A Winchester man wants the city to better maintain storm grates like the busted one that grabbed his bicycle’s front tire last week and sent him over the handlebars and into a busy street.
Michael Hocking, an applied arts teacher at Joseph Lane Middle School in Roseburg, was cycling with his wife, Tami Hocking, on Garden Valley Boulevard on May 14 when he crashed.
A police photograph taken shortly after the accident shows horizontal bars missing from a grate near Cedar Street, leaving openings large enough for a tire to fall through.
Hocking was flipped into the street during busy, 4:30 p.m. weekday traffic. A pickup driver stopped in time to avoid hitting him, Hocking said.
The city fixed the offending grate within a week, but Hocking and bicycle advocates say the incident should be a wake-up call.
They say the city needs to take better care of its storm grates to ensure cyclists can travel safely.
Hocking’s hand, elbows and ribs were injured in the accident. An ambulance took him home, but Hocking said he refused treatment because he has high-deductible health insurance. A week after the accident, he said his ribs still hurt.
“I’m 57 years old and 240 pounds. My body is not meant to fly over the handlebars of my bike on Garden Valley,” Hocking said.
According to the police report, Hocking said immediately after the accident he might sue the city. Hocking said this week he has not decided what to do. He said he contacted the city’s human resources director, John Van Winkle, about being reimbursed if he incurs medical expenses.
Hocking said he has not been to the doctor yet because of the cost and said he is waiting to see whether his ribs heal on their own. If they are cracked, he said he might file a lawsuit.
Van Winkle said he could not comment on the cause of Hocking’s accident because of the possibility of a lawsuit.
“When we’ve got potential claims out there, it’s hard for us to make any kind of statement or give a lot of information,” Van Winkle said.
Roseburg Bicycle and Pedestrian Coalition members Dick Dolgonas and Burt Tate said they have not encountered missing crossbars on grates before but said they have lodged other complaints about the condition of the grates.
“It’s been an issue for a long time,” Dolgonas said.
Most complaints have been about the grates sinking lower than the pavement. That creates a dip which can also cause cyclists to crash, Tate said.
“The idea when you’re biking is to stay steady and straight,” Tate said. He said street grates force cyclists to choose whether to move around them or risk crossing them.
“In a split second at 10 miles an hour, it’s hard to quickly make a decision,” he said.
Oregon Revised Statute 810.150 requires that drains be covered so that “bicycle traffic may pass over the drains safely and without obstruction or interference.”
The Oregon Department of Transportation’s 1995 Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan recommends drains be placed in the curb rather than on the street where bicycles travel.
“The most effective way to avoid drainage-grate problems is to eliminate them entirely,” the plan states.
If grates are on the street surface, the plan calls for perpendicular metal straps to be checked periodically. It also suggests grates be raised when the street is repaved so they do not sink more than a quarter inch below street level.
According to the state of Oregon’s website, the standards outlined in the plan are recommended but not required for city streets.
Public Works Director Nikki Messenger said the city began installing curb inlet storm drains in new construction several years ago. She referred further questions to Van Winkle.
It is unclear what steps the city takes to check on the condition of the city’s storm grates or what might have caused the crossbars to break off the grate involved in Hocking’s accident. The police report states the welds appeared to have failed.
Tate speculated the crossbars might have been broken by the weight of heavy trucks.
Hocking said his main concern is safety for other cyclists.
“The city really needs to be more proactive. Somebody needs to go around and check all these storm grates to make sure they’re bike friendly,” Hocking said.
Tate sees the condition of storm grates as part of a larger problem.
He said he avoids riding on Garden Valley because it has no bike lanes and the cars often speed past at 40 mph.
“When you bike, you should feel good, not like you’ve just survived the gauntlet,” Tate said.
• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.