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Advocates react to tragedy on SW Barbur

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on December 16th, 2010 at 3:28 pm

"They just keep happening. There were two last night... It's hard to keep talking about the same thing over and over again. I feel like I can just cut and paste."
— Stephanie Routh, Willamette Pedestrian Coalition

Biking, walking and neighborhood advocates are frustrated and saddened by the news of a fatal crash that claimed the life of 26-year old Angela Burke on SW Barbur Boulevard last night. For them, the crash isn't just about one allegedly drunk and negligent man driving a car and a woman who lost her life, it's about a street that is known to be very unsafe and that is widely known to be in dire need of safety improvements.

In a phone interview today, Stephanie Routh, executive director of the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition (WPC), called Angela Burke's death a "senseless tragedy" and was clearly frustrated by yet another headline of someone being killed while walking. "They just keep happening. There were two last night [a man was also hit and seriously injured while walking on N. Lombard]... It's hard to keep talking about the same thing over and over again. I feel like I can just cut and paste."

Routh, whose group unveiled a Walking Action Plan just last month, said last night's fatal crash is a sign that everyone needs to do more to improve the safety of our roads for vulnerable users. "We share in a collective responsibility whenever someone dies on our roadways." Routh points out that their action plan ranked safe crossings as the top priority for the metro area.

Rob Sadowsky, executive director Bicycle Transportation Alliance, says his first response was "shock and outrage." He, like Routh, hopes that this "senseless act" will help spur the message that "people need to slow down and drive responsibly." Sadowsky also hopes people will take action and share their concerns with elected officials. He also praised the Portland Police Department for their swift action in bringing charges against the Caleb Pruitt, the man who is accused of DUII and Criminally Negligent Homicide in the crash. "This will be really important to send that message that this type of behavior will not be tolerated."

A man runs to get across SW Barbur Blvd, just south of where last night's fatal crash occurred.
(Photo: Owen Walz/Friends of Barbur)

Don Baack is a citizen activist well-known in Southwest Portland for his work to improve the walking and off-road hiking trail network in the hills adjacent to SW Barbur and Terwilliger boulevards. He says he's spent years pushing the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to make crossing improvements just a few tenths of a mile from where Angela Burke was hit. Baack's group, SW Trails, has recently opened a new trail just south of last night's collision and there's already a TriMet bus stop located there.

"The neighborhood associations have made many recommendations for safety improvements on Barbur and elsewhere... There's a reason why it's a high crash corridor..."
— Marianne Fitzgerald, SW Neighborhoods, Inc.

Baack doesn't mince words when he describes conditions on this stretch of Barbur and he's frustrated that ODOT has not done more to make it safer for people on foot. "I think it's deplorable that we wait around for a fatality to happen before we take action... If we're really going to make it so that people want to ride and walk we've got to accomdate them and ODOT just hasn't gotten that yet."

Last night's crash will add to an already grim year for people being killed while walking on Oregon roads. So far this year, walking fatalities are up over 80 percent over last year.

All the advocates I spoke with for this story say Barbur is already on the radar of city and state staffers as a major problem area. Whether or not this tragedy sparks significant action to improve it remains to be seen.

Marianne Fitzgerald, chair of Southwest Neighborhoods, Inc. Transportation Committee says they've been studying issues along Barbur for a long time. "The neighborhood associations have made many recommendations for safety improvements on Barbur and elsewhere, for pedestrian and bicyclist as well as motor vehicle safety. There's a reason why it's a high crash corridor and we hope to change that through some much needed improvements..."

There is talk of a vigil and event near the location on Monday night. It just so happens that ODOT and PBOT were already planning to share an update on a safety study commissioned after a fatal crash involving a man walking across Barbur back in September. I'll keep you posted if something gets confirmed.

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Comments
  • Spiffy December 16, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    I know that WE think that "people need to slow down and drive responsibly" but all the people driving are thinking that we need to stop walking in the street and get out of their way... the sad state of majority rule...

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  • Owen Walz (Friends of Barbur) December 16, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    In the writeup of the September fatality, the article mentions that the man was "crossing Barbur Boulevard from east to west in a crosswalk against a 'Don’t Walk' signal near Capitol Highway."

    I'm not aware of a cross-walk or a signal at that location. Does anyone have the details on this?

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  • jim December 16, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    is the guy running accross in the crosswalk? i see the sign but don't see a painted crosswalk. is there a painted crossing?

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    • Owen Walz (Friends of Barbur) December 16, 2010 at 4:31 pm

      There is no painted cross-walk. The sign and the cut-through on the median seems to suggest this is a designated pedestrian crossing, but that's the limit of the pedestrian facilities here.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) December 16, 2010 at 4:43 pm

      jim,

      Don Baack talked at length about this crossing during our conversation. He said he's been hitting road blocks with PBOT and ODOT to paint a crossing here or to install a rapid flash beacon (like PBOT did recently near SE Foster/80th). Baack says PBOT won't do crosswalk enforcement actions here because they say without paint it's not officially a crosswalk... however it is 1) near a bus stop, 2) signed 3) has a median.

      he says it's a crossing, but by not officially recognizing it as such we are putting people at risk.

      There's not only the bus stop which Baack says has 35 people a day coming off of it, but SW Trails also has a trail near the bus stop that people take to walk up to Terwilliger.

      This seems like a classic situation of ODOT being constrained by standards (they are loathe to paint a xwalk on an arterial like this) and PBOT not being able to do anything until it's officially a crosswalk... chicken/egg/delay/danger...etc etc. etc...

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      • Jackattak December 16, 2010 at 5:27 pm

        What I find interesting about PBoT's reluctance to stripe a "crosswalk" (or crossing or whatever they wanna "officially" call it) is that they can sleep at night knowing that because they won't throw down some paint, people keep dying (or are at least AT GREATER RISK).

        How do these people get (and maintain) their jobs?!

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        • David December 16, 2010 at 11:39 pm

          Barbur is an ODOT facility; PBOT cannot stripe a crosswalk on ODOT right-of-way.

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        • adam December 17, 2010 at 7:40 am

          wait, who are we knee jerking to blame this one on? I thought portland convened lots of press conferences about how safe our roads are. if I wanted to stripe paint on a road, I would just go do it, you know?

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      • jim December 17, 2010 at 10:47 am

        How can it not be an "official crosswalk" when there is a sign in the air showing a person crossing

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      • Spiffy December 17, 2010 at 11:06 am

        sounds like somebody needs to sneak out there and paint a crosswalk... I'm not advocating pavement graffiti, I'm just saying it needs to get painted... (:

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  • Jackattak December 16, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    Look -

    Kudos to Routh and Sadowsky. They do great things for the Portland area as a whole and I applaud the work they do (I'm a pedestrian and I ride a bike...I don't own a car).

    That being said, they are either disillusioned or quite detached from reality with all this "shock and outrage" and hoping that last night's tragedy will bring anything to light.

    It won't. Motorists just simply don't get it. They will continue to drive fast. They will continue to not yield. They will continue to blame cyclists and pedestrians for "not being visible". They will continue to blame their car. They will continue to do whatever they can to still drive whenever, wherever, and however the heck they choose while holding a latte in one hand, conducting a conversation on their iPhone in the other hand ("but it's on SPEAKER!!"), and trying to navigate through gridlock in a 6,000 lb. steel WMD.

    Don't you get it? We're vulnerable users of the road. They know that. We know that. It's our problem, not theirs. This will never change no matter what you do about it and no matter how much you try to legislate it (see: driving with cell phones debacle and waste of taxpayer money).

    No amount of infrastructure short of tire spikes before active crosswalks or concrete bollards between bike lanes and automobile lanes will keep any of us safe.

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    • Machu Picchu December 16, 2010 at 5:37 pm

      Spikes and bollards are relatively cheap. We can take up a collection.

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      • Jackattak December 17, 2010 at 9:11 am

        I got $5 on it (or more if they actually offered to do it). :)

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        • q`Tzal December 17, 2010 at 12:27 pm

          It would be a horribly unethical of me to operate a cell phone jammer, with antenna power lobes aimmed front and back, so that auto drivers get bumped off their phone calls anywhere near me.
          Of course if I was that unethical I would not have to deal with drivers distracted by one more thing.

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    • adam December 17, 2010 at 7:42 am

      I am not arguing with ya, I just never saw a speed trap on barbur.

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      • Jackattak December 17, 2010 at 9:16 am

        That might help for a while, yes.

        I asked Mayor Adams to set one up at Market and Park Ave Downtown this past Summer as all the suburbanites would fly through there on their ways to work in the morning and I never got any love from the crosswalks, either.

        He did set them up for a couple weeks and everyone slowed down and I even witnessed a couple of motorcycle cops busting motorists (one for not stopping for a ped in a crosswalk, even).

        This lasted about a month after the speed trap. Now it's back to normal and I have to (again) be seriously on my toes when navigating through this awful HWY-26 dump into Downtown. I've tried wearing reflective armbands (I walk) and that doesn't seem to help.

        I don't think speed traps help with much as a long range fix and are merely a band-aid.

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    • El Biciclero December 17, 2010 at 9:32 am

      How about this kind of bollard arrangement for crosswalks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rN0x4EIzmT4&feature=fvst

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      • Jackattak December 17, 2010 at 10:01 am

        Thank you for that vid, El Biciclero! That made my day. I could watch that over and over again and never get the smile off my face!

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  • Freeman December 16, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    The existing North/South freeway accesibility - is there one? I don't drive and wouldn't know - leaves Barbur to all appearances as a highway...limited cross streets help with this mis-informed notion. & with posted speed limits at above 45MPH, drivers are probably as concerned with being rear-ended if and when they are called upon to make emergency braking due to pedestrians or road debris. Lower speed limits thru there & increase enforcement (maybe a speeder cam, similar to the red light kind?)...more late nite DUI checkpoints at 'outbound' city arterials...? Tragedy. Plain and simple...i think this is her facebook page....
    http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001902753866&v=wall

    It doesn't look like she even got a chance at life. Damn.

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  • Red Five December 16, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    Either put in a red light crossing or don't put one in at all. Those crossings with just flashing yellow lights are dangereous when one lane stops and the other doesn't. Then if you're lucky you've made it to the "island" in the middle of the road and go through the routine once more to make it to the other side.

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  • jim December 16, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    Having a crosswalk on a curve like that is incredibly dangerous, cars coming around the corner at speed aren't going to see you untill its too late. The yellow strobes are the best thing, those are real att. getters and people do stop for them

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    • Paul Manson December 17, 2010 at 7:50 am

      There are ways to make it work - see the HAWK light at SE 42nd and Burnside.

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  • agoodfirend4 December 16, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    Angela Burke
    "I got a really good heart, I just can't catch a break on Tuesday" (posting of hers).

    I remember the last time i saw her. it was July 5th about 9am hot and sunny.,as a few friends where helping pack her car to move Portland, 2,439 mi away.
    While strapping the rack to the back of the car. I told her that her tiers need some air, as I admired her bike. Her best friends father hugged his daughter good by.
    we where not sure if it was last good byes or not. the air humid and still smelling of smoke and powder from the night of lights and colors. some how none of us cried. maybe it was the heat or the sun drying them out as quick as they cam out.
    .... i could go on
    Reluctant to part ways she promised to send postcards from all the sights along the way.
    She left behind many fiends from all they way across the country. I thank you

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  • Joe December 16, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    I am sad this has to happen, why I ask? we are ppl

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  • Paul Manson December 17, 2010 at 7:47 am

    ODOT's Transportation Safety Division keeps data on impaired crashes and arrests. Their many publication has not been updated since 2007, but then it showed over 24,000 arrests a year for impaired driving. (They note only 10,000 convictions thought.)
    http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/TS/docs/DUII/2007_DUII_Statistics.pdf
    I would like to see an increase in DUI fines that is then targeted at pedestrian or bicycle safety improvements that hopefully better protect vulnerable users from impaired ones. Similar to the portion of speeding fines that support safe routes to schools.

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  • Jeff Bernards December 17, 2010 at 7:54 am

    The punishment of DUII obviously isn't severe enough, people continue to do it.

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    • Jackattak December 17, 2010 at 9:26 am

      Punishment has nothing to do with it. The punishment for murder is life or prison or the death penalty, yet people in this country commit murder every day.

      Alcoholism and drunken driving are as American as apple pie (yes I realize alcoholics exist outside of our country). There is no stopping either of them through prevention. Anything short of mandatory DUII roadblocks into and out of every artery of the city will never make any difference.

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      • Red Five December 18, 2010 at 7:26 am

        Yeah don't forget the guy high on marijuana that killed those eight italian cyclists.

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    • El Biciclero December 17, 2010 at 9:43 am

      Death penalty for aggravated murder isn't severe enough--people still do it. No matter how severe the punishment, people will either be too impaired to think about it, or they will believe (in most cases, rightly) that they won't get caught.

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    • Spiffy December 17, 2010 at 11:17 am

      and/or getting into a car and driving while drunk is too easy...

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    • q`Tzal December 17, 2010 at 12:34 pm

      There are often news stories about breathalizer interlocks on the ignitions of car.
      Better still are the video cameras that watch the drivers eye movements and can detect ANY type of impairment from drugs to sleepyness.

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  • Anthony December 17, 2010 at 8:02 am

    I heard this guy made bail yesterday? If so that is not sending a very strong message to drunks.

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    • Spiffy December 17, 2010 at 11:20 am

      I'm ok with it as long as they took his license... I doubt he's a flight risk as he probably lives and works nearby and needs to keep up a normal life until they put him on trial...

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) December 17, 2010 at 8:40 am

    Anthony

    I heard this guy made bail yesterday? If so that is not sending a very strong message to drunks.

    yes, he does appear to have made bail and he was released yesterday. see this link for more details

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  • Peter W December 17, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    I'd love to see:
    1) lower speed limits on roads where people bike or walk
    2) Portland Police becoming fully self funded through tickets for speeding and DUII. They could even focus on major roads entering the city, so the department could be largely funded by people living in the suburbs.

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    • Jackattak December 17, 2010 at 2:16 pm

      So...when you running for Mayor or Commissioner? I'll vote for you.

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    • wsbob December 18, 2010 at 11:11 am

      "I'd love to see:
      ....
      2) Portland Police becoming fully self funded through tickets for speeding and DUII. ... " Peter W

      On the heels of a tragic incident, that can sound like a good idea...superficially, but resting police with this type of motivation for reducing road user speeding and DUI is a bad idea for at least a couple reasons;

      Rather than safety, it would prioritize revenue generation as the reason police would have to stop and cite people (turning the city into a speed trap/drunk net).

      The 'funding source' would most likely be far from enough to cover the cost of police salaries and everything else that goes along with employing police officers. Think of how high the cost of the citations would probably have to be increased, to generate the needed funds.

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  • Peter W December 18, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    wsbob
    The 'funding source' would most likely be far from enough to cover the cost of police salaries and everything else that goes along with employing police officers. Think of how high the cost of the citations would probably have to be increased, to generate the needed funds.

    The questions is: how high do citations need to get before people will stop speeding, driving under the influence, or otherwise risking other people's lives for the sake of their own convenience?

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    • wsbob December 18, 2010 at 3:02 pm

      "The questions is: how high do citations need to get before people will stop speeding, driving under the influence, or otherwise risking other people's lives for the sake of their own convenience?"

      Do you think higher citations would accomplish that?

      What's a lot of money to some people, can be almost nothing to others.

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  • Peter W December 18, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    @wsbob - Good point; a fixed dollar fine would not necessarily be a deterrent if the offender has a high enough income.

    Here's a few ideas to respond to that:
    1. The fine could be changed to a percentage of income.
    2. Using community service (or some time-based penalty) in addition to a fixed fine could help: the fine could be more of a deterrent for people with less money, while the time commitment would be a bigger problem for someone who is paid more per hour when they could be working.
    3. Perhaps most importantly, increasing the number of citations given out could increase the perception that illegal behavior will actually result in punishment, which may be more effective at changing behavior than simply increasing fines. (The highest fines in the world wouldn't deter anyone if people knew that no one was ever caught.) Of course, higher fines might help fund staff time needed to process more of them.

    In any case, it sounds like for DUII, there are much more effective solutions: "Automatic license revocation appears to be the single most effective measure to reduce drunk driving." Source.

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  • Jeff Bernards December 18, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    He made bail, did they give him his car back too? It should be confiscated and sold. Drivers License revoked for 10 years. Driving without license, confiscate car and sell again. Cars under $500 crush, Cars over $500 pay for police. DUII drivers are coddled, it's ridiculous.

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  • Todd Edelman December 19, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    Very sorry about about Angela.

    This is not an avoidable accident but a normal result of a road designed for speed.

    Speed? The posting does not mention the speed limit and only two comments do, though a lot mention crossings and in-car technology.

    As I understand it the speed limit on this stretch of road is 45mph? That's about 72kph. In Western and Northern Europe a road like this with residential egress, bus stops and any kind of pedestrian crossing would likely have a 50kph limit, close to 30mph. That's a start, but cyclists would also get a physically-protected path with a narrow green separator, and since there would still be a sidewalk and a narrow pull-over space for vehicles there would probably only be space for one motor vehicle lane in either direction. Crossings with stop lights would still be necessary, but these could ped- and cyclist-triggered if a normal cycle makes no sense.

    That's it. Nothing high tech, fewer emergency services needed, some temporary construction jobs, less vehicle use, more physical activity. In the long and perhaps medium term this saves money.

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