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Fatality spurs action from ODOT on SW Barbur

Posted by on March 16th, 2011 at 11:21 am

Scene of fatal crash on SW Barbur Blvd-4

Signs are currently the only thing
warning people that humans might be present
on this section of Barbur.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Southwest Portland transportation advocates have been pressing the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to improve the dangerous crossing of SW Barbur Blvd near the Rasmussen Apartments for many years. Now, after the death of 26-year old Angela Burke in December, ODOT appears poised to finally make it happen.

ODOT will present their proposals at a SWTrails meeting to be held at the Multnomah Arts Center at 7:00 pm tonight. Here are more details as reported by The Oregonian a few days ago:

“The project involves four beacons, two in each direction, according to ODOT spokeswoman Kimberly Dinwittie. Two of the beacons will be at the crosswalk, and the other two will be some distance before the crosswalk, alerting drivers that someone wants to use the crosswalk… Pedestrians interested in using the crosswalk will push a button to activate the beacons.”

The Oregonian reports that the new flash beacons will cost about $100,000 and will be constructed this summer. The new beacons will be installed at 4900 SW Barbur Blvd, just a few yards north of where Burke was struck and killed by a car operated by Caleb Pruitt three months ago. The image below shows the existing conditions of the crossing (A median island and an overhead sign is all that’s there. The man is running from a TriMet bus stop which is used by many people that live in apartments directly across the street):

Looking north on Barbur at the crossing ODOT plans to address.
(Photo: Friends of Barbur)

Ron Kroop, ODOT District Manager of Operations and Maintenance for this area, told us back in December that crossing improvements at this location were difficult because, “The speed of the vehicles and the curve make it a real challenge.”

ODOT tends to avoid mid-block crossing treatments on their state highways out of concern that they provide a false sense of security for people who use them. They also worry about motor vehicle operators crashing into each other as they try to avoid people crossing the street. Kroop told us that, “A concern is — and this is going to sound bad but I’m going to say it — you’re trading one type of accident [people being hit], for another type of accident [rear-end collisions].”

The day after the Angela Burke tragedy, SWTrails’ Don Baack had this to say about ODOT’s foot-dragging on Barbur improvements. “I think it’s deplorable that we wait around for a fatality to happen before we take action.”

Unfortunately, as we’ve seen time and time again in Portland, it often takes a fatal crash before even relatively inexpensive safety measures are implemented (closing the right turn on N. Greeley, flash beacons on SE Foster, the Broadway/Williams intersection, and bike boxes just to name a few).

Also at the meeting tonight, PBOT will present their latest ideas for potential neighborhood greenway routes and will ask for feedback from citizens.

Learn more about how to advocate for better biking and walking in Southwest Portland at SWTrails.org and learn more about what’s happening to improve conditions in and around Barbur Blvd in this update recently posted on the Active Right of Way blog.

    SWTrails Meeting
    Tonight at 7:00 pm
    Multnomah Arts Center, Room 29 (7688 SW Capitol Hwy)

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  • Todd Boulanger March 16, 2011 at 11:24 am

    Hi Jonathan…your photo text “Signs are currently the only thing
    warning people that humans might be present
    on this section of Barbur.”

    I would suggest you meant to write for clarity: “Signs are currently the only thing
    warning [drivers] that [pedestrians] might be [crossing ahead]
    on this section of Barbur.”

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  • Michelle March 16, 2011 at 11:33 am

    I’d rather get rear-ended than hit while walking, myself.

    Is speeding a problem on SW Barbur? If so, why not address that?

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    • Brian E March 16, 2011 at 11:43 am

      Kroop is right. That does sound bad.

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      • Nick March 16, 2011 at 11:45 am

        It sounds bad because it is bad. Being in a rear-end crash is far preferable to being struck by a vehicle while on foot. Equating the two in order to avoid action is outrageous.

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        • El Biciclero March 16, 2011 at 12:30 pm

          Indeed. I think an equivalent statement here is “you’re trading bodily injury and loss of life for property damage”. That doesn’t sound so bad–except that it was expressed as though this would be a bad trade-off.

          Car-head is so incredibly hard-wired into people’s minds that equating the value and legal rights of non-drivers with those of drivers actually creates cognitive dissonance for most folks.

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          • matt picio March 16, 2011 at 4:19 pm

            That’s because of the metrics involved. You’re trading one dead pedestrian for two dozen rear-enders. If your sole goal is to reduce the number of accidents, you’ve failed – you’ve gone from 1 to 24. One of the things that needs to happen is the agencies need to review the metrics they’re using and the criteria used to judge a project as a success or conditions as “safer”. I think most of us would agree that 24 cases of property damage is far preferable to even one death. (the numbers I’m using in this example are for illustrative purposes)

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    • Jack March 16, 2011 at 11:49 am

      No kidding:
      “The speed of the vehicles and the curve make it a real challenge.”

      I read: “We know exactly what the problem is, but we’re going ignore that and instead spend money on new features that we expect to cause accidents.”

      What I find interesting is how this crosswalk and Burke’s death have been intertwined when there is seemingly no connection between the two.

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  • drew March 16, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    Drivers are expected to keep an adequate distance behind each other. That is part of what you are supposed to know when you get the driving license, and it greatly reduces the chance of a rear end collision.

    Rather than plan for amateur driving, why not address the problem at the source (driver education)?

    In the meanwhile, speed-bumps are the only remedy I can think of, since speed limits tend not to be enforced.

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    • Paul Souders March 16, 2011 at 1:21 pm

      I witnessed a rear-end collision at the crosswalk where the Naito/Ross Isl bridge approach splits from Barbur. Someone stepped into the crosswalk, front car stopped, back car didn’t (in time). It was a pretty tame collision, dented bumpers mostly.

      There are *so many* problems with Barbur, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. How about this: do we reallllllly need a 4-6 lane highway paralleling I-5 for basically the sole benefit of Burlingame residents? (Of which, BTW, I am one…and I probably drive 10x more on Barbur than I ride…)

      How about a nice old fashioned urban arterial instead?

      Deck chairs, Titanic, etc.

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      • C-Dawg March 16, 2011 at 2:58 pm


        I completely agree. I too live in South Burlingame, bike commute & drive all over Barbur. Even as a driver, there’s no reason Barbur couldn’t be 1 center turning lane and 1 lane in both directions. Turn the rest into bike lanes, some really safe bus stop entry/exit areas, slow it down some, and everyone is happy & safe. Ok, most drivers won’t be happy, but there’s nothing you can do to make drivers happy, so I wouldn’t worry too much about their happiness. Just keep ’em safe.

        One HUGE problem: Barbur is (unfortunately) 99-W. So we have to get ODOT to agree, not PBOT. However, I’m willing to throw some $ at any organization that’s working toward that goal.

        Tha C-Dawg

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  • Jeff P March 16, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    More beacons and signs for people to ignore. I know it is impossible to get PEOPLE [not just drivers] to follow simple rules and use common sense but really. Use the crosswalk; stop for the crossing; don’t pass stopped traffic.

    The speed changes on Barbur just before those apartments – 45 to 35 mph. Most ignore not only the 45 limit but the reduction as well. Most ignore the crosswalk too [I have some grat stories about how I’ve stopped traffic for peds at this location]. Most ignore the buses re-entering from the adjacent stop there. Same old story.

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  • q`Tzal March 16, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    I read: “We know exactly what the problem is, but we’re going ignore that and instead spend money on new features that we expect to cause accidents.”

    Good: ODOT is doing something thagt has worked in some areas.
    Discouraging: they are planing for no decrease in speed.

    So I will ask: who has to / how many people have to die before ODOT will consider lowering the speed of state highways in urban areas?

    This area is patently incompatable with the posted speed due to human habitation and terrain.

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  • Jack March 16, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    Is this cynicism or stupidity?

    Either way, you’re logic fails to consider that all M are driven by a P. So, we can factor out the P so all that is left is to determine whether M (the average motor vehicle) provides a net cost or net benefit to society. I’d argue net cost.

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  • Jack March 16, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    Apparently the comment I was responding to got deleted.

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  • Merckxrider March 16, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    SW Barbur has a number of landscaped areas and side streets that would be perfect for classic speed traps.
    Enforce the hell out of speed limits. Make the fines high enough to be a hardship for almost everyone. Keep it up for a couple of years so that Barbur is known as a speed trap and drivers are afraid of it.
    Damn it, drivers need to be made to feel fear of the law–they will then behave better.

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    • q`Tzal March 18, 2011 at 11:27 am

      Also … STOP WARNING PEOPLE on the darn news!
      Law abiding drivers have no worries.
      Scofflaw drivers need to feel the terror cyclists and pedestrians do.

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  • Michweek March 16, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    “Signs are currently the only thing
    warning people that humans might be present
    on this section of Barbur.”- Maus

    Hahahaha! Watch out people there are other people around here!! Gee I wonder why they call these place cities and towns!
    It’s actually really sad we as a community, as people, don’t pay attention to the fact that we are surrounded by others and maybe should respond respectfully to the more vulnerable users of our infrastructure. But I still had to laugh!

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  • Velowocky March 16, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    This has probably already been covered on this blog but in my home state (PA) on sections of road like this they paint big dots at regular intervals and cars are required to maintain a two-dot distance between vehicles. From what I understand it has dramatically reduced accidents on those stretches of roads. Anyone else familiar with these and why aren’t they in use out here?

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  • Nat March 16, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    First let me say I am a cyclist that occasionally rides through this area and am very much in support for safe pedestrian infrastructure.

    However, I don’t understand how this meets the criteria of being a crosswalk. Can anyone point to legislation that defines it as a legal crosswalk?

    It’s my understanding that crosswalks must either be marked on the street or at an intersection, neither is the case here (unless I’m mistaken).

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  • Ian Stude March 16, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    Seems like the safety could be further improved with the use of a hybrid (HAWK) signal, like the one at SE 41st and Burnside. I realize the speeds are higher on Barbur and the curve might necessitate an advanced light for those who need to start slowing before the crossing becomes visible. Nevertheless, I don’t understand ODOT’s resistance to full signals where safety is concerned. The same debate is happening with the 50s Bikeway project where the route crosses Powell Blvd at 54th Ave. If vehicles are not controlled (by signals, etc) then they are far more likely to be hazard. In this case, a deadly hazard…

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  • Opus the Poet March 16, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    OK I can do nothing and a few pedestrians will get killed, or I can spend money that should be going to car projects and increase the risk of cars getting damaged so I can save a few worthless eaters.

    There I fixed it for you. What’s going on inside the DOT guy’s head.

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    • Opus the Poet March 16, 2011 at 5:45 pm

      sorry about that, the html didn’t work. Imagine the first paragraph of that statement in a box in italics if you would.

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      • Opus the Poet March 16, 2011 at 5:47 pm

        And not only did the html not work, but the deliberately broken html intended to illustrate what I was trying to show was borked as well. I was trying to create a quote box from the article there, in case you couldn’t tell.

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  • Kevin Wagoner March 16, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    Why not a stop light? I’ve seen those work.

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  • Kevin Wagoner March 16, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    I think Michelle asks a very good question above about the speed limit. Why not reduce it.

    It seems absurd that we think we have to trade car-people accidents with car-car accidents when we have the option to lower the speed limit and install stop lights. I’m sure there are other options that offer more than lose/lose.

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    • Kt March 17, 2011 at 9:25 am

      Because people don’t pay attention to speed limits.

      Correction: MOST people don’t pay attention to speed limits. They go the speed they feel comfortable going.

      Some of us do, and either choose to go a little faster than the speed limit so as not to be tailgated and road-raged at by other drivers, or choose to go exactly the speed limit regardless of road-raging other drivers and tailgaters.

      ODOT has made a road where people feel safe driving more than 45mph, even when the speed limit is 35mph.

      Reducing the speed limit might not be the answer, or at least not the whole answer– but enforcing the existing speed limit, with a heavy hand (like the West Linn police usually does– more than 2 over and you are busted for speeding)… that’s the answer. Or part of the answer, anyway.

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      • wsbob March 17, 2011 at 12:18 pm

        “…ODOT has made a road where people feel safe driving more than 45mph, even when the speed limit is 35mph. …” Kt

        That’s right. Long, gradual curves, so it’s very easy to travel 65 mph, and for looney tunes like the person that hit Burke, to try for 90mph and higher.

        Point someone above made about the road being under ODOT’s jurisdiction is valid, because such departments are locked into the concept of prioritizing movement of the highest number of vehicles, over interests of safety and area livability.

        Issuing citations for speeds in excess of 2mph over posted speed limits is cutting it awfully close. People having to keep their vehicle that close to the posted speed would be having to devote too much time to watching their speed limit. Of course, if all cars were equipped with ‘posted speed limit cruise control technology (just made that up…thank you very much.), that could be something to think about. 5mph latitude over the posted speed limit should work out o.k.

        People might consider pressuring ODOT to reduce the 45mph to 35mph, and the 35mph to 30mph.

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