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A closer look at the scene of a fatal crash on NW Nicolai

Posted by on May 18th, 2018 at 3:13 pm

Eastbound NW Nicolai, the Kaiser driveway Feldt was leaving is right near that trash can and bicycle.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus)

Bicycle users aren’t prohibited from the street where 50-year-old Daniel Feldt was fatally struck by the driver of an Isuzu work truck on Tuesday morning; but they certainly aren’t welcome. In fact, no one outside of a car or truck would feel very welcome in the part of the Northwest Industrial District where the collision occurred.

“He was a loving and caring person.”
— Mindy Feldt, victim’s daughter

Based on the description from police and from media photos taken at the scene of the investigation immediately after it happened, it appears Feldt was leaving the parking lot of a corporate office for Kaiser Permanente on 2850 NW Nicolai at around 8:00 am just before he was hit. I went there yesterday to absorb the scene and try to understand what might have happened (caveat: everything is speculation until the investigation and/or a report from the District Attorney’s office is complete).

On my way to the scene I got several clues about how inhospitable this part of Portland is for bicycling and walking. Yellow, “Caution: Watch for Truck Traffic” signs dot the streets leading up to and including Nicolai — even NW 24th, which is technically a “low-stress, family-friendly” neighborhood greenway. I decided way beforehand that I’d use the sidewalk once I got to Nicolai. I thought it’d be a refuge form the high speed truck traffic that dominates the streets. I was wrong. The sidewalk is in terrible shape. Overgrown vegetation, blind driveways that emerge right from industrial factories, traffic poles right in the middle that make it hard pass, torn up sections full of gravel and potholes, and wide driveways all conspired to keep me on high alert. If I could manage the sidewalk, the loud rumble and swoosh of huge trucks passing just inches away from me would occupy my nerves.

(New photo display method below. Click one for captions and gallery navigation, then hit ESC to come back to the post.)

The block of Nicolai where Feldt was hit is between NW 29th/Wardway and 27th. To give you some context, 29th is where the main bikeway route comes through. If you ride in this area you probably know the intersection of 29th and Nicolai because it’s just north of Lower Macleay Park and it’s the route you take to go north on St. Helens Road/Hwy 30/Sauvie Island from NW Thurman.

When I got there yesterday I parked my bike at the Kaiser driveway where I suspect Feldt was rolling down right before the collision. I noted the speed limit of 30 mph. Given that it’s rare anyone drives at the limit, it’s likely most people go 35-37 mph on this section of Nicolai. I was struck by just how close the trucks went by me on the narrow sidewalk. Many of the drivers were just inches from the curb. They’d have absolutely no way to stop if a person — on a bike or in a car — was to roll out of that relatively invisible driveway into the road. There’s just no room for error.

I also noticed the big center turn lane. Those lanes of frustrate me in situations like this. They take up so much precious roadway space, yet most of the time the space is unused. There’s also a strange paved sidewalk on the opposite side of Nicolai. This is where the now-defunct railroad line used to be. It also sits, mostly unused, taking up valuable right-of-way.

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Parking at Schoolhouse Electric/Ristretto Roasters coffee on Nicolai and NW 22nd.

As often happens following one of these tragedies, I heard from a concerned community member who wants to do something to prevent something like this from ever happening again. It was Sara Fritsch, the VP of Product, Brand, Marketing, Digital & Sales for Schoolhouse Electric. “I bike to work almost every day, as do many other Schoolhouse employees,” she wrote in an email. “News of this accident has us all shook up.”

With 165 employees (and 200 total in the building they renovated which includes their retail store and a coffee shop) and very little auto parking, Fritsch told me during a meeting yesterday that she’s worked hard to encourage more people to bike to work and their bike racks are often full. “Now we’re devastated to hear what happened. We’re nervous.”

Fritsch, who once lived in Amsterdam and knows what it’s like to live in a city where bikes are truly prioritized, wants to do even more to influence the Bureau of Transportation. She’s already left feedback on the Northwest In Motion project and plans to add more thoughts about Nicolai specifically. Fritsch says she doesn’t ride on Nicolai and takes a more circuitous route into work to avoid it. She’s hopeful road projects in the PBOT pipeline will reach the Schoolhouse building and she’s got her eye on the upcoming streetcar extension as an advocacy lever.

1993 Feldt family photo. Daniel Feldt is in the checkered flannel.
(Photo: Daniel E. Feldt)

If the past is any indication, we can expect to see PBOT to start paying more attention to bicycling in the northwest industrial area — now that a man has sacrificed his life to draw our attention to the problem.

Feldt was remembered by his son Daniel E. Feldt in an article published in The Oregonian yesterday: “He was into classic muscle cars, tinkering on engines and absolutely loved fishing, especially steelhead… He was a great guy. He loved his kids.”

Feldt’s daughter, Mindy Feldt, didn’t feel like sharing much when I reached out to her via Facebook today. “He was a loving and caring person,” she said.

Feldt is the first person to die while bicycling on a Portland street in 2018 and the 16th traffic fatality overall.

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

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rick
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rick

Thanks for the reporting that few others do. I’m sad to hear about this. Why isn’t this street part of the NW in Motion plan ?

BradWagon
Subscriber

Not to say this isn’t a horrible area that needs to be changed or to minimize this tragedy but… did you intentionally write this article to downplay your own knowledge of the paved railroad tracks on the opposite side of the street? You call it a “strange paved sidewalk” and seem to suggest there are abandoned rail lines IN ADDITION to the paved over ones despite there being two detailed post about the specific area in the “related posts” at the bottom of the article.

If you were worried about your own safety enough to ride the sidewalk why not ride the large raised paved path instead of against traffic on a narrow sidewalk? I get we need to draw attention to that side of the street but stuff like it is what gives the “bikeportland agenda” haters a foothold. I didn’t even remember this was the same spot till I was on google street view.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

The other trend that will “solve” much of this area’s ‘un-bike friendliness’ will be commercial gentrification (if there is such a word) as the WW2 era steel mills and fab shops convert to higher uses…and more bikes and less large freight vehicles….just think back to what the area was like before School House Electric etc…

Emily Guise (Contributor)
Subscriber

This is such a tragedy. My heart goes out to this man’s family and friends.

Dan
Guest
Dan

Still finding the motorists’ account of the accident a little implausible. Would someone on a bicycle really roll out of a driveway onto a road like that one without stopping/looking?

B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

I would never ride on the sidewalk there, that’s just too dangerous for my blood. However, I ride on roads just like that one all the time and don’t find them to be terribly problematic. It’s obvious to motorists why I’m taking the lane and they have that oversize turn lane to pass in so their knickers generally stay loose. Goodness sake, I’d much rather ride on such a road than on a street with a door-zone bike lane, yet many folks cheer on such things.

Would I prefer a nice seven-foot bike lane (curb top to mid-line, so there’s actually far less than six feet usable) instead of that turn lane? Of course, bring it on. However, if I’m to be offered some sort of two-way plastic-wand protected thing as an “improvement”, I think I’ll pass.

SD
Guest
SD

I look forward to the day that enough people have experience cycling and riding a bike is so normal that most people will read a story about a bike rider riding into the side of a truck with disbelief.

Spiffy
Subscriber

“I also noticed the big center turn lane. Those lanes of frustrate me in situations like this.”

they annoy me as well… not for the space they take away from bikes so much as the space they solicit for large vehicles to break the law and park in them… they’re supposed to give turning trucks a place to get out of the way of through truck traffic (because drivers are even annoyed at other drivers slowing them down to turn) but they are often filled with delivery trucks for businesses that didn’t create an actual delivery plan… you see these on Hawthorne all day long reminding you of the casual abuse that led to Fallon Smart’s death…

q
Guest
q

The thing that struck me, and probably everyone who saw your photo approaching the Kaiser driveway, is how poor the visibility is between people approaching the driveway and people exiting it.

I think the Portland Zoning Code contributed to the death. Don’t hold me to this, because I looked quickly, but the EX zoning requires a “5’/L2” landscape buffer between vehicle areas (parking and driveway) and the street. That’s a 5′ deep planting area with a solid evergreen 3′ minimum high continuous hedge, plus trees every several feet.

A 3′ tall hedge isn’t bad in generic, flat situations, because most anyone biking, walking or driving has their eyes above that. But here, the parking area is already up about 3′ from the sidewalk, so adding a 3′ solid hedge above that means anyone coming out of the driveway is coming out from behind (or trying to look through) a solid barrier 6′ high.

The shrubs along the sidewalk actually look a bit lower than 3′, but the ones turning inward along the driveway, where the cyclist was exiting from, look about 3′ high. (There’s also a solid sign doing more visual blocking.)

The grade change makes the 3′ required solid hedge dangerous, but the code requirement still applies. Ideally, the code would reduce the requirement for situations like this, but it doesn’t. Or, the site’s owner and architect could have requested an adjustment when the parking was developed, citing the vision problem. Or, when Transportation or Zoning staff reviewed the plans, they would have flagged the problem, and required the adjustment to be filed. But they probably didn’t even notice the grade change on the site plan.

On top of all those missed chances to improve the poor sightlines, I bet people driving out of that lot have had visibility problems for years, but nobody ever took the initiative to do anything about it. I can’t believe that the sightline problem didn’t at least contribute to this death.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

In an area like that, I often ride in the center lane.

q
Guest
q

I really appreciate these photos and the descriptions. I wish every street and path could be analyzed this way, showing the good stretches, the overgrown plants, fire hydrants in the middle of sidewalks…Photos presented with some informed comments about what’s going on really show what’s working and not working. In this case, geez the sidewalk is pathetic.

Babygorilla
Guest
Babygorilla

q
The thing that struck me, and probably everyone who saw your photo approaching the Kaiser driveway, is how poor the visibility is between people approaching the driveway and people exiting it.I think the Portland Zoning Code contributed to the death. Don’t hold me to this, because I looked quickly, but the EX zoning requires a “5’/L2” landscape buffer between vehicle areas (parking and driveway) and the street. That’s a 5′ deep planting area with a solid evergreen 3′ minimum high continuous hedge, plus trees every several feet.A 3′ tall hedge isn’t bad in generic, flat situations, because most anyone biking, walking or driving has their eyes above that. But here, the parking area is already up about 3′ from the sidewalk, so adding a 3′ solid hedge above that means anyone coming out of the driveway is coming out from behind (or trying to look through) a solid barrier 6′ high.The shrubs along the sidewalk actually look a bit lower than 3′, but the ones turning inward along the driveway, where the cyclist was exiting from, look about 3′ high. (There’s also a solid sign doing more visual blocking.)The grade change makes the 3′ required solid hedge dangerous, but the code requirement still applies. Ideally, the code would reduce the requirement for situations like this, but it doesn’t. Or, the site’s owner and architect could have requested an adjustment when the parking was developed, citing the vision problem. Or, when Transportation or Zoning staff reviewed the plans, they would have flagged the problem, and required the adjustment to be filed. But they probably didn’t even notice the grade change on the site plan.On top of all those missed chances to improve the poor sightlines, I bet people driving out of that lot have had visibility problems for years, but nobody ever took the initiative to do anything about it. I can’t believe that the sightline problem didn’t at least contribute to this death.Recommended 3

I’ve lived in the area the last couple of years and occasionally use Nicolai (walking the dog, driving, riding a bike). The picture on the perspective approaching the driveway does not reflect what I saw when I drove it over the weekend approaching from the west. Beginning slightly before the stoplight, I had a clear view of the driveway egress and ingress which actually surprised me, between knowing that certain parts of the sidewalk in this area are in horrible shape and reading this article.

The southern sidewalk is deficient in general, but most deficient the few blocks east of Rejuvenation until the intersection with 23rd/the highway. I’ve walked it during morning hours, but prefer to cross to the northern sidewalk, which feels expansive with the paved over rails as a buffer. The sidewalk section at this driveway seems fairly standard width wise. I could see how there might be a minor sight line issue for motorized vehicles exiting the driveway , but I’m not sure how the sidewalk at this driveway would have prevented a clear view from someone exiting the driveway on a bicycle.

Babygorilla
Guest
Babygorilla

Dead Salmon
Very poor visibility exiting the driveway in the photo and the light pole does not help either. Because of this, the only way to safely exit the driveway is to slowly roll down the driveway incline, stop, and look before proceeding. Because there is no room for bikes on that street, if I saw a truck coming 200 yards away I would wait until he passed before getting into the street. It’s possible that the cyclist figured the truck would see him and pass in the middle turn lane so he pulled out when the truck wasn’t that far away; the truck may not have seen him until it was too late and hit him. OR, perhaps the cyclist was in a big hurry, sped down the driveway incline (using the advantage of gravity assist) taking his chances and lost that bet.On that street, best to ride the sidewalk, rough or not – at least until you see that no vehicles are approaching, then jump in the street and MOVE! Good riding weather now. Enjoy. Be safe!Recommended 0

I would think that the only way to safely exit a driveway is to stop and look before proceeding, no matter how fast the person approaching the exit is going or how steep the grade of the driveway is.

Mark
Guest
Mark

The root cause is the industry itself. Ask any professional driver. It’s all go, go go…. I know this, I am in the business. This truck literally ran down a rider. That should out chills down your spine. Unless there is a law that states killing another in cold blood with a vehicle gets you five years, this will go on…..and on…and on.

By the way, there should be bike Lanes. Not turn lanes. Or better yet, as a biker just ride down the middle Lane. What the cops gonna do? Run you down?