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Demonstration attracts attention to dangerous intersection

Posted by on November 11th, 2009 at 11:05 am

Concerned citizens and traffic safety advocates held signs on SE Foster last night at a notorious crossing just east of 80th.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Last night on SE Foster Road near 80th about 35 people, including Portland Mayor Sam Adams, gathered with homemade signs to draw attention to a notoriously dangerous crossing.

Traffic Safety action on SE Foster-5
Mayor Adams (L) and Ray Thomas (R) speak
with Yvonne Smith, a woman who lost
her legs when she was struck by
someone driving a car in St. Johns
two years ago.

The demonstration was organized by the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition, a non-profit group who has been sparked into action by a recent spate of collisions throughout the Portland metro area. One of those collisions resulted in the death of Lindsay Leonard and a critical injury to her friend Jessica Finlay. Finlay and Leonard were trying to cross Foster at the mid-block crosswalk adjacent to Fred Meyer, at the same spot were people gathered last night.

Traffic Safety action on SE Foster-6
Lawyer Ray Thomas.

Portland-based lawyer Ray Thomas was there, holding a sign he’d like to see erected at places where people lose their lives while walking in traffic. The sign (which he got from New York City’s StreetMemorials.org) is black with white lettering and has two large white hand-prints. It’s similar in feeling to Ghost Bikes. “We’ve got to build some consciousness here,” he said, “and I think the bikes, the [roller] bladers, the walkers have to come together. We’re all in this together.”

63-year old Lynette Hutchinson stood holding a sign as cars zoomed past. Hutchinson rides a bike regularly and often walks on and around Foster. She’s lived in the neighborhood for 37 years and showed up last night because she’s concerned. When asked if the City is doing enough to make intersections like this safer she said, “The City might not be doing enough, but they definitely have not ignored it.”

“The City might not be doing enough, but they definitely have not ignored it.”
— Lynette Hutchinson, nearby resident

Yesterday, Mayor Adams issued a statement about his commitment to traffic safety and has focused his efforts so far on improving visibility of this particular crossing. Adams knows this crossing well since he was Commissioner of Transportation when the median island was installed back in 2005. Since the fatal collision on November 1st, Adams has had crews install brighter bulbs in the lights and trim back trees planted on the median.

Other, more aggressive measures to make the crossing safer have not been identified. Adams and PBOT engineers are waiting for more information from the Police about what exactly happened in the case of Leonard and Finley (which my hunch tells me might surprise some people) before they take further action.

Traffic Safety action on SE Foster-7

Regardless of the outcome of the investigation into this recent fatality, there’s no shortage of public outcry that this crossing is unacceptably dangerous.

As demonstrators held signs last night, a bus operator stopped, opened his doors, and said, “You people need to petition the City to install a crossing signal right here.” We talked to to two women who work at a center for people with developmental disabilities just a few blocks from the crossing. They said trying to get their clients to Fred Meyer is a “nightmare” and that it “enrages” them when “people won’t stop even when they see an obviously blind person trying to cross the street.”

Many people have wondered if a signal would work at this location, similar to the one installed at 41st and Burnside in 2006. Known as a “HAWK” signal, the light can be activated by people walking or riding through the intersection and it gives a solid red light that cross traffic must stop for (as opposed to simply a flashing yellow). When asked whether such a signal is in the future for this location on Foster, Adams said he’s asked PBOT to look into it, but he can’t guarantee it will happen.

New signal at 41st and Burnside
The HAWK signal on Burnside.

The reason there aren’t more HAWK signals is primarily because they cost $150,000 a piece. Another issue with signals that give pause to traffic engineers, is how they might impact traffic circulation through a corridor.

Reducing motor vehicle speeds is another issue the City is grappling with. Unfortunately, speed is controlled at the State of Oregon level, and PBOT must go through a long, bureaucratic process to even have a change in speed considered. Adams’ disdain for this process is well known and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the City try to change the system during the 2011 legislative session.

Last night Adams admitted that the City’s efforts to make streets safer are not keeping up with the amount of non-motorized traffic we have. Citing his familiar talking point of having “a $400 million safety and maintenance backlog” he added that Portland has “an antiquated system and an unnecessarily unsafe system.”

When asked what Portlanders are supposed to do until the City catches up, he said, “People, particuarly pedestrians, need to be careful.” Adams also urged people to tell the City where the problems are. “On a street like this that has a long history of things being out of whack, help be our eyes and ears. When people see something dangerous, let us know by calling 823-SAFE.”

I reminded Adams that that response puts all the responsibility for safety into the hands of people outside of cars. What about the responsibility of people driving motor vehicles I asked. Adams answered:

“The city’s travel corridors are for pedestrians, bikes, and cars and it is the onus of car drivers to make sure that bikes and pedestrians are safe… and especially this time of year. We always go through this horrific change of season where people are still driving like it’s light out — and it’s not. More care needs to be taken as it gets darker and wetter… and that goes for modes, but the car drivers can do the most damage. They have the biggest vehicles so they need to be the most watchful.”

Browse more photos of the event in the Gallery. You can read more coverage of last night’s safety awareness action on The Hard Drive blog and on the Mercury’s blog.

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  • Mark November 11, 2009 at 11:26 am

    The mayor might have said, simply, “Cars must slow down, regardless of posted speeds, when they approach intersections where people walk. Drivers bear the responsibility for operating safely and not endangering other users.”
    We don’t need talk about modes and the like. Drivers, me included, need to be reminded that we operate 2-ton metal machines that do great damage to people when accidents occur, regardless of fault. As a someone who walks, rides and drives, I’d also like to remind fellow bike users that lights and reflective clothing are a great benefit to fellow riders and other users who really do want to see you and avoid hitting you.

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  • rekon November 11, 2009 at 11:30 am

    This is the problem, right here, “Another issue with signals that give pause to traffic engineers, is how they might impact traffic circulation through a corridor.”

    Traffic circulation is regarded as being more important than public safety and human lives.

    Change that paradigm and you’ve gone a long way towards solving the problem.

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  • Kris November 11, 2009 at 11:35 am

    The bus operator is right. Either install a signaled crossing or remove the crossing altogether. Crossings like these too often force peds/cyclists to play a sinister game of chicken. Not acceptable for the bike/ped friendly city we aspire to be. If Portland and Metro are serious about developing an active transportation network that gets more people to walk and bike, they need to start addressing the issue of unsignaled mid-block crossings right now, not 20 years into the Bicycle Master Plan.

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  • Dave November 11, 2009 at 11:51 am

    Regarding that last quote from Mayor Adams: did you then ask him “and what are you and the city of Portland going to do to encourage drivers of automobiles to drive safely and respectfully, other than state that it should be so?”

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  • Mark November 11, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    Keep traffic engineers out of the discussion until the policy and requirements are set by the users, with preference for the “vulnerable” users. After that, the engineers can do the implementation. Otherwise, we get just what was described in the article and commented upon by rekon in #2.

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  • chad November 11, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    Johnathan, do you know why do the HAWK signals cost so much more? As far as understood from what you wrote above it looks like it differs from the flashing yellow crossings in that it has a red light and gives traffic engineers a little more to think about.

    As you said yesterday, the flashing yellows are a joke. If you really think about it they almost imply to passing motorists that stopping is “optional”. It begs the question as to if anyone knows if these yellow crossing lights actually make it MORE dangerous.

    If there’s a person who wants to cross the street there should be no reason that crossing lights should be anything other than red which is a nearly universally known color that means STOP. If this holds up traffic for five seconds so be it…that traffic should have stopped and waited in the first place.

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  • MeghanH November 11, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    I attended this event and was shocked how many times — even with a couple dozen sign-holding people up and down the sidewalk — that cars didn’t stop for people who were crossing. I lost count of the number of people I saw on their cellphones while driving while standing there.

    It’s a dangerous crossing, and will continue to be so until the City installs a light or signal and ODOT drops the speed limit on Foster.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor-in-Chief) November 11, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    MeghanH,

    I agree with you about the shock last night.

    Others,

    I think what’s missing from this conversation so far is that this problem (dangerous crossings on high-speed arterials) will likely never be solved with physical infrastructure alone.

    This is a cultural problem. We need a massive re-boot on how we think about traffic. That’s one reason why i think people-first language (not using mode choice as labels like “Bicyclist” “pedestrian” “motorist”, etc..) is important.

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  • Val November 11, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    For further action at this and other locations that might be dangerous, you will find many ideas here: http://www.roadwitch.org.uk/ I particularly like the use of rope as DIY speed bump. Keep fighting the good fight!

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  • John Kangas November 11, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    I’ve seen indications in Vancouver that the “warning” type pedestrian signals give the wrong message. It’s clear that drivers are not required to stop when these are flashing; they’re only an awareness tool. Vancouver has several of these.

    Drivers realize they don’t have to stop. Kids see the “Walk” signal and do like they’re told – walk. Blind pedestrians do the same. People who walk slowly for one reason or another are often stranded in the middle of moving lanes of traffic when drivers lose patience and drive through.

    And over the last couple of years I’ve seen more and more drivers stop-and-go for the two half-signals (real red-yellow-green signals) we have on Main St. The message that’s getting through with our other no-stop-required signals is that it’s just a pedestrian crossing. I don’t have to stop. Not even with the red light!

    One of the best places to see a maximum effort no-stop-required signal is Fort Vancouver Way by Clark College. They’ve been upgraded over the years to include pavement markings, pavement flashers, a large pedestrian island with a median, advanced “stop” lines, and overhead signal bars with illuminated “pedestrian” signs. After the city settled with a pedestrian who was hit while crossing, obeying the “walk” signal, a voicebox was added that announces, “cross street with caution. Vehicles may not stop”. Then a foreign exchange student (not a native english speaker) was hit, and successfully sued the city. These two crossings have cost the city millions of dollars, because red-yellow-green signals were too expensive and/or controversial.

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  • Dave S November 11, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    At some point we have to stop relying on engineering to solve every traffic safety problem. We cannot put a signal or bridge at every corner just because motorists continue to break the laws. We need to use the other Es: enforcement, education and encouragement.

    Yes we need roads engineered around pedestrians first, then cyclists, then transit, then SOVs. But we also need to start expecting people to obey the laws.

    We need to have more enforcement dedicated to traffic safety and increased fines to make it hurt more when people break the laws. We need to educate every person as a pedestrian and a bicyclist before we educate them to be motorists. And we need more funding for encouragement campaigns.

    How about starting with a certain area like this one and make it a zero tolerance zone for traffic violations. Enforce the heck out of it 24/7 and then expand the area until the entire City is the vast majority of motorists, pedestrians and cyclists obey the majority of laws. Fund it with higher wheel taxes (like the taxes on cigarettes) and steep fines for moving violations.

    Unfortunately, driving a car is kind of like hockey, the majority of fans really don’t want to stop all the violence.

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  • chad November 11, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    Where does the re-boot come from and how does it reach people who just don’t care?

    We care, we come here everyday to try and make things better for all road users through thoughful discussions and ideas that we share hoping that somehow it will impart some change somewhere. But at the end of the day we are but a minority, the bulk of road users out there see the streets and roads only as ways to get back and forth from point A and B, nothing more, nothing less.

    It is culture, it is car-first culture, and I couldn’t agree more that it needs to change.

    (and I seriously though twice about using the term motorist) :)

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  • Kristin November 11, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    Why the HAWK signals??? Why not just normal ones? I’ve seen many cars just drive right through that red light (and almost into me) on my commute home, because it’s the only one of its kind.

    Another intersection worth looking into is on Powell around Hopworks on 28th. I’ve had cars going 45mph+ come within a foot me, and I’ve seen it happen to others too many times to count.

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  • Oh Word? November 11, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    The posted speed limit is not the final word. The speed limit is as fast as conditions allow. If the posted limit is 55 and you’re doing 55 in snow or on ice, you can get a speeding ticket. Maybe they can use that “loophole” here until the limit is changed.

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  • Dave November 11, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    The problem with Powell, is that it’s a state highway, so Portland can’t do anything without going through ODOT, as far as I know.

    I agree with Jonathan that this needs, and maybe would even be better solved by people simply following the laws that are in place, or even more simply, just using the roads in ways that are considerate of other road users. The problem is, if the police aren’t going to enforce them, and people aren’t going to follow them without enforcement, how do we achieve that? Do we start becoming vigilantes? We can petition and lobby for more enforcement, but is that likely to work? How do we go about getting people to *want* to drive more considerately, to drive less, to walk and bike more often, to think about anything past their own noses? It’s not an easy problem, for sure.

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  • Jackattak November 11, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    # 2 and # 4 right on! I’m right there with you both.

    1) Quite frankly, screw your automobile traffic circulation. My walking/cycling gets precedence over your car, no matter what, no matter where. Automobiles are all ready the most efficient means of local travel we have on our planet today (in terms of speed). If you can’t wait 7 seconds for a human being (i.e. of FLESH & BONE) to cross the street in your busy schedule, you need better time management skills.

    2) The question needs to be asked of the city regarding enforcement and education. This seems like a no-brainer. I have zero idea WTF is so hard about public service announcements.

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  • Jackattak November 11, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    I disagree with not using labels such as “motorist”, “pedestrian”, or “cyclist” on this issue.

    The issue IS the automobile traffic. Thus, I will continue to single the people out.

    Putting any such liability on the pedestrian weakens the issue at hand, which is inattentive, discourteous, and/or uncaring DRIVERS.

    Change the “car first culture” and you solve the problem.

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  • t27 November 11, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    Jackattak said-

    “If you can’t wait 7 seconds for a human being (i.e. of FLESH & BONE) to cross the street in your busy schedule, you need better time management skills.”

    I love this, it realy puts the issue into perspective, where a few seconds is more important than human lives and good manners.

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  • Steve B. November 11, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Oregon is one of the only places I’ve been in this entire country where a good percentage of drivers respect pedestrian right of way(or for that matter, even know about it).

    To those folks who’ve lived here for many years, how is this so? It seems our state’s culture already has had great movement towards pedestrian-first respect. How did we get here, and how do we take it to the next level?

    My anecdotal belief is that Education and Enforcement are the key issues here. Infrastructure is nice, but when every corner is a crosswalk, we’ll need a much wider net. If my belief is correct, it’s also my experience that these two are sorely lacking in present day Portland.

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  • El Biciclero November 11, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    “…the bulk of road users out there see the streets and roads only as ways to get back and forth from point A and B, nothing more, nothing less.” –chad

    Well, isn’t that what they are for? The problem is that too many people see roads only as ways to get cars from A to B, not peds, not bikes. We have made too many accommodations for motorized vehicles that now will be very hard to take away. If I had a nickel for every blog comment I’ve seen lately that complains about “Sam Adams and the cyclists” wanting to take away my “right to drive”… This is what people have come to believe–that there is some “right” to drive. Not just a right to drive, in fact, but a right to drive as fast as possible. People have come to that faulty conclusion because engineering, laws, law enforcement, juries, etc. all place driving, drivers, and motor vehicles on an untouchable pedestal. Why? Because engineers, cops, judges, and lawmakers are all drivers that don’t want anything to slow them down.

    One of the only ways a driver can be vilified these days is if it can be proven that they were driving drunk. Speeding, failure to yield, rolling “stops”, unsignaled lane changes and turns–not enforced. It seems as though only if you cause an accident, and then only if you were drunk at the time, will you face any serious consequences for your dangerous driving.

    Part of the “re-boot” needs to be the establishment of more “shameful” driving behaviors. Comments like “I can’t believe he thought he could text and drive!” need to be overheard more often. Maybe a guilty-until-proven-less-so principle should be applied to any driver who runs into anything/anyone. Maybe a “…resulting in damage or injury” enhancement should be added to all traffic infractions/misdemeanors. Committing an offense that “results in damage or injury” should have a hefty surcharge added to the usual fine. Run a stop sign? $242.00. Run a stop sign and hit somebody? $1242.00. Do it twice? $2242.00. Three times? Lose your license. With no accountability and no fear of significant consequences, behavior will not change.

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  • Jackattak November 11, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    El Biciclero,

    You would think that the fear of killing or harming a human being would be significant enough a consequence.

    My point being, of course, is that no amount of fines will ever be “enough”. We’ve got to change the cagers’ culture, not the laws.

    The death penalty never put a stop to murder.

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  • Scott E November 11, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    Where’s the “enforcement action?” If PPB can has the resources to set up enforcement actions for cyclists in places like Ladd’s Edition and 20th and Clinton, how come they can’t do the same at a dangerous crossing like this?

    I’ve heard it said by the police they set up these enforcements because they get complaints from businesses/residents in the area: Should we be calling the police to complain instead of this city hotline?

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  • Dave November 11, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    Everybody stick the police bureau phone number in their mobile phones, and call anytime you see someone pulling something illegal in a car, especially if it endangers someone – along with license plate number (if you catch it). If we all started doing that, they might start enforcing more just to stop so many people calling :)

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  • Ross November 11, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    The flashing crosswalks are quite effective. There have been studies that show they dramatically increase the percentage of drivers yielding to pedestrians.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QuqES3Hu2fk

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  • John Lascurettes November 11, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    Another issue with signals that give pause to traffic engineers, is how they might impact traffic circulation through a corridor.

    To borrow one of coppenhagenize’s expressions, that’s putting the bull before the china shop.

    People that are walking are also people circulating through the corridor, as are people riding bikes!

    A two-ton mechanical beast should not automatically take precedence over all forms of moving meat, whether it be walking, riding or driving.

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  • wsbob November 11, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    Just in case some of you are wondering what the devil a HAWK signal is, here’s a video from Tuscon, Arizona that should help to explain:

    A video of a HAWK beacon in operation from the City of Tucson, Arizona, USA

    Today is actually the first time I’ve looked more closely at what this signal is and have started to consider how it differs from the Red-Yellow-Green traffic signals with crosswalk signals that most of us are more familiar with. I have some questions about how it works that the video may not accurately demonstrate, such as ‘How long after the pedestrian activates the signal, does traffic receive the red light, and pedestrian receive the walk light?’.

    Traffic flow is definitely a consideration on a street like Foster. I don’t imagine the HAWK light would be designed to allow it to be activated consecutively without a certain period of time in between to allow motor vehicle traffic to move. If it did, that would be a problem.

    I suppose the the more familiar R-Y-G signals are more expensive than the HAWK signals. If so, that’s unfortunate, because I’m tending to think they get the message across to drivers better than the HAWK does. John Kangas’s comment #10 seems to say drivers out in Vancouver are ignoring them too though. That’s when it’s time to get the enforcement details going; the red light cameras and the photo speed radar van out.

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  • Kim Cottrell November 11, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    I’m a member of the Portland Pedestrian Advisory Committee and I went out to see what the crossing looked like and what the conditions were.

    I too saw the people on their cell phones, the irritated looks of people who were slowed down for a few seconds. I also saw folks who were in support waving and honking “for” us. That was encouraging. In all, a few questions and thoughts came to me.

    First, this is a good time of year to do these demonstrations. It would be good to do one a week between now and the holidays, wake people up, get some publicity. I’m all for showing up again. Keep me on your email lists.

    Second, I don’t think our signs are “pointed” enough. I took a sign that said SHARE. But, in retrospect, I think the signs need to be more direct . . . STOP for PEDESTRIANS . . . IT’s the LAW . . . YOUR NEIGHBOR CROSSES HERE . . . THIS CORNER IS A CROSSWALK . . . A WOMAN WAS KILLED HERE LAST WEEK and so on.

    Third, we need to demonstrate at UNMARKED crossings.

    Fourth, I drove to the demonstration last night so I could get there in time. By the time I left, it was raining heavily and in the dark, I could barely see the other 4 or 5 MARKED pedestrian crossings along Foster between 80th and Powell. I was a little surprised since I know they are there and I wasn’t talking on my cell phone. It gave me pause. We think they are so visible, and they really aren’t. What about an uplight on the sign???

    Finally, I’m with several of the others in that I think the culture of the car needs to be reconsidered.

    Ironically, we were almost ready to leave and a man came over and asked us who we were. He was furious to learn that some of us were not from the neighborhood and we were out there crossing just “because.” He said, “What if something happens to one of you and you didn’t have a real reason for crossing the street.” He admitted that he crosses that intersection with his kids and that they have to wait forever, but he was even more upset that we were slowing down the commute. Hmmmmmm, that’s what we are working against.

    Jonathan, thanks for reporting on this. I don’t understand why I didn’t see it in the Oregonian this morning.

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  • drew November 12, 2009 at 11:36 am

    How about a sting operation by the cops? Nothing makes an impression quite like a ticket. And dozens of tickets could be issued in the first 15 minutes. The plainsclothes puts a foot off the curb, a camera records all the violators, and everybody gets a ticket in the mail. Run the sting all day and night for a week. The city would reap millions and that would turn into the safest area in town to cross the street.
    Our police force could raise huge amounts of money by doing this, so lack of personnel should not be an issue. The man who argued with Kim needs a talking to by a cop. This is a police issue, and I think the cops are asleep at the wheel here. The mayor needs to turf this problem over to the police dept.

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  • Velocentric November 12, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    “Another issue with signals that give pause to traffic engineers, is how they might impact traffic circulation through a corridor. ”
    WTF?
    It’s mandatory to stop for a pedestrian in the crosswalk anyway so how could reinforcing that with a red light impact circulation differently? …Unless the traffic engineers know damned well drivers don’t stop for pedestrians. This statement proves that they do and count on it in their designs. Do you have to be truly evil before becoming a traffic engineer or does it come later?

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  • maps and lessons « Doubts Best Ally November 12, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    [...] was a good reading choice at this point my life, in a week where two girls from my college were hit by a car in Portland, on a street that I myself have biked past many a time, almost every morning in fact [...]

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  • Anonymous November 13, 2009 at 12:44 am

    I am not sure that signals alone will do much either, though before today i would have thought so.

    For awhile I have had a lot of trouble getting across the marked crosswalk on 54th and Powell- people will either ignore me or speed up when I make my intention to walk known. Today however at the lit cross walk on 47th and Powell (or thereabouts) I was driving and almost got rear ended when i stopped for the red light so a pedestrian could cross. meanwhile cars kept blowing the red light on my right while the pedestrian was in the walkway. I can only deduce that this must be common practice as everyone else was driving through it. I may be wrong but a non blinking red light in a roadway means stop right?

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  • Dave November 13, 2009 at 8:03 am

    @Anonymous: that’s what everyone *says*, though from behavior and enforcement, you wouldn’t really know it.

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  • Kt November 13, 2009 at 9:58 am

    Dave 32 and Anon #1: the more of us that stop for peds, the more other drivers will get a clue.

    At least, that’s my optimistic thought. If I get rear-ended when stopped for a ped, then I get rear-ended. Cars can be fixed, sheet-metal replaced. People, not so much.

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  • Anonymous November 13, 2009 at 10:26 am

    or i get to watch the driver pass me on the right hit the pedestrian he cant see.

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  • wsbob November 13, 2009 at 11:52 am

    “Today however at the lit cross walk on 47th and Powell (or thereabouts) I was driving and almost got rear ended when i stopped for the red light so a pedestrian could cross. meanwhile cars kept blowing the red light on my right while the pedestrian was in the walkway.” Anonymous

    Four words: Red Light Photo Cameras. When they blow a red light these cameras take a picture of them in the car showing the license plate number and automatically gives idiots tickets.

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  • Duncan November 13, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    I was the one posting as early as Anon. I sent and email to PBOT, and I think that everyone who has an issue crossing a street legally should contact traffic enforcement.

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  • [...] that incident, activists staged a demonstration at the crosswalk calling on the City of Portland to make it safer for people trying to cross the [...]

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  • margy March 5, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    Hi, My name is Margy and I’m trying to reach familiy of the two victims in this tragedy, lindsay leonard and/or Jessica Finlay. In all the coverage i’ve seen, I have never noticed any pictures of the two victims and we’re doing a follow up story to this today about some changes being implemented at that crosswalk today. if you have any information about how to reach family or get a picture, can you call channel 2 at 503-231-4264? thank you!

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