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Fatal crashes highlight problems with SW Barbur Blvd

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on May 16th, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Lance Marcus died Tuesday night
while driving on SW Barbur Blvd.
(Photo: Facebook profile)

45 year-old Lance Marcus died on Tuesday night after driving his car into a power pole on SW Barbur Blvd near Miles Street. The Portland Police report that Marcus was driving "at a high rate of speed" before he hit the pole.

In October of 2011, just a few tenths of a mile north of where Marcus died, 25-year old Nisha Rana was also killed when police say she "failed to negotiate a curve" while driving "at a very high rate of speed."

Back in 2010, just one mile north of those tragedies, 28 year-old Caleb Pruitt was also driving "at a high rate of speed" (according to the police) when he rounded a corner on SW Barbur Blvd near the Town and Country Apartments and collided with 26 year-old Angela Burke. Burke was walking her bicycle at the time and was attempting to cross the street.

Barbur Blvd is notorious in Portland transportation circles. It's one of the City's High Crash Corridors and it has been subject of hopeful planning documents and neighborhood activism for years. However, despite this attention, it remains a classic, high-speed arterial where people continue to drive too fast and people continue to get hurt and killed. A few weeks ago a new "Friends of Barbur" group came together to try and hasten improvements. Here's what they wrote on their website:

Few streets in Portland have received some much planning and attention yet so few improvements. From The Barbur Streetscape Plan, The Barbur Concept Plan. and The Southwest Corridor Plan Barbur has been through several public processes yet it remains one of the most dangerous high crash corridors in Portland and is a barrier for walking and bicycling movement in throughout Southwest Portland.

As the fatality on Tuesday reminds us, Barbur is also a safety hazard for people in cars because its design encourages speed and, as we all know from Traffic Safety 101, speed kills (either the person doing it or unlucky bystanders).

"The time has come for a serious and earnest discussion with the community regarding traffic safety on Barbur Blvd."
— Roger Averbeck, Southwest Neighborhoods Inc Transportation Committee

Roger Averbeck is a veteran of transportation activism in southwest Portland. Through his membership on the Southwest Neighborhoods Inc. Transportation Committee, he volunteers on many advisory committees and goes to so many planning meetings he probably works more for the city than some of their own employees. After hearing about the death of Lance Marcus, Averbeck emailed dozens of PBOT staff and nearly 50 of his personal contacts last night.

"Unfortunately, there was another fatal car crash on Barbur Blvd last evening," Averbeck wrote. "The time has come for a serious and earnest discussion with the community regarding traffic safety on Barbur Blvd, including the consideration of a lane diet, and safety improvements for all modes."

A rendering by Owen Walz of what SW Barbur Blvd could look like where it passes over the SW Vermont St bridge.
- Click to enlarge -

Averbeck also noted the irony that Tuesday's crash happened just one block from an ODOT's SW Barbur Blvd Newbury & Vermont Street Bridge Rehabilitation Project. That's the project that has spurred a renewed push for a road diet on Barbur. Road diets are proven to reduce speeding and collisions and analysis shows a lane reconfiguration would not bring auto traffic to a grinding halt.

If this were a PBOT owned and managed facility, I have little doubt a road diet project would already be underway. But ODOT owns and manages these outer segments of Barbur Blvd, and they have so far been unwilling to take strong steps forward with it. The road diet idea is currently being discussed as part of the SW Corridor Plan; but advocates like Averbeck know planning processes like that work on timelines measured in decades.

"While I appreciate the consideration of future improvements that might occur as result of high capacity transit in in the SW Corridor 15-20 years from now," Averbeck wrote in his email. "this is too long to wait. Critical safety improvements, that were recommendations in the 2011 High Crash Corridor Study, and increased law enforcement are needed now, not in 2028."

Averbeck is calling for a meeting between ODOT, Metro, the City of Portland and southwest Portland community members, to discuss funding and implementation of safety improvements on Barbur. Hopefully this meeting takes place and hopefully it results in action. Stay tuned.

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Comments
  • 9watts May 16, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    ODOT is blind to common sense. Their priority (as recently explained by Jilayne Jordan here recently) is accommodating movement of anticipated future growth in automobile traffic above everything else.

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  • 9watts May 16, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    "they need all four auto lanes in order to handle future traffic demand."
    http://bikeportland.org/2013/01/17/as-pressure-mounts-odot-punts-on-barbur-blvd-road-diet-82002#comment-3647115

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  • Indy May 16, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    This is also almost exactly where a woman was killed driving in 2011:
    http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2011/10/25-year-old_victim_of_fatal_ba.html

    That curve is extremely dangerous for bikes as cars like to turn right at about ~25-35 mph to get down to the John's Landing area.

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  • Sunny May 16, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    As I was driving my high school's driver's ed car down Barbur, the health teacher recalled how three of his high school buddies riding in the front bench seat were decapitated by the metal windshield frame of the convertible they were driving on that section. He runs a driving school now.

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  • Hart Noecker May 16, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Drivers and their love of a "high rate of speed". So adorable.

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    • Chris I May 16, 2013 at 3:59 pm

      Until they hurt someone else.

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    • longgone May 17, 2013 at 9:17 am

      Hart, I realize that the person in this article may mean little to you, as his biggest crime for you was driving, and I think in light of his passing your comment is kind of snarky.
      No one other than himself was harmed, and a death on the road is sad no matter who it is. This man does have family, and I assume someone who loved him.
      Like the "good book" says, " Let he without sin...
      If speeding is a sin, than I have skated death one trillion times on a bicycle, and I bet you have broken a law or two or ten or...
      Lets find a kind way to get ODOT, or the city to calm this roadway, and not look like pious f**cks in the process.

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      • KBel May 17, 2013 at 9:11 pm

        Thank you for that longgone and well said. I did not know him personally but I have a lot of friends that knew him and know his wife.

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        • longgone May 18, 2013 at 8:43 am

          No biggie. Tell them I am sorry for their loss.
          For all we know, he may have had a dozen bikes in the garage, and loved them.
          For all we know, he may have been dodging a rabbit.
          Sorry again to all that knew him.
          Maybe this could be the last fatality on Barbor, finally.

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      • RRRoubaix May 20, 2013 at 11:39 am

        You're missing the point- the "crime" isn't driving, it's driving SO FAST that you can't control your car. Sure people speed- I've sped in that very spot myself. But I wasn't going so insanely fast that I lost control. Irresponsible driving is the crime.

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        • longgone May 21, 2013 at 8:25 am

          Sure,sure,sure...

          Like I said before, there is little known here about facts pertaining to this event.
          The quote from the police statement reproduced here is vague at best. It represents minimal legal conjecture in a broad generalization.
          Unless you were at the scene, saw the investigation, know for a fact that the popo's preformed due diligence in their report,....
          I would say you in fact, missed my point.
          We could argue this ALLLL day.

          Irregardless, I believe it is still kinda crappy to poke insults at the dead, if not for any reason other than respect for their loved ones.

          I did not missing any point here,contrary to your belief.

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  • Dan May 16, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    They are in a hurry. Got to get there, now now now.

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  • Paul Souders May 16, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    I will say this over and over again: I drive or bike Barbur dozens of times a week, at all hours, for the past decade. I have seen Barbur at full capacity between Hamilton and Terwilliger exactly once, about five years ago. (because of an accident at this intersection.)

    You could remove one or even two lanes along the entire stretch with no impact on automotive traffic flow. It’s 2.5mi of rural highway connecting the Swan Mart to Kaady Car wash, exactly parallel to the Interstate.

    I agree that if PBOT ran this road, it would be a street.

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    • Barbara May 17, 2013 at 1:02 pm

      The traffic volume on Barbur (between Miles and Hamilton) is the same as on SW Multnomah, which happily exists with just two lanes. Why do we need 5 for Barbur?

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  • q`Tzal May 16, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    The chief problem is the design scoring metrics used by state DOTs and the FHWA.
    These roads are rated primarily on their throughput - the total number of vehicles that can be moved per lane per hour. The only obvious point where unsafe conditions become a design constraint is when the wrecked vehicles can't be cleared fast enough.

    Faster speed limits mean more throughput for the same piece of asphalt/concrete so naturally they can show better utilization of scant real estate (roads take up valuable space) with no increase in spending.

    I'm sure safety must enter the equation for PBOT; their constituency is very geographically local and thus can easily show up for in person protests. Hence PBOT is responsive to the safety concerns we voice. DOTs responsible for larger geographic areas find it easy to ignore the passionate cries for X, Y or Z because they won't experience it personally. The loudest voice they hear is of commercial freight interests complaining about indirect routes around human scale streets and the continual droning impatience of the motoring public.

    Because of those forces it will be difficult to make ODOT concede that speed is a problem here or anywhere else; too often higher speeds are seen as a GOOD and not Evil.

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  • was carless May 16, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    I've heard that Barbur is listed as an evacuation route in case of a nuclear war and that as a result, it cannot be narrowed. Has anyone heard of that?

    I doubt anything will change on Barbur considering Metro is scoping the SW Corridor Project, and may build a MAX along this route. Although I doubt the existing bridge could hold a train, I would bet that Trimet doesn't want their buses to be more prone to getting caught in congestion. Although I don't know if Trimet has ever voiced opposition to road diets before.

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    • lyle w. May 16, 2013 at 10:24 pm

      Kinda a moot point, in my estimation, if it's true. I have a hard time believing you'd be able to get from the city core to Barbur in the event of a huge catastrophe via car, due to road blockage in the form of broken down cars, damaged/unpassable roads/fallen debris, etc.

      But guess what type of transportation would be ideal and would almost certainly get you there (even if it required a bit of fortitude)? Got bad news for you, rugged right-wing survivalists... it's not a form of transportation you're 'cool' with.

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    • Chris I May 17, 2013 at 10:56 am

      SW Corridor will probably be warmed over BRT, using the existing lane configuration. If they do actual high capacity transit like MAX, a tunnel through this section would be the most cost-effective option, and it would be able to serve OHSU. They probably won't have the money to do it right, though.

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  • Matti May 16, 2013 at 9:58 pm

    Listen to traffic reports: Barbur remains a safety valve to relieve congestion when I-5 is jammed up jelly tight from some accident. We can't have that! Keep moving folks, nothing to look at here, keep moving...

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  • K May 17, 2013 at 8:43 am

    My boyfriend bike commutes on Barbur from downtown Portland to Tigard each day. I'm an incredibly confident cyclist, but knowing he has to do this bikeride every day scares the living cr*p out of me.

    When he gets through the door every evening, I breathe an almost audible sigh of relief, and I'm always ever so slightly on edge, just waiting for that awful phone call to come. It's silly maybe, but that road really scares me. Especially the on-ramp sections to I-5, and obviously, the two bridges where you are forced into 55mph traffic.

    What ODOT fail to understand, is that Barbur is the ONLY option for people biking in this neighborhood. It's not like they can take an amazing, traffic calmed bike boulevard running two blocks parallel to it for ten miles instead. Barbur is IT. And as such, it needs to start accommodating bikes, and not just in a tokenistic, "ticking all the minimum-requirements necessary way".

    I feel like nothing will happen on this street to fix this problem until a cyclist is killed on it. And honestly? I'm scared that cyclist is going to be my boyfriend.

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  • LoveDoctor May 17, 2013 at 9:17 am

    I had an issue with Barbur a few years ago when the Freddie's near Bertha was being remodeled, and wanted to push ODOT into redesigning the turn in for the parking lot. I contacted BTA to try to find a solution and they put me in contact with Roger Averbeck. Unfortunately, beaurocracy won out, but Roger pulled out all the stops, contacting all the right folks and citing ODOT's own rules trying to get something done, even cross-examining the traffic study that resulted from my request and questioning the final analysis. While ODOT can be notoriously stubborn, Roger has gone above and beyond trying to make improvements become reality, going beyond just angry demands, and using solid engineering talent and knowledge of guidelines to try to force change. Kudos to you, good sir!

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  • Joe May 17, 2013 at 10:42 am

    Need flashing sign with SLOW DOWN! road users on road. really
    Barbur is scary if you ask me! along with these country roads ppl cut down and speed around all to not be stuck on the HWY.

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  • SJE May 17, 2013 at 10:44 am

    If drivers want to be able to use the road, they should obey the law.

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  • Joe May 17, 2013 at 10:49 am

    Sometime you will even get a cop speeding past you these days. interesting!

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  • spare_wheel May 17, 2013 at 11:06 am

    Its disgraceful that we allow motorists to drive at 35+ mph on non-limited access roads in PDX. The solution to the problem of Barbur, Powell, Division, 82nd etc is to decrease the speed limit and enforce the limit aggressively with automated cameras.

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    • Opus the Poet May 17, 2013 at 9:55 pm

      "Its disgraceful that we allow motorists to drive at 35+ mph on non-limited access roads in PDX. The solution to the problem of Barbur, Powell, Division, 82nd etc is to decrease the speed limit and enforce the limit aggressively with automated cameras." Make that radar controlled heavy machine guns, and you might be effective in slowing down drivers. It might take two activations of the system to get the message through, but I doubt it will take more than three. ;) Juuust kidding, instead they should confiscate and destroy the vehicle of any driver going more than 20 MPH over the limit on that street.

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  • kww May 17, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    I would like it if Jersey barriers were erected to separate the bike & pedestrian traffic from the autos. I am in favor of this whenever autos exceed 45mph.

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  • Terry D May 20, 2013 at 7:36 am

    I feel lucky I was only almost killed once commuting for five years on this stretch of road. ODOT needs to step to the plate faster on this one and listen to the community for once.

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  • Roger Averbeck May 21, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    To date, I have received one response from an elected official:

    "Thank you for your message. The report I saw said that the vehicle seemed to be traveling at 90 mph when it crashed. Unlike other fatalities where street structure has clearly been at fault, I don’t think we can base requests for urgency on this incident if that is true.

    Amanda Fritz
    Commissioner, City of Portland"

    I too am saddened by the loss of life in this crash, and my heart goes out to Mr. Marcus's family and friends.

    I rode by the crash scene at 12:30 am while the crash investigation was ongoing. I visited the crash scene the next day. From the pavement markings painted by the crash investigation team, it appears that the vehicle was northbound. The car left the roadway on the curve and travelled approximately 60 feet on a sidewalk, narrowly missing a Tri Met bus shelter, before taking out a utility pole, then travelling across the northern intersection of SW Miles Place, striking a tree and going down an embankment.

    I disagree with Commissioner Fritz. Roadway designs do encourage speeding. If the lane diet (1 vehicle lane northbound) was implemented, I believe that drivers would feel less comfortable with excessive speeding on this stretch of road through my community.

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    • Shawn Marcus Moak May 29, 2013 at 7:08 pm

      Roger - I am Lance's cousin. I have a couple of questions if you would please email me. shawnmoak@yahoo.com
      Thanks
      Shawn

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