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Road rage incident caused by unsafe cycling conditions on SW Terwilliger

This is what the bike lane on SW Terwilliger Parkway looked like yesterday during the evening commute. Those two white lines on the left are a buffer zone, the actual bike lane is to the right, buried in leaves.
(Photo: Steven Mitchell)

On Monday morning we highlighted a Tweet from Portlander Steven Mitchell who rides regularly on SW Terwilliger Blvd.

“SW Terwilliger bike lanes are terribly dangerous right now,” he wrote, tagging @BikePortland and @PBOTInfo, “Piles of slick leaves and standing water. Be safe!”

Then yesterday he posted video (watch it below) that showed him trying to avoid the slimy accumulation of leaves, only to be the victim of an unsafe pass by a man driving a pickup truck.

After the man seemed to have scraped Mitchell during the close pass, he then pull over in a turnout, got out of his vehicle and approached him. The truck driver threatened Mitchell with an expletive-laced rant of insults and seemed to have gotten right up into his personal space. The good news about this interaction is that — as often happens when people get out of their bubbles and engage each other face-to-face — cooler heads prevailed. The driver went from calling Mitchell a “bitch” when he first jumped out of his truck, to referring to him as “brother” right before he got back in his truck and drove away.

The bad news about this interaction is that it happened in the first place.


Why did it happen? Because the bike lane was so full of fallen leaves and other debris that Mitchell was biking in the adjacent lane that’s shared with auto users. The truck driver didn’t think he should be there.

“Leaving the leaves too long means an inch thick layer of caked leaves that are dangerous and slippery, especially going downhill in curves at 25 mph.”
— Barbara Stedman, Hillsdale resident

It was just one week ago today we featured another serious road rage interaction that happened near the Moda Center. What got lost in the drama of that story is why it happened in the first place: high-stress roadway conditions that lead to people taking out their frustrations on each other.

The situation on SW Terwilliger is especially frustrating because it stems from a problem that happens every year when leaves, mud and branches from heavily wooded area around the road (a major north-south bikeway) spill into the bike lane. (Leaves in bike lanes are a perennial problem all over Portland.)

Barbara Stedman lives in Hillsdale. I commuted into downtown with her and her family back in 2012. She was worried about the debris in the bike lanes back then, and she remains concerned today. She responded to our Tweet by writing, “They [PBOT] just don’t sweep often enough, especially in leaf season. After a storm like this weekend they should be out first thing Monday morning. Leaving the leaves too long means an inch thick layer of caked leaves that are dangerous and slippery, especially going downhill in curves at 25 mph. Yes, you can move into the full lane, but then you have aggressive people in cars who don’t like to slow down to the speed limit.”

That appears to be exactly what happened to Mitchell yesterday.

We’re glad that this incident ended without anyone getting hurt and we’re grateful that Mitchell has such amazing conflict resolution skills (listen to the full exchange for a master class at talking to other road users).

We’re also glad to hear that PBOT has dispatched a maintenance crew to the clean up the bike lanes. If you ride SW Terwilliger, please let us know what the conditions are like so we can make sure it has been cleaned up. Remember you can reach PBOT’s Maintenance Dispatcher by calling (503) 823-1700 or via email at

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

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