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Editorial: Activism for safer streets underscores larger transportation debate

Posted by on February 8th, 2013 at 10:20 am

“Demands for new biking, walking, transit, and other system improvements are common, but do you ever see activists clamoring for paving and street maintenance?”

Twice this week citizens of Portland have taken action to raise awareness about unsafe streets.

Benjamin Kerensa emailed us a video (watch it below) he put together of the crosswalk at NE 79th and Glisan. Kerensa witnessed a fatal collision last week involving a woman who was walking across that intersection in the sidewalk when she was hit by someone driving a car. The video, which shows numerous people failing to yield to people crossing the street, was featured on The Oregonian’s Hard Drive blog on Wednesday.

In his description of the video on YouTube, Kerensa pressured City Hall to improve the crosswalk:

“The City Council has been unresponsive in any attempt to address this matter both before the death of Heather Fitzsimmons and today. Also PBOT has been very difficult to work with telling us they do not have funding to improve the crosswalk…

I encourage those concerned about our lacking public infrastructure and traffic safety to please e-mail the Portland City Council and Portland Bureau of Transportation and demand they take action.”

Then today we learned about another bit of citizen activism regarding what someone perceives as an unsafe crossing of a major arterial. The Oregonian’s northeast Portland reporter Larry Bingham pointed us to an online petition by Portlander Christopher Herrick. Herrick works above the intersection of NE Failing and MLK Jr. Blvd., which he says is rife with dangers for those who attempt to cross.

He created this graphic to go along with his petition:

“From my office window I have witnessed dozens of accidents involving these crosswalks,” he wrote on Change.org, “and I’m tired of doing nothing while people are in danger of being hurt or killed, especially when all that’s necessary to stop it is a few lines of paint.”

These are just two examples of something that’s common in Portland: Citizens demanding action from City Hall for safer streets. As we’ve seen in coverage here over the years — and as I pointed out yesterday — our commission form of government where five commissioners (including the mayor) have equal power and one rules over each bureau, spending decisions often become highly politicized. In the transportation bureau, where a large portion of its budget is controlled by Council decisions, this phenomenon is especially strong. As a consequence, transportation spending decisions often reflect the whim of politicians and not always what’s fiscally and strategically prudent.

Demands for new biking, walking, transit, and other system improvements are common, but do you ever see activists clamoring for paving and street maintenance?

PBOT has come under fire from new Mayor Charlie Hales and from the City Auditor for, in their words, not spending enough on paving and maintenance. However, when citizen activists and advocacy groups are constantly beating the drum for system improvements rather than basic upkeep, it’s easy to see how a commissioner of transportation would bend toward the former (not to mention how crack-sealing and asphalt overlays are never on advocates’ project wish lists and rarely lead to ribbon-cuttings or photo-ops).

Put another way, street maintenance has never had an effective or consistent advocacy voice, while things like crossing improvements, sidewalks, new light-rail/streetcar projects, bikeways, and so on, have. Faced with online petitions and YouTube videos showing clear infrastructure needs, what’s a commissioner to do? Should they find money to remedy immediate safety concerns, or should they put that money into the vast abyss of the maintenance backlog where it will barely make dent?

As Mayor Hales looks over the transportation budget and decides where and how deep to swing his ax, that’s a question that will weigh heavily on his mind.

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Comments
  • Mabsf February 8, 2013 at 10:52 am

    Thanks Jonathan for picking this up!

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  • 9watts February 8, 2013 at 11:11 am

    We’re all pedestrians at some point in the day. Good call.

    “Demands for new biking, walking, transit, and other system improvements are common, but do you ever see activists clamoring for paving and street maintenance? “

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  • Anne Hawley February 8, 2013 at 11:13 am

    As long as the kinds of safety represented in these citizen-activist videos primarily concerns the old, the poor, the riders of buses, the walkers-at-night, they’re never going to viscerally engage politicians in City Hall (who tend to be none of those things).

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  • gutterbunny February 8, 2013 at 11:24 am

    Good job pointing out the dangerous intersections. Of course there are many more than these two.

    After watching the video from the original post yesterday, I found myself trying to cross the SE 75th and Powell lighted,but uncontrolled cross walk. It’s a fairly common crossing for me, and it’s one of the few intersections that I normally walk my bike across across. I’ve never paid much attention to cars not letting me cross, but this time I counted 10 cars before one stopped.

    Unfortunately, there isn’t enough lane there to “make my intent to cross” obvious, without putting myself in serious jeopardy. But one would think that a guy walking his bike positioned to cross would be enough. Go figure.

    On a similar note, why shouldn’t the PPD run busts at some of these crossings. SE Powell there is plenty of room to hide and monitor the crossings.

    Perhaps make it so that the funds from tickets from automobiles not yielding to pedestrians goes to improving crossing and pedestrian infrastructure? After all if it’s good for pedestrians its usually good for bicyclists too. If for no other reason in that traffic calmed for pedestrians calms traffic for us too.

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    • dr2chase February 8, 2013 at 5:53 pm

      “No room” is no excuse. It’s obvious that there’s no room, therefore a responsible driver should be looking for more subtle signs of pedestrian intent. Drivers are supposed to slow down as necessary to compensate for poor conditions or poor infrastructure.

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  • Stretchy February 8, 2013 at 11:41 am

    One thing that annoys me and, is dangerous as both a driver and a cyclist across the Hawthorne bridge is the police cars illegally parked at the intersection of SW Madison and SW 2nd. I don’t keep statistics but, I estimate that about 2 days a week there is at least one, and often two police cars parked illegally, right where the lanes narrow and jog to the left.

    In fact, there is one parked illegally in this google street view:
    http://maps.google.com/?ll=45.514741,-122.676636&spn=0.001633,0.004128&t=m&z=19&layer=c&cbll=45.514785,-122.676808&panoid=4Ov5iPb7YO8ni00PaAqgUA&cbp=12,53.75,,0,0

    At rush hour, when there is a heavy load of cars, buses, pedestrians and bicycles trying to get through the intersection this further constricts and impedes traffic.

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  • Dmitriy Zasyatkin February 8, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    Just throwing an idea out there: finance the crosswalk improvement by fining the drivers who speed through them or don’t stop for the pedestrians in the crosswalk by using video cameras.

    Video cameras in public places have a “police-state” feeling, but when used properly, they could help keep motorists in check and fine the obvious offenders, similar to the way that red light cameras work.

    You could lessen the burden on the police by paying regular citizens to review the tapes, and flag certain frames, so that an officer would just have to watch the flagged parts and issue a ticket through a computer system.

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    • ScottB February 11, 2013 at 2:05 pm

      Photo enforcement is approved only by the State Legislature, and at this point is only approved for short-term enforcement of speed (manned) or red-light violations (unmanned). The City of Portland only gets a small percentage of the total fine in a citation. It’s unlikely to be enough to cover the cost of the enforcement. Red-light cameras only just break even.

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  • K'Tesh February 8, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    Watching that video makes me want to attach a brick and a video camera to a stick that I hold out in front of me. You fail to stop, you lose paint.

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    • Hugh Johnson February 9, 2013 at 12:10 pm

      How about taking the high road. Threatening violence and property damage is not the answer either.

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  • BURR February 8, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    Nevertheless, street maintenance is also a safety issue when the condition of the pavement has deteriorated to the point that the pavement condition itself becomes a hazard to cyclists and pedestrians.

    There are numerous locations on major bike routes in Portland where this is a significant issue, starting with places like the section of SW Main between SW 1st and 3rd at the west end of the Hawthorne bridge, and extending to major bike boulevards like NE Going, both of which have pavement conditions that are safety hazards to cyclists.

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  • PorterStout February 8, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    One helpful addition would be flashing lights on poles at each end of the crosswalk, maybe ten feet high, like I’ve seen in Britain. I think they’re button-activated and when they start flashing you’re supposed to stop. I presume there are hefty fines if you’re caught driving through them.

    Admittedly pedestrians can sometimes be difficult to see standing on the curb, especially when there’s a lot of other traffic around and it’s getting dark. Plus sometimes people stand around on a corner with no intention to cross. But flashing lights remove all doubt/excuses. Of course there’s a cost to this, but probably seems cheap when it’s your kid or grandmother trying to get across that intersection.

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    • Atbman February 8, 2013 at 4:03 pm

      Crossings in the UK are of two main types: push-button signal controlled, just like any other traffic lights and Zebra Crossings indicated by Belisha Beacons, named after the Minister of Transport who introduced them in, I think, the 30s. The modern version of the latter have black and white striped poles with a yellow, illuminated globe on top and the pole is made of a translucent material, so that the light from the globe lights up the pole as well (shows up at night only).
      Our Highway Code rule 19 says 19
      Zebra crossings. Give traffic plenty of time to see you and to stop before you start to cross. Vehicles will need more time when the road is slippery. Wait until traffic has stopped from both directions or the road is clear before crossing. Remember that traffic does not have to stop until someone has moved onto the crossing. Keep looking both ways, and listening, in case a driver or rider has not seen you and attempts to overtake a vehicle that has stopped.

      What I found interesting about the video was the nervousness of the pedestrians, with many of them not even beginning to step out, even when there seemed to be decent intervals between vehicles.

      Drivers’ apparent lack of awareness of pedestrians wating to cross does rather contras with my experience and observations of the Zebra Crossing in my own village where drivers usually (stress usually) stop for pedestrians, particularly kids, who haven’t yet set foot on the local crossing. That said, a crossing on a road like that would always be a signalled crossing, in fact I suspect that the highway design regulations would call for one.

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    • ScottB February 11, 2013 at 1:51 pm

      Rapid flash beacons – the currently approved standard – costs $12,000 for each pole.

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  • Terry D February 8, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    That particular intersection is on the half-mile “Greenway Grid” we are advocating for on https://www.facebook.com/COPINGWithBikes?ref=hl

    The Failing greenway would connect the Concord greenway with the I 5 over-pass, then via a new bike/pedestrian light with a center diverter on MLK, continuing east up Alameda ridge. Except for the light, the route would be cheap to build.

    This route is in the 2030 master plan and there is no reason it should not be financed with development charges from all the new apartment buildings being build in the Overlook neighborhood without auto parking. Since the neighborhood does not want more autos parking on the streets anyway, the developers should pay for pedestrian and bicycle improvements to encourage all the new residents not to have cars.

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    • ScottB February 11, 2013 at 2:20 pm

      Crossing MLK at Failing would likely require a signal (expensive) or a full median barrier (like at Going) with potential impacts to commercial development in the area.
      Another problem is there is a signal one block north at Shaver. Now if Shaver was the greenway…

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      • Terry D February 14, 2013 at 11:43 am

        Shaver is the designated 1996 bikeway and works fine for confident riders, but to get the traffic volumes down enough for a quality greenway there would have to be a full traffic diverter at MLK . Since this is the primary local traffic light connector, this would create too much residential auto traffic diversion. That is why a new properly constructed bike/ped crossing with a full center island diverter is needed at Failing. Until then, Shaver it is.

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  • JJJJ February 8, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    It’s impossible for money to be a constraint.

    Impossible.

    A crosswalk sting BRINGS IN money. You can’t be lacking in money if the solution involves a money generating activity!

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    • ScottB February 11, 2013 at 1:54 pm

      You seem oblivious to how little of a citation the City of Portland gets, not to mention that the typical crosswalk enforcement might happen once a month, for an hour, and maybe get 35 citations.

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  • q`Tzal February 8, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    I swear: autonomous cars and jack everyone’s insurance through the roof if they get any infraction at all.

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  • q`Tzal February 8, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    In the mean time ODOT & PBOT should familiarize themselves with the FHWA’s report on lighting at crosswalks Informational Report on Lighting Design for Midblock Crosswalks.

    While it specifically addresses MIDblock crosswalks I’d guess that problem crosswalks are insufficiently illuminated for current traffic.
    Perhaps it was okay in the past with less automotive traffic, lower speeds and fewer pedestrians but now the public travel space is much less homogeneously automotive.
    Planning, engineering and RE-engineering need to take in to account that automobiles must share the road too.

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  • Rol February 8, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    “…but do you ever see activists clamoring for paving and street maintenance?” Nope. Because bad pavement has killed like zero-ish people?

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    • N February 11, 2013 at 3:32 pm

      No? It can be very dicey bicycling over bad pavement. About a week and a half ago I hit a very sharp pothole and nearly lost control of my handlebars. Would that have been fatal? Not likely. But it would definitely not have been a nice way to spend my evening, and there’s always the chance of damaged gear (expensive) or a broken bone (expensive and painful).

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      • dr2chase February 12, 2013 at 11:37 am

        I agree. I know several people (MA, not OR) who’ve been concussed because of bad pavement in the last few years, and none hit by a car (though the cars can keep people off the streets altogether; bad pavement is less scary, presumably it is a risk we mistakenly believe we can control and handle). It is also why I gave up on skinny tires some years ago.

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  • Kevin Wagoner February 8, 2013 at 7:41 pm

    This is great hats off to them! A few lines of paint doesn’t get people to stop. We need stop lights at cross walks. The video is horrifying as it looks like a nasty game of frogger. Automate the enforcement!

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    • ScottB February 11, 2013 at 1:55 pm

      Full signals cost about $250,000 each intersection and Hybrid Beacons cost about $150,000 each intersection.

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  • Chris I February 8, 2013 at 10:10 pm

    NE Glisan is in need of a road diet between 60th and 205. While they’re at it, maybe they can diet NE Halsey between 57th and 205 as well.

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  • Doug K February 8, 2013 at 11:09 pm

    The most effective crosswalk enforcement (in number of drivers impacted) seems to be during nighttime darkness rush hour, evidenced by the high number of tickets (40) given out at SE 54th and Powell on Feb. 9, 2012 from 5:30-7:00 PM. The Pedestrian Advisory Committee has written to PBOT staff asking for some evening rush hour enforcement before Daylight Savings Time begins on March 10. In response, PBOT will do at least one (perhaps two) such actions. They are choosing from a list of targeted locations, including 3 on Powell, one on Sandy (at 85th), and one each on E. and W. Burnside.

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  • steph routh, Oregon Walks February 9, 2013 at 8:58 am

    Thank you for highlighting this, Jonathan.

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  • Hugh Johnson February 9, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    it’s too far east for PDX leaders to care.

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  • are February 9, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    this is an issue that does require attention, and mr. kerensa’s video does show several egregious instances. but the video would benefit greatly by taking out the many instances in which the pedestrian makes no move at all into the street until the coast is completely clear, and also those “gotta run” segments followed by several seconds of empty street. 0:34 to 1:24 is the first of several such. the segment starting at 1:40 illustrates that putting out a hand and stepping into the street does get the job done, though 2:34 is a counter-example, and is the kind of thing the video should emphasize. at 3:34 the two hackers wait and hesitate and backtrack in order to set up a situation that might not otherwise exist, somewhat undermining your credibility. 4:26 is a keeper. as is 4:43, though again, the running does not seem necessary. at this point, the video begins to show that the problem does become worse as the light fails. 5:54 is a keeper as well, though again, the first car does not really count, as the pedestrian had not clearly indicated he intended to cross. in short, the video does not substantiate the claimed seventy violations in one hour, but it would not be difficult to re-enact this in a manner that tells the story more compellingly.

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  • A February 10, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    From the video, one problem seems to be that the No Parking and Trimet signs are blocking view of the pedestrian crossing sign – at least in that one direction. Cars not yielding is a definite problem, though. Many times a car has sped right by me, often with someone talking on their cell. I try to be more visible by wearing a backpack with a ton of reflective tape on it (got it from website dontgethit dot com) and by wearing my white gloves – swinging arms capped with white gloves catches cars attention usually.

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    • Opus the Poet February 11, 2013 at 11:29 am

      There’s paint on the road, and a pedestrian waiting to cross at an intersection. If they’re ignoring that what difference would unblocking the sign make? Drivers are idiots, what would make a difference would be a lower ratio of idiots behind the wheel, or just a wholesale reduction in the number of drivers (to include the subset of “idiot drivers”). With all the noise going on about “gun control” maybe we should start making more noise about “idiot driver control”.

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      • ScottB February 11, 2013 at 1:59 pm

        The stop and stay stopped law is paint-blind. It doesn’t matter if the crosswalk (a legal definition) is marked or not, the law is the same. Likewise, paint on the road does not make a crossing safer.

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  • Opus the Poet February 10, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    I liked the other video linked after the featured video had run, where a mob of men wearing T-shirts with the crossing warning sign picked up the car stopped in the crosswalk and moved it behind the stop bar. A more effective one would have been to merely turn the car over on the driver’s side door and leave it there (or perhaps move it clear of the crosswalk and then place it on the driver’s side door).

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  • Vance Longwell February 11, 2013 at 6:55 am

    That’s an asinine place for a crosswalk. It’s my suspicion that helping pedestrians was the last consideration in placing this crosswalk. It is immediately east of a long section of NE Glisan that has been under attack by the tourists that have moved there recently. Now, NE Glisan has two totally superfluous school zones, add to this Oregon’s ridiculous new law, enacted by the tourists who have just moved here, several dozen new crosswalks, and all the lane-encroaching anti-motorvehicle features so common when the tourists get busy telling Portland residents how they will live their lives to best suit the tourists moving here.

    You put a crosswalk down for no other purpose than to inconvenience motorists, and you’re surprised that it doesn’t work well as a crosswalk? Yeah, nobody ever said tourists were smart. If you were, you’d have stayed in the Californian, and Midwest, suck-holes you came from.

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    • Opus the Poet February 11, 2013 at 11:42 am

      OK that post is so full of logical and linguistic fallacies that I could post a dissertation on it.

      First of all “tourists” are people that come for a few days and then leave. The word you’re looking for is “immigrants” but that has connotations of people from other countries. “New residents” works much better in this case, or “people that didn’t use to live here and who annoy me with their presence” for your emotional state about this subject.

      Second, there is a crosswalk there whether you like it or not, paint or not, That is an intersection without a traffic light and under Oregon law uncontrolled intersections are all crosswalks with or without paint. It wasn’t placed there to inconvenience drivers but because pedestrians had to cross the street somewhere fairly close to where they got on and off the bus, which also stops there.

      Third I think you need some stress relief that will make you relax as a driver, something like getting out of your car and walking or riding a bicycle. You are displaying way too much car-entitlement thinking the entire built environment has to be situated for your convenience and getting you from place to place as fast as possible with no consideration for other people using other modes and barely any consideration for people in other cars.

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    • ScottB February 11, 2013 at 2:01 pm

      Apart from which, Vance, you’ve already been told the crosswalk marking was there before 1996 since it was a former marked school crossing in a 20 mph zone. It was converted to a pedestrian crossing when the school to the north was closed.

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    • Hugh Johnson February 11, 2013 at 6:00 pm

      Vance is BACK!

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