Matt Garrett has resigned from ODOT

Matt Garrett in 2012.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Huge news from the State of Oregon today: ODOT Director Matt Garrett has resigned from his post.

This is potentially – depending on his replacement – a massive development that could lead to a different culture in the automobile-centric agency.

I’m out of town at the moment and unable to fully analyze and report on this. So for now, here’s the statement from ODOT:

Oregon Transportation Director Matthew Garrett announced today that he will resign as Director of the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) on or before June 30, 2019. “I’m eager to take the next few months to explore the opportunity to do something new,” Garrett remarked. “It was important to me to provide enough notice to allow time for a search to identify my replacement and provide a smooth transition to the new Director,” he added.

In his resignation letter to Governor Kate Brown and Oregon Transportation Commission Chair Tammy Baney, Garrett noted that he has been at ODOT for 22 years, the last 13 of which he has served as Director. Garrett has led the 4,700 person department under three Governors — Kate Brown, John Kitzhaber and Ted Kulongoski. Garrett is the longest continuously serving department of transportation director in the nation.

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Governor Brown thanked Garrett for his service: “Matt Garrett has driven Oregon forward through his steadfast commitment to improve transportation for his fellow Oregonians, both today and in the future. He has led ODOT with distinction, guiding the agency through the implementation of a historic transportation package, and we will reap the benefits for decades to come. I have deeply appreciated his thoughtful counsel and collaboration and want to extend my gratitude for his service to our state.”

“Matt has been a dedicated public servant in our state for almost a quarter of a century,” said Transportation Commission Chair Tammy Baney. “He is highly respected throughout Oregon and in transportation circles around the country. The Commission appreciates Matt’s many contributions to modernizing Oregon’s transportation system. We will work closely with him in the coming months to ensure a smooth transition from Matt to his successor.”

The Oregon Transportation Commission has the statutory authority to hire a new director for the department.

In his resignation letter, Garrett praised ODOT’s workforce, noting that he has led an organization that consistently delivers “exceptional service, infrastructure and innovation” to Oregonians. He also identified three achievements he is particularly proud of:

HB 2017, the 2017 transportation investment legislation, which he described as “historic and comprehensive;”

The “Area Commissions on Transportation,” which he characterized as “critical forums for statewide transportation planning;” and

The creation of the nation’s first Road Usage Charge, which will allow Oregon to eventually transition from a per gallon gas tax to a per mile fee to pay for Oregon roads, bridges and other infrastructure investments.

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

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Jobs of the Week: Community Cycling Center, eBike Store, Velotech, River City Bicycles

We’ve had some great job opportunities listed in the past week.

Learn more about each one via the links below…

–> Director of Finance and Administration – Community Cycling Center

–> Experienced Bike Mechanic – The eBike Store

–> Customer Experience Specialist Full Time – Velotech

–> Bike Builder – River City Bicycles

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For a complete list of available jobs, click here.

Be the first to know about new job opportunities by signing up for our daily Job Listings email or by following @BikePortland on Twitter.

These are paid listings. And they work! If you’d like to post a job on the Portland region’s “Best Local Blog” two years running, you can purchase a listing online for just $75. Learn more at our Job Listings page.

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

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Weekend Event Guide: Three speeds, MLK Day, lunar eclipse, palm trees, and more

Scene from the 2007 Wintertime Palm Tree Ride, where I first learned about the strange and wonderful monkey puzzle trees!
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Welcome to the weekend!

Here’s our menu of delicious rides and events happening in and around Portland in the next few days.:..

Saturday, January 19th

First Timer’s Ride – 10:00 am at River City Bicycles (SE)
Just getting started on two wheels? Love social city rides? Let the experienced staff of River City Bicycles show you theway on this short and sweet neighborhood jaunt. More info here.

State of Cyclocross, Final Hosted Show – 3:00 pm to 5:30 pm at Paris Theatre (SW)
It’s your last chance to see this beautiful and poignant film created by Portlander Drew Coleman. This will not be released on the web, so make plans to view it on the big screen! More info here.

Three Speed Get Together – 4:00 pm at Montavilla Brew Works (SE)
If you love the casual and cool riding that three-speeds afford, this is the get together for you. The Society of Three Speeds is hosting this event, so show up if you want to talk about bikes and plans for a great slate of three-speed rides in 2019. More info here.

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Sunday, January 20th

Sauvie Shootout – 9:00 am at Ovation Coffee & Tea (NW)
Ready to go fast? Or start training so you can go faster? This ride features group dynamics, hotspot sprints, and a supportive group of experienced riders. More info here.

Palm Tree Ride – 11:00 am at Fillmore Coffee (NE)
Shawn from the Urban Adventure League knows a thing or three about local Portland neighborhood history and the neat palm trees that live in them. This is one of his classic rides that you are very likely to enjoy. More info here.

NWTA Lunar Eclipse Fat Bike Snow Adventure – 6:30 pm at Government Camp (Mt. Hood)
What better way to view the lunar eclipse than from Trillium Lake on the saddle of a bicycle?! Ride happens clear or cloudly and it will be on the snow so a fat bike is required. More info here.

Community Ride to the Reclaim MLK Day March – 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm at Fire Station 21 (SE)
Friends on Bikes and Women Bike have joined up with Don’t Shoot PDX for a casual ride that will go from the Esplanade, up North Williams Avenue to Peninsula Park to join the Annual March for Human Rights and Dignity. More info here.

Stay plugged into all the bike and transportation-related events around the region via our comprehensive event calendar.

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

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State of Oregon finalizes funding list for Safe Routes to School projects

(Image: ODOT)

The State of Oregon has finalized its first batch of Safe Routes to School projects funded through the $5.3 billion transportation package passed by legislators in 2017.

Region 1 (which covers all of Portland) will receive $3.39 million for four projects that will make it easier and safer for kids to walk and bike to class. ODOT awarded nearly $16 million for 24 projects statewide. Demand for these funds far outstripped supply as the agency received a total of 112 project applications requesting a total of $85 million.

Projects within a one-mile radius of schools are eligible for funding and schools where children come from low-income households were prioritized. Projects also scored high if they demonstrated an acute safety need, had “shovel-ready” status, and if they would benefit elementary and middle schools.

Here’s the list of Region 1 projects (view the full list here):

Multnomah County: Crossing enhancements for Reynolds Middle School – $90,957

Clackamas County: Sidewalks, ramps, rapid flashing beacons, and pedestrian refuge islands for Whitcomb Elementary School – $148,470

City of Portland: Sidewalks for Alder Elementary School – $2,000,000

City of Milwaukie: Sidewalks, enhanced crossings, crossing beacons, and bike lanes for Linwood Elementary School – $1,152,330

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All the project sponsors will be required to raise matching funds. As written, the law requires a 40% match; but sponsors can have that reduced to 20% if their project meets certain criteria. All the Region 1 projects qualify for the 20% match reduction (the City of Milwaukie has not requested the reduction). (Note: This matching funds issue has been a sticking point for Safe Routes advocates and the current legislative session includes Senate Bill 561, which seeks to decrease the match amount for all projects.)

This is the first allocation for ODOT’s Safe Routes to School Competitive Grant Program (PDF) and it covers the 2019-2020 cycle. The funds will double to $30 million for the next two-year cycle in 2021.

The full list is expected to be approved by the Oregon Transportation Commission at their meeting in Salem today (1/17).

Portland will add this project to its own, $8 million list of Safe Routes to School projects announced back in June.

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

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TRB dispatch: Micromobility, big data, and hyperloops

I couldn’t resist.
(Photos: Aaron Brown)

Welcome to the latest dispatch from our Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting Special Correspondent Aaron Brown, who’s in D.C. covering this event thanks to a funding partnership with the Transportation Research and Education Center at Portland State University (TREC at PSU). See past coverage here.

New Modes, New Research, New Challenges, New Opportunities

As TRB gears up to celebrate its centennial (a detail that conference organizers are eager to mention as many times as possible), it’s hard not to pick up the infectious enthusiasm and energy surrounding the exciting new fields of academic research and inquiry. As recently as a decade or two ago, academic inquiry on bicycles as transportation options were limited to a handful of specific universities across the country. Now, virtually every up-and-coming transportation planning student is well-versed (and frequently seeking a career in) active transportation, and the role it plays in designing communities.

In some ways, the bicycle and pedestrian advocates are being usurped (if not in size, then certainly in sexy PR and attention) by the significant boom in new forms of urban micromobility (and a fastidiously curious army of graduate students interested in studying their implementation). Representatives from all the major e-scooter companies are here, and numerous studies are focused on how scooters, bike share systems (dockless or otherwise), and e-bikes (sharable or otherwise) are exploding in popularity in small, but growing niche communities. The studies undertaken by these modes – who rides them, in what conditions, at what costs, at what benefits, for what purposes – are being rolled out at a pace only limited by the rate at which they are rolled out to the public. I saw research today showing how e-bikes in a bikeshare fleet in Utah were used, how bike trailers in German cities were ideal for cargo delivery, and how scooters were solving “last-mile” problems of connecting people to transit stations in low-density suburban sprawl.

The timing is fortuitous, considering PBOT rolled out their statistical findings from the scooter pilot yesterday. The new innovations in micromobility are going to provide a whirlwind of options for people to easily travel 1-2 miles, if municipal governance is generous enough with the road space. As Portland and its suburbs continue to densify (which seems likely, with the slate of YIMBY housing legislation on deck in Salem and Portland’s Residential Infill Project in line), all of the research is suggesting the new technology represents a widespread democratization of the 1-2 mile trip. Making it easier for larger swaths of the public to feel comfortable and invited to not drive for a short trip – dropping off a library book, getting to the transit center, picking up groceries – is only going to grow the latent desire for walkable, dense communities that are, conveniently, also perfect for bicycling.

In short: please, please BikePortland readers: let’s welcome back the scooters with open arms. Make fun of them all you want; but every person on a scooter is a potential partner in our rabble-rousing for a Portland with less motordom and more options for low-carbon, healthy communities.

Data (But for Who?)

There’s another major trend underway that has spurred a blossoming of new transportation research. Every Biketown ride, every Lyft/Uber, every e-scooter is collecting an enormous amount of data. The crew of engineers and urban planners who attend TRB are finding all sorts of way to put this mountain of numbers to use – mapping them, modelling them, running regression analyses, finding correlations and so on. Enormous datasets like these are catnip for the planners and researchers trained in a pedagogy that heavily prioritizes quantitative analysis.

The University of Oregon’s Anne Brown (no familial relation, although full disclosure, we had classes together in college) conducted award-winning research on Lyft’s travel data. She was granted access to a data set of Lyft travel patterns in Los Angeles, and was able to determine all sorts of interesting facts about the role that Lyft was playing in filling mobility gaps in automobile-oriented Los Angeles (check out her website to learn more about her findings).

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The tricky problem, though, is that all of these ride-hailing services are notoriously fickle about sharing their information. This came up repeatedly in sessions today and yesterday – urban planners and researchers politely agreed that autonomous vehicles have the capacity to positively reshape american cities, but the fiercely guarded proprietary information held by these TNCs obstruct the ability for policymakers to appropriately plan for their arrival.

There are privacy concerns about this sort of data that need to be addressed, and there’s a case to be made that Lyft and Uber make their money on the closely guarded secrets hidden inside the data and therefore the government shouldn’t be prying into the numbers. But with the “AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES ARE COMING TO RESHAPE OUR CITIES” boosterism breathlessly championed and upheld by significant venture capital funding, it seems abundantly clear from the presentations I’ve seen today that the dearth of publicly available data on ride-sharing represents a challenge towards ensuring public sector entities can defend the public’s right to the street from all-too-eager-to-monopolize the right-of-way.

I Am Skeptical of the Hyperloop

In the interest of bemused self-flagellation, I stepped in to the second half of a presentation titled, “The Feasibility of Hyperloop Travel in North American Corridors”. To my surprise, the room was packed, with at least 120 people intently listening to four presentations with fancy graphics and futuristic designs explaining how hyperloop systems could immediately be built to connect Chicago to various far-flung cities across the midwest in under an hour or two. I suppose it’s entirely defensible to be lured in by the promise of a Jetsons-esque vision of people shooting about the country at seven hundred miles an hour in pneumatic tubes, and I don’t begrudge anyone for sparing a moment to daydream about some radically fantastic new infrastructure plans (if I did, I’d have to hide all those fantasy transit maps I’ve drawn up over the years).

At the end of the day, however, somehow, not-insignificant amounts of money are being peddled around between various consulting firms and business leaders showing up in destitute midwestern towns and promoting completely unproven, expensive technology at a time in which we can’t even fund potholes on our existing roads.

Bicycles and trains were invented in the 19th century, and while we’ve certainly improved on them in plenty of ways, the technology itself is still readily available and evidently effective at providing meaningful, scalable investments in mobility both at a national scale and at an urban scale. Forget that the idea the federal government will somehow manage to find a way to acquire the endless miles of land necessary to build these facilities, or that doing so won’t be an endless mess of litigation – is the problem with American transportation really that one can’t get to Chicago from Cleveland in under an hour? Or is it that doing so without an automobile is horrifically inconvenient, infrequent, and delayed? That Cleveland’s municipal bus system is underfunded and de-prioritized, that traffic fatalities are depressingly concentrated in low-income neighborhoods of each of these communities? What problems are we actually trying to solve, here, and what problems are only going to be exacerbated by building a gajillion dollar pneumatic tube? Whose rapid speed and movement (let alone safety) are we prioritizing, and whose are stuck waiting for some curb cuts and crosswalks?

OK. That’s all I can muster. Off to a gathering of our friends from TREC at PSU! Stay tuned.

— Aaron Brown, @ambrown on Twitter.

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Portland releases final report on e-scooters, plans to bring them back in spring

(From the report)

The Portland Bureau of Transportation says last summer’s Shared Electric Scooter Pilot Program was such a success they plan to bring them back for a one-year pilot program this spring.

Here’s the announcement (emphases mine):

The Portland Bureau of Transportation today released the 2018 E-Scooter Findings Report. Drawing on scooter use data, public opinion polling, staff observations and other sources, the report evaluates Portland’s first e-scooter pilot conducted from July 23 to Nov. 30, 2018. Based on this evaluation, the bureau also announced a one-year pilot program that will bring e-scooters back to Portland streets this spring.

“I’m glad that PBOT took a proactive approach, requiring e-scooter companies to share their data and to serve East Portland,” said Transportation Commissioner Chloe Eudaly. “While this technology has the potential to reduce congestion and pollution, I remain concerned about the unlawful use of e-scooters on sidewalks and in City parks, and the impact of e-scooters on people with mobility challenges or vision impairment. We will continue to seek public input on how to best serve all Portlanders.”

New data gathered by Multnomah County Health Department for PBOT show e-scooters were subject to risks similar to other ways of getting around. Scooter-related injuries (including injuries from non-motorized scooters) were a small portion of total traffic crash injuries, accounting for about 5 percent of the estimated 3,220 of total traffic crash injury visits to emergency rooms and urgent care centers during the pilot period. Scooters generated 176 visits or less than half the 429 visits for bicycle-related injuries.

“We recognize people are interested in understanding the risk associated with a citywide scooter ride-share program, and this analysis provides an important baseline from which to make that determination,” said Environmental Health Director Jae Douglas, Ph.D. “After reviewing emergency department and urgent care clinic data, we found that e-scooters have risks similar to other parts of the transportation system. We did not find a disproportionate risk that would discourage the city from allowing a scooter ride-share pilot.”

A start date for the second pilot program has not been set. PBOT staff will brief community groups and transportation advisory committees on the findings report and seek input on how the bureau should conduct the second pilot program. A longer one-year pilot program will give PBOT the chance to test new measures to improve the use of e-scooters.

The bureau will also seek input through an on-line open house, which is set to begin in the coming days. The open house will give Portlanders the chance to submit their ideas about how the bureau can address some of the significant challenges related to scooter use, including sidewalk riding, improper parking and securing access to this new technology for all Portlanders. People wishing to be notified of the online open house, should sign up for email updates at the Shared E-Scooter Pilot Program website.

Here are the positive findings of the report:

A majority of Portlanders viewed e-scooters positively.
In a representative citywide poll conducted in December by DHM Research, 62 percent of all Portlanders viewed e-scooters positively at the end of the pilot. Support was even higher among Portlanders under 35 (71 percent), people of color (74 percent), and those with incomes below $30,000 (66 percent).

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Scooter safety risks were similar to other ways of getting around.
According to the Multnomah County Health Department, scooter related injuries increased from less than one per week before the pilot to about 10 per week during the pilot. Weekly emergency room visits peaked in late August and early September before decreasing to near pre-pilot levels by the end of the pilot in November.

Portlanders primarily used e-scooters for transportation.
71 percent of Portlanders reported that they most frequently used e-scooters to get to a destination, while only a third of respondents (28.6 percent) said they most frequently used e-scooters for recreation or exercise.

E-scooters replaced driving and ride-hailing trips.
34 percent of Portland riders and 48 percent of visitors took an e-scooter instead of driving a personal car or using Uber, Lyft, or a taxi.

Having safe scooter infrastructure mattered to riders.
Based on scooter ride data, riders preferred riding on low-traffic streets such as Neighborhood Greenways and on streets with bike lanes. This was also confirmed by rider survey data.

It wasn’t all roses and unicorns. Here are some of the findings that illustrate how, “e-scooter use created conflict with pedestrians and underperformed on some City goals”:

Portlanders reported widespread illegal sidewalk riding and incorrect scooter parking.
With speeds capped at 15 mph, scooters are appropriate for bike lanes or low-volume streets, but they are too fast for use on sidewalks, where they make it unsafe or uncomfortable for people walking or using mobility devices. And while staff observations showed most scooters parked properly in the sidewalk furnishing zone, improperly parked scooters negatively impacted accessibility and created a hazard for people with visual impairments.

E-scooter use in parks impacted other users and presented a significant management challenge for Portland Parks & Recreation staff.
Although bicycles are allowed in Portland parks, including Waterfront Park and the Eastbank Esplanade, motorized vehicles are not. E-scooter use on Portland parks trails violated Portland Parks & Recreation’s rules, but most riders (66 percent) said they weren’t aware of the rules.

E-scooter companies did not consistently comply with the East Portland fleet requirement and the pilot program showed other equity challenges.
Companies did not consistently comply with the East Portland fleet requirement. Companies only enrolled 43 Portlanders in a low-income plan. Along with staff observations, this suggests low company performance in aligning business practices with City equity goals.

They’ve also released this cool interactive map of all the routes taken by scooter users:

PBOT will present findings from the report at tonight’s monthly meeting of the Pedestrian Advisory Committee. The meeting is open to the public. It takes place in the Pettygrove Room in City Hall from 6:00 to 8:30 pm.

You can learn more and download the report here – www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/e-scooter.

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

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Man riding a bicycle dies in collision with truck operator on Highway 30 near Scappoose




*Photo of the scene via Oregon State Police (Left). Scottie Graser at a ride in 2016.

A man riding his bicycle died yesterday after he was involved in a collision with a truck operator on Highway 30 south Scappoose.

Graser’s Instagram profile pic.

Oregon State Police say around 1:30 pm on Saturday, 40-year-old Dustan Thompson was driving a semi-truck (without a trailer attached) southbound on the highway (toward Portland) in the rightmost lane when he collided with 54-year-old Scottie Graser. Graser was riding in the same direction. The official OSP statement says Graser, “entered the eastbound right lane and a collision occurred.”

This language makes it appear as though Graser left the relatively wide shoulder and put himself into thew path of the Thompson’s truck. OSP offered no evidence to support their claim about Graser’s behavior and the investigation is ongoing.

Highway 30 is a very popular bicycling route and it’s known as “Dirty 30” among many in the community due to its debris-filled shoulders.

The crash happened just a few hundred yards north of the turnoff to Rocky Pointe Road (map), a very well-known climb and descent that connects to Skyline Road.



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Thompson, the driver, is from St. Helens. Graser was from Scappoose.

According to friends who knew Graser, he was an enthusiastic and dedicated bicycle rider. He was a veteran of many of the marquee organized bike rides in Washington and Oregon. He had ridden the Seattle-to-Portland Classic, Cycle Oregon, Chilly Hilly, the Bike MS Tour de Farms, and many others.

Graser’s friend Daniel Hoyer shared with us via email that he was a, “Nice guy always with a smile and joke.” “He loved to ride long and hard and preferred open country roads to city riding,” Hoyer continued.

Hoyer is skeptical of the OSP version of what happened. “No way he or any other rider would pull into a traffic lane on 30,” he wrote to us. “This is a terrible tragedy.”

Graser worked as a negotiator for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and he married Peggy Grand in October 2018.

I reached out to Grand via Facebook today. “I have no words,” she replied. “I do know he was the most conscientious rider, he understood how little attention drivers paid to cyclists and was always sure he was extra diligent.”

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

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Get ready for a two month closure of the Esplanade that starts February 1st

Make plans to not use the Esplanade between February 1st and April 1st.
(Photo: Portland Parks)

Earlier today we shared the good news: That PBOT will re-open Better Naito three months early.

Here’s the bad news: They’re doing that because the Portland Parks and Recreation Bureau will close the Eastbank Esplanade for two months starting February 1st.

Click for larger version.

Parks is working in partnership with PBOT, the Bureau of Environmental Services, and the Regional Arts and Culture Council on a major maintenance and repair project on the popular path. The closure will last until April 1st and the affected section will be from the Hawthorne to the Steel Bridge. This is an extremely popular path that PBOT estimates carries about 2,400 daily bicycle trips and 1,200 daily walking trips.

“This long-planned project will improve safety and park amenities, replace invasive vegetation with native species, and restore our public art,” said Parks Commissioner Nick Fish in a statement released today. Among the improvements coming will be: replacement and repair of concrete, degraded surfaces, and various amenities, new and improved lights, and the cleaning of trash and graffiti.



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Two major events already planned — the Worst Day of the Year Ride (February 20th) and the Shamrock Run (March 17th) will be permitted to use the path during closure.

As we shared earlier today (the rollout of this announcement wasn’t as smooth as I’d hoped because I was out of the office on-assignment most of the day), PBOT has stepped up to provide Better Naito to help with the detour. You’ll be able to start biking in the two-way protected path on Naito starting January 28th and it will stay up through the summer festival season.

The project to restore this 1.5-mile section of the Esplanade to its original beauty is brought to you by $500,000 in the City’s 2018-19 adopted budget and $200,000 in ongoing maintenance funding.

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

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PBOT: Better Naito will return three months early this year

Surprise! It’s Better Naito!
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

The Portland Bureau of Transportation has found a way to bring back Better Naito sooner than anyone expected.

The agency announced today that Naito Parkway will be upgraded with a protected lane for bicycling and walking from January 28th through the end of September. The early opening comes as the ever-opportunistic PBOT jumped on a chance to provide a safer and more comfortable detour for an upcoming closure of the Eastbank Esplanade.

In a statement today, PBOT Commissioner Chloe Eudaly said this early opening of Better Naito is, “An important first step in the implementation of projects within the Central City in Motion Plan… Community members have requested quick implementation of the projects within the plan, and we are listening. I look forward to more progress in 2019, 2020 and beyond.”

Portland Parks and Recreation will close the Esplanade between the Hawthorne and Steel bridges for two months beginning February 1st. The project will allow them to perform maintenance and repairs on the popular multi-use path.

PBOT says in working with Parks to come up with viable detour, they decided Better Naito would be the best option.



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PBOT spokesperson Hannah Schafer told us this morning that instead of taking the posts and signage down after the Parks closure, they’ll simply keep it up through summer. This is a nod to Better Naito’s popularity and success in several years of a pilot project first sparked by tactical urbanist group Better Block PDX in 2015.

PBOT is moving forward on a permanent Better Naito as outlined in the recently adopted Central City in Motion Plan (Project #17). Schafer said today that design work has started on the $4 million project that will include a two-way cycletrack and sidewalk along the west side of Waterfront Park. The public outreach process will start this spring (made much better by having Better Naito in place simultaneously!). PBOT still needs to find $1 million to build the CCIM project, but Schafer says they’re confident it will come through.

See our latest post for more information on the Esplanade closure.

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

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Truck driver Paul Thompson wants you to know he’s sorry for role in deadly crash

Paul Thompson.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

In the early morning hours of August 21st, 2017, Paul Thompson was on his usual route picking up recycled cardboard from businesses in Portland’s central eastside industrial district. A truck driver for over three decades, Thompson had a spotless record before that morning.

After a stop to empty the bins at All Service Moving on Southeast Morrison, he drove south on Water Avenue. Then he turned left onto Taylor and his life changed forever.

In that intersection Thompson and his truck collided with 41-year-old Tamar Monhait, who was bicycling north on Water. She died from the impact.

Thompson’s truck just moments after the collision.
(Captured from video taken by Water Avenue Coffee)

In October 2018 I got an email from Thompson. He wanted to talk and share his side of the story. I met him yesterday at the Burgerville on Southeast 122nd near Parkrose High School, just a couple miles from his home in the Wilkes neighborhood of east Portland.

As Thompson shared his story he oscillated between a warm smile (he’s a jovial guy) and a voice that quivered with regret as his face fought away tears during heart-wrenching recollections.

“There are some things I probably did wrong,” he recalled, as he stared out into the grey January rain. Throughout our conversation I could tell he fully accepted his role in what happened.

He said would have never been at that intersection at that time on August 21st if it wasn’t for the total solar eclipse. He started his route early that day with hopes of getting home in time to snap photos of it. A fan of astronomy-related conspiracy theories and an avid listener to Coast to Coast, a popular radio talk show that covers them, Thompson said he was excited to see the eclipse.

But it’s what he didn’t see in the darkness that morning that haunts him to this day.

“I’m looking down the road, just looking for lights or movement. And I’m not seeing anything. I’m not on my phone or anything, just driving,” Thompson said, recounting what happened in the moments before impact. “I think I had my four-way flashers on and I put on my signal,” he added. Then he said he wasn’t sure if the signal stayed on for the turn. The way he tells it, Thompson didn’t make a smooth left turn. He admittedly turned a bit too early, then tried to correct his trajectory — and in that twisting motion he said his blinker might have switched off. Then another thing happened during that left turn. “And this is the weirdest thing,” Thompson recalled, “I get up to the corner of Taylor and Water — and I still thought it was perfectly clear and didn’t see anything — but there was a guy walking over here [on the sidewalk to his left near Bunk Sandwiches]. I wanted to make sure he wasn’t going to walk across the street. So I looked over at him, and I’m turning, and then I turned back and looked out the other window and I said, ‘Holy Fuck!’ here comes the bicyclist.”

In video of the collision captured from a nearby business, it’s clear Thompson’s truck ends up in the wrong lane (over the centerline) on Taylor. He said that happened because of a last-ditch effort to lessen the impact. “When I saw her I turned my wheel as far as I could to see if I could get out of her way. I saw her right in my window and I was trying to get the truck as far away from her as I could.”

It didn’t help. Monhait’s head struck the front of his truck and she died shortly thereafter.



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Thompson remembers getting out of his truck and going to her side as she lay on the street. Then he started talking to her.

“This is gonna be in my head for the rest of my life.”

“I said, ‘Forgive me’. I was rubbing her leg, saying, ‘People are coming. Hang in there. Hang in there. I’m so sorry about this.’ I was tearing up quite a bit.”

In the video, you can see Thompson bolt out of his truck’s cab and run to Monhait — then run away. He did that twice, in what looked like frantic movements brought on by the blur of confusion that surrounds tragedy. Thompson explained to me yesterday that seeing Monhait on the ground instantly took him back to a day in 2009 when his wife died. “Tamar was the same age as my wife when she fell down our stairs and died from a head injury. It sent me visions from that day. So I ran away.”

Some time later, as he sat watching investigators go through the scene, a police officer walked up to him and informed him that Monhait had passed away. “I thought, oh my gosh… It’s just heartbreaking…heartbreaking.”

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Several times in our conversation Thompson expressed regret for not making different decisions that morning. “Why didn’t I hit my air horn?” “Somehow I should have seen her before I made that turn.” “I want to turn back time and go straight.”

Thompson, now 56, was born in Nebraska. His father moved the family to Oregon when he was four. He has two kids, an 18-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter. He started driving garbage trucks in 1980 and used to have a route in the West Hills above Portland. He worked his way up to operations manager at one point, then realized management wasn’t for him and went back to being a driver.

After the crash, his employer (Republic Services) gave him paid time off. His company-provided attorney told him to not read comments about the crash on the Internet. “But I was at home doing nothing,” Thompson shared, “So of course I started reading them.” Thompson read comments from people who sympathized with him in The Oregonian. “On your site though,” he said. “Some people were very angry. Some said they should put me in jail.”

“I do care about people. I really cared about her. I tried to help her. I’m very sorry it happened and wish it didn’t happen. Not just cause of what’s happened to me, but what happened to her was the worst thing… she was too young.”

Thompson didn’t end up in jail. In the end he was charged with one traffic ticket for making a dangerous left turn (his lawyers got the failure to use a turn signal citation dismissed). The Multnomah County District Attorney declined to pursue a criminal case and he was never charged with Careless Driving so the Vulnerable Roadway User law — which would have given him a $12,500 fine, suspended license, and/or community service — wasn’t triggered.

A lawsuit filed by Monhait’s family was settled out of court. Republic allowed Thompson to come back to work a few months later; but not as a driver. He says they fired him unjustly in January 2018. “I think they just wanted to get rid of me,” he said. Getting fired meant he was unable to collect unemployment benefits. Thompson had trouble making ends meet before getting a job at another trash-hauling company, making substantially less per hour than he made at Republic.

Asked if he thinks justice has been served, Thompson said, “Yeah… I think so. I got a ticket. I lost my job. And no other place will hire me because of the incident. I’ve paid a price. I mean, I still feel terrible about it. This is gonna be in my head for the rest of my life. I even prayed to my wife, ‘Can you find her and say God bless her and I’m sorry?’”

Before sitting down with him, I wondered what Thompson’s true motivation was for wanting to talk. In my 14 years doing this site I’ve never had the driver in a fatal collision reach out to me like this. I asked why he contacted me: “I just wanted to say my truth to people,” he explained, “I felt like I needed to share it with somebody and you seemed like the best person to share it with.’

I also asked him what he hoped would come from our meeting. “That I’m not a bad guy that doesn’t care about people,” he said. “I do care about people. I really cared about her. I tried to help her. I’m very sorry it happened and wish it didn’t happen. Not just cause of what’s happened to me, but what happened to her was the worst thing… she was too young.”

Five days after Monhait died, her friends held a vigil at the intersection. Thompson was there. He brought his son with him and they watched from afar. “I said to him, ‘This is where it happened. This is a terrible thing. Look how I hurt all these people. Her friends and all these artists.”

___

Before parting ways Thompson and I talked about how he could help improve road safety by becoming an advocate and speaking out to more people about his experience. He said he’d be willing to do that. Trucks like his claim far too many lives in Portland and we must do more to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again.

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

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The post Truck driver Paul Thompson wants you to know he’s sorry for role in deadly crash appeared first on BikePortland.org.