      • Joe April 11, 2018 at 9:46 am

        I appreciate bikeportland raising these concerns. If not for BikePortland, I fear we would backslide on social and physical progress toward improved and comfortable multimodal access and options to travel in our region. I also appreciate ATU owning up to this and resolving in a quick manner. Cheers to that!

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      • Steve Scarich April 11, 2018 at 1:09 pm

        You might want to re-read the last two sentences of your article. Definitely comes across as ‘you better not express this opinion again or there will be consequences’. My bigger point was that we freak out when we are confronted by an opinion that we disagree with, and try to shut down the other person. I think a better approach is usually ‘Oh, that’s an interesting idea. Lets talk about it’. You can rail all you want at those who don’t appreciate cyclists, but we will always have to share the roads with them.

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        • Chris I April 11, 2018 at 1:17 pm

          I have no problem with people “shutting down” deception and ignorance. In this case, the leading question was full of falsehoods and needed to be remedied. This union member’s opinion is wrong, and should not be propagated.

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        • austin April 11, 2018 at 1:20 pm

          I think the point of this entire thing is that it really felt like a leading question in – what should be – an unbiased survey.

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        • nuovorecord April 12, 2018 at 8:49 am

          “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” – Daniel Moynihan

          Why on earth do we want to discuss someone’s mis-informed opinions? This is exactly the type of crap that poses for “thoughtful discussion” these days, at least if you’re a Fox News watcher. Let’s not dumb down the discourse any further, shall we? Or maybe we should talk about how “the earth really could be flat, because hey, it’s my opinion that it’s flat!”

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        • Caleb April 16, 2018 at 8:59 am

          The last two sentences are, “Hopefully this is the last we hear of this road-diets-lead-to-operator-attacks narrative. If it’s not, we’ll know where it started.” While one can intend that as threatening, that is not the only possible interpretation. Further, given the absence of any name attached with the rogue union member, I’d say assuming it is a threat is a stretch.

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  • SCOTT DIAMOND April 11, 2018 at 8:54 am

    Thanks Jonathan. Great work. Looks like I need to make another donation to BikePortland. Keep up the good work.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 11, 2018 at 9:28 am

      Thank you Scott. We appreciate your support! I know these things seem small in the big picture, but this is how dumb narratives can get started.

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      • meh April 11, 2018 at 9:49 am

        Is it a dumb narrative? Steve Scarich made a good point. It may be a single question but is this how others feel about the situation? Just because the union has a view point it doesn’t represent all of their members. Sometimes the powers that be are out of touch with those they represent. The current congress as an example.

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        • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 11, 2018 at 9:58 am

          ok maybe “dumb” isn’t the most elegant way to put it.

          And I absolutely agree with Steve that the fact that at least one “rogue” person believes this, it is likely a perspective shared by many others. And yes, that is also a concern of mine — and a reason why I took the time to ferret out the situation and do some cursory reporting on it. Yes I would love to know more about who this person was and what else ATU members believe around this topic. I would love to do a ton of stories about a lot of issues and I will consider putting this on my (long and scribbled) story list.

          But to clarify, I stand by my concerns that the idea of tying road diets and bike lanes to an increase in bus operator attacks is preposterous and toxic and a dangerous idea that should not be ignored — but should not be heard with respect either. I love all opinions – especially when they oppose what I believe. And you can see the proof of me living that belief in the posts on bikeportland through the years. However, I believe there are some statements/perspectives that cross a line. And when that line is crossed, I take a much stronger stance and I reserve the right to call it “dumb” or dismiss it or generally call it out for being completely inappropriate (and I also have a history of doing that on the site as well, if you care to look it up).

          thanks for the comments.

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          • nuovorecord April 12, 2018 at 8:50 am

            You’re correct. It was a dumb/misinformed/poorly reasoned opinion. Call it what it is.

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        • Chris I April 11, 2018 at 1:19 pm

          A “dumb” narrative would be one based in ignorance. They are typically labeled this way because they are held by “dumb” people. I apologize in advance if I’ve hurt any feelings.

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