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


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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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