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A Trail of Tears

NE Commuters Want a Safer Route to Work

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EMPLOYEES AT a NE Columbia music distribution center are demanding safety improvements on the trail they use to walk from the bus stop to their work.

Two years ago, CD Baby Human Resources Director Craig Hennecke bought yearly TriMet bus passes for all the company's 100 employees, in an environmentally friendly effort to discourage them from driving.

"We also encourage our employees to bike to work," he says. "But Columbia Boulevard is a pretty tough commute for a biker, with all the traffic and broken glass in the bike lanes."

As a result, many employees take the bus. The #86 stops right outside the company's warehouses at NE 80th and Columbia, but it has infrequent service. Since many employees work later shifts, they take the #72 bus, which stops a couple blocks away at NE 82nd and Killingsworth—but they have to run the gauntlet of a 200-yard trail along the edge of NE 82nd, to get back and forth from NE Columbia.

"The city that works?" says Alessandra Silver, who works in customer service for the company. "Try the city that has to walk down a trail that's littered with used condoms, dodge scary people, and climb over a train to get to work. It might be more accurate."

A walk up the trail last Friday, March 7, found it paved but uneven, littered with empty beer cans and spirit bottles, soggy pornography, and indeed, at least one used orange condom. There is no lighting on the path, which ends with a climb over railroad tracks, and several workers at the small business say they've had bad experiences on the trail.

"One night there was this group of three or four guys all drinking, and one of them started walking in our direction with a five-inch knife in his hand," says employee Kevin Spafford. "It was pretty scary."

Spafford also saw a man defecating where he stood, with his trousers around his ankles.

"I saw a man with his pants round his knees, masturbating in broad daylight one afternoon last September," says shipping clerk Stephanie LeMieux, who now braves the bike ride up Columbia. "And then and there I decided I was done with the trail, for a while."

Another female employee used to run down the trail screaming, hoping to ward off potential attackers. The trail also serves as a route to work for employees from the Ramada Inn, the Holiday Inn, and the Radisson Hotel, which are all based in the industrial park on NE 80th and Columbia.

CD Baby employee Lindsey Collins has had enough. Collins, who recently had to start riding the bus, wrote an email to TriMet on February 1 entitled "Where to find me dead."

"I'm a 23-year-old 110-pound woman," she wrote. "I have to walk what we here call The Bum Trail, others simply call it a possible Rape Trail."

Collins pleaded with TriMet to increase the frequency of the #86 route so she could avoid the trail, or at least to light the trail better. She heard back via email from TriMet representative Grant Hein on February 7, saying they're not responsible for "problems outside the confines of our vehicles and property."

Hein also advised her to try taking the #86 bus—the one that runs every 30 minutes and stops at 5 pm.

"They just brushed us off," says Ryan Gross, who works with Collins. "It's not so much the city's problem as it is that we're the customers of TriMet, and they don't want to take responsibility for our safety. The city's not the one dropping off its customers on NE Killingsworth."

TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch says the agency is making contact with the city to see about improving the walkway, and looking at trip-by-trip ridership on the #86 to assess ridership potential for more trips.

Meanwhile, after the Mercury contacted the city about the issue on Monday, March 10, Commissioner Sam Adams' public advocate for transportation issues, Cevero Gonzalez, has been looking into it.

Gonzalez has promised Hennecke at CD Baby that he'll talk to his contacts at TriMet about increasing service on the #86 route, and get the bike lane on Columbia Boulevard swept of glass so that it is less treacherous for bike commuters. Unfortunately, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) owns the trail itself, says Gonzalez, and they will have to investigate the matter for themselves.

"That cement area is actually a drainage ditch, not a pathway, which obviously presents a safety issue," says ODOT spokesperson Christine Miles. "This is the first we have heard of the issue and we are going to look into it and see what can be done."

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