2023’s sole fatal bicycle collision leaves family looking for answers

Jason’s bike in a photo taken on the Smith and Bybee path, April 2023. (Right) Jason and his dog, Eddie Spaghetti. (Photos via Jason’s Facebook page)

Four months after 43-year-old Rose City Park neighborhood resident Jason Ruhmshottel was killed in a traffic collision, his family is still searching for closure and answers. 

According to his sister, Christina Cuanalo, Jason spent his free time playing video games, collecting Funko Pops, and reading. He loved 80’s horror villains such as Freddy Kruger and his favorite author was Stephen King. He ate healthy, but had a weakness for See’s Candy and ice cream. He loved coffee and would rave about a new ground he tried. 

Jason lived in Portland his entire life. He attended Jefferson High School and moved to an apartment near NE 53rd and I-84 in 2016. With a degree in Criminal Justice from Portland Community College, Ruhmshottel worked for the Transportation Security Administration at the Portland Airport before switching jobs in to work as a security officer at the Columbia Sportswear warehouse off of North Marine Drive. 

Jason worked the graveyard shift at the warehouse, which is located adjacent to the Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area. When he began that job, he commuted via TriMet bus and walking — a journey Google Maps says takes one hour and 37 minutes. But four years ago, a close family friend gave Jason a bicycle and he began to ride it every day.

Jason could get to work by bike about 30 minutes quicker than taking the bus on a route familiar to many BikePortland readers: the Columbia Slough path between North Vancouver Avenue and Portland Road, then the final two miles along the path that skirts the northern edge of Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area.

“Jason found he enjoyed biking a lot,” Cuanalo shared in an email to BikePortland. “He loved the Smith Bybee trail and often took pics and shared dog treats to passing dogs on the trail.“

Like many of us, Jason’s bike soon became more than just a tool to get to work. “He began adding lighting and features to it, and he bought a manual and did all his repairs himself,” Cuanalo recalled. “He was proud of his bike and told family and many coworkers how much he enjoyed biking.”

Photos on Jason’s Facebook page feature his bike (beaming with lights laced into his spokes) parked on the trail and his main header photo is a view of the wetlands. I could pinpoint the location instantly since I’ve spent many days staring into the trees at the exact same spot.

I also know the the intersection where Jason was hit; but probably not as well as he did. He would have crossed it twice a day to get to work and back. 

On that fateful Thursday morning of September 19th, Jason was biking home after a long graveyard shift. It was about one hour before sunrise when, according to an investigation by the Portland Police Bureau, Jason rolled out from the carfree path onto North Portland Road, just as a driver was heading southbound at around 45 mph.

Jason came in contact with the passenger side of the driver’s car (a 2012 Mazda CX7 small SUV) and likely died instantly. A Portland Police officer who responded to the scene, noted in the police report that he saw a, “small, crescent-shaped tire mark that, based on my training and experience, had been deposited by the front tire of Ruhmshottel’s bicycle.”

Jason’s bike was found 85 feet away. The front wheel and forks were completely sheared off.

It’s the conclusion of the PPB crash reconstruction experts that the Mazda driver could not have done anything to avoid hitting Jason. They based that on testimony from the driver and another witness who was driving a car directly behind the Mazda. They say the driver wasn’t impaired or distracted, and that he was driving around 45-50 mph (posted speed limit is 45). 

The driver told PPB officers that Jason emerged from the bike path, “Out of nowhere and without warning.” The police report notes that, “The multi-use path has streetlights but they are not functioning. This makes it very difficult to see pedestrians and cyclists as they approach the roadway from the northwest.” The report also notes that, “The cyclist was dressed in mostly black clothing, accessories, and riding a mostly black bike.”

Below is an excerpt from the conclusion of the police investigation:

… Ruhmshottel entered the roadway in front of him there was not enough time and distance for [the driver] to avoid a collision. 

According to the Oregon Bicycling Manual, when riding on paths, you should “slow down and be sure drivers see you” when crossing a driveway or street. If Ruhmshottel had adhered to these state recommended guidelines and adhered to ORS I believe this crash could have been avoided. 

I find the primary causation of this crash is Ruhmshottel failing to yield to vehicular traffic on N Portland Rd and riding out into traffic. I find a secondary causation to this crash is visibility issues related to lightning and Ruhmshottel’s clothing not contrasting with the background.

That version of events doesn’t seem plausible to Jason’s sister.

“I do not believe my brother would run out in front of traffic,” Cuanalo shared. “This is not who he was.” She said Jason’s co-workers have told her he would always talk about how fast people drove on streets in the area and that he was aware of the risks of riding at night. Now she’s seeking legal advice and is working with BikeLoud PDX to erect a ghost bike to add to the framed picture and flowers she’s maintained at the site since her brother’s death.


Jason is survived by his beloved dog, “Eddie Spaghetti,” as well as his mom Jill Ruhmshottel, nephew Jordan, nieces Michelle, Melissa and Mindy, and his best friend Richard Bigelow (among other distant relatives). See more photos and remembrances at his memorial page.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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mc
mc
5 months ago

Here’s a question for PBOT. Does it make sense to have a 45 MPH speed limit anywhere there’s a ped/bike crossing?!?!?!?

I’d like to think the obvious answer is “hell eff’n no!”

At 45 mph or 66 ft/sec, in just a few secs, a car a half block away from you has arrived. Maybe your feet slip on the pedals when you start off or you get momentarily distracted by something.

Oh well, things happen and now you’re dead.

At the very least, if PBOT isn’t going to have a x-walk button at high speed crossings than have a reduced speed zone with some kind of speed bump or something.

Do you know why Vision Zero fails in PDX? It’s because PBOT doesn’t understand what human error is, whether driver, biker, walker, etc and how to prevent or mitigate the damage when people make common, everyday mistakes in judgement, perception, attention, etc.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
5 months ago
Reply to  mc

Much of city and county policy is based upon “good intention” – that people will behave as you expect them to when crafting a policy.

So many of our policies fail because people don’t behave as planners expected – nor do they plan for those behavioral deviancies.

J1mb0
J1mb0
5 months ago
Reply to  mc

You would think that after everything recently that tired old perfect behavior line would have been avoided. You know what else would have saved his life? If the cars were going 25 mph instead of 45. If it isn’t the victims fault, and it isn’t the drivers, then it’s the infrastructure.

maxD
maxD
5 months ago
Reply to  J1mb0

or if PBOT had maintained the lights! I hear you though, I was so excited a few back when PBOT announced that all streets would be reduced to 20 mph, until they started listing the caveats (basically all the roads). It blows my mind that Interstate ave is not 20 mph- we have a super skinny bike lane, sidewalks on only side for ,miles, and it is the primary connector to/from North Portland (the stretch from Fremont to MLK)

John V
John V
5 months ago
Reply to  mc

With my previous bike, the chain would occasionally come off under hard acceleration, most often when crossing a road. I realize now it was probably just derailleur adjustment or some other maintenance thing, but didn’t at the time. It was easy enough to compensate for most of the time by being in a low gear. But it happened sometimes, and not only makes you stumble and lose your balance, but then you’re in a really awkward position to duck walk your bike the rest of the way or back off. Or worse, the chain gets jammed and you can’t even move.

So yeah. It’s easy to imagine scenarios where you get caught by surprise in a road. They’re human (or mechanical) error, but they happen. Unfortunately unless there is constant surveillance, all we have is the word of the driver for what happened, and nobody is going to say they weren’t paying attention.

Watts
Watts
5 months ago
Reply to  John V

“all we have is the word of the driver for what happened”

We also have testimony from another witness.

SD
SD
5 months ago

Police have gotten this wrong so many times, I am unable to take their statements at face value. I hope that Jason’s family and friends are able to find closure and answers.

Chris I
Chris I
5 months ago

The police report notes that, “The multi-use path has streetlights but they are not functioning. This makes it very difficult to see pedestrians and cyclists as they approach the roadway from the northwest.”

Campers stealing power, or drug addicts stealing copper? Take your bets.

This is a huge problem out in east Portland. The lights along I-84 from Gateway east are constantly going out due to theft, and I wonder if ODOT has just given up recently.

Martina G
Martina G
5 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

Yep, I’ve seen several street lights not working around Portland as people have tapped into the power. I’ve reported it to HUCIRP/PDX reporter but they never seem to do anything about it. In my opinion it’s a price we pay for unsanctioned street camping without consequences for illegal activities. And the safety of our transportation system is degraded because of it.

qqq
qqq
5 months ago

Alternative police investigation conclusion excerpt:
The cyclist’s bicycle was equipped with a required front light, plus a non-required rear light, and non-required spoke-mounted reflectors. His clothing was legally compliant. He was crossing in a legally compliant crossing.

The speed limit was 40 mph. The driver stated that he was driving 45-50 mph, thus exceeding the legal limit.

The crash occurred at night. The multi-use path has streetlights but they are not functioning. This makes it very difficult to see pedestrians and cyclists as they approach the roadway from the northwest.

Given the darkness and lack of lighting, per ORS 811.000 (Basic Speed Rule) the driver should have been going slower than the posted maximum speed:

(1) A person commits the offense of violating the basic speed rule if the person drives a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard to all of the following:
(a) The traffic.
(b) The surface and width of the highway.
(c) The hazard at intersections.
(d) Weather.
(e) Visibility.
(f) Any other conditions then existing.

If the driver had driven at a legally compliant speed for the conditions, I believe this crash could have been avoided. The crosswalk itself is visible even in darkness, and the driver should have anticipated that pedestrians or cyclists could be present.

The driver alleges that the cyclist suddenly shot into the path of the driver, without giving him time to react. That allegation is supported by a second driver driving behind him, but there is no physical evidence that supports that. Given that the cyclist was crossing in a legal location with legally complaint clothing and greater-than-compliant lighting and reflectors, and given that the driver (and likely the driver behind him) was exceeding the posted maximum speed, and significantly exceeding the speed allowed under ORS 811.100, I find the primary causation of this crash is the driver driving too fast for the conditions and in violation of Oregon law.

J1mb0
J1mb0
5 months ago
Reply to  qqq

Wow, that actually makes sense…

Aaron
5 months ago
Reply to  qqq

Thank you for showing what a rational perspective of this collision should look like. It’s infuriating how much police let drivers off the hook in situations like this.

Fred
Fred
5 months ago
Reply to  qqq

I hope you are available to provide legal services. Good work!

Watts
Watts
5 months ago

*speed is always a factor in a crash unless the car driver was going o mph”

Speed was clearly a factor when I back into a pole at 2 mph a few years ago.

Chris I
Chris I
5 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Surely, if you were going 1mph, you could have avoided it.

Fred
Fred
5 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

When I took driver ed class, many moons ago, on almost every test there was a trick question, designed to stump every new driver:

Show a 30 mph sign and then ask:

What is the speed limit?

Possible answers:
A. 30 mph
B. 35 mph, since experienced drivers can go 5 mph over
C. 25 mph, since it’s safer
D. The maximum speed considered safe for the area under ideal driving conditions.

Of course the correct answer is D, and in fact it’s a quote from the Oregon driver’s manual. I think every state DMV offers the same definition.

So I would like the police investigating this fatal collision to ask:

Were these driving conditions ideal for this area? Doesn’t seem like it – it was dark, and there were obstructed views. Was there a sign indicating a path, so that peds or bikes might be in the road? Probably, so yet another reason that 45 mph is NOT the maximum speed for this area.

The fact that police are so out of sync with the actual law is a real problem. Almost seems like their agenda is to exonerate drivers in all cases where they kill cyclists and peds.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
5 months ago
Reply to  Fred

D. The maximum speed considered safe for the area under ideal driving conditions.

This presupposes that the hypothetical street with the 30 mph designation really is designed for 30 mph traffic, and not say designed for 60 mph with the 30 mph designation imposed without traffic calming improvements, road diets, or a quadrupling of the enforcement budget.

Us bike advocates in other cities are curious about Portland imposing a blanket 20 mph limit on residential and local streets with similar reductions on collector and arterial stroads, but without any increase in the already paltry local police budget (Detroit has your same population but 3 times as many police, and they still can’t control their criminals), without any significant expansion of traffic controls and traffic calming including diverters, signals, chicanes, speed humps, and so on, and only minimal road dieting.

Will locals “do the right thing” and universally obey the law? Or will they think the new laws being imposed are unjust and worth ignoring? Will the underfunded police try to enforce the law, or will they adjust their actions to fit into what they think the law ought to be?

What we are seeing is what we expected – imposing laws and policies without massive extra funding is a lot like putting 4-way stop signs on every corner: everyone quickly learns to ignore the new laws, partly because they believe the new laws are unjust, but also partly because the police so obviously are not going to enforce such unenforceable laws.

So it’s back to getting our local traffic calming program off the ground – put in diverters, chicanes, humps, and then afterwards lower speed limits, street by street – because we’ve learned from Portland that blanket lowering of speed limits without doing anything else is a policy dead-end.

Watts
Watts
5 months ago
Reply to  Fred

“The maximum speed considered safe for the area under ideal driving conditions.”

Note the use of passive voice. Who makes the decision about what is “considered safe” in a particular set of conditions for a particular vehicle with a particular driver in a particular mental state? What does “safe” even mean in a context where crashes are commonplace? Increasing the risk of a crash by one in a thousand? One in a hundred? One in a million?

I know how to evaluate a posted speed limit. I don’t know how to evaluate a dozen different conceptions of what might be “safe” in a particular set of circumstances.

Fred
Fred
5 months ago
Reply to  Watts

My driving-ed instructor (a great man – RIP) told us that the police are the ultimate arbiters of the speed limit. He had lots of examples:

  • The sign says 55 mph but it’s foggy and you can see only a few feet in front of your windshield. Can you safely go 55? Nope. Slow down! – you could get a speeding ticket!
  • Same situation and the road is wet, or snowy, or icy. Same deal – you *could* go 55 mph under ideal conditions, but these conditions are clearly not ideal. Slow down, young man! The police will ticket you! (that’s my driver-ed instructor talking to me there – I can still hear his voice clearly).

What about approaching a bike path in the dark with limited visibility? Are these ideal conditions that allow you to drive THE MAXIMUM posted speed? Remember that it’s a MAXIMUM under IDEAL conditions, so usually people should drive slower.

qqq made the point beautifully: The police seem so invested in maintaining the dangerous status quo, which they themselves enable, that they would never think of creating a new paradigm in which drivers would care for anyone outside of the car.

Watts
Watts
5 months ago
Reply to  Fred

The bad weather cases are pretty straightforward; approaching a bike path is a little less so. Those sorts of “permanent” conditions should be built into the speed limit. Most drivers don’t have complete information about the presence and nature of a particular crossing, nor the expertise to evaluate it when passing at 45MPH at night.

And no, most people are not so psychotic that they don’t care if they injure or kill a pedestrian or cyclist.

PdxPhoenix
PdxPhoenix
4 months ago
Reply to  Fred

Given its relatively remote location, the time of day, & the likelihood of encountering another… a reasonable speed might be 90mph.

Given the actual encounter with another… a reasonable speed would be more like 20mph…

?

Ray
Ray
4 months ago
Reply to  PdxPhoenix

Though I suspect you’re just using hyperbole, 90 mph is never a reasonable speed on public roads.

Watts
Watts
5 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

I doubt it. But speed still would have been a factor.

Al Dimond
5 months ago

“Speed is always a factor in a crash unless the car driver was going 0 mph”. I think that’s so vague it says nothing useful. It’s the flip-side of the typical collision report where speeds within or even near the posted speed limit are disregarded as a factor. There are different levels and that makes all the difference in terms of response.

There’s speed beyond what’s generally acceptable — what’s socially and legally acceptable, what’s encouraged by the infrastructure. If that’s a factor, that’s when it’s appropriate to blame an individual driver (equally a cyclist in some cases). Then there’s speed at the level we’ve designed for, that’s still too fast for all a road’s users to be safe. If that’s a factor it’s not fair to blame individual people, we need a change to the road that makes lower speeds a measured goal (i.e. the core Vision Zero argument). And then there’s speed as a factor because there’s a level of speed we believe should be acceptable and safe, but isn’t.

This collision, for all I can tell just reading excerpts of reports that can’t possibly have all the relevant perspectives, sounds like the middle case: speed is a factor in that the posted, normal, accepted speeds are too fast. And they won’t go down without physical changes.

Damien
Damien
5 months ago
Reply to  qqq

qqq bringing us glimpses from the Good Timeline.

SD
SD
5 months ago
Reply to  qqq

I do wonder how the person biking came out of nowhere and the driver was helpless to avoid hitting them, but the car behind was able to see everything happen. This is even more strange, since there is a wide open path where there are clear sight lines for the approaching car.

SD
SD
5 months ago

Thanks, I was thinking that a person on a bike would typically be 3 feet taller than the concrete barriers and a front light would be above the concrete. It would be interesting to know the results of the field tests.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
5 months ago

Why does the officer continue to point out the clothing the victim was wearing? There is no law that says cyclists need to wear bright colored clothes. Plus, this was at night where clothing wouldn’t be visible anyways. I’ve been hit wearing a neon green top, in the middle of the day, and the driver still claimed she didn’t see me

idlebytes
idlebytes
5 months ago

They do all of this reconstruction from the drivers perspective but none from the cyclists. They’re just trying to make excuses for the driver. Not once do they question why someone who has much better visibility than the driver would just roll right in front of them.

I bet if it was a police officer hit in the intersection they would at least question if the drivers account of the officer’s action were reasonable. They would try to determine if some other factor caused the officer to enter the path of the vehicle because no rational person would do that.

If someone were shot with a gun and the shooter claimed the person just walked in front of them without looking would the police at least not consider how reasonable that claim is? Someone firing a gun is kind of hard to miss just like a car being driven on a dark road at night is hard to miss.

John V
John V
5 months ago
Reply to  idlebytes

I completely agree that these investigations are always one sided, trying to excuse the driver, and the details we have seem unsatisfactory. And for sure I wouldn’t put much weight in the driver’s explanation or even the supposed witness (how could the second driver have seen anything relevant with how far away they would have been?) However, the fact remains that the rider DID actually ride out in front of the driver. How else could they have collided? That is mysterious to me.

I suppose the one really egregious detail that could have been overlooked is if for some reason the driver’s headlights were off. Or if they were going very significantly over the speed limit, like in the 60’s or more. Otherwise, I have no idea how on earth this crash happened. It’s possible, though I don’t see why, the rider just rode without checking. You can see “pretty far” from the trail as you approach the road, but if the timing is just wrong enough, you probably can’t see far enough if you don’t actually slow down right at the road. Seems implausible, but something unlikely clearly happened here.

Watts
Watts
5 months ago
Reply to  John V

I may just be a lesser skilled rider, but I have sometimes misjudged the speed of a vehicles or my ability to accelerate and cut things closer than I should have.

Watts
Watts
5 months ago
Reply to  idlebytes

What would you expect a a reconstruction done from the cyclist perspective to tell us?

idlebytes
idlebytes
5 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I said it in my comment. How reasonable the drivers claim is. If you have 400 feet line of sight down the road on a dark night and just continued in front of a car like that there would need to be some other factor to account for. Rational people don’t step in front of cars.

Again would they not question the driver’s narrative if this was a police officer that was killed? I think they would at least try to make some sense of why someone would move into the path of a fast moving vehicle like that and question the driver more seriously than they did here.

This whole report comes off as them just making excuses for the driver.

Andrew S
Andrew S
5 months ago
Reply to  qqq

I agree with most of the way you’ve phrased this, but I think there’s room to cite the crossing itself as a contributing factor. Maybe add a paragraph like “This is clearly the designated crossing for the for the continuation of the bike path to Columbia Slough, which is an at grade crossing of a road with a posted speed limit of 45mph and significant freight traffic. There are no transverse rumble strips, lighted warnings, or other traffic calming devices to slow approaching vehicles to the crosswalk.”

My thinking is that it will be legally very difficult to prosecute a driver in a situation like this, but perhaps a more complete account of the conditions can help add impetus to fixing dangerous crossings or intersections, which is maybe the most good that the police investigation can do in this situation. This is not to absolve drivers of the responsibility to operate their vehicles in a way that is safe for the conditions, but even if the driver had slowed down to under the posted speed limit (say 40mph, and then debatably in compliance with the basic speed rule), a collision with a bike rider or pedestrian would likely result in death. Keep in mind that the legal requirements for vehicular manslaughter make it really difficult to hold anyone responsible who (1) isn’t drunk and, (2) remains at the scene.

Either way, I disagree that the primary causation being Mr Ruhmshottel failing to yield. We’ll never know his side of the story. What the police don’t seem to understand is that WE DON’T WANT TO GET HIT OR KILLED! I’m sick of reading reports (including an instance where I got doored by an off-duty cop) that assume that the driver is presumably doing everything they can to avoid a collision despite the best efforts of the bike rider to thwart them.

qqq
qqq
5 months ago
Reply to  Andrew S

Yes, I agree with all that. My main thrust was to show that you could take all the same facts but come to an entirely different conclusion in regard to driver vs. cyclist fault. Adding info about infrastructure would certainly make sense after that.

This article discusses a report about police crash reports that supports exactly what you’re saying about the value of looking at infrastructure in crash reports:
https://bikeportland.org/2021/03/18/the-information-politics-at-the-heart-of-portlands-vision-zero-struggle-328878

It states the main shortcoming of crash reports:

 “Police are generally focused on law enforcement, not engineering. Police reports generally provide little evaluation of infrastructure-related crash factors.”

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
5 months ago
Reply to  qqq

Comment of the week

PdxPhoenix
PdxPhoenix
4 months ago
Reply to  qqq

Yeah, I’ve ridden thru there a few dozen time in the years before I lived out there & in the years since. I’m not sure the drivers ever expect someone crossing at 4PM much less at some time like 4AM

Though it does beg the question of did the drivers know one another? Were they friends? Was the 2nd covering for the 1st? about excessive speed?

This is an example of why I ALWAYS wait for the cars to go by first.

And it says he hit the side of the car? If he were even a remotely attentive cyclist (as I hope we all are) I cannot imagine he didn’t slow down & look to see if there were cars coming, given the likelihood of high-speed cross traffic? & given the hour, HIGHER-speed cross traffic….

Matt
Matt
5 months ago

When a streetlight is not functioning, what even is it? At that point it’s not lighting the street. At least a broken escalator defaults to stairs. A broken streetlight is just an inert, useless pole.

Andrew S
Andrew S
5 months ago
Reply to  Matt

Thanks, Mitch!

To be fair, the way things are going with reckless driving and traffic violence, a broken streetlight is perhaps a speedbump?

Chris I
Chris I
5 months ago
Reply to  Matt

Hard to keep the lights functioning when people keep stealing the copper wires.

And the concrete blocks that you have to weave around here are in place to prevent RVs from parking on this bike path.

This crossing would be much safer if we enforced the laws against urban camping.

idlebytes
idlebytes
5 months ago

The driver told PPB officers that Jason emerged from the bike path, “Out of nowhere and without warning.”

This idea that cyclists just casually roll into dangerous intersections with approaching cars is obnoxious. If cyclists were as dangerous as drivers make them out to be and drivers are as distracted as we know they are there would be way more than one cycling fatality a year here.

Using google I did some quick math and based on the line of sight 100′ back from the road on the path you can see approaching vehicles at a minimum 400′ down the road. A driver going 45 mph would take 6 seconds to cover that distance. A cyclist going 12 mph would cover their 100′ in about 6 seconds as well. That would mean he would have had 100 feet and 6 seconds to see the approaching driver and do nothing to avoid the collision.

Even with a mechanical failure I find it hard to believe anyone would just keep rolling into the road instead of turning or bailing. That’s a long time and distance to react and do nothing. Any regular commuter encounters this situation every day in town and can easily avoid these types of collisions. It just doesn’t add up.

What would add up is if the driver were going much faster say 65 mph that would put them 575′ down the road and probably not visible to a cyclist approaching from 100′ away. Since the investigating officer presumably took the drivers word as fact we’ll never know if that was the case. However it’s worth noting PBOTs 85th percentile speed for this intersection was 53 mph in October 2023.

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
5 months ago
Reply to  idlebytes

Maybe it’s time that all wheeled modes of transportation have little black boxes, like aircraft, to indicate what was happening prior and at the time of any accident.

SD
SD
5 months ago
Reply to  idlebytes

The myth that walkers and bikers just throw themselves in front of cars is so pervasive and maddening. It is incredibly frustrating when police parrot these reports from drivers who are trying to cope with the emotional trauma of having just killed someone. It is strange that video footage of people jumping in front of fast moving cars is incredibly rare compared to cars and trucks smashing into people and things.

qqq
qqq
5 months ago
Reply to  idlebytes

In addition to all those good points, the importance of speed really becomes apparent if–instead of thinking of the straight-ahead distance from driver to cyclist, you think of the sideways distance.

What I mean is that a car is only about 6′ wide, and the vehicle didn’t need to come to a stop to avoid the crash, it only needed to adjust its course enough left or right to avoid the cyclist being within than 6′ width.

Without doing the math, I could see going only a couple miles per hour slower being the difference between a collision and a close call. People often seem to think of collisions with bikes or pedestrians like a vehicle crashing into a wall–“The driver wouldn’t have been able to see the wall until he was 300′ from it, and he hit it going X MPH, but even if he’d been going 20 MPH slower, the stopping distance still would have been more than 300′, so he still would have hit it”.

The reality is all the driver needs to do to avoid hitting a 2′ wide person or 6′ wide bike with their 6′ wide car is to either change course by 1 or 2 degrees, or get to the location that the person is moving through (perpendicular to the car’s path) a second slower, so the person has by then moved out of the car’s path. Going 3% or so slower could easily be enough to make a difference.

Al Dimond
5 months ago
Reply to  idlebytes

It’s not as simple as sight-line diagrams. A rider coming toward a crossing like this has multiple things to pay attention to (concrete barriers, pavement conditions, two directions of cross-traffic), and our sensory and perception systems don’t work in a robotic way. Our minds can trick us into making seemingly inexplicable mistakes, especially when it’s dark and we’re tired. And when we’re stomping on the pedals to accelerate that can take us out of position to brake. If you think people don’t sometimes run right out in front of other people without warning, giving them no chance to avoid a crash… I have a metal plate in my shoulder that says they do. People biking (and on foot) aren’t any more perfect than people driving. We make mistakes that we usually get away with because we don’t get unlucky and do it with exceptionally bad timing.

So we can’t rule out faster speeds than were (self-)reported but I wouldn’t rush to judgment of anyone as the main point here. 45-50 MPH is plenty fast to explain this crash; bringing the 85th percentile down to 30 or so would be a good goal that would reduce the consequences of all kinds of mistakes people make IMO.

idlebytes
idlebytes
5 months ago
Reply to  Al Dimond

People biking (and on foot) aren’t any more perfect than people driving.

The important difference here though is people biking and on foot are going human speeds. Human speeds are the reason we can filter past one another in a busy airport without colliding. It’s why we don’t need tons of infrastructure on multi-use paths to keep from hurting each other.

A mistake made by a cyclist typically results in them stopping short maybe falling over. It rarely results in their death. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen your anecdotal evidence is proof it does but be honest it doesn’t happen very often. As SD pointed out above where are all the videos of people throwing themselves in front of cars?

45-50 MPH is plenty fast to explain this crash

Anything could explain the crash I’m not talking about the possibility that a bear distracted the rider or the flying spaghetti monster rose up from the ground and pushed him into the intersection. Those things could have happened but they’re unlikely.

Just like I think it’s unlikely a person who regularly rides this route, who has complained about how fast people drove on streets in the area, and was aware of the risks of riding at night would just roll into that intersection when they had so much time and distance to see the oncoming vehicles. Especially at night when their headlights would have been very visible in such a dark area.

What’s more likely the driver was going faster then they claimed or left out some other detail so they wouldn’t be blamed or this seasoned commuter threw caution to the wind and rode in front of a speeding car?

Al Dimond
5 months ago
Reply to  idlebytes

I think there’s a wide range of possibilities. I can imagine ones where the rider made no mistake at all and the driver seriously erred while also leaving no physical evidence of it, but I don’t think they’re very likely. I think the likelihood the driver was going under the posted speed limit and being absolutely as attentive as we’d like around the crossing are fairly low, too. I think the most likely situation is that the driver was driving a little outside the law but within our (over-permissive) social norms.

The kind of mistake I suspect the rider made isn’t a matter of throwing caution to the wind. It’s a matter of being a bit bored on a routine ride, tired after work, in the dark before sunrise. The kind I can imagine making. I get through the barrier, look down and tense up to get back up to speed, seeing in my mind a clear lane to my left that I’ve seen a hundred times without really looking thoroughly. Our minds sometimes work this way. It’s not that there’s specific evidence of that here but it’s just a normal kind of thing that happens. It’s not that everyone does this every day at every intersection but that occasionally some of us do it at some intersections… and most of the time we get away with it because we got lucky or someone else was being extra careful. Occasionally it all goes wrong.

The speed of the car matters a lot! I agree that it’s a lot less consequential when people walking and biking make mistakes around each other but the speed of cars make mistakes consequential when cars are around… the speed of cars is why it is important to accept that people are going to make mistakes like this, and to design crossings where speeds are reduced. I just think it’s really unhelpful to say that people don’t just ride out into traffic… they do, and they shouldn’t die for doing it.

Chris I
Chris I
5 months ago
Reply to  idlebytes

This crossing is a total mess, mainly because of the concrete blocks on the west side. In the dark, a ready would be focused on carefully navigating the mess of blocks. Once you pass the blocks, you only have a moment to glance left and right to see if traffic is clear. I haven’t had any close calls here, but I could see how it would happen.

Charley
Charley
5 months ago

A few weeks ago, while riding my normal commuting route, I absentmindedly blew straight past a stop sign onto SE Tacoma. Luckily, the pickup truck driver driving into that intersection braked quickly and saved us both from a horrible day.

I have no idea why I failed to visually register my location and brake appropriately. I wasn’t particularly distracted emotionally or anything; somehow my autopilot just up and gave out on me.

I think this just happens to people sometimes, whether driving or riding. That’s not to say Rumshottel or the driver lost focus like this: I obviously don’t know.

Road systems and motor vehicles need to be designed with this basic human frailty in mind. Even responsible travelers can be at fault in this way.

———————————————

A note:

This is from the police report:

“As Ruhmshottel rode his bicycle into the crosswalk he was struck by Lines’ vehicle. Ruhmshottel rolled onto the hood and front passenger quarter panel before striking the windshield.”

This is the paraphrase from the article:

“Jason came in contact with the passenger side of the driver’s car…”

I suppose both could be true, but from the police report it sounds more like the driver drove into him. In contrast, the paraphrase seems to imply (to me, at least) the possibility that Rumshottel rammed into the side of the passing car.

Fred
Fred
5 months ago
Reply to  Charley

Yep – that’s how I read it also.

dw
dw
5 months ago

My heart goes out to Jason’s family and friends. Our blood-soaked transportation system claims another victim.

Based on what I read in the article and the police report, I believe the intersection played the biggest factor in the crash. Dead men tell no tales and who knows if the driver is telling the truth, but I don’t think it’s productive to try and litigate “who’s fault” it is in the comments.

My response is; how can we act fast to make sure this never happens again? I am looking at the intersection on Google maps. It’s a relatively wide, almost rural highway feeling street. Something like an RRFB, wider crosswalk striping, and traffic calming, especially street narrowing, leading up to the intersection. Seems lowering the speed limit and fixing the streetlights would help as well. How much could all that cost? $70,000? $100,000? Surely there’s some money somewhere.

I also see it’s labeled as State Highway 120. Does that means it’s ODOT’s responsibility?

Fred
Fred
5 months ago
Reply to  dw

How about a four-way stop? It would be cheapest and provide the greatest odds of survival.

Jeff Rockshoxworthy
Jeff Rockshoxworthy
5 months ago

Quoting a grieving family member doesn’t add anything to this story. She did not witness the incident and her feelings are hardly objective.

Obviously the goal of this article (as usual) is to denigrate police investigators and widen the phony “us vs. them” narrative that pits cyclists against the world. It’s tiresome and not particularly honest.

qqq
qqq
5 months ago

Analyzing a report (police or otherwise) and questioning or speaking critically of the conclusions isn’t “denigrating” the people who wrote the report. If anything, it’s acknowledging that what they do has value, and is worth reading, and deliberating on.

There’d be no progress in anything if criticism was viewed (by the criticizers, or by those being criticized) as denigration.