Sunken grates endangering cyclists fixed along Barbur Blvd.

Fed up, cyclist paints Portland's street grates

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Sunken drainage grates along Barbur Boulevard were getting fixed Wednesday, after a bicyclist pressured the Oregon Department of Transportation to change them.  

Portland cyclist Jim Parsons took his artistic talents to the streets late last week, painting two street grates along Southwest Barbur Boulevard, near Hamilton Street.  (Original video appears above.)

One grate was bordered by a divot just wide enough to trap a bike tire. The other sinks sharply below street level. Parsons said both have almost knocked him off his bike and into traffic. He also said he's heard from other cyclists who had the same experience.

Parsons has been complaining about the grates to ODOT for eight years. Last Thursday, he had had enough.  He painted both grates yellow, the kind commonly used on roadways. He then used white paint to draw lines, guiding cyclists around the grates. Near one, he even wrote "ODOT knows".

"They've known about this for years, and they've done nothing," he said. "So, I finally got sick and tired of it, went out there with some paint and went ‘Picasso' on it."

Parsons said he was later contacted by officials with ODOT, who were less than pleased.

"We don't want any guerrilla painting in that area," said ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton. "Somebody starts painting in there, we get a bicyclist who swerves, very well could wind up in the traffic lane. That could be a significant safety hazard."

Hamilton said the agency has never had a single report of crashes or near-crashes, caused by the grates.  He said Barbur is one of many Portland streets in line for future repairs, meaning officials are driving, riding and walking it often. 

"It's going to be a matter of time," said Parsons. "It's simply a matter of time. Sooner or later somebody's going to be going through there, they're going to be going too fast, it will be dark, there will be too much traffic, and they'll crash."

On Thursday, ODOT crews took a closer look at grates, to assess the situation, and decided to start making improvements, according to ODOT spokeswoman Kimberly Dinwiddie.

The work began Wednesday and will take around two weeks to complete.

"The unfortunate thing about our current transportation system is that it was built at a time when automobiles ruled the world," Dinwiddie explained. "It's not keeping up with the times and that's regrettable and unfortunate. But that's what we have to live with."

ODOT does make improvements to roadways when necessary. According to Dinwiddie, an upgrade was just made on Highway 43 at Laurel Street after multiple complaints about storm grates in the bike lane. 

"Our crews were able to go out there and address several drainage inlets," she said.

If you're wondering how many complaints it takes to change something, Dinwiddie said it depends on the situation and if there's immediate danger.


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