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TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Cedar Knoll rides down Northeast Dekum Street, near where he collided with a truck a few weeks ago. Im not unique at all, he says. So many people have been hit; theres so much frustration but little they can do.  Cedar Knoll never thought he’d be the poster child for bike activism in Portland.


The 31-year-old North Portlander was on the job March 31 like any other day, delivering organic soup by bike to SoupCycle customers.

He rides 20 to 25 miles each day twice a week. On this day he was pulling a trailer with about 30 soups on board heading east on Northeast Dekum Street, approaching Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

What happened next helped spark an accidental movement for bike safety that has reverberated through the bike community and City Hall.

As Knoll entered the intersection with a long green light, he says he was startled to see a box truck cruise through the same intersection on MLK going south, blowing the red light.

“I didn’t know if I was going to go under the truck — it was real high up. Or if I was going to hit it,” Knoll recalls. “It was terrifying.”

He hit the brakes but couldn’t stop in time, so he jumped back to move his body out of the way. His bike hit the truck; he did not.

“I’m pretty much fine, but my bike was totaled,” he says.

The next part is the kicker. Witnesses drove after the truck driver, flagged him down and brought him back to the scene.

Knoll called the police non-emergency number, but was told police “don’t send anyone if no one is going to the hospital.” At that point, Knoll says, he saw a police car drive up to the intersection and he flagged down the officer, who spoke with Knoll, the truck driver and two witnesses. But the officer didn’t issue any citations.

Portland Police Sgt. Pete Simpson says bureau policy leaves it to the officer’s discretion when to conduct a traffic crash investigation.

If neither party requires an ambulance and there aren’t other investigative factors, such as it being a hit and run or involving an uninsured driver, officers facilitate an information and insurance exchange. “Due to the volume of non-injury, minor crashes, it would take a lot more police resources and time to investigate all of them and issue citations,” Simpson says.

Angered by the loss of his custom, steel-frame bike worth about $2,000, his near-death experience and the lack of action by police, Knoll then did what any other informed citizen might do.

He issued a citizen’s citation to the driver, which means he’s responsible for appearing in traffic court.

A call to the driver’s company, Stericycle Inc., wasn’t returned by press time.

Cyclists and motorists run into conflict on the road every day — some caused by traffic infractions, poor communication or a lack of understanding of the laws by both parties.

Most don’t make the news at all. This one did for just one reason: Knoll relayed the crash story to his friend and coworker Will Vanlue, a cycling advocate who happened to be feeling that these everyday conflicts needed to rise to the level of public discussion.

So Vanlue launched a petition on Change.org that collected more than 600 signatures in a week.

The petition calls the city’s bike-friendly Platinum status “out of line with reality.”

Three days later, the Portland Bureau of Transportation leaders posted a lengthy response on their website.

Called “Affirming Portland’s Status as a Platinum Bicycling City,” bureau leaders note the remarkable growth in cycling, as well as improvements in engineering and safety that have been made in the past couple of years.

“Portland is a Platinum bicycle-friendly city because our investments in bicycle transportation have been effective,” the memo reads. “... We know our work is not done. We continue to strive to improve our bicycle transportation systems in support of our goals of creating a livable, equitable, healthy and prosperous city.”

Bike use has grown citywide by about 3 percent per year for each of the past three years, PBOT calculates, based on city-organized volunteer counts in the summer at about 200 locations citywide.

City transportation leaders went on to cite a list of more than two dozen engineering and safety projects that have been done in 2013, two underway (Tilikum Crossing and a reconstructed Sellwood Bridge), and 10 more that have been funded and set for the future.

The memo cites a handful of education efforts, including 10 Sunday Parkways events in the past two years; Safe Routes to Schools outreach; and a new program called Welcome Smart Trips that provides information to new residents.

Seventy-eight percent (3,076 people) of those who ordered materials from Smart Trips last year requested bicycling materials.

Enforcement of traffic laws is one of the top concerns by both cyclists and motorists.

Simpson says police enforce laws across the board, including specific bicycle enforcement missions. “Traffic enforcement is one of those funny things in that many people don’t like the idea of cops giving tickets unless they have a personal interest in the outcome, (like) the driver who runs a red light or a bicyclist who runs a stop sign and someone is there to be mad about it,” Simpson says.

Now with warmer weather here and more people on foot and bike, police say it takes a village.

“Everyone needs to pay attention, especially bicyclists and pedestrians,” Simpson says. “Not because they are at fault more but because if there is a collision, they are much more likely to be injured or killed than a driver in a car. Drivers need to pay greater attention and slow down so that they can avoid colliding with pedestrians and bicyclists who are also using the roadway. The majority of all collisions are preventable by people paying attention.”

Mountain bike talks related

The debate about Portland’s bike friendliness and Platinum status is happening alongside a separate but related debate about mountain biking access in the parks.

In past weeks it’s commanded the attention of the cycling community as well as neighborhood activists, conservationists, city officials and national bike advocates — all with their own thoughts on mountain bikers’ access to River View Natural Area and Forest Park.

Can any of the talk lead to forward progress? That all depends.

City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who oversees Portland Parks & Recreation, says she wants to address the issue of mountain bike access, but has to do so systematically.

She’s proposed $350,000 in her requested budget for an Off-Road Cycling Master Plan, to identify “appropriate sites for this recreational, social, and health-focused activity.”

Mountain bike advocates, however, are cynical about the request and haven’t been supportive, saying there’s no reason to believe another process won’t be thwarted by back-door decision making.

Fritz finds that disappointing. “The point isn’t ‘How can we shoehorn mountain biking here or there,’” Fritz told the Tribune recently. “It’s ‘What are the ideal conditions?’ and then figure out the specifics of the trails, the slopes, as a citywide cycling recreation plan, and as that’s figured out, where’s the best places it can work well.”

“Instead of being reactive,” she adds, “let’s start from scratch — what would a good mountain biking system in Portland look like?”

RIVER VIEW ADVISORY COMMITTEE

The public process for management of River View Natural Area is once again underway.

A public advisory committee met earlier this month but isn’t specifically addressing mountain biking.

According to BikePortland editor Jonathan Maus, who attended and documented the meeting, Parks Director Mike Abatte told the group on April 8: “Tonight, we can’t address the change in policy direction that restricts mountain biking use on the site. That’s not the topic of the meeting tonight and we’re not going to talk about that ... What we’re really here for today is moving forward the planning process that protects the natural resources of the site and compatible uses. As such, bicycling will not be considered — yay or nay — as part of this management plan.”

Next up: The public is invited to an open house to discuss River View, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Monday, May 4, at the Multnomah Arts Center, 7688 S.W. Capitol Highway.

Feedback will help inform a draft management plan, which will be reviewed and shaped by the public advisory committee, technical advisory committee, consultants, parks staff, the parks director and the parks commissioner before it’s brought to the City Council by the end of the year for approval.

For more: portlandoregon.gov/parks/62001

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