The Bob Stacey Crossing opened on November 10th, 2020. In the 15 months since, at least one of the elevators have been closed for about one-third of the time.
“That’s a mark against us as a community that wants to provide for bike and pedestrian access as we provide for motor vehicle access.”
— Bob Stacey, former Metro councilor
The bridge and its elevators are a crucial piece of infrastructure for many people who need a safe and efficient way to cross the five sets of rail tracks when the trains blocks nearby streets. When it opened, the bridge was hailed by the Portland Bureau of Transportation as “a safe, convenient way for people biking, walking, or using a mobility device to cross the MAX Orange Line and Union Pacific Railroad.”
But it hasn’t turned out that way. And the crossing’s namesake has taken notice.
Bob Stacey, a giant of regional land-use planning and former Metro councilor who resigned his post in October due to a brain disease, shared with me via phone today that the issues with this bridge are an illustration of a larger failure to prioritize non-car infrastructure. “It speaks to the imbalance between the amount of resources that get scraped together to build new stuff without having a clear commitment to how we maintain it in the future,” Stacey said. “And I think that falls heaviest on forms of transportation viewed as less important than cars.”
Stacey added that with citywide street maintenance needs, he feels it’s wrong to single this one out. “But it’s a pretty iconic example,” he said. “It’s now is a rusty relic instead of a bridge that works for people.”
Why don’t folks just use the stairs?
There are about 120 stairs and many people aren’t strong enough to lift their bike up them — including Stacey, who said he’s used the bridge many times with his bike in the past, but now would have “significant difficulty” walking up and down them. The wheel gutters are also not always easy to use, especially when slick with rain or when folks have heavy bikes. For riders with three-wheeled bikes, cargo bikes, or bikes pulling a trailer, stair use is a non-starter. And of course the stairs are a complete no-go for wheelchair users.
We first heard from frustrated Portlanders about the broken elevators on September 2nd, 2021, just ten months after the bridge first opened. First it was the south elevator on Gideon Street that went down. The City of Portland acknowledged on September 28th that the 100 horsepower motor that runs the elevator car had failed and they expected a new one to arrive in October. On October 26th PBOT said the elevator was still out of service and that the repair had been impacted by “pandemic-related delays.”
“PBOT staff assured us they had learned from the design flaws at those other facilities, and that the mistakes would not be repeated.”
— Chris Eykamp, Hosford-Abernethy neighborhood
While Covid and supply chain issues might be a legitimate excuse, it’s important to note that PBOT has had a terrible maintenance record with these elevators long before the pandemic. The Gibbs Street Bridge elevator over I-5 is also notorious for its unreliability.
And beyond any part being on the fritz on the Bob Stacey Crossing, we’ve heard many complaints from users about vandalism and other non-hardware issues that have made the elevators unrideable.
Last February someone filed a complaint with TriMet (they built the bridge, PBOT owns and maintains it) that read, “In addition to the graffiti there is a pile of human feces in the corner of one elevator [for several weeks]… It’s only been open for less than a year and it is an embarrassment to say the least. If this had happened anywhere else — bus, MAX, streetcar — it would have been dealt with immediately because…. it’s a biohazard!”
On November 17th of last year, PBOT announced the south elevator was back up and running. Unfortunately the north elevator broke down shortly thereafter and has been out of service ever since.
On December 21st, Hosford-Abernethy Neighborhood District Chair Chris Eykamp wrote a letter (PDF) to PBOT Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty that reminded her how they warned the city this would happen. “While the facility was being designed, HAND expressed concerns about the unreliability and frequent breakdown of the elevators serving other recently built facilities,” states the letter. “PBOT staff assured us they had learned from the design flaws at those other facilities, and that the mistakes would not be repeated.”
HAND pushed for a ramp instead of an elevator and stairs, but the City of Portland has repeatedly opted against ramps because they are much more complicated to design and expensive to build.
“Please fix the elevator,” the HAND letter states. “If that cannot be done in short order, please ask PBOT to move the portapotty and keep the underpass clear of debris and hazards until it has been repaired.” Eykamp says so far he’s received no response from Hardesty’s office.
A related issue is that the recommended detour route via the multi-use path along SE Powell under 17th Ave has been blocked for several months. A city-sanctioned porta-potty has been moved into a narrow spot on the path and makes passage difficult and dangerous when combined with other items scattered all over the path. Several people also live on the covered portion of the path.(A burned out porta-potty and yard debris block much of the path on the main detour route as of Monday, February 14th)
Neighborhood residents aren’t the only ones who’ve applied pressure on PBOT to address these issues.
Central Eastside Industrial Council (CEIC) Executive Director Kate Merrill brought up the elevators at a meeting of the PBOT Freight Advisory Committee last month. “The Bob Stacey Crossing was built so that more pedestrians and bikes could get across. Unfortunately the elevator has been broken down for several months now,” she explained to a high-level PBOT staffer at the meeting. “So I would just like to make that a priority because we we’ve seen so many people get hurt trying to cross [the tracks].”
At that same meeting, Michelle Sprague testified during a public comment period that the porta-potty on the detour route, “Is now blocking half of the route and the neighborhood association hasn’t been able to find out who can move it.”
“I use a walker and a tricycle to get around, and I believe that attempting that detour would be unsafe.”
— Serenity Ebert, disability rights activist
As of this week, the porta-potty is still there but it has been burned to a crisp and is unusable.
On February 10th, well-known local advocate Betsy Reese looped several city staffers and fellow advocates into an email thread about the elevators and the path blockage. “It is imperative that these elevators be maintained operational… This is how you are directing people using mobility devices, people with strollers, cargo bikes, adaptive bicycles, etc. on this heavily-used Clinton-to-the-River Greenway route?”
Activist Serenity Ebert, who rides a three-wheeled trike and leads a group fighting for accessibility on TriMet, replied to the thread. “Why has this elevator has been broken for so long?” she wrote. “Your detour for people unable to use stairs is unacceptable. Your directions are unclear, confusing, and appear to direct people to an unsafe route. I use a walker and a tricycle to get around, and I believe that attempting that detour would be unsafe.”
One day later PBOT Interim Director of Communications and Public Involvement Hannah Schafer replied. She said “an an unknown power surge” is what caused the north elevator to fail and that a similar fate had befallen the south elevator. “Our capital delivery team has been working with the general contractor to find the exact cause of the outage and determine next steps so that we can hopefully prevent this electrical issue from happening again in the future,” Schafer explained.
A new motor has been ordered, she added, but “due to the global supply chain issues, we are unable to know when the motor will be delivered and repairs can be made.”
“Due to the global supply chain issues, we are unable to know when the motor will be delivered and repairs can be made.”
— Hannah Schafer, PBOT
As for the detour route issues, Schafer wrote, “PBOT staff have submitted work requests internally and with our city partners to start clearing those sidewalks of obstructions (trash and encampments), but it could take some time for that work to be completed, given the current demand for such services.”
Schafer also pointed out that they now provide free ADA accommodation when the elevator is out of service. People can access that service by calling a 24/7 hotline at 503-865-4WAV (4928) and use the code RIDE.
PBOT has also published a new website where you can check the status of their elevators and find detour information. And since they apparently have no way of monitoring elevator status, Schafer said they rely on the public to notify them of any outages.
One pair of users eagerly awaiting the reopening are Bob Stacey’s two young grandchildren, who refer to it as “Bapa’s Bridge.” They used to bike over it to get to school before their grandpa’s picture adorned either end. But because they’re too small to carry their bikes up the stairs, they now go a different way.
“That’s a mark against us as a community that wants to provide for bike and pedestrian access as much as we provide for motor vehicle access,” Stacey says. “And I regret that.”
— On January 6th of this year, BikePortland filed a public records request for elevator maintenance records. We’re still waiting to see them.
[Video below was posted to BikePortland Instagram yesterday]
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There was a similar bridge near a hotel I stayed at while on a bike tour in Germany a few years ago, except they built it with a wide spiraling ramp at either end so that you could easily just bike right over it without even needing to stop. It can be seen on google maps here: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Konstanz,+Germanyemail@example.com,9.1577602,138m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x479af61b380c1f5b:0x41f6bb7a5df99d0!8m2!3d47.6779808!4d9.1736741
I recall that the no ramp, elevator-only option was clearly identified as a problem when this design was unveiled but all concerns were dismissed. As with so many problems here in Portland, this was entirely predictable and the result of a very short supply of pragmatism and to big a supply of righteousness. It’s just exhausting.
PBOT assured folks that the elevators would not be a problem this time, because they had learned critical lessons from all their other failure prone elevator projects.
I really don’t know what to say. PBOT doesn’t listen, they don’t respond, and they increasingly seem to just not get it.
Perhaps they just don’t care.
Exactly Soren. We had a biking culture here, we don’t anymore.
PBOT’s commissioner doesn’t even know that there is a bicycle plan!
PBOT needs an elevator plan.
Seattle has one over major arterials south MLK and Rainier. Although it’s older and I doubt it’s ADA compliant as the spiral is about an 8% hill on either side. It even has a ramp in the middle to access the other side of the streets.
Yes, Portland has a few of these – one of SE Powell near SE Milwaukie, and another spiral ramp connection the Morrison Bridge to the Esplanade.
I remember a spiral ramp in Canada when i rode RSVP. It was slick.
What a disaster on so many levels and I feed real sympathy for Bob and others who can not use this bridge. Doesn’t surprise me, though, after 15 years of reading about broken elevators on this website. Please, PBOT/TriMet, design your infrastructure better. And PBOT specifically: respond to people who are writing and calling to plead with you to fix this. They deserve a timely response.
When you put out bids for elevator installation and selected the lowest bidder, well, you get what you pay for.
Of course, it also doesn’t help that maintenance is one of the first line items to be cut during “hard times.”
Not just that but inspections also. Seems like they think if they don’t look for problems there won’t be any problems.
Wow, and I thought having days/weeks of no elevator on the Lafayette crossing was bad. They sorted that out after a couple of years and in fact, they had a cleaning crew show up daily I used to greet by name.
Why is this one so poorly managed when they’ve been managing a terribly similar brige since the Tilikum opened?
Does PBOT cut corners because it has a $4B maintenance backlog to address, or does PBOT have a $4B maintenance backlog to address because it cuts corners?
I know what kind of infrastructure people want to see, but I really think we need to scale back either the number or ambition of future projects to make them more sustainable. I know what people think I mean, but as an example, you might just take out an entire lane of the street instead of reallocating the entire width, grinding out the markers and laying down new paint, then needing the specialized sweepers that PBOT doesn’t want to use for some reason. We need to stop having protected bike lanes with cars parked in them, missing wands, and/or piles of dead leaves in February.
And I still find piles of gravel when I am out and about. Doesn’t PBOT remember where they put it?
They’re working on hiring a new staffer to manage the task force to study whether there really is gravel on the roads and, if there is, to develop an equitable, non-racist approach to picking it up taking into account the geographic, economic, gender-orientation, and racial distribution of the population to be served. That’s assuming there really is gravel and if it actually needs to be picked up.
This is it in a nutshell,,, As a long time Portland resident and as blue and liberal as they come, If you can’t fix the potholes, find a place for homeless people to go and pick up the trash, all the social justice goals get thrown down the drain because no one wants to put up with this anymore.
Comment of the week!!!
This is beautiful. You must work for the CoP
I agree that sustainable projects should be the objective, but it’s all in the framing. PBOT framed the elevator as the sustainable solution because it was cheaper to build than a ramp. Many people from the community argued that while a ramp was more expensive to build, it was much easier to maintain.
tl;dr The sustainable solution isn’t always the one with the lowest up-front cost.
As example of priorities, let’s do a thought experiment: Interstate 5, either north or southbound, is out of commission for 1/3rd of it’s operational life. I205 is intermittently closed several times per day to all but freight trucks. What would public response be, and how would our transportation agencies respond?
This is a great thought experiment, but the comparison I would make is I-5 being out of commission both northbound and southbound. Because this bridge is just as usable with no working elevators as it is with one working elevator.
This is just another example of the city’s incompetence or, at least, failure to establish priorities.
The presence of good bicycling infrastructure (on-street lanes and MUPs) has ranked among my top five reasons for living in Portland.
The riding on the street has become considerably more dangerous because of speeding, inattentive motorists, cut-through traffic in neighborhoods, ever-larger vehicles, and, recently, a decision by the city to completely abandon traffic enforcement.
Meanwhile, the MUPs have become unusable. On Saturday, I tried riding the I-205 path and found it blocked by campers and their trash. I haven’t felt safe on the paths for a couple years now unless riding with a group. Saturday’s excursion was one I won’t be repeating.
The failure to prioritize basic services seems to have contributed mightily to this city’s decline. There’s been too much wokeness and not enough taking care of business.
The bad/good ratio of living in Portland has nearly come to the tipping point for me.
Love the shaking my head at the end of the video Jonathan. 🙂
This is why I’m not a fan of using elevators in these kinds of projects. They break down and then the link becomes inaccessible until whenever it gets fixed. We should use ramps whenever possible. It looks to me like there was plenty of room for a ramp on the south side, at least.
I also don’t understand the detour to SE 17th and Powell. I know the city’s website says that’s for when a train is passing, but by the time you walk to Powell and back, there are good odds the train will have passed. Crossing at SE 12th makes so much more sense.
The trains block the roads for hours when UPRR is building/checking them. A neighbor sent me the HAND letter, which had a diagram showing that these trains are now long enough where if one end is at Reed, the other end will be at SE Washington. When they put the train together, they need to inspect every connection. There’s plenty of time to make the detour worthwhile.
Yep. “Precision Scheduled Railroading” which basically just translates into very long trains that don’t fit in sidings and cause delays all over the network, for both freight and Amtrak.
If you drive through Umatilla, look to the north and you’ll see hundreds of UP locomotives parked at Hinkle. Long-term storage.
Thanks for pointing out something that lots of us don’t have working knowledge of. If the railroad put a value on not blocking the crossing, maybe they could build the train in sections, test them, and then hook them up and test those links? Or some other solution.
It sounds like the trainyard is functionally obsolete but they keep operating the way they prefer even though it puts costs on other people. Yes trains are important but their labor costs and profit margins are pure capitalist concerns and maybe not the best for society or their employees.
Regulations have a big effect on business, I know. It happens that I work in a business that nobody has gotten around to regulating so it’s easy for me to say, but regulatory failures cause things like a city that can’t move because a private business has the privilege of routinely blocking its streets.
You can always contact the Commissioner that is over PBOT… Good luck, she is too busy posing for re- election photos…
PB0T has no problems replacing 20MPH signs. They are taking sweet time repairing their elevators. Businesses have theirs repaired right away.
If you think that underpass is bad, you should check out the I-205 underpasses, especially out near Parkrose.
I sympathize with Bob Stacey. It is atrocious how we care for our infrastructure. However, I don’t think it has anything to do with choosing cars over bikes and pedestrians. It has to do with the general lawlessness and lack of enforcement of laws in Portland. Criminals and vagrants know there will be no consequences for their actions and behave accordingly. Until we have an adequately staffed police force we will continue to allow our public infrastructure to be mistreated. It is an example of what it’s like to live in a once beautiful but now failed city….Portland
Yes, this is an all too frequent especially how our nation focuses on building new (capital budget) and then not adequately programming maintenance funds, even for new facilities like this. And as others have pointed out, its always a worse problem for pedestrian / bike infrastructure due to it being towards the bottom of the priority list. [This long closure may also be impacted by the world wide supply chain / transport SNAFUs current impacting all businesses…and out of PBOTs hands depending on how well (per resiliency) they spec’d the lift equipment.]
One concept to propose for future isolated barrier crossings is to make them more resilient and less isolated…try to integrate an elevator (or ramp) with a small retail…perhaps it could be a P3 and a portion of the rent goes to maintaining the elevator and security?
I regularly ride over the similar pedestrian bridge a half-mile away at 18th and Rhine and don’t recall ever seeing the elevators out of commission. Those elevators also seem better constructed with buttons at both ends of the cabin. PBOT would have been better-served going with that design.
The Rhine elevators always work it seems. They also work as very cool places to hot box with friends and as porta-potties.
Unfortunately, you’re living in a country that simply doesn’t work anymore (except for the wealthy). Everything is broken — health care, infrastructure, education, transportation, politics, criminal justice,
civil justice, race relations, the military… I could go on and on, but you know.
All you can do is make it work for you the best you can.
I’m willing to give PBOT the benefit of the doubt when it comes to parts replacement right now. Most things that aren’t common consumer items have fallen through the cracks of the supply chain situation. The other issues of vandalism and disgusting misuse of the elevators are totally expected given the current state of the city. It’s been painfully obvious for years that we can’t have nice, or even functional, things in this city til we get the drug addicts and mentally ill off the streets and into temporary shelters, specialized homes, or jails, as needed.
Keeping that MUP underpass clear and usable is not a homeless camp sweep issue, it is a major transportation corridor issue. For Hannah Schafer to respond by asking advocates to report the campers is both mislabeling the problem, and abdicating City duty. Would she have advised the same had campers set up in the adjacent motor vehicle lanes?
The City’s years of neglect, including immediately after the extensive and expensive remodel of that underpass when they allowed all of the brand new landscaping to dry up and die, can’t be blamed on homeless campers.
Installing the portapotty in the underpass was the final insult to the neighborhood and to active transportation commuters. I was horrified to see the melted and charred remnants of the Portapotty in the tunnel yesterday. I can’t imagine what kind of device or starter fuel could burn up some thing like that, nor what kind of flames and fumes it would have emitted. People in the underpass tunnel could have been injured or worse.
PBOT’s written instructions on their website for the detour around the broken elevators for those who cannot use the stairs are through that underpass. Their map that accompanies the instructions, however, shows a route that requires crossing back and forth over Powell Boulevard in order to use the underpass MUP on the south side of Powell, presumably to avoid the Porta potty and campers. It is unconscionable to ask vulnerable road users, especially those who for many different reasons are unable to climb the stairs, to cross back and forth over a state highway and high crash corridor for pedestrians (two pedestrian fatalities nearby in the last six months).
COP: Please, figure out what it will take and then commit with action to
1. Keeping the elevators operational on the Bob Stacey Crossing, and
2. Keeping The 17th Ave. MUP underpass along Powell Boulevard clear for all types of vulnerable road user traffic.
I guess this depends on who you believe is a neighbor.
I personally value my houseless neighbors far more than I do my multi-millionaire neighbors who live in million dollar+ homes.
There was plenty of room to move it to the wider part of the underpass, or restore it to its original location, just above, so there is no conflict between providing a toilet at that location and providing an obstacle-free underpass.
But rather than acknowledge indifferent city agencies refusing to take basic care, let’s bash the rich!
And if you think unobstructed use of that underpass only benefits the rich, well… I’m not sure there’s anything I can say to convince you it’s not true.
“let’s bash the rich”
The rich have enriched themselves in large measure via housing speculation and this is a primary cause of both our housing crisis and the rapidly increasing numbers of people living outdoors.
If housing owner-investors don’t want more houseless people living near underpasses (where it’s drier) then they should stop making their housing equity/profit the third rail of USAnian politics.
And it’s not just any housing speculation that has increased inequality but specifically housing speculation in resource-rich urban centers (e.g. the twee 15 minute neighborhoods where YIMBYs and NIMBYs live):
If you think the houseless problem in Portland is due to the cost of housing and not a huge Opioid problem, you don’t get out much….
This is the problem with Ryan and Wheeler, they don’t get it either and their solutions (whatever they are) have nothing to do with the problem.
I specifically used the phrase “a primary cause” because it has a different meaning from the “only cause”.
Has it ever occurred to you that only a fraction of houseless people are dependent on opiods and that, of those, many became dependent as a consequence of houselessness?
Only a fraction? Ask people who actually are working on the problem if you think that is true…
Cite data and source please.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that 26% of homeless people abused drugs [other than alcohol].
According to the National Household Survey on Drug Use Health … 15% of people above the age of 12 reported using drugs within the past year.
It looks like multi-millionaire homeloaners/speculators, whose amoral rent-seeking is a primary cause of houselesseness, also use drugs.
Who could have known???
So you are equating homeowners who might smoke weed in their home with meth addicts living on the street?
What is your point if I might ask?
My point is that you pulled a “fact” out of your nether regions and are now struggling to admit that you were wrong and kinda hateful.
One of our housed neighbors smokes meth. I only know about this because their ex told us when she explained why she was moving out.
I was not hateful, have no idea what you are talking about.
I was trying to address the problem and the problem is mostly drugs and I have cleaned up camps so please don’t me what the facts are…
Ask anyone working or dealing with the issue here and throughout the country.
It is an epidemic and it needs to be addressed and it is separate from the housing issue.
Yes, dwk. You were being hateful. Careful, your prejudice is showing.
I was not going to continue the discussion but this is a teaching moment.
What exactly was I prejudiced against?
Wanting to get people out of living in garbage and getting into treatment with all the resources this city has is Prejudiced?
This is Portlandia, what got us here…..
All of the above facts and figures bear zero relation to the city’s porta-potty blocking the narrowest part of a pedestrian underpass that provides the only reasonable alternative route to the elevators the city can’t make work.
There are other stories where your narrative might fit, but this one is just as simple as PBOT’s failure to carry out its most basic responsibilities. “Rich people” aren’t the villain here.
I could not disagree more strongly.
Who benefits from the amoral lack of social insurance and pathologically low and regressive taxation in Oregon?
Taxes aren’t the reason the city couldn’t be bothered to move its porta-potty to a nearby location that was much less obtrusive; it wasn’t city finances that prevent PBOT from keeping the underpass clear of debris while its elevators are broken. It was that they simply didn’t care, and neither city agencies nor bureau leaders could be bothered to respond to residents asking for a reasonable remedy.
The tax burden in a state with one of the highest income taxes in the nation, and no “regressive” sales tax, is a total non-issue in this conversation. Not every problem is the result of class struggle, ownership of the means of production, or evil bankers and financiers pulling levers behind the scenes.
I hate to break it to you, Watts, but the leadership of PBOT are predominantly in the upper class. The willingness to accept or acquiesce to apathetic “business as usual” (e.g. they simply don’t care) is a direct product of the USAnian class system.
I see… so PBOT doesn’t deal with the underpass because Hardesty and Warner and other bureau leadership get paid too much.
No, on second thought, I don’t see. In fact, that doesn’t make any sense at all.
keep in mind that it’s likely the porta-potty was moved from its original location.
Advocates said “don’t put in an elevator, put in a ramp instead” and PBOT is blaming Covid when the elevator is unusable. It’s not Covid’s fault PBOT refused to prioritize sustainable, reliable infrastructure!
Dear PBOT: this $#!^ does not work.
Next time PBOT plans an elevator-themed disaster-tourism infrastructure project, all the transportation nerds in the city need to ask them how the Bob Stacey is doing.
(An aside for those who remember: the owner of Koerner Camera Systems, adjacent to the bridge, lawyered up and the bridge would destroy his business or require him to move. Looks like that business is still there, and thriving, at least according to the website.)
All Portland infrastructure should be designed as if to survive the apocalypse. Since that’s basically how it is.
And the I-205 MUP, unusable for anything other than camping for 4 years now? Four years!! Let that sink in…
I-205 MUP doesn’t even get discussed at the city level.
So “equity” means buses need to travel faster on SE Hawthorne to get to poor people land—(satire, I live there, please don’t delete) so we can’t have bike lanes on Hawthorne, but the bike lanes in poor neighborhoods don’t even get a mention.
(I’ve been looking at Reddit, whose demographic trends young, liberal and recent transplant, apparently BikePortland is a metonym for extremeist, impractical bike advocacy—sigh—I believe this is reflected in Hardesty’s comments and is a big problem)
Bikes, which are often ridden by poor people because they are cheaper, have dropped off the priority list completely.
Equity in Portland to me just seems like back to inequity..
Not to even mention that whole inner SE area by the crossing is so sketch at night now, I got chased there last year at the max stop and had to take an UBER instead of Max for $27.
This is simply disgraceful, and the people who created and are perpetuating this problem should be ashamed of themselves.
The video link is dead.
Thanks for mentioning Gibbs Street bridge – that elevator was out of commission for so long, it was surrealistic (not the last time, but the time before that). It’s bad enough that the elevator is unreliable – the fact that it gives off the distinct odor of eau d’urine merely adds insult to injury.
This is something that is far too common in the US. We have things that just don’t work. You want to dry your hands, sorry the vendor (who is the lowest bidder) can’t get a tech or material to the location. Carry this on, and on, and on to other industries:
You get the picture of what the avg American experiences day to day while paying more and more.
How exactly does a 100hp electric motor designed for this “go bad” in 18 months. Give your average farmer a tool box, an Ace gift card and 1/2 the day, bet he’d get the motor working.
Crickets from PBOT.