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Woman assaulted while biking on Columbia Slough path

Posted by on August 5th, 2020 at 3:20 pm

(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

A Portland woman says she was sexually assaulted while biking on a popular path.

Location of assault.

According to University Park neighborhood resident Poppy Dalton, the incident happened last Tuesday morning (7/28) around 9:50 am. Dalton, 33, told us she was biking eastbound on the Columbia Slough Trail near the intersection with North Portland Road (across the Slough from the Columbia Wastewater Treatment Plan), “When a man rode up from behind me and aggressively grabbed/groped my butt.”

Dalton said her assailant then quickly turned right (south) onto the bridge over the slough. She reported the incident to the police that same day and the case is still under investigation. Dalton describes the man as riding a dark-colored mountain bike and wearing an unbuckled helmet, flip flops, and shorts. “He had very tan skin and shoulder length wavy dark hair. He looked tall with a slim athletic build,” she added.

“I felt defenseless and violated and want to warn all other female bikers riding on this bike path alone.”

“I felt defenseless and violated and want to warn all other female bikers (and runners) riding on this bike path alone,” Dalton shared with us via email. Dalton also said she bikes that section of the path often but usually rides with a friend.

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I’ve ridden in this location hundreds of times over the years. It has a densely wooded section on one side and a chain-link fence on the other. There are no businesses, streets or residences nearby which can make you feel very vulnerable when riding alone.

The lack of safety of Portland’s many paved bike paths has been a serious issue for many years. We’ve reported on numerous assaults on the Springwater and I-205 paths. Last year we shared the story of a woman who claims to have been attacked with a rock while biking on this same Columbia Slough path just a mile or so east of where Dalton was assaulted.

If you have any information about what happened, please contact us and we’ll put you in touch with Dalton.

— 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 productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. 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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Beth HEl Bicicleromran1984Middle of the Road GuyAaron Recent comment authors
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emily
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emily

I hope Poppy is ok and isn’t discouraged from riding in the future. This is why I ride an ebike: Safety. I can easily speed away from dangerous riders and pedestrians.

Jason
Guest
Jason

What happened here is really bad. The price of solitude is the cost of security.

Amphitrite
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Amphitrite

I have avoided that path since shortly after it opened. I’d rather take my chances with the semis on Schmeer Rd, sorry to say.

The first morning I rode that path, I encountered a couple of bike thieves carrying their loot, 2-3 bikes each. I won’t ride there alone. Frankly, I won’t ride any of the bike paths anymore. Aggressive homeless and sketchy people all over the place.

Mary
Guest
Mary

Poppy’s experience sounds so scary. I also ride that section of trail and I really enjoy it. I feel like this kind of assault is often brushed off as non-threatening and inconsequential, it happens way too often, and is even scarier to experience in a secluded area. I’m so sorry this happened.

SE 34th
Guest
SE 34th

So many of our off street paths no longer feel safe for women riding alone. I gave up on the Springwater a few years ago after a couple scary incidents.

Toby Keith
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Toby Keith

Add the I-205 path to that list. Many people have given up using riding these MUPS. I’d rather take my chances with with cars. : (

Bjorn
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Bjorn

You don’t have to be a woman to feel unsafe on our off street paths ever since Hales ceded them to lawlessness.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

Don’t feel bad. I have an extreme risk tolerance compared to most people. My backcoutry/sea kayaking nickname is “Canary Kyle” — i.e. see if he dies and then make a decision before proceeding.

But I refuse to ride these paths. Instead, I opt to ride the streets with the drunks because I think it’s safer.

Anyone who believes otherwise is free to ride the paths.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Seems like an oddly biased risk tolerance, IMO. How many people have been killed by homeless on MUPs, and how many whitewater kayakers have drowned? Considering that the number of people using MUPs daily in our region is several factors higher than whitewater kayakers…

PdxPhoneix
Guest
PdxPhoneix

but that’s how humans are… Worry about the spider over on the wall while the mosquito with malaria bites you.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

Kyle might have had several non-death related but still negative experiences on the trails to the point that the frequency makes it not worth it.

ES
Guest
ES

I’m a woman and not very fast on a bike, but I feel perfectly safe on the Springwater path during the daytime.

Toby Keith
Guest
Toby Keith

Complain about the conditions of our paths and you get labeled a monster, lacking compassion. And that’s right here on BikePortland.

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

You seem to be conflating the issue of homeless people residing along the path with the issue of sexual assault.

Much of the arguments I’ve seen regarding our MUPs have been about the issue of homelessness and whether or not we should do a “sweep” in order to “make the path safer”. As far as I could tell, no one has argued for not doing anything regarding assault, and I don’t think anyone who believes in treating homeless people humanely (ie. not raiding their tents and tossing their belongings because they decided to set up camp in the wrong place) is condoning this incident. Nice straw man there.

Advocating for homeless people and advocating for sexual assault victims are not in conflict with each other. They both involve treating people humanely. If we treated homeless people better as a society, then maybe they wouldn’t have to resort to living along the MUP.

In fact, while I can’t really speak for women in general, I don’t exactly get the sense that most women would appreciate having an issue that disproportionately affects them be co-opted in this way.

JM
Guest
JM

There has to be some middle ground between what seems to be the current policy of do nothing and what would be a terrible policy of sweeps. Sweeping homeless camps and tents along the path would be terrible, but there has to be a way to clean up sections of the paths to make them usable for all. These paths are built as infrastructure and the city or whoever is responsible should take steps to make sure they remain infrastructure for all to use.

There are sections of the 205 path that are unusable without going off the path and into the street. It defeats the whole purpose of having the MUP. And there are other sections (particularly between Burnside and Division) that constantly littered with needles and needle caps and every single time I ride that section I see multiple people actively shooting up. The link above to a 2019 post about the Sandy underpass on 205 talks about a full on bike chop shop on the path. That chop shop is still there, usually strewn across the path with very little room to ride through and people in the process of taking bikes apart. There’s a big difference between that, which something should be done about, and what you see on parts of the 205 path between Powell and Springwater that are lined with tents along the side of the path, but not negatively impacting the use of the path.

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

Having homeless people along and sometimes on the MUP is inconvenient for us, but it’s a manifestation of a greater societal ill. I don’t propose that we fix all issues that result in homelessness before dealing with the more immediate concerns that you’ve mentioned.

But if there is a middle ground between doing nothing and doing sweeps, I’ve barely heard it discussed here. Most of the arguments I’ve heard here were about getting rid of homeless people through any means necessary. I agree that there is a middle ground, but just saying that there is a middle ground isn’t enough. What is the middle ground? What are the specific proposals of this middle ground?

I also like how when a woman is sexually assaulted on a path, the conversation invariably goes to homelessness, even though if I had to take a guess, the homeless are more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of sexual assault. Why the immediate assumption that the assaulter is homeless?

Beth H
Guest

The only middle ground in a time and place where real estate is expensive and rents are out of control is to build affordable housing for those who need it the most. That requires political and financial capital that our leaders today simply do not have.
If there’s another PRACTICAL middle ground that doesn’t require individual citizens to take on risk to health and safety (such as taking a homeless person into your home as a subsidized/longterm boarder, for example), I don’t know of it.

qqq
Guest
qqq

Yet several people above have just complained about the paths being unsafe, and they got dozens of “likes” and nobody said anything negative in reply.

Then there’s the fact that all the comments are in response to an article that’s critical of the safety on the paths, and that’s one of several similar articles that appear regularly here.

Kcommentee
Guest
Kcommentee

SO unfortunate. I ride this trail and used to run it regularly, but always felt pretty uncomfortable as you don’t know the state of mind of many who live along it. I hate to cede these public spaces, but also feel that if something happened to me while there – most non-cyclists I know (including my family) would just admonish me for being there alone in the first place. At this stage in our City, like many above, I mostly avoid this trail and absolutely won’t ride the 205 trail anymore.

Bikeninja
Guest
Bikeninja

It does not have to be this way. I ride the rock creek trail in Washington county often, and parts of it are isolated and secluded but I have never seen any of the things described in this article. Last summer I saw some sketchy dudes setting up a camp near the trail with a few too many bike frames on site, so I stopped by the Hillsboro PD station near the trail as I was riding and told them about it. They immediately headed out and scooped them up, and by the time I went back the other way they were gone.

Beth H
Guest

The Rock Creek trail is a FAR cry from the I-205 path in central eastside Portland. Apples and Oranges.

Fred
Guest
Fred

My worry about everyone complaining “the paths aren’t safe” is that the city will close them and then we won’t have them at all. Bad things happen to people all the time on regular city streets and country roads, not just on MUPs.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

This points out the sad irony of streets vs. “trails”. Streets are marvelously, if not terribly “self-cleaning”. Cars do a terrific job of sweeping everything out of their way, but in the process make those swept places utterly inhospitable for anyone else wanting to use the road. Trails, on the other hand, are much more peaceful and people-friendly, but they are not “self-sweeping”, and so become hospitable for all types, not just those wanting to travel on the trails. If all trail or trailside “users” were friendly or at least compatible and left each other alone, it wouldn’t be a bad arrangement, but human nature being what it is, situations like the one described here are bound to arise.

Alain L.
Guest
Alain L.

Terribly sorry to hear about Poppy’s experience. Nobody should feel unsafe riding the Slough or any other MUP in our region. I ride the Slough Trail two, sometimes three times/week. Since reading about the woman assaulted (hit with a rock in the face) back in 2016, I’ve felt hyper vigilant on sections of the trail. Mostly, where the rock throwing occurred near/under the I-5 overpass. I do treasure this MUP and don’t think I’ll stop riding it, since I actually feel safer on the Slough Trail than on roads where most drivers appear to be on their phones, and often veer into the bike lane. Assaults can and do happen anywhere in the city. I don’t think it’s particularly fair or accurate to describe the MUPs as being having a higher rate of crime, anymore than other parts of the city. What to do? Patrol the MUPs? Who would conduct these patrols? Would patrols create a greater sense of safety?

Kcommentee
Guest
Kcommentee

Yeah it could be that the rate of crime or assault is similar to other parts of the City. I think it’s more the feeling of isolation (typically no other ‘eyes on the streets’) and territorial behaviors. In some of these ‘sketchy’ sections, I feel like I’m impeding on campers territory (in their eyes) in way that I don’t feel biking on regular streets. I don’t necessarily feel this way on all paths where people camp nearby, but do in areas where camps spill out onto the path, where chop shops or fires are present (have run across this on the slough trail beneath overpasses). I mainly worry about people experiencing mental heath crisis or drug-induced mania that suddenly perceive me as a threat. Or I just plain worry about getting shoved off my bike and having it stolen.Maybe that’s misplaced, I’ve only really heard about that happening twice.

But you’re right, what’s to be done? Honestly I don’t see any answer. We’ve decided camping is legal, and I don’t think sweeps would solve anything though it would be great if we could maybe just enforce some kind of set-back of stuff from the paths and keep them clean from glass and sharps. I don’t think patrols would improve anything for anyone. At this point, it’s just the reality of living in Portland. To quote the most inept leader in history “it is what it is.”

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

When did Wheeler say that?

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

He didn’t. It was Trump.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

I know…but when I read “most inept leader in history”, Wheeler came to mind.

Lynn
Guest
Lynn

I have wondered if frequent large group rides on the paths might make a difference.

mran1984
Guest

“Camping” is complete b.s. The acceptance of it is akin to the piles of garbage that Are Portland Now. This place looks awful.

Bicycling Al
Guest
Bicycling Al

This is upsetting. It would be hard to apprehend someone based on a description alone unless other corroborating information comes to light. This won’t help the victim now but if a video was available from a bike cam as has been discussed many times here on BP before, then I think the chances of catching this person would be a lot higher. Think of the many BP readers who could potentially know this person and would be on the lookout for weeks to come across the metro area. This adds to the reasons to ride with one.