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Comment of the Week: We need stronger countermeasures to defend against out-of-control drivers

Posted by on June 11th, 2018 at 10:19 am

Someone plowed their car into the bike parking structure at Hawthorne and 38th yesterday. Note the “See & Be Seen” poster.
(Photo: Doug Klotz)

Many Portlanders who use our streets outside the relative safety of a steel reinforced cocoon are growing impatient with the timid designs coming out of our transportation agencies.

Two posts last week — showing latest plans for Metro’s SW Corridor light rail project and PBOT’s Outer Division project — brought out an unusually high number of critical comments from some of our smartest and most engaged readers (and importantly, ones who don’t usually express such disdain).

I highly recommend reading the comments on both of those posts if you want to understand the widespread frustration in the community about the lack of willingness to constrain auto use in order to make cycling and other modes a more viable option.

One comment in particular stood out to me. It was written by reader “Kittens” in response to learning about the City of Portland’s latest designs for the Outer Division project:

“I honestly can’t imagine that the elite planners of this naive design have spent much time in East County beyond the obligatory focus groups and minority outreach sessions. They fail to grasp the basic understanding of what is going on out on outer division st. The sad truth is of the matter is that people are driving like jerks on purpose, not by accident or that they didn’t know the rules of the road or that they didn’t have enough lights or paint.

What we are talking about here is a willful disregard for the safe operation of automobiles, which, though increasingly common throughout all quarters of our city, is most prevalent in the wide open spaces outside the core.

We are living in a new age, one where the automobile, once a symbol of freedom and independence has become a weaponized phallus engorged with rage, a mobile terrorism device and menace to life beyond itself.

Bring on the Jersey barriers, tire teeth and retractable bollards protecting bike boulevards, impervious to lift kits, loud pipes and ragers with relationship issues.”

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This comment struck a chord with me because I think it accurately identifies a major problem in Portland: We are not doing enough to defend our streets against the scourge of dangerous drivers.

While PBOT and TriMet and other agencies aim to “balance the needs of all road users,” the historical imbalance continues. Our system is so tipped in favor of driving that the time for “balance” is long gone. Unless we want drivers and their cars to rule our city, it’s time to tip the scale the other direction. We must do more to curtail the amount of driving people do — and the recklessness they’re able to do it with.

Thanks for the comment Kittens. Your prize is a free loaf of bread compliments of our friends at Grand Central Bakery.

— 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 welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. 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

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bikeninja
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bikeninja

Yes, lets put an end to the scourge of Motordom.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

If only that see and be seen poster had taken its own advice and worn a blinky light that car would never have been damaged like this.

Noraa
Guest
Noraa

While driving in stop and go traffic on 205 last week, I followed a woman in a Prius that got out of her car 3 times to do something in the back seat. So doing stupid shit in a vehicle is not exclusive to the the lift kits, loud pipes and ragers with relationship issues.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

“Bring on the Jersey barriers, tire teeth and retractable bollards protecting bike boulevards, impervious to lift kits, loud pipes and ragers with relationship issues.”

In other words, get all the bikes off the roads. Sounds like a message both the bike haters and advocates can get behind.

Scott Kocher
Guest

“See and be seen.” As if. So mad.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

Dealing with modern motorists is like running a zoo with large predators in it. You can put all the animals together in one big pen, then let the guests run around with them and hope not too many get eaten. ( this is the system we have now on the roads). Or we can put the guests on little catwalks over the big pen, and watch the predators and other animals fight with ( and kill) each other. ( this is the system of protected bikeways) Or we can put the predators and other animals in their own cages and let the guests have the free run of the rest of the property and look in on the predators with wonderment and fear. That is my dream for the future of transportation, and the one that modern motorists seem to deserve.

Gary
Guest
Gary

“We are living in a new age, one where the automobile, once a symbol of freedom and independence has become a weaponized phallus engorged with rage…”

Comment of the week? This deserves a Pulitzer.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

Hawthorne, again?! Oh that’s right, this Vision Zero stuff is just lip service from the city. A kid
dies in a crosswalk on Hawthorne and the city still won’t force drivers to slow down.

Zero Vision.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

A lot of sad truth in that comment. We’re not doing enough to FORCE drivers to slow down and be safe. We’ve been asking them nicely for 100 years and it’s not working. Why are will still simply asking?

Is it so hard to understand that you can’t trust a driver to go straight for more than 200′ at a time without having to stop or turn slightly? When we redesign these roads we need to build immobile infrastructure that forces drivers to go slow. This means chicane style roads where they need to follow a path and not just go straight on auto-pilot with the gas pedal mashed down. This means more traffic lights, and timing of existing ones for 5 MPH below the speed limit.

This means that when I press the button to request a walk signal that I won’t have to wait 2 minutes before I can cross. This means making drivers wait for all other modes.

Drivers are usually sitting comfortably in a climate controlled mobile parlor and can easily handle waiting for long periods.

Also, great to see the Comment of the Week column again.

Jason H
Guest
Jason H

“Jurassic Juice – Falling Kingdom”. It’s a jungle (prowled by hyper-aggressive bellowing beasts) out there for sure. Their extinction is the only true safeguard.

RH
Guest
RH

Hate to burst your bubble, but PBOT/City Council won’t do anything significant to take care of this issue. Taxpayers/voters are lazy and greedy and they enjoy driving way too much.

Kittens
Subscriber
Kittens

Thanks for highlighting my comment, JM.

As someone who drives professionally for TriMet, often east of 82nd, I see daily the sad and negligent mismatch between the hopes and aspirations of city planners and reality. It just feels lawless in some parts. Just a couple days ago I was hit and run in my personal car by a rager who was annoyed that I waited for a ped to cross the driveway I was turning into. He was so close to my bumper that when he cranked his wheel angrily to pass me he swiped my bumper before flooring it one block to be caught by traffic.

It is my long held belief that our roads are one of the last few public spaces we share and the way we act here are indicative of broader societal problems of alienation and powerlessness. Fix those and you fix the weaponization of automobiles problems. Until then, no more wands.

Trebor
Guest
Trebor

“Bring on the Jersey barriers, tire teeth and retractable bollards protecting bike boulevards, impervious to lift kits, loud pipes and ragers with relationship issues.”

I’ve long thought that the plastic bollards that the city uses to “protect” bike lanes are inadequate, if perhaps better than nothing. I’d feel much more comfortable riding in protected bike lanes such as on the NE 20th Ave. viaduct over I-84 if they replaced the plastic wands with something out of the Road Warrior. I’m sure that participants in the Ben Hurt Chariot Wars would be willing to do it for beer if the city gave them access to a junk yard or let them strip parts from the many, many abandoned cars on our streets.

Joe
Guest
Joe

oh my a lot has changed in the last few years with the amount of cars and bad driving habits these days. 20 is plenty and most area’s but still see some ppl fighting against the force and well driving in the middle of the lane in a neighborhood is wreck less if you ask me along with coming at me as to say get out of the way :/

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

The reason we still have these problems is because they are extraordinarily hard and expensive to fix in a systematic way, and every solution comes with very difficult tradeoffs.

What we need is something that fundamentally changes the game, and that is why I see so much promise in robot cars. Everything else is just nibbling at the edges, or is wildly impractical.

Al
Guest
Al

The problem is that when you bike long enough, I have been bicycle commuting for over 25 years, you will eventually meet the rager that makes YOU their lightning rod, wrong time & wrong place type of situation. It then literally becomes a life or death situation because of the disparity between motorized vehicles and bicycles.

I had objects thrown at me, been run off the road, driver once slowed down to yell at me for something that felt like several minutes as I rode up a hill deep in a bike lane and out of the way of traffic and been tailgated and honked at for taking the lane even when I’m EXCEEDING the posted speed limit on enough occasions that I’ve lost track of the number of times.

I’m not writing these things to discourage people from commuting or riding in general. I’m still doing it. I’m writing this to underscore the fact that there is very little recourse cyclists have to hold those accountable. In my situation where I was run off the road and sustained injury, my friends eventually convinced me to file a police report later that day. The police acted like it was a bother and told me that their actions ended with the police report. The officer even offered me the “helpful” advice “to find the truck and key it” if I really felt that strongly about it. This after I informed him that it was a business truck and the driver was likely not the owner of the vehicle. You literally can’t make this stuff up. I was in no position to lawyer up over what amounted to one person’s word against another at the time.

Short of every cyclist buying one of these light kits with cameras in them and then lawyering up at every infraction, I don’t see how this is going to change. Is there even any way to track and legally pursue aggressive drivers by their plates? Are any agencies other than disinterested district attorneys pursuing these drivers? I’m not aware of any cycling organizations taking this issue up more than Bike Portland has and I don’t see any marketing style campaign to win over driver hearts and minds.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Our community has a generation of drivers who do not worry much about police enforcement for most safety equipment fails or aggressive traffic crimes …an unplanned outcome of great recession budget cuts to traffic units and training, struggles to re-hire after 10 years of no-hires, police recruits desire on the ‘big sexy’ police duties, and the likely internal department fear of performing traffic stops for equipment fails (due to past bias use of such tools for drug enforcement etc.).

…Perhaps we need a “broken window” theory for transportation safety…call it the “broken windshield” theory that links roadway safety outcomes with level of disregard for vehicle safety and maintenance…

Thus this is a new era for our streets, one of a complex mix of perfect storm of technology, commuter-cars-as-race-cars, perverse court / jury outcomes against vulnerable road users, political theater, and the press…that all undermine the sacred “Five E’s” and the once hoped journey to Vision Zero. Perhaps the best a pedestrian/ cyclist can hope for is “Near Vision” or “Vision 70%”?

Al
Guest
Al

I just realized that this is outside of Bank of America. This means that there is surveillance footage of this. It will be interesting to review the video of how this occurred. Any chance of getting this video?

Hopefully, there were no injuries.

Mr. Grey
Guest
Mr. Grey

“While PBOT & TriMet and other agencies aim to balance the needs of all road users, the historical imbalance continues. Our system is so tipped in favor of driving…”

This passage brought to mind an analogy I’ve found useful in thinking of this situation and solutions to it:

Cars/Drivers are the White people of the transportation world.

The system was built for them and has their convenience and frictionless movement as its highest goal. The system makes it difficult to get around any other way safely. Their preferences and comfort have a commanding presence in every transportation decision making process. Their bad behavior is excused away and the blame is often placed at the feet of others; they don’t take responsibility for the destruction they cause day to day and have wrought historically. Any attempt to use resources to make it safer and easier to get around in any other ways is met with cries of unfairness, and War on Cars, and other resistance. And on and on you can extend this.

So it’s not enough to say “henceforth, we will prioritize our modes this way”, even if we ACTUALLY commit to a hierarchy that puts active transportation at the top; the system that was built and exists today has an enormous inertia constructed of slip-ramps, wide lanes, collector-distributors, fast arterials, far-flung low-density uses, cheap parking, and cavalier attitudes. We need “affirmative action” to properly change course – reallocation of existing space and resources to achieve the ends we want.

I’m uneasy about using this White people/car analogy because I don’t want to draw equivalency between the magnitude of the plight of generations of people of color and active transportation – one is a broad swath of humanity, the other is away of getting about – but it might help activists from both groups better understand the dimensions of the issues they care about.

Doug Hecker
Guest
Doug Hecker

Meanwhile, so-called “improvements” are being made for the 17% of us who commute via bike. Do I wish the people well who attempt to ride eastbound on Hawthorne while I am turning into Ladd’s? Yep. Why is that? Because there is no way on this green earth that they will make it up that hill. Sure, maybe Lance Armstrong could do it but we have a very nicely “improved Lincoln” that does the job quite nicely and in a less stressful manner. It would be nice to see people actually use the greenways. If not, what’s the point?

On another note, While the person who wrecked their car into the bike station sucks, are we too assume that people who ride bikes don’t do something equally as dumb? Because if we had that conversation I’m sure we would have a few humbling stories to tell as well.

The funny part, I see plenty of vehicles that have the cool bike license plate, cycle Oregon sticker, and other bike friendly flare who drive equally as crazy.

Very few know and show patience no matter the modal.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

A bit of Portland Bike Parking history for the kids…this 2006 covered “bike parking structure” at Hawthorne and 38th was once called a “Bike Oasis” and was funded by a movie / film company (?) as a mitigation for some city road facility closure…my memory is hazy on the company.

https://bikeportland.org/2007/06/06/hawthorne-bike-oasis-no-longer-an-illusion-3924

What was once hoped to become a model for secure AND covered bike parking citywide…but then…

q
Guest
q

“The sad truth is of the matter is that people are driving like jerks on purpose.”

That’s the line that struck me. My particular dislike is one that affects me more as a driver–when people tailgate on the freeway or highway to get people to move out of their way. That’s by far the most prevalent bad behavior on places like I-84. Making it worse is the fact that many on-ramps in Portland dump you into the fast lane, and jerk drivers won’t even let you merge into the slower lane.

And making it all worse was the legislature’s new law against driving in the left lane except for passing. So now every jerk feels that if you’re ahead of them and not going as fast as they want to go, even if you can’t go any faster, they have a right to tailgate, then swerve around you–with the law on their side in their opinion.

That’s on the freeway, but the same attitude happens on any busy street–that anyone going slower than the speed limit deserves to be run off the road, as does any pedestrian causing someone to lose one second on their commute…anyone trying to merge ahead of you…

Cory P
Guest
Cory P

The act of deliberate aggressive driving needs to be treated as attempted murder or at least manslaughter. Where else in society are people given a pass to terrorize fellow citizens.
(Prior to Jan 2017)

Carrie
Guest
Carrie

I was at a neighborhood board transportation committee meeting when a PBOT representative told us “we can’t put barriers on that curve because people will drive into them”. ?!?!?!?! Completely acknowledging that TBTB ‘protect’ car property over cycling property and life.

David Hampsten
Guest

Greetings from hot humid Greensboro North Carolina.

I lived in Portland for 17 years. Towards the end, before I left, every other day I’d openly swear at a driver who cut me off while I was biking, usually in East Portland but also in other parts of town. Portland is arguably the most Bike-Friendly city in America, so you can imagine my surprise that when I moved to the most car-friendly city in America (according to Waze) that I swear at motorists now only about once a month for cutting me off.

I had thought that maybe I had matured, gotten better at riding in traffic. But then I went and visited Portland for a week last August – it was if anything even worse than I remember it. I felt safer riding in downtown DC, LA or Chicago than I did in Portland. Charlotte, which is bigger than Portland, is a breeze, as is Raleigh & Greensboro, with far less bike infrastructure.

I get the impression that Portland isn’t so dangerous because of its infrastructure (or lack of it), but that it as a city has somehow attracted all the worst drivers from the rest of the country.

I’m sure it’s either the rapidly rising cost of living or the unfiltered unfluoridated city water that is too blame. It’s an expensive Communist conspiracy to infiltrate our bodily fluids.

9watts
Guest
9watts

Doug Hecker
I’m in favor of bike users using what they have been given. As opposed to selfishly clogging up streets like Hawthorne which directly impacts buses.Recommended 1

Access to our streets isn’t selectively handed out or withheld to groups as you seem to imagine. Perhaps you should brush up on how this works.
If we are interested in what you call selfishly clogging our infrastructure I suspect you would be hard pressed to find a better example than single occupant vehicles (to be outdone in the future only by zero occupant (autonomous) vehicles).

Doug Hecker
Guest
Doug Hecker

I’ll have a beer on Hawthorne and wait for you to pass by tonight. Please wave. Happy riding;)

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

That photo was June 10. The next day there was a 3-car crash on Hawthorne. http://www.kptv.com/story/35862648/three-car-crash-seriously-injures-multiple-people-on-se-hawthorne-boulevard

Gee, I wonder if speed had anything to do with all the damage those vehicles and drivers sustained.

How many of these will it take to get the city to FORCE drivers to slow down on this street?

If they really take Vision Zero seriously then they’re already drawing up plans to slow it down. I don’t think they are.

Pete
Guest
Pete

There’s actually a way to do it: by reporting a driver who “appears” to be drunk, while omitting the detail that you’re calling while riding a bicycle.

GlwoBoy
Guest
GlwoBoy
George Dorn
Guest
George Dorn

Johnny Bye Carter
Hawthorne, again?! Oh that’s right, this Vision Zero stuff is just lip service from the city. A kid dies in a crosswalk on Hawthorne and the city still won’t force drivers to slow down.Zero Vision.Recommended 31

Hawthorne is an excellent candidate for a road diet. There are so many businesses, bikes and pedestrians, there’s no good reason for so many lanes of travel.

Now if the businesses would just realize it’d be in their own interest to lobby for it…

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

Hear, hear, Kittens! Well said. The very fact that drivers have reached the point of driving the way they do now (routinely, ridiculously reckless and utterly self-serving) is proof of the sense of impunity fostered in them by chronic lenience and lax enforcement. The fact that drivers aren’t sheepish anymore about speeding but are instead belligerent and crying “not fair!” at ‘speed traps’ says a lot about the culture of coddling. That Waze even exists (and is vigorously defended) says to me we revere drivers over everyone and everything. Screw you if we’re ruining your neighborhoods and endangering your health and lives–this’ll get me to work/back home 10 minutes faster! Yay, me!

I especially like that you said this: “The sad truth is of the matter is that people are driving like jerks on purpose, not by accident or that they didn’t know the rules of the road or that they didn’t have enough lights or paint.” I believe in calling a jerk a jerk, and it doesn’t happen much anymore. So thank you for that.

Because it’s true. I find that people are choosing to behave like self-centered jerks in so many walks of life anymore–with their pets, with their kids, with their phones, with their noisy, smelly, disruptive habits and hobbies. It’s like watching toddlers act out. The deterioration in driving behavior seems to me to be just a more enabled (through neglect) part of the same big sideways tantrum Americans, in particular, seem to be having right now. And it’s making life amongst people–esp. in cities like Portland which are getting increasingly crowded–intolerable.