(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”