Jake Gill is a 28-year-old shoeshine man at Nordstrom and the single father of a 7-year-old boy. He has more than a dozen tattoos, including black-and-white representations of locomotives on each of his shins. He gets around town on a Specialized road bike.
Asked whether he wears a helmet, Gill says, "What helmet? I'm a professional bike rider." Professional, he means, as in riding to work every day from his home on Southeast Belmont Street.
Of course, professional bike riders can't control the actions of people driving cars and buses. Last year, joyriding teens sideswiped a pedaling Gill, knocking him into a parked car. He sprained both of his wrists and got a gash in his head that required 12 staples.
But Gill might reconsider his helmetless ways after a recent encounter with a TriMet bus driver, which resulted in one of the 93 bus complaints filed by local cyclists so far this year with the transit agency. While that works out to about one complaint every three days, the total number to date is actually down from the most recent two years (see chart).
Gill's problems began in downtown Portland a little before 8:45 am on Wednesday, Sept. 6. Riding west on Southwest Main Street, he became alarmed when he noticed a bus approaching quickly from behind. He says he made a push-back motion with his left hand, signaling the driver to get off his tail. Gill swears he didn't make any other gestures.
The bus, he says, did not slow down. It sped up, and the driver motioned for him to get out of the way. So Gill pulled slightly to the side of Southwest Main Street near 4th Avenue, hopped off his bike and dialed 911. While on hold, he says, he realized the driver had also stopped and was coming down the bus steps to confront him.
Gill says the driver yelled, "Motherfucker, you better get the fuck out of my way." Gill, standing in front of the bus, didn't move.
He says the driver, whom he identified as a heavyset African-American man, climbed back into his seat and drove forward, straight into him. The bike rack pushed into Gill's torso, he stepped back and the bus surged into him again, he says. He says he then hurried to get out of the way, hanging up on the 911 operator.
A nearby police officer called TriMet for Gill, who was uninjured. The officer had to leave for another court appointment, and Gill ended up waiting on the sidewalk for 45 minutes until a TriMet representative showed up and gave him the number for the complaint line.
Gill called from the sidewalk. And when he got home later that day, he also rang up lawyer Mark Ginsberg, who often works with aggrieved cyclists.
Now Gill wonders why no passenger intervened on his side.
"I was just shocked," he says. "I just felt like everyone was looking the other direction. To have a city bus do that, it's pretty extreme."
TriMet officials say the incident is under investigation but won't release the name of the driver or the number of his bus. Spokeswoman Mary Fetsch says it's a definite violation of agency rules for a driver to get out of the bus. She says most of the cyclist complaints tend to be things like the "bus tried to intimidate me."
Bicycle Transportation Alliance director Evan Manvel says his organization gets roughly a dozen calls about hell-bent bus drivers each year. Manvel says that's probably only a fraction of the actual number of bike-bus confrontations, which he attributes to "a few bad apples"—some of whom, he guesses, get frustrated and takes their stress out on cyclists.
Cyclist complaints received by TriMet about buses so far this year, compared with the same point in 2005 and 2004.