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After another fatality on Barbur Blvd, ODOT tweet hits a nerve

Posted by on November 27th, 2013 at 10:26 am

Another person died while traveling on SW Barbur Blvd this week. It’s the fourth fatality since 2010 on the notoriously dangerous 1.6 mile section of the road between Terwilliger and Hamilton.

With a record of so much carnage and rampant high speed and high risk driving, many Portlanders want to see the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) take a more aggressive approach to changing the design of Barbur in a way that would slow people down and encourage safer behavior. However, as we shared back in August when a 27-year-old man died after traveling at a “very high rate of speed” and losing control of his Prius, ODOT has no plans to seriously consider a roadway reconfiguration (a.k.a. “road diet”) on Barbur.

Many people have urged ODOT to put Barbur on a “road diet” because such a design is considered a “proven safety countermeasure” by numerous studies and even by the Federal Highway Administration.

This tension between ODOT and the community around Barbur was evident after the agency tweeted on Monday — just two hours after the most recent fatality — that, “Speed, aggressive and distracted driving on [sic] big factors in crashes.” Later that night, Friends of Barbur volunteer Kiel Johnson replied by tweeting, “so are roads that encourage those behaviors.”

It was ODOT’s reply to Johnson’s tweet that really struck a nerve: “Not sure how a road encourages distracted driving, speeding or agressive [sic] driving.”

Here’s the thread so far (you can also see it online):

Reached on the phone this morning, ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton said he understands the public’s reaction to the tweet; but he also offered an explanation. “That tweet was intended to say that even the best designed road cannot prevent bad decisions by motorists — no design elements can remove bad judgment.”

Hamilton said ODOT does indeed feel that road design “very clearly” has an effect on user behaviors and that the work they’ve done on Barbur is a good example. He pointed to the improved crosswalks, rapid flash beacons, and other projects they’ve done on the street in recent years as proof.

According to Hamilton, ODOT feels the responsibility for safety on Barbur is ultimately up to the user. “You can make smart choices about driving on that road… We have signs that help advise you about what’s safe in an area.”

As for this most recent fatality, Hamilton said it’s too early to make any determinations about why it happened.

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Dave
Guest

I find it really hard to believe that they are touting the ‘work’ they’ve done on Barbur as really positive in the wake of several fatalities and major injuries, a community outburst urging them to look at re-designing the road, and their own repeated refusal to do so.

encephalopath
Guest
encephalopath

So ODOT is just trolling us now? And in response to a fatality? Wow…

Opus the Poet
Guest

Can you say tone deaf?

dh
Guest
dh

Crosswalks and beacons on what’s effectively a freeway, albeit a slightly (SLIGHTLY) lower-speed freeway, don’t change the nature of the roadway.

Eli
Guest
Eli

Please tell me that whoever answered that tweet is not an actual ODOT traffic engineer.

Dwayne Dibbly
Guest
Dwayne Dibbly

The person who tweets for ODOT should be forced to resign immediately.

Peejay
Guest
Peejay

You’re drunk, ODOT. Go home.

David
Guest
David

:FACEPALM:

Brian Davis
Guest
Brian Davis

Yikes! When I first saw that tweet I figured it was a simple messaging failure from the person running the social media. It’s hard to believe they’re defending it, though.

It’s one thing to approach problems with an auto-centric mindset, but ODOT has drifted fully into the realm of science denial when it comes to Barbur lately. Yes, road design affects behavior. Profoundly, in fact. Yes, Barbur has the capacity to be reduced by a lane. Yes, climate change and evolution are real, and 2+2=4.

I don’t expect to always agree with the good folks at the state DOT, but I do expect them to offer legitimate, informed, intellectually honest and defensible arguments. This is disappointing.

Terry D
Guest
Terry D

The writer either needs to go back to school or find a new line of work. Prefferably both. How are we in Portland supposed to respect ODOTs suggestions on anything with comments like this? All it shows us is their shere lack of understanding of moderrn road design.

Carl
Guest
Carl

Let’s be clear on this.

What ODOT *tweeted* was: Roads don’t encourage speeding, aggressive driving or distracted driving.

What Hamilton *said* was: No road can prevent bad decisions or bad judgement.

These are two ENTIRELY different statements. Of course no road can entirely prevent a behavior…but pretending that road design has no impact at all is like saying no lock can discourage a determined thief, so why bother locking your bike? It is absurd, and patently false.

Road design has a tremendous impact on driver behavior, and every collision or fatality obligates ODOT to examine whether road design could prevent a repeat. To dismiss this fact by shrugging and saying “what could we do?” is irresponsible.

David
Guest
David

“People keep dying here. What a coincidence!” -ODOT

Pat
Guest
Pat

I agree that some people are going to drive like assholes no matter what. However, good road design can help prevent those assholes from hurting and/or killing the other users sharing the road with them.

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

“even the best designed road cannot prevent bad decisions by motorists”

speeding is a bad decision.

Alan Love
Guest
Alan Love

When one section of roadway has a significantly higher fatality count than another section with equal capacity/usage, is ODOT advocating that the deciding factor between the two is that more bad drivers use one road vs. another?

Richard Kilshaw
Guest
Richard Kilshaw

ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton said “Even the best designed road cannot prevent bad decisions by motorists — no design elements can remove bad judgment.” Really? I would think that a center barrier would prevent illegal U turns for one(Think Greeley 405 entrance). Two lanes have forever encouraged speeding and aggressive driving in my opinion. A road diet down to single lane in both directions must reduce bad judgement speeding even if only based on the fact that you cannot pass a slower moving vehicle! How can one say otherwise? I don’t get it

pdxpaul
Guest
pdxpaul

In ODOT’s defense, it’s a really bad idea to use the Twatter machine for anything beyond technical issues/informational updates when you are a bureaucratic organization.

queen Annes Revenge
Guest

Peejay
You’re drunk, ODOT. Go home.
Recommended 22

And DUIs are a serious matter here in Oregon

sadlycynical
Guest
sadlycynical

“…no design elements can remove bad judgment.”

True. But the statistics in this case make that a moot point to make.

AndyC of Linnton
Guest
AndyC of Linnton

I know Twitter is an English-usage garbage can on fire, but it’d be nice to see simple syntax and spelling comprehension from agencies and leaders.
This isn’t the main point, but honestly it makes your case even weaker.

Of course, this kinda fits the big-dumb-oaf-bully profile, especially when ODOT’s case this time seems to be doing the bully’s classic maneuver of taking hold of your arm and slapping your head while repeating, “Stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself.”

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

It’s time to clean house at ODOT. We need to make sure the next governor of Oregon has this on his/her agenda.

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

At what point should we be ashamed that we aren’t surprised that yet another person has been killed on Barbur?

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

ODOT: take a lesson from PBOT and admit you are wrong.
Then take the big leap and admit you don’t know how to fix this problem.

Curt
Guest
Curt

IIRC a recent metro safety study showed a pretty strong correlation between the number of lanes and the number of crashes. Road diets are one of the FHWA’s “proven safety countermeasures”. I’m too lazy get the links now. But ODOT should check them out.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Does ODoTs reaction to Barbur Blvd incidents mean that they are now no longer interested in placing traffic safety first before roadway capacity and speed?

Perhaps it is time for Oregonians interested in more urban highway arterial safety to contact their Governor and state representatives.

I was looking back in the file to see what ODoT the institution had promised in the past on this topic.

One would expect ODoT to have embraced Vision Zero by now…it is now a 15 year old transportation paradigm.
http://bikeportland.org/2010/10/13/vision-zero-a-paradigm-shift-in-traffic-safety-coming-to-portland-friday-41043

But if not Vision Zero then I would welcome ODoT adopting the Dutch traffic safety paradigm of “Sustainable Safety”.

LINKS
“A core principle of the Vision Zero is that ‘Life and health can never be exchanged for other benefits within the society’ rather than the more conventional approach where a monetary value is placed on life and health which is then used with a Benefit-cost ratio evaluation before investing money in the road network to decrease risk.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vision_Zero

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

The Army has the marketing slogan, “Army of One”

ODoT’s marketing slogan is, “Roadway for One”

Alan 1.0
Guest
Alan 1.0

Perhaps Hamilton would like to do a few morning and evening commutes on Barbur, as the signage there indicates it’s safe.

9watts
Guest
9watts

Don Hamilton:
“Hamilton said ODOT does indeed feel that road design ‘very clearly’ has an effect on user behaviors and that the work they’ve done on Barbur is a good example. He pointed to the improved crosswalks, rapid flash beacons, and other projects they’ve done on the street in recent years as proof.”

Oh, really?
Sgt. Sessions of the PPB doesn’t agree that those are good enough:
http://bikeportland.org/2013/09/19/driving-dangerously-ppb-issues-over-1100-citations-in-back-to-school-mission-94217#comment-4438537

9watts
aaronf,
I still come away wishing, as I’ve said here before, that ODOT would for once get out in front of an issue rather than always playing defense; mustering what come across as weak, mopey, bureaucratic arguments *against* doing anything for the population who bikes now or might bike with a little help from, you know, our state agencies.
Recommended 0

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

ODOT: people dying is not business as usual.

Trek 3900
Guest
Trek 3900

Has there ever, in the Metro area, been a cyclist killed by a car while wearing high visiblilty orange and/or yellow AND when using flashing lights front and rear? Maybe there has been one, or more, but I’ve never heard of it happening.

Well, let’s hear it. If you want to say there has been, please produce a link to prove it.

The cyclists of Portland have officially been challenged.

Trek 3900
Guest
Trek 3900

To my knowledge there has never been an instance, in the Metro area, of a cyclist being killed while wearing high-visibility yellow/orange clothing AND while using front and rear flashing lights.

Trek 3900
Guest
Trek 3900

I read the story on the minivan/dump truck collision. This had nothing to do with the highway “design”. Many tens of thousands of drivers make the same trip safely each week – there is nothing difficult about it in any way. The minivan driver for some unknown reason drove across the double yellow and hit a dump truck head-on. I suppose a concrete divider between opposing traffic lanes would have prevented this particular crash. If they also put one on the outside white line, then it should be fairly safe even for blind people.

kittens
Guest
kittens

Ugg. This is why I hate Twitter, it makes almost everyone dumbr by reducing complex issues into flippant one-liners.

Trek 3900
Guest
Trek 3900

“To my knowledge there has never been an instance, in the Metro area, of a cyclist being killed while riding naked. For that matter I haven’t heard of any grandmothers being killed while cycling in the Metro area. Nor have have there been any reported fatalities among bicycling politicians.”

I don’t fall into any of those categories so I’ll stick with the other one that is proving to be safe: Wearing high visibility yellow and orange clothing AND using flashing lights front and rear. Gotta go with what works…….

Dave
Guest
Dave

Most of us drive cars some of the time. How about we make a habit of driving Barbur and other free-fire zones at 5mph UNDER the posted speed?
How many anti-speeders could make a difference? On another note, it’s nice that Oregon provides traffic engineering work for the developmentally disabled.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

“People who don’t know how road design affects driving should find another line of work.”

Scott Hillson FTW!

kww
Guest
kww

No respect for ODOT at all. They continue to stonewall on Barbur -death after death, and their maintenance practices are horrid – worst roads in the lower 48. What an embarrassment.

jim
Guest
jim

If you put barbur on a road diet, where do you want all of the cars to drive?

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

“…an acknowledgement that a given stretch of road doesn’t carry as many cars as its width/capacity could…”

I’ve been noticing lately that a lot of the non-freeway road expansions I’ve observed seem to be aimed at storing cars rather than moving cars. I live near one such expansion where extra lanes have been added to the road (number of lanes has doubled), but due to new traffic signals and narrowing of the road at one end of the project area, time to navigate this segment by car has actually increased, despite the extra lanes. I have come to realize that the goal of the project may not have been to move anybody faster, but just to cram twice as many stopped cars into the same linear space.

Bike lanes have also been added, but again, due to the extra lanes (plus a concrete median) bike travel on this segment has not really been improved as much as it could have been had the number of “car” lanes been kept to a minimum.

I guess my point is that going on a “road binge” doesn’t necessarily mean things will speed up, so conversely, going on a “road diet” doesn’t necessarily mean things will slow down all that much.

Spiffy
Guest

just over 1 fatality per year, same as the Vista Bridge over the previous decade…

so it follows that if we get three fatalities in a 6 month span that the city will put a fence around Barbur Blvd to prevent further deaths…

I’m in favor of this…

Ted Buehler
Guest

Just remember, folks, things often get fixed based purely on the number of complaints that the authorities receive.

So, whenever someone gets killed, maimed, clobbered, etc. on Barbur, shoot off a couple letters to your favorite officials. Like:
* State sen and rep
* Da Guv
* Those dudes and dudettes at ODOT that keep saying its not a problem because not enough people have been killed yet, and we really need to open up all of those lanes for the declining traffic.
* Your favorite friends at the Oregon Freight Haulers Association, or whatever its called.
* Your city councilors
* Leah Treat and Rob Burchfield, head honchos at PBOT.
* The Oregonian, Willamette Week, Tribune.
* email SAFE@portlandoregon.gov and askodot@odot.state.or.us
* Rob Sadowski and Gerik Kransky at the BTA.
* Sheila the Bike/Ped main bike/ped person at ODOT in Salem.
* State highway patrol, ask them to enforce the speed limit and red light running.
* Maybe some civic leaders — Presidents of OHSU, Lewis and Clark, PSU, and Mr. Sam Adams, exec dir of the Portland City Club.

Send them nice letters, angry letters, short letters, long letters, hard copies, electronic copies, telephone messages. Mix it up a bit.

You don’t need to send a million letters every time, but keep the heat on.

Also, remember that by advocating for a safer Barbur, you’re also advocating for safer streets everywhere. Whenever public comment comes in asking for safer streets and improved bike lanes gets registered. And those that complain get placated. Even if the Barbur road diet doesn’t come on line for a couple years yet, your letters asking for improved bicycle facilities will result in the authorities giving more favor to bicycle issues in other areas of their jurisdiction.

FWIW,
Ted Buehler