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Local antiwar activist Brian Willson recovering from collision

Posted by on July 16th, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Willson’s Varna handcycle was damaged in a June 3 crash.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Brian Willson, a widely known veteran of the Vietnam War and the movement to end it, is on the mend after a June 3 crash at the corner of Southeast 51st Avenue and Clinton, not far from his home.

Willson, who we profiled in 2011 when he published an autobiography and set off on an 1100-mile hand-powered book tour, said he was northbound, waiting his turn at the stop sign of that intersection, when a woman driving an SUV heading west on Clinton “turned the corner sharply, but directly into me rather than into the correct southbound lane, going about 15 mph.”

It was a difficult experience for the lawyer and longtime peace activist, who lost his lower legs in 1987 while lying on railroad tracks in protest of U.S. arms shipments to Central America. His insurance and the woman’s are covering the physical damage to his body and handcycle, he wrote, and he’s waiting for the outcome of a pain-and-suffering settlement.

This case is worth highlighting because it’s a reminder that good streets have to anticipate cycles of many different shapes and sizes, and because crashes can occur even on neighborhood-scale streets marked with sharrows, as 51st Avenue is. The woman in the SUV, Willson writes, was less than 200 feet from her own home.

“This was a case where I was on a quiet side street, not in any fast lane or at a dangerous intersection,” Willson writes. “So, it goes to show us that drivers are often inattentive even as they approach their familiar home street where one would not suspect need for extra vigilance. King Car is hard to overcome.”

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  • Craig Beebe July 16, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    Brian lives just a few blocks from me and is (normally) a frequent and welcome site in the neighborhood, riding the quiet streets with his dog. I wish him a speedy recovery and hope he gets all due compensation.

    The intersection at 51st and Clinton, where the Clinton bikeway turns up the hill to Woodward, is surprisingly treacherous. And it’s true that people often stop paying as much attention when close to home (driving or biking)–myself included. It’s a good reminder to stay vigilant all the way to your destination.

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    • Alex Reed July 16, 2013 at 4:19 pm

      I’m sorry to hear about Brian’s injuries!

      I agree with the stop-sign-flipping proposal above; in my experience most fast-driving cars in the area seem to be going between 50th and 52nd.

      The intersection one block away, at SE 50th & Clinton, is the worst part of my 5-mile commute. People driving their cars 40mph downhill from one direction and 35 mph downhill from the other direction. No priority given to bikes. No crosswalk. No infrastructure except an advisory yellow sign. A sad excuse for a neighborhood greenway intersection.

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  • BIKELEPTIC July 16, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    much love and comfort to Brian and his wife during his recovery!

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  • Justin July 16, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    This intersection worries me every day. It’s only a bike route by default, with 50th and 52nd being worse options. It’s an incredibly steep hill going south that causes eastbound cyclists to swing wide while building speed before turning up the hill. Add cars coming from the north who don’t always stop and bikes from the south who don’t always stop and cars from the east who don’t always look. And limited visibility from the hill and mature trees compounded by parked cars. Yes, kind of a mess.

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  • gutterbunnybikes July 16, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    Glad to see it’s all working out in the end and that there were no serious injuries. It is an often ridden intersection for myself as well. And not that we’ve ever met, but I know I’ve seen Mr. Wilson many times while riding.

    I’ve seen alot of near misses there mostly from bikes not stopping at the bottom of the hill. And personally I think the stop signs there should be reversed and the right of way be given to 51st rather than Clinton. Or at the very least a 4 way stop rather than the two way it is now. If that were the case I doubt this collision would have occured.

    Though it shouldn’t be a surprise that it happened so close to the homes of those involved. Statistically you’re more likely to be involved in a collision when within 5 miles of your house. Which makes sense considering trips reguardless of transportation choice usually are usually within that 5 mile mark.

    Also the police typically don’t like cruising neighborhoods for traffic violations because it is almost always a resident of the neighborhood that is getting ticketed. If I remember right something to that efffect was said when they did the Ladds crackdown not too long ago.

    Not that I find it a good excuse not to patrol and enforce the laws in the neighborhoods, but I can see where it’d be hard to give someone a ticket in front of their house.

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    • Spiffy July 16, 2013 at 4:12 pm

      …I can see where it’d be hard to give someone a ticket in front of their house.

      it’s actually quite easy to do… but car culture makes the cop feel guilty for doing it… it’s actually the best place to do it because peer pressure from neighbors will assure that you don’t do it again because you don’t want to be embarrassed… who cares if strangers on the highway see you pulled over…

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  • Albert July 16, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    Is the crosswalk treatment at 50th and Clinton still in the works? The original plans for the Clinton Street Bike Boulevard project had curb extensions there, but nothing has happened since the project was said to be complete.

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  • 9watts July 16, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    Not only is Brian and his hand cycle recovering, but the woman and her SUV also managed to crush his prosthetic leg that now has to also be replaced. This whole incident is just a bit hard to fathom: SUV driver runs over a stopped double amputee handcyclist who is not even in her lane…. Does it get any more out of control than that?

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  • Robert Ping July 16, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    Much luck in your recovery, Brian! I was at many protests at the Concord Naval Weapons Station in 1987 and remember well when the train driver made his fateful decision to not stop that day. All the best.

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  • Susan July 16, 2013 at 11:35 pm

    It seems like people don’t know how to drive and either don’t know how or are just too lazy to make right angle turns. I see this all the time, drivers cutting the corner, and they are often upset that I’m there on my bike in my own lane. When I drive, which is very rarely, I always make the turn into the correct lane. I also wonder if it’s the lack of steering capacity in larger vehicles. I have a hatchback with rack and pinion steering. Regardless, it shouldn’t be so hard to make the effort.

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    • Pete July 18, 2013 at 2:15 pm

      You actually touched on something there Susan – many of the bigger SUVs are built on truck chassis and have higher steering ratios than cars. Years ago I drove a Jeep Cherokee and learned this the hard way (it was the worst vehicle I’ve ever owned for ice and snow; another factor being many SUVs have no weight in the back whereas pickup truck owners typically know to weight their beds in the snow). Turning the steering wheel in an SUV will indeed steer you tighter into a turn than most cars (and cause an oversteer faster in a reactionary response to a slipping situation).

      Get well soon Brian, and let us know if you need anything!

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    • i ride my bike July 21, 2013 at 11:06 pm

      People in SUVs also don’t care, the way SUVs are peddled by the automakers they only appeal to aggressive self centered people who are a slave to their sacred car

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  • Bille July 17, 2013 at 10:01 am

    Benefit show?

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  • Hillson July 17, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    If the woman was only 200 feet from her own home, how did she not know which lane to turn into…

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  • mabsf July 19, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    My experience is that drivers regularly cut corners… I normally stand in the middle of the lane when stopping and can’t count the times I looked in the eyes of startled driver who took the corner too fast and too tight… lucky I haven’t been hit -yet!

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