(Video edits by BikePortland, footage shot by Shawne Martinez)
An otherwise wonderful New Year’s Day Ride was marred when a TriMet bus operator drove through a group of bike riders at a downtown Portland intersection.
“What’s shown in the video is troubling.”
— Tyler Graf, TriMet
I was on the ride and was in direct contact with the driver as he intentionally endangered other road users. Another rider, Shawne Martinez, captured video of the incident. TriMet has seen the video above and calls it “troubling”.
It happened at 1:00 pm Saturday as we approached SW 5th Avenue while riding eastbound on SW Harvey Milk Street. A large group of about 70 bike riders was strung out across two blocks of Harvey Milk between 6th and 4th. Most of the riders at the front of the group went through the 5th Ave intersection on a green signal and there was an attempt to hold back the bus and one other vehicle in order to let the entire group get through the signal as it turned red. This is known as “corking” and is standard operating procedure on large group rides.
(Note: Yes, corking is done to let people go illegally through a red signal, but overall it is much safer to keep everyone together than have everyone split into small groups when lights are short and closely spaced. And I hope everyone understands this is not just about the color of signals. Read on…)
I was working this event and happened to be the one who tried to cork the intersection. I assumed the bus operator would understand the situation. In my experience, TriMet drivers are usually nice and they “get” Portland street culture enough to know this is a bike-oriented city where group rides are common. This being the case, I didn’t place my bike and body directly in front of the bus driver. To my surprise, he began rolling forward — directly into human bodies in front of his bus!
I could tell he was mad, so I engaged him through the open driver’s side window (I’m the one in black with a blue bike in the video and the still image at right) and implored him to wait. He was visibly angry and said, “I have a green light!” (or something to that effect) as he nudged his bus through the crowd. By this time, his signal had actually turned red (as you can see in the video) as remaining bike riders passed in front of the bus on a green “WALK” signal. But the driver’s anger seemed to overtake him and he was determined to drive through the intersection.
With his face turned toward me, he accelerated and almost hit a rider who was in the intersection. I yelled as he went through and snapped a photo of his bus (to remember the number) as he drove south on 5th Ave. Thankfully another rider captured it all on video.
I sent the video to TriMet Monday afternoon and gave them an opportunity to respond. Here’s the statement shared this morning by Public Information Officer Tyler Graf:
“What’s shown in the video is troubling, and we appreciate it being brought to our attention. Safety is TriMet’s core value, and we train our operators on how to safely share the road with cyclists, pedestrians and autos to keep everyone safe. While we are investigating this to determine if additional training is needed, we do apologize to those bicyclists involved, as this interrupted what appeared to be part of the fun, long-standing tradition where cyclists from around the Portland area actively kick-off the new year. We appreciate and support the vibrancy they brought to Downtown over the weekend.”
UPDATE, 1/20: We made a public records request for the on-board video of this bus. Today TriMet said the data has been corrupted and is not available.