The rain went from a shower to a downpour on Saturday just as cyclists around the city were converging at over a dozen tragic sites. At N Interstate and Greeley, where Brett Jarolimek was killed by a garbage truck on October 22, and Siobhan Doyle was seriously injured in a second collision a week later, a few riders lit candles and placed them around a memorial to Jarolimek.
Undeterred by the dreary weather, cyclists—and pedestrians—paid their respects and moved on, pushing off toward the west bank of the Hawthorne Bridge for a noon rally.
The November 17 "We Are All Traffic" rally came together organically, following the Jarolimek, Tracey Sparling (killed downtown on October 12), and Doyle crashes—collisions that have galvanized Portland's non-motorized road users in an unprecedented way.
Calling it the emergence of "a civil rights movement for all vulnerable road users," cyclist and author Joe Kurmaskie emceed Saturday's damp rally, where speakers called for more bike infrastructure funding, more education for all road users, and better enforcement of the current laws.
Kurmaskie specifically called out Lt. Mark Kruger of the Portland Police Bureau's Traffic Division, for some of the statements he'd made to the media in the wake of Jarolimek and Sparling's deaths. In the Sparling case, Kruger spoke out about Oregon's bike lane law—which doesn't allow motor vehicles to enter the bike lane—and recommended Oregon follow California's lead, and let cars enter the lane 200 feet before a turn. Sparling was obeying the law and riding in the bike lane, next to the truck, when the truck turned right (the driver has yet to be cited or charged with a crime).
Kurmaskie called for Kruger's transfer to a position where he's not involved with cyclists, an idea that elicited one of the biggest cheers of the day.
Police Chief Rosie Sizer attended the rally. She heard "the message of sharing the road. I think the police bureau as the enforcement arm of the system has a definite role in that, to improve safety for all the modes of travel." She declined to comment on the call for Kruger's transfer.
The "civil rights movement" didn't begin or end with the rally, however. Earlier last week, on Wednesday, November 14, dozens of cyclists testified in front of City Commissioner Sam Adams' ad-hoc bike safety committee, a group he convened following the recent collisions.
Greg Raisman, the Traffic Safety Program Specialist at the Portland Office of Transportation (PDOT), outlined some of the ideas the city is considering. Engineering solutions—like bike boxes to put bicycles in front of cars when both kinds of vehicles are stopped at a red light—are possible for some intersections, like W Burnside and 14th, where Sparling was killed. A bike warning sign activated when a cyclists rolls across a loop embedded in the street could warn drivers to look again before making a turn.
In a meeting on Friday, November 9, Chief Sizer met with Adams—along with other city staffers, bike community reps, and Capt. Vince Jarmer, head of the cops' traffic division—to discuss the police bureau's communication following collisions, and their investigation and enforcement policies. One result of the meeting: Sizer agreed to a "Community Policing Agreement" between cyclists and police. "We're working with PDOT and the [Bicycle Transportation Alliance] to get on the same page, and I don't think we're very far off, to be honest," she says.
And on Tuesday, November 20, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance's (BTA) Government Relations and Public Affairs Director Karl Rohde met with Capt. Jarmer again, armed with six points the BTA "would like to work with the police to address." The BTA reiterated the value of a community policing agreement, asked the police to focus their enforcement on high-risk locations, and requested monthly data on citations and investigations, "for the purpose of tracking safety issues throughout the city."
The BTA also asked for a policy change, so that the police investigate every crash where a vulnerable road user—a cyclist or pedestrian—is injured, and asked for streamlined release of information when investigations are complete. Finally, the BTA wants to "work with the Police to educate officers as the unique vulnerability situations regularly faced by cyclists."
According to Rohde, the meeting went well: "Some of the points are things that are already in motion, others would not require much to do," he says.