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.
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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.
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.
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.
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